Sucre & The Man-Eating Mines of Potosi

After a hectic four days of partying and tourist-ing in La Paz it was time to escape and give the liver some time to recover. Five of us caught the night bus to Sucre, which is Bolivia’s second largest city but much more quieter than the country’s capital. The night bus was uneventful but long. I had the joy of sitting next to the toilet for 12 hours, which was a delight on the nose!

Reaching Sucre at around 10am, we stumbled out of the bus tired and starving. With no idea where to go for a hostel we were approached by a guy offering an apartment for 45 Bolivianos each a night (about $8AUD) Bargain! We snatched up his offer and caught a taxi into the city centre where the hostel was. The apartment was perfect for the five of us; we had a kitchen, two bathrooms and our own little balcony. It was going to be tough to go outside! However we were ravenous so we dumped our bags and heading into the main plaza in search of breakfast. Taking the easy option we went to a café and ordered a massive breakfast to celebrate our good luck with finding the apartment.

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Downtown Sucre

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I’m not going to lie here, after breakfast we promptly headed back to the apartment and did nothing for the rest of the day. All of us were exhausted from the crazy time in La Paz and the grey, dreary day in Sucre wasn’t motivating us to go and play tourist. We only ventured out to the supermarket to cook up a feast for dinner that night and proceeded to buy the entire shop!

The following day was pretty much the same as the day before. It was Easter Sunday but it sure didn’t feel like it. I had managed to find some Easter eggs in the supermarket so continued my tradition of chocolate for breakfast! We lazed about for the morning before taking a little stroll through the city. It was a gorgeous little city, very European and clean. Much less hectic than La Paz but the overcast weather made it feel kind of depressing. While it was nice to just hang out in our apartment, Tommy, Alex and I were getting itchy feet again and decided to catch the bus to Potosi the next day, planning to meet the Austrian sisters in Uyuni.

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Sucre
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Playing tourist is hard work

The bus ride to Potosi was about four and a half hours through beautiful scenery and windy roads. We made friends with some Israelis on the bus and ended up booking the same hostel as them. Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world (4090m above sea level) and is famous for its silver mine, Cerro Rico. The main reason for travellers to come to Potosi is to go into this infamous mine which is exactly what we planned to do the following morning. I met up with Sean, my friend from Cusco and the four of us had pizza for dinner and planned our next few day’s activities.

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En route to Potosi

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I was a little hesitant about the mine tour, I hadn’t even heard of Potosi before meeting my friends and was only going there because I couldn’t say no to a weird experience like this! The following morning we met with our tour group and got kitted up into safety gear and driven to the miners market. The first part of the tour is to buy the miners some gifts. There are several different things you can buy such as beer, coca leaves or soft drink, but there are also some other things you can buy – such as dynamite and hard liquor! Stocking up on gift – yes we got dynamite; we were loaded back into the van and taken up to the entrance of the mine.

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Ready for the mine!
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Just casually playing with dynamite
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Miners ready!
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Cerro Rico – The Man Eating Mine

There are about 10,000 people that work in the mine and most of them will work there for their entire life. It’s common for miners to spend up to six to eight hours inside the mine, often smoking and drinking whilst working. Entering the mine was a little scary as you step into the damp, dark tunnel and am only relying on your head torch to guide you.

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Looking way more confident than I was feeling!
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Going in :0

Our first stop was at ‘El Tio’, the statue that the miners make offerings to. It’s common practice to pour beer or alcohol firstly on ‘El Tio’ and then on the ground before taking a drink. This is to give thanks to the God’s and is an important ritual for the spiritual Bolivians. We gave our thanks and continued on the tour. Walking through the dark tunnel, feet sloshing in the mud was depressing, yet eye opening. I couldn’t believe that the miners could spend such long hours deep in the mine; I’d barely been in for 20 minutes and was ready to get out.

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El Tio and all the offerings
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Thank god for gumboots – walking deeper into the mine

We continued on, crawling through narrow parts and climbing down precariously hung ladders. At one point I was terrified because we has to shimmy through a small hole and climb down a rickety ladder next to huge, dark holes. I hadn’t given a thought about safety regulations for the mine – I’d just assumed it would be safe-ish because it’s a tourist attraction. However I swiftly reminded myself that I was in Bolivia and there is no such thing as safety regulations and no efforts made in keeping the tourists alive.

