Having settled well in Ica, resupplied with fruit and water, and overall caught up on sleep, I headed out of the city proper to explore what the areas surrounding Ica have to offer.
I found out on the internet that Ica is famous for its wine, so getting a taste of some was one of my goals. Eventually, my journey brought me to a bodega where not only different wines are made, but also a local liquor called pisco.
Called Bodega Pampas, the place has on display its original equipment traditionally used in the wine and liquor making processes. The staff were really nice, and I ended up buying a bottle of Malbec, because that was the driest red wine they had.
Witch Market of Cachiche
I then came to a small market of various amulets, semi precious rocks and other souvenirs located in the borough of Cachiche, which was once synonymous with sorcery for many in Peru.
Cachiche, according to the elders of Ica, housed countless women who possessed supernatural powers. The locals mention that these powers served to extirpate the evils of the body and prepare concoctions for various ailments.
They tell that the most famous witch of Cachiche was Julia Hernández Pecho Viuda de Díaz, who died at 106 years of age, after a life full of making spells and concoctions. The witch reportedly predicted that Ica would sink when the seventh head of the Palm of the Seven Heads (Palmera de las Siete Cabezas) grows.
The grounds where the booths selling souvenirs were set up was dominated by an ancient huarango tree with a horizontal trunk called the “Wish Tree”:
Palmera de las Siete Cabezas
Not far from the witch market of Cachiche is a palm tree with its own legends. Called “La Palmera de las Siete Cabezas” (The Palm Tree of Seven Heads), it is special for having a curious shape: six palms that look like snakes are born from the ground, instead of rising upright.
And the seventh? Well, it is always cut off by people before it comes out, since people still believe in what Julia Hernandez said.
Based on what I was told by the locals, no scientist could come up with any explanation for why the palm grows that way, other than that it’s a freak of nature.
The highlight of my tour around Ica was a trip to Huacachina – a lush oasis in the sandy desert that this part of Peru is notorious for. It was a perfect end to an amazing day, which deserved the treat I picked up when it all started:
I started the bus ride from Lima to Ica after telling good bye to Isadora and getting to the Soyuz bus station on Mexico Avenue in the nation’s capital. The PeruBus ride cost astounding 55 Soles (I’m telling you, Peru is expensive). The trip took almost 5 and a half hours to complete. Of that, an hour was spent navigating out of Lima’s congested streets. Whereas the bus departed at 3:30pm, by the time we arrived in Ica it was already almost 9pm. Having to walk the streets of the unknown city with sketchy reputation after dark with the backpack on was not encouraging, but there was no turning back – I was already here.
Despite the late hour, the streets of Ica were full of people. Luckily, the guardian angel was by my side and even though I had absolutely no idea where I’m going or where to even go, of all the options I turned in the overall best direction and headed right toward downtown, where there was no shortage of hostels.
Whereas I normally never book a room in the first hostel I walk into, I didn’t feel like returning back outside after finally walking into one. I ended up speding the night in a hostel where I was charged 50 Soles for a private room with private bathroom.
That seemed hella better than what I was quoted in Lima, but it wasn’t until the following day when I realized I was taken advantage of and was heavily overcharged. Nevertheless, I made the decision to stay in the first hostel I walked into, so I accepted it for what it was.
The following morning I went out to compare prices in other hostels, and found out the going rate for the type of room I got was 30 Soles, with more upscale options in nicer hotels going for 40 Soles. Consequently, after the first night I checked into Posada del Sol Hotel, where a single room costs 40 Soles.
After changing the hotel, I went for a walk. The downtown park was called Parque de Armas, much the same as in Lima. I then realized that virtually every bigger town in Peru names its downtown park Parque de Armas.
The one in Ica was nothing too spectacular, but a number of people in red vests stationed around the park exchange money from US dollars, and wheres that’s precisely what I needed, I took advantage of it and get some changed. The rate was slightly lower than in Lima’s exchange offices, but given the 3% commission money changers charge in Lima, I got more out of the buck in Ica.
While I was at Parque de Armas, a procession with a lot of policemen participating and a brass band passed by. I thought at first this was a funeral, but what they carried was not a casket. Not sure what this was all about.
About 5 blocks from Parque de Armas I found a market where I picked up a bunch of fruit. The whole area was very sketchy and I got warned a number of times by various people to be very careful around there. At the end of the day, perhaps because I was being very careful, I encountered no issues and had nothing stolen.
Fruit I picked up in Ica was much like fruit I bought in Lima – tasteless. They did however have my favorite fruit to which I was introduced in Ecuador – cherimoya – so all in all I was a happy camper.
