After the Inca Trail we were given two days to relax in Cuzco, very necessary after four days without sleeping and washing. The first day, the 29th March, we did very little, finding the energy only to get ourselves a massage each - £5 for a 1 hour full body massage! Other than that we had a very relaxing day and in the evening treated ourselves to a gourmet meal at Fallen Angel, a lovely restaurant where we were given balloon hats to wear and our table was a bath tub with goldfish swimming inside! Afterwards we met the rest of the GAP group for a few drinks, though this turned into a big night out of dancing, complete with Carina dancing on the bar!
The next day we were feeling more energetic and so we managed to explore the city pretty thoroughly by foot - we have often enjoyed walking aimlessly around places just to get a feel for them. Most of the group were feeling pretty hungover, but the two of us enjoyed spending time wandering around Cuzco, enjoying the fine weather and quaint art shops. We had a night bus to Arequipa to look forward to in
the evening, so it was good to stretch our legs. The night bus turned out to be a nightmare because the air-conditioning was broken, so we arrived in Peru's second largest city at 6am feeling sticky and exhausted as it was too hot to sleep. The bus was also a very strange experience as before boarding we were made to give our fingerprints, and were filmed as we boarded - apparently this was so we could be identified if the bus crashes - but this did not fill us with the most confidence leaving on a 9 hour journey!
After arriving we (Chris!) had a quick nap before heading out for some breakfast and to explore Arequipa. The highlight of this city without question is the beautiful Santa Catalina convent, former home to hundreds of nuns and still in use today. Its colourful streets and historical buildings were both spiritual and functional - it really was a religious 'town within a town'. Arequipa's main other draw is the Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon on earth (although this seemed up for debate), a four hour drive away. So on the following day, April 1st, we made our way there.
The journey itself was another one of South America's fantastic drives - from 2300m to near 5000m, passing several volcanoes and herds of alpaca. The town we were staying in, Coporaque, was situated in a rich green valley an hour from the canyon itself. We arrived at our hotel to a huge buffet lunch on which we slightly gorged ourselves - why have one alpaca steak when you can have three?! A short walk up a nearby hill helped lunch go down, though while the view from the top was superb the surroundings were macabre: sacrifices were made here long ago and many human bones are still present.
The next day we headed to the Colca Canyon early so that we could see the condors (vulture-like birds) gliding and swooping along the edge of the cliffs. The sight of these gigantic birds against the backdrop of the canyon was very impressive. The Colca Canyon is perhaps not as spectacular as the Fish River or Grand Canyons, but it was still an incredible landscape and very different from those mentioned above; the rainy season brings vegetation to the cliffs, giving it a deep green colour. In the evening we went
to a restaurant featuring more traditional Peruvian dancing, though this one had added weirdness as a man in a bizarre mask started grabbing people from the audience, laying them on the floor and whipping them! Carina found him very scary - Chris just laughed!
The next day we headed back to Arequipa, arriving at 11am with another night bus ahead of us. The day in Arequipa was mostly spent looking around the handicraft markets, which were refreshingly varied and rather good. Thankfully the bus was nice and cool this time, (although we still got filmed!) so we both managed to sleep before arriving at our next destination, Nazca. After a month at high altitude we were finally heading back down!
Nazca is a small, dusty town near the coast which attracts thousands of tourists every year for one reason: the Nazca lines. Hundreds of years ago the Nazca people carved huge shapes in to the ground, from whales to giant hummingbirds. It is not known exactly why they did this, though they are believed to be some sort of calendar and spiritual appreciation. Whatever the reason, they are both bizarre and brilliant.
The best way to see
the lines is from the air, so five of our group decided to risk life and limb to take a small, seven-seater propeller plane to get the perfect view. Although we were jealous that the other nine of our group were relaxing in the hotel's pool, flying over the lines was an exhilarating (and slightly scary!) experience. We had heard that 2 out of every 5 people throw up during the flight (which itself brought a new meaning to the word 'turbulence'!), but luckily the five in our plane kept eveything down. That wasn't through lack of effort on the part of the pilot though - he was ducking and diving at every opportunity!
After the flight we met the rest of the group for lunch, which had been prepared by a local shaman and cooked using heated stones underground. A different culinary experience, but some of the best food we'd eaten! From here it was back to the hotel and a night of drinks by the pool. A quick tip: don't play drinking games when there is a pool nearby - you will only end up wet!
The next day we began the trip up the coast
to Lima, where our GAP tour would be ending, though there were still plenty of things to get up to before then...
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