13.02.2012 - 23.02.2012
Hola from the country of multicolored corn and 55 varieties, the true home of the potato with up to 3000 varieties, disputed home of Pisco Sour (and has somewhere called Pisco) and where the rubbish trucks play monotone classic music on their rounds.
So with a quick border crossing we ended up in the bus station of the uninspiring town of Tacna but only for a couple of hours as our next destination was Arequipa. A city famed for it's huge Santa Catalina convent (which is like a citadelle within a city) and it's nearby Colca Canyon. Anyway before we could get on the bus we had a few hours to kill and ended up filling our stomachs with some delicious chicharrones which came with a spicy sauce, yey at last some food with a bit of a kick! Our first experience of a Peruvian bus was a mixed one. To begin with everyone was filmed with a camcorder getting on to the bus for security, the seats were fairly comfortable BUT the journey ended up taking 13 hours instead of 7!!!!!!! This was mainly down to two separate road blockages due to heavy rain which meant gravel, debris and torrents of water stopped traffic. Both times eventually the road was cleared thanks to some handy jcb's and we turned up in Arequipa at 3am instead of 7pm, a journey we'd rather forget. We managed to get in to our hostel thanks to the persistent ringing of the bell and shouting from our taxi driver and crashed as soon as we could!
After a much needed lie in we wandered into the streets of Arequipa which is awash with impressive white stone colonial era buildings and of course a huge plaza flanked by a huge cathedral. We wandered around the town sampling the variety of food (huge in comparison to Chile & Argentina) and stopped for some coffee boosts now and again. We had decided that we would like to do a hike in the Colca Canyon so we had to spend some time scouting around the various adventure companies, always a pleasure listening to the sales pitches which start to sound the same after a while. We ended up deciding to go with Peru Schweiz Explorer which was recommended by our hostel and we were set to do the 2day 1night canyon trek, sorted. The next day we went to explore the convent in the morning because as it was still rainy season you could have glorious sunshine in the morning but the heavens could open in the afternoon. We got ourselves an english speaking guide and off we set around the huge nun house, part of which is still in use by the nuns today but a more modern building and far fewer numbers of the religious ladies. Apparently families would like to send their first born daughter to the convent so the majority of those there were from wealthy families and it took them 4 years to become a fully fledged nun. Lots of the nuns had their own houses and room for a maid aswell. By the sounds of things life for the nuns was not entirely one of hard worship and study but throw in some visitors and a few parties and your closer to reality. The powers that be in the homeland of Spain caught wind of this and sent over a more serious leader to straighten out the convent and the nuns, fun's over ladies! From that point the convent remained closed to public eyes until it was forced to open to the public in 1970. Also we learnt that one of the head nuns Ana de los angeles was one miracle away from stainthood, according to the catholic church you must conduct 3 miracles. To top off our religious adventures of the day we went into the massive Cathedral and set eyes on their prize possession the organ donated from Europe which got dented on the way and is now out of tune..... but it's still the biggest in South America. We managed to try some traditional Peruvian dishes which were amazing, definitely try the recoto relleneo (stuffed spicy red pepper).
