Fry ups, Fins and Fireworks.

23 12 2008

Arriving back in the historic capital of the Inca Empire, we headed once more back up the hill to Loki hostel. The hostel itself is over 450 years old, and matched with the cold climate, was perfectly suited for some traditional festive fun. The place is built around two central courtyards, and looks out across the city. Our dorm room was complete with exposed beams, original wooden floor and a door that opened out onto a mini balcony. From here we could stand and stare out at the red tiled roofs that make up Cusco, and could see all the way across to Plaza de Armas, dominated by the Cathedral. We were in our room with a number of friends who we had met along the trip, namely Susan and Enda. With Christmas literally around the corner, we finally felt the festive spirit.Being back in Cusco, there was yet another reason to celebrate; we could go to Jacks café again! We discovered Jacks last time we had been in Cusco for the Inca Trail, and we had been looking forward to going back again! The food was divine, and there is no better time than Christmas for some guilt free indulgence. As soon as we were together we headed down for some afternoon tea. It was quite simply the best place we had found the entire trip. From the breakfast through to the lunches, Jacks had every base covered. For breakfasts, you could choose from porridge, or fresh pancakes with fruit, or even go for a full fry up! Then for lunch, there was a huge array of toasties, salads, nachos, or burgers. All the portions were generous and cooked to perfection. If you had room, you could then choose from a selection of wonderful home made cakes, accompanied by the best coffee, hot chocolate or frappes in the Southern hemisphere. Claire and I were in heaven, and it quickly became the focal point of every day that we were in Cusco.

If you wanted to cook however, there was also an amazing food market in Cusco. Located just outside Plaza San Francisco, the first thing that hit you was the assortment of smells that invaded your nose as you entered. They sold anything you could possibly want, and at an extremely affordable price. There were whole pigs laid out on the counter, chickens, sections of llama and a huge variety of fish. There were every vegetable and fruit imaginable, and huge sacks of herbs and spices. Plus if you got peckish walking around there was also dozens of stands serving fresh food there and then. All the locals came here for lunch, from the shoe polishers through to the suited business men with their polished shoes. Claire and I sat down for a heaped plate of ceviche and soaked up the atmosphere, and just listened to the eclectic conversations taking place around us.

It was an unconventional Christmas in Cusco. By this I mean not only were we away from family, mince pies and Christmas decorations, but it was also the first Christmas that wasn’t dominated by long cold hauls down the high street searching for that allusive Christmas present. There was no late night shopping, no X factors Christmas covers, and no midnight wrapping of gifts. It may sound cheesy, but it was lovely to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and on friends, fun and laughter. The highlight for me was Christmas Eve; the hostel had invited all the children from the local orphanage to join us for the morning. We had all donated gifts, and we had a Father Christmas: I don’t know who was more excited about seeing him; the kids or us! As they came in, all 150 of them, their eyes lit up. We watched as they ran about, giggling and playing games. One by one they were called up to receive their gift. Some could hardly contain their excitement; they threw their arms around Papá Noel (Father Christmas) and ran back clutching their present tightly. Each one said a loud thank you. Afterwards we all had hot chocolate and a slice of Christmas cake. We sat with them all morning, playing, chatting and helping some who couldn’t wait, to open their presents.

In the afternoon we headed down to the main Plaza. There was a huge Christmas market taking place that day, and we passed the time walking round the different stalls and purchasing a few items to take back home. We also bought plenty of biscuits from Susan’s stall, who was selling them to raise money for a children’s trust that she had been volunteering for. When it began to rain heavily, we headed back up the hill to prepare for the evenings carousing. Some things never change!

In keeping with a long held tradition, we all headed out for Christmas Eve. After a few happy hour specials at the Loki bar, we walked down to hill in convoy to see what the town had to offer. The main square was in full swing, and there were people everywhere, many of which were selling and setting off huge fireworks. I purchased a few and we stood back and watched with trepidation, as they shot up into the night’s sky. Some weren’t so effective though, and we had to be on constant look out for stray rockets heading in our direction! We headed to Uptown first, and then onto Mama Africa’s. I’d recommend both for a good night out! We slumped into bed in the early hours of Christmas day.

Christmas morning, Claire and I awoke bright and early with the customary hangovers, yet nothing was going to get in the way of our excitement: we had two large boxes to open from our wonderful Mothers back in England. Trying not to wake the others, we ripped open the sellotape like 5 year olds, and threw wrapping paper all over the place as we opened the contents. True to form, my mum had paid heed to the ´subtle´ hints in my emails, and the box was full of sugary goodness; from Percy pigs to Chocolate Oranges, we had been truly spoilt! There was even a Marks and Spencer´s Chocolate Christmas pudding in there as well! By this stage we had successfully woken everybody else up, and not before long we were all sat in bed, clutching a warm mug of English tea, and munching away on chocolate coins and Minstrels.

