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Published: July 20th 2006
Santa Catalina Convent
Vows of Silence required
We spent about 9 days in Arequipa, Peru. It´s Peru´s 2nd largest city after Lima and has a very comfortable feel. We found a great small hotel (they´re called hostal´s here) with a quiet feel, beautiful gardens and an easy walk to the city center. Next, we found the street with the good Italian restaurant that the Brit in Puno referred us to and settled in to tour some sites in town. First was the Santa Catalina convent that was closed to outsiders for 400 years. Just incredible how a young life can be directed due to the social mores of the day. It was the second daughter or son that was sent to a religious order, with no questions asked, for life. Oh, and you were only able to speak during needlepoint sessions once a day due to the vows of silence.
We also booked a 2 day tour to the Colca Canyon. We shared the tour with a family of 4 from Denmark, which included the driver of a 12 passenger van, a guide, one night hotel in the Canyon with breakfast. The drive was about 6 hours with many stops along the way to take in the views.
Yes, plenty of lama, alpaca, and in a park reserve we spied the rare vicunas. The grandeur and beauty of the canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon, took us by suprise. Unlike the grand canyon, it´s a living canyon with villages dotting either side of the canyon seperated by a river, and the hillsides wrapped by terraces for agriculture. We arrived in the town of Chivay late in the afternoon and took a hike to the hillside to catch the view. All along the trail are pottery shards from the previous Inca inhabitants. What caught us by suprise were two local girls on the hill displaying some things along with an original Inca pot they had found in the hills. For a final treat, we were driven to some local hot springs to enjoy a soak in the hot water with all the other travelers visiting the canyon area. We rose early the next morning to drive 2 hours to the viewpoint to see the Andean condors in flight catching the early morning thermals rising from the canyon floor. Just spectacular.
Once back in Arequipa we decided to travel into Bolivia from Peru. As we´ll be leaving
from Argentina, it´s the easiest to cross borders through, we wouldn´t have to contend with going through the mountain passes from central Chile to Argentina, and Bolivia has a train system in the south that we´ll take. In other words, we had to back track from Arequipa back to Puno, to take the 3 hour bus to Copacabana, Bolivia on the shore of Lake Titicaca. (no flights from Arequipa to La Paz).
We´d heard that Copacabana was a good rest stop, but discovered that it´s just the continuation of the Gringo Trail. All the backpackers and travelers passing from or to Peru make the pitstop here to take the daytrip to the sacred Island of the Sun, birthplace of the first Incas. Here is where we experienced our first impression of the disparity in the tourism industry between Peru and Bolivia. We booked the day trip by boat to the island in the morning. Once on the boat, we realized it was over capacity, with not much in the way of safety standards. Before the boat left the harbor, we hopped off. About 20 minutes later, we boarded an empty boat with 2 Germans who were late (there´s an hour
Viewpoint of the Canyon
The condors are flying near here
time difference when you cross the border into Bolivia). Both Dennis and he started talking about the Burning Man Festival in Nevada as the guy had been many times and Dennis was curious about it. About 20 minutes into our trip, this boat married us up with the boat that we had originally hopped off! Anyways, just a very dis-organized experience. Not to mention the electric shower head fixture in our hotel! This was just a tourist trap that really wasn´t worth the stop. Later, we wandered around town and found a parade with all the women wearing their local wear called Chullas, the full skirty, shawl and hat. Apparently when the Spaniards took over Bolivia, they forced all the indigenous people to adopt the Spanish clothing of the day, along with the bowler hats (originally intended for the men). Quite impressive. The following day we booked a ¨tourist bus¨ to take us to La Paz to continue our journey south. The bus was full of backpackers (yes, we have seen and met older travelers too) and all our luggage was loaded on top of the bus. After an hour of traveling, we were advised to disembark so that the
bus would cross a short passage over Lake Titicaca on a barge. All of us passengers were loaded on a small motor boat for the uneventful crossing to meet up with the bus on the other side.
We arrived in La Paz Tuesday at the end of the day. What a chaotic scene. It really reminds me of New York City, but vizualize it at 3500 meters or 11,500 feet above sea level. As all of us patiently wait for the luggage to be dropped from the roof of the bus, taxi drivers start stopping by to take us to our hotels. A bit disorienting at first. After a few days, we´ve adjusted to the pace and we´ve firmed up some plans. We´ll take a mountain bike trip tomorrow and stay a few nights at our biking destination in the subtropical valley town called Corioco. Looking forward to the heat. We have also booked a 5 day trip to the National Park Madidi to explore the the jungle at the Chalalan Lodge in early August. In the meantime we´re thinking of visiting Potosi before we eventually pick up the train south into Argentina.
We´ve explored a few museums and continue
to be amazed at the textiles. That´s our one downfall.
We continue to have good meals and have avoided getting sick. We´re aware of our surroundings when we´re out and about, so we sense that any bad experiences had by travellers were by those not aware, and did not take normal precautions. We´ve had very positive experiences here. Just imagine, in Arequipa we left a restaurant by cab and Dennis realized he´d forgotten his jacket. We told the driver to go around the block to go back to the restaurant. At the intersection just before the restaurant, we find the waiter standing on the curb waiting and holding the jacket for us! Amazing.
Enough rambling, Hope all is well with everyone. Thanks so much for all your comments as we really enjoy hearing from everyone. Catch up with you on our next leg. Nancy&Dennis
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