Monday, February 24, 2014

Miraflores Adventure Sports, Part 2

Super Bowl Sunday was my last day in Lima, my flight for the US left at 1:30 AM on Monday. I had walked to major sites, saw demonstrations and tasted Lima's culinary offerings. I'm sure that in the minds of savvy travelers, I was lacking a definitive piece of my Lima resume, surfing. Peru's frigid Pacific coast is apparently a surf haven and there are numerous surf schools for tourists and locals alike to test their balance out on the waters. It would be fitting that my first time surfing was at a premier location.

Pukana surf school. Check these guys out. 

I had originally planned to surf pretty early on in the trip, but the sunburn contracted on Day 1 kept me from doing so. I figured that wearing a tight wet suit would be painful and the wait was practical. By this time, my sunburn had healed and I was feeling 100%. Mike was sleepy so he did not join my early morning surfing expedition. 

Vanlife, inspired by Foster Huntington

I withdrew the necessary funds and made my way to Miraflores once again, close to the paragliding launchpad. I had been in touch with the owner of Pukana surf school and he informed me of the group rates for that Sunday. It was affordable in my mind at 20 USD. You were given a wetsuit, booties, a surf board and quality instruction. After the wetsuit fiasco (they are tight), my group was assigned what was in my mind, the quintessential surf instructor. His skin was tan and borderline leathery. He had been doing this for 20 years. He had us run, stretch and taught us the fundamentals. Strictly in Spanish. Another teacher had to join and instruct the 2 gringos and myself in English. 

After 45 minutes of stretches, instruction and simulation we picked our boards and headed out. The beach was not sandy, in fact it consisted of large pebbles, which made the booties necessary. In addition, the water was deep. After wading a few steps, I was unable to reach the bottom already. The instructors ensured we would not have any collisions and helped position us to catch waves. Once positioned, I waited what seemed like 5 minutes before an instructor shouted "Swim!" So I dug deep and paddled hard. Eventually, I felt the surge of the wave throw my board forward. This particular swell was powerful, carrying me toward the shore at a good pace. At this point, I employed the techniques they taught me and stood up, staying low for balance. I was surfing! Nothing fancy, but I was riding the wave towards shore and could hear the instructors from behind clapping. When the wave lost power, then was I ejected from the board.

Into the gray

That was a fiasco in and of itself. The water was cold, deep and the current strong. But I was feeling confident, I was the first of the cohort to catch a lengthy wave. So I repeated the cycle 2 more times. Fighting for positioning, catching waves and swimming back. I can confidently say that no one else in my group was as successful I was. I guess my balance was pretty good for a beginner, because although the others were catching waves, they were getting thrown fairly quickly. One of the instructors even commended me and asked if I had surfed before. My last wave was the strongest, I rode it nearly to shore. I was so confident that I tried to surf horizontal of the shore. That attempt was met with failure. I was thrown pretty violently off the board and was disoriented underwater for a few moments.

Once I surfaced, I realized how close I was to the shore. They had advised that it was unsafe to hang around there as the waves can pummel you into those large pebbles. So I tried to paddle the 100 meters out to my group but was beginning to tire. My shoulders were fatigued by all the swimming to simply jockey for good position. And the shoulders were alone. You can't rely on your legs for propulsion on a surf board. 

New hobby? Not in NC

So I just turned in, slightly disappointed. I joined a fellow English speaker who had to bow out due to sea sickness in resting on the shore. I had time left in my appointment to swim back out, but lacked the strength at that point. I had previously rode 3 waves in and endured the swim back. Overall, it was a great first surfing experience. I doubt that the waters off North Carolina produces surf-worthy waves but I would like to try once more. I seriously think I am good at surfing, but it might just be beginner's luck. Cannot wait to try again and find out.

Miraflores Adventure Sports, Part 1

The last two days of my trip were frantic, as I sought to check experiences/sights off the list. Mike returned from his 3 night work expedition in the Amazon on Saturday morning. I rejoined him at the Westin and he joked about the arduous treks to the Duke energy plants in the jungle. After a brief rest, we headed over to Larcomar, a shopping mall literally sitting on the cliffs in Miraflores. Larcomar felt like an American mall and featured the usual suspects: Chili's, TGIFs and a Banana Republic store. But what caught Mike's attention the most were the paragliders hovering above. 

Taken a few days before. No idea I would enjoy the same view

At that moment, he made up his mind to paraglide. There was no talking him out of it. I was terrified. Only days earlier, I saw them floating above the city and I thought to myself, "those guys are crazy." And now, here I was - walking towards the launchpad and in my mind, the gallows. I then found myself forking over what equaled to about 60 USD and with sweaty fingers, signing my life away. As we queued up for a "flight partner", I thought that a death by fall was a much better way to go than by disease. Mike was equally jittery and I gladly reminded him who was to blame for any mishap.

The minutes that passed between being assigned a flight partner and taking off was a blur. Mike was the first to be strapped into a safety harness, but it was actually me who took off or in this case, plunged first. Like I said, it was a blur. My flight partner harnessed me to him and got ready far quicker than Mike's. As my pilot was catching wind, I could hear Mike nervously asking in jest, "can I tell my mom that I love her first?" Next thing I knew, I was told to run and off the cliff we fell. 

