After picking up our special coolant hose delivery from California and patching up the van, we decided to blow off the rest of the Ecuadorian coast due to the abundance of grey skies and lack of waves. Instead, we headed southeast to explore the high altitude lakes and paramo of Cajas National Park. When we reached the park after a long day of driving we both felt terribly nauseous and lightheaded. Perplexed by what it could be, we realized that in one day we drove from sea level up to 14,000 ft. That sort of abrupt elevation change can wreak havoc on the body.
Feeling better in the morning, we hiked through a section of the park in which we saw many beautiful lakes, wandered through forests of trippy looking quinua trees (paper trees in English), and even encountered some high altitude shaggy llamas.
We didn’t last long in the bitter cold so we made our way down to the lower altitude portion of the national park where Aron fished for miniature trout along a beautiful creek as a herd of llamas looked on curiously.
Ready for a hot shower, we drove the final half hour stretch to Cuenca, a beautiful university city of rivers and trees surprisingly full of American ex-pats. Without planning to, we spent nearly a week in Cuenca, camping at Cabanas Yanuncay alongside a river just outside the city center. When we weren’t strolling around the city, we were hanging out with chickens and eating fresh cherimoyas from the orchard on the property.
Our new friend Taylor (one of the students we stayed with in the Galapagos) and her now fiance Bassem (congrats guys!) happened to be in Cuenca at the same time, as were our friends George and Teresa of Road Adventure. The six of us piled into the van for a Sunday outing exploring the nearby villages and markets. Our first stop was the market in Gualaceo, famous for it’s roasted cuy (pronounced koo-ee), also known as guinea pig! Although extremely unappealing with their little claws and gaping mouths, we felt that we had to try one for the sake of the experience. George bravely stepped up and chose out the cuy on a stick that would be our lunch. The woman manning the coals brutally chopped it up and presented it to us on a paper plate. None of us were quite sure how to begin when I looked over and saw the woman next to us break off a crispy cuy ear and happily crunch it in her mouth. Dig in I guess! Although I only managed to try one little sliver, the overall verdict was that it tasted like chicken, but greasier and with less meat. Checked off the list… never again.
From Cuenca, we headed south into Peru, country number ten! As soon as we hit the coast and crossed the border, the landscape changed into dry, dusty hills and sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Apparently they call this the Sahara of South America.
Our first stop in Peru was Mancora, a super touristy, party surf town with streets full of hawkers trying to sell things. While not our scene, the weather was beautiful and we were happy to be at the beach. We found a place to camp at a nice hotel right on the point where the waves rolled in and Aron headed out for a surf while I went for a walk on the beach. Bad decision apparently, because within twenty minutes two thieves ran by and snatched the little iPod I was carrying. Pinche ladrones!
George and Teresa caught up with us in Mancora and we headed down the coast together in search of waves. We stopped in Lobitos, a dusty ghost town that originally sprang up as an English oil development but is now a surf hub due to a long firing point and a number of other nearby waves. The English were eventually kicked out but left behind old colonial buildings made of beautiful Oregon pine which is rare and expensive these days. The oil extraction in the area is visible everywhere, from “caballitos” pumping oil out of the ground to enormous offshore oil platforms visible from the beach. Despite the crowd of Brazilians and kite surfers in the water, Aron had fun surfing nice waves a few times a day during a week of camping on the beach.
Our next stop on the coast was Pacasmayo, an hour north of the famous Chicama which is known to be one of the longest left point breaks in the world. Pacasmayo is less known and is said to be even longer with a proper swell. Aron surfed the point and other empty spots nearby with a fun group of Aussies and we enjoyed some fresh, delicious Peruvian ceviche before leaving the coast.
Up next, we head into the Peruvian Andes for some mountain adventure!