Trip Start Nov 25, 2010
Trip End Nov 24, 2011

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

On strange thing on the busses in Peru is that they go around with a video 
recorder and film a picture of you for their records.  I guess it's 
slightly quicker than taking photos, but it is quite bizarre.  Our first 
experience of this was on the bus to Arequipa.  The bus journey is mostly 
dessert with the odd hill thrown in, but as you get closer you begin to 
see green pastures, mountains, and volcanos.

We arrived in the morning after an overnight journey and after sorting out 
our room (taxi's poach backpackers to other hostels so this was no 
formality), collecting our pancakes, and settling into our room (complete 
with foot wide ventilation pipe going right up through the centre of the 
room) we went out to visit some of Leanne's friends for lunch.  I ordered 
a 3 course meal with the first course coming after most people's only 
main, which was a tad disappointing.  Was a fairly good vego meal though.  

Our culture for the day though was a visit to the ice queen.  On the way 
to the museum though it's difficult not to mention the town square which 
has been described as the most beautiful in South America.  And it 
certainly is lovely.  It has pretty much everything from fountains, 
colonial buildings lining each side, churches, just the right lighting and 
greenery, and ever present in the distance a classically shaped volcano.  
Stunning.  Back to the ice queen though, the name was given to the mummy 
who was found high up in the mountains recently.  She was evidently of a 
rich background and was sacrificed to the gods for prosperity.  The museum 
was pretty decent but the obvious highlight was getting right up close to 
Juanita in her sealed ice cold chamber.  I really got a sudden image of 
final moments of confinement during the ritual.  Quite scary!

Definitely time for drinks.  We met up with a few people from the Inca 
Trail for a night at their hostel, but left early.  My ankle was still 
very sore (with a golfball sized lump), and although we had decided 
against a canyon trip the next day, I still wanted to rest it.

The next day (after our pancakes) we went out and agreed to book a tour of 
the Colca Canyon, and then headed to Monasterio de Santa Catalina.  This 
was quite elaborate and resembled a tiny town, beautifully coloured and 
presented.  Quite a delight wandering through there it has to be said.  
See a small selection of the varied photos!  Beyond that though it was 
only really about food and preparation for our trek in to Colca Canyon, tt 
and it's neighbour being the deepest in the world.

Up early, as these tours regularly start early, and away we were for a 
fairly bumpy mini bus ride.  A bit of a rubbish breakfast stop and then 
before we knew it we were way up high looking down into a massive canyon.  
That cuts short quite a journey, but we stopped at this one location with 
many tourists and it was very quickly evident why.  Condors.  They ride 
the updrafts searching for prey, and boy are they big.  Each one easily 
had a metre diameter, and they would occasionally pass only 10m or so 
above as they circle around.  Quite a spectacle seeing these amazing 
creatures glide close enough to hear the wind resistance (which is 
minimal) to the admiring crowd.  Wow!

But onwards and we shortly came to a stop where we were out for some 
trekking.  Packs with us, it wasn't too long before we were heading 
downhill into the canyon.  My ankle was holding fortunately (with added 
strapping) so I was quite happy with it all.  Again really quite 
breathtaking as you slowly descend the switchbacks one side of a canyon, 
this is a geologists dream!  We crossed the river at the bottom after a 
couple of hours and only went up briefly before coming to our resting spot 
for the night containing some bamboo cabins where food was prepared.  A 
really lovely place to camp even if the trek wasn't quite as challenging 
as we'd hoped.

Day 2 saw us continue along the path on the otherside and further down as 
the canyon dropped away.  Again the views continue to grow more impressive 
 with our guide pointing out paricular plants.  We stoped for chica (corn 
beer) and continued on our way reaching our oasis destination.  This is 
barren country and except for the canyon, there's not too much to note.  
But as with all of the Andes, with steep landscapes comes water, which 
brings life.  And this plateau had plenty of water from the full length of 
the canyon.  About a dozen venues each with a handful of little huts 
around beautiful gardens all with a pool.  Very lovely.  We dipped in the 
freezing pool and took to the drink quite heavily forgetting that day 3 
was meant to be harder.

Day 3 starts at dawn where you have to climb 1000m straight up.  With a 
hangover it wasn't quite so much fun.  2 hours though is the time we came 
in at, well just over.  Not too bad at these altitudes, but once again, 
always stopping for the view, and the photos.  Amazing place this.

We continued through to a town and had to wait 4 extra hours for our bus 
in the town square back to Arequipa.  It was fairly relaxing but we missed 
out on some sauna's later in the day as a result.  Booo!

One sole day in Arequipa before another trek.  This time only two days, 
but we needed to prepare to go up the mountain, Chachani.  Part of this 
was done in an amazing juice bar where we sampled probably the best juices 
I've ever had.  Perfect!  Lots more food, and sorting of our gear, before 
an early night

Day 1 included an epic rough ride in a 4WD up to 4700m and our starting 
point.  I'm pretty sure this is the highest I've been and I was already 
struggling for breath.  And boy did the landscapre reflect it.  All that 
was alive here was the odd bit of moss clinging to a rock and some wierd 
mini shrub mushrooms.  Barren.  It could have been Mars if it wasn't for 
the snow capped mountains around us.  And totally amazing.

We trekked in a group of 4 people to our overnight camping area at 5200m 
and I was in struggle town.  Not quite hyperventilating, but undergoing 
some serious problems.  We ate, had some coca tea, all of which helped, 
but I needed some decent sleep and acclimatisation to get me ready for 
tomorrow's ascent to the top of Chachani at 6097m...  As soon as the sun 
disappeared behind the mountains, it got cold.  Quick.  Really struggled 
for sleep that night, but awoke feeling more refreshed and ready to climb. 
 It's a good thing you go to sleep at 7 after the sun rays go, cause we 
were up at 2am to start our ascent!   Have to start early to leave enough 
time to get up there...

What follows is the toughest day I've had on this trip by far.  Freezing, 
pitch black, moutainside vertical ascent from 5200m.  We were already at a 
starting point higher than the highest peak in Europe (4800m)...   I've 
mentioned before that I think altitude doesn't affect me quite as badly as 
others, but certainly does get to me.  Leanne was fine.  No dramas.  I was 
sruggling for every step.  The first third was calling on normal resources 
and pushing through.  By this stage though I knew it was getting 
difficult.  The second third I was questioning how we could do this, but 
with an 8hr journey to the peak, you just have to keep going.  I was 
slowing the group up, and the leader had started to give me breathing 
techniques.  Maybe I can pull through after all.  With the help of the 
guide, and the sun finally coming up around 7ish, I began to see hope.

Warming up, and with a visible finish (albeit some 2hrs away) I knew I 
could get there at my own pace.  Crampons were required as we entered the 
snow, and for a good half an hour we were all roped together for our 
safety.  The last 200m or so were were hardly getting each step a foot 
length in front of the other, and having to stop every 10 or so steps 
doesn't exactly call for a quick finish, but we all made it to the peak.  
Definitely a highlight, I made climbed a mountain to a height above 6000m! 
 Very definitely happy about that one.  And perhaps I might just decide 
against any others this high.  

The downward journey was so much quicker, but not without it's falls.  
Roped together the pace was quite frantic, and on tired legs it wasn't 
easy.  But I for one was happy to get down to a slightly more managable 
5200m...  Pack up our stuff and carry that back along the trek (ugh) to a 
still hefty 4700m to get into the 4wd.  Totally exhuasted and hardly 
noticed the long and bumpy journey back into Arequipa...

So glad we did it though, really is a highpoint.  6000m!!!  Check out the video...
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