Landing in Lima, I was terrified. I had no Spanish, no local currency, no hostel reservation. I had no clue.
Luckily, I met a Canadian in the custom line who was far more organised than me and we shared a taxi to his hostel in the Miraflores area of the city. Lima is a bustling city, decked out with the usual city shenanigans – but two days were more than enough to spend there (little did I know it would be my first of many visits to the city).
We flew to Cusco next, since the bus was 22 hours long (which I ended up taking a few months later to save the pennies, or soles rather). With an altitude of 3400m, tourists at every corner and parties every night, Cusco was a whirlwind, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a gorgeous town. Cusco was full of tiled orange rooftops above intricate wooden balconies and winding cobbled streets, surrounded by green hills.
Additionally, it is the heart of all things Inca. While checking out the Museo Inka, a local took it upon himself to become my guide for the afternoon and showed me around the museum (fortunately, since everything was explained in Spanish), as well as the cathedral where there was the Peruvian version of the Last Supper (including the main dish of cuy, i.e. guinea pig).
Cusco was also where I made the leap to true backpacker, by buying a backpack. Since I originally set off on my travels with the idea that I would be living in Canada for a year or more, I had the Beast, a ginormous suitcase the size of me. So, I swapped the Beast for the backpack version, an 85L orange Beast (it was half price). After repressing the pain of leaving half my clothes in the hostel, I trundled onto Bolivia.
Bussing it over the border was a nightmare. Half an hour into the journey, the bus broke down. They proceeded to herd us onto a tiny bus, meaning six hours of sleeping in the upright position (hello crick in my neck). By morning, we arrived at the Bolivian border where chaos reigned supreme. After walking ages from where the bus dumped us with our luggage, we got our departure stamp for Peru and then we waited for over an hour for our arrival stamp for Bolivia. Eventually, we managed to cram onto another bus to continue onto our destination. As the bus climbed higher and higher, the mountains finally parted to reveal La Paz, a sprawling city nestled in the middle at 3640m.
La Paz is exhausting. With the slightest incline making you out of puff and the constant parties, it is a city that doesn’t need hordes of attention. I stayed in La Paz for two weeks, working behind the bar in the Loki hostel for food and accommodation. Staff accommodation was accessed through the men’s toilets (example of the glamorous travel life) and for the first week it was pretty decent, due to the fun volunteers.
The bar was relaxed and, more often than not, the staff were the ones starting the night off with drinking games and dancing to whatever reggaeton was blasting from the stereos. Bar shifts usually ended at 2am, when we then escaped to local bars, discounted since the club promotors always came into our bar. Sadly, most of the volunteers left in my second week, as Christmas was fast approaching – cue crusty tinsel everywhere and cheesy tunes played 24/7. Thankfully, there were some awesome backpackers staying in the hostel to celebrate the holidays with.
I escaped La Paz just before the New Year and it was much easier getting out than in.
It may have been easier, but it was just as uncomfortable. After we crossed the Peruvian border and changed buses, the cute Argentinian guy sat next to me was replaced by a blob of a man who thought it was acceptable to partially spoon me. He then wakes up and decides he wants to get to know me in Spanish at 2am. To say I was not happy would be an understatement.
The bus journey gratefully ended and I was once again in Cusco to celebrate the New Year in style. This time round, I managed to get in some decent sightseeing. I was urged to see Sacsayhuamán by a roommate who had the peculiar desire to pay for everything (no objections here). When he mentioned it was a short walk to the archaeological site, I thought it’ll be just that. Oh no. It was a semi-hike over cobbles, rocks and mud, and there’s me, in jeans and flip-flops, armed with only a banana in my pocket.
The day after, I was kidnapped by Argentinians for a BBQ and fed huge amounts of meat and booze. This was New Year’s Eve, so the drinking continued and, just when everyone was feeling nice and fuzzy, they brought out the fireworks. Looking back now, it may not have been 100% safe, but it was a hellva lot of fun.
That was how the New Year was welcomed and, armed with a new travel partner, I faced 2016 with glee.