Mancora & Beach Time

Given how much I disliked my workaway in Huanchaco, I decided to leave early (surprise, surprise) . I am not sure I have ever been so happy to leave a situation. I thought about staying in Huanchaco for a bit longer but not at the hostel but then I was worried about running into people. I did meet a girl at the hostel who was traveling to Mancora as well so that was the one benefit of having someone to travel with for a bit.

By this point, I was so ready for a proper vacation.

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The Loki in Mancora and basically what it looked like when we arrived at 6am.

I caught an overnight bus with Stacy, the girl I had met at the hostel. She had just finished up working for 2 and half years in Lima. She was from Australia. We stayed at the Loki and it worked out great as we got to check in early ( I mean 5am early) and we could sleep once we got there. We had great roommates as well who we ended up becoming friends with.

Who wouldn't want to lounge on this beach all day?

Who wouldn’t want to lounge on this beach all day?

Now a bit on Mancora. Mancora is a beach party town on Peru’s northern most coast. It is around 3 hours from the border to Ecuador. Mancora is one of the most touristy cities in the North of Peru, if not Peru. The beaches show you why.

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The neon painting that ensued in Mancora.

After our nap from the long journey, we walked to the market and bought our breakfast/lunch, which ended up being an avocado, bread, and a mango.  Did I mention how great mangos & avocados are in South America??? So delicious, so cheap and surprisingly filling. We then spent a bit of time laying out on the beach, and this was the first time in a looonnnggg time, that I spent too much time in the sun and got a bit burnt. (Once every 5 years won’t hurt too much, right??)

Later that evening we decided to get dinner with the other girls we met. We got some amazing burritos that were in a crepe (different, I know) and made ourselves some mixed drinks on the ocean side. Given that we were staying at a party hostel which had cheap drinks, we stayed there for the night and actually had a lot of fun. Cheap drinks, glow paint, and a game or two of waterfalls and you have a great night. We wrapped up the night with some ping pong and were out by midnight.

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Green Eggs & Ham. I liked it so much I came back again the next time I was in Mancora!

The next day was a bit more of the same. We got breakfast at a place called Green Eggs & Ham based on the famous Dr. Suess book. It was a welcome break to have American style breakfast after 3 months of travel. This is a must stop when in Mancora. I highly recommend the fresh juices as well! We spent the rest of the day laying out on the beach and enjoying life. Later that night, we said goodbye to our new friends and Stacy and I moved to another hostel for ½ the price and our own room. We laid low on a Sunday and swapped hotel horror stories.

We were woken the next morning to be told that the place was being fumigated (ya know, to kill bugs and everything living). Not ideal but we managed. It was fine with us as we wanted breakfast and to buy a few things. Stacy’s next stop was north to Ecuador as I was heading an hour south to stay in Lobitos for two weeks. More adventure awaited.

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Huanchaco, Peru and the worst “work” experience of my life

I decided to head straight for Huanchaco on Monday so I could get there by Tuesday night. It was a very long trip. I think Arequipa to Lima was over 12 hours, and then another 8 hours from Lima to Trujillo, and then a half hour taxi to Huanchaco. Every thing seemed good the first night. I quickly realized looks can be deceiving.

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Huanchaco’s curved beaches on the promenade.

I thought I had signed up to mostly help reception and help people set up their new hostel. What they really needed was cleaning help. They put me to work the first day and I spent the next 7-8 hours cleaning. Now, most workaways have people working 4-5 days a week at 5 hours a day. This workaway expected me to work 6-8 hours a day, 6 days a week. This turns what should be a mutual arrangement into a nightmare. I was working harder than I had worked in a long time, for basically no pay, or the equivalent of $1 an hour. I did not realize when I agreed, that I would be a cleaning lady (nothing against, I just was expecting more reception type work).

To make matters worse, the couple who owned the hostel were a bit unorganized . At one point they had too many volunteers and not enough rooms so that people were sleeping on the roof. More than half of the volunteers were friends of the couples which made matters worse, mostly for me. It was the perfect opportunity where they just took advantage of hard workers. It seemed any time I sat down for a break, there would magically be more things to do. I think they were terrified themselves of people taking advantage.

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Huanchaco’s smaller waves are the perfect place to try out a surfboard!

Huanchaco wasn’t all bad though. The one good thing is it is a great place to learn to surf. I found a guy who was willing to rent me a board and wetsuit for 20 soles a day or the equivalent of just shy of $7 dollars. I went out about 4 times and stood up about half. Surfing is so hard and intense. Not sure it is my calling, but I sure enjoy the full body workout that comes with it.

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If there is one thing I learned about Peru, it is that they love to dance!

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One of the last sunsets in Huanchaco & view from where I was staying.

Huanchaco is a fairly sleepy surf town. It is most certainly a town and growing pretty quickly. There are many restaurants, bars and tourists. If you want to learn to surf, it may be one of the best options.

