After probably our most luxurious bus ride of the trip (Oltursa Buses- highly recommended… Hot food, Madagascar on TV, a trolly dolly and for the first time on any bus: announcements!) we find ourselves in Arequipa, somewhere I didn’t expect to be visiting. Arequipa is a fairly large, fairly uninteresting city, but it’s the gateway to the Colca Canyon, which apparently is larger than the Grand Canyon.
We arrived early Friday morning, had a nap, then went to explore Arequipa’s main attraction, The Santa Catalina Monestary. It’s a 500 (or there abouts) year old complex closed off from the rest of the city, which once housed 450 nuns and servants, and now has 20 nuns living there. It’s basically a city within a city. It’s a peaceful, fascinating place. You can spend hours wandering through the simple abandoned bedroom complexes, looking at the kitchens and religious articles. It was interesting to get a glimpse into what is usually such a hidden world.
Me at Santa Catalina.
The next day we had another early morning as we got the local bus at 8am to Chivay, a small town in the Colca Canyon. We wandered around there for a bit, befriended a couple of young girls working in the tourist information, then chilled out in a clearing full of llama poo for an hour or so, before getting the 2 hour bus to Cabanaconde, a similar town further along the canyon. We stayed the night there, before another stupidly early morning (6am).
We got the 7am bus to Cruz del Condor, the viewpoint at the top of the canyon from where you can see huge condors flying on the thermals. We got there early, as we’d been advised to, and before all the tourist buses turned up, but could only see one condor perched on a rock. After about 45 minutes of waiting and a bit of condor-themed yoga, we abandoned our spot to look at the market stalls. Sod’s law, at that point a giant bird flew over our heads, followed by a few of our friends. It was even cooler than I expected. They seemed to wait for the flocks of tourists to arrive before showing up, so my theory is the condors actually came tourist spotting!
My best condor shot.
After a bread and cheese lunch at 11am we set off (stupidly in the mid day sun) on a 3 (or 4) hour hike down the side of the Canyon. Our destination was ‘Paradise’ (Aka Sangalle, a tropical oasis at the base of the Canyon). The walk down seemed to take forever and was pretty horrific, and by the end we were all sweaty and exhausted, but it was definitely worth it. We stayed the night in what, for here, is basically a 5 star luxury resort. We slept in a bamboo and adobe hut, got served 3 hot meals consisting of mainly soup and pasta or potatoes, lounged in the sun by the swimming pool (yes, swimming pool!) and read our books in the hammocks. All surrounded by pretty flowers, palm trees, a cute peruvian kid and a dog. It was heavenly.
The walk back up the canyon side however would have been hell, so we opted for the easy option - Mules. We mounted our steeds and off they went up the steep path. It took 2 hours, and most of the time they were effectively walking upstairs, right on the edge of a cliff. It was incredible that we made it to the top, and actually we still ached almost as much as if we had walked up. But it was good fun, and as always, the scenery was beautiful.
Sangalle from half way up the Canyon.
Our little paradise.
Our little holiday within a holiday was really lovely, and now we are back in Arequipa (after a pretty horrible 7 hour night bus) to celebrate Sara’s 28th Birthday! So Cumpleaños Feliz Sara! Our day so far started with Chocolate Cake, as every good birthday should!
For some reason, me and Amy signed up for the 5 day Salkantay Trek, ending in Machu Picchu. It´s effectively a hike along AN Inca trail (but not THE Inca Trail). Verdict: Really tough but totally worth it.
We were in a group with 18 other backpackers from Europe and North and South America, all aged roughly between 20 and 30. Getting on the bus at 5am on the first day, it was a bit daunting being confronted with so many new faces, names and backstories, but luckily, we all got on really well, which made trudging through mud, up rocky hills and along dusty roads that much easier.
Our guides, Walter and Manuel, threw us in at the deep end, with a 7 hour hike the first day, leaving Mollepata village, passing through farmland and ending up at a campsite at the base of an imposing mountain. Walter´s “shortcuts” (aka bloody steep rocky paths) tired us out, but generally the walking was OK. Our first night however wasn´t much fun, as we sat shivering at the dinner table (dinner was similar every night: soup and small plate of meat with the obligatory double-dose of carbs. Who needs vegetables?!). Me and Amy tucked ourselves up in our sleeping bags and 3-man tent and managed to get some sleep, until we had to get up at 5am.
