One of my favourite things to do while travelling on my own is to plunge myself into a new city, preferably one that doesn’t collectively speak my language, and try to figure out what to do.
It’s a puzzle and depending on the circumstances, can be more difficult than at other times.
Am I walking in strange streets during a tropical storm?
I don’t know where my hostel is.
I don’t have internet, or my phone is out of battery.
I don’t have a hostel to go to.
It’s getting late at night and I’m still figuring it out.
It’s bloody great. I’ve learned to love the feeling of anxiety, and it really tests me when I think, sometimes, ‘I could be in real trouble here.’
Okay, so the first thing I do is:
1) I take a taxi or a moto to the Plaza De Armas. Everything I could need is there even if it is expensive. There’s always a restaurant, a chemist, a nice photo opportunity, and a place to get coffee and access to Wi Fi.
But just as importantly to do this, is I get a sense of direction and a feel of what the city is like.
2) The next thing I try to do, no matter how hungry I might be, is to find my hostel or hotel and to check-in. I prefer to walk if I can, so that I can get a sense of what a place is like. I’m hyper-alert and sensitive to the looks around me, and these looks from the locals tell me everything I need about the place.
Are people nervous or relaxed? How do they treat their personal belongings? Do they feel safe enough to take out their phones or cameras for photographs? Are the streets clean? Are people content with what they have, or is there a desperation or greed for your money? Do they project a sense that the foreigner owes them something?
3) I usually have a rough idea of the place before I reach my hostel, but depending on the appearance, can be harder on the place than is fair, at first.
The best way to find a hostel is through the app or website ‘Hostel World’ and it rarely fails me. There is a ranking system for each hostel which gives you an idea of what to expect, which takes into account security, cleanliness, staff friendliness, and the value for money.
As I continued my travels in the Amazon, for the first time ever for me, I stopped getting available hostels on the app. I had to resort to ‘Lonely Planet’s’ guide of Peru. This guide made it harder to gauge a hostel compared to the app, but it certainly was an adventure and gave good representation of what price I could expect to pay.
I found one hostel the guide book offered, down along the mud of a riverbank, and I went there and I stared at the shack on stilts. The book described it as rustic. “Nope, no way,” I thought, but then I realised I had nowhere else to go. And the place was actually better looking on the inside.
4) After checking in I will look for a place to eat, and then check my guidebook for any city landmarks or museums if it’s early enough in the day. I’ll wait until the following day to see the sites further out.
If locations are exhausted I might stock up at the local market, or shop or take photos (usually just on my phone at that stage) or drink a beer or two while using social media, or even take clothes to a laundry if I’m going to be around for two days or more.
5) As soon as I have eaten I will try to plan how I can leave to my next destination. I usually know a few days ahead which direction I’ll probably take. For example, in Tarapoto I know I will want to visit Yurimaguas, the river port into the upper Amazon. How do I get there and when do I leave?