So we arrive in Arequipa around 1000 after an overnight bus from Nazca that was to have taken 9hrs, but that is 11hrs Peruvian time! A couple stops on the way to fix something under the bus...I don't ask questions I don't want the answer to! Actually, the bus was nicer than I expected, double-decker coach- but put 60 people on the upper deck overnight, and it gets a bit, er, 'stuffy', to say the least.
Again, all we want to do is have a hot shower and a good breakfast. Well, it seems that there is a mining convention in Arequipa, and the hotels are pretty full, which means not enough rooms! I end up sharing a room with two other girls, and three of the guys have to bunk up too- no really, bunk beds! The shower was hot, but a little chilly nonetheless, what with the hole (purposeful, it seemed) in the ceiling above the shower...it has been averaging about 15 C here.
Anyway- we go out to the main square in Arequipa to grab a bite. Arequipa is a large city of about 1.2 million, and is the capital of the Colca region, elevation about 2500m ASL. Much nicer than Lima or the last few towns we've seen. There is a demonstration going on in the square- Peru's nurses are on strike, fighting for better wages. The average public hospital nurse makes about 200 soles a month, or about $60 Cdn. We think we have it bad, eh? Some of them are even on hunger strike.
Wandered about the city for a couple hours; visited a mission that was a nunnery in the past, still has about 90 nuns living there full time. The architecture is beautiful here in the city, in comparison to the relative shacks that people live in on the outskirts.
Dinner was at a 'typical Peruvian' restaurant- you guessed it, one of the guys tried the 'cuy' or guinea pig- ugh! Apparently it tasted like chicken...?! I was brave enough to try the lomo saltado de alpaca (¨Tina, eat some food!¨) Yep, that's alpaca as in the llama family. Very tasty- like beef, only no cholesterol or fat!
After dinner back to the bunkhouse- early night because tomorrow we leave early also for the Colca Canyon.
Breakfast 'al fresco' at the hotel, i.e no restaurant so we eat heuvos, pan, jugo and bebidos calientes (that's eggs, bread, juice and hot drinks)outside on the little patio.
Then it's back on the bus for our trip into the Colca Canyon.
The canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon, at 3700m peak to valley. We make a few stops on our way, first at a roadside cafe to drink mate de coca tea with chachacama- very good for the altitude. A baby alpaca was wandering freely in the cafe, stealing coca leaves and eating sugar out of your hand (see pic). Outside, I bought a nice warm alpaca sweater from one of the vendors for 20 soles, about $6 US.
It was getting chillier as we climbed- the highest pass on this road through the Andes is at 4910m (see pic). One of our ladies ended up with some altitude sickness as a result- so far so good for me! A few other stops to see llamas, alpacas, and vicunas.
'Colca' is the word for 'granary', and this region is one of the biggest agricultural areas in Peru. This is the Peru you see in pictures, of the terraced mountains where corn, potatoes, and carrots are the primary crops, all worked by hand. Our first stop in this beautiful region is in the town of Chivay (shi-bye). I had an awesome lunch of cream of pumpkin soup and alpaca stroganoff. We then made our way to the town of Coporaque, where we would spend the night.
If ever you just wanted to get lost and forget about the world, this is the place to do it! This is a beautiful little town in the middle of nowhere. We went for an hour long hike up the local hillside, where girls from the town were out to display their vegetables, seeds, etc for sale. The style and colours of dress are amazing and seem somewhat out of place against the drabness of their adobe homes.
Our hotel here was also the nicest yet, another surprise considering the surroundings- very much like a beautiful ski resort on a much smaller scale. On an aside, I should mention that this was the first hotel to have heat in the rooms- and this is 'invierno' here now, the end of their winter season! (Also a word on Peruvian toilets- ie, if you get a bowl, great! If there is a seat, even better! Carry your own toilet paper, because that's just asking a bit much, except for the better hotels and restaurants. I have decided that all the squatting is actually good preparation for the quads before the Inca trail).
After our hike, we went back to Chivay (about 30 min) to a natural hot springs, much like Banff if any of you have been there. It was great to have a soak after the hike. I should mention that a shortcut in the road we took involved driving down the dirt runway of the local airfield- no problema, only used for emergencies and the occasional private aircraft, apparently.
Crashed hard but not long enough in my great little room (no roommates this time, ah), because we're up at 0630 to go see the condors fly (see pic).
A quick breakfast at the hotel, then a 2hr journey to the Mirador del Condor or Condor Viewpoint. In the mornings, the huge birds catch the thermals rising out of the canyon and seem to just float in midair. We watched for a bit, then took a half hour hike along the canyon wall, stopping a few times to take in the incredible scenery.
Back on the bus and a stop in Chivay again for lunch before heading back over the Andes pass to Arequipa again. The pass this time of year is usually dry, but this is the first time our guide has seen snow during this time of year, and the roads are not the greatest. We saw one tour bus with a rear wheel off the side of the road- breathed easier once we were out of the snow belt! Sandstorms, snowstorms....locusts next?
Anyway, back in Arequipa again, we have a different hotel than the first- good thing, we need to rest up tonight because tomorrow we fly to Cusco, and it is only 2 days before we start the trek of the Inca trail.