Life wasn’t all bliss in Lima.
I had a lovely final morning – hunting for ‘conqueror’ Francisco Pizarro’s statue (it’s been relegated to a lonely park corner) and later examining his now empty coffin in the cathedral.
I went to the bullring too and the adjacent bullfighting museum, because although the sport is bloody and the outfits archaic, the art and photography is strangely absorbing.
I had a cheeky laze in the plaza sunshine and then it was time for lunch.
And then it all went wrong.
I found myself in a scruffy little restaurant, where they recommended the ceviche and the pisco sour. I wanted something traditional so I agreed, without checking the price.
Of course, when the bill came, it was ridiculous.
It was £60 in a country where I’d paid £3 for lunch the previous day. They claimed I had eaten the house ceviche for four people (no laughing – I wasn’t even full)
They’d also given me a litre of pisco sour, which I hadn’t finished and certainly wasn’t worth the fortune they claimed.
I was alone and I loathe scenes, but I was so offended by the ‘eating for four’ element that I found the strength and Spanish to fight my corner. I stood at my most imperious six feet, one inch, chucked them £30 – still a joke – and fled.
(But I’m a coward so the moment I reached street level I ran to the hostel, grabbed my bags and was on the bus within 20 minutes. Phew.)
Fortunately, Pisco was easy. I took a taxi to a nice hostel, booked my trip to the Islas Ballestas the following day, ordered a pizza and went to bed early.
The islands were lovely. It was a beautiful day and there were thousands of pelicans, penguins and Peruvian boobies mingling with the sea lions. A school of dolphins swam beside our boat and I was happily reminded of Galapagos.
But back on land, I started to realise why Peru is so different to Colombia.
Aggressive touts were dragging unfortunate tourists into their eateries.
I was with a Swiss girl, Isabel and we wanted to wander before having a hot chocolate. But one waitress was so insistent, we sat down just to appease her.
She hovered over us, trying to force us to buy a sandwich.
“I hate this, I hate being bothered,” I grumbled to Isabel.
She looked at me with pity.
“You wait until you reach Cuzco, it’s much worse there,”she replied.
I took the bus to Nazca, a surprisingly interesting journey which weaved through the desert as the huge orange sun slipped slowly behind the mountains.
But I was assaulted the moment I disembarked.
Hotel and hostel workers were hanging from my clothes, screaming the merits of their establishments. All I could hear was: “Hot showers”… “WiFi”… “Hot showers”…
The most persistent was Victoria. It was the first time in months I have seriously contemplated telling someone to “Fuck. Right. Off.”
“Why don’t you all just f…” I began, before remembering I was British.
“I’m going to stay there,” I said, pointing wildly at the hotel opposite the bus station.
“I work there. The dormitories are all full,” said a young man sadly.
“You should go with her, she has a nice hostel.”
Sometimes I am both weak and gullible.
“Fine,” I said, suddenly defeated.
“Let’s see your hostel Victoria.”
When we arrived, the young ‘hotel worker’ was already there. Bastard.
“Everything okay?” he asked me, without a trace of shame.
“You don’t work at that hotel do you? You don’t know the dormitories were full,” I replied sadly. Then I remembered the Lima lunch and I was furious.
“You know what? I live in Colombia and I like it there, because no-one bothers me.”
He looked guilty, for a second, before he shrugged.
“Maybe they just have a different system there,” he said.
Annoyingly, the hostel was cheap, bright and clean. They gave me a secure, private room with an en-suite bathroom and breakfast for a very reasonable price.
It was the sort of place you would choose, if you were given the chance.
But I’m still annoyed. These people fail to realise that I am an excellent guest. I rarely haggle. I always tip. I am polite and respectful to everyone. I smile a lot, I don’t like drama or trouble and I’m lazy, so I rarely shop around.
But I can be a snooty, stubborn bitch and, when I get to Cuzco, I plan to be a snooty, stubborn bitch. The more they lie to me, the more I will transform into the aggressive, dismissive, tight-fisted, rude, suspicious tourist they love to hate.
I went to register at reception and found the ‘hotel worker’ – Luis – behind the desk.
Behind us, Victoria was sitting with the taxi driver.
“Do you want to visit the lines?” Luis asked me, loudly.
“Yes, but I don’t want to go in a plane and I don’t want to go the museum.
“I just want to go to the lookout point for 20 minutes. That’s it,” I replied.
The conversation immediately turned weird.
Luis went into a long explanation about how I needed to take a taxi, because it was a long way away and I needed to pay for this… and that… and for the taxi driver to wait… and it was going to cost this… and that…
But the whole time his eyes were wide. He was shaking his head and making furtive, silent gestures at Victoria and the taxi driver.
“Look in your guide book,” he whispered quickly, before leading me to the others.
Victoria and the taxi driver continued his speech, but in Spanish.
They quoted me an outrageous price.
I smiled politely and shook my blonde, curly hair.
“I’m scared of planes. I don’t want the museum,” I said.
“I just want the lookout, but it is too expensive.
“I not see the lines. I stay in Nazca. No problem,” I ended lamely, thinking I would just stay in the hostel and see pictures of the bloody lines on the Internet.
They tried to persuade me, but I had obviously lost all interest in their famed World Heritage Site so eventually they let me go.
I bumped into Luis around the corner.
“Quickly, listen,” he whispered, grabbing my arm.
“I couldn’t say anything before, in front of my boss, because that driver works on commission and everyone here works together.
“But you don’t need a taxi. Just go to the bus stop. Take any bus marked ‘Ica’. They go right past the lookout. Take any bus marked ‘Nazca’ to come back.
“It’s really cheap and you can spend as long as you like there.
“And you’re right about the planes. The safety record is really bad.”
Hmmph. Jury is still out on the Peruvian tourism industry.