Ica, Lima, and Huaraz
5/21/06 26 °C
I know, I know. This route is just getting too hot to handle.
After a long bus ride pretending to have motion sickness so Lucas sitting next to me would stop asking for my cell phone number, I arrived in Ica at 10 pm and took a cab to Casa de Arenas (House of the Sands), a hostel overrun by loud Israelis and a few creepy employees. The next day, I woke up to a huge blue pool, a bar with fresh fruit, and some shady palm trees all against the backdrop of HUGE brown sand dunes, the biggest in the world. So needless to say, the first day in Ica, or rather Huacachina, the resort town next to Ica, was spent lounging by the sunny pool recovering from too much fun. Keep the hate mail coming. I made friends with Laura (UK) and that afternoon, we set out together on the sand buggy tour. They strap you into a jeep (you know you're in trouble when you have to wear a seatbelt in Peru) and floor it down the road right into the towering sand dunes. Then they rev the engine and you go careening up the side of the dune and flying violently, nothing but air, over the top. Like a rollercoaster ride but with no guarantee that you will live. We finally screeched to a halt at one dune, took out the sandboards, and skied down a 10 meter drop. When I say ´ski´, I really mean standing on the board for five seconds, and then falling into sand and rolling down the hill at maximum speed. Being the wuss that I know I am, I was so scared at first, whimpering ¨I'm going to die, I´m going to die¨ until some Canadian hippie gave me a pep talk with phrases like ¨conquer the fear¨ and ¨you're a winner¨ and I finally careened off the edge of the sand cliff screaming for my mommy at the top of my lungs until I was pummeling down the mountain, eating 3 lbs of sand. And after that, it was a piece of cake. I was actually one of the better sandboarders, who knew! We sandboarded down several dunes, the largest one at the end being a near vertical 30 meters!, and then watched the red sun set over the dunes. What a nice day. Unfortunately, one week later, I am still finding sand in places that sand shouldn't be.
The rest of my days in Ica were spent, you can guess this, suntanning by the pool and eating too much chocolate ice cream against-the-doctor´s-orders-because-I'm-a-rebel with Laura, my two Swedish roommates Stina and Yelen, and Paul (UK). All too soon, it was time to go. I packed up my bags, bid the gang farewell, and took a bus to Lima, the capital of Peru. After my initial culture shock of seeing KFC! and Dunkin Donuts! at every corner, I settled into Miraflores, the ritzy neighborhood of Lima, at Casa de Mochilero, yet another Israeli hot spot but much quieter. Since there is not much touristy stuff to do in Lima, it was nice to have some down time. For three days, I watched Seinfeld reruns with Maayan and Sharon (Israel), spoke hebrew with Walter, the Peruvian 15 year old who can say ¨sababa¨ with the best of them, and made hourly trips to the supermarket to cook for every meal. One night, I went out to Baranco, the bohemian neighborhood by the beach, to visit Paul from Ica. We went to a seaside video arcade where I kicked some five year old butt at ski ball to win a pack of Spiderman playing cards. Amateurs. After a a BBQ at Paul's hostel, I went back ¨home¨ where Maayan was waiting impatiently (¨where have you BEEN!¨) to watch a movie. At the end of my stay in Lima, all the Israelis congratulated me on having entered the Israeli travelling world, a compact circle that you can't leave until you've stayed in all-Israeli hostels, eaten at restaurants that have all-Hebrew menus, and have felt paranoid 24-7 that some other Israeli, somewhere in the world, has gotten a better price than you. Help me. Help me now.
