Although technically only four Feet and one Hudswell, the five of us set off on an adventure of a lifetime that had been many years in the making. Are we overly ambitious or perhaps a little crazy as some might say, to be traveling with three young children? Only time will tell. Pru, our youngest, at 5 months (not to be mistaken for “Peru” as many Peruvians have questioned) has been the easiest traveller to date with the fewest meltdowns accumulated. She in fact has made traveling a far more enjoyable experience as her presence has had us whisked to the front of many an airport queue, customs line and even receives preferential treatment in the Peruvian grocery store checkouts. Sweet!
Off to a Good Start….
….Well, after an almost catastrophic start. We arrived at Pearson International in Toronto 2.5 hrs before our flight to find out that the four of us on UK passports needed ESTA visas for our transfer through Miami on to Lima, Peru. Luckily were able to apply online, but it took 45 minutes to complete all the forms.
We still had time to hit Starbucks before the flight so everything was alright, but there was definitely some unneeded stress before we even got off the ground.
The airport pickup in Lima went smooth enough despite Mr. Carlos having only enough space for one suitcase. He arranged a second car and we did not have to pay any extra than the pre-arranged S/.55 (US$20).
The kids were awesome through it all: up at 5:40 and didn’t get to bed until 23:00. The next day in Lima they were also good considering their lack of sleep, with only a few meltdowns around dinner time.
Our initial impressions upon arrival at secondhomeperu were a bit circumspect in the dark (saw a cockroach run across the floor and killed a spider in the bathroom). Certainly not a dive but certainly not new – upkeep could be better. But the location and setting (Peruvian artist Victor Delfin’s home perched on cliffs overlooking the ocean) was pretty spectacular. In the light of day, the flat was more than adequate and we had settled in nicely by the second day, enjoying the warm weather and the pool.
First impressions: we could take it or leave it.
In preparation for our trip, finding and booking accommodation was so time consuming that it left no time to really plan for what we might do once we get there. The logistics and limitations of travelling with two kids and a baby and the quality of accomodation we could find in our budget really ended up determining our domestic itineraries more than anything else. So it was with only vague preconceptions, but no real idea, that we arrived in Barranco, the neighborhood in Lima where we would first stay. Portrayed as Lima’s bohemian, artsy area with lots of good restaurants, we found it in our first days not quite fitting that description. Though not a large neighborhood, there did not seem to be a heart with all the restaurants. It was tidy, but with upkeep wanting in some areas. A bit on the poor side in parts, but by no means impoverished. We certainly always felt safe and it was nice to wander around, but was somehow underwhelming all the same. Nevertheless, after the full day of travel from Toronto to get here, we were more than happy to take it slow, settle into some routines with the kids and feel out our new travel rhythm. Barranco was perfect for this and we ended up really enjoying our first five days in Lima.
The Road to Ica
Driving five hours south to Ica in our Toyota Yaris, the moment we left Lima we were struck by the barren landscape of hardcore desert and shanty-town living conditions. Ica is home to a desert oasis called Huacachina, so we knew we were going to hit desert-like conditions, but we naively assumed it was localized around Ica (why else would you drive five hours to look at sand dunes?). But no. Barranco is in the south of Lima, with only a handful of neighborhoods to pass through before reaching the Panamericana Sur coastal highway, and only a few more kilometers further before you hit the open desert. We have camel trekked in the Thar desert on the India-Pakistan border, and apart from a four lane highway coarsing through it, this desert was no different. At least we knew not to book a beach front getaway south of Lima as part of our Peru trip — barren, arid landscape nothing like the Bali we have grown accustomed to.
Leaving Lima, the subdivisions south of Barranco steadily fall into disrepair, becoming more sparse, to single story, less brick, to clusters of road-side shacks, belied on the map by prominent looking dots with names as though they were something more substantial. The searing heat was visible, rising off the road creating shimmering mirages, magnifying oncoming traffic and toying with your ability to judge distances for passing. There was really nothing much at all for the next five hours, though we did pass by the Peru LNG terminal. Thankfully we had the foresight to grab some peanut butter, honey and a loaf of bread before we left Lima. Unfortunately we didn’t have a knife, so there I was, making peanut butter sandwiches on my lap with the paper cover from underneath the lid of the peanut butter jar!
Stops to feed Pru and take a leak were literally done on the shoulder of the highway as there was nowhere else to go. When Stella said she needed to pooh, however, we made her hang on until we saw a small gas station with some toilets. That was a mistake. I made the first attempt to take her into the men’s room to go. The toilets were backed up with shit spilling out all over the place, flies galore. Steph then tried the women’s, but was no better, and ended up taking her around the back and crapping there!
