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MANCORA, PERU: October 18-22

Leah: We left a rainy and cold Cuenca on a 9 p.m. bus to the beach-side hamlet of Mancora, Peru; we had been told it was a 9-hour direct bus, including border crossing, so we had pre-booked our hostel in preparation for a 6 a.m. arrival the following day. I passed out on the close-to-empty bus after the first 20 minutes of The Three Stooges movie (Steve: which I found surprisingly entertaining) and didn't really rouse until I felt the bus slowing to a crawl as it entered the border town of Huaquillas, Ecuador. Imagine our surprise when the ayudante beckoned us to the front, out the door and helped us gather our backpacks before showing us the way to a holding area at another bus station and telling us a connector bus would be along soon. This was at 1 a.m. We ended up sitting in this cement cell until 4 a.m., which we shared with a snoring Ecuadorian whose nocturnal symphony sent vibrations through the bench, Emiliano Pepe, a friendly man in his 40s who had lived in New York for decades and a nameless guy or two, all of whom were waiting for the bus to cross into Peru.

Those were some LONG hours my friends--staring out the re-bar covered windows at the cockroaches skittering across the trash-strewn street, the neighborhood drunks banging on signs as they stumbled along and all manner of other nightlife, none of which can be up to any good between those early hours. Fortunately, the bus arrived shortly after 4 a.m., we flew through customs and imigration and arrived in Mancora at 7 a.m., where the owner (Juerg) of our hostel, the Kon Tiki, picked us up in his crunchy old white Beetle and drove us to the top of the hill where our lodging stood, a small collection of white-washed thatched bungalows overlooking the dusty brown beach town below. We literally collapsed into bed fully clothed and only awoke 4 hours later when a tiny mouse scuttled across my hand and back out through the adobe wall when I jumped up at the sensation (Steve: considering the location on the edge of the desert, this really didn't seem that strange. I think we both shrugged it off seeing as how the view and sounds were worth it). We already loved it here, with the crashing waves audible below the hill and the gentle rustle of the natural roofing in the breeze soothing our ears. It's basically a one-street desert town set next to the shore and reminds me of a mix of Venice Beach on top of Petra, Jordan. To add to it all, we're currently in the spring shoulder season here-the Peruvian crowds won't descend until December, which means the beaches are comparatively empty and the temperature ranges between 75 and 80 each day. Real rough.

At the risk of sounding spoiled, I should also add at this juncture that when traveling long-term, sometimes you just need a break from it all. A break from early morning departures, overnight buses, miles of walking, ascertaining how to get to far-flung locations on local transport, sharing a hostel dorm room with 10 other people, arranging future Workaways and Couchsurfing, etc. We never for a second forget how lucky we are, but backpacking can be exhausting and we chose Mancora, one of the most popular beach cities in Peru, to recharge our batteries and kick it. We originally planned on 2 nights but extended our stay to 4 after the beach rhythm got under our skin and we were unable to bear the thought of leaving the sun, sand and surf behind. We also really liked the Kon Tiki, with its free continental breakfast, large private room for $10/person and sweeping vistas in every direction due to its hilltop locale.

Our days more or less followed this strict routine:

8:30 a.m.: wake up and laze in bed listening to the crashing waves and circling songbirds
9 a.m.: head to breakfast in our PJs--eat overlooking the beach
9:30-11 a.m.: catch up on internet tasks, make picnic lunch for the beach (PB&J sandwiches, chips and fruit)
11 a.m.-3 p.m.: sit on deserted stretch of pristine beach. Eat, swim, read, sleep, watch kite boaders, pet friendly beach dogs
3-6:30 p.m.: sit in hammock at our room overlooking town. Read, doze, shower, watch sunset.
6:30-8 p.m.: walk back down hill into town to buy our "crack attack" dinner from sidewalk vendor (he knew our order by our last night here!). Two large potato rellenos with a Kalamata olive surprise and piece of chicken stuffed inside, piled high with lettuce and carrot slaw and drizzled in various tasty sauces, followed by two grilled chicken sandwiches filled with the same slaw and sauces, in addition to layers of french fries. Heaven on earth. Consume by the beach then return to the vendor next door for fruity cremoladas, a concoction of fresh fruit puree, sugar and ice all blended together and deliciously smooth. Eat these al fresco while strolling the main drag, looking at all the jewelry, crafts and swimsuits for sale. Total spent each time= $6.
8-10 p.m.: sit in hammock or reclining chairs at our room overlooking the twinkling town. Read, doze, stargaze.
10: p.m: crawl under mosquito net, read by headlamp until drowsy and fall asleep to the bumping bar soundtracks floating up from below.

Steve: Surprise. Steve here. Interjecting about the dogs. There were dogs everywhere here and it seemed like all of them were quite used to human interaction. None appeared human aggressive, which was great since I didn't mind smacking off the various suitors that followed the in-heat females ("mamas" as we called them). One sweet girl followed us several days in a row with a pack of 5-6 annoying males in tow. She would lay down with us knowing that we were a safe zone; the male dogs hung around but they knew that if only for those few moments she was off limits. It really makes me wish that I had veterinary skills, if only how to spay and neuter all these street dogs. Sigh.

Leah: We did have some moments that deviated from the norm, like our first day here when we Steve accidentally lost our key on the beach--previous guests had done the same and the owners hadn't yet been able to get a duplicate made (Steve: the tide caught us off guard and literally swept the keys away. It sounds like saying the dog ate my homework...). Sooo...I soon found myself wedged halfway in and out of a tiny window where Patricia, one of the owners, had removed the mosquito netting to allow me to pass into our room. Given the size (lacking) of the window and my womanly curves (ample), I was pleased as punch when I somehow managed to squeeze through, pulling myself up and over the bunkbeds that obstructed a clean entrance and down onto the floor where I triumphantly opened the door. Granted, we had to pay to replace the lock which was now  officially key-less, but it's quite the story!

Another memorable event occurred when strong winds forced us away from our typical palm-fringed beach location and farther down the stretch into a more protected area. We were sitting there zoning out and  staring at the white-tipped waves when I noticed two younger rail-thin blonde girls come racing down the sand from a nearby hotel. Steve and I placed bets as to nationality and when we heard their (lack of an) accent we knew they were North American. They gallivanted for a while in the surf and I watched them absentmindedly until they skipped off. About half an hour later they returned and suddenly something in my head clicked. I turned to Steve and said, "I wonder if there's any chance those are the Hollett girls from the hostel in Panama?" I headed toward the water and once I got up close I knew the answer but asked anyway. Sure enough, it was the Hollett Family from Seattle, the ones we met at the Mamallena Hostel in Panama City who had taken a year sabbatical and were traveling the world--what are the chances?! Gretchen and John, the parents, soon joined us and we caught up on the last month in a flurry of excited tales. They were headed to Lima that evening, so we hugged all around and bid them safe travels, laughing at the fact that we'd probably see them on the traveler trail at some point in the south.

The inevitable eventually arrived and we realized that we needed to move on if we were ever going to see more of Peru. The last evening entailed a classy bottle of beer and jug of sangria salute, which we sipped in the chilly night air while tapping along to the tunes in town. We enjoyed our last day on the beach (after we kicked the mouse out of our lunch bag!), including fond farewells to our canine pals, checked out late at 4 p.m. and boarded a 5 p.m. bus to Lima...a lovely 18 hour jaunt, just in case you're jealous. Thanks, Mancora, you've treated us well!



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