Having done the routine in Lima already, we recognised the 'Taxi Officiale(s)' with their badges outside the airport, even though they still behaved like a bunch of touts. Looking rough, and with valuables well hidden, we took the ride into Cusco which was noticeably greener than Lima at first, but with a similar unfinished feel. We later found out that once a house is 'completed' then it is liable for tax.
Having enjoyed our trip around Santiago, Valparaiso & Vina Del Mar in Chile so much we were slightly reluctant to fly into Lima, especially after our expectations were set by reading Lonely Planet. Normally we love to hate/chuckle at this useful (but sometimes inconsistent/annoying/frustrating) publication, but this time it was different; more serious, down-beat, and cautious, essentially a warning to travellers - especially those coming here.
We spent a weekend in Vina Del Mar, which was enough to walk around and get a feel for the place. The weather was good and the sandy beaches were packed full of locals or people that had escaped from Santiago for the weekend. It was more modern and beach-orientated than Valparaiso (which only had the large industrial harbour) and we spent most of our time walking along the promenade checking out the stalls and eating at beach side cafes. We also watched the various sea birds and pelicans diving for fish very close to the shore.
The guide book said it was a bit rough around the edges, that you'll either love it or hate it, and that there was a good chance of being mugged, but surprisingly we quite liked it! This place has UNESCO world heritage status due to its unrivalled history of a major port prior to the opening of the Panama canal and the unique 'ascensors', small funicular railways acting as lifts from sea-level into the hills. The colourful streets up in the hills were tired but still charming in places.
For our first night we decided to just head straight to the YHA, a familiar and relatively cheap point of reference after staying in hostels all over Australia.
After a minor run-in with a woman at the airport who decided to try and lecture me after nearly taking me out with her suitcase in the baggage hall, my first impressions were restored by a nice local who offered us directions from Los Heroes (airport bus drop-off point) to the YHA. It wasn't far.
Some people live out of a motor home permanently, others just their retirement. We tried it for two months, and loved it. Managing to completely wind-down from everything was possible even for us, who had left behind the stress of modern living in the western materialist/capitalist system a long time ago, and our mobile phones have not been switched on since I can remember.
I suppose it really is a country of two halves with the North and South Island, but during my whole time on South Island I was really under the impression that the whole country was run by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Aroha Island is going to be another happy place logged in my memory under the 'rose-tinted' section. Aroha Island does translate as Love Island afterall. But this is not the reason for the rose-tinted glasses in this case.
Embarking on the 490km round-trip to the East Cape and back was to be another cultural eye-opener for us.
Kaikoura was a 'must-see' according to the guide books and was described as a nature lovers paradise which appealed to us. We wanted to visit the much documented smelly seal colony which could be done independently. We worked our way down the coastal road taking in the scenery on our way. The East Coast road proved to be more exicting than Kaikoura itself for the wildlife! With Mark at the drivers wheel, I was watching the beaches, rocks and coastline carefully for signs of life, and then every so often shouting 'pull over!', so that we could say hello to the NZ fur seals I had spotted.