JOE Backpacking Diary #17 - Why Peru has absolutely blown me away in the last two weeks
If you're considering travelling in the next year, Peru has to be top of your list. Read why here.
My name is Joe Harrington; I'm travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here's what happened on week 16.
Next stop: Huanchaco, Peru
The little surf town of Huanchaco was on my list of places to go even before I left Ireland back in April because of a recommendation from my good friend Brian Canty.
Brian's buddy from Galway, Richy O'Carroll, opened a hostel called Casa Fresh there a few years ago and it's now number one on TripAdvisor.
I said I'd call in to check it out and maybe improve my surfing, which is something I really want to do before the end of my trip.
My night bus from Máncora (€18), which included a tender head-on-shoulder moment between me and a 60-year-old local man, arrived into Trujillo at 7am.
From there, you need to take a 15 minute taxi (€5) to Huanchaco. The drivers swarm you once you get off the bus so don't worry about finding one.
I knew the moment I arrived in Huanchaco that I'd love the place.
— Joe Harrington (@ImJoeHarrington) July 21, 2016
Richy is at home in Ireland for the summer so an Australian girl called Emily is running the hostel for him and she set me up straight away.
The atmosphere in the hostel is relaxed and friendly and I immediately started chatting to three Australian boys - Luke, Simon and Aidan - who I joined for breakfast.
Later in the morning, I walked back to the hostel and ended up getting roped into a surfing session with three more Aussies; Liam, Kim and Lara.
We decided against getting a lesson, instead we rented boards and a wetsuit for the day (€10) from Meri Hostel on the main street and set off on our own.
I was thrashed around by the waves, I drank gallons of salt water, I got hit in the head by the board, I cut my feet with rocks on the sea bed, I didn't stand up once and I was exhausted by the end.
The lesson I learned - I need lessons! Not the J. Walter Weatherman type, but from Kelly Slater or another professional surfer.
We ate lunch at a hostel next to the pier in the town after the guy's friend, Adrian, told us that an Italian girl in the hostel was making pasta lunch for €2. Deal. It was delicious.
I went back to Casa Fresh and collapsed into a deep siesta, I got about three hours sleep on the night bus so I was beat.
I woke up just as the sun was setting. Richy told me about the amazing sunsets in Huanchaco and I wasn't disappointed.
I joined Liam, Kim, Lara and Adrian for dinner that night; we ended up in an amazing sushi place called Umi.
I don't know how to use chopsticks properly, well, except for making walrus fangs, so I dug in with my hands. Classy. The food was ace though.
The food in South America has been absolutely delicious and the selection is huge. You can get all the western foods like pizza, burgers and pasta etc. but the local food is great.
The following day we had a typical Peruvian lunch.
We started with ceviche, which is fresh, raw fish cured in lime or lemon with some chili spices and chopped red onion.
The yellow thing on the side is fried banana.
Those two courses and a soft drink cost me €3. The value is incredible and the quality of the food is great.
The most famous delicacy here in Peru is guinea pig, I really want to try it before I leave for Rio.
The pier in Huanchaco is a very special place. It's full of loved-up couples, local fishermen chatting, waves crashing nearby and people having fun.
I went down there in the late afternoon to go fishing. I didn't catch anything but it was great to soak in the view and the atmosphere for a few hours.
The next day I took a bus into the city of Trujillo (€1) and explored the place for a few hours.
It's not the prettiest city I've seen but the main square is nice and there are plenty of cool cafes and restaurants to find.
I got speaking to a few local people in a cafe and I asked them about the local culture; they explained the Telenovela (Latin soap) phenomenon.
You know the shows, right? Every single scene is full of drama, everyone is beautiful, it usually ends in a woman slapping an adulterous man. Yes? Good.
Well, the locals told me that the most popular Telenovelas in Peru aren't from Latin America. They're from Turkey.
Yeah, actors and actresses from Turkish soaps are among the most famous in Peru because of the popularity of their shows.
They told me a Peruvian journalist went to Istanbul to talk to the stars and they had no idea where Peru even was. So random.