I thought Maayan and Sharon were kidding but when I took a 6 hour bus north to Huaraz, the hiking mecca of Peru, I found myself at Casa de Jaimes, a hostel with 30 Israelis and 1 poor French guy who couldn't figure out how he had gotten there. This is what my cousin Tomer was talking about...Little Israel. Jaimes greeted me a ¨shalom, ma nishma¨ and asked me whether I was having dinner at the Casa Judea that night. I was no longer in South America... the nightmare was complete. Outside the hostel, I hung out with Sharon and, that night, we had dinner in honor of Lag Ba´omer with pita and salad and that was real nice. But back at the hostel, the music was blaring at top volume and the Israeli girls were yelling at Jaimes about prices of trekking. I had wanted to do the famous Santa Cruz trek, a four day trek that is supposed to be one of the top hikes in the world, but I couldn't figure out how to do it stress-free. I am Israeli, yes, but most of these kids, we just have different circumstances. They´re on a tighter budget than the Americans and Europeans, so they argue about every sol. And they're younger and fresh out of the stressful army life, so they like to party a lot. These are generalizations, of course, there are so many great Israeli travellers out there but travelling with them has a chance of being stressful. Make sense? So I snuck out the next day and shopped around the different travel agencies, finally booking the Santa Cruz trek at an agency that had a nice balanced mix of Europeans, North Americans and Israelis. I guess the one advantage of being in the Israeli circle was that I got the Israeli price, half of what everyone else pays. But don't tell them that.
The next day, we headed out for our trek through the infamous Cordillera Blanca of Peru on a public minibus to Cachabambas, a 4 hour journey along windey mountain roads with one flat tire on the way. The group was a total of seven mostly experienced hikers, most notably Jacey, adventurous Colorado mountain girl, and Jacky and Ido, two goofy Israelis fresh out of the army. Our entourage was led by trusty guide Frial and burro (donkey) caretaker Augustino. The first day was a tough mountainous hike at 3600 meters and I had to stop every ten meters to gasp for air since there's very little at that altitude. I was kicking myself for signing up for this...I was definitely out of my league. But I made it just fine and we camped at a cow pasture that night. The tour agency had miscounted and brought one less sleeping bag so that night, I had to use a summer bag meant for warm weather...slightly cold but not a killer. The next day was a mostly flat walk through green pastures all along the thunderous river. We were heading straight for Taliarhuho, a snowy majesty standing over 6,000 meters tall. That night, we camped at a chilly 4,200 meters in another cow pasture where me, Jacey, Ido and Jacky tried to catch trout in the river with a few sticks and some worms Jacey had dug up. When you're facing a dinner of potatoes and rice, served over a mysterioso ¨red sauce¨, you'd be hunting for trout too. At night, we played cards over hot tea and of course, true to camping rules, Jacky and Ido made donkey noises outside the girls´ tent and attempted to topple it over. The third day was the most difficult. We began to climb the frosty cliffs leading up to Taliarhuho. My competitive spirit kicked in and I kept at the head of the pack, finishing the hike in half the time. Was there ever any doubt, people! Just kidding. We had reached Punto Union at 4,700 meters to have a gorgeous view of the towering snowy mountains all around us. The last night, we camped at a sheep pasture while Jacey drew with the village kids and I tried to teach them how to play War with my new and shiny Spiderman cards. They weren't too impressed with my efforts. That night, there was a mysteriously creepy wild cat noise outside the girls´ tent. The next morning found me and Jacey trying to lead an unwilling donkey into the boys' tent until it finally tried to kick us and stomped away irritably. Ahh... camping. We ended our four day hike in the mountain village of Huaribamba handing out caramels to the cute little kids before catching a 4 hour minibus back to Hauraz.
Now that I had my new group of trekking friends, I finally found my opportunity to escape the Casa de Jaimes. I snuck into the lobby , grabbed my bag and ran like mad across town to share Hostal Angel with Jacey, Jacky and Ido. We had dinner that night with the whole group and our token quiet Swiss guy got a few beers in him and willed the rest of us to dance on the tables and pull waiting cab drivers into the bar to join the dancing mayhem. It was fun. The next morning had a slow start but by the afternoon, Jacey had convinced me to go rock climbing with these two Dutch girls with guide Javier, who agreed to do the whole thing for free since he got to be alone with four girls. I climbed a 50 foot cliff without too much drama except when I got to the top I couldn't figure out how to get down so it took some encouraging words and loud threats from the group to get me to start rapelling back down. It was great fun. We ended up at Javier's bar "Cero Drama" for some pizza and homemade pisco sours.
After five days in Huaraz, it was time to continue north. That night, Jacey and I caught a 12 hour bus to Trujillo where the great ruins of Northern Peru officially start. North Peru is considered to be the Egypt of South America, packed with 2,000 year old temples, huge pyramids, and hidden tombs at every mountain side. Three weeks of this trip left...stay tuned!