Well hello there! As I type this, I’m sitting in the coolest hostel we’ve stayed at to date, in a little town called Paracas, Peru. This hostel is literally so hip that Alvi and I have agreed that one day we will open up our own somewhere. Alas, one can dream!
Following the majesty of all that is Machu Picchu and Cusco-related, we were faced with the challenge of “now what”? With literally no plans set in stone and 10 days before we needed to be back in Quito, Ecuador, we held ourselves a meeting of the minds and came up with a few options. Do we:
- Head to Lake Titicaca, the highest fresh-water lake in the world at 3,800M, dip our toes in the country of Bolivia and work our way back to Ecuador?
- Fly back from Cusco to Lima so as to avoid the nasty twists, turns and high altitude of a return bus trip?
- Hang out in the Sacred Valley some more given our lengthy and seemingly “ok” acclimatization?
- Catch a PeruHop back to Lima, working our way along the coast slowly but surely?
At the end of the day, we all determined we were pretty well DONE with this altitude business. Nobody seemed to really sleep well due to it and the huffing and puffing was getting a wee bit long in the tooth. So option #1 was promptly ixne’d. In a stroke of good fortune, I found us some super cheap flights from Cusco back to Lima, just $40 U.S. per person!!! So that was most definitely viable… but then what? None of us really loved Lima, and we’d seen much of Ecuador so how would we fill our time if we did that? Also we’d have missed the whole southern coast of Peru. And so, we said “adios” to option #2. Option #3 was never really an option since we had had nearly a full three weeks of Sacred Valley and ruins already.
But what of Option #4, asks ye?? Turns out, it was the best one for us, so we grabbed it! PeruHop is a Hop On/Hop Off bus service started by two ingenious Irish lads who wanted to come up with a safe, flexible and affordable way of travel and discovery in the land of Peru. In their late 20’s they started the company and 3 years later business is booming. For $139 U.S. each, we bought ourselves a ticket to Lima from Cusco, with stops in some wicked places along the way. Nazca, for instance, was one of said stops. For those of you who watch the Discovery Channel, you’d have heard of the infamous and wildly discussed Nazca lines that baffle both residents of Peru and visitors alike. To have the opportunity to check these out got us all fired up! Further, we’d make a pit-stop in the mystical desert oasis town of Huacachina, where we’d have the chance to set all fear aside and sandboard down some insanely steep dunes. And lastly, the southern-coastal resort town of Paracas, where opportunities for exploration were boundless.
Before boarding our PeruHop tour, we had one last chance to explore the ever-so lovely Cusco, where a steady stream of random sights kept us all entertained. We came upon this lovely little place called The Healing House, where the girls had the opportunity to paint and I had my cards read followed by a reiki treatment. Truly a highlight for me! There was a therapeutic drum session happening, too, and Saffy got in on that by invitation.
PeruHop did not disappoint (aside from the bathroom and the poor lad who barfed all night in it). Our bus came with an English speaking guide and the chance to decide on the fly whether or not we’d like to stay in any of these little towns and/or participate in any of the tours. Admittedly, our first night on the bus was long and tough. It was a full 24 hours of travel on narrow, bumpy roads hugging some very high altitude mountain passes. I “woke up” at 3:30 am gasping for air and chuckled when my altimeter read 4,900M. No wonder lol. Needless to say we were ever so grateful to get off and enjoy a night in a hostel in the town of Ica, a next-door neighbour to Huacachina. One thing that has made this leg of our trip both frustrating and interesting has been the fact that today, July 28th, is the Independence Day Holiday for all of Peru, which means that literally EVERYONE wants to get out of dodge and party. As a result, many of our lodging options were booked and we were left with sloppy seconds seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But it was all good…. a bed was a bed was a bed and not a bus lol.
Huacachina was truly insane. I had read about it online but was still floored when I saw first-hand the size of these natural sand dunes. It literally is this mysterious oasis in the middle of the desert. Like, there’s a lagoon and everything! Hippies, explorers, families and locals all come out to try and find meaning and purpose in their lives, I myself was one such person. Our favourite activity there was undeniably the buggy/sandboard tour high up into the sand dunes. They were all business when they insisted on everyone strapping themselves in tightly. A mild case of panic crept up the back of my spine as we screeched away towards the hills… I seriously hoped that Miguel knew what he was doing, that he’d be gentle and not crazy, and that we wouldn’t flip over. Of course it all turned out just fine, in fact, incredible, really. Other than the fact that we were promised 2 hours and wound up getting 1/2 hour. I said something to our guide and she was livid. So back up everyone went (I stayed back this time around, having had my daily quota of adventure and wanting to just chill before getting back on the bus).
