After action-packed Ecuador in rather frigid temps, a few days on the beach in Peru was more than welcomed. The only obstacle was another eight-hour roller coaster of a bus ride to get there, but I needed some heat and sand and something to drink with an umbrella in it fast, so I braved the night bus from Cuenca, Ecuador to Mancora, Peru.

Normally I wouldn’t be so skiddish on a night bus, but I have heard Peru’s were notorious for getting your bag slit and all your valuables ripped off, even with it right at your feet. Or worse….I’ve heard you’ll have some cute little old lady sit next to you who offers you “special” cookies…and you wake up in a near coma with everything gone including your dignity.

I never actually met anyone these things happened to, but there are a ton of warnings in the travel blogesphere, not to mention the gazillion people I’ve met who “…have a friend..” or “…know a girl..”, so hype or no hype, I was concerned. However, the day bus takes twice as long and the Peru border crossing is apparently a nightmare during the day, so off I went on my first night bus solo…with the world’s biggest guard up.

I met a girl travelling alone from South Africa so we sat together, which I thought was going to be my saving grace. A partner in crime. Someone to have my back. A person to look after my stuff while I peed! However, she turned out to be the most miserable human alive who complained about everything, so at one point I thought, life’s too short; I’d rather be mugged than sit next to a cantankerous arsehole. She eventually moved to nap near a window, so I avoided her at all costs after that and braved the bus thieves on my own again,  who I thought for sure were just waiting in the wings to pounce.

This ride was the bumpiest of any I’ve taken and aside from a near Gravol-overdose, not sleeping a wink and keeping my smaller pack on my lap the whole time (which yes, got heavy) it all worked out. We were the only bus at the border, which went quickly, and the people on the bus were really sweet. Still had my guard up the whole time, but I managed to have some laughs with a few travelling musicians from Colombia, who found me and my whole solo travel schtick rather hilarious.

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Eight hours later, I was in the little Peruvian resort town of Mancora. And let me just say, your stereotype of the surfer, hippie, margarita village where everybody is covered in sand and walking barefoot is based on Mancora. I’m sure of it. It’s cute, touristy, sweltering, and fun. It was perfect for the four days that I lied amongst surfers and hippies, drank margaritas and yes, was eventually covered in sand all the time and walked barefoot.

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I wanted to surf since I had tried it the year before in El Salvador (despite nearly losing my teeth and my best friend to a viscous rock attack), but I couldn’t muster the energy to do a thing besides apply more lotion and flip pages of a book, so I passed.

All in all, it’s a great little haven in Peru’s northwest which I don’t think is known to too many people on my side of the pond. Thankfully, because I know I’ll return.

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After four days, I was dreading leaving the sun and sand for two days of buses just to freeze my lady parts off all over again, but I had no choice. I had to make it up to Huaraz where I would be exerting energy for the nine-day hike of my life in the Andes (just getting to that doozy of a blog…wait for it people), so I decided to power through and do back to back buses to get it all over with, which meant Mancora to Puira to Trujillo to Huaraz. Over a 24-hour period.

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The stretch from Mancora to Trujillo wasn’t bad because it was the first of this trip that was relatively flat and straight. The buses were about the lowest quality grade ever though (El Dorado…stay away) but they were cheap and got the job done. We were graced with the usual blaring dubbed action movies; I recall seeing Nicholas Cage in one and Dwayne Johnson in another, but the real highlight was Scarface. Yes, Scarface. Nothing like seeing Tony Montana jam his face into a mound of coke and dangle people from airplanes in front of a busload of families and children. Thank you South American need for Hollywood action!

Trujillo to Huaraz was another dreaded night trek but I splurged on a fancy bus (Movil Tours….heaven on wheels) that even comes with a waitress of sorts who brings you water and offers you a complimentary snack or whatever those things in the box were supposed to be. The best part was that the bus was half empty and I felt safe, so I even let myself sleep a few hours without the fear of muggers and old ladies offering me roofie coladas.

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And about a day later, I was in a MUCH different Peru – the little mountain town of Huaraz. Now this place is probably one of my favourites so far on this trip. It’s safe, small and the view in all four directions is the glaciers and mountains of the Peruvian Andes. It only has about 100,000 residents, but probably another few thousand tourists at any given time for the plethora of outdoor activities – still much less travelled than the famed Inca trail, which is partly why I chose it.

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And there are a ton of beautiful indigenous locals, who are kind and gentle and make the best local crafts I’ve ever seen. And as a lover of beautiful yet unnecessary souvenirs this place has been the tops for me (so, yes, many of you can expect beautiful yet unnecessary souvenirs from here).

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The tourists crack me up though. Every one (but me) looks like they just stepped out of a hiking magazine. It’s a sea of gortex, puffy coats, and hats with ear flaps, and if you’re not sportin’ North Face or Columbia with some kind of carrot, green tea-infused juice in your hand, you look out of place.

But I still love it. Like, absolutely love it. All in all, it’s a great little haven up in Peru’s Andean region that I don’t think is known to too many people on my side of the pond. Thankfully, because I know I’ll return.

Didn’t I say that already?!

So as I leave for Lima and begin to wrap up my time in Peru, I can say this country and its people have surprised me more than anywhere else. I have seen two very different sides of Peru but the common thread is the phenomenal hospitality and beauty that I’ve been shown here, and I know I’ll be back soon to explore even more.

Because yes, you make me happy too.

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