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On The Buses

Lima; Arequipa; Puno

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I wasn't particularly looking forward to the Peruvian leg of my trip. I had visited a number of places there in 2003, most notably Cusco and Machu Picchu, so decided to pass through it as quickly as possible in order to spend more time in Bolivia. To save money I elected to take buses and, as a result, it took me a week to get through the country. The first was from Guayaquil in Ecuador to Lima, Peru's capital city.

After being treated to The Expendables 3 in Colombia and three execrable offerings from the 'Muscles from Brussels' on the way to Quito, it was the turn of Jason 'Simon Monument' Statham to keep us entertained on our bus to Lima. Two of The Stath's efforts were shown to us on the bus's solitary television, although the picture quality was so poor it might as well have been me.

The shoddy entertainment and lack of wifi would not normally have been a problem, but this was a 30 hour journey. I had prepared by purchasing three films online the previous night, only to find that by the time it came to set off the following morning they still hadn't finished downloading. The chap sat next to me seemed nice enough but in 30 hours we exchanged words only when offering each other some of our snacks. So, it is fair to say the journey did not fly by, and it was made longer as every time we stopped, either for food or at the border, we were always waiting for the same woman to finish faffing about before we could set off.

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I'd chosen a good hostel, in the Miraflores area of Lima. It had a terrace bar and a sheltered roof garden where the cool kids 'hung out' in the evening. After a much-needed shower I went out for a few drinks and a meal with a couple of English girls, some Germans and a pot pourri of other nationalities to a street known as 'Pizza Alley' due to the prevalence of Italian restaurants.

The next day I did some chores (clothes washing, hair cut, blog) and walked around for a couple of hours. I liked Miraflores, and although I only stayed there two nights I would happily have stayed longer if time wasn't a factor, especially given the quality of the hostel and friendliness of its inhabitants.

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However, I was missing being sat in the same position for long periods of time so it was time to get back on the bus, this time from Lima to Arequipa - a journey scheduled to take a mere 17 hours. I had splashed out a bit this time and got a first class seat, and although it was a marked improvement, there was still no wifi or aircon. I watched Birdman, a film that won Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars but which I found quite odd and boring, and the far more enjoyable Gone Girl.

I woke at around 6am when I subconsciously noticed the bus's engine turning off. We had stopped in the middle of nowhere for some reason, and there we stayed... for nine hours! There was a long queue of buses and lorries snaking through the hills as far as the eye could see and people sat around nattering, seemingly resigned to a lengthy stay. It took me nearly half an hour to walk to the front of the queue to investigate the problem, which turned out to be an overflown river that had enveloped the road. No choice then but to wait for it to subside, and at least it wasn't raining.

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So, 26 hours after setting off I arrived in the city of Arequipa, a place, like Miraflores, I had briefly visited in 2003 as part of RTW I. It was a picturesque city situated next to three snow-capped mountains, although much bigger and busier than I remembered. In 2003 the main square (Plaza de Armas) was awash with pigeons and that was still the case now.

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I chose a 'party hostel' called the Wild Rover, but the only party I was up for after my bus ride was a slumber party, but without the party bit. My room was smelly but that didn't stop me having an early night and getting some much-needed shut-eye.

The next day I had a long walk round the city on a sunny day and took lots of photos.

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Later, I watched the England v Lithuania match then went to play football myself with some lads from the hostel at a 6-a-side pitch a short cab ride away. We played a load of Peruvians who seemingly just turn up to play whoever's there and, to be fair, the quality was pretty good. To say I was off the pace is a major understatement, my (pretty good) excuse being that I've only played once in seven months and at this altitude it was hard enough to climb the stairs never mind run around for the best part of an hour.

That evening I entered a 'beer pong' tournament at the hostel and lost in the first round (thanks mainly to my inept partner) so had a few beers out on my own to drown my sorrows.

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Most people head off to Cusco and Machu Picchu from Arequipa (or have just come from there) but, having already been to both places, I elected to press on to Puno on Lake Titicaca - a place I had also already been to but at least was in the direction I wanted to go.

'Just' seven hours after leaving Arequipa (taking my bus tally to 63 hours in seven days) I arrived at my hostel in Puno - a city with one or two nice squares near the centre but not much else going for it from what I saw. As it turned out, most of the one day I did spend there was spent in bed ill, exacerbated by my lack of sleep over the previous week.

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I was marginally better the following day so took a morning trip to the Uros floating islands on Lake Titicaca. These are man-made islands out of dried totora reeds that are anchored to the lake bed to stop them drifting off. We were greeted on the first island by waving locals in traditional dress and after disembarking were given a well-oiled speech (in English) by our guide Roberto, ably assisted by a gentleman he introduced as the president of the island whose job was to periodically bring out props to illustrate what Roberto was talking about.

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The island contained around eight huts, outside of which sat women embroidering handicrafts with various patterns. One woman called Rosa beckoned me into her hut but, instead of demanding I take my clothes off, she insisted I put some more on - a sweater-like garment that she claimed bore the markings of the president, and a silly hat.

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After a hard sell of their wares, during which I bought a cushion cover depicting some llamas, we headed back 45 minutes to the mainland and I caught the bus to Copacabana. As this place is in a different country (Bolivia), it is time to belt up and show you the map.

Posted by LordGibil 17:55 Archived in Peru

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