The Andes split Peru like the spine of a great Hemmingway novel, its western arm scattered with great Incan ruins, ancient citadels, concrete metropolis’ and its northern beach party towns. To the east lie the vast entrails of the amazon jungle and snow-capped peaks some 7km high. Peru can not be surmised in one adjective, it is a thesaurus of hyperbole and a true representation of the beauty, history and tales to be unearthed on this great continent.
Avoid the tuck tucks in Mancora had been drilled into me in Lima, so we walked the ten minutes from the bus station to Loki Hostel. Only a week into my trip and this place had already become the stuff of legend, sitting on the edge of the tiny town Loki is pure hedonism, more of a Balearic hotel than a hostel. Every night is party night, every day is pool day.
As a gang of us sat around eating the best mexican food I ever did eat just around the corner from our hostel, the few that had survived a few days already here told me tales of the sunsets from this place, with a few hours to spare me, Tiffany and Michael ,a tennis instructor from lake Michigan hiked up to the lighthouse that looks over the small coastal town.
From around six o’clock the sun began to change from its steadfast, impenetrable white glow to a much prettier and palatable blood orange. As the minutes passed the sun seemed to puff out its chest and grow as it fell, the sky around it set to fire by his majesty.
The beach, now awash with the gaze of a hundred or so children of the sun, bathed in the glow of Amun Ra. The shadows grew long, even the moon seemed to sit atop the sky as a spectator to the beautiful symmetry and defined orbits of these bodies. The final death throes of the day, as the battle with the night was lost , saw our guardian star glow all bonfire red and reveal its unwavering spherical body, a perfect circle.
Like the greatest show on earth; the theatre, the science, the deep history, the art, the philosophy, the beauty, the power and the wonder all conspired to rubber stamp in me that this is all we are, this is really all we have and all we will ever need.
The stars in Mancora never materialised, blanketed by the clouds brought on the western breeze that cooled our faces, my search for the heavens would continue, but with skies as incandescent as those over the shores of Mancora I was never disappointed.
The next morning a few of us rented kayaks and headed out from the shore. I was pretty terrified of the hundreds of multicoloured jellyfish that horrified my gaze just a few days before off the coast of Ica, but it turns out sea kayaking is fun as all hell. As we fought against a strengthening current heading out towards the harbour, giant herons began gliding just over head, as strange oversized seagulls began to divebomb the skin of the ocean in some strange insubordinate reversal of evolution. After an hour or so the current began to direct us home, on the back of breakneck waves we crested in white all the way to the sand and directly to the bar for England v Poland and another sleepless night in Mancora.
There is nothing to do in Mancora other than party, so party I did, until i could party no more. Three days after my arrival, feeling whisky damaged i headed back to the bus station to catch my thirty hour bus to Cusco and the adventure of a lifetime.
Arrived at my hostel at 11am, I had slept most of the bus journey, waking occasionally to glorious Andean landscapes. White snow-capped mountains, and deep sparsely populated valleys flew by as our bus powered on to 3,500m above sea level.
The dreaded ‘saroche’, altitude sickness to you and me, was noticeable on the bus journey, but hit like a train as I went for a stroll after checking into my hostel. Maybe a block or two away from the front door my breath grew short and my legs weary. Back to the hostel i went for sleep and saroche medicine, absolutely exhausted.
Woke up early again (the altitudes doing), had some coffee, some mango and some cigarettes and took myself out into early morning Cusco to test out the legs and the lungs.
Without a doubt my favourite time of the day to explore a new city, post dawn, pre rush hour, just as the city is coming to life I headed for the Plaza de Armas.
The first building you will notice is the imposing Cathedral de Santa Domingo, almost spellbound my legs moved in its direction, but my eyes were not to be deceived. Iglasia de la Compana de Jesus sits just right of the cathedral, and inside holds the most decadent of secrets. For a small entry fee you are faced with a huge 50ft high golden altarpiece, sprawling floor to ceiling masterpieces of gruesome battles, men wielding pre spanish invasion arrows towards cowering females, a thousand depictions of a crucifix weary christ, and strange narrow staircases leading to little openings around the spire of the church, revealing the morning glory of cusco from up on high.
Spent the rest of the day out at the San Pedro market, like the old Salford Precint but with more people selling meat on the floor.
I almost missed my evening pick up for the Cusco Planetarium because I bumped into a Canadian journalist i had drunk with one night in Lima, and because i waited in the wrong fucking square for the van. Ana Maria and her husband run the Cusco Planitarium out of their converted house high in the hills that circle the basin Cusco sits in, a couple one two ‘know it alls’, they spent the first hour or so fascinating us with the history of Incan astronomy. Incans see faces in everything, and i mean everything, the face they saw in the mountains out near Saqseywoman became their seed bearing deity.
Of the 140 or so microclimates around the world, 85 of them exist in Peru alone, so trying to figure out a way to harvest crops became the making of their civilisation. With the realisation that the heavens had measurable and constant cycles came the ability to predict the seasons, and thus harvest appropriately. They moved from the high arid plains of southern Peru to the much flatter Cusco where they could work the changeling climate and produce the quinoa, black corn and potatoes that sustain them to this very day.
The last hour we peered through heavy cloud cover to catch glimpses on the heavens through their Meade 10″ telescope in the back yard, something I had waited nye on two years to do. Venus cut like a sickle against the black, and a binary star system in the Cygnus constellation, the swan to their Incan forefathers were the two highlights of the frustrating hour. Truly awe-inspiring to accept the light from two stars orbiting each other far, far into the night, i sat in the back of the van on the ride home feverishly jotting down my inner euphoria and ignoring the brash family of four from Reno, Nevada.
After a beer at Paddy’s Irish bar, the highest irish bar in the world, I sat on the roof terrace at the hostel smoking cigarettes and reflecting on the night. Ana Maria had told us about the dark spots in the arm of the Milky Way that Incans believed to be a black llama, i told you they see faces in everything. The beast was said to venture down at night and drink the waters from up high to stop the onslaught of floods only to return later in the year under the guise of the rainy season. Man, those guys back then sure must have smoked some outrageous shit.