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Published: April 12th 2008
Post card shot
We started our exploration of Peru in the capital Lima, a metropolis of almost 8 million people, and like much of Latin America has obvious and sharp contrasts between the rich and poor. We settled in Miraflores, a wealthy suburb full of restaurants, shopping malls with a view over the Pacific Ocean from the exclusive shopping and restaurant area Larcomar
, and spent a few days seeing what Lima has to offer.
We visited the Unesco World Heritage centre of Lima which houses the traditional Plaza de Armas
, the Catedral de Lima
and the Presidential Palace, all on a much grander scale than the Central Parks we had seen in Central America. We walked to the Plaza San Martin
to see a large statue of San Martin. A smaller figurine included on the statue is Madre Patria with a llama placed on her head. The legend says that there was some confusion with the instructions for the statue that were received from Spain, apparently they wanted a crown of flames on her head but the word for ´flame´ in Spanish is the same as that of the animal.
The largest museum in Lima was unfortunately closed for renovation whilst we
were in Lima but we did manage to see the Museo del Tribunal de la Santa Inquisicion
which is housed in the same building that the Inquisitions actually took place and they show some examples of the kind of torture that were used at the time. The ´Gold Museum of Peru´ housed in the cliff-top shopping centre Larcomar
was beautiful and showed Incan gold works from all over Peru.
After enjoying the cosmopolitan lifestyle for a few days we decided to head out into the desert to the oasis town of Huacachina. We arrived at night and our hostal was offering a wine and pisco tasting tour leaving immediately, so we hopped in dune buggies with most of the other guests in the hostal, who strangely enough were almost all Israeli, and went off to sample some of the local produce. Wine produced in the Ica region is almost unbearably sweet and the pisco was extremely strong - so the night ended in attempted salsa lessons from some of the locals before our drivers raced the dune buggies back to the hostal.
The next morning we were quite surprised to see our surroundings, we were completely surrounded by
Lima - Inca gold Museum
Figurine made by the Inca's
enormous sand dunes. We hadn´t been able to see them in the dark, but the small town of Huacachina which is centred around a lagoon is dwarfed by the dunes on all sides. We climbed the dunes to have a look at the view and to watch some of the sand boarding attempts. The following day we went into Ica to see their regional museum which has a lot of information from the three different cultures from the region. It had a great number of ceramics and textiles from the different cultures but the most startling displays were those of the mummies, trophy heads and trepanned skulls that had been found in the region. There was a room of mummies, skulls and bones in differing states of decay. The trepanned skulls are skulls with enlarged craniums, it was a practice that is not completely understood, but it was done to babies by tying wood to the sides of their head to change the direction of growth. It could have been a practice used to distinguish people from a higher social order but it is not certain.
The afternoon was a completely different experience from the morbidity of the museum.
We went on a sand boarding/dune buggy trip through the desert and it was crazy! Al and I sat in the front of the buggy while he flew over sand dunes and they generally tried to terrify us. We stopped twice to do some sand boarding. The first three dunes were good fun but not too scary, but the following three dunes were huge. The two of us and two French people were the only people on the tour who opted for the larger dunes, and our driver scared us badly by saying that the third dune was incredibly large and that we would be going up to 90km an hour ¨so hold on tightly or you might die.¨ After the first two dunes we stood for awhile contemplating whether or not to attempt the third dune, eventually we decided to take the plunge and down we went - an incredible adrenaline rush! We also got to see the sunset over the desert and have a few more thrills in the dune buggy before returning to Huacachina.
The next day we headed to Nazca to see the mysterious Nazca lines. The lines were drawn over a period of about
800 years starting about 200BC and there are numerous theories as to their purposes, mostly the theories relate to astronomy, offerings to their Gods and the importance of water and water sources. We spent a few days in and around the town, hearing the theories relating to the purposes of the Nazca lines, going to the Maria Reiche Planetarium and seeing yet more mummies in the Cemetery of Chauchilla before going on an early morning flight over the lines which stretch for hundred of kilometres over the desert and are extremely impressive in scale and design. The flight takes only 40 minutes and you see some of the more famous figures such as the monkey, the hummingbird and the spider as well as numerous lines and geometrical shapes all over the desert floor. It was amazing.
From Nazca we took a night bus to Arequipa where we ended up wandering around the Plaza de Armas (central plaza) at about 8am looking for some breakfast or somewhere to stay. We bumped into Carla and her brother Johnny who have just opened a new hostal in Arequipa and have been trying to get it started, so we headed to ´The Koala
Lima - Madre Patria
A llama on her head you say... ok!
where we happily stayed for the next few days while looking around Arequipa. We also managed to help them a bit by writing blurbs for their website and giving them all the photos we had taken in Arequipa for them to use.