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About 1km deep into the mine

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This part was way more terrifying than it looks!

This was definitely made apparent when we stopped and our guide asked if anyone bought dynamite. Tommy said that he had and our guide asked if we wanted a demonstration on how it worked. While I wasn’t particularly fond of being close to an explosion, I didn’t want to miss out on this chance. The others in the group were in the same boat and we agreed meekly to watch the dynamite explode. Our guide set up the dynamite and lit the fuse, he said there was about 3-4 minutes before it would go off and handed it around to us for a ‘photo opportunity’. Starting to panic slightly I wanted him to throw this thing far, far away. After we had passed it around he made us wait while we went deeper into the mine to stash the dynamite somewhere. He returned and told us to wait patiently for the bang. I was super nervous by this point and cowered behind Tommy and Sean with my fingers in my ears. We waited and waited and part of me hoped that he’d just diffused it and tricked us but as soon as I removed my fingers from my ears there was a massive BANG! And the walls around us shook. Pretty sure I squealed like a girl as my life flashed before my eyes, but we were safe. I was shaking like anything as we laughed, it had scared the crap out of all of us but it was funny that in a way we had dodged potential death.

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Setting up the dynamite
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I may be smiling but on the inside I was freaking out!

The group was quick to move from this spot and we continued on the tour through the narrow tunnels. We met some of the miners along the way and exchanged the gifts we had bought. They were sad looking men of all ages, aged by the years of working underground. It was hard to comprehend that they spent most of their lives in this deep, dark mine – definitely not my idea of a good job. However they are paid well and some have no choice but to work here so they can support their family.

After about three hours of climbing through the mine I was ready to leave, I don’t usually get claustrophobic but after the scariness of the blowing up the dynamite and negotiating the tricky ladders and wooden bridges, I had enough. We watched the miners fill a cart with rocks and then we were led to the exit. Let me tell you, I have never been more excited to see the sun! Jumping for joy (literally!) we celebrated survived the man-eating mine of Cerro Rico. It had been an interesting experience and I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I was glad I had witnessed it.

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Our group
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Having a go at pushing the silver carts

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Stalagmites for days..
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WE SURVIVED!!

After the mines we had to rush back to the hostel and get changed out of our dirty mining clothes and head to the bus station. We had a 2pm bus to Uyuni and it was nearly 1:30pm. Starving, we picked up some stale empanadas and chocolate from a shop across from the bus station and jumped on board. We were bound for Uyuni and the salt flats, something I was so excited for – this is why I wanted to go to Bolivia in the first place!

J. x

Hiking to Rainbow Mountain

There are many famous sights to see when travelling around Cusco – Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, the alpacas – but there is one place that hasn’t quite hit the tourist radar yet. And I’m so glad to have experienced it before it has.

Vinicunca (or more commonly known as the Rainbow Mountain) is a particularly astonishing act of Mother Nature just a few hours out of Cusco. It is close by to Peru’s largest mountain Ausengate and is one of those places where a photo – no matter how filtered – will do it justice.

I booked my trip through American Inca Trail in Cusco, who were the same company that I booked my Machu Picchu trip and the ATV-ing with. The owner, German, is fantastic at what he does and ensures you can get the best possible price. A trip to Rainbow Mountain doesn’t come cheap as it’s not a well-known tour and the road to get there is really rough. For a single person to go to Rainbow Mountain with a car and a guide it can cost between $140 – $200, however if there is more than one person on the tour the price can drop to $105. Luckily German had found another guy wanting to go to Rainbow Mountain the same day as me so I didn’t have to fork out so much moolah – though I still would have paid that much to see this natural wonder.