Paracas has been a bit disappointing, to be honest. I’m appalled at all the garbage that washes up on the beach, including serious bouts of plastic in all forms. It’s as though people don’t respect the natural beauty they have in their own backyard. We all have found it sad and disappointing to see people just toss their garbage in the streets and worse yet, in the ocean. It reminds me of an incredible TEDx Talk given by Dr. Sam Mason, please check it out here. On the positive, however, the hostel in Paracas has been super duper awesome. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, we highly recommend Paracas Backpackers House. And to boot, one of the other highlights for us at this stop has been an absolutely incredible meal at this place called Miski’s. Complete with its hippie vibe and wide array of international foods ~ I had the empanada, it was to die for! ~ we all agreed it was one of the best meals we’ve had on our trip.
Most tourists who stop in Paracas opt for a tour of Ballestas Islands, aka “poor man’s Galapagos”. This ordinarily would take several hours and guests would be served up healthy visuals of seals, penguins and other marine life on a neighbouring island. To save money and because we’re already heading to the Galapagos in a few weeks, we decided to forego this typical tour and now find ourselves with 6 hours to kill before the bus arrives to take us directly to Lima. Hence, the time for this blog post. We’ve walked around, visited the markets, been there, done that, so for now, it’s just Chill City here at the hostel. Alvi is whipping up some of his famous guacamole for us in the shared kitchen and the girls are content to just hang. (Hang = catch up with her bestie for Piper and for Saffy, it means cooking up some written arguments as to why she should be given Pokemon Go…. GROAN).
This downtime has given me the headspace to reflect on our trip overall. Part of me is completely ready to return home and re-enter life as normal. There is nothing quite like your own bed, after all. But another part of me doesn’t want life to resume as the “regularly scheduled program” it was before. The life we have built in Thunder Bay is indeed a good one… but it is insanely busy, and we have done that to ourselves. There is no avoiding work… it will be there and that can’t really change. But all the extras we feel compelled to participate in, I’d like to see them lessened. We don’t need to be a family on the go 6 days of the week. It’s ridiculous. Our children will not suffer if we “under-enrol” them for awhile.
But back to the trip. Last night on the bus we met this young man ~ 31 ~ originally from Colombia but grew up mostly in Florida and working as a paramedic. We had some animated conversations during the 2 hour ride from Huacachina; he was asking all kinds of questions on travel and what it was like for the girls. He shared some crazy, nightmare stories with us, detailing some of the tragedies and challenges faced by young people in South Florida today. I think we were meant to meet this young man… he held the attention of both my kids. We were all shocked to learn that in the vast the majority of young people MVAs, it was always the driver who survived and rarely any of the passengers. It makes sense, I guess in the last split second before a crash the driver has control to maneuver the vehicle instinctively to better his or her own survival. We chatted about drugs and peer pressure and again, some of the awful things he’s seen happen over his 10 years as a paramedic. Our family has entered “the teen years” and though we like to think we’ve done a great job with Piper so far, there are never any guarantees and we really only have control over how she was raised, not others. I’m not sure why I’m sharing all this, other than to say when you travel, you meet all kinds. And our conversation with this young man really struck me. And I was quite tickled that Piper seemed to listen intently.
SO that, is that. We are now off to Lima, where we will have a quick overnight stay then it’s bus-bound for another 27 hours back to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We have rented a historic farmhouse one hour north of Quito for 12 days effective August 3rd. It was over our budget but given all that it offers we decided to splurge a little, partly as reward for all this insanely slow and cheap-ass bus travel. We should arrive in Guayaquil sometime Saturday evening and I think the loose plan after that is to head to Playas, a cute little beach town one hour west. Guayaquil itself doesn’t really do a lot for us. It’s a massively huge, busy, noisy, diesel-smelling city. Though we enjoyed our brief stay there before, we don’t need a re-do and could use some more peace and quiet.
We miss everyone terribly and are ever so grateful for this opportunity to explore our world and get to know each other better. I’m thrilled to report that Alvi and I have had not ONE fight. Nada. WTF?!!! Piper and I are likely 16 for 16. Saffy has been well behaved for the most part and has really embraced the travel lifestyle. Yesterday at the pool in Huacachina, she bent down to pat a cat and looked up at the person next to her. “Hola!” she said. “Where are you guys from?” Piper and I looked at each other, knowing full well what the other was thinking. She is totally Alvi’s clone, lol! It made me smile because it was just so natural coming out of her mouth. Saffy is a Chatty Cathy just like her Daddy 🙂
I’m rambling so will stop this blog now. Peace out, y’all!
Sammy thank again for an interesting,informative blog! I eagardly devoured it. I don’t know but there is something in the water or air or altitude but the girls have really grown in these two months. I love the pictures. I know what you mean about tracking up and down the sand dunes,Dad and I did that in Dubai and then camped out over night and the nights are cold in the desert.love yous !
Thanks Mom! Yes they have a grown a tonne… Saffy has gotten taller and Piper has just…. grown. Cannot explain it. We miss you and love you!