I'm like a bird, I'll only fly away.......

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, May 14, 2010

With the excitement of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu behind us, the next big stop is to see the Colca Canyon. For those of you who have travelled with us or know us well, you might have experienced my formula of wonderment. It's a formula I have developed not through careful thought or trial and error but more a formula to stop the teasing. It’s safe to say that nearly everyone we have travelled with has known more about the places and planned stops in the itineraries than I do. It’s not that I don’t care about them; it’s just that when I’m on holidays, I’m not really paying attention and at the end of the day, I know everything related to our travel plans has been in Nic’s capable hands . Here’s a sample conversation.

Me: Hey Ted, is this Peru or Bolivia?

Ted: Didn’t you remember us crossing the border yesterday?

Me: We crossed a border?

Ted: Ummm, yeah. Guys dressed in green, big guns and looking self important? Passports getting stamped? Changing money???

Me:  Oh yeah, I guess we did. But back to my original question, in Peru or Bolivia? 

Ted: How are you not dead yet?

We get driving to the Colca Canyons, famous for being twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and of course the Andean Condors. Seeing the canyon is a beautiful sight and the sheer size and depth plays tricks on your eyes. You see a few birds floating around and coasting on the thermal currents. They look quite small until they coast closer and closer, eventually flying directly overhead. Your eyes are filled with the full 3.2m wingspan, the largest of any land bird. Then all you hear is everyone around you saying, "Wow". The birds are completely wild and they coast effortlessly, only flapping their wings to take off or land. The only sounds you could hear coming from my vicinity were, “Wow” followed by the rapid fire clicks of my Nikon in burst mode. It made me wish I’d brought a longer lens, but I was still thankful that I had a DSLR with me. Trying to shoot the birds with a digital point and shoot would have been a nightmare. I saw too many LCD screens with plain blue sky and no condor in sight. It didn’t stop some silly tourists climbing over safety fences and ropes trying to get a shot. I’m all for extreme photo snapping, but if you’re going to get in front of other photographers, have the courtesy of making it quick and getting out of the way. Apparently the Andean Condor likes to feed on carrion. I came close to kicking a few tourists into the canyon and starting a feeding frenzy. Surely there’s a quip in there about multiple birds and a stone?

Memory cards full and necks hurting from staring at the sky above, we hopped back on the truck and made our way to Arequipa. A town of..... you guessed it, big square in the middle, church on one side, government buildings on the other. For me, the only interesting thing about this city is that most of the buildings are white in colour, built from a white volcanic rock known as sillar. I can’t believe I just listed that as an interesting fact.

We had the time to catch up with Hamilton, a friend of ours who hopped of the truck at Santiago and was doing some volunteer work in Arequipa. We went to dinner at a place called Zig Zag. Their lame interesting fact is they have some stairs designed by Gustav Eiffel of the Eiffel tower fame. Funky stairs or not, the dinner we had here was simply superb. Most of us ordered the trio of meats (ostrich, beef and alpaca), all cooked on a volcanic stone. They were giving us the bibs because the sizzling meat on the stones would have played havoc with our clothes. Easy for you guys at home, "Just throw it in the washing machine" I hear you say. Try travelling for a few months with a limited wardrobe. Each fresh shirt is worth 10 at home. The night was a special one. Great food, great wine, awesome company and we were lucky enough to have a private dining room to ourselves.

We also had the chance to see Juanita, a 500 year old frozen mummy in immaculate condition. She was found high on Mount Ampato where the cold preserved her body and clothes remarkably well. A volcano eruption nearby had caused the snow on Ampato to melt and an archaeologist went up there to quickly catalogue what he could and secure the sites before looters went up there and stole the lot. The ice melted, the makeshift tomb that Juanita was in slid down the mountain from its original position and they found her. Perfect timing. A day or two later and her mummified body would have degraded badly being exposed to the elements. She’s kept in a museum inside a special case that keeps her frozen. I would have taken a picture for you but it’s strictly forbidden. You’ll just have to do with a stock picture that I found on the net

It was thought that she was taken up there as a sacrifice to the gods. By the clothes she was wearing, she was from nobility so they must have needed a massive favour from the gods if they were sending this girl up there. She would have been drugged on the way up so she wouldn’t feel any pain and they would have struck her in the head to finish off the job. Pretty sad really. Juanita, young and rich, sacrificed her life to the gods for the good of her people. Looks like we’ve found Paris Hilton’s calling after all.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Santa Catalina convent. It’s basically a convent that was closed off to the world until recently and it’s so large that they had named streets within. It’s as exciting as it sounds. NOT! If you want to waste some money and a whole lot of time, then be my guest. Wikipedia lists this monastery as the most important religious monument of Peru. I might have to jump on there and also add that it’s the most boring too boot.

Nic went back to our room while I decided to walk around the city and take a few photographs. At that exact moment, the light decided to disappear behind some clouds, never to be seen for the rest of the day. It got cold really quick and I was left on the streets in a pair of shorts and slippers, my fingers clutching my Nikon tightly, probably frozen solid. Now I know how young Juanita felt for the last 500 or so years at the top of that mountain. Photography, like anything else has its good days and its bad days. This was one of the latter.

In our next blog, we take a flight in a small plane over the famed Nazca lines. It’s also where a Danish member of our team (aka Lars the Great Dane) doesn’t feel so great and is aptly renamed the Green Dane. Don’t miss it.
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tedchaplin on

I remember those "silly tourists" at Colca - they were (typically arrogant) French. Doing thier bit to reinforce stereotype.

Wish you had booted them down the Canyon.

travellingtans on

There was also the stupid German woman who thought it was OK to stand on my foot whilst she took her photo...there seems to be a distinct European trend here.


Goldhammer on

dont remind me of that flight :0)

travellingtans on

Oh yeah Hammer, that story is getting told in the next blog, bloody hilarious.

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