Our trip to the Colca Canyon started with 3am pick up nice and early including blankets and neck cushions ready for the trip over the mountains and down to the local village for breakfast. After the pit stop we join the local road/trek towards Cabanaconde and important old indigenous village, the further along the road we went the steeper hill sides became and lower the river got. The main living in these parts in farming, mainly types of corn, one of which purple in colour is fermented to create chicha the local tipple, and potatoes with some other native crops filling in the patchwork pieces of flat land, and off course every farmer has a donkey because someone needs to carry the stuff up and down and around the track's meandering through the canyon from one side and village to another. Our first stop was the Cruz del condor lookout as it was still early the clouds were hugging mountain sides, and even though we spotted some condors in the distance testing the early morning thermals they gave up pretty soon and disappeared back to bed. So we continued and stopped outside Cabanaconde to spilt in to our group and meet our guide Nestor a local young Quechuan ready to lead us through the next couple of days, after a 10 day carnival so a bit heavy headed. Also in our group was a Dutch couple from Amsterdam also on a south American adventure, and as the sun came out we departed down canyon path hugging the cliff face. As Nestor began to introduce him self and the surroundings we learnt that he was actually a shaman in training, taught by his grand farther since he was young he is the man in the know about the natural environment what plant to use for all kinds, and even though he's full trained and helps the community he will only become the shaman once his grandfather passes on. So as you can imagine as we walk down the path he's answering all the questions and pointing out all the useful plants, knowledge collected by local people and the people before. Even though the track was down hill it was still hard going, with the top of the canyon at 3600m and the river at 2400m everything is slightly harder than were used to as we zig zag down and round the canyon face heading to the bridge right at the bottom, making sure to stay cliff side when a procession of donkeys/mules dordle by. After over 2 ½ hours we cross the ruff concrete suspension bridge over the raging deep brown river and get a taste of some up hill before reaching the first village on the trail stretched along the lush hillside and have lunch at this simple hostel among the avocado trees. This would be a nice place to stop for the day, and the 3dayers do but we had to continue and as we were about to start the heavens opened so out come the plastic ponchos. We walk along the canyon down river following the pre Inka trail with Nestor pointing out the ancient aqueduct and the grave holes in the cliff, the higher you are the closer to god and important they were. After a big up hill we reach the next and biggest village with the introduced colonial catholic church and local junior school, the local children have to board in Cabanaconde to go to high school, it would be a mission to walk that every day. In the poring rain we wonder through the village with the majority of the houses now opting for the modern corrugated roofs instead of the traditional hay, better water resilience but not great with the hot days & cold nights, maybe a combo would be a option, but apparently the hay roof look ain’t in fashion, and as the young are opting for the town and cities the high altitude hay is too high maintenance. With the worst of the up hill over for today we continue along to reach the Inkan crop terrace the destination for the aqueduct now used only as a football pitch, and work our way down through the cactus forest collecting ripe cactus fruit (one bonus of trekking in wet season) before arriving at the second bridge to cross back to get to the oasis, a deserted village redeveloped for the tourists, it even has a hot spring in the cliff near by which is channelled down but unfortunately our hostel is at the end of the line so the pool was only lukewarm, not so inviting as we hoped in the rain. The hostel was in a great setting with the huts scattered between palm trees not far from the river with the canyon towering above on both sides. With no electricity and darkness falling we retreat to the communal area for food and some beer from the little shop before hitting the sack in preparation for the climb out the next morning.
We got up before sunrise to get an early start after having a quick cactus fruit snack and begin the zig zag accent towering before us. As we climbed the sun slowly appeared lighting the canyon and the daunting task in front of us 1200m. As we trek up we get overtaken by strolling locals and some donkeys ,even a tourist opting for the easy donkey ride up, didn’t seem such a bad idea now at the half way marker. After just over there hours we make it to the top, it wasn’t easy, Sian double sticking it up but the view was great, in the annual race Nestor can run the whole trail in a staggering 2 ½ hours. It was time for breakfast so we wander through the flat corn patches to Cabanaconde where Nestor had to leave and guide his next group, he enjoyed his job and we don't blame him. After getting picked up in the town square we made our way back to the Cruz del condor lookout for a second chance to see the condors but only see some from a far, but luckily enough our next stop at a view point of the canyon, Meurig gets a flyby from the giant bird passing 2m over his head, so fast the photo is a bird blur, amazing, the condor is the biggest bird in the world and it looks a bit like a turkey with massive wings. Back in Chivay we get time for a dip in the local volcanic pools before getting an all you can eat buffet of local foods for lunch hmmm. So all there was left to do was stop at the lookout at 4900m on the way back but unfortunately it was a bit foggy & we eventually make it back to Arequipa in time to collect our bags and get to the bus terminal. Unfortunately our booked bus was the incorrect one as it didn’t stop in Ica, but fortunately that just meant we were early, but during the time we were sat waiting and tired, Sian's bag suddenly went missing, classic bag between legs sat in terminal and when Meurig came back from the shop it was gone. Luckily for us, EVERYTHING important was in Meurig's bag and not much could be done about it, and we were told to report it to the Nasca tourist police the next day.
