Last Sunday we caught the rusty, old local bus from Pisac to Cusco (a bargain at 50p each!). Like all local buses, it was a bit of a squash but much more fun than an expensive tour! We sat at the back and had our big rucksack across our laps. A lovely American guy sat next to Jem and we ended up chatting about travelling the whole journey which was nice.
We chilled in Cusco the next day and decided to make the most of a useable kitchen in our hostal by cooking dinner which we bought from the local market; rice, veg, herbs and alpaca sausgaes (total cost a pound!). This was great fun because, apart from getting stared at by the locals (not many tourists venture to the market!), we got to watch the lady on the meat stall making the alpaca sausages with lots of spices and then squeezing the mixture through a 1/4 of a funnel (as Jem said like the one I had in the boot of my car!) into the lining.
We then caught the scary overnight bus to Arequipa (11hrs). We got the front seats upstairs so we thought ¨great no-one in front so more space¨, how wrong we were!! The driver took the corners far too fast and every time he did we felt as if the whole bus was going to topple over. Needless to say we didn´t get much sleep that night and we were very glad to get off the bus!!! We arrived in Arequipa at 4am and eventually found a hostal that was open - Piccola Daniela, so we went straight to bed - exhausted!
On Tuesday the front page headline was "50 DEAD After Horrific Bus Crash" - story about a bus in Peru, going too fast, that plunged 500m killing all but 2 of it´s passengers!! Just what we wanted to hear!!
Colonial Arequipa, also known as La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) for its distinctive volcanic stonework, is Peru´s second largest city. It lies in the Andes, 2380m above sea level and is overseen by the perfectly cone-shaped volcano of El Misti (5822m), which erupts every century. To left of El Misti is the jagged snow-capped mountain of Chachani (6705m) and, to the right, Pichu Pichu (5571m).
We headed to the beautiful main square, Plaza de Armas, to see the enormous sillar (pearly white volcanic rock) Cathedral and the Jesuit church, La Compañia, which is one of Arequipa´s oldest and has a lovely ornate main facade. From there we walked to the main sights of the city including; San Francisco Church and Plaza, the 16th century Santa Catalina Monastery, San Agustin Church, San Domingo Church & Monastery, La Merced Church, the Municipial Theatre, San Camilo Market and the Colonial Mansions of La Casa de Moral (House of Moral) built in 1730 and Casa Rickets which is now a bank. We also lots of women selling delicious strawberries on the street corners, 40p for a massive punnet! After a bsuy day and a lovely meal at El Turko we hit the sack ready for our DIY Colca Canyon tour the next day.
Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River in southern Peru, 160km northwest of Arequipa. It is one of the deepest canyon´s in the world, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. However, the canyon´s walls aren´t as vertical as those of the Grand Canyon. At 3191m, Colca is second to neighbouring Cotahuasi Canyon (163m deeper).
The Colca Valley is a colourful Andean Valley with towns founded in Spanish Colonial times. The local people still maintain ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces. Many of the women still wear the traditional embroided clothing and hats, specific to this area.
On Wednesday morning we checked out, and annoyingly got charged for two full nights even though we´d arrived at 4am, and caught the 8am local bus to Chivay, a town in the Colca Valley and the capital of the region. The road from Arequipa to Chivay climbs north through a National Park, so we spotted lots of Viceñas (endangered wild cousins of Llamas & Alpacas), and continues through bleak altiplano (high Andean plateau) reaching the highest point of 4800m, before descending into Chivay (3600m). On the way down to the town, the bus couldn´t make a tight corner and ended up having to drive past it and turn the bus around, reversing the packed bus onto a sheer drop!! There were a lot of very anxious faces!! Thankfully we made it and arrived to the dusty town of Chivay. We soon realised that, apart from a nice church, hot spirngs and a bustling market, there was not really much else to do. We also both felt a bit funny from the altitude so, instead of going to the local hot springs, we took it easy and then caught the afternoon bus to the Cabanaconde. The queue for the bus was very long and when the bus arrived there was a push to get a seat. Needless to say we ended up standing. Peruvians are famous for jumping the queue!! The bus took the main road which follows the south bank of the upper Colca Canyon so it was actually better to stand because we could see the amazing views from both sides. We also met a lovely man who kept his curtain open for us and pointed things out. We past through several villages, with pretty churches and squares, including Yanque which has a beautiful 18th century church.
We arrived in Cabanaconde (3287m) at around 6pm and checked into Hostal Valle del Fuego. It had a cosy bar with a roaring fire but I think our room, which at 4 pounds was very cheap, used to be the cow shed!! That night neither of us slept much either because we were freezing (still fully clothed!) or because the donkeys and pigs next door never shut up!! So, yesterday, it was a bit of a strain getting up for our 7am bus but we managed it and squashed onto the rammed bus (mainly with traditionally dressed women heading to Colca Canyon for the tourists!) An hour later we arrived at Cruz del Condor (3700m) - the best place to spot the Andean Condors who nest here. During our two hours there we had the pleasure of seeing four magnificent Condors gliding effortlessly on the thermal air currents. Two got really close and this was a truly spectacular sight. We then caught the local bus back to Arqequipa.
Today we catch our last overnight bus (yipee!!) to the city of Ica. Fingers crossed the driver doesn´t go to fast!!! Bye for now xxxxx