When I booked a group trip to Peru last year, it was a rogue move for me and quite out of character. I’ve never been to South America before, I haven’t travelled with strangers and, at the time, I knew nothing about Inca history.
Before travelling with Flash Pack, going on holiday meant big group getaways with friends. We might explore the local town, but we’d never do anything particularly immersive or cultural.
But I got to a point last autumn when I had a little money saved and found myself craving proper time out. I needed to do something significant. In my day-to-day role, I work as a product owner in tech. I also have a side hustle working as a DJ. For the past decade, I’ve been part of a double act called Bad Cop Worse Cop, inspired by Eighties techno/house and cult police movies. We do gigs once or twice a month, plus a regular radio show – so life is busy.
I didn’t read anything about the trip. I wanted to be surprised
I heard about Flash Pack from a friend and researched it one night after a few drinks to build up my courage. I couldn’t make up my mind between Peru and Vietnam. In the end, I tossed a coin and Peru came up. I booked it before I could change my mind, with only three weeks to go until I set off for South America.
To make things even more interesting, I didn’t read up about any of the details of the trip beforehand. I wanted it to be a surprise so I could experience it all in the moment.
Naturally, I was nervous. I was also worried I may have become a bit of a hermit over lockdown and would want to be left alone, but the entire trip was spot on.
Even when we weren’t on activities, our group shared everything
Firstly, I got very lucky with my group. I didn’t expect us to gel so quickly, but everyone had a similar, self-assured mindset. We just didn’t overthink things. We were all there to enjoy the experience together. Even when we weren’t on activities, we ended up sharing everything from hotel hot tubs to meals out.
It made me realise that I am really quite a sociable person. It felt like we all shared this warmth and openness to new experiences.
Around 80% of our group were American and I think they genuinely meant it when they said us Brits had a place to stay in the States if we ever visited. Equally, I found myself offering up my flat in London. I’ve never done that in my life, not even for friends I’ve known for years.
In the Amazon, our lodge looked out onto the Tambopata Reserve
The itinerary was also 100% unique – it had so much variety in it, including truly characterful hotels that I wouldn’t typically stay in. Soon into the trip, we embarked on a three-day escape to the Amazon, staying at the Posada Amazonas ecolodge hotel, where rooms have an open fourth wall looking out onto the Tambopata Reserve.
It was surreal to go from London city life, being stuck on my bike behind a line of buses, to the middle of nowhere spotting caimans and monkeys, all set to the soundtrack of the rainforest at night.
It was an awesome experience and it definitely stretched my comfort zone. On one night, I actually had to get one of the girls to remove a huge moth from my room.
We explored the Sacred Valley of the Incas near Cusco together
Another standout moment was the train trip we took to and from Machu Picchu. Because I hadn’t read up on the itinerary, I wasn’t aware what a big deal the PeruRail Vistadome is. It’s an iconic route, with a bar car, live music, huge panoramic windows and glass ceilings overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas near Cusco.
Having the presence of a local guide was also a revelation to me. There was so much I didn’t know about Peru (it being the cradle of civilisation, for one) and Dennis, our Pack Leader, really brought the landscape alive with all his local knowledge and insider stories.
I had no idea the Inca empire was home to such a sophisticated society either, with intricate agricultural terraces and extravagant pillars set around the sun.
Naturally, we learnt how to make the perfect pisco sour
Dennis had a lot of character and we could ask him anything about Peruvian culture, from its ancient roots to modern-day customs and ways of living. Plus, he knew all the best restaurants and bars.
Naturally, we learnt how to make the perfect pisco sour, but I wish we’d done a dancing class, too. In the Peruvian clubs, everyone could move so well – it felt quite intimidating not knowing how to join in.
One of my greatest experiences on the trip actually happened after we said our goodbyes on the final day. I decided to extend my trip for a few days in the capital Lima, staying at the Second Home Peru guesthouse.
It’s a really quirky place, filled with colourful artwork and sculptures. I found out over breakfast that it was once home to the Peruvian sculptor, Victor Delfín – a legendary artist whose work I’d previously admired in a city park.
As a creative person, I emerged from my Peru trip re-energised
Even better, he still had a studio on site that I was able to explore, taking a look at the different mediums he uses in his workshop and home, which is all woven into the cliffside structure of the guesthouse.
I even met the man himself which I totally didn’t see coming. I saw an elderly gentleman sitting casually in the corner of one of the rooms we were in. It turned out that man was Victor. We shook hands, had a chat and posed for a photo together. It’s one of my favourite images – I shared it with everyone on our Flash Pack group WhatsApp chat afterwards.
The experience inspired me to get a tattoo of a vibrant bird on my shoulder as a tribute to Victor’s incredible condor- and cockerel-themed artwork. It took ages and hurt a lot, but every time I look at it I’m reminded of the unscripted creative awakening I had that morning, as well as the brilliant things that can happen when you let spontaneity into your life.
My adventure in Peru was full of surprises and I walked away with some great memories. I really didn’t expect to like it so much. As a creative person, I emerged re-energised and determined to hold onto the experience for as long as possible going back into my day-to-day life.
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Images: courtesy of Hugh Waldren and Flash Pack