I was introduced to another Latin American phenomenon that evening because it was salsa night in the hostel beside Casa Fresh.
A few cards games - bullshit, asshole and spoons - warmed us up before we all went to the salsa at 11.30pm.
It was gas. One old Peruvian guy was in front showing everyone the moves with rows of people behind him moving their hips and feet left and right.
I was like a statue trying to dance. I never thought of myself as the most flowing with my feet but I couldn't get it at all. I tried though and there was laughing, mostly by others, but also by me. It was fun.
The next day I was severely hungover so I spent it chilling out on the terrace and roof of the hostel.
— Joe Harrington (@ImJoeHarrington) July 19, 2016
The temperature in Huanchaco is perfect. It's hot but not unmanageable even for an Irish soul like myself.
The craziest story of the weekend involved the Aussie guy named Luke that I mentioned earlier.
Luke is the most laid-back surfer I've met and his life mantra is, "f**k it, why not?" He'd do almost anything.
His philosophy was tested when he was dared by another Aussie named Aidan to get a tattoo.
Aidan said he'd pay for it if he got to choose, Luke agreed (!), and he ended up with the wifi password of the local tattoo place on his leg.
Aussie guy in my hostel was dared to get a tattoo of the wifi password of a tattoo parlour in Huanchaco. He did it 🙈 pic.twitter.com/fQL5FGeUFR
— Joe Harrington (@ImJoeHarrington) July 23, 2016
What a gas man.
I could've stayed in Huanchaco for another week but it was time to move on.
I decided to get a night bus from Trujillo to Huaraz to spend some time in the mountains, but it didn't go according to plan.
I didn't book a bus because I haven't had to in the last four months, but when I arrived in the bus station at 9pm they were no seats available on the buses to Huaraz.
I was in a jam but that's when my basic Spanish came in handy.
My taxi driver Ronald and I talked through the options and he finally knew a place that might be cheap and decent.
He dropped me off and it was fine so I booked in for €10. I was just about to conk when the banging started.
I'm not talking about hammers, I'm talking about the slang for sex. It was everywhere.
I think the hostel has a pay-per-hour option - yeah that's a thing - so that's why there was so much action.
It's safe to say I didn't get the best night's sleep, but at least I'd a roof over my head. It could've been worse.
Accommodation: Casa Fresh. I felt right at home from the minute I arrived.
The terrace area is incredibly social, I made a good few friends there. The staff are great, the dorm was super clean and the location is perfect.
Food: Umi for sushi, Surfing Burger for burgers, Menu Land for affordable food, the pizza place near Surfing Burger is sensational.
Drink: The hostel and the beach.
Highlight: Great conversations with great people.
Lowlight: My realisation that I'll never be a salsa sensation.
Next stop: Huaraz, Peru
I met dozens of people in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia that told me to go to Huaraz so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.
My New Zealand friend Xindi, who I met in Quito, was there a few days before me so she made a reservation at Akilpo hostel for me. That was a lifesaver because it's holiday week in Peru so every place was pretty much booked out.
Huaraz sits at over 9,000 feet between the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra mountain ranges. There are 35 mountains over 18,000 feet in the area so you can imagine how spectacular the place is.
I wanted to do a big hike but coming from sea level to 9,000 feet would require acclimatisation so I had to settle for day hikes.
The first one was to a place called Laguna Parón. The hostel do tours there (€15) a few times a month so my timing was great.
Nine of us left Huaraz in a bus at 5am in the morning and reached the base of the lake three hours later.
We were at 12,600 feet but our guide Leo wanted to take us higher to 14,600 feet to give us a "special view" as he called it.
We started hiking up, it was steep and gravelly to begin with and then we reached the rocks.
The next two hours were spent climbing onto and over big boulders. It was very challenging but also very enjoyable.
When we reached 14,600 feet, Leo took us to this viewing point.
Laguna Parón and the surrounding mountain peaks in all their glory.
I broke away from the group to have my lunch and I just sat there taking in the view. And honestly, I got a bit emotional.
