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Published: November 28th 2010
Actually they might be alpacas I'm not absolutely sure, how about 'Awesome Alpacas'?
After a hectic two week whizz around Peru and a few near death experiences I've made it back from the darkest jungles of Peru and my first foray to the South American continent, bear with me, it could be a long tale.
I'd always wanted to fly over London on the 5th November to see all the fireworks displays and so the journey to Peru began on the 5th, sadly first thing in the morning and there were no fireworks to see. A quick hop over to Amsterdam and myself and mi amiga Escocia, Maureen, got on the flight to Lima and settled in for the long haul. All was going well until the mean Dutch air hostesses seemed to think three drinks were more than enough on such a long flight. And I used to like the Dutch so much. Still we landed at Lima airport ready to face all that South America had to throw at us.
First bit of fun as we collected our luggage was the random button pushing exercise as you left the airport, everyone had a go and if you got red you got searched again, what fun, I got green and passed
Yeah, yeah, it's a jungle out there
Flying over the rivers and oxbow lakes of the Amazon, just think of all the nasty spiders in there, yuck.
through to find the first of many people from our tour company
holding up a 'Mary Jane' sign, seems my surname got lost along the way and while in South America I was going to be Mary Jane for the duration.
Driving to our hotel took us through the more salubrious parts of Lima such as Callao and then we arrived in Miraflores for the day. The coast around Lima seemed to be a rather muddle affair with lots of muddy looking cliffs, one big rain storm and it looks a bit like it might be washed away.
Miraflores is one of the posher parts of town and we just had time to spend the morning walking around the area before catching the bus to Nazca. Within the first half an hour of walking around it was soon that we would have ample chances to purchase any number of woolly hats, I managed to resist temptation. We took in the highlights of Kennedy park and Huaca Pucllana, a big mass of mud bricks built by the Wari people, pre-Inca types, they clearly don’t have PR as good as the Incas but then their bricks aren’t quite as impressive, kind
Keep heading west...
The Pacific ocean coast in Miraflores, Lima. Don't swim out too far, next landfall is probably Papua New Guinea!
of looked like a lump of mud in parts, I’m a heathen.
So after the limited Lima look it was time to catch the bus to Nazca to view the super famous lines. The days of sharing buses with chickens in Peru seem to have passed and now it was a nice air-conditioned, double-decker bus with lunch service, blankets and reclining seats and of course a toilet, but we were warned ‘only urination’ was allowed, nice. The seven hour journey took us on the pacific highway south towards Nazca, it’s pretty dry and brown all the way with the pacific beating the shore relentlessly, the view was lovely, just a shame about the pan-pipe music, it really doesn’t take long to get fed up of it.
Arriving in Nazca after dark didn’t allow us to fully appreciate the lovely hotel we were staying at although the restaurant did have some scary mannequins watching over you as you ate, looked a bit like something out of Dr Who, I’m sure I saw one move. The hotel was an old hacienda and was beautiful, peacocks roamed the grounds and bougainvillea adorned the buildings. It had an air of ‘faded glory’
Rebuilding an empire
I think the Incas might be back and this time they have wheelbarrows. Huaca Pucllana in Lima, Wari adobe buildings in the centre of town.
about the place and it was a shame we couldn’t spend anymore time there.
Still, time for an exciting trip over the Nazca lines, one of the great mysteries of the world, people still don’t really know why they are there but since the desert is so dry around Nazca, if you make a mark in the ground it stays for rather a long time. So off to the little airport to catch my Cessna and view this most amazing archaeological phenomenon. There is a strange first come, first serve system going on when you go to catch your flight so there was a couple of hours spent waiting to go up. By the time it was my turn I’d watched the documentaries being shown in the airport about three times and was well versed in the ways of the Nazca people. Time to see it all for myself and so I climbed in to the small six seater plane and braced for take off.
This was the smallest plane I’d ever been in and I wasn’t disappointed, it was so much fun, like being on a roller coaster, I loved it. You can really feel the twists
The grounds of our hotel in Nazca, a beautiful little place, wish we could have stayed longer
and turns and the pilots flew around and it was so bouncy, brilliant. Oh yeah, the lines were ok too, quite hard to see some of them and they were a bit smaller than I imagined they would be, but what fun in such a small plane!
