Monday, April 25, 2016

South America (Peru) - Day 119 - 121: Arequipa and Colca Canyon

After catching a golden sunrise over a less attractive industrial view, and eating a delicious breakfast at Tanta, we joined a free walking tour the next morning. The meeting point was a church square inhabited by a group of theatre performers who were wandering around singing, clapping, and making odd gesticulations which kept us entertained until the tour began. Our guide was very good and was a bit of a trooper, since he was the only one in the city doing the tour six days a week. From the church he took us all around central Arequipa, including a wool shop which had a llama and alpaca pen out the back. Alpacas are hilarious. Their faces are so expressive, and it's practically impossible to take a bad photo of them.











After the tour we tried to find a couple of art galleries, both of which were closed. It was bucketing down with rain and heading towards late afternoon, so we decided to take the advice of our tour guide and tracked down Museo Santuarios Andinos which was still open. In here we were taken around by a guide who showed us a number of artifacts pulled from the burial sites on mountains in the Andes by two scientists over the course of seven years, which had been remarkably well preserved by the ice and had retained almost all of their colour and texture. However, this wasn't the main discovery made by the men. That accolade goes to Juanita, the body of a girl who had been sacrificed in a religious ceremony, and which had been buried at the top of a mountain and frozen for hundreds of years (?????). The girl had been drugged and then given a blow to the temple to kill her outright, before being buried in the foetal position. The idea, as far as can be established, was to appease the mountain gods by offering a willing sacrifice. Juanita had accepted her fate from a young age and had travelled from Cusco for hundreds of miles to die. Her body wasn't in the museum as it was in a laboratory for tests, but another child's body (NAME??) - of 17 that had been discovered in total - was. The ice had preserved the skin, and as gruesome as it was to display a body in such a manner, it offered a fascinating insight into the practices of Incan religion.

We had learned from the tour that Arequipans are very proud of both their city and their cuisine. They have their coat of arms everywhere, and their signature dish is rocoto rellena: a very spicy pepper stuffed with mince. You can try and get this in other parts of Peru, but Arequipans will tell you that it won't be as good. With that in mind, we tried to find a recommended place to eat which served it in the evening, and after a 2km walk we arrived to find that the restaurant had been closed for maintenance for one day only, which happened to be that day. Typical luck. Somehow, we stumbled upon a restaurant called India which served, erm, Indian food. Actual Indian food. It was almost as good as curry from back home. Even the cold plates and the lack of naan bread couldn't detract. It wasn't rocoto rellena, but it did the job.  The city is also beautifully lit in the evening.


The next day, we were up at a stupid hour to trek down Colca Canyon. Our guide was Marcos, who didn't really offer much in the way of information on the trip, and was ever so slightly sleazy. Still, he did his job in getting us around. Our first stop was Cruz del Condor (Cross of the Condor) where we waited for a good half hour to try and spot some Andean Condors in the thick mist covering the mountain pass. About five minutes before we needed to leave, we spotted one flying through the fog at a great distance, and then two flying together. Then we were lucky enough to spot a couple of juveniles perched on a rock with an adult nearby. The condors were magnificent and their wingspan was huge; they soared on the air pockets in the canyon effortlessly. Soon after, we had stocked up on bananas and were descending into the canyon.











It was a tough hike. The heat was oppressive, our sandals kept getting filled with stones, and the path was steep. The views, however, were totally worth it. The river stretched out for miles, and the rock formations were fascinating - one even looked uncannily like a face. There were a couple of rest stops along the way with various local ladies selling goods. At one point we were told that we were at the last place that sold fruit on the trip; we decided to carry on regardless, and about two hours later came across what passed for a supermarket in the middle of the canyon - complete with fruit - run by a lady who was likely the richest woman in Colca Canyon. I guess he gets commission for pointing us towards the first lady...









After a full day's hike, we finally reached the base of the canyon and arrived at our lodging, Azul Cielo (Blue Sky). It had a pool - too cold for my delicate constitution - and a decent double room. Before long it was happy hour, and we were downing mojitos and cuba libres with Oliver from the US and Mo from Germany, before a basic dinner which was far too sparse for the amount of calories we'd burned on the descent.




We were up at 4am and ascending back up the canyon at 4:30am while it was still dark. This was probably a good thing, since we were unable to see how steep the climb was. A couple of the girls decided to take mules up to the top because one of them had somehow managed to break the soles of both of her hiking boots. With James Horner's Krull soundtrack blasting in my ears, I managed to march to the top before the mules arrived, and a minute before Gilly's head popped up. The hike up was tough, but since the morning air was cool, it was actually preferable to the descent the day before in the sweltering heat.

After a couple of games of cards and some more bananas whilst we waited for the rest of the crew to make it to the top, we were on our way to Chivay for breakfast in a pretty plaza before heading back to town via some stunning views of terraces on the hillside. Before getting back to town, we stopped off at some "thermal baths" which felt pretty much like a public swimming pool, but the heat took the edge off our aching limbs. We were dropped off outside Chaqcao with Olly and Mo, where we picked up a craft beer and some vegan chocolate cheesecake which tasted much better than it sounds.







It had been an exhausting day, so when we got to our Cruz del Sur overnight bus to Cusco, we were very much ready to sleep.

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