We had heard the second morning would be tough, and it was. A 4 hour uphill climb to the Salkantay pass (4800m above sea level), followed by 2 hours downhill, lunch, and then another 3 hour afternoon stroll to the campsite. Getting to the top of the snowy mountain we we looked a bit grumpy, but were proud of ourselves for making it! Hiking up-hill was hard, but I quickly learnt downhill aint all that easy either. As we decended, the snow disappeared and was replaced first by an alpine-looking valley, and later, by a muddy path through the humid jungle. It´s insane how drastically scenery and climate change.
That night spirits were higher as we all enjoyed not being freezing cold. The group shared a few Cusqueña beers and bonded over dinner.
Day 3 was more relaxed. In the morning, we walked along a scenic mountain path, following the river, before hopping in a bus to the town of Santa Theresa. In typical Peruvian style, we managed to squeeze 23 of us in 15 seater mini-van (brave ones on the roof). The afternoon was spent resting our sore muscles in the hot springs - a well deserved treat.
Day 4, poor Amy was feeling unwell. some kind of bug had been spreading throughout the group and unfortunately it made it´s way to Amy. We hiked along a riverbed in the scorching sun for 3 hours in the morning. It was rediculously hot, soAmy did really well to stick it out. But she made the sensible decision to get the train to Aguas Calientes (the town nearest Machu Picchu) rather than walking along the train tracks with the rest of the group. The walk was really cool and it felt like we were finally close to our goal… seeing the terraces of Machu Picchu perched on top of the mountain was really exciting.
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, our basic hostel seemed like luxury Waiting for us were Hannah and Sara who would go with us to Machu Piccu the next morning. It was good to have our buddies back.
Being such a famous site, Machu Picchu is obviously really cool, but it´s also a massive tourist trap. So, in order to see it at it´s best, before all the crowds, we got the first bus there at 5.30am. That involved waiting in the queue at 4.30am! Unfortunately, Amy wasn´t able to join us as she was too unwell so it was lucky she had already been to see it with Fitz and James.
Machu Picchu itself is pretty much what you expect from the pictures, except freezing cold before sunrise. It´s pretty impressive and very complete as ruins go, but very quickly becomes overrun with crowds which ruins the tranquil mood. Walter gave us a guided tour, demonstrating at sunrise how the sun beams through different windows in the Temple of the Sun at different times of year. He told us that 700 people lived there, and that it was never really a lost city. Local people knew about it the whole time, it had just become overrun by jungle so the Spanish couldn´t find it. It was also an agricultural centre more than a residential town.
What made the visit for me was hiking up Huaynupicchu, the tall triangular mountain which looks over the ruins. It´s about an hour´s walk up rediculously steep steps, and isn´t easy, but again, is totally worth the effort. At the top you can sit on giant bolders and see an arial view of the site. Peruvians think everything looks like either a Condor or Puma, and Machu Picchu with is supposed condor shape is no exception. I coudn´t see it though! But sitting up there was so peaceful, and the views were beautiful. Hannah and Sara were down below soaking up the sun on one of the agricultural terraces. Hannah was proud to say she napped on Machu Piccu! I guess of all the places to nap, it´s a goodun´!
We returned to Aguas Calientes by bus, wasted time eating pizza and getting lost in the tourist tat market (there´s nothing else to do there), then headed back to our home in cusco by train and bus.
Yesterday we chilled out in Cusco before heading out for dinner with the Salkantay Trek group. It was nice to see people looking clean and not horrifically out of breath! We all celebrated what we had achieved, and also Hannah´s last night, as she set off for the airport in the early hours of this morning.
So now we are 3 again, Me, Amy and Sara. The end is in site as we have less than 2 weeks before heading home. How time flies. This evening we leave Cusco for Arequipa.
Last Thursday was Corpus Christi in Cusco, a massive Catholic festival. I don´t quite get it, but as far as I can gather it´s a celebration of how the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. To mark the occasion, Cusqueños (people from Cusco) mix Catholic traditions with indigenous ones, resulting in 12 huge plastic statues of saints being paraded through the town, marching bands, strange (rather racist) masks, men wearing outfits involving dead baby llamas as an accessory whipping eachother, and eating thousands of guinea pigs (we ate it for lunch, then went back the next day for more… it´s delicious, like beef jerky). It´s all one big wierd fiesta. Here´s some photos….
Our little international travelling group have set up a temporary home in Cusco. We´ve found oursleves a cosy little hostel (Hostel Andrea) run by a really friendly peruvian couple which also seems to attract a really good breed of traveller. The hostel is our base for two of the biggest adventures of the trip - The jungle and Machu Piccu.
