Written by Chris
In the time since our last update, we have been on the move quite a bit, sampling some different locales and finding little time to get any serious typing done. On our last update, we had just finished a stay in the Amazon jungle and much has happened since then. Fear not, here is a bit of a summary of our recent city visits.
From the jungle, we caught a regional bus ride to the town of Banos in Ecuador. It is a big jumping-off point for an array of adventure sports (mountain biking, rafting, zip lining, rock climbing) and the steady stream of visitors seeking these things brings a lot of character (and characters) into the town.
The town of Banos is named for the hot spring baths (banos) on the outskirts of the city. The springs are powered by several still-active volcanoes that tower over the city and, every few hundred years or so, they erupt and destroy the city or parts of it, events which are all graphically recorded in murals inside the city cathedral.
During our time in Banos, we first did a bit of relaxing in the hot mineral springs. They left us very rosy and with very soft skin, but the crowds made it difficult to stay for too long. We also rented some bikes and cruised out of town on a long scenic downhill road through a river valley where we saw a wealth of waterfalls, terrifying suspension bridges, and all the zip lining you could handle. Unfortunately, some rain caught up with us halfway through, but the empanadas at the finish made up for it.
But the highlight of Banos, for me, was the food. A month straight of traditional Ecuadorian food was starting to get old and we pigged out on some Mexican nachos, Indian curry, and the coup de gras was an honest-to-goodness brewpub. The Stray Dog Tavern was such a welcome sight after having access to only a single type of beer in Ecuador for over a month. The place is owned by an expat biker from California and the five beers on tap and super tasty fried pub food were a very welcome slice of home for us.
After we split Banos, it was time for the Peru leg of our trip. After landing in Lima, we caught a bus down to the coastal desert oasis town of Huacachina. The town consists of a single ring of building surrounding a natural oasis in the middle of some towering sand dunes. There’s not much there besides hotels and restaurants, but its a great place to catch a tour of some of the area’s sights or to enjoy the sand. You can take a tour to nearby Pisco and sample the national booze of the same name, usually consumed in the form of a Pisco Sour or you can book a plane to fly you over some ancient terrestrial artwork called the Nazca Lines. We, however, opted for the Dune Buggy.
So a guy takes an old truck, strips off everything but the engine and frame, and welds on a roll cage and a bunch of seats and he calls it a dune buggy. About 12 of us piled in beside a driver with a death wish and we launched across the dunes with reckless abandon. It was a lot like a roller coaster but without the safety, but we still had a great time. We even periodically stopped for some sand boarding. You strap a piece of wood on your feet or lay down on it and sled down the sand dune. You could get some surprising speed and the best part is you don’t have to worry about getting snow down your back. I would definitely have another go, but I think I’ll wait until they put the chair lift in.
We headed back to Lima to meet up with our first visitors of the trip; a group of friends in from San Francisco. We checked out a few sights there. First was the Magic Water Fountains, which legitimately impressed me with its 100-foot-high jet of water, changing water maze, and water tunnel. It didn’t even bother me that the centerpiece laser fountain show was under construction. And we checked out the Lima Cathedral and associated Catacombs where we saw skulls with hair on them, the femurs of thousands of Peruvians, and even some other non-creepy stuff as well. However, we spent the majority of our time doing what people come to Lima to do; eat.
We first checked out one of Peru’s national specialities; ceviche. It is typically made from some fresh, raw seafood that is tossed with some onions in some lemon juice with a bit of spice added. It is really simple in concept, but when made well, was really incredible. We hit up a restaurant called Panchita where we got some great Peruvian stews in addition to the most famous dish in Peru, Cuy. For those who don’t know, you can eat Guinea pig and Peruvians do and they call it cuy. It wasn’t bad, similar to rabbit, but it seemed to be way too much work for the amount of meat on those things. We also hit up another fantastic restaurant call Amaz. It is themed with traditional food from the Amazon like fried bananas, pirhanna, and chicha, a fermented corn beer. The highlight though, was eating the giant snail with a shell the size of my fist. Good stuff.
After a quick flight from Lima, we ended up in Cusco. Cusco was the capital of the ancient Incan empire and is now the starting point for anyone hiking the Incan trail and going to Machu Picchu and, interesting factoid, it was named after the emperor in The Emperor’s New Groove. It is a high-altitude town located over 10,000 ft. and is loaded with history, from epic Incan ruins to Spanish churches. There are tons of outdoor outfitters and tour companies to help you explore the many surrounding treks and ancient ruins and a large variety of restaurants to cater to all the visitors. We spent several days here getting acclimated to the altitude and stocking up on souvenirs made from genuine baby alpaca (wool, presumably). And we had some more tasty food; alpaca burger, more cuy, McDonald’s, and loads of quinoa soup and Peruvian stews.
And if you did’t love llamas already: