Published: July 5th 2009May 27th 2009
The view made the uphill hike worthwhile!
Cuzco to Arequipa
It was "adios" to Cuzco and "hola" to Arequipa on Saturday 23rd May. News quickly spread that we were not going to be travelling by bus, but instead we were going on a local flight which made a few members of the group very happy indeed. Unfortunately I lived to regret saying "I love flying" because our short 1 hour flight was one of the worst I have ever taken. It was that turbulent that the airhostesses did not even walk down the aisle let alone give out refreshments! When we landed in Arequipa I think the whole plane sighed with relief!
We arrived at our hotel close to the centre of the city around 3.30pm and then after a briefing we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Mike and I ventured into the city for a bite to eat and a look around the main square. The ornate cathedral made out of the volcanic rock, sillar that sat proud on one side of the square impressed us. At night it was all lit up and it dazzled in the night sky. In fact many of the buildings were made out of sillar and
thus the city appeared white and true to its name. It reminded us of Bolivia's capital city, Sucre.
A 2 day excursion to the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world was planned on Sunday. We had a local guide in charge of our mini trip to the canyon and its surrounds, his name was Daniel and he looked like the South American version of Rocky. Aside from his muscular physique, he was extremely knowledgeable about the area and spoke excellent English.
The Colca Canyon lies about 100 miles North West of Arequipa and it took us 4.5 hours to reach the town of Chivay in the Colca Valley where we stopped for lunch. We made the mistake of sitting on the back seat of the bus and on a few occasions we were lifted completely off the seat, nearly hitting the ceiling! Our journey to the canyon was quite interesting - upon leaving Arequipa we passed the volcanoes Misti (5822m) and Chachani (6075m) glistening in the early morning sunlight and we climbed up to 4910m passing several snow-capped peaks.
Daniel was very informative during our drive and spoke much about
the history of Peru and the benefits of taking coca leaves in preventing altitude sickness. However it was difficult to take all the information in when you were tightly grabbing the sides of your seat and concentrating on not lifting up off it with each bump in the road.
We reached Chivay (3650m) around 1pm and filled up on a delicious hot and cold buffet lunch. Then we had a further 20 minute drive to get to the small town of Coporaque where we were to stay for 2 nights. Daniel offered us the chance to do a trek late afternoon or we could rest. Mike and I were keen to get some exercise after having spent much time on the bus and agreed to go walking with about half of the group.
The trek was initially all uphill and hard going at altitude, but the views of the valley made it worthwhile. One interesting feature of the walk was a visit to a pre-Incan burial site complete with a collection of deformed heads - the tops of which had been flattened in keeping with traditions at that time. On our downhill track back to town, Daniel pointed
out the second oldest terraces in South America.
As there were no restaurants or shops for that matter in Coporaque (we wondered why we were staying there) we had to drive back in to Chivay for dinner. We enjoyed a sit down 3 course meal whilst being entertained by a live band and dancers.
The Condor Cross
On Monday we had to get up at 5am - so much for the end of early starts after the Inca Trail! After a boring breakfast of bread and jam (very common in South America) we were on the road by 6am heading towards the Condor Cross, a popular tourist spot to see the Andean Condor, a large carrion bird. Daniel gave us more facts about the canyon on route to the cross, informing us that it is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and the tallest mountain within the canyon is 4160m! The canyon is thought to be 145 million years old and was once covered with water. A neighbouring canyon is thought to be the deepest canyon in the world.
The Condor Cross is 1200m deep and we were able to walk to 2 viewpoints
looking down into the canyon. We arrived at the cross by 8am, the best time of day to view the magnificent vultures and we did not have to wait long before they made an appearance. Everyone managed to take some good photos of the condors as they flew through the canyon walls from their nests. They glided on thermals and with a wingspan of 2m made it look easy. The male birds had a white crest and the females were completely black. The younger birds were also brown/black in colour.
From the Condor Cross we followed Daniel on a 1 hour trek along the wall of the canyon. It was a flat and fairly easy walk and we could see a few towns at the base of the canyon. Daniel told us that there are 45 towns along the base!
Within 10 minutes of leaving the cross we had a puncture and then a few minutes after that we had a blow-out of a second tyre! Luckily another GAP group drove past within minutes and stopped to take us to our next port of call, leaving behind Aleks and our driver to fix the problem.
A male condor soars above our heads.
town of Maca was our next stop to view a pretty ugly church in my opinion and take a look at some market stalls. Having fixed the tyres, our driver pulled up within an impressive 30 minutes and drove us back to Chivay where we had lunch.
Monday afternoon was spent relaxing at La Calera hot springs, 3.5km east of Chivay. We spent nearly 2 hours soaking in the mineral rich 39°C "Pool de Turismo". It was possible to drink alcoholic beverages and even eat ice cream in the water so "when in Rome"....
Back to Arequipa - Santa Catalina Convent
On Tuesday we left Coporaque around 9am and arrived back in Arequipa around 1pm. The afternoon was free time so after freshening up, Mike and I had lunch then visited the top tourist attraction, Monasterio Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Convent). The convent is really a small village within the city and covers an area of 20,410m² Sixty percent of the convent is accessible to the public and the remaining 4% is occupied by the nuns of today. We opted for a guided tour in English and as well as being shown around, we also learned
about the convent's history which was opened to the public on August 15th 1970, almost 400 years since it was founded in 1579.