After a 14 hour bus journey, we got back from our jungle adventure at 10pm last night. Here´s the lowdown…
We went on a 5 day tour to Manu National Park. It´s part of the Amazon Rainforest, but centred around the ´Madre de Dios´River, which I think is a tributary of the Amazon. For the forst 4 days, the 6 of us were joined by a young French couple, and an older German man with his Columbian Partner. None of our new buddies seemed particularly interested in chatting much, or splashing about in mud, so we didn´t get to know them very well. Our guide was Herman, a knowledgable thirty year-old Peruvian guy, who seemed to take a bit too much of a shine to us ´señoritas´.
Our first night´s accomodation, despite having with no electricity or hot water, was probably the most luxurious place we have stayed. It was accesible by a long bus ride along unpaved potholey mountainous roads, and then a zipwire across the river to out front door! For Hannah, being scared of both spiders and hights, the jungle wasn´t turning out to be her natural habitat, but the two of us got on the zipwire together and she faced her fear and got across the river…. I was a very proud friend!
After a delicious home cooked candlelit meal and a good night´s sleep under ourmosquito nets, we set off on the bumpy road again. We stopped off to collect some freshly baked bread and bought some home-brewed alcohol made form sugarcane. The next pit-stop was at a coca leaf plantation, which doubled as a kind of jungle zoo with parrots, a sloth, a creepy spider monkey and a wild pig. But everyone´s favorite animal was an Oselot kitten, which we got to hold, and is probably the most adorable thing you have ever seen, ever.
From the small town of Atalya we got in a motorized canoe which dropped us on a random pebbly outcrop in the middle of the river. From here we set off on what became a familiar walk, across the exposed riverbed and up the steep hillside to our new lodge, where we would spend the remaining 3 nights.
The first activity from here was supposed to be going for a swim in the river. Following Amy´s advice, we started to walk down to the river in out flip flops… not surprisingly, they broke. So I ended up half way down the hill, barefoot in the mud dressed in a tshirt and towel, trying to avoid stepping on leafcutter ants. It was comical. And messy. We didn´t make it to the river.
Most days we would wake up about 5 or 6am, go for a walk through along the jungle trails in the morning, return for a tasty lunch, then head out again in the afternoon. The vegetation is pretty much what you think of when you imagine the jungle, very green with hanging vines, exotic looking leaves, tall trees (although most not quite as tall as I expected) and the occasional colourful flower. Along the way Herman would explain the different proporties of the plants to us, and pick up various insects and butterflies. Many of the plants either have medicinal proporties, or are very poisonous. At one point we came across a termite nest. Turn´s out they´re edible! So after a bit of persuasion I tried a live termite straight from the nest. Apparantly they taste like mint, but I was too busy flailing to notice.
We also kept our eyes and ears out for animals. We saw an impressive array of birds (I got to carry on my bird watching from Iguassu - It is my big year afterall) and even some monkeys! (although from quite a distance). From the boat, we did get a close up view of a Capabara, basically a giant guinea pig. That was cool. James seemed to have a bit of a connection with the birds. One night in the lodge he was ´talking´ to them, copying their calls. Turned out the French man in the next hut along had a similar idea, and they were actually talking to eachother!
On the 4th day, the rest of our group headed back to Cusco, but the 6 of us went to the hot springs. Splashing about in the hot water surrounded by jungle and butterflies flapping about, it was really beautiful. And it was made better by the cocktail of sugar cane alcohol and coke that Herman knocked up for us.
Later that day some of us went on another walk, ending up at a secluded waterfall, so we went for a swim. The water there was cold, but really refreshing after a trek through the humid jungle.Walking is really exhausting, and seems to drain you of energy, so we returned to the lodge for dinner and another early night.
Our final day was travelling back to Cusco. Taking about 40 min on the boat and 9 hours on the bus, it was never going to be fun, but thanks to TWO incidences of truckers overestimating the width of the road, we got delayed and had to turn back to take a different, but equally scenic and bumpy route.
So now we are going to send a few days relaxing in Cusco before heading off for phase 2, Machu Piccu!
At 4000m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the largest, highest lake in the world (or some other superlative). It straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru… so I´m now writing from what is most likely my fnal country, Peru!