After our first night bus with Peru's Cruz Del Sur premier bus company we arrived in Nazca on time at 7.30am. We had sorted our hostel Nazca Trails but a bit of a schoolboy error we didn't note down the exact address, ooops! As it was so early none of the internet cafes were open so there was nothing for it Sian would have to dump Meurig in the plaza with the bags and walk around the area in search of the hostel, but best to have some breakfast first! After about 40 minutes finally success and off we trotted with the bags. Just as well we got there early because by 10am the sun was well and truly shining and the place was toasty. Our hostel owners were lovely and the place had a nice garden to chill in the hammocks plus the breakfast each day was definitely better than average hostel grub. First stop that day would have to be the tourist police station to get the report one the stolen bag. We weren't sure what the level of english would be so we were armed with our phrasebook but were pleasantly surprised as William the police sergeant was able to take down the details relatively easily with a few little tips from google translate. He gave us some tips about Nazca, where to eat etc, offered us the use of his camera for the lines flight as mine was unfortunately in the bag and asked if we would mind meeting his family the next day in the plaza for some photos, unfortunately we tried to find him there but failed. So the big attraction for Nazca, the lines can be seen best from the air but also there are some informative half day trips that take you up to the lines at ground level and give you some of the history followed by a visit to Maria Greiche's house where she did all her research work, her old VW campervan is still there. We managed to get onto one of the trips last minute plus our hostel guy gave us the trip for half price, now we would go up in the air knowing a bit more about the lines. Also that day we hired a taxi to head the 10km or so out of town to the Inca aqueducts which looked like huge holes dug out with a spiral pathway leading down to the bottom where a fairly small river ran, Meurig was impressed by this engineering feat! That night we sampled one of pc William's recommendations on where to eat, a roast chicken restaurant which had some good deals and more than enough tasty chicken.
So it was time to get up in the air and see the famous lines from above & it was an early start with our flight scheduled for 7.30am. The plane was big enough to hold 6 people including the 2 pilots! The flight itself lasted about 30 minutes and took us around each of the shapes in the gravel leaning on each side so everyone had a chance to take some photos. It is impressive from above and quite surreal that these shapes were created hundreds and hundreds of years ago by people who couldn't get up in the air and could only see them from ground level! Next stop was 2 hours up the panamerica highway to Ica where we were heading for the tiny desert oasis of Huaccachina.
Huaccachina is about 5km from Ica centre and had been described as a desert oasis but based on what we'd seen in Ica we weren't sure what to expect! Soon enough the huge sand dunes appeared and the road dropped down to reveal a small lagoon surrounded by a small village. We stayed at Bananas hostel which had it's own bar, restaurant and a pool, felt like ages since we'd been anywhere near a pool. We had a poolside cabin and sampled the delicious food and extremely strong pisco sours. The main activity in the area is sandboarding plus a ride in the sand buggy for a bargain price of £8. The driver had acquired the nickname of Schumacher's dad..... or someone said it should be Schumacher's crazy dad and that isn't far off based on his buggy driving. We were strapped in tight and taken around the dunes up and down near vertical hills of sand, loads of fun. Thankfully Schumie's dad started us off gently when it came to the sandboarding as quite a few of us had never been snowboarding let alone anything else! The boards had to waxed on the under side with a candle before each trip down the hill because the sand was like rough sandpaper slowing you down every time. The first couple of times were a bit shaky and there were a few falls but both of us managed to sand and slide down. Well that is until the very last hill which was ridiculously high and ridiculously steep!!!!! The trip finished as he sun went down over the dues and the scenery and colours were fantastic. We got back to Bananas just in time for another pisco sour with a kick :-) A couple from Nottingham we had met in Nazca were also in the hotel so it ended up being a night full of strong pisco sours. We made the most of the pool and nice food the next day and basically just lazed around in the sun before our early start the next morning to get the bus to the capital, Lima.