I was picked up from my hostel at the lovely time of 4:30am and driven three hours out of Cusco. The first two hours were smooth and sleep inducing but the last hour however was windy, slow and at times a little scary. We carefully putted alongside the edge of a mountain, which provided us with spectacular views and racing hearts. We passed a small village where the locals were out watching their alpacas and kept driving until we were in the middle of a huge valley. Our driver stopped the car and our guide told us this was the starting point. – the middle of nowhere. Still half asleep, I wasn’t sure if he was joking but obliged and got out of the car anyway.

We loaded our backpacks up and followed our guide across a field until we reached a potato crop growing on the mountain that we had to hike through. It was a direct uphill hike and at 4,000 metres above sea level, it knocked the wind out of me straight away. The altitude hit me like a tonne of bricks and within steps I was dizzy and gasping for air. I hadn’t been affected by the altitude too much before now and was slightly worried that I might not be able to complete the hike.

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If you look closely you can see our car on the road – thats the starting point

However as we walked at an steady incline, I managed to continue on. Stopping every set of twenty steps, I focused on not passing out and trying to enjoy the scenery – which even in my altitude-affected state, couldn’t help but be amazed at the view. After an hour (felt like 12) we reached a valley and finally I could breathe properly again. I guess I took for granted the fact that I hadn’t been affected by altitude much in Cusco, it was a horrible thing to fight. We hiked through the beautiful valley, past some small adobe houses with small children running around outside. The silence in the valley was deafening, a pleasant change to the constant noise I’d become accustomed to in Cusco. I don’t know where to start with the scenery – it was just too beautiful. The green carpet of grass that we trod on was lush and thick, every so often fluffy cactus poked out from the ground and small streams diverting many ways kept us guessing on where to step. The huge mountains that surrounded us ranged from colours of black to red to brown and in the distant I could just see the tip of Ausengate and its snow capped peaks. Bar the couple of farmers that were nearby, we were the only people in the valley and it was awesome – like we were discovering something new.

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Finally reached the valley where I could breathe properly again
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Adobe structures

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Shy but sweet kiddies looking for chocolate
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These views… OMG <#3

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Alpaca land

We passed through the valley and reached more of an incline, we were over half way to Rainbow Mountain but I knew this last slog would suck immensely. Telling myself to harden up I dragged behind my guide and the other guy Jason, stopping every few steps to catch my breath. We were nearing 5,000m above sea level, which is the highest I’ve ever been. Step by step we got closer to the mountain and I was in disbelief that the view could get better than it already was. By the time we reached the last ascent, I was ready to pass out from the altitude but the determination to make it there was too strong. Even though I was hiking with two men, I still wanted to get up there at the same time as them so I pushed on and reached the top. Breathless from the altitude and the view, I stood at the mirador and just grinned like an idiot. We’d made it!

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Almost there.. 
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Beginning of Rainbow Mountain
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Alpacas everywhere!
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No filter, just natural beauty
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Vinicunca 

The Rainbow Mountain was even better in real life. The different layers of colours were bright and distinct. The different hues of red shone in the sun and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Still sucking in lungfuls of air, I suddenly had a burst of energy and when our guide said we could go higher for an even better view, I practically ran up the hill. Whatever issues I was having with the altitude disappeared as I leapt quickly up the hill to a higher viewing point where the impossible occurred – the view got even better!

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Sahhh happy!

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We had 360 degrees of Mother Nature’s hard work surrounding us. From the layered colours of Rainbow Mountain to the snowy peaks of Ausengate, it was definitely the most beautiful place I’ve been to and to have the entire place to ourselves was truly magical. Jason and I bounced around like idiots, exclaiming about the view and how awesome it was. Our guide must have thought we were complete nutters as we whooped and jumped around – a huge change from the wheezing, out of breath girl I was only half an hour earlier.

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From the mirador
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Ausengate is hiding behind those rocks
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Views for days

After taking a thousand photos we hiked back down to the mirador and had a snack before making the trek back. I was sad to leave; this place was too amazing to part with just yet. Luckily the entire hike back was absolutely stunning to look at and as we powered back down to a more pleasant level in altitude, I kept turning around to try and lock these views into my mind forever.