It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen in my entire life. The picture is nice but it doesn't do it any justice, it's simply stunning. I can't describe what I felt like to be up there, it was one of the most special moments of my whole trip.
As you can read in the caption, the mountain peak on the left is the one used in the opening graphic for Paramount Pictures movies.
The hike down was so hard, I hopped my knee off the rocks a few times and then pretty much slid on my arse for 25 minutes until I reached the edge of the lake. Another gorgeous view from there.
I was okay with the altitude, I did get a bit dizzy at times but no headache or vomitting which was a real positive.
The next day I decided to do another hike, this time a shorter one to a place called Wilcacocha.
My friend Steph (Australia) and her pal Stephanie (USA) joined me. We took a local collectivo (€0.30) from Huaraz to a place called Puenta Santa Cruz and set off from there.
The hike is steep for two hours but it's an easy route with blue arrows guiding you along.
Two little boys from the mountain set up a road block halfway up and told us that cookies were the only currency they'd accept.
We had none, but I did have some bread so I gave them that and after a few high fives they eventually dropped the rope.
The top is really nice. You get a full panoramic view of the mountain ranges in the area.
I tried to count all the peaks as I was having lunch and there were approximately 40 peaks in view.
Here I am with the Cordillera Blanca mountains in the background.
The city of Huaraz isn't really that nice. It's jammed with travel agents and the traffic is atrocious, but it's lively and I kind of like it. It's very safe to walk around at night time and there are some nice restaurants that I'll mention later.
The next day was another 5am start to go on a hike to Laguna 69 (€22 including park entry) which is a real backpacker's favourite.
The tour bus was jammed as it was a public holiday in Peru so we were expecting a huge crowd up there.
The bus to the start of the hike took around 3.5 hours and from there it was another 3.5 hours to the laguna.
I enjoyed the hike a lot, we went through valleys, past waterfalls and up steep terrain to get there and boy was it worth it.
The place is magical. When 2pm hit and the sun was high in the sky, the lake transformed an incredible shade of blue. That contrasting with the snow-capped mountains turned into a postcard view.
The water though. Wowza!
The last few days in Huaraz has been incredible. The time I've spent up in the mountains has been great for me, I'm feeling fit and healthy ahead of Rio.
I fly there on Sunday as a new chapter of this adventure begins. The last four months have been a blast. If you're reading this and thinking about travelling, please just save some money and do it, it'll be best thing you'll ever do.
I asked a few of my travel buddies to write a line of advice for anyone thinking about packing their bags and heading off.
You you can read more on my Instagram page if you want to.
So, next stop is Rio in Brazil. If you know anyone living there or travelling there or any of the families flying for the Olympics, please contact me on Twitter or at email@example.com. I'd love to meet the Irish community there in August.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
Accommodation: Akilpo. €7 per night.
The staff are amazing particularly Esteban and Leo. The dorms are great and there's a nice kitchen and tv room.
Food: Luigi's and Comedia for pizza and Chilli Heaven for Indian.
Drink: I didn't drink.
Highlight: The view at Laguna Parón.
Lowlight: My only regret is not having more time there.
Read more about my trip to Central and South America here:
Diary #2 - Miami, Guatemala City, Antigua
Diary #3 - Antigua, Lake Atitlan
Diary #4 - Entering El Salvador
Diary #5 - El Salvador, Leon, Nicaragua
Diary #6 - Volcano boarding in Leon, Laguna De Apoyo, Granada
Diary #7 - Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Diary #8 - Monteverde and Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Diary #9 - Bocas del Toro, Panama City
Diary #10 - San Blas Islands, reaching Colombia
Diary #11 - Colombia, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Punta Gallinas
Diary #12 - My first week in Medellín
Diary #13 - Meeting Pablo Escobar's brother, Guatape and Salento
Diary #14 - The wonders of the Tatacoa Desert and San Agustin in Colombia
Diary #15 - Adventures in south Colombia and Quito, Ecuador
Diary #16 - Adventure sports in Ecuador and Mancora, Peru