Bring on the panpipes....

Trip Start Nov 05, 2009
Trip End Apr 26, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Colca Canyon,
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We took a super luxury overnight bus from Cusco to the city of Arequipe which is lorded over by the volcano El Misti. Slight concerns before setting off as supposedly the nightbuses on this route have been hijacked before and the passengers robbed....felt slightly worried at one point when I realised that the bus had stopped in the middle of nowhere and the driver seemed to be struggling to start the engine. I stuck my ear plugs back in, put my eye mask back on and hoped for the best. We arrived safe and well into Arequipe at the both very unnatural and unpleasant time of 6am.

We had a morning to kill before catching our next bus and so we headed into the city center to spend some time at the Monestry Santa Teresa, which is a haven of calm and serentity in the heart of the city. The monestry covers an area of over 20,000 square meters and was originally built in 1580. We quickly became very aware that this was no oridinary convent...i.e. a life of hardship, self sacrifice and being beaten naked with birch twigs etc. The convent had been founded by a rich Spanish widow and for hundreds of years only women from high class spanish families would be accepted. The nuns had the most amazing pads....a lovely vaulted bedroom, a large sitting room and their own courtyard with outdoor kitchen and bread oven. Each nun had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns invited musicians to perform in the convent, gave parties and generally lived a lavish lifestyle. There are even tales of nuns getting pregnant...shock horror. In 1871 a total killjoy of a nun was sent to the convent by the Pope and she sent all the rich ladies home, freed the slaves and imposed a more convent like order to the place. There are still 30 nuns that live at the convent...unfortunatley for them they have to live in a block built in the 1960s rather than in the lovely original rooms of the main convent. After a little snooze in the sun it was time to head back to the bus station for the next stage of our journey.

Travelling seems to be a series of extremes, so from the most peaceful and serene one moment to the roughest and most uncomfortable the next. We were travelling on to a village called Chivay where we could then go on to visit the Colca Canyon which until recently was thought to be the deepest canyon on earth - staggeringly it is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. A few years back another canyon a few miles away was discovered to be 150 meters deeper so Colca canyon lost its crown.

Our bus didnt look good or sound much better but unfortuntely all the other buses had sold out. We knew it was a bad sign when they had to have the engine compartment open as soon as we set off to keep the engine cool. They had also ripped out seats 49 and 50 - much to the consternation and confusion of the 2 guys that had tickets for them! On leaving the city we had picked up a few extra people on the way and they were having to stand as the bus was full. After half an hour or so the driver stopped the bus and came down to the back to unlock the toilet (the joy of Bolivian and Peruvian buses...a locked toilet...or just no toilet at all). The four gentlemen who had been standing then filed into the toilet. We assumed that there was a set of stairs leading from the loo to some more seats on a lower level of the bus....but no...after we had passed what turned out to be a police checkpoint the 4 men filed back out of the toilet. Bus toilets are barely big enough for one person never mind four grown men. hehehehe.

The road to Chivay has to be the worst that I have ever encountered and a decrepid bus with no suspension just made it all the more fun.The bus struggled to climb the most forgiving of gradients and was making some very unhealthy noises. I was convinced that we wouldn^t make it. The engine got progressively more and more overheated despite the snow outside and unfortunately I was sat right on top of it which got pretty unbearable as I had to keep my legs in the air whilst being thrown about by the increasingly large potholes in the road/path/track. We were so very glad to arrive.

The next morning we rented some mountain bikes for the day and explored some of the local villages. We were charging down this track when we spotted some guys ahead looking out across the fields at something. We stopped thinking that they had spotted an animal or something of interest. After a few minutes I made a move to go past them but the guy held up his hand and said something unintelligable in Spanish. Thankfully I had made sure that I had learnt the word for dangerous and we heeded his advice to stop. It was only with the first explosion did we realise that they had laid dynamite along the track ahead to break up some big rocks. The guy indicated that there would be a further 3 explosions although it was a slight concern when a 5th explosion happened which none of them seemed to be expecting...we raced past at high speed just incase there was another suprise!

We stopped for a lovely lunch in a small local place and had our first taste of Chicha tasted like hot Vimto and thankfully not old lady spit.

Our ultimate goal was some thermal pools further down the valley which sounded lovely after a good cycle. I spotted what I thought were the pools down in the bottom of the valley across the other side of the river so we walked down the hillside with our bikes. When we reached the very rickety wooden footbridge that crossed over the river to the pools we realised that it was padlocked. Damn. I was all for wading across the river but Nic wasn^t so keen and thought it might be quite dangerous (I think he was probably right). After some deliberation as to what to do next a local girl came bounding down the hillside, climbed up the side of the bridge, crawled through a thin gap in the barbed wire and then hopped across the bridge. Within minutes another girl had arrived and obviously intended to do the same. After breaking into Machu Picchu some thermal baths would be nothing so we climbed up the banking and squeezed our way through the wire and went as quickly as possible across the dodgy bridge. There were a few pools, some of which looked rather yuk and stagnated but one of them was gloriously clear and a wonderful green colour. Thankfully we didn{t just throw ourselves in because it turned out to be scorchingly hot even to just dip your toe in. We were pretty gutted as we had cycled down a really long hill, climbed down the hillside and risked life and climb climbing up the bridge just to get here and now the water was too hot. After clambering back up to the road we realised that the real thermal baths were actually 100m further on and we had just broken into a private hotels thermal pools....oooohps!

The next day we had to get up at just after that we could catch the early bus along to Colca Canyon and more specifically a place called Crux de Condor where there are a pair of nesting Condors. The Condors tend to fly in the morning when the thermals are best so this is the time of day when you are most likely to spot them. The sun had yet to rise as we arrived at the Canyon and it was an amazing site to see the bands of sun slowly moving along the rock faces. The Canyon is just immense and the river that yesterday we had planned on wading across was now thousands of feet below us. We had been advised to walk along to another viewpoint further around the canyon to avoid the hordes that descend to Cruz de Condor. We were sat there for a good two hours before we spotted a large shadow moving across the floor of the canyon and then a second following closely on. We then saw the pair of condors passing down along the canyon below us. Wow. After another couple of thankfully warmer hours hoping that they would fly past us again we decided to walk back along to Cruz de Condor to catch the bus back to Chivay happy that we had seen some condors. We had just reached the viewpoint when a Condor flew right past close that we could hear the air moving through it^s wings. A truly inspiring experience. For the next half hour we had the 2 condors circling above us and occasionally coming down to buzz the viewpoint. Amazing and well worth the hellish bus ride and early start.Where are those bloody men with the panpipes when you want them....probably irritating some poor people in Scunthorpe.....

Next stop Lake Titicaca......
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michelle mcwilliams on

Those Grand Canyon guys are great at PR _ never heard of the one in south america and its bigger! Sounds like you both had a tranquil moment with the condors - lots of love Michelle

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