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Back down to sea level

Thursday, January 12th 2006

After another day of recovery in Arequipa, sleeping and eating and doing nothing else at all, I got an overnight bus to Lima. In the capital I was going to meet my friend Dave, who had decided that being an artist in northern Spain was lucrative enough for him to afford a holiday. He was going to be travelling in Peru and Ecuador for six weeks, and we planned to travel north from Lima to Quito, from where I'd fly home and Dave would head off into the jungle.

During the night ride to Lima, I saw some spectacular coastal scenery. It was the first time I'd been at sea level for 35 days, and the air seemed thick and soupy. There is twice as much oxygen at sea level as there is at 5800m, and I could really feel it. In the morning we were near Ica, in the desert, and it was hotter than anywhere I'd been since San Pedro in the Atacama. We got to Lima just after midday, and although I'd heard many horror stories about fake taxis robbing tired travellers on arrival, I found a legit taxi and managed to get to a hostel in Barranco, which proved to be a very wealthy suburb. In the evening I walked down to the beach. I was warned by a friendly local to take care of my belongings and watch out for groups of young people, but I had no problems. I watched a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean, and thought that Lima looked like a pretty impressive city, perched on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the sea.

The following night we went out clubbing. Barranco has a legendary street in which every building is a club, and we worked our way along it. Some were good, some were poor, but it was all great fun. When we left the final club, it was getting light, and we decided not to bother sleeping but stayed up until breakfast was served at 8.45am. It was a blazing hot sunny day, and it had been a good night out in Lima.

During the day we went into the centre of Lima, which was palpably dodgier than Barranco. Soon after we arrived some old man tried to give me an old Sol coin, in what I was sure must be some kind of scam although I couldn't see how. He pressed the coin into the palm of my hand and then walked off. A few seconds later a passing child asked what it was, and I gave it to him rather than hold on to it. We were right outside a cafe, and as we went in, the owner told us to watch out for scammers on this particular street. But other than that we had no problems and we spent a couple of hours looking around.

Having skipped a night's sleep, it would have been good to be staying one more night in Lima, but foolishly we'd booked an overnight bus to Chiclayo in the north. We got a ride to the bus terminal with a very friendly taxi driver, who told us to watch out for women spiking our drinks in bars, and described lots of traditional Peruvian food that we had to try while we were here. The bus terminal was more like an airport, with check-in desks and waiting lounges, and in our sleep-deprived states it took us a while to work everything out. We boarded the bus just in time, and shortly after it left at 9pm, I fell deeply asleep.

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