Wed 08.04.09 Lunahuana
Got up at 4.30am in order to get to the airport for our flight to Peru. We thought we had plenty of time to spare but learnt at check-in that the flight had been brought forward a full hour. We paid our departure tax (on credit card because we’d used all our cash on the taxi), and rushed through customs, only to discover to our frustration that no-one checked our bloody departure tax receipt! If you have the time to spare in the airport at BA, we encourage you to try it on and save yourself a few bucks. Adding to the comedy and typical of South America, the plane was displayed as ‘on time’ but left over 45mins late, eventually carrying us northwards and over the Andes and the desert-coast of Peru into Lima. From the air, the suburbs of Lima looked like they had been run-over by a dust-storm – everything was one or two stories high and anything that was not mobile seemed to be covered in dust. We had been told that there was not much to hold us in Lima and a sight like this only seemed to confirm it. We needed to get a bus out of Lima to Canete (a town about 2 hours down the coast), the problem was that in Lima the city is so dis-organized there is no such thing as a central bus terminal. All the bus companies have their own, separate depots and terminals spread about the city. With our telephone Spanish not good enough to check which one we needed to get to, our only option was to take a punt that the first company we turned up at would operate our route. We hated taxis in South America – every time you get in one you feel like you could be held for ransom. The Lonely Planet doesn’t make you feel any safer either – saying that you should only ever call take a ‘radio taxi’, which is South American for a driver who is affiliated with an actual company. You see anyone with a car can be a taxi driver there, all they have to do is put a sign up on their window and get a sticker from the local taxi ‘registration authority’ – read corner store selling the sticker. Everywhere you go there is warning about getting into ‘fake’ or just dodgy taxis where drivers do anything from: demanding exorbitant fares, doubling the fare saying it was ‘per person’ and not total; taking you to a dodgy neighborhood and threatening to tip you out unless you pay an exorbitant bribe; and the worst of all, where random armed people jump in, blindfold you, steal all your things and take you to various ATMs to extort money from you, leaving you stranded (we heard of this actually happening later to an American couple who stayed at the same hostel as us in Arequipa). None of the cabs in South America, (apart from Brazilian ones) have meters, so to prevent getting ripped off you have to have some idea of what your trip is meant to cost before you jump in. As you could appreciate, this is extremely difficult when you arrive in a new country, with a new currency and little idea of how much things should cost, let alone how far your destination is from where you jump in. In the end and racked with fear on losing everything we had, we decided to take the safe option and pay for an official shuttle taxi from within the terminal, at a cost of US$25 (around 75 Soles)– which did not seem too exorbitant compared to home, even though we knew this was a lot more than what we would be charged if we risked a taxi out the front. We later learnt that a Lima local that a normal taxi from the city center to the airport should cost in the order of 10-15 soles, 5 times less than what we paid.
Nonetheless, we got to our first bus station and after working out they didn’t operate our route, were given directions to another bus terminal 5 mins walk away (from what we would tell). In our short walk, we were offered rides (read honked at) by no less than 10 different taxi drivers, lurking around all the bus stations to find a gringo to pick up. It occurred to me that this is the furthest possible place from Flemington Racecourse in November, where taxis willing to carry a passenger are as hard to find as a successful bet. Ignoring their incessant honking, we reached the a bus company who despite not operating the route, gave us directions and indication of reasonable taxi fare to the next place. We bargained with a swarm of drivers out the front and walked in the door of the next place and practically straight on the departing bus.
Once on the bus, in getting to Lunahuana we were struck by the moon-like landscape heading down the coast, south of Lima. The towns, the soil, the sea were all devoid of colour and it seemed to us that nothing could grow in this land. Then the contrast came as we passed through the numerous river valleys coming out of the Andes to meet the ocean where sudden lush green vegetation and widespread agriculture seemed to thrive off irrigated channels diverting water from the raging torrents. We jumped off the bus in Canete, caught a ‘collectivo’ minibus/taxi cramming ourselves and our backpacks in amongst 20 unimpressed Peruvians to Imperial, then another collectivo for about 35mins to Lunahuana when Kate and I had to share the front seat of small car. We tumbled out in Lunahuana and because of the holy-week (Easter) long weekend, were fortunate enough to find some basic accommodation close to the centre of town. We went out for dinner at a simple little restaurant and had our first taste of Peruvian wine – not the best, but then again we didn’t pay much either. Lunahuana itself was a small town (approx 3500 population) with white-water rafting, wineries and restaurants close by but with very little going on in the town… until Thursday…