Finally arriving in Ica was welcome to say the least. Villa Jazmin was a nice basic, clean hotel with a pool on the edge of town overlooked by towering sand dunes (pretty cool actually!). While we there we found out that Peru was hosting the Dakar Rally, but we didn’t see any of the race, only a staging site on our drive back. We had lunch one of the days at the Huacachina oasis with the intention of sand boarding and four wheel driving in the dunes, but they said the kids were too young and we weren’t that broken up about it. From the outset we haven’t been all that concerned with packing in all sorts of activities at each destination, but just soaking in the experience. Stella did see a ‘pirate’ at lunch, though (apparently if you wear a bandana in Peru you are a pirate!). Climbing up the dunes outside our hotel yielded some incredible vistas and photo ops.
A Peruvian Gallapagos?
Paracus is a town that most travellers visit for a day, and we were no different. Islas Ballestas, described as the (very) poor man’s Galapagos and located half an hour from shore, is home to a vast array of bird and marine life and is the draw for tourists.
Arriving late afternoon we checked into a backpacker hospidaje due to limited choices (our only one booked for the entire trip) and much to the delight of Oscar and Stella, we pushed the four single beds together to make one gigantic “family bed” big enough for five. Interestingly, our hostel was called Refugio de Pirates (Pirate Refuge), but no pirate sightings!
We had been most concerned about this stop on our trip due to the accommodation and the descriptions of Paracas itself as a boring dusty town with little to do, but we were pleasantly surprised. Set on the coast of the Pacific with a promenade of restaurants overlooking the ocean, it made for a great place to enjoy a dinner of various plates of seafood and ceviche. Who would have thought that spicy ceviche would receive rave reviews from a 3 and 5 year old? Surprisingly it has been the dish of choice several times!
The next day we ventured out early in the morning in the hopes of seeing sea lions, vultures, penguins, pelicans and more. The boat passed by an island with an Incan candelabra carved into the parched island hillside, an example of the Nazca lines. As we approached Islas Ballestas, we were reminded by the guide that hundreds of thousands of birds equals a lot if bird droppings, “Best to keep hats on, look left to right only and never look up with one’s mouth open!” Can a 5 month old or even yet a feisty 3 year old comply with this advice? Luckily Pru slept most of the ride and stayed under a makeshift sun cover and Stella was oblivious of the danger which ended up working in her favour.
The trip was a success and all of the above wildlife and more were seen in abundance. Did it leave a lasting impression? Stella and Oscar were unanimous in agreement — the enormous family bed was the best. Nothing like a giant bed to compete with. I guess we needn’t have worried about staying in backpacker accommodation!
Most picturesque so far in Peru has been Lunahuana, the wine region in the middle of the desert. It is nestled between arid mountains with narrow but verdant river banks running through it. Seeing green was a refreshing change, but the sand flies were murderous. It was hard to capture on film how spectacular parts of the drive in was. The roads were carved through and into the sides of mountains and as you drove the bendy roads you would catch glimpses of the river valley and other mountains ahead. It was beautiful to say the least. Hotel Los Palomos, our nicest to date, was the perfect place to relax and we spent three lazy days swimming in the pool and exploring the surrounding area. If it weren’t for the swarms of sand flies you could imagine spending a serious amount of time here.
Saved by the car alarm
You can’t go anywhere in Peru without a car alarm going off. They are are so ubiquitous to have become part of the landscape, white noise. And they are all completely identical so no one knows if it is theirs, or seems to care. This complacency really came in handy for us when Steph backed our rental into a parked car in Lunahuana. Nobody batted an eye as we stood between the two cars, alarms blaring as we examined the damage and popped our bumper back in place! Off we drove, with none the wiser.
It’s all relative
How things can look so different with a change of perspective. Driving back into to Lima, how the desert shacks become single story brick dwellings, then suburbs and then …. gloriously colorful, vibrant Barranco! And the cool, fresh ocean breeze — heaven after the dry desert drive. So, Lima – take it, or leave it? We’ll take it!
So far Peru has been a great start to our adventure. The people are extremely warm, friendly and helpful. Even Stella would agree as she hasn’t been fazed by the abundance of “Peruvian Pirates”. We’ll keep you posted as to whether pirate numbers stay steady as we head inland to the white city of Arequipa and further on into the Colca Canyon, second deepest in the world!
Slideshow: Lima Loop