The convent was founded by a wealthy widow who chose her nuns from wealthy Spanish families and up until 1871 the nuns led isolated lives inside separate cells (rooms) with the help of a maid to cook, clean and do their laundry. However a ruling by the Vatican in 1871 put a stop to this privileged, isolated existence and ordered them to live together and learn how to cook and clean.
In the early days, girls as young as 12 years old were allowed to become nuns, however a dowry was required - 100 gold coins per year as a novice and then a one off payment of 1400-2000 gold coins upon graduation. Alternate ways for girls to gain entry were to be sponsored, pay with property or become a maid if they were very poor. Today women have to be 18 years old, completed basic study and have an art and no dowry is required.
Our first stop on our tour was at the visitor’s rooms where the nuns would have received visitors.
For most of the nuns there was no privacy, a listener nun had to sit with her throughout the visit and screen any gifts which were passed through. The rooms were carefully designed so that the nun was able to see her visitor, but the visitor could not see her. This was an important place because once a girl had agreed to become a nun, she was not allowed to leave the convent. If a girl changed her mind and decided that she no longer wanted to be a nun, she would have to obtain a letter from the pope allowing her to do so which could take up to a year! Today nuns are able to leave the convent.
Next was the Novice's Cloisters where girls from as young as 12 years old would stay for up to 4 years learning how to become a nun. In their cells they learnt the art of silence, embroidery and prayer. Then we saw the Orange Tree Cloister where the ‘fully fledged’ nuns lived. We looked inside a typical cell which had a bed positioned under an arch with keystone to protect the nun from earthquakes, a table and chair, chamber
Lisa models the cooker
Inside an original cell before 1871.
pot, paintings, rug and an adjoining kitchen with maid's room. All nuns had to furnish their own rooms by bringing in items from their parents home including their cutlery.
We passed by the mortuary which had paintings on the walls of some nuns after they had died. Vanity was considered to be a sin before 1859 and therefore the only paintings allowed were after death and mirrors were forbidden.
We also visited Sister Ana's Cell. Sister Ana lived had during the 17th century and had reputedly performed several miracles whilst she was alive including curing cancer. She was beatified in 1985. Apparently she spent the last 10 years of her life in bed and on her bed was a rug of steel spikes which she would have laid on as a form of flagellation!
Our tour finished with a walk through the communal areas used between 1871 and 1970 then past 2 confessionals where the nuns would confess impure thoughts twice a week. There were 2 earthquakes in 1958 and 1969 and parts of the convent had not been repaired and thus the evidence of these natural disasters was still visible.
Wednesday was a day of
rest because I had yet another bout of traveller's diarrhoea and thus preferred not to venture too far from a toilet. I was very concerned about our overnight bus that night to Nazca, but fortunately we both slept through.
It was about 6.30am when we arrived in Nazca, famous for the Nazca Lines, a network of more than 800 lines over 500km² of desert including 300 geometric figures (geoglyphs) and 70 plant and animal drawings (biomorphs). It is thought that the lines have been around since 900BC - 600AD made by the Nazca and Paracas people, but the reason for their existence is not known.
Before taking an optional flight over the lines, Aleks was kind enough to allow us a few hours sleep. However the hotel we were staying at was undergoing building work on the roof so sleep was interrupted. Another annoyance was the fact that the water had been turned off so we could not have a shower until that evening and even then not everyone got hot water. It was certainly not the best hotel and was not even in Nazca itself!
At 11am, 11 of us boarded a
These really were our best photos!
private minibus to the aerodrome. We had to split up into groups of 5 per plane before meeting our captains. Our captain was a young man called José. He told us to sit inside the plane according to our weight - the heaviest at the front so Mike chose the cockpit next to José. Before taking off we were warned that the flight would be turbulent because it was a warm day and the location of the sick bags was pointed out to us!
Take off was fairly smooth from the Maria Reiche Aerodrome and we were flying over the desert in no time. We were both lucky enough to be sitting on the right hand side, often the first side to see the lines. During our 30 minute flight we got to see a whale, triangles and trapezoids, the astronaut (also thought to resemble a priest with the head of an owl), an intricate monkey, condor, spider, hummingbird, Alcatraz, parrot, hands and a tree. We saw a wide range of lines, but felt a little under whelmed because they were extremely faint and it was very difficult to take a half decent photo of any of them. Our
ride was quite bumpy too and I felt relieved when we landed!
That night we had a sit down 3 course meal at a restaurant in Nazca. The entertainment was an energetic Afro-Peruvian dance act and band.
On Friday we travelled to an oasis in the desert. It was a chilled out day at Alek's mate's hotel and pool. A few members of the group did sand boarding, but as we had already tried it we chose to sunbathe and read instead. Late evening we left the hotel and drove to Paracas where we spent just 1 night in a shabby hotel.
