I realize that my last post made it sound like I’m in a pretty awful state – I’m really not. I’m actually quite happy! I will try to be more lighthearted, but at the same time… I’m going to continue to be honest about my feelings (which may come across stronger than they are, depending on my mood when writing).
PERU! Peru is about ten thousand times better than Ecuador in the sense of hospitality – people are friendly again! I arrived in Lima around 9:45 Friday morning and knew that my goal was to get to Ica ASAP – about a five hour bus ride. Lonely Planet isn’t really superb with bus information, but I knew there were a ton of companies bound to have departures for Ica, so I picked one and took a taxi (with a very nice, chatty driver!) to the Flores bus terminal. Peru, more so than any other country I’ve been in, has bus terminals separated by company – unlike other places where there is ONE terminal (maybe two for a bigger town) for every single departure. Flores had departures for Ica every twenty minutes, so I got on the 11:20 bus and settled in for the long haul. Driving through Lima was pretty nice, I expected it to be an ugly big city, but it actually looked pretty charming and welcoming! I won’t end up spending more than one night in Lima (probably), but hopefully I’ll see a bit of it.
Driving out of the city it became apparent that Lima was build in the desert. The suburbs immediately turned into sand dunes and the bland landscape stretched forward forever. Lima is the first city I have seen sprawling shacks – really decrepit shacks – this entire trip. I’m sure they exist other places I’ve been, but these were the most obvious and reminded me of the cardboard shacks on the edges of Mexico City. Behind them was more sand and beige land. More sand and beige for about 5 hours… and then we rolled into Ica.
Ica has an awful reputation (just for being sketchy and boring), but I really kind of liked it! I felt safe, the people were friendly, and the town has some charm. It isn’t beautiful or super historic, but it has character and feels real. That said, I didn’t spend too much time in town. I got there, wandered a bit (went to the grocery store to buy water), and then took a taxi to Huacachina for the night.
Huacachina is a funny little oasis just a few minutes drive from Ica, nestled in the sand dunes. It is cute and pretty, but I don’t know what people do there for more than a day! I got there around 5:30, walked around (it takes maybe 5 minutes to walk around the entire place), watched the MOST beautiful sunset of my life (seriously, amazing color of pink surrounding the dunes), had dinner, and went to bed. I think Huacachina is a party hot spot, so if you just want to drink all night and sleep all day, it’s perfect for you. I, however, was exhausted and wanted to sleep all night – which was difficult because it was SO hot in the dorm room I was in (but $5 for a dorm room? yes!).
I woke up around 7:30 and went out to climb the dunes – I’m definitely getting fat and feel awful from lack of exercise – which proved to be exhausting but not a very long exhcursion. I found multiple couples sleeping on top of the dunes – it was definitely not as warm up there as down in my room. The view was great – tons of sand dunes as far as I could see, except for the copious amounts of trash littered all over! What the heck!? It’s really disappointing to see such a beautiful place littered with trash as if nobody cares.
One thing about Huacachina, and Ica, that set me off was the copious amounts of attention I received from local men. In Central America we all got whistled at and lots of “I love you!” shouts, but in Peru it is a completely different experience. These guys stop at nothing, and and really pretty aggressive. The fact that I have a boyfriend at home seems to do little to dissuade them, and my cold hearted American self is somehow still intruding to them. I feel a bit mean, but seriously: leave me alone. My LP guidebook says: “If you are fair-skinned with blonde hair, however, be prepared to be the center of attention.” Confirmed. I’m hoping this doesn’t keep up for the entire country.
I was glad to escape Huacachina simply because I was tired of being harassed, so I spent Saturday in Ica eating local food, going to local bodegas (where they make wine, pisco, chocolates, and jams!), and reading in the park. Aunt Mary recommended a kids series by Isabelle Allende, which I found at a bookstore in Ica! I sat reading on a bench in the main plaza for a while, but ended up chatting with the guy (who was maybe 45 years old and asked if I’d like to have children with him), for quite some time. Despite the few sketchy comments, he was very nice and informative about Ica and Peru in general. He also said that Americans have hearts of stone and don’t fall in love easily – something I don’t totally disagree with, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing either!
It felt weird to leave a place so quickly, but I guess there really wasn’t a ton more to do in the area, so I got on a night bus from Ica to Arequipa. Night bus experience #1 (and perhaps my only one)! This bus was a double-decker bus with fancy seats downstairs (like lazy boy chairs that recline significantly) and normal seats up stairs (like a greyhound bus). I think they were a bit more spaced out than normal, so reclining further wasn’t a problem for the people behind you. Luckily, I had a seat in the very front row and could look out the window the entire time, as well as not worry about anyone reclining into me! The bottom half of my body was definitely comfortable, but the lack of total reclining action made my head a bit unhappy… I think I dozed for about 6 of the hours, but woke up at every significant turn (of which there were many), and every time the man next to me moved. Not the most pleasant night, but not entirely awful either. I would consider doing it again – it saved me an entire day of traveling and a night in a hostel! Plus, they served dinner AND breakfast (both a bit small, but still!).
I arrived yesterday morning in Arequipa, and I’ll be here all week in my home stay with Maria and her two daughters, Sonia and Diana. So far it is going very well, and tomorrow I started language classes! I’m excited to hopefully improved my Spanish, and to be in one place for FIVE nights! I have a lovely room on the third floor with plenty of space for my things to sprawl out (which is probably good for them after being in a backpack for so long).
Totally unrelated note: Lonely Planet says “Note, though, that ceviche eaten on the coast will be almost certainly made from seafood.” Err… duh? I assume that ALL ceviche, unless otherwise noted (and therefore not really ceviche), is made from seafood… Some of these LP books leave something to be desired – but I still hold true to the Nicaragua one, it was AWESOME.