Category: CouchSurfing

CouchSurfers redeemed

Our “overnight” bus to Chiclayo was really more of a half overnight bus. We left at 8:00 pm, and arrived at 4:00 in the morning. Our CouchSurfing host, Edgard, had said that he would pick us up. Unfortunately, though, I had told him we’d get there around 6:30. So we had several hours to while away in the bus station before he arrived.

Just when I had given up hope that he would come, he finally showed up. And boy,  it was worth the wait. As bad as the CouchSurfer was in Huaraz, Edgard was the total opposite. He has a large, lovely house – although he lives with his son, father, cousin, and aunt, we still had our own room all to ourselves. After letting us rest for a couple of hours, he fed us breakfast and then took us into town.

The first order of the day was to buy our bus tickets to Lima – although Caro and I were going to different places, we both had to take flights from Lima. Determined to get us the absolute best price and departure time, Edgard took us all over town to see the prices of every single bus company. Although it was tiring, it worked – I ended up paying 49 soles for a bus ticket that normally costs 110. I’m not really exactly sure why it was so cheap but hey, when fortune smiles on you don’t ask questions! 🙂  I’m used to paying more as a foreigner in Peru, so it was nice to experience the opposite for a change.

After buying our tickets, Edgard and his cousin Fernando took us out to lunch at a seafood place. They ordered a bunch of plates that they thought we should try, answered all of our questions and taught us plenty more that we didn’t even think to ask, and paid for everything. Truly swell, swell guys.

Edgard actually had to leave that evening for work in Lima. But before he left, he made sure to treat us one last time, this time to a fancy dessert. It was all made with stuff native to Peru – lĂșcuma ice cream and chirimoya cheesecake (both tropical fruits only grown in Peru) and pisco sour, the national drink of Peru that’s made of fermented corn and lemon juice.

Edgard had just enough time to take us there and pay for the food, and then he had to go catch his bus. So we were left on our own, enjoying the food and marveling over his hospitality. After we finished, we found a lovely little walkway in the middle of the city called the walkway of the muses. It has meandering paths and plenty of well-kept shrubbery, but it gets its name from the marble statues of the nine muses of Greek mythology. This place was also recommended to us by Edgard, and I’m really glad we found it. It’s amazing to me the things of beauty that can be literally right around the corner, but if you don’t know about it you may never find it. The only downside to the paseo de los muses was the clown that was walking around talking to people. Although for me, it was more funny than anything else – while I dislike clowns, Caro hates them, so it was rather amusing trying to distract the clown from her while she ran away and hid :D.

The next day, Thursday, we had the pleasure of seeing Robert, our friend from Chachapoyas, one last time. He was passing through Chiclayo on his way back home to Lima, so we met up with him and spent the day at the beach in Pimentel. Although it was a cloudy day, it was still fun. We walked around for a while, just seeing the sights – my favorite was watching a traditional fisherman go out into the water on his little reed boat.  After that, Robert and I started a 1-on-1 game of soccer while Caro wrote in her journal. He said that I played well, but I think he was going enormously easy on me. After a while we caught the attention of a couple of Peruvian boys, and we got a 2-on-2 game of volleyball going. Without a net it was a little strange, but I still enjoyed it. After all of the hours sitting in buses, it was really nice to do something active.

The next day, Fernando took me, Caro, and his aunt Irlanda to the ruins of Tucume and the museum of The Lord of Sipan, about 20 miles away from Chiclayo. I must admit, I think by that point I was a little spoiled. If Tucume had been the first place I’d gone to, I’m sure I would have loved it. But the fact that is already seen so many other impressive ruins I think left me a little jaded to the ruins of Tucume. I will say, however, that as interesting as all of these ruins have been, I’ve still seen all of them with a touch of sadness. The main focal point of pretty much all of these archeological sites were either temples or sacred sacrificial sites. None of these people knew the Lord. The fact that so many thousands, even millions, of people have died not even having a chance to know God really breaks my heart.

I wish there was something I could do to change that. But we can’t change the past, only work to make the future different. There is still so much darkness in Peru – “religious freedom, but spiritual oppression,” to use the term a friend coined. By the end of my time with Caro, I was really desiring to do something to change that.  And, would you believe it, but I got an opportunity to do just that before I even left the country!  Our plans changed drastically towards the end of the trip – rather than going to the jungle together, Caro flew down to Argentina and I went back down to southern Peru to translate in a medical mission trip.  It was truly the highlight of the trip – better than Machu Picchu, better than the great CouchSurfers, better than seeing Mario.  Make sure to read all of the details in my next few entries!! 🙂

The canyon of the “thin rivers”

We arrived in Cajamarca late afternoon on Thursday.  We had found a CouchSurfer to stay with there, as well – I was determined that my first exposure to CouchSurfing wouldn’t deter me from trying it again.

This was a much better experience than the first time. Hebert and his French girlfriend Anaise (who spoke impeccable Spanish – I was super impressed) were incredibly nice and accommodating. We had a lovely chat with them the night we arrived, and they gave us lots of information about the city and places to see around it. We ended up only staying two nights there because we really didn’t like the city itself, but at least the accommodation was very nice.