Thinking about the merits of an emergency
water landing. GoPros are awesome
We descended no more than 5 feet before the parachutes caught the upward drafts and we were away, rising high above Miraflores. From this point, it was a leisurely 10 minute glide. Not much was said between the two grown men tethered together, hundreds of feet above ground, and I blame 10% of it to language barriers and the other 90% to my fear. When I am terrified, I shut up. As with most flights, I was unnerved by sudden movements and weird noises. The sounds that caused the most fear were due to my flight partner adjusting his GoPro so the 10 minute fear-fest would be documented. 

Overall, it was a smooth ride. Sensing my fear, the "pilot" did not attempt abrupt maneuvers or send us close to the tall buildings. He mainly straddled (ha) the cliffs and the Pacific ocean. Once my feet touched terra firma again, I finally felt a sense of relief. I was then ushered to the production tent where I bought the GoPro recorded video of the flight. Because if you don't have a photo, it didn't happen.

Mike landing

Afterwards, I was able to photograph Mike's landing. He was still nervously joking but just as proud as I was for pushing himself out of his comfort zone and into Lima's skies. Upon viewing our respective videos, we noted how different our experiences were: Mike had conversations with his Japanese expat pilot whereas I was crippled by fear. In addition, his pilot pulled stunts and did hover close to the skyscrapers. So his video was far more exciting than mine. Thankfully.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Llama in the Room

For the past week I have been traveling through Lima and Huachina, Peru. I have been checking out the sites, sampling the foods and attempting to scale large sand dunes to no avail. But there has not been one mention of Peru's most famous landmark: The majestic Macchu Picchu. 

This ancient Incan ruin high in the Andes is iconic to Peru. Many visitors enter Lima as a stopover before heading to Cuzco and hit the Inca trail to Macchu Picchu. Sadly, I am not one of them. My Peruvian adventures will not make it to the sacred valley and all the other sites that you would associate with Macchu Picchu. 

During the planning stages of this trip, Mike and I came to the same conclusion that due to the rushed nature and additional costs, it would not be feasible. I left for Peru on January 25th but did not give up on Macchu Picchu until the 5th. Most of the members of tripadvisor, lonelyplanet, etc who have undertaken the trip have suggested 4 days to really enjoy the trek. I did not have those days available to me. In hindsight, I would've done everything in my power to make it a possibility.

I truly regret not making this trip, but I still enjoyed what I have experienced so far, and I can always come back and even take a week!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Into the Desert

The featured side expedition of the Peru trip was a 2 night stay in the desert oasis of Huacachina. The nearest major town to Huacachina is Ica, which can be reached easily by bus from the capital of Lima. My carrier of choice was Cruz del Sur, which makes a direct 4.5 hour trip to Ica and is among the most trusted lines in the region. 

The return journey

The landscape en route to Ica, was riveting. The bleak desert topography was alien to me. Once the bus disembarked in Ica, I was greeted by official Huacachina cab drivers who spoke English. It was a great relief, because I traveled alone and slightly paranoid about safety.

It was around 5 PM by the time I was ready to explore the oasis and more importantly, catch the sunset over the dunes. The view was nothing short of breathtaking. Huacachina was literally a lagoon at the foot of enormous sand dunes. Because of the distance from Ica, it had a remote, exotic vibe to it.

The desert landscape was alien to me

So I trekked up a high dune, with a pack containing water, snacks along with cameras - hoping to capture the beautiful sunset. However, the climb got the best of me. The grueling slog took a toll, and I quickly tired. The constant taking two steps and sliding back one was frustrating. In addition, I had been suffering from allergies and sunburn, not feeling 100 percent. It was especially depressing when I was passed by 2 argentine girls, who made it to the top. I had swam laps in the Westin pool to prepare myself but it was not of any help. The consolation prize was that I managed to take some great photos despite not reaching the desired summit.

The girls who reached heights I couldn't

Day 2 greeted me with a pounding headache in addition to my existing ailments. I attempted to shake it off but it was the most severe headache I've had in years. So Day 2's endeavors of conquering the dunes and sandboarding was lost as I was either bedridden or asleep for most of it. I did get to read about 200 pages of Murakami's 1Q84. The victory of the day however, was finding a restaurant that included Peruvian dishes. As per usual, hotels cater to tourists and serve non-risky entrees like hamburgers, pizzas, fries, pasta, etc. Thanks to Restaurant Sol, I had delicious ceviche (for the 5th time) at a reasonable price.

With a few hours left til checkout on Day 3, I found the strength to lumber up a smaller dune and take photos. It was still difficult despite some relief from allergies and sunburn. I eventually reached a vantage point high enough to capture the oasis setting that I had been staying at.

The lagoon at the foot of the dunes

I could not help but feel a tinge of disappointment by the adventures untaken as the return bus lurched towards Lima. However, I was safe and even treated to spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean along the PanAmerican highway. Things would get better, I just needed to seize the next opportunity.