Saturday, 12 October 2013

Arequipa and The Colca Canyon

We arrived in Arequipa after a bus journey that saw little excitement apart from Spanish Bingo at 11:30 at night; the Pervians LOVE their Bingo! Also although pitch black outside we could tell we were climbing some pretty high mountain passes. Go, brake, swing left, go, brake, swing right and so on! Not the most relaxing of journeys. But we arrived at ‘The Flying Dog Hostel’ in the centre of Arequipa after sharing a taxi with a French couple and their 4 year old son who we met in Huacachina.
(Our room is the one in the middle with the door open)

After settling in our room we ventured into town. One word… beautiful! We love this city.

Arequipa valley is surrounded by 2 snow capped mountains and 1 volcano. The Plaza de Armas (main square) has a huge Cathedral and is flanked by old colonial buildings either side and opposite. With palm trees surrounding the three-tier fountain in the middle - pretty special! The little figure at the top of the fountain is called a to-too-to-to, which is Quechua for Trumpet player. In Quechua, (one of the ancient Peruvian languages) they used to name things by how they sound. Can you guess what they call a baby…… yup…. Waa-Waa!

 (Hannah with a girl in her traditional dress and her baby llama!)

Day one (Monday) we visited Santa Catalina, a 500 year old monastery that covers a whole block of the city centre. We definitely got our monies worth and spent 2.5hrs walking around absorbing the ‘city within a city’. It was so quiet with stunning little courtyards and gardens, quaint living quarters with bedrooms and stone oven kitchens.

The following days were spent exploring the city at our own pace. Many travellers tend to arrive, do the Colca Canyon and move on pretty swiftly. But we are not ‘many travellers’. Arequipa has great gastronomy at some pretty good prices. So we decided it would be a good place to settle for a little while, get to know the city and take some Spanish classes. Hannah’s ‘B’ at GCSE was a long time ago but she is doing really well! Tuesday we had a taster 1hr class then signed up for another 10 hrs throughout the week, not a lot but a good start. This still proved challenging though. It was like being at school again, classroom, teacher, brain strain and lots of scratching the head took place – I was grateful for Hannah in my ear being able to break things down for me when I looked at her with a confused expression of ‘WTF?!’ But towards the end of the week it started to pay off.

Some of the lovely food we had:

It wasn’t all eating and learning we also went white water rafting on the Rio Chilli. The water was pretty low so it wasn’t the most thrilling rafting we have done; Utah in 2008 was better. But we still hit about three class 4’s and four class 3’s, spattered with 1’s and 2’s. There was a really nice French guy who joined us on the boat who had a Go Pro on his helmet, he was happy to hand over the footage so I’ll try to get some online but can’t promise anything. Keeping up to date with the blog and photo workflow is enough to keep on top of for the moment!

After our 2/3 hr Spanish classes in the mornings we would find something to do in the afternoons (besides our Spanish homework!).
One day we visited the Museo Santuarious Andeous. Due to being students at the local language school it meant that we could gain entrance for just s/3 each instead of s/20! For what we were about to see and learn we would have happily paid the 20 – bonus! The museum was home to ‘Juanita’, a sacrifice to the mountain gods from the Inkas around 1580. During the Inka ruling they believed that natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes were signs that the gods were angry. To calm them and ask for forgiveness the Inka’s made sacrifices. We learnt about 3 sacrifices; 2 girls and 1 boy. Juanita; who was just 12 years old when killed is the most famous and by far the best preserved. At the end of the guide around the museum; exploring and learning about the various material offerings and artefacts discovered with her body in 1995, we were walked up to a triple layered glass cabinet which housed Juanita’s body. It is kept at -18 degree’s, a similar temperature to which she was frozen for nearly 500 years. Although very dark, at one angle you got a good look at the skin on her arm. It was just like ours, obviously with darker skin… incredible! Also a little sun burnt from when she spent 20 days exposed to the sunlight when an earthquake caused her to roll down the mountain a short distance. Amazingly she was not seriously damaged and remained in her original foetal position. Anyway, I could keep going on about various other amazing stories and tales that we have learnt about the Inka empire but there is plenty else to speak about!

