Amazing Perú (part 3/3)

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August 13th 2018
Published: August 13th 2018
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After a long day we arrived in Puno just before sunset. The city lies at an altitude of 3800m at the shores of Titicaca Lake and has around 150 000 inhabitants. The Titicaca Lake is the only reason why I visited Puno. The city itself doesn't offer that much to visitors and I wouldn't say it's a pretty city, but the highest commercially navigable lake in the world is what attracts visitors! The Titicaca Lake covers an area of 8372 square kilometres, bordering both Perú and Bolivia. The next day we took a tour over the lake; we departed early and it was still pretty cold! We left Puno's harbour by boat and made our first stop at one of the many floating islands on the lake. The Uros indians live here and on the island we got a good insight about how the community lives and survives, and how they make the islands. The islands have their own churches, schools etc and these people have been living on these islands for over 700 years. The Uros population on the islands in Perú is estimated at around 2000 and the amount has been declining, since the majority of the youngsters who go study on the mainland, do not go back. They islands are completely made of reed, all dried up and bundled together. They often have to be "re-filled" or re-adjusted, when the surfaces starts sinking a little bit. At times I could see some water coming up when stepping on the reed floor. It was a unique experience to be on the islands and hear all about them, from locals themselves.

We travelled further over the lake and made it to the much further Taquile island. This little island is not a floating, reed-island like the other ones, it's a rock in the lake. It has no more than 2800 inhabitants, a primary school, a secondary school and a medical centre. We arrived at a pier, from where we had to climb a long set of stairs. I took my time, went slowly while I was enjoying the views because we were at almost 4000m and didn't want to get out of breath or feel sick. Once up we got to a little square in an area that functions as the little centre of the isle. Around the area there are some basic shops, also souvenir-shops offering the different hand-made textile products and clothes which the locals are known for. We walked further across the village, along some agricultural fields and went for lunch. After this we made it back to the boat and headed towards Puno. Once in Puno we went into town for dinner, wandered around the Mercado Central area, Pino Square and the "Lima" which is the main shopping street. The plan was to leave early the next day, but because there was a football game on which Jurick didn't want to miss, we stayed longer in Puno and left late afternoon towards Arequipa, arriving there by midnight.

Arequipa is Perú's second largest city with about 900 000 inhabitants, flanked by the volcanoes El Misti (5822m) and Chachani (6057m). Both can clearly be seen from Mirador El Carmen, a nice viewpoint just outside the city centre worth visiting. There is also a cool zipline there, but unfortunately we were just too late for that. The city was established in 1540 on an altitude of about 2300m, therefore it's a relatively cool city year round. That is an important reason why many Europeans established themselves in Arequipa in the past. Arequipa is also called the "Rome of the Americas" because of its many churches. The main square, Plaza de Armas, is surrounded by historical buildings and the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. Originally opened in 1656, it was partially destroyed by earthquakes several times. The last time was in 2001, when one of the towers collapsed. Most of Arequipa's historical city centre is built using white, volcanic sillar stones. Therefore it is also known as the "white city". Even though sillar could have a pink, beige or black colour too, white was mostly used. The cathedral has one of second largest organ in South America, made in Belgium in 1854. We joined the so called "free walking tour" in Arequipa too, which started at the Plaza de Armas. Definitely worth it and, just like we did in Lima, it gives you a much better insight about the city. Not far from Plaza Mayor you find the Andean baroque style church "Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús", built in the 17th century. The decorations on the façade includes the "cantuta", which is the national flower of Perú, and masks of the Andean culture. Adjacent to the church you find its so-called "claustro" (cloister), a secluded religious site used as a school for the elite in the past. The tour also took us to a "tambo" called "Tambo del Matadero". Originally tambo's were used as structures where travelling people could rest and also barter when travelling long distances. After arrival of railroads around 1870, they were converted into residential structures. Of course we had lunch once at the Mercado Central de Arequipa at the best prices. I love markets and always try to visit them.
I am not a huge fan of museums in general, except for when it's about something that really interests me. And it was the case with "Museo Santuarios Andinos" which features the body of the of Juanita. She was an Inca girl from the 15th century whose body was found in the mountains at an altitude of 6000m back in 1995. Her body was completely frozen for all those years thus was in "good condition" and I found it something very intriguing to see. Back in the 15th century she was killed as part of an Inca offering on the mountain as a 10 to 12 year old girl.
Another surprisingly interesting place, which I visited by myself since Jurick did not think it'd be worth it, was the historical convent "Convento Santa Catalina". Built in 1579, it once hosted about 450 women. It's completely secluded and is like a city within a city. Once a woman decided to go in there, they would never see their family-members again, ever! The place even hosts a cemetery where they were all buried. I wandered around the convent with its streets and alleys of this "city", also rich with many artworks. Nowadays not more than 20 nuns inhabit the convent. In Arequipa there is also an iron bridge over Rio Chili called Puente de Fierro or Puente Bolivar, built in 1882 by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the same engineer behind Eiffel tower in Paris.
There is a lot more in and around Arequipa, definitely worth a visit for about 3 to 4 days!

