Ok, so “Peru was full of highlights”, “some of the most amazing sights that we have seen in our 307 days on the road”, etc. etc., but there is another side to Peru—a darker, frustrating side.
What Allison failed to mention about the Amazon Basin is that everything there wants to either kill you or make you want to itch, a lot. Want to go for a relaxing swim to counter the oppressing daytime heat? Watch out for piranhas. Leisurely stroll through the jungle? Beware of the tree that shoots fire ants when you brush up against it. Relaxing in a hammock? Just be careful of the wasps the size of birds. And don’t think you’re safe in pants, the mosquitos can sting you through them. Yeah, the Amazon is just a barrel of fun—and I won’t even detail how much this experience will cost you. Oh, by the way, you will probably get robbed when you’re taking your stroll through the jungle.
Ok, so you move on from the Amazon, getting robbed a second time in the process, and end up in the beautiful Oasis town of Huacachina. Life’s grand—well, minus the fact you just lost all your expensive gear—so you decide to go sandboarding. Well, that’s what we did. On the last, particularly steep run, Al’s hat was lost to the desert. In my attempt to recover it, I flipped, cart-wheeled down the side of the dune, and sprained my left ankle—Al’s hat remaining in the desert. Ok, so now I can’t walk. And then Al gets really sick. Fantastic.
But hey, at least there are the cama buses, an “overnight treat” as Allison describes it. I don’t know about you, but no matter how far the seat reclines, when the bus temperature is near freezing and the journey consists of hours of curved roads, “overnight treat” may be a bit of hyperbole.
But at least there is the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, right? Sure, those are superb, as long as you don’t book a night in Aguas Calientes at the end of your tour. Having paid for this ‘upgrade’ in advance, we arrived to find that nothing had been booked for us. After hours of arguments over the phone with various operators, each claiming that he or she is not the one responsible, we finally secured a spot in a hotel—one of the operators even claimed that we somehow left the Inca Trail a day early and we were supposed to be camping. To make matters worse, we were given train tickets with incorrect names. Our guide insisted Peru Rail never checks the names, so we would have no problem boarding. Sure enough, when we arrived at the station the next day, we were pulled aside by security. Our tickets had been flagged and Peru Rail demanded to see our passports. When we complied, they took the tickets away and informed us we would need to buy new tickets. Having left our bank cards in Cusco, for safety reasons, we were trapped—we didn’t have enough cash to buy new, relatively expensive tickets. After more frantic phone calls, resulting only in all the operators blaming each other for the mix-up, and an unlikely loan from a Peruvian waitress, we were able to get tickets for the last train of the day. To avoid the above, first, do not bother staying overnight in Aguas Calientes (the hot springs are more like tepid springs), and second, do not book tours through Incamerica in Lima or KB Tours in Cusco.
But don’t worry, throughout all of the above, you have delicious Peruvian food to carry you through. Meat with sides of rice and potatoes; or, meat with sides of noodles and potatoes; or, a soup filled with rice, with some potatoes and noodles as your main. Sometimes you’ll get delicious rice mixed… with noodles. You better learn to love carbohydrates before coming to Peru.
Well, congratulations, you made it through Peru. When you get home, just don’t check your bank statement. Because of the express taxi kidnappings (where a driver will kidnap you, haul you to an ATM, and force you to withdraw your limit), withdrawal limits top out at roughly the equivalent of $250 CAD. At $3 to $5 per withdrawal, not including the fees some ATMs secretly leverage on your transaction (warning: do not use ATM Globalnet), we ended up paying over $50 CAD in bank fees over our 26 days.
But, there is a great bakery in Puno—Ricos Pan. Unfortunately the coffee isn’t great, but the cake is delicious.
I admit, this post is a little tongue in cheek. Any country you visit will have its ups and downs, Peru’s downs just seem to be more memorable, and perhaps more numerous, than most. But don’t worry, Peru is worth the hassle… just let me confirm that after the insurance claim goes through.