The Peruvian White City & Booking it North

After Puno, my expectations were set a bit lower for Peru. A lot of backpackers head for Cusco after Puno. As I was waiting for my boyfriend to do Cusco, I headed south to Arequipa.

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One of Arequipa’s many white traditional buildings.

Arequipa is also known as the White City due to all of its traditional colonial white buildings built using local white stone from neighboring volcanoes. It is a beautiful city with a lot of activities to partake in outside the city, one of the most famous being Colca Canyon. I’ll be honest, after Bolivia I was a bit tired of tourism. I really just wanted to enjoy the city. I spent most of my time eating and just planning my next moves.

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Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas was my favorite in all of Peru.

My workaway/volunteer that I had planned for April had fallen through. As such, I immediately looked for an alternative for the month I had left. I wanted to stay some place where I could learn to surf so with that as my parameters, I searched.

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Lovely architecture to discover around Arequipa’s many corners.

Something popped up (well two somethings) and my hope was restored. My next two weeks would be spent in Huanchaco, Peru just outside of Trujillo followed by Lobitos, Peru, both little surf towns. Little did I know, I was about to have the worst workaway experience yet.

Puno, Peru – Not my cup of tea

After Isla del Sol, I grabbed the 1:30 bus in Copacabana and headed for the Peruvian border. They make everyone get off the bus, exit Bolivian customs, pay any fees if you overstayed (not me), and then walk across to Peru and go through customs there.

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Welcome to Peru!

I was very excited for Peruvian food. My first meal out in Peru was a bit of a sticker shock though. Fifteen dollars for dinner and a drink?? That is absurd compared to the prices I was paying in Bolivia. Yes, I realize that in the USA this is a typical price, but I had already been abroad for almost two months now so this was a surprise.

Puno is not my favorite Peruvian city. It is a rather large city on Lake Titicaca but with a bit of a sketchy feel. The bus station is nothing to write home about and the ATM there ate one of our friend’s cards. He was trying to head out that day. I should have followed suit.

I then decided to stay with two other people as we got a hotel room for really cheap. $15 dollars cheap (do you now see why I thought $15 for a dinner was expensive?). I should have left after one night but I stayed two and at least I had wifi/internet compared to Bolivia’s horrific excuse of a internet.

I did one tourist thing in Puno which I immediately regretted. I took a boat ride around the floating islands or otherwise called Uros.

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A view from Uros.

Now, you may read some positive reviews about the floating islands but I’m assuming these people haven’t been traveling around as long as I had, or that they chose to see past all the negatives. Perhaps it is because I just took a local tour boat instead of a proper tour, or I didn’t see the right islands. I took a boat to the islands for 10 Soles (~3.1 USD). I then paid another 5 for the islands. Once at the islands you continue to pay to ride on an authentic reed boat where children jump on and sing, and then beg for money. I couldn’t help but feel the whole thing was set up just to make money from the tourists.

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The local form of transportation.

Now, the islands themselves are kind of interesting for just floating and people having lives on the islands (restaurants, kind of shops, families with homes). Having people trying to sell you things the entire time you are on the islands really puts a damper on my feelings towards them. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations going in.

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Goodbye Uros!

After that uninspired visit, I was ready to leave Puno and quite apprehensive about Peru in general. Fortunately, the rest of Peru was NOT like Puno.

Isla del Sol

I met a girl as part of the Uyuni tour who I went to La Paz with and as we were traveling in the same direction, we headed to Copacobana and Isla del Sol together as well.

Copacobana, Bolivia is on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Lake Titicaca is the worlds highest (elevation) fresh water lake. We were told to stay on Isla del Sol so when we arrived in Copacobana at around 12 from La Paz (just a 4 hour ride), we booked a water taxi to the island. We also went ahead and booked accommodation as we didn’t want to run into a situation where we had no place to stay.

This was one of those instances where it does NOT pay to plan ahead. We arrived after about an hour and a half boat ride on the south end of Isla del Sol. The ride cost us 15 bolivianos or around 2 dollars. We met another traveler who was staying at the same place as us. As I was getting over being sick, I felt better than the day before but not 100%.

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The daunting hike you face as soon as you arrive at the island.

There was a girl waiting for us at the docks to take us to the hotel. The view getting off of the boat is daunting. After just having been sick, being at elevation of over 3000 meters, I wanted to cry. Walking up just the entrance to Isla del Sol was incredibly difficult for me. I thought I might have a heart attack. We basically hiked up a mountain for 50 minutes with a 15 kilo bag and huge purse.

It was so painful. I had to stop numerous times behind everyone. When we finally reached the top (after passing numerous hostels that I came to found out cost about a 1/3 of what we were paying), we still had to walk another good 15 minutes.

View from the top. Was it worth it? I think so.

View from the top. Was it worth it? I think so.

