A Birthday To Remember – Peru, South America

A Buffet
After signing with a small organized tour of the Colcha Canyon through the Reyna guesthouse in Arequipa (southern Peru), for a six-hour bus ride to the town of Chivay, we were brought into a cafeteria style restaurant, treated to a buffet dinner of various Peruvian foods. For about $3.00 U.S., there was everything, from ceviche to alpaca stew to rice with stewed chicken, healthy salads and a variety of desserts.

At one point, a man came to each table offering something that loooked similar to fried chicken parts. After finding out it was guinea pig, I decided to partake, never having been afraid to try anything new in the food department. I started crunching on a small piece I thought was a thigh, had three or four good bites (reminiscent of greasy dark chicken meat), and looked in time to see two perfect rows of little rodent molars, part of the skull through the roof of the mouth that I had already taken a bite of. I didn't eat anymore, everyone laughed.

Organized Tours
I flew into Lima with my girlfriend, Patty, on February 5th and left the country, alone, on March 12th; Patty had to return for work. The "organized tour" thing is huge in Peru, their tourism board has figured out how to make it work out well for them. I have to say Lonely Planet failed on this one. After using them several times in the past, I was disappointed with their most recent Peru guidebook – inaccuracies, not-even-remotely-close prices.

After a great excursion to Pisco/Paracas on the central coast, a day trip to the Islas Bellistas where birdwatchers can lose themselves, we headed back to Lima, booked a flight to Iquitos, the largest city in the world inaccessible by roads, located in the middle of the Amazon in northeastern Peru. Our motocarro driver, Javier, who picked us up from the airport, was a good find. He introduced us to his family, the next day took us on an all-inclusive tour of the city and everything around it for $15.00. We stayed at a highly recommended hostel, turned out to be a dim closet with a broken pool, no ventilation. At least the receptionist was weird, which made it interesting.

A Little Adventure
Iquitos is a beautiful place, a must see. We met a man who ran a supply boat down the Amazon. He offered us passage to a small port three and a half days down the river, called Yurimaguas, for $20.00 each. We embarked on that little adventure the next afternoon. We slung hammocks on the upper deck and began our trip around 7:00 p.m. What a great way to see some of the 4,000-plus-mile Amazon river, get a taste of what river life is like for its inhabitants! One of the highlights for me was passing a couple fleets of pink freshwater river dolphins.

If you go to Iquitos and want passage down the river on something other than an overpriced luxury boat, ask around for a company called Transports Eduardo. I guarantee you'll be more than pleased.

Tarapoto Death Road
Upon reaching Yurimaguas, we were trying to get to Tarapoto, about five hours away by car for a flight to Lima. Needless to say, we were delayed at a police checkpoint for about 13 hours in the middle of nowhere. Of course, this was the time one of us got sick. Patty spent the day shaking, sweating, laying on the ground, utterly miserable. I tried to help when I could, avoided eating fried armadillo tails. When we were back on the road, the drive turned out to be the worst road I've ever been on. I still can't believe our van made it through what I call the "Tarapoto Death Road". It ended, 17 hours later, at the clean cozy Miranda Hostel in Tarapoto.

On My Own
After saying goodbye to Patty and spending a few more day in Lima, I headed south to Ica, then to Huacachina for the dunes and the tropical parrot-filled oasis. From there I took a 12-hour bus to Arequipa to see the "white city" and the Colca Canyon.

The backdrop of the city of Arequipa is framed out of three of the largest volcanoes in the country, an absolutely magnificent sight on a clear day. I stayed near the Santa Catalina Monastery, a worthwhile place to visit. The next day was the hike down part of the Colcha, to see amazing birds. In the evening we headed to the hotsprings where I basked in the hot waters and thought about the people in New Hampshire – freezing. A group of Germans from a tour were giving one another backflips into the springs. Good memories.

The following morning I decided to spend the remaining time at the ocean. I flew to Tumbes, about 45 kilometers from the north part of the Ecuador border. I surfed in Mancora, a small fishing village. I had dinner with three teachers from Arequipa. We chatted about everything and drank quite a bit of Arequipenian beer. Again, good memories.

Mancora beach was perfect – a great combination of surfers, little shops combined with great food, sun, sun, sun and waves that toppled. The water was warm, inviting, but there are plenty of other things to do – hikes into the desert, deep sea fishing for tuna and marlin, other beaches within a short bus ride, and access to nearby Ecuador.

I wanted the serenity of the ocean and the community of a beachtown to end my trip. That's what I found.