Gone dark

I feel like I have ‘gone dark’, in the words of Jack Bauer (from 24 for those who aren’t familiar). The truth isn’t far from that. I’m currently tapping this blog into a word document ready to upload as soon as – or if I ever – get internet connection again.

Ok, I do realise that I am travelling through a developing nation and the Internet connection is expected to give me: ‘Limited or no connection’, but how is a girl supposed to download her favourite trash TV on the go? That should, however, be the least of my concerns as it is the cities themselves that literally go dark at a moment’s notice.

The first black out we experienced was in a fantastic beach town called Mancora, a couple of hours after crossing the border from Ecuador into Peru (a whole other experience I’ll get onto). We’d just ordered dinner and goldfish sized cocktails (of course) and the whole place plunged into darkness. A bit perturbed as to whether we were going to get fed that night…and how they planne don blending my passion fruit margarita, we asked the bar man if this was a regular occurrence to which he responded, ‘Welcome to Latin America’. Brilliant 🙂 Needless to say, these guys are old hat at it and with the aid of a few candles, a gas cooker (wise investment) and a keen (read ‘lots of’) spirit, the drinks were with us in less time than it would take to order at TGI Fridays at home.

But let’s back up a bit. After Banos – volcano country – which is where I think I left you last (remember I’m typing this in a word document without the blog to refresh my memory) we headed south into Cuenca, a pretty town reputed to rival Quito. In my view it kicks Quito’s ass! Nice buildings, good restaurants and the promise of not being raped or pillaged. Bonus. I say all of this off the back of a half day experience of the city. Not only have the bus journeys become longer with the in-city stays growing shorter, I had a pretty late night on arriving in Cuenca (drinking boxed – yes, BOXED wine – my now old friend ‘Clos’) until 4am which ensured a late start to the sight seeing. But that was fine and after walking off our hangovers, hoping some of our fellow travellers hadn’t heard our stage whispered gossip, we had another early morning start to take us across the border to Mancora.

The crossing went reasonably well. It was fairly manic and you needed quite a lot of gusto and elbow manoeuvring to get your passport stamped and get a seat on the bus to ride you from one country to the other, but we completed the process and were allowed into Peru. Phew. It was a bit of a relief as there was a thirty minute window where your passport is stamped exiting you from one country and until you get your entry stamp you are in the 2km stretch of dusty no man’s land until the Peruvian’s deem you fit to enter. Tom Hanks and the Terminal it was not. Though I would have been fine for pork cracking sandwiches (the roadside fayre).
Mancora was a great hippy haven – beachside bars and cafes, arts and craft shops and everyone just chill – in – out. Our ‘hostel’ was in a bamboo hut style with outdoor bathroom (exotic in principle, effing freezing in practice), hammock and pool. Nice. I definitely could have invested a few more days of my life there, but another 9hr bus ride and a town called Huanchaco were calling.

Huanchaco itself was pretty dull – a poor cousin to Mancora with a windy beach and not much going on. That was, until the evening. We only had one night in Huanchaco and it coincided with a festival where the locals re-enact the arrival of the Incas and the bun fight (not literally!) that followed. I seem to be stumbling on a lot of local festivals, which is all very timely 🙂 The night ended on the beach huddled around a camp fire listening to a local band rock with their guitars. Clos (remember: my new found boxed wine) made an appearance and I discovered I have a vague talent for the pan pipes. Mr Poncho Man – the local guy teaching me – was adamant I have music in my heart. I guess he has never heard me sing ABBA. Anyway, not wanting to disappoint his overly premature assessment, I agreed wholeheartedly and continued to screech out the two tone tune I had ‘mastered’.

Next day we packed our hangovers into our bags and boarded what must be the most luxurious bus in existence. It was better than Business Class on an airline. With wi-fi…ok, ok, I should have done my blog then instead of trying to download the next season pass for Desperate Housewives. Anyway, busy blowing the memory on my wee netbook (thanks itunes –hear dof compressing files?), Lima arrived quickly.

At this point we have probably travelled over 2,000km since first landing in Quito and, despite the nice bus, we were starting to feel bone tired. It’s amazing how sitting on a bus for that long makes you yearn to be in a sitting position. Off the bus, into a chair, not wanting to move. But despite that, we hauled our backsides around Lima and found the sprawling metropolis to be a pleasant surprise. Dubbed as worse than Quito I had very low expectations but none of them were met. The place sells Lancome for goodness sake – how bad can it be? 🙂 It was nice to indulge in some western familiarities for a while, but as with the rest of the palces, we moved on quickly, bringing me to today.

I’m now sat in bed. With light (momentarily) but without connection (indefinitely) as I am in Pisco. This town is famous for supplying the grapes for Peru’s national drink – the Pisco Sour, but that is not the main thing Pisco is now known for. In 2007 over 80% of the town was raised to the ground by an Earthquake where tens of thousands of people died. Sadly, over 100 died in the local church when they ran there for cover. After the Earthquake, crime increased and it is clear only three years later that the town is still picking through its rubble. Evidence of the quake is everywhere.

Many buildings have been quickly rebuilt to encourage a return for tourism – hostels and a handful of restaurants, but it is a double edged sword. Without the tourists, crime increases as locals struggle to make an income. With the rising crime, the tourists stay away. It is heartbreaking to see. The town is lively and animated but the advice is to stay in groups at night as the crime can be violent. Consequently, we chose to eat at the hostel. Tomorrow, we will give back to the community by going on a local boat trip but even by the guide’s advice, this is a town we should move on from quickly. [Note to mum: I am perfectly safe and following all of the travel advice. Failing that, I’m carrying a container of the local grape brandy in my bag – that stuff can blind you!]

Well, my battery is about to go and I don’t know if we will have power all night so I’m going to get it charging now while I can. I’m probably going to go dark again for a while now as I will be starting the Inca Trail in less than a week (OMG I am sooooo not fit for this right now) and I’m guess there really is no Internet access there.

Hope all is well at home and the winter isn’t too harsh too soon.

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Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

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