The Bolvian side is truly lovely, and basiclly a hippy backpacker retreat. First stop was Copacabana, a small town on the shore of the lake. There´s several hostels, a cathedral, some pedalos and a single street lined with backpacker restaurants, cafes, llama jumper shops and barefooted hippy types selling handmade jewellery and vegetarian food. The whole place is rediculously calm. The hippyness rubs off, within a couple of hours I´d embraced my inner hippy, and found myself first purched on a small jetty, making friends with a dog and playing guitar whilst looking into the water and contemplating life. Once I felt a bit zen, I puffed my way up the nearby hill to join other travellers (who clearly also read about it in lonely planet) to watch the sunset.
We stayed one night , then in the morning, got a small boat for 2 hours, to the Isla del Sol, where the sun was born according to the Incas. Amy and the boys only went on a day trip as they have headed off to cuzco ahead of us, but me, Hannah and Sara stayed the night on the less touristy north end of the island, in a basic hostel with a beautiful view of the lake, run by a local family.
I fell in love with the island. If possible, it´s even more hippy and tranquil than copacabana. Farm animals including donkeys, chicken, lambs, cows, pigs, and of course, llamas, roam around. There are no cars. Every view is stunning. All local people are subsistence farmers, and really friendly, with many also owning food stalls or hostels for the tourists. There´s a small beach with several small groups of people camped, making jewellery and like any good hippy, practising their circus skills. After a walk to the Inca ruins with Sara, the three of us chilled out big time on the beach, played some guitar and befriended another dog. For dinner we ate sweetcorn soup and fresh trout (local speciality) at a tiny family restaurant, which closed at 7.30pm, so it was bed by 9!
We wanted to leave in the morning, but the laid back islanders just wouldn´t have it, so we had to wait til 1.30 for the boat back, which meant another morning spent wasting time on the beach…. it´s a hard life! this time we were amost slobbered on by a pig, and approached by two local little girls who wanted biscuits. We didn´t have any, so I shared my lip salve with them instead, and they had a brief geography lesson flicking through my lonely planet.
We eventually got off the island and headed straight to Puno, on the Peruvian side of the lake. Being in Peru is exciting, but we don´t really like Puno. It´s a fairly large, fairly ugly city. Arriving tired at 10pm, we foolishly agreed to go with the first hostel owner who approached us. She presented us with a swanky leaflet for a 3 star hotel. Luckily, the hotel did exist, but it was pretty grimey, with peely walls, dirty top sheets, a dodgey window and yellow water when we first turned on the comically dolphin-shaped tap. But it was somewhere to sleep.
The only reason to stop in Puno is to visit the Floating Islands, a collection of 70 tiny artifical islands built from reeds by the Uros people. After being hassled about tours by both the guy in the hotel and a man at the port, we went straight to the ticket office ourselves to buy boat tickets. This seems to be a reoccuring theme here, people trying to rip off tourists by selling overpriced tours or tickets, or just approaching you to buy anything and everything (usually jewellery and llama products). But we know how it works now and we won´t be fooled!
We arrived on one of the little islands and were greated by Roger, the Island´s president. He told us a little about how they are made (some large sticks, 2m of mud, 2m of layers of reeds and string to stop it floating away) and how the 26 people on his island live (in simple one-room houses made of reeds, with more modern ones having a plastic lining to their roof - we had a look inside his house). He also explained how they make all their money from tourism so if we would like to purchase any of their artesania, it would allow them to fee their families. Being the responsible tourist and sucker that I am, I ended up buying a tapestry of the Inca Calendar for way more money than I should have paid, because I was still thinking in Bolivian currency. After the shopping spree, we got a traditional reed rowing boat over to the capital island to see their restaurant, post office and hotel!
The whole thing was kinda like a reed disney land, but it was interesting to see and nice to support their community. But I have now forbidden myself from buying any more tapestries!
The trip only lasted a couple of hours, so we went for lnch in a local restaurant, which like everwhere here offers a really cheap set menu of soup and a main course. Food is pretty good here… although the meat and ice cream could never be like in Argentina, food in Bolivia and Peru is flavourful and hearty, and there´s loads of fish!
We went for a walk through the massive bustling street market which was alot like other markets we´ve seen excpet for 2 things: 1. The donkey´s face, leg and tail laid out on a table (I assume for medicinal purposes) and the road of guinea pigs for sale… these aint pets, they´re dinner! A lady tried to sell us one for the equivalent of 2 pounds 50p, so we considered buying them all and setting them free, but decided against it in the end.
