Hello from the beautiful city of Cuzco, high up in the Peruvian Andes. You´ll notice I´m backdating my blogs just to break them up a bit, so they don´t look so long, and also so you can keep better track of where I´ve been. Annoyingly the places don´t always appear in the correct chronological order on the list but I´m sure you´ll get the jist. This blog will be about my time in Arequipa and Colca Canyon, and I´ll do another one about Cuzco immediately after. Hopefully it´ll read OK but apologies if it doesn´t. I´m very sleep deprived at the moment.
This sleep deprivation started following our night bus journey from Nazca to Arequipa. In all honestly the bus far and away surpassed my expectations. It was very posh, very secure and had fully reclining leather seats, so it was like sleeping in a dentist´s chair. I took my sleeping tablet and I was fast asleep in minutes by the time we got going aound 11.00pm, but it wasn´t all good. When they woke us up by blaring out Peruvian music at 6am my head was absolutely spinning, and that didn´t stop till evening time. It was horrific. I´m not sure I will take one next time as I think I would have felt better if I´d not slept at all.
Arequipa is the city where our boisterous tour guide Shirley is from. It is a fairly nice city situated 2225m about sea level (over twice the height of Snowden) surrounded by 3 large volcanoes, some of which have been active in the not too distant past. El Misti, which was visible from our hotel, is the most famous as its such a classical conical volcano shape. We spent the afternoon leisurely strolling the streets. The square was beautiful, with the mountains providing a superb backdrop to the lovely architecture. We visited a museum about an Incan mummy called Juanita, who was found recently when volcanic activity caused a glacier to melt on a nearby mountain. She is very well preserved due to the ice and a freakish sight. She was 12 or 13 when sacrificed by the Incas to the mountain gods, I think in around 1300. I´ll learn more about the Incas this week, but I was amazed to find they only dominated this area for just 100 years.
The next day we were up at 6am for a long drive to Colca Canyon, some way north of Arequipa high up in the mountains. The drive was spectacular, with the highest point being an astonishing 4910m, or 16,108ft. This is nearly 5 times the height of Scafell Pike, England´s highest mountain, and 3,000ft higher than Europe´s highest Mont Blanc. The air is very thin at such altitudes, and one of the group fainted when we got out of the bus near the top. I didn´t have any symptons of altitude sickness fortunately, although the slightest exertion causes you to puff and pant like you´ve just been running. I am at high altitude now for the next few weeks until we descend from the Bolivian salt flats into north Chile, so its a relief I´m not suffering. They gave us coca leaves to chew, which was meant to help, but most people found them horrible to chew on.
The road to Colca Canyon was a mixture of iconic looking straight American highways, and appalling cliff hugging dirt tracks. The one from our hotel to the main town of Chivay was especially bad with the driver nearly rolling the bus despite us only doing 0.5mph. Colca Canyon has a large indigenous Peruvian population, many of whom pose in their local dress alongside alpacas, llamas and eagles for photos with the tourists. There were also tonnes of alpaca goods available for cheap prices. In the evening we visited some thermal spas heated by the volcanic activity. It was a nice chill out. I somehow managed to lose my boxers though, which was especially unfortunate since we went straight from there to a local dinner/dance, where I was dragged up in my shorts to prance around the room embarrassingly. Fortunately I wasn´t selected for the fertility dance, where the woman whips the mans crotch with a rope! It was an interesting night, though I know all about the misrepresentation/degradation of local cultures through tourism from my degree course and this was a prime example. I don´t really care though, it makes them lots of money.
The next morning we were woke at 5.15am, just in time to see the sunrise over the beautiful mountains from the hotel restaurant, whilst they played the best of Enya in the background amusingly. We took our bus excuciatingly slowly up the Canyon, stopping at various viewpoints and a village which had been badly damaged by a volcano in the 1990s. The main attraction however was the condor viewpoint. The condor is the 2nd largest bird in the world with a 3m wingspan, and there were tonnes of them on show. Apparently they see humans as prey and tactically encircle overhead to disorientate us in the hope we´ll fall of the cliff. This is one reason while all the tourists descend on the viewpoint at the same time (when we came back there were no tourists and no condors). I´ve got to say it was the first time I´ve been encapulated by birdwatching. They came so close you could hear the wind beneath them, and we had an hour there to appreciate them and the spectacular deep canyon scenery. Apparently a section of Colca Canyon someway further up from where we went is the deepest canyon in the world, though I don´t buy that. It looked more like a valley to me. After the condors we did a couple of walks, either side of a BBQ where I actually tried some alpaca meat, which was a bit tough and not very nice. One of the walks involved scrambling through a cacti field and I managed to get a needle stuck in my armpit! In the evening we went to an Irish pub in the main town of Chivay. I know Irish pubs are everywhere but this has to be one of the more bizarre locations. It really was miles from anywhere.
The next day was my birthday, and involved a 6.30am start for the 6 hour bus ride back to Arequipa! We got to stop at the highest point on the way back, and we all built stone wishing towers, which is tradition when you reach high points round here. The afternoon came in cloudy for the first time, but temperatures still reached about 23C, which is good for the altitude. One of the Aussies is permenantly cold though. The Arequipa area is very sunny, and very arid, with rain only coming in Jan-March, unlike in Britain where mountains attract rain.
In the evening came the ritual humiliation of my birthday celebration. Shirley took us to a nice restaurant, where I got my meal paid for and a big cake brought out. Some of the girls bought me a T-shirt with the local beer on, and I also got an alpaca finger puppet! It was a nice evening, though a tad embarrassing. Still doesn´t beat the choir that sang at me in Cape Cod though 2 years ago. Onto my Cuzco blog...