The next morning I left Mike sleeping and went on a 2 hour trip to the Bellestas Islands just off the coast. Even before we got aboard the boat we saw several dolphins frolicking in the bay. It took us just 30 minutes to reach the rocky islands, close to the Paracas peninsular. On the way there we saw Peruvian pelicans gliding high above us or perched on the rocks.
Poised with our camera as we approached the islands, I was crapped on all down my trousers and even on
the camera! Our multi-lingual guide told me it meant good luck, but I was not convinced - I certainly did not feel lucky at the time! After getting over the shock, I took some good photos of one-eyed cormorants, turkey vultures, Humboldt penguins, Peruvian boobies (a type of seabird whose rich droppings are used for fertilizer), Peruvian sea lions and a black American sea lion. We were privileged to see 2 male sea lions having a "stand off" and several fighting females. One female sea lion jumped out of the water and bit another female who was just resting on a rock on her back. This caused her to fall off said perch and lots of bubbles followed as an under water fight broke out!
It was just after midday when we departed Paracas and took a public bus to Lima. The journey took around 4 hours and Aleks warned us to keep our day packs close to us to prevent theft. It was obvious that Aleks was excited about being back in his home city - he was continuously whistling and was even more smiley than usual. On our way to the district of
Barranco where we were to stay, Aleks informed us that Lima is covered in a permanent layer of cloud during autumn and winter, plus it is very humid. These were 2 off-putting facts for an English girl with frizzy hair, but I tried to remain optimistic. The thick cloud did feel very oppressive and I felt a little depressed by the weather and the fact that our tour was coming to an end.
After our final briefing from Aleks, we had some free time to explore the area before we met up with the group for dinner. Mike, Alex, Robyn and I walked down to Lover's Lookout over the ocean, however it was far too hazy to get out the camera. A late coffee and slice of cake kept our hunger locked up until dinner...
Most of the group met at a local Peruvian restaurant called Rustica to enjoy our last dinner together. Unfortunately the service was terrible and we did not have Aleks there to sort it out. In the end I stepped up to the mark and using my best Spanish complained to the head waitress which got things moving a little. After dinner we met
Peruvian Sea Lions
All behaving for once!
Aleks and his wife Cynthia at a local bar for drinks and salsa dancing. It was a fun night, the majority of which was spent on the dance floor.
On Sunday Aleks invited us to come to his place for a BBQ and also to celebrate Scott's 26th Birthday. Aleks arrived in his car at our hotel around 1pm and rounded up some taxis to take us all to his apartment south of Barranco. We arrived at his apartment to find a smartly decorated L-shaped table on his front lawn. Within minutes he was pouring us tasty fluorescent yellow Inca cola (like cream soda) then wine or beer accompanied by lightly salted corn kernels to snack on.
The BBQ was a family affair with Aleks and his aunt in-law in charge of the meat and his wife looked after the desserts. We ate sausage, steak, boiled potatoes and corn with a creamy mustard sauce. Then for dessert we had rich chocolate cake and lemon meringue pie. In addition to wine and beer we enjoyed homemade Peruvian pisco sours. The music supplied by his car radio was a mixture of 80s and modern stuff so
I was happy.
All in all it was a very enjoyable afternoon and was a superb way to thank Aleks and say our "goodbyes". Around 8pm we left Alek's place and travelled to a hostel in the district of San Isidro just north of Barranco for our last night.
Our Last Day
We had said "goodbye" to most of the group at the BBQ apart from our friends Alex and Robyn who we had arranged to meet up with on our last day. A taxi took us to the main square, the Plaza Mayor where we had a brief walk around and took photos of the cathedral, government house and bronze fountain.
At 11.30am we met Alex and Robyn outside the Museum of the Inquisition and we all went on a free guided tour in English. We learned that the building had been used by the Spanish Inquisition from 1570 to 1820 (in 1821 independence was declared in Peru) and within the building crimes were investigated from witchcraft and wizardry to doing or saying anything against the Catholic Church or the King. On the tour we looked around the courtroom where the accused were tried,
the room of secrets where documents were kept, the prison cells and the torture chambers. Out of 3000 people that were accused, only 1475 were found guilty and 32 were sentenced to death.
After our tour we had a nice lunch together then caught a cab to the district of Miraflores to Lover's Park complete with a statue of 2 lovers kissing. Mike refused to re-enact the statue in real life so no funny photos from there! The history behind the park is that lovers would frequent this area of land years ago to "make out", but occasionally a person was assaulted here! As a result, the mayor decided to make it an official park and clean it up, making it a safe and peaceful place for lovers to come.
We then walked along the promenade heading north back to San Isidro. Back at our hostel, we had to sadly say "good bye" to Alex and Robyn and then caught a taxi to the airport. We flew out of Lima around 8pm and arrived in Madrid around 1pm the next day. From Madrid we flew to London, Heathrow, arriving around 5.30pm on Tuesday 2nd June. We both had
Beep Beep Boy Racer
This tuk tuk driver kept us entertained at the BBQ as he frequently zoomed past, Peruvian dance music blaring out!
mixed emotions on our homeward bound journey - on one hand we were sad that our round the world adventure was ending, but on the other had we were excited about seeing all our family and friends...
There are more photos below