Lake Titicaca, Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Peru (Lake Titicaca, Arequipa and the Colca Canyon)
16th May – 22nd May
It is 5am in New York City and in true Sex and the City style I am sitting at a little table by a window overlooking a Brooklyn street unable to sleep. Unlike a scene from Sex and the City I look more like a frumpy mad scientist with humidity inspired fly away hair than a glamorous insomniac in designer PJ's! So, rather than toss and turn in the dripping summer heat I thought that I would publish this Peru blog to keep things going while my procrastinating "husband- to- be" ( only 2 months now!!) works on the Bolivia blog in Ben time!
............. Peru part 1:
We spent an incredible 3 weeks in Peru, land of the pan flute, gourmet stuffed chilli peppers, delicious ceviche (raw fish marinated in a salsa of lemon, lime, chilli and coriander), and most memorable, but left untouched by Ben and myself, roasted guinea pig! (I couldn’t help but think of my childhood guinea pigs, “Guts”, “Chloe” and “Mystery”, as I looked at the charcoaled guinea pigs lined up in the street stalls like the ones in the picture below (warning,skip these photos if you are a guinea pig lover like me!):
Peru has obviously less wealth than Chile and Argentina, and seemed to have more in common with Bolivia than its other South American neighbours. It is louder, less regulated, more colourful and more chaotic than the European influenced Chile and Argentina. Like in Bolivia, many of the country women still wear the traditional dresses, and big skirts, with bowling like hats, as in the picture here:
Peru is full of natural and manmade beauty, with the massive Lake Titicaca seeming more like an inland ocean than a lake, endlessly rolling mountains, amazonian jungle, romantic colonial cities, some of the world's largest sand dunes, great canyons and of course Machu Pichu. It is the sort of country that you could spend 3 months in easily, and Ben and I hope to come back to explore more of Peru in the future.
We started our time in Peru at Lake Titicaca, with a visit to the Floating Islands. The floating islands are man-made, using a traditional method where they slowly build up a large number of reeds to form the base of the island, and place dried, straw-like reeds on top to form the ground of the island (at least this is how I understood it from our tour guide's explanation!). It feels like one big waterbed when you walk on it! Today, 2,000 people attempt to live traditionally on floating reed islands, while masses of tourists visit their communities each day, buying their colourful handicrafts and eating in their straw hut restaurants ( we had the BEST trout that we have ever tasted , straight from the lake, for $2 in a simple reed hut restaurant!) . In this way tourism boots the local economy of the floating islands, but I couldn’t help but feel that we were taking more away from their lifestyle than what we were contributing.
Next stop was Arequipa: The White City. We arrived to this beautiful city bleary eyed, grumpy and tired at 3 in the morning. We caught a taxi to our hostel and in my sleepy state I left our backpack, with our passports, money, laptop, camera and mobile phone, behind in the taxi. Luckily the taxi had only just started to leave when I realised, and incredibly the driver stopped when he heard my thumping on the back of his taxi and my slightly hysterical cries to STOP!We were both suddenly very alert after this near disaster, and Ben did a good job of biting his tongue and not saying anything when I had almost lost all of our valuable possessions in one hit!
Arequipa was definitely one of our favourite cities in South America. It is an old colonial city, dotted with cathedrals and their grand bell towers, home to white washed crumbling buildings that speak of its grand past, blessed with beautiful, lantern lined cobbled alleyways, and surrounded by dusty mountains and a snow capped volcano. It is known for its spicy food, so Ben was in food heaven, ordering the spiciest dishes on the menu, and even then he often added even more chilli to the food!
We enjoyed 3 days in Arequipa, and spent our time exploring the city on their open air bus tour, haggling with the locals down at the central markets, visiting the stunning Santa Catalina convent and the numerous cathedrals dotted across the city.
From Arequipa we went on to do a 3 day trek in the Colca Canyon, home to the great Condor Birds and apparently an even deeper canyon than the Grand Canyon. It was another early start, as we were picked up at 3:30am so that we could make it to the canyon in time to see the condors taking their early morning flight. It was incredible to watch the condors soar over the canyon and glide with the wind (and even more entertaining to watch the crazy cult people worshipping the Condors.... "Embrace the Condor.....Feel the Condor....Be the Condor.... Por que Noooo?!!").
We then spent the next 3 days walking down into and then back up and out of the magnificent canyon. We walked with our guide, Alex, and one other trekker, Monica, who came from Spain and soon became a fast friend. We also adopted another member into our trekking group along the way, Juanito- the wandering dog! Juanito took a liking to Ben, and decided to follow Ben for the 3 days trek, even sleeping outside our door at night just to make sure that Ben didn’t slip away without him noticing! They were inseparable, and Ben tried to convince me at the end of our trek to take Juanito along with us for the rest of our journey! These pictures show Ben with his new best friend!
There were some tough hiking moments, made more difficult because of the high altitude. However the scenery was worth it, as the canyon was dotted with some of the biggest cactus plants I have ever seen, and the canyon walls constantly changed in colour, from red to orange to dotted green with shrubs, as well as in form, as the walls were sometimes jagged with strong peaks, and at other times smooth and flawless. We slept in 2 different little villages inside the canyon. The first night we slept in a basic concrete room, with candles lighting the room at night. The second night we stayed in a more traditional hut, with a dirt floor, mud brick walls and thatched straw roof! We each had 1(cold) shower in 3 days, and so were a bit smelly at the end of our trek! Monica and I caught a mule for the final ascent out of the canyon. Mine was called “Fernando” and was hell bent on overtaking any other mule in front of it, which made for an eventful ride up the steep, winding canyon path! Ben hiked out in 1hr 30minutes, when most hikers take about 2hours 30minutes!
Love early morning insomniac and softly snoring partner