Nevertheless, it was still a little strange. I have decided that CouchSurfing is kind of a package deal – you get a free place to stay, and also pretty much always an interesting story, as well. With Herbert and Anaise, the weird part was that they actually hosted us not in their house, but in their office. They have a little room in the office with a bed in it where they keep their surfers, and we just hung out there after they left work and went home.  I must admit, though, the 3 deadbolts and 2 padlocks that Herbert trained me on locking before he left was a little unnerving…

The weirdest bit about the CouchSurfing experience in Cajamarca happened the afternoon before we left, when we met Aaron. Aaron is an American from Wisconsin who is traveling for like six months on a SUPER tight budget – hitch hiking and CouchSurfing all the way, basically only spending money on food. Anyway, he was waiting outside of Herbert’s office when we got back in the afternoon. Said he had been traveling with a Russian girl who had gone on ahead of him, and left a note for him to meet her there. Except she wasn’t staying with Herbert, and thus ensued a complicated endeavor to find the mysterious missing Russian girl, with Herbert calling the other CouchSurfing hosts in Cajamarca (yes, the town is small enough that he knows all of them) to try to figure out where she had gone so that Aaron could meet up with her, and with me playing translator, since Aaron doesn’t really speak any Spanish. I found it rather comical, actually, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I was in Aaron’s shoes.

The day after we arrived, we went on a tour of Cumbe Mayo, an ancient pre-Incan civilization. It is believed that the name “Cumbe Mayo” is derived from a quechuan phrase meaning “thin rivers,” and there is even today the remnants of a quite sophisticated drainage system that allowed water on the bottom of the channel to continue flowing while the uppermost water remained still.  However, by this point the majority of the ancient remains have disappeared, and it is mostly just a really cool canyon. But it was still fascinating, very different from most everything we had seen before. Plus we met a very friendly couple from Trujillo, George and Anita, who made me nostalgic for the lovely city I had so recently left :).

But other than Cumbe Mayo, Cajamarca didn’t have any pull for us; add to that the fact that more CouchSurfers were coming to Herbert’s house the next night from Germany, and we decided to go ahead and move on to Chachapoyas.

Going through the little tunnel to get to Cumbe Mayo:

Kids walk for hours, unaccompanied, to Cumbe Mayo because they know that tourists will be there.  They go in the hope that they will be able to pick up tips by begging or selling things or singing or taking pictures with people: 

Buses and tunnels and random people’s couches

We left Cuzco midday on Friday, headed for Lima – that in itself is a 21 hour bus ride. But neither Caro nor myself like Lima, so we kept right on going another 8 hours to Huaraz, arriving around 7:30 on Saturday night. I had found a CouchSurfer who said that we could stay with him, so we headed directly to his place. (Couchsurfing, for those of you who don’t know, is an online project where you can find people living in the cities you’re traveling to who are willing to host you for free. The idea is that you will then, in turn, host people traveling to your city. As long as you are careful to host or stay with people with good references, it’s usually a pretty cool way to travel on a budget and meet interesting people.)

So anyway, we got to Huaraz and couldn’t find this guy’s house. Finally I reached him on the phone, and it turns out that he had given us the wrong address. And he wasn’t at home, but at a party. So he told us to wait in front of his place and he’d meet us there. He finally let us in, and his “house” was a single room with just one twin size bed and barely room to walk around it. That’s it. This guy really had absolutely no business offering to host people in his home.

After he let us in, he left to go back to the party.  The room was filthy, but we were so tired we didn’t have the energy to look for something else that night. So I slept in my clothes, Caro slept in her sleeping bag, together on the tiny bed. It was definitely a bonding experience, lol. In the middle of the night he came back and went to sleep on the floor right next to us – there wasn’t space to go anywhere else. It was so super sketchy, oh my gosh.  My guardian angel was definitely working overtime that night!

So we got up early the next morning and ran away from that. We were planning on staying 2 nights, but OBVIOUSLY that wasn’t going to happen. We caught the 3 hour bus to Chavin de Huantar by 7:30 am, and decided to spend the night there instead – paid for a room and everything. We reserved a private room with a shower, but the shower turned out to be broken. When we talked to the owner about it, she refused to do anything about it.  And so began my first argument ever in Spanish. It was actually really good – the fact that I didn’t have completely fluent command of the language meant that I had to speak slowly and choose my words carefully, rather than let my temper get the best of me. I was still steamed, though. We ended up convincing her to give us most of our money back; we were so frustrated with Chavin, that we got into a colectivo headed back to Huaraz that night, and then caught an overnight bus to Trujillo.  All in all, by the time we got to Trujillo, we had spent about 40 hours in buses and colectivos within the span of 3 days.  I was exhausted and close to a mental breakdown.

But more on that in the next post, I’m getting ahead of myself!  There was actually a reason that we went to Chavin; it was not just because we are gluttons for punishment. Chavin de Huantar is home to some of the oldest ruins in all of South America, dating from 1200 AD (some 200 years before the Incans came to power) to 300 AD. Despite the huge hassle to get there, it was really very very cool. The mystery of the people of Chavin is how they managed to survive so long, without any apparent weapons or military to speak of. During its heyday, Chavin de Huantar was used as a religious center and point of pilgrimage for the entire valley and surrounding regions.  It’s just amazing to me that buildings made without any modern technology at all could survive thousands and thousands of years. Can you imagine something built in the modern era surviving that long??

We spent several hours on the site. The above-ground ruins were interesting, but my favorite part was definitely the underground rooms and corridors. There was a series of labyrinthine tunnels that ran underneath the entire complex that visitors were actually able to enter. It gave me a whole new perspective on the people of Chavin – not only were they able to construct buildings that are still standing thousands of years later, but they were also able to excavate these intricate tunnels underground that still stand largely unscathed. It was truly fascinating. Despite the crazy roads and sketchy accommodations and frustrations with the locals, I was glad we went. It’s not truly an adventure without some unexpected excitement, right? 🙂

If you’re interested in finding out more about the people of Chavin, check out this documentary:

Here is a video of some of the tunnels beneath Chavin. When I say “hey,” I’m talking to Caro, who had managed to get across the gully right in front of me and was waving at me from the other side of the little window: