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Published: December 31st 2009
Ladies queuing at the bank for their buisness initiative hand outs
As we sit down to breakfast in Puno there's an enormous queue of large skirted and bowler hatted ladies outside the bank. Most are in red skirts but there are a few rebels in blue or green. After a brief conversation with someone in a uniform they all go running off down the road. 10 minutes later they all come running back again. Turns out its business credit pay day but only women are eligible so they are queueing for their handouts. It makes a very colourful and entertaining start to the day. Edwin is packed off again, this time onto a reed boat to visit the floating Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca - his assessment “its ok - bit strange walking on something not firmly attached to the ground”. Out of curiosity we also visit Yavari - a iron steam ship built in the UK in 1862. The 1400 individual parts were shipped round Cape Horn to the port of Arica, moved inland by train then hauled over the Andes by mules to Lake Titicaca where they were re-assembled and used by the Peruvian Navy - it took 6 years.
From Puno its another 400 miles of altiplano to
Chivay in the Colca Canyon and onto Arequipa.. Guess what? - yes more llamas, nice lighting, streams, mountains etc. etc. but also exciting new things: volcanoes, sea gull (yes Andean gulls at 4000m, miles away from the sea) and we hit our highest point so far 4885m - luckily neither of us are particularly affected by the altitude, some of the others are struggling quite a bit. We also get to ride along the worst road of the whole trip - in theory its a tarmac road but there is so little solid tarmac left its impossible to avoid the endless string of potholes. We have been on dirt roads that were far easier to ride than this. Edwin always stands up on dirt roads but this one is so bad that even I have to stand up.
Colca Canyon is full of Inca and pre-Inca terracing that is still farmed today. A narrow dirt road runs its length through tiny villages all with large colonial churches. Its 3191m deep which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and you are riding right along the edge so some of the drops are quite spectacular. The ladies
a British built iron ship on Lake Titicaca
here are in quite different outfits; pale skirts and bonnets totally covered in embroidery and they are genuine outfits, we see ladies working in the field's in them. Due to the steep sides and depth of the canyon its a favourite haunt for condors. If you stand in the right place you can watch them rising on the morning thermals. Initially they are way, way down below you circling round and round gradually rising until they are at eye level and then suddenly way up above you just tiny dots in the sky - and all without flapping their enormous wings which span 3m.
Nevado Mismi (5597m) - the source of the Amazon should be round here somewhere. Its one of the highest points of the Colca Canyon and should be at the point where the condors fly. Frustratingly I cant make out which one it is and there is nothing to help me. There are plenty of signs telling me llamas are going to leap out in front of me, the name and length of the bridge I'm about to cross but nothing to point out the source of the Amazon!! There should be its far more touristy
a sudden, violent, hail storm left us very wet and the streets covered with 2 inches of hial stones.
than it was when I was last here 16 years ago and arrested for plotting to overthrown the government of Peru - but that's another story.
Heading towards Arequipa the landscape changes and becomes more volcanic with cacti populating the ancient lava flows. Arequipa is surrounded by volcanoes and built from sillar, an off-white volcanic rock that dazzles in the sun - hence its nick-name of 'The White City'. It still has lots of colonial buildings and the wonderful Santa Catalina convent Its more like a little village than a convent. The nuns, mostly the second daughters of rich Spanish families, had quite comfortable shared houses complete with servants and very nice possessions. Its all painted in Mediterranean colour with pots of geraniums everywhere. Its a real haven of peace and tranquillity with lots of benches tucked away in corners where you can sit quietly and watch the humming birds. Juanita, the ice princess, is also in Arequipa. Over 500 years ago she was sacrificed at the summit of Mt Ampato (6310m) by the Incas. Several other child sacrifices were found nearby all buried with lavish clothing and golden charms.
From Arequipa we head back down to the
coast. On this side of Arequipa there's no altiplano, as soon as we are out of the city we are back in the desert. As we approach the coast there should be a sharp drop down to sea-level but confusingly we seem to be heading towards mountains - then suddenly we realise its not mountains it's the coastal fog which we plunge into and arrive back down in the true desert with the old familiar sand dune and chicken sheds. Soon we're passing a big sign thanking us for visiting Peru and that's it we are at the border with Chile. Peru might have been a bit rough around the edges and full of tourists but its has bags of culture, ancient civilisations, ruins, ladies in natty outfits all set in wonderful, vast landscapes.
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