We left Arequipa for a two-day tour to the Colca Valley. Along the road we enjoyed the views of the beautiful landscape, often spotting llamas, vicuñas and alpacas during this 6 hour trip. Llamas and alpacas may look a bit the same, but they aren't. The vicuña looks more like a deer I'd say. Each vicuña produces around 150g of wool every three years and it's some of world's finest wool. Therefore clothes with vicuña wool are very expensive. In Perú they are all certified to indicate protection from the government.
The trip included a passage by 4900m which was the highest elevation we've been on our trip, and the second highest I have ever been to behind the top of the 5600m Cerro Toco in Chile back in July 2010. This time I managed it well and prepared myself with coca candies and tea before and during the trip. The Colca area has been inhabited by the Collagua and Cabana cultures, with their traditional colourful dresses, since pre-Inca times. The Wari culture came afterwards and conquered the area, teaching locals how to cultivate and making the first terraces for agriculture and also building roads and housing in small towns of 6000 to 7000 people. They suddenly disappeared around 1100, for unknown reasons (strong El Niño? Food shortage?) The Inca's came a few centuries later and not much changed; they built more terraces. But of course things changed after the Spaniards came in the 16th century, especially after they discovered silver.

We spent the night in the town of Chivay, located at 3635m with about 6000 inhabitants. Very quiet of course and laid back, it offers a few restaurants and accommodation catering for those visiting the valley. There are also options of hiking through the valley and staying much longer of course. Once we arrived and checked-in the hotel, we went to relax at the warm water-springs of "La Calera". The next day we went to a spectacular view-point above the Colca Canyon, with the many condors roaming around the area making it much more interesting! Here you can clearly see how erosion worked on the landscape for millions of years, "digging" a deep and steep valley.

Once back in Arequipa we boarded a night-bus towards Ica. There we changed onto a taxi that took us to Huacachina. Located in the Ica desert, this small town is located around a small oasis, surrounded by dunes and it doesn't have more than 100 permanent inhabitants. Wander through the oasis and enjoy its views, the water and the little boats, the palm-trees and the contrast between the tall, light-brown dunes on which the intense sunlight reflects and the blue sky. To me it looked a bit out of this world and surreal sometimes. The desert and its dunes form one of the main attractions of Huacachina: sand-boarding! You can't leave Huacachina without doing this. A wonderful experience full of adrenaline, where you either stand, sit or lay down on a board and you slide down along the slopes of the desert dunes. You won't want to miss the sunsets while doing sand-boarding, which are stunning! At night there are always bars or cafes open with some music and when we went out, there was real clubbing full of people! Before leaving Huacachina we took a tour to the Ballestas islands. We had to stop in Paracas, an ocean-side resort popular among Peruvians. There we boarded the fast boat towards the islets lying just off the coast. It felt pretty cold as we started early in the morning. We roamed along several of the islands with their unique rock-formations, also seals and penguins which can be seen from up close. Of course I couldn't leave the country without trying the famous "ceviche" which consists of fish with lime sauce, topped with onions and some corn and a piece of sweet potato on the side. I had this as an entry at our last lunch in Huacachina. Later we took the bus to Lima, where I met up with Cristobal, friend of my friend Marcial from Chile, who invited us to a barbecue. That was our last night in Perú and we departed early morning to Bogotá, where I also met with my friend Jesus David because we had a long lay-over there before continuing to Curaçao.

All by all, the trip was amazing and definitely among the best trips I've had. Travelling with one of my best friends also made it a great trip of course.
In the next blog-entry I'll be crossing the Atlantic. Stay tuned!

Additional photos below
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15th August 2018
Uros floating islands, Titicaca Lake

The floating islands
You could argue that the floating islands are a tourist trap. Personally I feel that they are a very intersting cultural phenomenon that you shouldn't miss if you are in the region. I loved them and found them very fascinating. Sad though that they, from what you say, might not be around much longer. At least not in the way they are now when people actually live there. 50 years from now it might be something that more resemples a theme park. It felt good to read your blog as usual. I miss Peru. /Ake
9th October 2018
Uros floating islands, Titicaca Lake

Thanks Ake! True, I did not see them as a tourist trap. I hope they can stay around for much, much longer. Let's see what will happen. Like you say, it may become something like a theme park over time..sadly enough.
16th August 2018
Uros floating islands, Titicaca Lake

Joys of the Lake
Loved the reed islands.
17th August 2018

Another Good Read!
Have enjoyed following your interesting blogs on your trip to Peru. You seem to have seen it all! Great photos once again!
9th October 2018

Thank you!! Yet there is so much more to see in Peru, hope to get back one day!!

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