Sadly the flight didn’t last that long and it was time to catch another bus to Arequipa, only ten hours this time, still we did have a game of Bingo although I wasn’t much good at it as my Spanish is a little poor but it was a good distraction from the twists and turns of the cliff coast road, like the Kraken of the deep, my vertigo was awakened from it’s slumber…
Arequipa is known as the ‘White city’ as many buildings are build from the white volcanic rock ‘Sillar’ which abounds in this volcanic region. The main square or ‘Plaza de Armas’ as they all seem to be called in Peru, has a beautiful cathedral and colonnades built of this stone, all in Spanish colonial style. The city is 3810m above sea level (get out the Coco tea) and surrounded by some beautiful volcanoes, making you feel like you
This is your Captain speaking...
Living it up in first class luxury, where's my G+T?
are really in the Andes.
The ‘El Misti’ looms large over the city and has a symmetrical cone, it quickly became elevated to the dizzy heights top of ‘Mary’s favourite volcano’ list, but since I’ve only really seen Mt Fuji and this, there isn’t a lot of competition. The day was spent exploring the churches and squares of the white city and the evening was spent exploring the delights of Pisco sours, yummy!
One of the museums contains ‘Juanita – The Ice Maiden’, the mummified body of a young Incan girl who was sacrificed to the mountain Gods around 1440 AD on a nearby volcano, Ampato. Along with other ‘chosen’ children, they were given to the mountains after a series of volcanic eruptions in an attempt to appease the Gods, and kids today think they have issues! Still her life wasn’t forgotten, she now sits in a tiny freezer for our education.
Another big highlight of Arequipa is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which was founded in 1580 by a rich Spanish widow. Like a small village itself, you can wander around for a couple of hours and take far too many pictures as I did. It
The so called 'Spaceman' in the Nazca lines, I actually managed to get a half decent picture of this one.
was very pretty though, seems the nuns didn’t have it too bad, lots of room for guinea pig storage in the kitchens.
Ah guinea pigs, the curse of the guinea pigs, revenge of the guinea pigs, call it what you will, but just don’t eat one. Knowing that the guinea pig, or Cuy as the locals call it, was a bit of a speciality of Peru, I thought I’d better try one. Big mistake. I ordered a deep fried one for lunch and on its arrival its head was still attached and it was grinning at me. I attempted to eat some but there wasn’t much on it and it was rather stringy, not very appetizing at all.
Generally the food wasn’t much to write home about, unsurprisingly there are lots of potatoes on the menu but if you go to the local cafes you can get the ‘menu’ for about 5 soles (£1) which consists of a meat and potato soup, some meat with rice and chips and a bit of cake. This seems to be very popular all around Peru along with chicken and chips, they love their fried chicken.
The next morning it was
Not my finest photographic hour, but you get the idea
up early and off to a small town called Chivay in preparation of our trek down the Colca canyon. The route from Arequipa took us over the high Altiplano and theough the Pampas de Cañihuas national park behind the beautiful El Misti which looked amazing towering over the plateau. Plenty of wildlife is to be seen in the park, vicunas roam wild while the locals farm the alpacas and llamas. Flamingos also hang out with the llamas and also some Peruvian ducks which were highly prized by the Incas. The road continues up until it’s peak at about 4800m where you can take in the view of about 6 or 7 volcanoes (and pass out if you can’t take the altitude as one woman did), if only one would erupt, it would have been spectacular.
We arrived in Chivay at the start of the Colca valley which then becomes the Colca canyon, Chivay is famous for some hot springs which bubble up from the volcanic depths at about 38C, there is a choice of indoor and outdoor pools, but one quick sniff at the indoor pool and the sulphurous aroma soon drove us outside. Dinner that evening was a
Not even sure what this is
Half a spider perhaps? There are some lines anyway
folk dancing affair; one particular one involved a man in a strange white face mask, a poisoned piece of fruit and some whipping, bizarre.
An early start the next day to trek down the Colca canyon, but first it was a quick stop at the Cruz del Condor at one of the higer points of the canyon. The Colca valley has many agricultural terraces which slowly disappear as the sides of the valley get steeper and it beomes the canyon, the condor cross allows the birds to soar close to the canyon walls on thermals and is a popular stopping point for the tourists. Sadly we’d picked the wrong time of year and there weren’t many around but I did see a couple, just didn’t manage to photograph one. Then our guide called us over and we were off for our trek down the sides of the canyon. We were given a new guide, Jesus, who asked how we were doing, I wasn’t doing well, hadn’t slept and suffering guinea pig revenge, I wasn’t on top form, but I soldiered on, what a hero and anyway there would be a mule to carry my heavy back pack wouldn’t there!
