The jungle – or maybe not so much…

In preparation for this trip we bought the girls a couple of “Dora the Explorer” DVDs – hoping that some of the Spanish would rub off. The only thing that rubbed off was a desire to play with a “baby jaguar” (if you’ve seen this Dora episode you’ll know how bloody annoying it is). Pippa became obsessed with the jungle and for the first two months of this trip her only question was: “When are we going to the jungle to play with a baby jaguar **insert baby jaguar noise from Dora the Explorer here**?).

For those who have been to South America, you know that the Amazon isn’t exactly a hop, skip and jump away. To get there, you have to cross the Andes first – which can take a minimum of 12 hours but more likely 18 to 24 hours on a bus in the wet season (it is currently the wet season). You can also fly to different parts of the Amazon, but it’s extortionately expensive.

Luke and I have both spent time in the Amazon before. And although it’s incredibly beautiful and we both highly recommend visiting, it’s also very hot, and there’s just oh so many insects that bite which means dengue (already ticked that box), malaria (Luke’s got that one covered) or the new kid on the block – zika. Plus the girls can’t swim (much of the Amazon is accessed boats or in dug outs), refuse to walk further than 500m, and Freya has red hair.

We just weren’t sure it would be worth the money – or the bus trip. So we decided to do a test run – with a “faux” jungle – which not coincidentally also has a rescue zoo (big jungle animals up close minus the long walks).

Chaparri Ecological Reserve is conveniently located 2 hours east of Chiclayo in sub tropical forest (we told the girls it was “rainforest jungle”). The privately owned reserve has a small boutique hotel (adobe huts) with all money going back into the management of the reserve or supporting the local communities who agreed to protect the area, rather than farm it.

Luckily for us, it was the wet season, so everything was green. In the dry season, Chaparri looks like a pile of dried sticks in a rocky dust bowl (think Mad Max with heaps of twigs).

The girls got see spectacled bears, tarantulas, boa constrictors, pecarries (similar to wild pigs/boars), Andean condors, fresh water crabs (winner), and spider scorpions (another winner). We also saw heaps of birds – apparently the reserve is home to more than 200 species, many of which are threatened.

But my favourite thing about Chaparri, was that we were given the rare opportunity to hang out with some full-on “birdos” (I think they’re also known as twitchers?? But whatever, I’m assuming you’re picking up what I’m trying to put down?). Chris, Diane and Lucretia, from the States, were at the beginning of their 16 day guided birdo trip through Peru when we met them at Chaparri. And they were absolutely frothing – as the Chaprri Adobe huts are also home to a pair of White winged Guans (Penelope albipennis) – critically endangered turkeys.

At night the ladies and their two guides would sit around the communal table to crop and edit photos, argue over who spotted what first, cross off birds from their list of nearly 3000 species they were hoping to see on their trip, and tell us stories of when and how they spotted their all time favourites. They did all the talking, and Luke and I were happy to listen. These ladies were so passionate – it was almost contagious. ^

Alas, the intolerable amount of insects were driving the girls bonkers (probably didn’t help that we only packed thongs and shorts) and the heat made it impossible for us to carry the girls on any of the walks. So, as we’d successfully convinced the girls that they were in the jungle, one night in Chaparri was enough for this family. Jungle tick – we can all move on.

Via Chiclayo, we returned to Pacasmayo a small town with big, long waves, where fittingly I enjoyed the best pollo a la brasa* in the country. The next day, to concrete our new found passion for birds, we decided to visit the “Parque Zoological por las Aves Gigantes” – which ironically turned out to be a massive emu farm (doh! Thanks Lonely Planet!).

*pollo a la brasa (whole chicken roasted over fire/coals) is typically served with papas fritas (hot chips), selection of creams (sauces such as mayo and picante), and a very simple salad of lettuce, red onion, tomato and cucumber. It is the number one dish sold and enjoyed by Peruvians. Hmmm… Salty, juicy roast chicken skin. Luke eats the chips and salad.

^if you’re interested in birdos (not birding, but the people) apparently there’s a great film called ‘A Big Year’. Apparently it’s spot on. I might have to brush up on my birdo lingo before I watch it – to make sure I get all the inside jokes.

