What a time that was. I had just turned 30, had no children, and was, as a result, gloriously happy.
One night in the pub my mate said ‘do you fancy going to South America?’ I replied: Yes, okay’, and that was that – the matter was settled.
The same conversation now is unthinkable. If a friend suggested a holiday – for more than a day, to a location further than 100 yards from my front door – it would take about seven years to schedule it in our diaries, working around our wives and jobs and children.
Oh, how wonderful it would be to have the same freedom now I had back then, although I guess that’s what divorce is for. Never say never.
Peru was a marvellous experience, because – at the risk of sounding like I’m getting a back-hander from the Peruvian Tourist Board – there is so much to see, wonderfully varied terrain and spectacular scenery and places of interest.
There is Machu Picchu – the most gobsmacking thing I’ve seen on planet Earth (and that’s praise indeed given I’ve been to Chorley town centre on a Friday night) – the rainforest and the Amazon River; the world’s highest navigable lake (the improbably named Lake Titicaca – a moniker my teenage self would’ve found highly agreeable); the world’s deepest canyon (Colca, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon); and you can dip your toes in the Pacific if you head to the capital Lima (where, as a last-night treat, my friend and I had a very expensive meal, memorable for the fact that just before the food arrived, four young Peruvian lads wearing very bad wigs and hired in a moment of extreme ill-judgement by the restaurant owner, started playing Beatles songs – I wish them no harm when I say they were so astonishingly atrocious it took me around three minutes to realise they were playing Hey Jude; I couldn’t tell whether the lead vocalist was singing or had just stubbed his toe).
It seems bonkers now but myself and my pal (the type of people who, halfway into a lengthy trek on a remote and dangerous mountainside, will look in their rucksacks and realise we forgot to bring a map) planned our entire trip by taking one sheet of A4 paper to the pub and writing something for each day – notes like: ‘Land at airport, see if there is a bus to take us to town, try and get a bed at that nice-looking hostel on page 34 of the Lonely Planet’… How we survived the holiday I have no idea).
Things didn’t get off to the best of the start as we rolled up at Manchester Airport for a 6am flight to Amsterdam – it still troubles me to this day that to get to some countries you have to first head in the wrong direction – to discover the flight was cancelled due to fog.
We got to Amsterdam later in the morning, thus missed our connecting flight to Peru, and so instead were shoved on a plane to Mexico. This felt okay, I mean it was heading in the right direction (albeit Mexico is still 2,569 miles from Peru), but when we landed in Mexico City we had to then sit overnight on an airport floor and ate a pizza so bad my friend barely left the toilet for the next two days.
Finally, after being awake for around 38 hours – like rock stars who’ve consumed too many class A drugs – we touched down in Lima, though our bags hadn’t been so fortunate and were nowhere to be seen (it turned out they’d hadn’t left Amsterdam; thank the lord I’d had the foresight to pack spare underpants in my hand luggage).
Once there though, and eventually reunited with our full selection of underwear, it was absolutely wonderful.
We spent a week in the Amazon, where in a small wooden boat with our guide, a little old fella called Estefan, we quite literally bumped into an anaconda (a terrifyingly enormous snake, which glared at us for a moment as if eyeing up who to eat first, then, mercifully, moved on).
We hiked up mountains, down canyons, stayed with indigenous families on beautiful remote islands, and attempted – on a daily basis – to avoid being bitten by the vast number of stray dogs roaming the streets on account of the fact we were too tight to pay £70 to have our rabies jab before leaving the UK (nearly every photo from the holiday involves us glancing anxiously over our shoulders lest an aggressive-looking mongrel sneak up from behind).
The only stressful part of the trip came when we hired a car to drive from Lima to a place called Nazca, a place famous for huge lines scraped into the ground, dated to 500BC and depicting various animals (such as a spider, monkey and lizard) but which, inexplicably, can only be viewed from above… inexplicable because at that time humans weren’t capable of any form of aviation and so couldn’t view anything from above, and it was another 2,000 years or so before they could. Quite why, or how, the lines are there is a mystery no one has solved to this day.
After collecting our vehicle – a Nissan Micra built around 1983 and short of at least one of its wing mirrors – I headed onto a 14-lane highway at the exact same time Lima’s 9.5m inhabitants had also decided to pop out for a drive.
Worse still, none of the 14 lanes were actually marked, so it was kind of like a Friday night free-for-all at a city centre Glasgow bar, the cars the equivalent of drunken customers trying to get served.
We all sort of lurched forward fighting for a bit of spare tarmac. I came within inches of crashing into other vehicles on around 936 or so occasions, and it was the closest – in 20 years of knowing each other – my friend and I have come to falling out.
‘Mind that car,’ he said at one point, to which I replied – and I’ve cut out four expletives – ‘**** well **** you try **** driving then ****.’
If you are thinking of an adventurous trip, I thoroughly recommend Peru. Just don’t take the car, or row into an anaconda.