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’.

The Islands of Lake Titicaca

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Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12, 500 feet.  Half in Peru and half in Bolivia,  it stretches out  118 miles by 50 miles. Just the lake on its own is beautiful in the blazing sunshine, with stunning mountain backdrops, although we were also going to be visiting three of the islands, Uros, Amantani and Taquile.

LOS UROS

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The Uros are of pre-Incan descent, and those still living in the traditional manner inhabit floating reed islands that they have to remake themselves every 10-15 years. Boats, huts and the ground you walk on are all made from native totora reeds. Incidentally, they also gave us reeds to eat, you peel them like a banana:

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I guess this would be their equivalent of a snack

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The Uros ladies wear dazzling colours, and sang some native songs for us

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The Uros lead a simple life and seem to be a happy people. They rely heavily on fishing in Lake Titicaca for subsistence (mainly trout and kingfish). Above is a picture of what the contents of a reed island look like.

AMANTANI ISLAND

This was to be our home for the night, staying with local families across the island.

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Approaching Amantani

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Once we landed the views back over Lake Titicaca were beautiful. Amantani was 3 hours by boat from Uros. There was almost a Mediterranean feel about the place, even though the people live very differently here, most without electricity or proper sanitation as we would know it.

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This is my Peruvian mama. Her name is Hemenigilda, and here she is in her kitchen preparing a hearty lunch of quinoa soup, rice, potatoes and vegetables. Meat isn’t available here, animals are kept only for milk or their wool. She had two boys of her own and I became adopted into her family for the visit.

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After lunch we played football with the locals and others staying on the island, before climbing up to one of the main viewpoints on the island to watch the sunset. After dinner, we were given ponchos and alpaca hats and mama frogmarched us down to the local community building for some traditional dancing to a local band. It kind of felt like I was 12 again at the school disco, but there were to be lots of laughs that night.

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Dancing with my Peruvian mama!

After all the exertions of the day (multiplied several times by the effects of altitude, I can personally vouch for that), we retired to bed. The next morning it was time to say goodbye to our adopted Peruvian families.

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TAQUILE ISLAND

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As is the case with both Amantani and Taquile, the small jetty at the bottom of the Island is the start of a steep climb up into the villages themselves.  Taquile is famous for its textiles and handicrafts.

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However, here it is the men that do the knitting, not the women! We were given a demonstration whilst having lunch. Also of real interest here was an insight into how the people live, including marriage and courtship rituals. Once married, for example, the bride and groom  have to stay awake for 3 days straight or their marriage could have bad luck. They are also not allowed to laugh, joke or smile during this time.

There’s clearly a lot of shyness among the people. Boy likes girl. Boy traditionally throws small stone at girls back to let her know he likes her. Girl throws stone back if she likes him too.

For those more technologically minded, the process is adapted as follows: Boy likes girl. Boy reflects small mirror into the house of the girl to let her know he likes her. Girl reflects mirror back if she likes him too.

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View from our outside table in the restaurant back over Lake Titicaca

The High Plateau

Comfortable (honestly) 6 hour public bus ride from Cusco to Puno today. Some beautiful scenery on the way, reminded me at some points of the Himalayan plateau, although much lusher and greener. A baby brother might be apt.

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We stopped at the highest point on the Plateau – La Raya 14,147 feet. The air was definitely a bit thinner. This was exacerbated both by me running around trying to get as many pictures as possible in the 10 minute stop allowed  (it was a public bus after all)  and the additional handicap of suffering from a bacterial infection and being pumped full of antibiotics. I know….the perils of adventure travel etc. I do love countries that sell over the counter prescription drugs though. I’ve made a quick recovery (so don’t panic Ma). All is well.

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Puno and a tiny corner of Lake Titicaca

We arrived in Puno about 2.30pm. It is on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Much more of that to come later in the week as we now spend the next two days visiting the islands. To say we will be getting to know the indigenous inhabitants is a bit of an understatement so stay tuned for updates .

