She was very organized. The lunch proved very popular on the bus and nearly all the meat was gone. One woman tried to pay with a fake note which the vendor was wise to and not impressed by. Afterwards, they brought out drinks in plastic bags. Knowing that it was a sickly sweet juice we didn’t get one but many of the locals did. It seems that extremely sweet drinks are popular here- another example is their ‘Inka Cola’ which someone aptly described as drinking bubblegum. Apparently the Incas did not drink this fluorescent yellow drink though….
We explored Arequipa over the next few days. It is a very beautiful city, with many of the colonial buildings made out of white volcanic rock giving them a rather unique look. In our hostel we were served a breakfast of crepes, scrambled eggs, bread and juice on the roof looking at views of the volcanoes that surround the city. One of the largest being the active El Misti standing imposingly on the city’s edge. We visited a museum in the city where the frozen body of a girl, who was an Incan sacrifice, was found on this volcano. Her body was 500 years old and, amazingly, still had skin on as the ice had preserved her well. It was a fascinating museum especially since we had learnt a lot about the Incas and their traditions over the last few days so it was great to see an Incan girl, Incan clothes and artefacts.
One of the main reasons we had decided to visit Arequipa was so we could visit Colca Canyon. Bravely, we decided to trek in the canyon independently. Doing such things independently increases the stress factor (especially when trying to figure out local transport options and times) but it also makes the whole experience ultimately more rewarding
. So we set off on a local bus for the 6 hour journey to the small village at the top of the canyon called Cabanaconde. We awoke the next day at 6am to begin our trek. Friendly local people had to point us in the right direction a few times before we found the right path and began the long trek down into the canyon. Since Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, at 1300m, (the deepest is Cotahausi Canyon in Peru and it is only 150m deeper than Colca) it was a looonnng walk down. 4 hours in fact. Not fun. At least the views were good…. Our journey was also helped by a random dog that joined us in Cabanaconde and stayed with us for the ENTIRE trek- he even slept outside our hut at night! He was oddly loyal to us and tried to protect us by barking at strangers. He was a great companion.
Anyway, we got down to the bottom of the canyon eventually and had to cross a bridge over the river at the bottom. Then we had to walk uphill to a village where we stopped and had our dinner. Having food inside us and the knowledge that the downhill part of our trek was over we started to enjoy the experience more. To reach the Oasis where we were staying that night we had to walk another 3½ hours, up and downhill. We walked for 8hrs in total. The best parts of the trek were passing through tiny villages in the canyon where the people were very friendly and enjoying the awesome views. That said, it was great when we finally arrived at the oasis which was a big area of green trees, bamboo huts, a bar and a swimming pool at the bottom of the canyon. A quick dip in the swimming pool and a recommended drink of Pisco and Fanta on deckchairs under the stars was a great way to relax our aching legs.
Despite Paul having set 3 alarms on his watch we got up an hour late at 5.30am
. This was a problem as it was recommended that you walk the long and arduous path uphill at 5am the latest to avoid the hot sun. To add to this stress, we had planned to get the bus at 9am and we were told that the walk was 3-4hrs uphill. We started walking and sweating, with our faithful dog close behind with his boundless energy, and wondered how on earth we were going to get to the top and then a man came passed with spare mules! So we paid about £15 for both of us to go on mules up the hill in just 2 hours! This was a great relief as our legs were already aching from yesterday’s exertions. Admittedly we did feel a bit lazy passing lots of walkers who had managed to get up on time and we felt bad about the fact that the mules were sweating profusely... At least we weren't! There were times when we veered dangerously close to the side of the cliff edge- I just held my breath and hoped that the mule wasn't suicidal. We got the 9am bus back to Arequipa though and Paul had to say a teary farewell to ‘our’ dog that he had nicknamed Roam and who I had called Dogface. All in all it was a great adventure and we were pleased that we had done it independently.
We were both fond of Cuzco so it was hard to leave and make our way south to Arequipa. We did though and in a bid to save money we opted for the less convenient 10 hour local bus rather than the luxurious night bus. It was a long day but turned out to be quite interesting as we got to see Peruvian people go about their lives. Our experience thus far in Peru had kept us to the gringo trail so it was good to see a bit more of daily 'reality'. Such examples included seeing women in bowler hats, skirts and aprons working together on the pavement to close up bursting bags of bloodied Alpaca skins and having two such local women come on the bus, sit in the aisle whilst the bus continues on its journey, open their huge rainbow-coloured bundle and bring out a meat cleaver and start hacking at a barbequed carcass inside. We decided to try what they were offering and were rewarded with a small plastic bag with tasty hot meat and salted potatoes. When we had finished the lady had a napkin ready.