How to cure a cough in Peru

Everyone gets sick while travelling. It’s inevitable. You go to a doctor, you take medicine, you get better. If you’re lucky, it’s just a minor inconvenience. What’s really annoying is when you get sick, but it really isn’t all that serious so you can’t do anything about it. Like a persistent dry cough. And yet to everyone else it looks as if you’re dying and they avoid you as if you’ve actually got the plague.

After the beautiful trek in Huaraz, I was looking forward to another multi-day trek in Chachapoyas that would take me to the ancient site of Kuelap. But it was not to be. I picked up a bad cold in Huaraz that, despite the sea air, only got worse in Huanchaco. After a night of air-conditioning on an overnight bus to Chachapoyas, I was done for. The lining of my lungs and throat was so irritated from cold, dry air that I could not go for more than 7 seconds without coughing! It was so bad that I worried I might break a rib or tear a muscle.

Any kind of physical activity was out of the question – it just set off more coughing spasms – and being in public was impossible (a little old lady even stopped me in the street to ask what was wrong). Although I was pretty upset, I knew I had to rest and concentrate on soothing the awful cough. Luckily for me, we were able to get a private room with cable TV in Chachapoyas Backpackers. I spent the next two days watching reality-tv cookery shows and sci-fi movies, with my scarf wrapped around me like a facemask. The lovely owners at Chachapoyas Backpackers recommended drinking tea made from matico, a large green leaf. Combined with the humidity of the cloud forest climate, the matico tea worked wonders. From previous experience, I’d say it was one of the most effective home remedies I’ve tried. I wasn’t cured, but I was able to go out and about again. I never got to do my hike, but I did get to enjoy Chachapoyas.

Have you ever tried a traditional remedy while traveling? What did you think of it?

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Lima

Most backpackers we ran into told us they couldn’t wait to get out of Lima. True, it is sprawling and perpetually covered in a grey haze. But it also has a park full of cats, a pretty efficient transportation system, colorful street art, chaotic markets and one of the best Chinatowns in South America.

SCAM ALERT! (or the time my bag nearly got stolen)

Where? The bus from Ica to Lima. It probably happens on the reverse route, too. But it could happen anywhere.

What happened? When we got on the bus, I put my bag on the floor at my feet. This bag contained my most valuable items. The bag I could afford to lose was stored under the bus. After picking up some more passengers outside the station, a chubby round-faced man with a buzz cut tapped me on the shoulder.

“Water,” he pointed on the floor where my bag was.

“Si, agua,” I responded.

“Water,” he touched the water with his finger and then touched my hand with the same finger as if I was an idiot.

I checked my bag to see if something was leaking, but nothing was coming out of it.

“Water,” he repeated and placed my bag on the storage above our seats.

I thought maybe he was just looking out for me, but it didn’t feel right. A couple minutes later, I decided to take my bag down and put it on my lap. When I looked for it, it wasn’t above me, but had slid down towards the center of the bus. Or so I thought. It turns out the thief had moved it closer to the exit. I kept the bag on my lap for the rest of the trip.

Later, when I got to Lima I overheard a Swedish guy who was talking about having had his bag stolen. I asked him what happened and the set-up was exactly the same. The thieves got on the bus at a stop on the street and only traveled a short distance. By the time he realized what had happened it was too late. It was the same route, but a different bus company. He lost his passport, camera and personal journal, among other items.

How to avoid this?

This is pretty easy. Just keep your bag on your lap. Don’t let anyone who doesn’t work for the bus touch your bag, and even then, make sure you have an eye on it at all times. If you’re really paranoid, go with a more expensive bus line like Cruz del Sur. They have very high security and don’t pick up passengers outside the station.

Islands of Lake Titicaca: Uros, Amantaní & Taquile

During our trip to Puno, Peru to visit the Bolivian consul we had a few days spare to explore. From our hostel we took a 2 day, 1 night tour of the islands on the Peruvian side of the lake. Following a short stop at the Uros floating islands, we cruised to Amantaní where we stayed the night with a host family. After hiking to one of the island’s peaks, we attended a party thrown by the villagers. The next morning we left for Taquile. Another hike and lunch, then we took the boat back to Puno.

The tour seemed to be standard as we were grouped with people from different hostels and hotels and we kept bumping into the other groups everywhere we went. And there were a lot of groups! Yes, it was very touristy; the local islanders dressed up in traditional costume, we were given the hard sell everywhere and children sang ‘twinkle twinkle lechuga’ in an attempt to get our small change!

But, despite concerns about the commodification of culture, it was more educating and gave more chances to interact with locals than if we had just stayed in a hotel (of which there aren’t any on the islands). It did feel rather ‘false’ that there was a party for guests every night (or at least the two or three nights a week our host has tourists stay). But staying in a real house, watching Maria Fernanda cook over a fire, wandering around in the electricity-less night, it was an experience that I think was beneficial, and certainly very enjoyable, to us tourists. The next day on Taquile our guide explained how all the restaurants take turns to serve groups so the proceeds of tourism are spread evenly throughout the community (and judging from the amount of solar panels I saw, the proceeds must be quite sizable).

It’s certainly not a perfect model for ethnic tourism, but I have seen worse.

Bothy Hostel, Puno
Tour cost: 100 soles