Ica was also a pleasant change from Lima in that when the morning came, it was bright and sunny. The whole time I was in Lima it was overcast and miserable, so the lovely weather of Ica truly made my day. It was indeed so nice outside, after familiarizing myself with the town proper, I made the decision to go further out to visit what the area has to offer. I did not know what kind of weather I was gonna get in the following days, so taking advantage of beautiful sunshine felt like the right thing to do. And indeed, it was.
After returning from a walk up and down Miraflores, I went to my dorm, took a shower, washed my clothes in cold water, put earplugs in and hit the bed.
I woke up around 3am, but stayed in bed until 8am to catch the complimentary breakfast Pool Paradise provides their guests. It consisted of what could have been one, maybe two eggs scrambled, two bread buns, a banana and a glass of orange juice. Tea and coffee were also available.
The checkout was at noon, and whereas I knew I was leaving Lima, I decide to check out after breakfast, put on my backpack and head downtown to visit some of its old quarters before I leave the city for good. I did not want to do it knowing I’d have to return to Miraflores in the city’s awful traffic in order not to miss the checkout, which is why I had to do it all with my backpack on.
In August it’s winter in Peru, so ever since I arrived, the sky was overcast and it was rather cool – around 14 degrees centigrade during the day. The hazy conditions also brought rain, but it was the type of rain that sogs everything, but you can hardly see any drops fall to the ground. The humidity is super high the whole time, but I found the weather suitable for walking with a load on my back because it’s not overly hot, so you don’t sweat the whole time, but it’s neither cold, so you’re not freezing your buns off either.
When I was checking out of Pool Paradise, I met a Brazilian girl named Isadora. A resident of Sao Paolo, she was also getting ready to do the tour of downtown Lima, but she didn’t take all her belongings with her, as she planned to return to the hostel to continue her stay. We hit it off really good right from the start, and went downtown together.
We left Miraflores in a Metropolitano bus. It costs 2.50 Soles per ride and is paid upon entering the area from within which a bus can be boarded. The bus identified with a letter C connects Lima’s downtown with Miraflores. That’s what we took.
We first visited Plaza Jose Marti, who’s considered the liberator of Peru. We took a few pictures there and headed toward Plaza del Armas, where the presidential building is located. Behind its gates a brass band in full military attire was playing. The whole area had a strong military presence, with a number of soldiers armed with rifles, several policemen with spooky looking canines scanning the area, and armored vehicles parked on corners.
There was a group of school kids that walked past us while at Plaza de Armas, who were so excited to see a white man, they got in chat with me and really wanted to take a picture.
From there we headed toward Plaza Simon Bolivar, with a building of the Peruvian Congress behind the statue of the other Peru’s liberator. But first we made a brief stop in the Choco Museum, where Isidora bought a few chocolates to take home as presents for friends.
We then made a stop at Basilica and Convent of San Francisco – a church within which there are catacombs filled with skulls and bones. The access to the catacombs is paid and picture taking is prohibited, so we decided against paying for that access.
Afterward we walked a little bit more toward an overcrowded market with fruits, meats and fish (the type I lacked in Miraflores), where I bought half a kilo of mandarin oranges. They were all incredibly bland and tasteless. It made me really miss Ecuador where fruits were delicious and juicy.
From the market it was just a bit more walk to an adjacent China town, where I bought Palo Santo from a very nice woman with Shamanic training. I will write a post about Palo Santo later.
Having concluded we’ve covered enough of Lima’s downtown, we decided to wrap it up and pace our way back toward a Metropolitano bus stop. I was gonna take it a few stops to Avenida Mexico, near which I found out there’s a bus terminal with buses going to Ica, and Isadora would carry on over several more stops back to Miraflores.
We however got lost along the way, and found ourselves in a shanty town area with a lot of shady characters and no police in sight. We have not encountered any problems, but had no idea where we were nor where to find a Metropolitano bus stop. A few people we asked provided conflicting information as to which way to go to find one.
Eventually, after crossing a bridge, we saw a traffic police and got some reliable pointers. As we walked toward the station along a busy street, we passed multiple sellers of Palo Santo and other incenses and tools for shamanic rituals, so I bought a baggie of myrrh, frankincense and copal resins to use with my earlier bought Palo Santo for deactivation of negative energies and evil spirits that may have latched on me.
After a busy day together, having also got lost in Lima, I parted ways with Isadora, with a promise that we’ll stay in touch, and a hope we’ll meet and hang out again.