Machu Picchu

Leaving on the early morning train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.

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After getting off the train, we boarded the local bus up the mountain. It takes about 25 minutes, with multiple tight switchbacks en route. A single lane with no guardrails,  with a mixture of cobbles and rough gravel. One thing you ideally want to avoid is this for obvious reasons:

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Machu Picchu means ‘Old Mountain’. Created by the Incas in around 1450, it was not discovered by historians until 1911. We weren’t able to be up there for sunrise due to scheduling, but those who were up there said that the mists were so bad that you couldn’t see anything until mid-morning anyway.

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Frankly, it’s all about this picture. Spellbinding at any time of day

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This is Huayna Picchu, meaning ‘Young Mountain’.  If you click to zoom in, you will see the path to the top. This is a very steep climb, although I would have done it if there were tickets available, which there weren’t. It’s the tall peak in the main picture above. Maybe next time. Very excited about showing Evie my pictures of the “City in the Sky” when I get home, have a feeling my trainee adventure traveller will be wanting to come here one day too.

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Was it everything you think it’s going to be? Of course. This time of year is a good time, just at the end of the rainy season where everything is lush and green. Things aren’t as busy as they get from May onwards either. We went on a Sunday, which is normally a busy day to go as on Sundays the local people get free admission.

In short, if you ever get the chance, JFDI.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Today was spent exploring the Sacred Valley. First stop was the Inca ruins at Pisac, dating back to around 1440. It is perched on top of a steep hill overlooking the valley below.

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On the left of the camera on the last photo, the following can be seen

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Look carefully. What can you see?

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This is an Inca burial site – each hole held a body. Above ground, the land is being farmed.

We then moved onto our last stop, the highly impressive Ollantaytambo ruins. It was a tough climb, particularly in the blistering Andean afternoon sun. Looking up from the bottom we got this view:

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In 1536 the Incas fought off the Spanish invaders by going up high and flooding the plains below.

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Back at the bottom there was a small market and kids posing for photos  (for a sol or two).

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We had a homestay with a local family, in this part of the country it is a useful bit of extra revenue. So all of a sudden we were immersed into the real life of  the locals:

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I’m pleased to report I had a comfy bed anyway, which I retired to after a 30 minute “mosquito and other insect” safari at the end of the night.

Peruvian Animal Charity

 

We went to visit a local animal charity, and had a great time there.

Puma

Puma

Native Peruvian Hairless Dog

Native Peruvian Hairless Dog

What's Spanish for "Pieces of eight"?

What’s Spanish for “Pieces of eight”?

The mighty Condor. We will see these in the wild in Colca Canyon next week.

The mighty Condor. We will see these in the wild in Colca Canyon next week.

 

Macaw from the Peruvian Amazon- clearly a little off course in the Andes

Macaw from the Peruvian Amazon- clearly a little off course in the Andes

 

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Er... I forget

Er… I forget

 

To raise funding, alpaca garments are made on the premises. The processes are interesting:

Freshly shorn Alpaca wool

Freshly shorn Alpaca wool

 

Various natural products are then used to dye the wool.  These include small parasites that feed on cacti.When squished, the parasite is a deep shade of purple. Incidentally this parasite is a major component in lipsticks that you buy in the Westernworkd.

Various natural products are then used to dye the wool. These include small parasites that feed on cacti.When squished, the parasite is a deep shade of purple. Incidentally this parasite is a major component in lipsticks that you buy in the Western world. Eughhhhh!

The hand dyeing process
The hand dyeing process

Drying out,  nearly the finished article
Drying out, nearly the finished article

 

Almost the finished product.  The most expensive garments are baby alpaca as they are much softer. Baby alpaca is less than 1 year of age.

Almost the finished product. The most expensive garments are baby alpaca as they are much softer. Baby alpaca is less than 1 year of age.