The first day spent in inland Peru, we boarded our bus bound for Colca Canyon (Chivay to be exact). The bus journey was over a very high altitude (4800m) so our guide stopped at a local shop where we were able to invest in a natural remedy to altitude sickness - coca leaves. Basically you put 8 leaves in your mouth and chew on them for 30 mins before spitting them out. We were told to repeat this process 4 times. The leaves tasted disgusting and many of our group only managed to chew them for 3 mins and than gave up. However us hard core ones managed to stick it out. Not sure if it made any difference however, as when we got out at the highest point for a wander round, I (Heidi) had to sit down on a rock to collect my head which was feeling very faint. Lucky we were not up there for long and soon headed down the steep incline to Chivay.
The drive over to Chivay was beautiful, passing through the Aguada Blanca National Vicuna Reserve and over the bleak, tussocked altiplano surrounded by volcanoes and snow clad mountains. We had finally arrived in what we thought was typical Peru - beautiful! Along the way we got to see several vicunas, one of the four camelid species found in Peru. They are also the national animal and they are quite rare to see. There was also plenty of local campesinos following their herds of alpacas and llamas over the tussock lands and many little stone houses (called colcas). From the highest point in our trip we got to see the volcano named Ampato. This is where Juanita the ice maiden mummy was found. This was a young inca girl that was sacrificed for the gods on top of Ampato volcano. She was mummified and perfectly preserved and is now on display in a museum (we found it quite expensive to see her so gave it a miss).
Chivay (3700m) is a cute little town with a lovely main square and is nestled on a ledge above the Colca river. We checked into our plush hotel and settled down for our alpaca meat lunch. Despite Shaun now having a liking for tripe, we were both disappointed by the alpaca which tasted rather like liver/kidney. Needless to say we will not be attempting this again. We then went to the local natural hot springs at La Calera which were lovely - much nicer than the ones in Banos, as they had clear water for a start! We were well chuffed to find that we could be served drinks in the pool as well (see photo!). That evening we were shepherded off to a touristy restaurant which had an andean band playing (panflutes, percussion and a small guitar called a charango). Despite the restaurant being filled with tour groups, the band was actually quite good and we can now say we have been to a Pena club (places that play typical andean music). They also had typical dancers and lucky old Shaun managed to be pulled up in front of everyone for a dance with one of the local girls. We were pretty tired by the time the night ended and arrived back at our hotel and were given hot water bottles before going to bed (it was bloody cold in the mountains)!
The next morning we set off to Colca Canyon. This is twice as deep as the grand canyon and is thought to be the second deepest canyon in the world at 3300m depth (the first is another one in Peru just a few mountains away). The drive along the way was beautiful as the river valley was lined with unspoiled andean villages whose inhabitants still use the extensive pre-columbian, stone-terraced fields all along the valley walls. We got out and walked some of the way above the canyon walls and ended at the Cruz del Condor, a viewpoint where condors float above on the thermals. These birds (a type of vulture) are huge and are quite amazing when they drift above you. We waited for a while and didn't see any so I (Heidi) decided to take a trip to the Inca toilet (behind a rock). While I was away the condors decided to take the opportunity to fly about 2m above the groups heads which was quite an amazing site. It was about half an hour before thay did it again however so I didnt miss out!
On the way back along the canyon we stopped at a local village (Macha) where a beautiful church (Santa Ana de Mirabella) had been restored following earthquake damage. The inside however, we found to be quite gaudy - lots of intricate gold-plating. The Colca Canyon area is very much geared up for tourist groups - each place we stopped, the local women had set up little stalls selling alpaca products and other andean crafts. It was Shauns favourite!! The local women all wore local dress, long flouncy skirts intricately embroidered as well as gaudy, emboidered hats. Apparently this style of clothing was handed down by the Spanish ladies when the country was first conquested.
We arrived back at our hotel in Arequipa after a long drive to find that chanel 14 has non-stop porn!! Luckily I did manage to persuade Shaun out of the hotel for at least a day! Arequipa, the second largest city on Peru, is set in a valley surrounded by snow-clad mountains, two of which are volcanoes (Misto, a perfect cone shaped mountain and Chachani). The city is now a UNESCO world heritage site and is very beautiful. Despite being the second biggest city, it appears to be quite a rich city with hardly any evidence of poverty. There are lots of western styled restaurants and lovely craft shops. The buildings are mostly made of a fine volcanic white coloured rock which is why the city is often referred to as the white city. Unfortunately we only spent one day here so had to make the most of it.
The main square (Plaza de Armas) is surrounded on three sides by colonial, two-storeyed, arcaded buildings all in white - these are all lit up at night and look great. There are many restaurants in these buildings and each one has at least 2 people outside trying to get you to have food at their particular place. This got to be quite annoying so we ended up promising at least 5 different people that we would go back to their places later on. However we did stop for lunch at one which overlooked the busy square with great views. The other side of the square has a massive cathedral, founded in 1612 and largely rebuilt in the 19th century following damage caused by earthquakes. Inside the cathedral is a huge organ as well as a beautiful chandelier. Other than that, the cathedral was quite plain which is quite nice for a change from the intricately decorated gold plated churches we had previously seen.
The first place we visited in Arequipa (after the main square), was the Santa Catalina Convent built in 1580. It is a completely walled, mini colonial town of over 2ha. 450 nuns once lived here in exclusion however now days there are only a few remaining. They live in a small section of the convent and the rest of it has been opened to the public since 1970 to help fund the nuns. In the past the young girls from rich families were placed in the convent (they had no choice about the matter) and went into religious training for 1-2 years. They each had a room and lived in total isolation from one another, only being able to talk for half an hour a day. Once they had passed their vows and were married to the church, they lived in small houses on streets named after places in Spain (Cordoba, Granada, Seville). The small walled town is very colnial in style and is beatifully refurbished, with cobbled streets and plazas bright with geraniums and trees.
A group of us girls managed to get rid of the boys in a pub to watch the england footy game while we explored the craft shops and Arequipa's architecture (supposedly the best in Peru). We found the San Franciso church which was situated next to a lovely plaza full of flowering jacaranda trees as well as many old arched buildings with huge courtyards inside. The girls ended their afternoon with coffee and cake at one of the many cake shops in town - oh my god they were decadent! The beer and pool was also pretty good !! (says Shaun).
The following day (Thursday) we set off early to Cusco after a scrummy empanada for breaky.