At Avenida Mexico I asked which way the terminal for buses to Ica was, and bought a ticket for a 3:30 bus, which I boarded and left Lima. The trip lasted 5 hours, and I was unlucky to have a guy sitting behind me who spent the whole 5 hours yapping his head off on the phone. I never wished more for a meteorite to blow up half of the bus before.
Whereas I knew I would not stay in Lima longer than one night, after booking the bed in the dorm in Pool Paradise, I decided to go exploring Miraflores a little on foot without the backpack. I was too tired and too stinky after the journey, but knew that if I took shower, I would not feel like going anywhere anymore. I needed to buy water to rehydrate anyway, so stink bomb as I was, I grabbed the camera and stepped out.
After snapping a few pictures at Kennedy Park, I headed down Avenida Larco to Larcomar – a stripmall of sorts on the cliffs of Miraflores overlooking the ocean. From there I turned right and walked alongside the cliffs, passing a few parks until I got to Parque del Amor (Park of Love).
The park is dominated by a statue of a man and a woman in an embrace and kissing. The structures around are adorned with love quotes, and the mini amphitheater like cascading steps surrounding it are used by couples to hang out, talk or more.
I also took a walk to a place called Huaca Pucllana, which is an archieological site of an ancient pyramid structure that looks like a giant monolyth, but consists of man made clay bricks.
On the way back I made a quick stop in Parque Reducto No2, within which there are statues of war commanders and a display of old military gear, like cannons.
I looked for a fruit market, which would surely have been around had this city been in Ecuador, but there was none. A few street sellers selling fruit from carts was all I could come across. Most shops I’ve seen were either selling souvenirs, alpaca products, or they were overpriced restaurants. Overall, I saw absolutely no reason to stay in Miraflores, or Lima in general, for any more than a day.
It was 9:30am when I finally arrived in Miraflores and got off the Quick Llama van to look for accommodation on foot. It was far different from Ecuador, or basically any country I have ever looked for a place to stay in before.
First of all, finding any kind of accommodation that’s not a higher class hotel is extremely difficult because none are very well marked. But what made it all worse was that every hostel in Miraflores charged so much for their rooms, you’d think you’re in Singapore, not Peru.
After 3 hours walking up and down Miraflores on foot with my backpack on on the sweaty back, I concluded that Lima has one of the most expensive accommodations in the world. Certainly so when looking at what you get for what you pay.
Had I not been tired as all hell after a 32 hours long journey across multiple time zones, I would have packed up and left. Eventually, sheer tiredness got the best of me and I caved in and booked a bed in a 6 bed dorm for 40 Soles (about $12 US) in Pool Paradise.
Whereas in neighboring Ecuador I got beautiful private rooms with private bathroom and smart TV for $10, a bed in a busy dorm, which was located right on the ground floor and right next to the reception, so there was talking, banging and other noise 24/7, and there was no internet in rooms so I had to sit in the lobby to get on line, this seemed like one truly shitty deal. And that was the cheapest dorm I could find, as well as the cheapest anyone in the tourist information center knows about.
The room was dark, gloomy and smelly, with the only window facing a wall right outside of it. But the scariest thing was the young Filipina who was in the room when I checked in, who told me that she was just moved from another dorm room after herself and everyone else who stayed there woke up with bed bug bites all over their bodies.
The whole check in process to Pool Paradise was over the top. They asked me to fill up their registration form which was on a tablet, and which asked way too many personal questions which went over and beyond whatever a hotel may need in order to provide guests with accommodation.
To get a private room in Miraflores, you’d be looking at a cost of 160 Soles or more (about $50 US) – the type of money for which you could get a room in a decent hotel in western Europe.
Overall, right on my first day I found Peru to be very expensive with little to justify to high cost of services. I knew right away that I’m only staying in Miraflores because I’m too tired to look for a bus terminal and take a trip to another town. I knew I was only gonna stay in Lima for this one night, and the following day I would move somewhere else, but if somewhere else it’s as expensive as in Lima, I would then just quickly visit the places I was interested in visiting and move to another country all together.
Ecuador’s new law permits foreigners to only enter the country once a year if stayed for the full 3 months, and whereas I was there since the late September of previous year, I would not be able to reenter until late September again. Bolivia remains a strong option. But like it or not, for the time being, I remain in Peru.
After arriving in Peru’s Lima, I wanted to stay in the area of the city called Miraflores, because it’s known for being one of the safest and has numerous tourist facilities, including hostels.
I found out beforehand that a company names Airport Express Lima has regular services between the airport and Miraflores, precisely because Miraflores is popular with tourists. I however also found out that a smaller company called Quick LLama also offers transportation from the Jorge Chavez International Airport to Miraflores, and unlike the former, which costs 25 Soles, the trip with Quick Llama costs only 15 Soles.
