Right then, time for another blog post. We're a little behind with our blogging, so this one will just cover the remainder of Peru (though we're actually well into Bolivia now). When we last left you we were on a long overnight bus to Arequipa...
Arequipa and Colca Canyon
We arrived at our hotel in Arequipa, with it's towering view of Misti - the nearby snow-capped volcano rising up to over 6000m. We then took a stroll around the historical centre of town (based around Plaza de Armas, like all Peruvian cities). The centre itself was very beautiful, in particular the rather imposing cathedral on the main square, and the monastery in the centre of town, which we did a guided visit of. James sipped his first pisco sour of the trip (a rather nice drink as it happens).
No rest for the wicked though, as we were heading off far too early the next day (3am pickup!) to go hiking in the Colca Canyon. We had a two day hike planned, descending into the gorge on day 1, then ascending (1200m vertical) the next day.
On the first day we stopped at the Mirador del condor, and were fortunate enough to see two condors circling incredibly close to us. They're apparently the second largest bird in the world (after the southern albatross) and are really impressive to see close up - even a little daunting when they're circling 10m above you.
Then we proceeded with the 'warm up' hike, intended to acclimatize us and prepare us for Cusco. We'd thought that it looked a bit easy to do over 3 days so managed to find a guide willing to take us on the same hike over 2 days instead, 7-8 hours on day 1 and 3-4 hours on day 2. Well, day 1 began with 3 hours of vertical descent during which Phil's newly resoled boots disintegrated within about an hour leaving him walking on his insoles. Ouch. We then hiked through the valley for a few hours of 'Peruvian flat' as our guide called it. Phil sadly didn't have a sunhat either so was forced to wear Anita's mercifully clean pyjama shorts on his head over the two days to prevent sun stroke.
By the end of the day one we were all fairly knackered, noses bleeding with dust, barely able to breathe with the altitude and shattered with all the usual aches and pains of a long hike. Phil, really not Mr Lucky on this one, also suffered very badly with altitude sickness and was barely able to eat or drink. Nonetheless, we made it to the bottom of the valley and were rewarded with an alpaca blanket covered bed and a swim in a warm pool fed by a waterfall. The next morning, up at four, we began the second 'lighter' day, 1200m up from about 2200 to 3400m in three hours. Not going to lie, it hurt. Not so much in the legs, but rather in the dust coated lungs gasping for what little fresh air there was around. Phil was particularly suffering having eaten almost nothing in two days. Accordingly, when a savvy Peruvian went past offering a ride on a mule for 50 soles, Phil jumped on it and we watched him go galloping up into the sunrise with pyjamas pants on his head. If it didn't hurt so much we'd have laughed. We slowly but surely made it to the top, and then headed back to Arequipa with a first rewarding stop at a hot spring on the way and an unbelievably cruel second stop at 5,000m to completely finish off our ability to walk or even breathe (except James who was completely unaffected by the altitude but later succumbed to something worse...)
After Arequipa it was another long overnight bus and on to Cusco, the capital city of the old Inca empire. The centre was very lovely, with loads of striking colonial architecture - primarily churches and cathedrals - surrounded by remnants of Inca and pre-Inca structures. Still recovering from our Colca Canyon experience, we decided to rejig our plans to give us some well-earned rest in Cusco for a day or two.
We (minus Phil) started off with a relaxing horse ride in the hills around Cusco, taking in the ruins of Sacsayhuaman as we went. A very impressive ruin in itself, though nothing compared to what we would see later.
Next up was the main event, Machu Picchu. We decided to cheat and go the train route rather than do the 4-day hike along the Inca trail. On the plus side that gave us time to do a tour of the sacred valley. Sadly James managed to get food poisoning the day before and therefore had to skip out on the tour and join up with Phil at Machu Picchu. He's not the blogging type though, so sadly we'll never know what that was like...
We spent the night in nearby Aguas Calientes before heading up to Machu Picchu in the morning. Despite having seen a million and one, postcard photos of it previously, it still really does take the breath away (literally as well as figuratively thanks to the altitude). Despite the hordes of tourists, it was still a mightily impressive place, but rather than blabbering on about it, here are some photos...
Puno and Lake Titicaca
After another day in Cusco to unwind, it was onwards and upwards to Puno which is on the shore of lake Titicaca (still on the Peruvian side). At over 3800m it's apparently the highest large lake in the world (presumably for some definition of 'large') and doing anything there is pretty exhausting - even walking up the smallest of hills can be a pretty breathless affair; especially the walk up the hill to the hotel after a beer (which is all it takes). Despite some dire warnings about Puno from a few fellow travellers we met along the way, it was a reasonable enough place to spend the night with some decent restaurants. As chance would have it we even stumbled upon one of the annual festivals, which meant the locals were dancing in the streets on the Plaza de Armas in traditional costumes. We spent an afternoon doing our best to acclimatise to the altitude, and then set out for a two day tour of some of the islands on the lake.
First up was a stop on the floating islands of Uros. These are man-made islands made of many layers of reeds attached to the bottom of the lake. There are several dozen of these, each occupied by a few families who make their living there primarily from fishing and tourism. A pretty odd place, and very much on the beaten tourist track, but interesting to see all the same.
After that was the best bit of our lake Titicaca experience - we went to Amantani island for a home stay with a local family. After a 3 hour crossing on what must have been the slowest boat on the entire lake, we were greeted by our host and taken up the hill to their home. There wasn't a huge amount of conversation due to my still improving Spanish, but they were very welcoming and we got some of the local specialities for lunch and dinner (quinoa soup, and kingfish). We even got to go to a local dance in the evening, which involved us all getting dressed up in traditional Peruvian clothes and massacring their local dances (see below for the evidence)!
After Puno it was across the border into Bolivia, but more on that next time...
Quiz of the week
Well, no entries from afar on last week's quiz of the week, however Phil managed to get it immediately on seeing the photo. It was in fact a fish trap; from a river in Huahine. Which brings us to this week's brain-teaser - what's this.