Europe is nothing if not accessible, Australia is the one-stop migration station, but what about South America? Brazil and Argentina are well trodden by gap year students, but Otwo decided to step apart and visit South America’s third largest country, Peru. From bargaining in bustling under-equipped train stations, to trekking up the Colca Canyon with a three-toothed guide who had minimal English, at each turn it was a challenge. Yet it could easily be a trip of a lifetime.
Immediacy, urgency, pressure? Not here. Life is less demanding and more about the brass tacks or simple necessities in life – the flavours in the food, the colour in knitted jumpers, and hats emblematic of the Incas, the ‘madreterra’ or mother earth. Peruvians are an incredibly laidback and approachable people. A meagre few ‘soles’ (the local currency) will go a long way once you are prepared to turn expectations into acceptance.
Lima is the capital and a necessary gentle introduction. Buses were bulging, menus offered mounds of the local produce, and the streets hummed with the sound of differently pitched horns as people fervently signalled their right of passage. Proceeding down the coast by bus, you’ll land in Pisco, which was once wracked by an earthquake. The community spirit was palpable, with the local dogs and children happily joining you for an evening stroll, while on the main square the local guards and their dogs entertain, singing songs that emphasised their crucial role in protecting your neighbours.
Las Islas Ballestas, accessible by a spectacular ferry ride, showcases the three pronged candelabra etched into one façade of the islands, sea lions ranging between dark grey and a vibrant orange as they bask on the rocky outcrops and soak up the midday sun while large groups of cormorants, boobies, and pelicans pass overhead. The National Reserve excursion takes you to a vast desert region, with magnificent views where you can gobble down delicious ‘ceviche’, a citrus-based tangy coastal fish dish.
A visit to the Nazca lines is a must. After hefty negotiation, the most reasonable and informative helicopter tour will take you across 500 square kilometres of arid rock which encompasses over 800 lines, 300 geometric figures and some seventy animal and plant drawings. In the blaring midday sun you could be forgiven for thinking you are hallucinating, but the videos in the departure lounge heighten your knowledge of the origins and intricacies of the lines.
In the south, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city. The texture of the buildings, with white volcanic stonework, shroud the region with an air of peacefulness against a backdrop of El Misti, a volcano that rises majestically from behind the cathedral on the main square. A trip to the Colca Canyon is a must from here. With rough terrain and sharp sudden inclines, it is nothing like the well-mapped gentle saunters you might be accustomed to if you are an occasional visitor of the Wicklow mountains.
North again, the city of Cusco is the base point of the infamous Macchu Pichu. The Inca trail takes four days and three nights, arriving on the final morning at this world wonder. Don’t worry about having to carry food and water; in fact you don’t even need to know how to erect a tent, as a team of local legends constantly races ahead to set up camp for lunch or for the night. A sense of shared accomplishment peppered with spectacular views and intimate exchanges with the wildlife keeps you going. Nothing will prepare you for the final hike to reach the glorious summit and be suddenly free of the damp intervals and copious steps. You have a view over the empire, so to speak, as the sun rises majestically on the final morning – a dazzling and triumphant feat with which to finish the trip of a lifetime.