Petrol Wars

After two weeks of the good hippy life in Cusco we headed back to the coast. There was a big swell a’ coming and Luke was keen to scare the baby cheeses out of all of us at Pico Alto (please baby cheeses, let Pico Alto break, because otherwise we be travelling with a broken man). Pico Alto broke, enough, for two days and Luke was a very happy man. Travel tick – we can all move on.

So we flew to Piura in the very north of Peru, close to the border of Ecuador. And then travelled by collectivo to the tiny ghost town of Lobitos. Lobitos is home to a number of hefty lefts and huge barrels, and is the choice of vacation location of my yoga teacher from Cusco – who just happened to be vacationing there this February (“Deirdre Chambers… what a coincidence!”).

The first thing you notice when driving through the Piura desert on the way to Lobitos are the oil pumps. I’ve never seen oil pumps, and didn’t realise they were connected to the hundreds of offshore platforms along the northern coast of Peru (please excuse my lack of correct oil/mining terminology). The town of Lobitos was originally a small fishing village when it was developed by the English in the late 1800s who were after the crude oil and deep water. The English, with the help of the Americans (shareholders), built a prosperous town, desalinisation plant, church, slaughter houses and the first cinema/theatre in South America.

But the Peruvians wanted their oil back, and in 1960s finally kicked out the Gringos. The Peruvian military moved in to defend the asset and the border to the north, and built significant military infrastructure to complement an air base in the nearby port town of Talara. However, only a few years later, when Ecuador and Peru were negotiating borders, the Peruvian government promised to demilitarise Lobitos as part of the peace deal. Lobitos fell into disrepair, and the majority of infrastructure developed by the English and Peruvian military were torn down, sold or burnt – including the cinema**.

Today, Lobitos is a ruin of a town caught in a political/military/surfer stalemate. Some of the English timber houses still exist (protected from thieves by recent legislation prohibiting the removal of wood) and are maintained by tenants renting the land from the military for $10 USD per month. The majority of the extensive infrastructure built by the military is crumbling ruins of bricks, concrete and asbestos.

No one can decide what to do with the military owned land in Lobitos – the most valuable land in the town. Big glitzy resorts, country clubs and golf courses?

In the meantime small crusty surf shacks, hostels and cervicherias (raw fish) continue to pop up out of the dust, while renegade artists try to make Lobitos beautiful again.

We spent two beautiful weeks in Lobitos. The beach is clean (the locals are paid to pick up rubbish on Sundays and Mondays after people from Talara come to Lobitos to party on the weekends), the water is warm and salty (apparently this means no sharks), and it’s always offshore. Luke got barrelled (a lot) and I even managed to have a wee paddle on a steamboat of a hire-board when it was “flat” (my first left)! Watch out Sofia Mulanovich – here comes Jane Currie!

Lobitos has a very interesting story to tell – one worthy of its own coffee table book with photos not taken on an iPhone 5.  By an absolute steamboat of a hire-board, Lobitos is Peru’s best coastal town (probably because it’s not in the Lonely Planet).


**The majority of information available on lobitos is fairly grey, a lot of local rumours (I.e. Apparently Queen Elizabeth the used to visit).

Accomodation – Wayra Hostal.

Yoga – Kat from ‘Yoga Room’ in Cusco.

Bolivia a a a a…

Bolivia a a a a….

…. (Please note that this post was written more than a month ago – but the Peruvian Internet has proven difficult. So let’s cast our minds back to December 31st 2015)….

Peru told us we had to leave. So we slowly made our way to the Peruvian/Bolivian border. We flew from Lima to Cusco (flights are just a wee bit more $ than taking the 22 hour bus trip which is also prone to being robbed. A double decker overnight bus full of tourists = “sitting duck”).

After two nights in Cusco (Pippa had the runny bum) we took a number of collectivos (local mini buses) to Puno on Lake Titicaca, and then a big fat tourist bus across the border to Copacabana in Bolivia.

We overstayed our visa by 6 days. So had to pay $1USD per day per person. 4 x 6 = $24USD plus $20USD to the man at the border (not sure why? Maybe he had a hot date that night and wanted to buy popcorn and a Coke for his date?). This equaled to about $150 soles or $70AUD. Not ideal, but not too bad.