Down the road
Hours on the bus and the scenary doesn't change much, the sparse coast of Peru.
No, there wouldn’t.
We started out trek just outside the small town of Cabanaconde and as the sun beat down we headed over the edge of the canyon. The paths were quite easy at first, wide and relatively flat and the only thing to worry about was the height of the drops on one side. As the morning progresses though we got to what the Peruvians do best, steep, winding rocky paths. But since it was downhill it wasn’t too bad and we made it down the canyon in a respectable time, the condors weren’t going to be feasting on us that day. At the bottom of a small canyon we stopped for a rest and were promised lunch was only 20 minutes away, just a small walk up a little hill. I’d forgotten about the altitude, going down was ok but the shock of trying to go up hill at that altitude and in my weakened condition, it nearly finished me off at one point. Deep breaths.
After lunch there was only three more hours to go, one hour up (groan) and then it was a lot easier after that. The trek takes you through some small
Coco tea to get you up those big mountain, and yes it's legal!
villages which can only be reached on foot or mule up and down the canyon sides; I was suddenly appreciating the joys of the tube system. The locals must be so fit. And finally after a good 6 hour trek we found our oasis for the night in Sangalle, a few small hotels clustered at the bottom of the valley. Ii was a pleasant site after the days trekking, although I was a bit surprised when I saw our hut, made of bamboo and with a dirt floor. Hmm, not my usual standard, how would I sleep? What if there were spiders? Turns out I would sleep extremely well and took to the rough living easily.
Before we’d retired for the evening we decided that instead of doing the three hours straight up the next morning, we’d hire some mules and ride up the canyon instead, it only takes two hours, should be a breeze. At 6am we arrived at the mule station and were quickly loaded on to our respective steeds and off we went, with Jesus in our mule train I was hopeful all would be well. I hadn’t bargained for the annoying donkey who was behind
Colonial influences at work in the white city
my mule and upsetting him rather a lot but then the donkey went ahead and slowed us all down. The mule guide behind me then started up with ‘Mule! Mule!’ to chivvy them along, with the odd ‘Burro! Burro!’ thrown in for good measure. This didn’t really help my confidence as we only had a saddle to hold on to but the mules seemed to know where they were going but as we climbed the path got narrower, steeper and rockier, I really would have been condor fodder if I came off. This really was a white knuckle ride and one of the scarier things I’ve ever done. Mule! Mule! Luckily I managed to stay on all the way and as we rode over the top onto the flats it felt good to be alive, I was a bit hyper with adrenaline! Try it one day, I dare you.
With my new appreciation of life it was back to Arequipa and then off to Cuzco for a few days. The flight was entertaining, we took off from Arequipa, flew for 30 minutes, landed at Juliaca and then took off again for another 30minute flight, their planes are like buses.
Those handy volcanoes
Providing the characteristic white stone for Arequipa, pretty stuff.
The plane flew down through the valley into Cuzco, but not that far as it’s at 3400m, and it was Inca time! The old capital of the Incan empire there was a lot of history to get your head around here. The main square has a combination of Spanish colonial churches and cathedrals and lots of buildings built on the foundations of many Incan palaces. It is easy to spot the old Incan foundations, the walls are put together like jigsaw puzzles and are incredible strong having survived many earthquakes, sadly not the Spanish colonials, I’m not a big fan of catholic church interiors, all a bit gordy for my liking.
The San Blas area of Cuzco creeps up the hill behind the main square and gives you a great view over the city and of course ample shopping opportunities or tour opportunities. I hadn’t expected it to be quite as touristy as it was but it is still very pretty and if you head the other side of the main square you soon lose the backpackers. There is a good reason for such a lot of visitors which we were to find out the next morning, the lost
La Compania cloisters
If you have a burning desire for baby alpaca products this is your place, it's all they seem to sell.