I was more than ticked off and exhausted by the time we arrived. I cannot recommend Hotel del Sol. It is overpriced and difficult to get to. The views, of course are gorgeous, but they are gorgeous throughout the entire island. We dropped our bags and headed to the place down the street for a drink.

We relaxed finally and I was glad I had made it to the top. The rest of the night was simple and consisted of taking more pictures, a hike up a smaller hill and then a dinner where everything I wanted to eat, seemed to be unavailable.

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At least we got some nice photos at the top.

The next day was simple and at least our hotel included breakfast. There are only a few boats back to the mainland each day and as I was ready to catch the 1:30 bus, I opted for the 10 am boat. Due to the epic walk, you have to leave about an hour early. As we mentally prepared for the exhausting walk back to the pier, we had some guys stop us and ask if we wanted to be taken from the other side of the island. As we could actually see those boats, we opted for that and headed down.

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Until next time!

Isla del Sol is dreamy. It is a peaceful place with great views.  It is not for those with asthma or who cannot hike up a hill. It would be very difficult for an unfit person to stay on Isla del Sol or really get to enjoy all it has to offer. However, if you are up for a bit of work to reach your destination, the island may be a perfect option for you.

Sick in La Paz

We arrived in La Paz at 7am. I decided to stay where the other girls I had met were staying which meant another Loki. The only redeeming quality is that the Loki provided a free drink for it being my second Loki, but given I was sick, it ended up being a Powerade but more about that later.

As we had the whole day, we decided to take advantage of it. We wandered the streets in search of Alpaca. La Paz is known for its markets and in particular it’s witch markets. The witch markets are pretty touristy, as are a lot of the stores. If you want to make some Alpaca purchases, your best bet is the stalls.

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The streets of La Paz are filled with vendors.

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It is also easy to get lost in some of the markets as they don’t seem to end.

We headed back to the stalls after getting some pricing and after some difficult bargaining, I managed to get a sweater and some socks for 78 bolivianos, or about 11 dollars. I was pretty proud of myself.

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The view from the top of the funicular.

We had lunch next which was very good. Some tomato soup and a sandwich. After a productive day of shopping, we headed back for internet, rest and a shower before the evening.

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Overlooking La Paz, Bolivia at dusk.

That evening I got up and showered before we headed to the funicular. I didn’t feel quite myself but couldn’t tell what was wrong. I came home later that night and still didn’t feel great. While everyone headed out for dinner, I confirmed that I was sick and I would not be leaving.

I felt awful being the girl in the room who was sick. However, if there is one thing that happens when you do get sick, it is that no one is surprised. The girls in my room were like yea, it happens to everyone. I guess after going two months of traveling without being sick once, I couldn’t complain too much.

Given I could barely get out of bed, I stayed another night in La Paz and another day in bed, getting up only for laundry. Fortunately, I felt well enough that night to eat something, and was able to get out of La Paz the following day. Sorry La Paz, but i don’t think I could give you the time you deserved this time around.

A bit about Uyuni

It is a shame that Uyuni was my first introduction to Bolivia. Whenever you read guides about the Salt Flats, most say to get out of Uyuni as quick as possible. I soon discovered why.

The town is not the largest but it is very flat. It is a series of buildings and homes that appear to be a bit run down. I think this was the first city I did not feel very safe in South America. I was very aware of my surroundings. I decided then that I would be taking the overnight to La Paz.

Fortunately, there were quite a few other people from my tour who were taking the same path. For the cheap price of $12 dollars or around 80 bolivianos, I got an overnight bus with everyone to La Paz, leaving at 8:30pm.

We spent the rest of our time hanging out and trying to get wfi. Apparently, when all the toursits get back from the tour and try to get online, the wifi actually shuts down. People were unable to get money out of the atms because the atms work on wifi. That is how underdeveloped Uyuni is. It is actually pretty surprising given it is the entry to the Salt Flats. I expect in a few years, with all the tourism the salt flats bring, that things will slowly change.

Some of the girls we were with had a lonely planet. I am actually shocked by the amount of people who buy the lonely planet books and bring them around with them. I use online resources for everything, sometimes lonely planet, but more likely than not, trip advisor, as lonely planet seems to be out of date by the time it is published. Anyways, the girls had a recommendation for a restaurant around the corner and we went there to play monopoly and wait out our time.

Two hours plus should have been sufficient to get food, but there was one woman who ran the whole restaurant and there were two large groups. We did not get our food until 10 minutes until we were due at the bus station so after a quick scarfing of our meal, we ran to our bus in what was a mini sand storm.

You know that saying you get what you pay for? I’ve probably already used it. In the case of the bus, you get exactly what you pay for. Bolivian roads are rough. This was by far the roughest bus ride I had ever taken. I’m an avid car reader and I could not even read because the book was moving too much. After 13 hours which felt closer to 26, we finally arrived in La Paz. First impressions of Bolivia were rough, but La Paz stepped up to the plate.