Bolivia loved us (dumb white tourists that is). We were officially screwed by everyone. They saw us coming and we just walked right to them – smiling with our arms open in a big friendly hug, dollars (or bolivianos) falling out of our pockets…

1. Don’t pay the Copacabana entrance tax ($2 bolivianos pp). We paid it.
2. Most restaurants advertise that they have wifi, but don’t actually have it. We ate several very shite meals before we figured out wifi doesn’t actually work anywhere.
3. Luke asked for $1 Boliviano worth of roasted broad beans and the nice old mountain lady gave Luke $1 boliviano change from a $10 boliviano note. And then laughed hysterically . The broad beans were inedible.
4. Washing clothes costs $7 bolivianos per kilo when you ask the price, and then $15 bolivianos per kilo when you want your clean clothes back.
5. Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes. Ninety minutes later, two feral children, a sunburnt mum, and a dad with no beer – the cutlery arrives….

We spent two nights on the Isla del sol – a small island on lake Titicaca. The island is beautiful and clean (not too much rubbish – both Peru and Bolivia are absolutely covered in rubbish, but that’s another blog). The water was clean and there was a small white beach where we fried Freya in UV at ~4000m altitude.

We then decided to take an overnight bus back across the border to Cusco – and thought three seats would be OK for the four of us. Fail. Sigh. Again.

So it kinda felt like we were due for a win, when the lovely people of Peru gave us each a 183 day visa. Woot!

Back to Cusco we went to enjoy the hippy life. God, how I love Cusco. And I’m not even holy. Yoga, vegan, fresh juices, coca tea… I bought myself some sandals made of rope, Luke got dreadlocks, and the girl’s are now completely covered in macrame bracelets and henna tattoos. I’ve eaten so many vegetables Im growing lettuce and packing a crystal for deodorant. Every Thursday night is family “meditation by ancient sounds”. Namaste.

Ye olde fine print…

It’s been a while so a quick update…
We stayed in our perfect little apartment with ocean views (and hot water) until the 18th of December. After which, the plan was to move into a recently built house overlooking the world famous Pico Alto surf break – also in Punta Hermosa.
But as we all know building a house never goes to plan. And the house wasn’t habitable (no electricity or water). So a French bloke (that Luke met in the water) put us onto the cheap place where he was staying, run by a 72 year old women.
Weirdly, she wouldn’t let us stay in any of the empty cuartos (rooms) – apparently the apartment next door was more “appropriate” for a family (families = an opportunity to make more money, approx S100 or $45AUD per night, two night minimum). The apartment was an absolute shithole, dirty and full of mosquitos (who love Freya). But we stayed anyway (Luke’s idea of an adventure) and after two grotty sleepless nights left.
After the shit hole, we moved into the unfinished house (now with electricity and some water – no shower, but miles better than the shithole).
On the 22nd December we left the unfinished house for Lima – because I needed a hot soapy, shower with lots of shampoo, conditioner and scrubbing. And I needed to scrub the girls. The water in Peru is quite “hard”, and as we aren’t used to this kind of water, a shower leaves my hair greasy and Pippa’s hair almost unmanageable. The cold “hard” water in houses, coupled with volcanic sand, salt water, and dust (the south coast of Peru is effectively a black desert – no plants, lots of dirt and rock) doesn’t leave us very clean. I regularly think the girls look homeless. Sometimes I just tie Pippa’s hair into a top-knot, and dread the day I have to brush it. Freya looks like a lego lady from the 80s, or perhaps a greasy “HeMan”.
In Peru, Christmas is celebrated at 12am on Christmas eve/Christmas morning by eating a huge meal and setting off fire works. We spent Christmas Eve with Paola, Paul, Liam (2.5 yrs) and Sienna (1 yr) in their apartment in Miraflores which has an amazing view of the ocean, and a stretch of the Lima coast called “Chorillos”. Chorillos isn’t the world’s safest neighbourhood (taxi drivers lock their doors when driving through) but holy moly can the people of Chorillios put on a fireworks display. The whole stretch was lit up by (unorganised/unofficial) fireworks for more than an hour.
It’s also worth noting that fireworks were made illegal in Peru some time ago.
Christmas Day we all travelled to Cieneguillla, a small green river valley set amongst a moonscape of rocky, dusty mountains. Fundo Mediterraneo was perfect – a small hotel surrounded by lush gardens and orchards, which also had a pool and very hot showers (hooray! But no shampoo or conditioner). The small hotel (35 pax) and restaurant are run by a young Spanish couple that moved to Peru to escape the economic crisis in Europe. The food was freaken amazing. Paella, tapas, and hands-down the best spag bol I have ever eaten (kids menu). We spent three amazing nights at Fundo Mediterraneo and I want to go back.
On the 30th of December we realised we had to head back into Lima (again). Stupidly we didn’t ask for 90-day visas upon arrival, and therefore had to extend our 30 day visa. However the migration office in Lima had other ideas. Rule no. 1 – read the fine print, especially in your passport.