However because Airport Express has a stronger hold on the market, it is far better advertised, so a tourist arriving in Lima will know right away where to find them. There are no indications at the airport that Quick Llama even provides that service, so one simply has to know about them in order to seek them out.
Nevertheless, both companies depart from the same parking lot, which is located behind the Costa del Sol Wyndham Hotel. To get there, walk out of the airport, and you will see the hotel right in front of you, on the opposite side of the road passing by the entrance. Walk around the hotel to find the parking lot behind it. Airport Express bus will likely already be parked in the most prominent location there, and will have a small booth set up where one can buy a ticket.
Quick Llama doesn’t have buses, but rather vans. The vans have large stickers on sides, so they can be easily identified. If there is one already waiting for passengers, it will likely be parked more in the back of the parking lot.
When I got to the parking lot, it was already 7:15 am. There was no Quick Llama vehicle, but Airport Express already had their bus waiting. I asked the staff at the booth at what time it leaves, and was told the next one leaves at 8am. Whereas I had enough time, I went back to the airport and returned to the parking lot in 15 minutes. By that time, a Quick Llama van was already there. I spoke with the driver who told me they were leaving at 7:45 (15 minutes before Airport Express), and confirmed their ticket to Miraflores indeed cost 15 Soles, which was 10 less than Airport Express.
I boarded their van and waited until it departed. There were only 3 more people in the van, so even though far from full, the van left when scheduled – precisely at 7:45.
We however did not arrive in Miraflores until 9:30am, because of Lima’s insane traffic. The jams on uncontrolled intersections were massive, and there are many uncontrolled intersections in the city. It was all about who can push themselves in the hardest. The larger the vehicle, the less crap it gave. The smaller the vehicle, the longer it took it to get anywhere.
Despite seemingly long lasting journey, the Quick Llama van got us all to Miraflores safely, and given the mad traffic situation, as fast as could be. I would use them again, and would not hesitate recommending their services to visitors arriving in Lima.
After the 32 hours on the road, of which 30 were spent on planes or airports, I finally arrived in my destination – the capital of Peru, Lima. The last leg of the journey was a grueling 12 hour non-stop flight from Madrid in Spain. The plane was full so the conditions were beyond squishy with little to find comfort in. 12 hour flights are never too joyful, but they carry you over long distances.
I arrived at the Jorge Chávez International Airport at 4:50am local time. It was still dark outside, so I decided to stick around the safety of the airport in the city I do not know until after sunrise.
My goal was to get to the Miraflores area of the city with one of the bus operators that cover the Airport-Miraflores route, and whereas I saw the most popular of them – Airport Express Lima – doesn’t begin to operate for the day until 7am, it only affirmed me in the resolution to stay put until said time.
The food court was open and stuffed full of people, but there was only one table in the entire airport with power plugs for charging batteries. I had to wait until someone was done charging their phone before I could plug in my laptop. The airport’s wifi is free only for 30 minutes, but luckily I had the means to mask my computer’s MAC address so I was able to cheat the limitation.
Either way, I was in Peru and ready for my next adventure.
At 8:35am on August 27, 2018, I boarded a plane bound for Lima in Peru, with stops in Prague, Barcelona and Madrid. The 30 hour journey is being as tiring as expected, especially its 12 hours long last leg.
The departure marked the end of my 4 months long stay in Slovakia, the country smack in the middle of Europe. The arguably short, but rich in experiences stay changed me forever.
Slovakia, in many ways, changed how I view and understand life, the universe, relationships and many aspects of life. It was profoundly deep, and introduced me to the spiritual part of myself I never knew existed. The people I met in Slovakia were some of the most aware of all the world, nevermind the fact that the girls are some of the most beautiful too.
Perhaps the highlight of my experience was the visit to a pyramid in Eastern Slovakia, with a mining shaft within which there is the highest density of healing negative ions per cubic centimeter in the world.
But it was indeed my second time in the pyramid, when I met one of its original discoverers, that opened up my eyes to the deeper meanings of life, and set me off on the journey to self discovery that was to trample everything I’ve known before.
And now I find myself counting miles on my way toward Peru, fully aware that this time it’s different. I’m still the same round the world traveler. Still a permanent nomad. But this time the journey is far less about discovering new places and far more about discovering myself. The priority will be my physical and mental growth and wellbeing, with destinations as well as lengths of stay chosen according to how well they can assist in the goals.
Thank you for everything, Slovakia. Peru, here I come!