Arequipa and Colca Canyon

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
Trip End Jun 12, 2007

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Friday, December 1, 2006

Alex: After the Inca Trail we hung around Cusco for a day or two resting our feet and doing very little before catching an overnight bus to Arequipa. Arequipa is debatably Peru's second city (Trujillo in the north also makes the claim) and is known as the white city because all the building are built of a white volcanic rock which is cheaper than brick in the area! What is really special about Arequipa is its surroundings, some of the highest mountains and volcanoes in Peru - and that is saying something - many of them reach over 6000m above sea level. We only had a day in Arequipa itself and after checking out the main square we headed to the Museo Santorios Andinos, which houses Juanita. In the snowcapped mountains surrounding Arequipa they have discovered a number of mummified Incan child sacrifices, the most famous of whom is Juanita. The museum was great, they played a really interesting National Geographic documentary about finding Juanita then talked you through the artifacts on display, all of which were found with child sacrifices, before taking you in to see Juanita who is kept in a refrigerated case to preserve her (she was frozen on the top of a mountain for centuries). The whole thing takes about two hours which is just about my museum attention span.

Our second and third day in the Arequipa area were taken up in a tour to see our main interest in the area - Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is a candidate for the deepest canyon it the world - it currently counts as the deepest but a neighboring canyon may actually be deeper but they don't know - can you believe that, you would think they could just zap it with a satellite and find out but they actually have to do an expedition (with GPS sensors) to find out!

The canyon is about 4 hours away from Arequipa but the drive was broken up with a few stops. We saw a few Vacuņas (like Llamas and Alpacas but wild), learnt the difference between Alpacaa & Llamas and, supported by coca tea, went to the highest point we have ever been on land: 4910m above sea level (on the Inca trail we got to 4200m). The coca tea stop included free entertainment in the form of a sugar addicted sheep cleaning the remnants of a spilt sugar bowl from our table!

We got to Chivay in time for lunch (Alpaca steaks - yum) and then headed out on a fairly breathless hike up what in Peru is a fairly low hill. At the top we were rewarded with views of the Colca valley and the Pre-Incan agricultural terraces that line it as well as some tombs complete with bones! The terraces are incredible, they have a complete irrigation system that has been maintain through the generation and still works today! The walk was followed by a blissful trip to some local hot springs, which rid us of the last of the Inca Trail aches!

That evening the group went to a touristy restaurant with local folk dancing, the kind of place we usually avoid like the plague, but it was actually quite good fun. The last dance involved each of the dancers lying on the floor as if in shock while the other tried to revive them by fanning them and hitting them with a piece of rope, which was all very well until they started dragging people up to join in - the photos have been destroyed! The highlight for Dean was lying flat on his back with a girl flapping her skirt over his head... part of the dance apparently!

The second day started at Cruz del Condor, which is apparently a good place to see condors. Cruz del Condor or Condor Cross was thought to be the deepest part of the canyon until a couple of years ago but it has since been proved not to be, the deepest bit is further downstream. We had a nice walk to the viewpoint and then hung around for about an hour but no condors, it's nesting season so they must have had other things on their minds than showing off to tourists! Our guide then took us a kilometer or so further downstream on the off chance that we might see condors there! within minutes there were four in the canyon below us working their way up on the thermals. We watched them for a few minutes before they were at about our level and then one soared a few meters above our heads, it was probably even better than it would have been at Cruz del Condor as there was only our group and one other to see it, unlike the hoards at Cruz del Condor. Back to Chivay again for lunch before we started the journey back to Arequipa stopping in a few places to admire the views or have our photos take with the locals and their alpacas (for a charge of course!). The canyon was spectacular and well worth the trip - very different from the Grand Canyon though!

When we got back to Arequipa we took an impromptu break from our travels. We went to a fantastic restaurant which was quite expensive by Peruvian standards (read dirt cheap by UK standards) called El Turko II. We had some really good food (possible the best since Evil Dave's in Jasper, Canada), nice wine and it all felt quite posh, very nice indeed! It will be up bright and early tomorrow for a bus to Puno on Lake Titicaca our last stop in Peru before journeying to the distant lands of Bolivia!
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