Happy New Year – and get out of our country!

So we’ve started our trip to Bolivia to get another visa. Hopefully we’ll remember to ask for 90 days next time?

What we’ve learnt about Jane:

  • When she doesn’t have a hot soapy shower in more than two days she gets grumpy.
  • Her Spanish is terrible.

What we’ve learnt about Luke:

  • If a world class surf break is actually breaking, Luke needs to surf it then and there. Because it might not break again for the next 4 weeks. Otherwise he gets grumpy.
  • He eats a “Sublime” chocolate or ice cream everyday.

What we’ve learnt about us:

  • We both don’t like Keith Richards (neither of us want to read his autobiography, but English books are hard to come by so we don’t want to swap/throw it out).
  • Weve survived >30 days straight, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with each other and our girls. That’s a new record for Jane!

 

Beautiful Point

We’re now in Punta Hermosa (coastal town) after spending a couple of days in Miraflores, Lima. The girls loved Lima – Miraflores had heaps of parks/playgrounds, even one with a resident population of > 100 stray cats (which they thought was fabulous).

We hit up the Parque a la Reserva which has ten ridiculously massive water fountains, including one for the little kids to play in and a mini train (mini trains are always a winner, but so humiliating cause my fat bum never fits on the seats). Miraflores also has a vinyasa yoga studio (OMFG!) and I managed to squish in three classes. No intiendo nada (I understood nothing), just watched the others in the class to figure out which asanas we were supposed to be doing. Third class, the teacher busted me (do understand speak Spanish?). Luckily vinyasa yogis across the world are all peace, love and mung beans – they even play the same music.

Punta Hermosa is Luke’s dream town, so he’s now living the dream. $6 lunches (vegetarian which feeds us all) and 10 surf breaks straight out front. Our little apartment is ridiculously amazing. View of Las Islas (break no. 3) from the balcony, open windows (no flies/mozzies), ocean sounds…. Sounds super cheesy, but it actually feels like something out of a film where the protagonist needs to be incognito for a wee bit – White concrete houses on the cliffs, blue ocean, constant 24C, Bouganvillia…

Apparently it’s revolting here in summer – think Portsea on New Years Eve circa 1998. So we’ll be moving on in just over a week…. But we’ll probably return to Punta Hermosa after February.

Next stop: where the mountains meet the Amazon (I.e. Yellow fever territory).

Key learnings:
• Lagrimas de mujere (the tears of women) = port (the aperitif) in Peru.
• Walking with kids gets easier – we no longer have to carry them on our shoulders! Although Pippa has a new song “walking, walking, we walk all day….”
• Quote of the day from Luke: “Why don’t you own more mesh?”. Regarding local women’s clothing – particularly tops/singlets.

We made it…

Twenty seven hours later we made it to Lima!

Key learnings:

  • Inaugural Air New Zealand flight to Buenos Aires from Auckland = lots of media, excellent service, free alfajores (dulce de leche biscuit), tango exhibition and Maori singing. But major issues with check in due to reciprocity fee in Argentina not allowing us to check in…
  • Don’t forget to order specialty meals before you leave (vegetarian, kids).
  • Aerolineas Argentinas dont have TVs or show movies (5.5 hrs einternational flight with jetlagged 3 and 4 yr old = shite).
  • Thank god for the Cookie Time Mini Minor at the Auckland airport.
  • My Spanish is terrible.