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Mountain ponies
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Hiking back down
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Farm kids
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Even the hike back had glorious views

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It took about an hour and a half to reach the starting point and by the end of it I was truly knackered. It had been a big day, not only physically but also mentally draining. The car ride back was a short one as I slept most of the way and before I knew it we were back in Cusco and into the hustle and bustle.

Tonight I’m catching a night bus to Puno where I’m going to explore Lake Titcaca and the floating islands. After being in Cusco for a month, I’m excited to get out and see some new things!

J. x

ATV-ing in Moray & Maras

My second week in Cusco was an absolute blur. My days were consisting of lesson planning, Spanish lessons and then volunteering for the afternoon. I was leaving the house at 10am and not getting back until 7pm, which made it very hard to play tourist! Luckily by Friday night I was free for the weekend and able to experience Cusco. Apart from experiencing the nightlife and exploring the streets of the city by day, there were so many things around Cusco that I was itching to do – one of these was to go to Moray and the salt mine at Maras.

The best way to see these attractions was an ATV tour around the sites, so my housemates C and E booked a tour for Sunday afternoon. We were picked up and driven for an hour and a half into the countryside. It was a beautiful, but windy trip – the roads are loco here in Peru and the drivers aren’t much better! However we arrived safely at the ATV place and got kitted up into our safety gear. Having had a quad bike at home for years, I didn’t need an intro on how to control one of the bikes but we still had to go through all the safety protocol anyway. After a few test runs we were let loose onto the roads, maintaining single file of course!

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Ready to go!
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Not bad scenery to bike to!

Riding for about an hour to the first destination, Moray, I was gobsmacked at the scenery. Lush green fields surrounded us and huge mountains loomed in the distance. There’s no doubt about it, Peru is a stunning country full of so many different landscapes. I tried to navigate my bike whilst GoPro-ing but in the end just gave up and enjoyed the view as we drove on. Finally reaching Moray, we bought our turistico boleta (half price because E already had two!) and entered the site.

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GoPro Selfies are essential
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Views ❤

Moray is an ancient Inca site that consists of several enormous terraced circular depressions with sophisticated irrigation systems. The purpose of the terraces are still unknown, but are believed to have been used by the Incas to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. It has been speculated that Moray was in fact an agricultural experiment station, however nothing has been determined. Besides that, it was pretty cool to look at! We stayed Moray for a while checking out the work gone into this ancient Inca site before jumping back on the bikes to our next destination.

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Ancient Inca site – Moray
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E, C and myself with Tony the dog

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After another 45 minutes or so of bike riding and we reached the small town of Maras, where we had a quick stop before heading towards the salt mines. These salt mines have been used since the Inca times and are evaporated from a local subterranean stream. The ponds are almost identical in shape and are no bigger than four metres squared in area and 30cm deep. The formation of the ponds creates an astonishing scene for the eyes and they change colour depending on the skill of the salt mineworker. It was reminiscent of the limestone terraces in Pammukkale, Turkey and I was amazed at the work gone into maintaining this amazing landscape. Having not eaten since the morning, the three of us were ravenous so we indulged in some of the (expensive) chocolate for sale. It did taste delicious but I’m not sure whether that was just because we hadn’t eaten for hours!

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Maras salt ponds

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The ride back took about 45 minutes and it was nearly dark by the time we got off the bikes. It was surprisingly tiring biking for so long and my hands were sore from clutching onto the accelerator so the trip home was quick one as I passed out pretty much once we got in the van!

 

Ready for another week of volunteering, learning Spanish and then on Friday we are off to Machu Picchu! Excitement is an massive understatement!

 

J. x

Frog Milkshakes & Alligator Heads – Braving The Gamarra Markets

*Disclaimer: Some of these photos are gross, just saying*

In my last couple of days in Lima, I was pretty content with what I’d seen. I’d made great new friends, seen cool things, eaten amazing food and had a bunch of fun. Though there was one thing that I’d heard about that I was very intrigued to see.

One of the guys that I’d met during my time here was one of those hard-core traveller types. He has stories of catching a boat to the Amazon and spending a week with natives drinking ayahuasca – things like that. So when he was telling me about the witches market in downtown Lima, I was a little hesitant to visit but intrigued at the same time. Of course, my intrigue got the better of me and accompanied by three other pals we set off to find this hidden market.