city of the Incas, Macchu Picchu (cue Indiana Jones theme!). Another early start and we caught the train to MP and headed off down the scared valley. The region around Cuzco is very fertile and we passed many farms as the train went down the valley, at one point it is too steep and the train had to go downhill through a series of clever switchbacks. The scenery began to changes as the train went further in to the valley and as we reached the town of Ollayantayambo the mountains dominated the valley. Here is where the hikers start the Inca trail but the train was a little more relaxed. By the time we arrived at MP we were deep in the cloud forest and it was feeling a lot warmer and a short bus ride up the hill and the impressive city came in to view. Situated precariously on the top of the mountain the place did not disappoint, yet again a head for heights is a handy thing to have as it has some very steep cliff edges on both sides. After ditching our tour group we took a walk around to the Inca bridge where you have
In the shadow of the angry mountains
Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, with the beautiful Misti volcano quietly brooding away in the background
to sign in an out since someone had an unfortunate fall off it a few years ago and then took at look at the Inca trail where the treks come in. Walking around all the buildings was incredible, they were such good builders and then when you think of the location it is even more impressive, I’ll let the pictures do the talking on this one. The way home wasn’t so great as the train was delayed for an hour but after serving dinner the staff disappeared behind a curtain and then suddenly started a fashion show which was most amusing, especially as the guy didn’t really look like he was enjoying his role as a supermodel.
Back to Cuzco and then the final leg of our journey was to head off in to the Amazon, spider alert!
We took the bus like plane to Pueto Maldonado about 45mins flight from Cuzco and as soon as you pass over the mountains it’s green, all green. After the previous landscapes it was a pleasant change to see the green and of course it was humid, cue frizzy hair! Our lodge was a bus and boat ride away and within half
The cathedral basking in the late spring sunshine with my favourite volcano looking on
an hour of arrival I’d seen my first monkey. We were staying in a lodge called Posada Amazonas which is part owned by the local community of Infierno (so called since the Spanish thought the place was hell) so it ticked all the eco-friendly boxes. We arrived at the port and got on the boat ready for our first Amazonian boat trip along the river Tambapoto, what fun and even lunch served in a banana leaf!
Arriving at the lodge and it was a ten minute walk to the lodge so I was on spider alert but they were clearly having a day off, but the trees and plants were amazing and the forest was very much alive with noises. After I got over the initial shock of only having three walls for the bedroom and no electricity we went on the first activity which was a jungle walk and canopy tower, yep, more heights. The tower was about 120ft up and swayed a bit in the wind but gave fantastic views over the tree tops, it’s all green. There was plenty to see though, hawks, parrots and monkeys and of course the huge Brazil nut trees, don’t stand
Evil! Evil! Evil!
I wish I'd had a guinea pig as a pet then my 'pet rule' would have been followed, but like a fool I tried it, never, ever again...
under one in February though, it might hurt. After the sun went down it was torch time as there wasn’t any electricity and armed with wind up torches, post dinner it was time for another jungle walk. I’d spider-proofed myself with a cagoule and tucked in trousers and headed off winding away. It wasn’t long until the first spider alert, I chose to stand well away and didn’t look, then we found a tree frog. Eek, next we came across a tarantula, I was very brave and actually managed to look at it, but when it went in its hole, the guide started poking it with a stick, I almost felt sorry for it, almost.
On return to the lodge there wasn’t much else to do but have an early night, it was quite cosy in the mosquito net and the room was lit only with oil lamps and candles. The sound of the chirping insects was quite relaxing and it wasn’t too long before I drifted off to sleep. Once dawn arrives you are soon awoken by the Howler monkey chorus, if you didn’t know what they were you might be a little shocked, they sound like some
Santa Catalina convent
Those nuns had a good thing going
kind of monster, like a blow torch is probably the best way I can describe them, but they aren’t half loud at that time. We were supposed to be going on a walk about 5am but as the rain had come, we got to stay in bed, well it is a rain forest after all. The morning activity was to visit an oxbow lake and do a bit of Piranha fishing, so we got on the boat had a nice walk through the forest and then got on another boat, a human powered on this time. It was still raining and we all got rather wet but it was nice and steamy in the jungle and so not too much of a problem. The wildlife included a Cayman alligator (don’t poke with a stick, they snap), many birds and then we stopped for the piranha fishing. I didn’t manage to catch one, they are sneaky buggers but a few on the boat did. They are mainly vegetarians so the tales of them eating people are not really very accurate, it was fun to see them though. In the afternoon after a poor attempt to dry out we went to visit
Artsy shot #1
I went a bit crazy with the camera in the convent...
the local Shaman and took a tour of some of the medicines on offer from the jungle plants. There were some great plants, ones which made you hands go purple and the natural novocaine, chew the leaf and your mouth went numb, medicinal chemistry in action!
Sadly the time in the jungle was all too short, I could have spent a lot more time there, even with all those spiders and it was back to the airport and back to the UK, boo. Four flights and 24 hours later it adios Peru and hola London. Peru was an excellent place to visit and makes me want to see a whole lot more of South America, I will certainly be going back at some point although I may give the guinea pig a miss next time.
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