It is not long since I last wrote, however, we have had an action packed few days which I am itching to share with you all!
On the 9th of January, we were roused weary and bleary-eyed by an un-welcome alarm at 4am. We tumbled sleepily into a mini-bus which wound bumpily up to a mountain village where we stopped for breakfast. Feeling revived after a LOT of coffee we set off with our hilarious new Danish friend Tobias and our moustached guide. We then spent the most fantastic 4 hours treking up steep paths in the sun, past tiny farms and surrounded by lush, low-lying peaks. We stopped for lunch at a tiny mountainside farm where we had a three course banquet courtesy of our talented chef (avocado, spicy corn soup, trout, vege, potatoes and rice) all washed down with copias amounts of coca tea. After feeding our left overs to a comical, snuffling pig we completed the last few hours of our first days hike and arrived at our camp, perched like a hawk above the clouds at 11,400m.It was cloudy when we arrived, but after a few hours the clouds swept magically aside revealling the majestic snow-capped Salkantay peak (meaning 'savage mountain' in Quechua).
The following day, we were woken in the dark at 4:30am with steaming mugs of coca and lemon tea before having a sleepy breakfast and leaving just as the sun was rising revealling crystal clear views of the Saltkantay peak. We then started our long assent to the Satkantay pass. The rewards were breath-taking, reaching over 4700m as the beautiful glacier-clad peak towered above us. We then started a steep descent into the valley bellow and the landscape transformed dramatically from rushing glacial streams and snow-capped peaks to lush green sub-tropics and blazing sun-shine. We stopped for lunch in a small wooden hut and again had a feast which seemed to spring from nowhere (mushroom ceviche and sweet potato, vegetable soup, quinoa salad and meat in a tomato and onion sauce...yum!). We then walked for the last few hours to our camp, surrounded by beautiful ferns, orchids and colourful butterflies. Camp was some small wooden huts over-looking the luxouriously green peaks of the cloud-forest. I spent the evening lazing in a hammock over-looking the mountains surrounded by chickens, pigs, horses and dogs!
On the third day of the trek we woke up to the sound of rainfall thundering onto the tin roof above us, after another delicious breakfast we donned our waterproofs and set off. We walked past gushing, swelling rivers and acres of banana and coffee plantations. When the rain stopped all sorts of wildlife began to emerge from the damp, steamy foliage; colourful butterflies, giant millipedes with hundreds of tiny red legs and squarking green parrotts. After lunch we went to our camp which was surrounded by banana and mango trees from which tens of tiny turquoise humming birds were feeding. After eating our fill of sweet, juicy mangos from the surrounding trees we went to rest our aching legs in some nearby hot-springs; a series of steamy blue pools set next to the giant and powerful rapids of a huge river. That night ended with a few beers around a campfire and some awful attempts at salsa dancing on my part!
The next morning we treked 4hours through the cloud forest before arriving in the tourist saturated town of Aquas Calientes; a town solely comprised of extortionately priced hotels and tourist restaurants, it's redeeming quality is it's location, surrounded by huge green peaks of dense cloud forest and ofcourse it wouldn't be in existence if it wasn't for it's proximity to the famous Machu Pichu! We spent a relaxing afternoon gorging ourselves on deliciously overpriced pastries* and hot chocolates at a french boulangerie and had an early night before our 3am start! We were woken in the dark in the middle of the night feeling awake with excitement and were given the greatest reward possible when we were the first to arrive at Machu Pichu...We stood there speechless! It is impossible not to stand there when you reach the top with your mouth hanging open involuntarily with disbelief as these huge, beautiful ruins set amidst majestic, lush mountains shrouded in whispy early-morning cloud. It is simply awe-inspiring and no photograph can do it justice! We spent 4 fascinating hours exploring the site, by which time it was crowded with thousands of camera bearing Japanese day-trippers! The 3 of us then raced the buses back down the steep hill to the town, sprinting down hundreds and hundreds of steps. Sweaty and starving we arrived in the market (completely free from other tourists) and each had a huge mountain of spicy fried rice, vege, fried plantain and a mango milkshake for a mere 7soles! Delicious!.
A 2hour train, 2hour bus, a short stop back in Cuzco, a taxi ride and a ten hour night-bus later we arrived in Arequipa. Arequipa, Peru's second biggest city is set among snow-capped volcanoes. It has a beautiful colonial plaza constructed from pale volcanic rock and one of the biggest and best fresh produce markets we have been to! I could spend a whole day in that market amongst the towers of fresh fruit and vege, olives, spices, fish, meat and cheese! If you want dried frogs, cows noses or stomachs, chickens feet or any of hundreds of different varieties of potatoes this is the place to come! Having just a day to relax and organise ourselves we got up the next morning at 3am to start a 3 day trek in the Colca Canon.
After an early 3hour bus ride and a stop for breakfast we arrived at the top of the Canon and met our group. We then started our descent into the beautiful Canon (which is over twice as deep as the Grand Canon in the States!). As we descended we began to leave the soaring orange cliffs above us and the tiny snake of a foamy white river at the depth of the Canon became larger and it's thunderous roar louder. That afternoon after settling into our rustic, adobe rooms, George and I went with the owner and bashed a steep path through the undergrowth down to the river where we tried our hand at net fishing for trout in the huge river and picked wild pears, peaches and figs whilst the rest of our group slept. We later ate the tiny but delicious trout we had caught for our dinner. We retired early under our little reed rooves and fell asleep contentedly to the echoing sound of the river crashing against the rocks at the bottom of the Canon. The following day we spent the morning passing through tiny villages inaccessable by road and descending to the very bottom of the Canon on a steep rocky path while 3 or 4 huge condors soared above us. Just before lunch we arrived at an oasis where we would spend the night, surrounded by palm trees and tropical flowers with the huge walls of the canon towering above. We spent a lovely afternoon relaxing in hammocks in the shade of a laden mango tree only getting up to go for a refreshing dip in the swimming pool. Early in the evening we joined the other groups for a wincingly strong cocktail and a competative game of Uno. The next day we started the steep 1000m ascent out of the Canon in the dark. We reached the top in dense cloud, freezing and much in need of breakfast. Clasping hot coffees from a tiny stall we spent over an hour peering into the impenetrable whiteness waiting for the rest of our group. Once they had arrived we went into town for a much needed breakfast! We arrived bck in Arequipa early evening and went straight to the market for some delicious saltenas and fresh passionfruit juice.
After yet another overnight bus we arrived in the boiling desert town of Nazca at 6am this morning and were taken straight out to a tiny airport in the heart of the dusty desert. Here we boarded an appropriately tiny 4 person plane which took noisely to the air shuddering and shaking disconcertingly. We were soon soaring above sandy desert peaks and dried up river-beds in the milky morning light. We circled over each of the famous Nazca lines which are magical,vast, mysterious and undeniably beautiful. Then, after a seemingly minute amount of time we were back on the ground and out in the unforgiving sun but with the feeling that we had just had the experience of a life-time and all before breakfast!
Goodbye until next time :)
* for those of you to whom I haven't told this exciting news, I have discovered that wheat no longer has disasterous effects on me!!! I am now a happy cake and bread eating person!!! :)
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