The Mercardo de las brujas (or witches market) is situated in the La Victoria neighbourhood of Lima, one that rarely visited by tourists. We caught a cab to the Gamarra markets where the witches market hide and were let off into a scene of chaos. The Gamarra market spreads itself over 20 blocks and you can pretty much buy anything you would ever need. There were clothing stalls, toy stalls, material stalls, there were vendors selling all sorts of weird and wacky looking food and there were masses of fruits and vegetables available -we’d hit a market wonderland! Not only was the market full to the brim of things to buy, there was masses of people scurrying from A to B. We definitely were out of tourist territory, during the few hours we spent there I didn’t see a single other Caucasian there.

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Welcome to chaos
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Gamarra Markets

We wandered through the busy streets, constantly looking around in awe at the scene around us. Us, being four white people stuck out like sore thumbs and copped stares and pointing every corner we took. After asking for directions from some confused locals (and being told we probably weren’t safe here) we finally came across the Mercado de las brujas. If not for the large crocodile head staring at us, or the long python skin draped across a table I wouldn’t have picked this to be the witches market. However as we bravely entered further and walked past stalls full of potions and powders, strange herbs and dried frogs dangling from the ceiling we came to the conclusion that this must be it.

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I think we found it – the Mercado de las brujas
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Everything on offer here
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Turtle fat and snake blood

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Fascinated by what was on offer we were drawn to the creepy dried baby llama foetuses, the different array of stones and trinkets offering all sorts of remedies for every health problem on the planet. Our fascination turned to disgust when we came across a particular stall offering frog milkshakes. Yep, you read that right – frog milkshakes. The poor, unaware froggies sat peacefully in their tank until the shop owner would scoop one up, kill it and throw it in the blender with some other herbs and powders before serving it up to a willing customer. I couldn’t stomach the thought of even touching one of the frogs, let alone drinking one and my pals agreed; we hightailed it past that stall as quickly as possible!

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Dried baby llama foetuses
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The poor froggies waiting to be made into milkshakes

We continued through the market stalls until we reached the street again where snakes blood and turtle fat were on offer. Bags and bags of quinoa, chia and maca powder sat on the street, at a fraction of the price that they are in Australia. We continued on, leaving the witches market and all its craziness behind. I didn’t really agree with the poaching of animals for their skin etc. but it sure had been an eye-opening experience! We walked through to the end of the markets were a large amount of food stalls were waiting for us. Ordering deep fried potatoes with vegies and fresh juice, we devoured our food trying not to think of the poor frogs waiting to be blended.

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Streets of the Gamarra Markets

The Mercado de las brujas is definitely worth a visit but be prepared for an intense time. The mass of people is overwhelming at times and the sheer array of things on offer can be a little too much! Be super cautious of your belongings and go in a group. La Victoria isn’t the safest part of Lima and is renowned for pickpockets. But most of all go because you wont see anything like it in the streets of Miraflores and surroundings. It’s a whole new side of Lima that will probably shock you but amaze you at the same time.

j.x

Discovering Central Lima

I went into downtown Lima twice while I was there, but would have loved to have gone back many more times. From Miraflores, you could either take the 45-minute bus ride into the centre, or catch the Metro, which costs a few soles more, but took half the time. I’ve travelled both ways and definitely recommend the Metro, its busier but the commute is much nicer.

The first time I went into central Lima I was hoping for a more authentic Peruvian experience. Miraflores was nice and all, but it was just like home. I wanted to see the nitty, gritty side of Lima – like how I’d imagined South America to be like. Luckily my hopes were answered and as soon as I got off the bus I was captivated. I was exploring with a few other people from Dragonfly that I had met this morning and we all had a mission, to find the Catacombs!

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Downtown Lima
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Walking to Plaza De Armas
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Plaza De Armas

Walking into the centre I was amazed at the colour, the chaos and the dirtiness of the city. Now we were talking – this felt like what I’d imagined! We walked past Plaza San Martin and reached the Plaza De Armas, which was a square of bright yellow, colonial style buildings. The streets were jam-packed with people, mostly Peruvians that come up to my armpits, I tower over most people wherever I go! There are street vendors everywhere and people selling everything from tours to maps to tattoos on the street. It was hard to watch where I was walking because all the sights, smells and sounds kept distracting me.