To purge ourselves of the previous evenings abuse, we headed down in our Christmas gear (I had a pair of Llama socks and matching jumper from Claire!) to Jacks for a Gordos Special Fry up! We were joined by an Aussie from our room, also called Jack funnily enough, and a special guest.

On our previous trip to Cusco we had met William. William was one of many children that worked the streets of Cusco, selling postcards, sweets and jewellery. William himself sold wonderful hand painted postcards of local scenes, which his older brother produced. His English was perfect, as was his patter. He entertained us and educated us with facts and stories about England and the surrounding area. We met him every day outside Jacks and had a chat, and he was cheeky enough to ask if we were coming back for Christmas, and hinted that he had always wanted a bicycle…

We couldn’t afford a new bike, and sadly even if we had, the fact remains that it would have caused jealousy amongst his peers and siblings. Furthermore, when his family could just about afford to put food on the table, what use really was a new bike. Instead we opted to buy him a Manchester United football shirt, his favourite team. He was extremely pleased with this, and we invited him to join us for Christmas breakfast. He told us he only really liked Peruvian food, but was quite content with a bowl of curly fries and a strawberry milkshake.

That evening we all sat down in the hostel for a huge Christmas dinner. The hostel had gone to town, and we were treated to roast turkey and all the trimmings, all washed down with a number of bottles of bubbly and red wine! Afterwards the Christmas tunes were cranked up loud, and not before long everyone was joining in, singing aloud to Slade and Bing Crosby. Claire was the only one that made it into town that night, and by all accounts had an eventful night out, specifically the journey home…

The next day was spent in true Boxing Day style; we had a wander around town, had lunch in the pub watching the television, and then headed back to the hostel for a nap, before cwtching up and watching “Home Alone”, accompanied by a few slices of Terry´s chocolate orange. This was followed by…yet another hectic night on the tiles… ´tis the season to be jolly after all!

With the end of the year approaching we decided to head up North for some sea and sunshine; with this in mind we boarded the bus to Mancora. We headed up with Susan, and were going to be joined up there by a number of people from Cusco, all with the same idea.

As the journey was long we decided to break it up with a stop over in Lima. We stayed in Miraflores, and enjoyed a rather decadent night out at Larco Mar, full of paella, calamari and cocktails overlooking the ocean. The next day we continued the journey north, anxiously waiting some surf and sand.

Mancora itself felt like a Thai town, there were tuk tuks everywhere and it was full of noise and dust. We stayed in the brand new Loki hostel which was right on the seafront, and complete with pool and poolside bar. Our room, whilst not quite finished, had a large balcony overlooking the beach, and we could hear the sea from our beds. I was happy, and slipped on my boardies and headed down to see what the surf was like.

Whilst not large, it was clean and warm. Claire and I wasted no time in hiring boards and paddled out for a session. It was so lovely not to have to spend ages of time putting on a damp wetsuit and gloves and booties. The water was clear, and fish nibbled on our toes, and as we sat waiting for a set, several pelicans flew overhead, one stopping to plunge into the water for some lunch. I could tell already we were going to spend a while here!

New Year’s eve itself began in a relaxing fashion, lazily sipping G&Ts on our balcony as we watched the sun set for the last time in 2008. We then headed down to the bar where the party was getting underway, and saw the year out with fireworks and plenty of Peruvian cervezas. Afterwards, the few of us that were still standing headed down to the beach. Claire, myself and our friend Mike sat in one the wooden bars on the beach, and chatted long into the morning, finally heading to sleep as the sun rose on the new year and the first surfers of the day paddled out back for an early session.

Over the next ten days we made the most of the fantastic restaurants that Mancora had to offer; there was Thai, Mexican, Sushi and a great steak house. Our favourite place though was Papa Joe´s Milk Bar. Looking right out across the sea, we spent many a lunchtime enjoying a cold beer and munching away on our toasties with beer battered chips, all for a bargain 12 soles. We topped off the great food, with plenty of dancing, sunbathing, reading and the occasional cocktail.

If it wasn’t for the fact that we managed to counter all this relaxing with some exercise, we would both have been forced to take up two seats each on the bus out of Mancora. On top of the surfing, there was also plenty of table tennis, volleyball, swimming and a few great games of beach football (South America vs. the Rest of the World) Claire found a fantastic yoga place as well; situated further down the beach, it took place in a quaint wooden hut looking out across the waves. The sessions seemed to have some wonderful effects: each day the girls came back looking as if they were on something, a glazed look of contentment spread across their faces. I got the same feeling from an ice cream and a game of Frisbee. The simple things in life…!

After a while though we got itchy feet, and it was time to get back on the road and explore more of what South America had to offer. This time we decided to go further off the beaten track than we had been so far; and caught a bus to Chiclayo, from where we headed inland, into the jungle, and up towards the Amazon River.




One response

1 03 2009
Stu Rogers

mate, the pics look absolutely amazing. You are having too much of a good time, it is making me jealous, STOP IT.

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