Hannah taking over writing as Kyle is sleeping… didn’t get a wink of shut eye on our 10hr bus journey last night.

We also managed to treat ourselves to the #2 restaurant in Southern Peru (according to Trip Advisor) Zig Zag. Although the recommended dish is the 3 different meats, we just couldn’t resist the steak fondue with all the trimmings. Kyle, in particular, was in heaven! When the waitress asked if we wanted another plate of meat (we had already had 1 plate each), ‘inclusivo?’ Kyle asked, ‘si’ – he couldn’t believe his luck! His grin was enormous. You can imagine how full we were…Kyle had a ‘fast day’ the next day!

Mid week we took a free walking tour (guides are student practising English and work for tips). It started down the road from our hostel. We walked through the old town, tried traditional Andean bread, visited an Alpaca workshop and saw some pretty sweet Alpacas and Llamas. Learnt about the Vicuñas, which have the finest material in the world. If you kill one by accident or on purpose you immediately receive 15 years in a Peruvian jail! To buy a 2x2ft blanket would cost you S/6000 (£1500) in Peru, imagine what it would cost in the UK!

We finished our tour here:

Last Saturday morning, we managed to push our Spanish class back an hour as we went out the night before. One bar that was pretty memorable was ‘Las Monjas’ – the nun bar! It was religious themed; waitresses dressed up as nuns with very short skirts offering us the ‘Holy Book of Drinks’! Very bizarre, especially as it is situated right next to the Santa Catalina monastery (which is still a running convent today!) There was a great rock band playing there; the guitarist was particularly good. Perfect rifts to classic songs like Guns and Roses – Sweet child of mine!

Our last afternoon in Arequipa was spent visiting the suberb of Yanahuara where we had stunning views of the city and El Misti volcano. There is a church in the small plaza and because it was Saturday, it was ‘one in - one out’ with weddings!!

We then strolled to a lovely garden restaurant to sample some typical Arequipena food. Kyle had Rocoto Relleno; stuffed pepper with meat, cheese and potatoes and I had a stuffed avocado with chicken and veg. Very tasty.

And again, there was a wedding reception happening so it was fun to people watch and listen to the loud cheesy Peruvian pop songs – a few of which we are very familiar with already! Catchy!

Some more pictures…
- Santa Teresa Monastery

- The Plaza by night

Colca Canyon/ Canyon de Colca
On Sunday we woke at 2.30am to be picked up at 3 by bus to be driven to the Colca Canyon – one of the world’s deepest canyons- 3191m! We were to do a 3 day trek. We were certainly a little nervous as we are complete novices when it comes to trekking and for those of you that know both of our extensive injury histories – this was perhaps a little risky for us! Nevertheless we went for it!

It was about a 3 and a half hour journey to Chivay (the provincial capital at the head of the canyon). Here we paid the unexpectedly high price of the tourist ticket (s/70 each - £15) – a little worrying as that used up quite a bit of our cash straight away. We then stopped off in a pretty square where the local girls and woman were dancing their local dance in a circle around the central fountain.

Surrounding them were vendors selling lovely alpaca goods – me in heaven – finding it very hard to not buy lots; with such cheap prices I have to remind myself that it’s more about space in our bags than money… There were also ladies with massive eagles for photos.

Then on a little further for breakfast. The first place we had visited where Coca leaves were offered alongside the other teas and coffee. Kyle got stuck in! The leaves are supposed be help with altitude sickness and digestion.

After breakfast we trucked on further (still on the bumpy bus) to Cruz del Condor – a stunning viewpoint – unfortunately very touristy where Andean condors can be seen – alas none spotted here.

We started our trek at Cabanaconde around 10am. There were 11 of us in the group plus Luce, our guide who is originally from the little village we had breakfast at. We had a Dutch couple, an old Arequipean couple, 2 girls from Canada, 2 German guys and a German girl travelling on her own. It was ALL downhill from the top to the bottom of the canyon… ‘Easy’? I hear you say?! Downhill is actually really quite tough! Not on the lungs but on the legs and especially the knees! The older couple really struggled with this.
 A long way down!!!!