Whilst in Arequipa we checked out the Santa Catalina Convent, which was opened to the public in the 1970´s after four centuries of secrecy. The nuns that lived inside were not allowed to leave but were able to live at the standards they were acostomed to, most of them had servants, beautiful furniture and ate and drank what they pleased. The convent is over 2ha in the centre of Arequipa and is a beautiful maze of cobbled streets and courtyards.
We also went mountain biking on one of the mountains overlooking Arequipa called Chichani. We started at 4800m above sea level and dropped down to Arequipa at just above 2000 m. It was a beautiful ride down the mountain with Volcan El Misti to the side and seeing some vicuñas, the shyer, wild relatives of alpacas. Once Lara was safely stowed in the car (she decided to avoid the really hard part and more injuries
after her crashes in Guatemala), and Al no longer felt the need to ride alongside her, Al took off down the mountain even passing the guide and getting all excited about all the mountain biking possibilities in Bolivia.
We then spent a few more days wandering around Arequipa before heading to Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world at almost 3,200m deep. We took a bus to Cabanaconde with our group - two Italians, an American and our guide Roosevelt, and from there we hiked down into the canyon to one of the villages on the other side. It was a hard 2 day walk - the first day straight down and the second day back up again but the Canyon itself was beautiful and we got a great insight into the local lifestyle. There are no roads into the canyon so everything has to be carried into and out of the canyon on mules and the locals walk in and out regularly - an extremely tough life. There were tiny little women who were able to walk straight past us and not even break a sweat, which was quite embarrassing while we were huffing and puffing
our way out!
The morning after the climb back out, we got up early and headed to Cruz del Condor which is a lookout post for watching condors flying. It was extremely busy and for the first 40 minutes we barely got a glimpse of anything but just before we were about to leave the condors decided to put on a bit of a show and we saw numerous condors flying below and above the lookout. Al managed to take over 100 photos. After the amazing show we headed by bus to Chivay, but it broke down so we walked and then took minibuses to the hot springs where we soaked our aching muscles. And then back to Arequipa.
From Arequipa we took an overnight bus to Cuzco, another quaint colonial town with windy cobbled streets and the compulsory large number of churches, it is also the base town to visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, so there is plenty to see and do in and around Cuzco. We started off by looking around in the centre of the city and then went to the Sacred Valley. We saw the Incan ruins of Pisac
Lima - Inca gold Museum
Lara enjoying not reading spanish in a museum for once!
and Ollaytantambo which were both amazing. The following few days we spent wandering around the countryside outside Cuzco looking at the numerous ruins - Tambo Machay, Puka Pukara, Qénko and of course Sacsayhuaman, amazing Incan Ruins that use stones of a phenomenal size, some up to 130 tonnes. We also managed to celebrate Anzac Day - with an American, and Irishman and a German but we celebrated nonetheless!
Cuzco is not a bad place to spend time however we wanted to hike to Machu Picchu. A stomach bug prevented us from doing so, so we ended up catching the train to Aguas Calientes and spending 2 days at the ruins. We had 2 days of perfect weather so on our first day we hired a guide who took us around and explained the significance and importance of different sections and on our second day we climbed Waynapicchu and walked the original Incan trail to the lookout at Intipunku (´the Sungate´), both places have wonderful views over Machu Picchu and allow you more solitude than the actual site can provide. We really enjoyed Machu Picchu and felt that it, like the Galapagos Islands, completely lived up to the hype.
After catching the train back to Cuzco we said our final goodbyes to the city and took a bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, at 3800m. We organised a homestay on Amantani Island, and spent two days on the lake visiting the famous Uros Islands. These islands have been made completely of reeds and were originally built so that the people could avoid their warring neighbours, today they have become quite touristy but are still a fascinating and unusual thing to see. From the Uros Islands we headed to Amantani where we were billeted to a host family. It was an interesting experience as they live extremely traditionally; growing their own food, having no running water, cooking all their food on wood fires and continuing to wear traditional dress. Whilst on the island we ate numerous varieties of potatoes, watched the sunset from the mirador whilst freezing as we were over 4200m above sea level and we also dressed in traditional dress and went to a Peruvian dance. Al loved it, as not only did he get to dance (which he loves) he got to wear a traditional poncho while doing so. The next morning we went
to Taquile Island and hiked around, stopping for a delicious trout lunch before making the return boat ride to Puno.
After returning to Puno our Peruvian adventures came to an end. We crossed the border into Bolivia where our adventures continue.....
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