We´re now wasting time waiting for our bus to Cuzco where we will meet up with the others. Cuzco is the base for a trip into the Jungle and of course, the trek up to Macchu Piccu, so I´m rather excited!
Sucre is Bolivia´s official capital city, but La Paz seems like it should be. The two cities are very different places.
On the way into Sucre we hit a familiar problem…. road block. Univiersity students were protesting (some things are the same all over the world) so we had to get off the bus, walk afew hundred metres to the edge of the town, then get a taxi in to the centre.
Sucre is quite a large colonial town, filled with attractive white washed buildings with terracotta roofs. It´s a pleasant enough place, but there´s not all that much to do, unless you stick around to take spanish lessons, as many backpackers do.The main attraction is the Mercado Central, a bustling market where you can buy anything and everything. Each food stuff or product has it´s own section, with several people selling the same stuff. Our favorite area was the fresh fruit juice and fruit salad section, where Bolivian mummy´s prepare delicious and huge fruit salads with yoghurt and a bit of cereal. Makes the perfect breakfast. We also sampled the meat and rice you can get in the ´comedors´(sort of market cantine with homecooked food) and bough a pile of vegetables to cook back at the hostel for dinner.
We stayed 2 nights, in a hostel run by a very strong-accented german man, Mike, with a very unique sense of hunmour. Both evenings we ended up in ´gringo´(foreigner) bars filled with backpackers. One of Amy´s friends, Nidz, is taking lessons in Sucre, so we chatted to him and his coursemates.
On Saturday night, a 12 hour night bus delivered us to La Paz. Up til now, I wasn´t all that fond of Bolivia, but La Paz has changed my opinion. It´s an incredible, lively city, which sprawls across a valley and up rediculously steep hills. From any point in the city you look up and see a wall of simple, square brick buildings staring down at you. It´s strangely beautiful, and made more magnificant by the mountains which overlook it.
La Paz is where I start phase 3(?) of the trip - Our group has increased in size (and become more international) as we met up with Fitz (Amy´s friend who she met in Australia) and his friend James, both from Ohio, USA. Last night, we also went to collect Hannah (my friend since birth) from the airport. All three of our new travel buddies will be with us for the next 3 weeks.
Our first activity in La Paz was getting a cosy local bus up to the neighbourhood of EL Alto to watch Lucha Libre Cholita Wrestling… one of the strangest experiences yet. Bascially, a WWE style ´wrestling´match where traditional cholita ladies fight latex-clad wrestling chararcters. The stadium was efectively a school hall, filled with 75% backpackers and 25% locals. Basically every backpacker we met in our last few stops was there, all wearing llama jumpers (myself included) and various bolivian printed items. I realised we are very much on the gringo trail and keep seeing the same people in every place we visit (including the British curry house where we had dinner last night, but that´s not really surprising!)
We have also been to afew museums, including the Musical Instruments Musuem (various instruments made from everything from old books to armadillo), The Coca Museum (full of questionable statistics and sweeping generalisations) and El Museo de Ethnografia y Folklorica, where we stumbled accross a group of transvestites opening a photography exhibition. We have also done way to much shopping, bough way too many llama products, although when passing through the witches market, we decided against buying a shriveled llama foetus (buried under houses as good luck).
A highlight of La Paz was wandering around on Monday, when we came across a gathering of indigenous people from the Tiwanaku region. They were all dressed in traditional clothes, listening to a speech in the main square. While I was taking photos, a man tapped me on the back and pointed out that they were about to have a sort of communal lunch. They spread out a long thin tarpaulin, about 25m long, then all the ladies preceeded to open up their cloth backpacks and empty out all shapes and sizes of cooked potatoes onto the mat. Our new friend talked us through the different types of potatoes, and we tried them all. It was a really lovely event to witness, so different to anything we do at home. They are way more communal here, and I think it´s a really nice way to be. Mid-way though my potato snack session, another local man started chatting to me, asking where I was from. I told him, and he got out a picture of his brother-in-law wearing a Man United scarf. He insisted we had a photo with him, and gave me his email address so I can send him the picture. These sweet little inter-personal encounters have really made the trip for me.
La Paz has a great energy about it, there´s always something going on, usually a fiesta or a protest, or just people going about their daily business, shouting out destinations of minibuses, or announcing what produce they have to sell. I like it here, but after 3 nights, it´s time to move on…. early tomorrow we head to Lake Titicaca.
Niclas KjellstrÃ¶m Matseke