After getting some directions from a local, we made it to the Monastery of San Francisco where the catacombs were. Once there, we were told that the tours went hourly and we’d just missed one. Not to be put out, we decided to grab lunch while we waited. One awesome thing about Peru (and most of South America I believe) is their menú lunch. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day so they offer a three or four course meal for a bargain price. We found a café offering a menú for 10 soles and were sold on what they were offering. I’m going to be truthful here – Peruvian food isn’t that fantastic. It’s very basic and carbohydrate based. We’re talking potatoes plus rice plus pasta in one sitting. Not so good for the waistline! Today’s menú was steamed potatoes with ahi sauce, chicken and rice with a cerveza sauce and vanilla cake to finish. I was stuffed after finishing it all! Not bad for about AUD$4!

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Views from lunch – San Cristobal

We left the café and walked back to the catacombs, ready for guided tour. It was a beautiful old building, with an awesome library that looked straight out of Harry Potter and some amazing mosaic walls. We eventually made it down to the catacombs, where the air was cooler and the atmosphere was creepy. The catacombs were discovered in 1943 and contain thousands of bones, which are believed to go as far back as 1808. While it wasn’t as big as the catacombs in Paris, it still was a cool thing to see. It’s hard to believe all the bones we were seeing were once people living and breathing just as we are. It gives me the chills just thinking about it! I definitely recommend coming to the catacombs for a bit of a history lesson, its fascinating albeit creepy!

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Monastery of San Francisco 
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Monastery of San Fransisco
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Part of the catacombs – muy creepy!

A few days later the same friends and I went back to central Lima for another sticky beak. This time we wanted to go to San Cristobel and see Lima from above. In the Plaza De Armas we found a lady selling colectivo bus tickets for 5 soles and just in the rickety old bus. The beauty of the colectivo bus is that it is ridiculously cheap, however they don’t like to leave until the bus is full. After three round trips of the main square we finally filled the bus to head up to San Cristobel. The drive was a crazy one, road rules in Lima just don’t exist. However it was a fascinating drive, we putted up hill through the colourful slums which is a massive contrast to the well developed areas of Miraflores.

Personally I was infatuated with the slums, there is just something about them that amazes me. How people can like in such simple yet tough conditions. Most of the houses were unfinished, apart from their splashes of brightly coloured paint. We went past locals going by their day, mostly just sitting and watching the world go by. I guess as a young Australian girl who has never really had it tough, it was confronting to see how other people in the world live. After about a 30 minute uphill slog – the poor van wasn’t coping too well – we made it to the top of the lookout where the giant cross stood majestically.

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Driving up to San Cristobal

The view wasn’t perfect, a heavy smog lay over the majority of the city but we could still see for miles, even out to the neighbouring Palomino Island. I was gobsmacked by the view, I had no idea Lima was this huge. I guess 17 million people have to fit somewhere! We spent about half an hour looking out of the view in awe of the size. Below us sat the coloured slums and in the distant you could see the coastal area of Miraflores. It wasn’t the best view I’ve ever seen but I was mesmerised. That culture shock feeling that I’d been yearning for finally hit and I was welcoming it with open arms.

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Cerro San Cristobal
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Looking out to Lima
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The city is ‘this big!’
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Smoggy, dirty but breathtaking

We caught the bus back down and sat by San Martin Plaza people watching until late afternoon. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – Lima is just one of those cities that takes time to uncover. Like an onion (thanks Shrek) Lima has many different layers, just waiting to be revealed.

J. x

 

 

 

Barranco in Pictures

Every city needs a neighbourhood where the creative folk gather, where opinions are expressed on street walls and the best bars and cafes exist. In Lima, this neighbourhood is called Barranco and it is every bit as bohemian and artsy as they say.

This groovy part of town is better shown through pictures than words, so ladies and gentlemen… Meet Barranco.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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