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Published: August 12th 2013
Cathedral, Plaza de Armas
The journey from Nasca to Arequipa was a 9 hour night bus, very comfortable seating but such a winding road that we couldn´t sleep. We arrived at 7.30am went straight for breakfast before checking into our hostel. Arequipa is a lovely city, over 800,000 people making this the second largest in Peru, it still has a small feel to it. A lovely main plaza filled with trees surrounded by the Cathedral and colonial buildings fronted by arched walkways, it has a nice atmosphere and feels safe. Surrounded by Volcanoes it also has some lovely views around the city.
There is a wonderful monestery, Santa Catolina, not far from the plaza. For over 400 years it has housed nuns and still does today. We did a night time visit as they light the old nuns cells and Little chapels by candle light, it was really beautiful and peaceful. It takes up a whole block in the city, has 3 cloisters and feels like a rabbit Warren.
There is a museum here which houses "Juanita" the 500 year old body of a 12 year old girl, sacrified by the Inca to apease the mountain god of Volcano Ampato. She was found
by accident when climbers went on an expedition up the Volcano to take photos durring a minor erruption which melted the snow. Her tomb had collapsed due to volcanic vibrations and her body tumbled down the crater. Since her discovery 18 more child sacrifices have been discovered in mountain tombs, all wearing the same ceremonial clothing and killed the same way by a blow to the right temple, all were during the Inca period and found all over thier territory. Juanita was a particularly special find due to her excellent condition with all internal organs intact. Researchers have found out that she would have been given an intoxicating drink before she was killed, and are still studying her now. She would have been chosen at birth for sacrifice and the high priest would have waited for a big natural disaster to use her. They know this because all the children were buried with thier umbilical cords, saved from their birth for the day of their death. An eerie place to visit seeing her in her frozen display case, and at the same time morbidly interesting.
Arequipa is the perfect place to base yourself for visiting the Colca Canyon, we
decided to go with an organised trekking company. We were picked up at 3.45am and went on a 3 hour bus ride to the village of Chivay for breakfast, then on to the Cruz del condor look out point to see the most wonderful birds soaring high above the mountains, they come up from deep within the valley and soar overhead on their way up to the clouds, a wonderful sight of these very rare birds that was the highlight of this excursion. They have a wingspan of 3.2 meters, and are amongst the worlds longest living birds making it to 70 years in captivity. They start breeding at about 5 or 6 years and lay eggs every two years, adults mate for life and share the incubation and rearing of the chick, which stays with the adults until it is 2 years old. They truly are huge weighing between 11 to 15kg, and standing between 100 to 130cm tall. There are many breeding, education and conservation programs throughout the andes, so there is hope that future generations will be able to enjoy the presence of this majestic bird.
A short bus ride and we arrived at the start
point for the trek. We set off on foot at about 11am after a safety briefing on what to do in the event of a land slide (put your bag over your head and shelter against the rock face!). I did not realise how unstable the canyon was and had I known, would not have gone treking here. There was an earthquake whilst we were walking and a village not far away lost 2 houses (fortunatly no one was hurt), there was also a land slide about 100 meters away from where we were staying for the night.
The walk itself was gruelling. It was only 6km, desending for 1km, and it killed us! The heat of the mid day sun was so intense and the constant down hill hurt out toes and knees. The ground was hard going too, either stone steps very steep and uneven covered in a light dust making them very slippery, or loose gravelly ground that was so light it just gave way under your feet till you end up sliding down. We were so tired and dusty when we finally arrived at the Sangalle Oasis, relieved also to have got there in one
piece. A cold shower and a hot meal later and we felt great, Mark chilled out in front of the pool with mules grazing around him and I went off for a well earned siesta.
The next morning we set off at 5am for the same journey in reverse. Another intense hike only this time before breakfast! Wow were we hungry once we reached the top (and a bit jelous of the people who had hired mules!). Back on the bus we stoped at a few view points of the Canyon after breakfast, one had some good examples of "Colcas" which are old Inka storage units, used either for the harvest or for keeping mummies. Then it was onto the best part of the day, hot springs. Over the most wobbly string bridge I have ever crossed to get to some lovely natural springs set up along a river side.
We had a wonderful buffet lunch back in Chivay before heading up to 4900 meters to see an aray of volcanoes including Ampato where Juanita was found. Then a 3 hour journey back to Arequipa, tired but happy.
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