Coca tea and coca leaves...

Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Nov 02, 2008

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

15 September 2008 - Monday
We left Arequipa early morning with Angel and our newly acquired tour guide, Jose. However, we didn't make too much distance out of Arequipa before coming to a stop. One of the girls in our group was not doing well at all adjusting to the high altitude. Arequipa wasn't too bad just yet at an altitude of about 2325m above sea level. I'm sure all the tour guides must get accustomed to dealing with altitude sickness and are well prepared for it, because it wasn't too long before the first aid kit came out with all of it's drugs for altitude sickness. The rest of us, despite still feeling ok,took this time to purchase some coca leaves which is meant to help out with the altitude sickness which was surely to hit us later on.

We had a quick stop not much further on allowing us to take some photos of the surrounding volcanoes before moving on. Once we'd passed around behind the volcanoes and gained a fair bit more height, we stopped off to have a look at some of the vicunas in the National Park. Jose explained that out of the four camelids which are found in Peru, the vicuna is the most highly revered and protected, as it has extremely fine fur and poachers have almost driven them to extinction. Apparently if a vicuna is killed, intentionally or by accident (without reporting and returning it to a police station), you have the possibility of being imprisoned for up to 4 years. The llama and alpaca are both domesticated being used mainly for their meat and wool, while the guanaco is the wildest but mainly found in Chile and Argentina.

Our next stop was for a bit of roadside shopping. Many of the locals have laid out their little stalls selling many of their alpaca products. I couldn't resist an alpaca jersey!! We also managed to drink our first cup of coca tea to relieve any of the altitude sickness symptoms should there be any and hopefully to prevent them should you be ok. The coca tea very much tastes like the smell of the lucerne which we grow on the farm back at home, but with a bit of sugar it wasn't too bad.

We had a few more stops along the way, to break up the long road trip, to view some alpacas, llamas and some birdlife. The highest plateau we passed at was Pattapampa at an altitude of 4910m. I was thankfully still feeling fine at this point.

When we reached Chivay, we stopped for what was the best meal I had in Peru. This was at a restaurant called Chapaq Nan where a gorgeous buffet meal was spread out over a large table. Finally I found the food I'd came for!!

Not too much further we reached Coporaque (stationed at 3628m above sea level). The town is smaller than Chivay and beautiful. For the first time we were out of a city and feeling like we were out in the country.

The hotel we were staying at Mama Yacchi was brilliant. Our accommodation seemed to only get better and better with time. It was relatively high up in the mountains overlooking the valley. Though the time we were there wasn't during the rainy season, it didn't detract from the areas' attraction. There were cacti everywhere, many small villages and terraced agricultural fields everywhere in the valley.

We hiked for two hours in total up the mountain to assist in acclimatising, and for the first time I could feel the distinct lack of oxygen in the air. With every step I took my heart was screaming for me to stop. I could feel it thumping in my chest as it grasped for some air. Once we reached the top, Jose explained the local history and it was also at this point when I felt extremely dizzy and disorientated. I needed to sit down to avoid passing out. I could also feel quite a bit of a headache coming on.

Strangely enough however, our walk back down the mountain was fine. Assuming it was because we didn't need to exert half the amount of effort required to climb the mountain.

16 September 2008 - Tuesday
A very early morning way up call at 05:30 to head off to hopefully get a glance of the condors. Following a breakfast that included a cup of coca tea, we departed for a very dusty journey. We were no longer on tarred roads, and every vehicle that passed us created it's own trailing thick cloud of dust.

We stopped off twice along the way. Once to get a good view of the valley and all its terraced agricultural fields. At this stop it was also clarified as to how the canyon got it's name of the Colca Canyon. High up in the mountains there are enclosures where the people used to store food and crops during the year. Because of their location these enclosures are quite cool and preserve the food really well. They're called Colca's and are dotted all along the canyon, giving it its name.

Our second stop was at Cruz de Condor where there are numerous lookout points along the edge of the mountain to view the condors. At first we only saw one, but after some time we managed to see four of them soaring past. The condors are the second largest flying birds after the albatross, and their wingspan is enormous!

The lookout point for the condors was at a place where the canyon is 1300m deep. The mountains themselves are just breathtaking, and a beautiful backdrop to watching the condors.

On our drive back Angel, our guide, received a phone call from someone saying that they'd FOUND MY PASSPORTS!!! I just couldn't believe my luck, and was as elated as any person could be at that point in time. Suddenly all my faith in humankind was restored. Especially in a country where we're constantly warned to be vigilant and watch our bags and possessions in case of theft. There hadn't been any money in the pouch, which may possibly have contributed to someone being willing to get it back.

It wasn't long when my joy of finding my passport waned somewhat as I discovered that they were being held ransom and that the taxi driver who had found them would not send them to me unless I paid some money directly into his bank account. We offered to pay half before he sent them and then half on receiving them but he would hear none of it, and insisted that we pay the full amount (which equated to about 20) before he'd be willing to send the passports through to Lima. I didn't have too much choice and 20 was really not that much when you consider the amount of effort, time and money it would take to replace those passports, possibly delay or change flights etc. I just had to take the risk and hope my angels would come through for me. We had at least verified that he did indeed have my passports by checking the passport numbers, so we weren't being conned too badly.

We stopped off in Chivay for lunch before strolling around the town. Everywhere there are women and children with a lamb or a llama waiting for you to request to take their photo and then obviously wanting to charge you for the shot. The other amazing thing I found about the village is that there was no rubbish lying around. Everyone made a concerted effort to throw their litter away and the town was so clean and tidy, which was quite a contrast to much of the country.

We then headed up to La Calera hot water springs about 20minutes from Chivay. These springs consisted of about 6 thermal springs from water bubbling up from under the earth. I was very reluctant to swim as the sun had just about set and it was already getting very cold despite wearing many layers of clothing. Apparently the hot water comes out of the ground at about 80 to 90 degrees Celsius and with the cooling systems in place (which are purely small furrows in which the water runs, exposed to the cold air) it reaches the pools at about 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. It was absolutely great entering that warm water, though the hot water wasn't exactly conducive to keeping our beers cool.

We had about 2 hours available to us to ensure that we were properly shriveled up like prunes by the time we'd get to go. The sun had set but in retrospect this was a good thing considering we now didn't run the risk of sunburn. But besides that the silhouetted mountains, dark sky and clear stars were a great backdrop to enjoy a few comfortable hours.

After showering and cleaning up we headed back into Chivay for dinner where we had a live band (panpipes and all - they're EVERYWHERE) and a few dancers to entertain us. We later joined them, as obviously we were now well qualified in the ways of the Peruvian dancing.
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