Once finally at the bottom, we had a little rest and dipped our feet in the river before heading on.

A beast of a hill was waiting next where another member of our group got affected- the terrain and the hot sun was quite a test. It then flattened out through some lush greenery on the way to our evening accommodation in San Juan de Chuccho.

We tasted our first alpaca meat for lunch – went down nicely after our 7km hike! We chilled out for the rest of the day and met another smaller group staying there too – MORE Germans(!) a girl – Krista, whom we had met briefly already in our hostel in Arequipa, Oliver (aka Funny guy – absolutely hilarious!) and an Austrian couple- super fit! Our newly combined group wandered to this ‘pool’ that we had discovered earlier with perfectly crystal clear water in the forest. We decided to go for a swim, however when we got there we discovered that the water had been drained by half and definitely looked a lot less appealing with algae and other conspicuous looking things! The boys and one of the German girls however braved it whilst we all stood around and watched!

Our view!!
We had more delicious local food for dinner followed by a lovely herbal tea – Muna (the plant only grows in this part of the canyon). More laughs were had around the table, particularly when the subject swung around to language – always a winner! Kyle and I seemed to be that night’s entertainment!

Our huts were very basic but all we needed and had a luxuriously late breakfast at 8am the next morning – bliss! Toffee pancakes :)
This day was mixed terrain for about 6km – up, down and flat.

On the path along the way there had been a bit of a landslide which was a bit dodgy to cross!

Kyle discovered a new technique for going downhill to avoid too much pressure on the knees and the blister on his little toe – going backwards at a bit of a jog! Making people laugh on the way was an extra bonus!
The scenery was absolutely breath taking!

We also made a new friend along the way. A dog we named Jeffery! We picked him up at a place about a third of the way there and he continued with us all the way to our destination! So cute! He latched onto us when we arrived and followed us to our room and lay down in our doorway.

Our hostel, ‘Paraiso’ was situated in a beautiful oasis. It was stunning, with a swimming pool built in between two huge boulders, a lovely garden space with wonderful flowers, volleyball area, hammocks where you can laze and hear the sound of the river below; all surrounded by the canyon…ahhh…..would have loved to have stayed longer!

The afternoon was a chilled one again, resting our now very achy muscles!

More traditional food for lunch and dinner

and our after dinner tea that night was lemongrass – delicious. It was early to bed as absolutely knackered. There was no electricity in this place so we had a little candle by our bed and our head torch came in useful for the first time of the trip!

The alarm went off at 4.30am and we set off at 5.15 for our BIG final climb – back up the canyon!

Quite a few tourists opt to ride mules back up the canyon but not us.

We woke with very sore bodies so it was twice as hard to start but after a while our bodies soon warmed up.
(Luce - our guide - she does this twice a week!!)

We both climbed it in just under 3 hours. It was hard graft.

Once into the climb, groups separated and it felt at times that we the only ones on the canyon.

When we finally made it to the top it was such an incredible sense of achievement.

Unfortunately though it was not over! We discovered that there was another 15 minutes to walk to breakfast! That was difficult as mentally and physically we had finished!

During breakfast, we realised to our amazement that Jeffery was there! He had walked all this way! A true mountain dog.
Back on the bus…ahhhhh!! No more walking! We had various stops on the way back

 and finally saw some condors which was great!

For lunch the majority of the group went to a local restaurant for the ‘menu’ – soup, segunda dish and a drink all for s/6 (£1.50). It was really popular with locals and tourists and the old waiter/owner was serving tables on his own. He was very cute; small and round with his shoulders up by his ears – he was super stressed – running all over the place, back and forth from the kitchen – providing real entertainment for us! Kyle temporally became a waiter when he helped clear the tables into the kitchen, much to the relief of the old man.

Returning back, we climbed high to just under 5000m through the bleak and very cold altiplano with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and volcanoes.

Then, through the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca where we saw the vicunas, llamas and alpacas.

We arrived back home in Arequipa very dusty and in need of showers just before 6pm – completely gone! A few of us shamefully went straight in search of a McDonalds mmmm….. we deserved it!

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