Final thoughts – Adios Peru

No doubt about it, “The Gringo Trail” in Peru was fantastic. Lots of highlights, all previously documented. Whoever you are, you should consider visiting this beautiful country.

To finish, a few random observations about the trip:

– Every time you get into a taxi you are literally taking your life in your hands – driving here is not for the feint hearted, and I’m staggered how some of them still function on 4 wheels.

– Avoid overnight buses unless you can literally sleep through anything.  If you can’t, it feels like you’re watching the Horror Channel in the dark for 3 days straight without food or water or taking your eyes off the screen.

– Near raw fish (Ceviche) is often better then cooked fish.

– If you’re a fussy/unadventurous/nervous eater, chips will be a good friend.

– If you get fed up drinking Pisco Sours ( the national drink), then if you must move onto Pisco shots try to avoid the green ones.

– Some hotels have badly maintained electric showers known to electrocute. Sometimes it’s better to be a bit whiffy.

– Piscopiscopisco isn’t really a town, as some bus drivers would have you believe, it’s actually just called Pisco.

– Maca is the (ahem) “food supplement” of choice, particularly when mixed with Quinoa powder (apparantly)

– 100% Baby Alpaca  garments quite often aren’t. The  clue is in the softness (or not as the case may be), Baby Alpaca is ‘uncommonly’ soft.

– “The View” at Machu Picchu is every bit as good as you think it’s going to be

– Inca Kola is lovely, but how the hell am I going to get some back in the UK?

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Nazca Lines, Huacachina Oasis & The Ballestas Islands

The famous Nazca Lines (400-650AD). Visible from the air only, but the scenic 30 minute flight to see them isn’t an automatic “gimme”. I didn’t actually do the flight myself , as a 6 seater Cessna is a tad smaller than my normal minimum size of a 737. However, my new bessie mate (and top panoramic landscape photographer) agreed to take my camera up to take some shots for me.

The biggest issue people seemed to have with this flight on the day is that the Lines are actually incredibly difficult to see. Judge for yourself:

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See what I mean? Needle in a haystack and all that. Not even sure if any of the patterns are in either of these. The other problem is of course the plane itself, which  left some quite nauseous. They were warned not to have a big brekkie….

We moved on to the Huacachina Oasis, which was a nice way to spend the aftie.

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It’s a natural spring in the middle of the Peruvian desert. We went dune buggy riding, which was great fun although my back was to regret it badly for 24 hours afterwards. (UPDATE) Make that almost a week.

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I don’t think the pics can do justice to how enormous these dunes are.  The Dakar Rally was here in Peru recently , I remember some of the TV footage being pretty spectacular.

The next day we moved onto the Ballestas Islands, a.k.a “The Poor Man’s Galapagos”. Certainly I doubt the two compare, although it was a worthwhile trip, particularly as I got to briefly see the same Humboldt Penguins that were the subject of a recent BBC documentary. Alas, we saw very few of them, and my only pic that actually captured one was this:

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But hey, I did see a Humboldt Penguin in the wild, I really did.

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In short, way too many birds and not enough penguins (apparantly they were all off fishing). The stench was pretty acute, I have to say too. The Ballestas highlight for me was the sea lion colony, with literally dozens of newborns making a huge cacophony of noise:

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The mums teaching the pups to swim was particularly cute:

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It certainly whetted my appetite further for a Galapagos visit before I’m too much older.

Arequipa

Arequipa is Peru’s second city, located in the south. This is an earthquake zone, and significant damage has been done to it over the years. Nowadays it is a more modern city than some others in Peru but still has a significant colonial feel to it:

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The Catholic Cathedral is one of the centrepieces of the city, part of the main square, and to really immerse ourselves  we attended Mass on Easter Sunday.  Peru is a deeply religious country (90% Catholic), and with all the Buddhist temples and Orthodox churches I’ve visited in the last couple of years it made a nice change to come back to Catholicism, even if I couldn’t understand a word of what the Bishop was talking about. My mate reliably informed me that he was getting a bit gooey about the new South American Pope.

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Witnessing the sun setting over the city was a real event in itself, we had a vantage point high over the main square where we settled to have dinner, taking lots of photos in the process. As the sun set the temperature dropped very rapidly, and we were all given ponchos to wear:

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Our time in Arequipa was sandwiched either side of the trip to  Colca Canyon, and when we returned to the city we visited the impressive Santa Catalina Convent, which was in effect a small walled city of its own. In the 18th century, families paid significant dowries so that their daughters to devote their lives there.  Today, a smaller number of nuns remain here in isolation in a similar way. We were told that the age range of the current incumbents was from 24 to 80. We saw nun of them today.

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Although isolated from the rest of the world, the views to the outside are well worth the short climb to the tower. It’s a very peaceful and tranquil place, even though it is situated right in the heart of a city.

 

Colca Canyon & The Flight of the Condor

We left Arequipa for our 2 day visit to the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon. Our ultimate aim was to witness ‘The Flight of the Condor’, which this valley is famous for. Would we be lucky ?

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Once out on the plains we had wildlife all around us.

DSC00702(1)Alpacas, Llamas, wild horses, donkeys and these:

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Vicunas. These are a highly protected species with huge fines for anyone who accidentally runs one over

The scenery here was magnificent, with  some of Peru’s highest mountains and volcanos  in the background.  In some parts, it felt similar to being in  Wyoming, or Utah, with the road stretching out for miles in front of us.

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After a couple of hours we reached the top of the high pass, with the highest altitude we had witnessed on the trip, just a tad under 5,000 metres (16,000 feet ish). By now we were well acclimatised to the altitude, so there were no breathing difficulties or dizziness today.

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We then descended sharply down into the Colca Valley to the town of Chivay. En route there were more photo opportunities, including this:

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Baby Alpaca

Chivay is effectively the gateway to the Canyon. Some of the buildings had a semi-colonial look, including the rather pretty church that we had a look inside of:

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It was time for lunch, so we checked into our (rather lovely) ranch style hotel and enjoyed barbecued chicken and alpaca. There is a real push from the Peruvian government to get the people to eat alpaca as it is an extremely healthy meat compared to normal red meets such as lamb and beef. This was the view from the terrace:

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After lunch we went for a hike and again saw some beautiful views:

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We finished the afternoon with a visit to a thermal hot springs and enjoyed some time in the hot pools with one of my new favourite beers, Cusquena Negra. A relaxing end to a busy day.

We were woken at 5am  the next morning  for our visit to the Canyon. Normally the only chances of seeing the Condors in flight are very early in the morning, so two hours later we arrived at  the Colca Cross, where the main viewpoints are:

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Although not as big, Colca Canyon is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the US. (Over 13, 500 feet ). The sheer drops over the edge were certainly not for the feint of heart.

Suddenly around or heads we could feel the wind change direction, and gliding all around us were the famous Condors:

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Majestic is the word. Very difficult to take still photos given the speed and changes of direction they took, but I did the best I could with a pocket travel camera. It was at this point that I began to regret not taking my SLR. Having said that, I did get some great HD video footage of the Condors too, to see them in flight is quite something.

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A Condor waiting for the right thermal before launching off again

We stood staring at them for almost 2 hours before embarking on a hike around part of the rim of the Canyon. It’s the end of the rainy season so everything is lush and green:

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For sure, some of the travelling distances in Peru are long, but well worth it.  It’s not every day you get to witness something as special as ‘The Flight of the Condor’.