Peru Holiday 2011


Posted 9 June 2011

Last minute catch up

Well, here we are in chilly and oxygen-free Cusco after our endless train journey from MP and a night in a very posh hotel that is out last night treat. We had a slightly eventful second day in MP as Chris woke up feeling sick and had a bad dose (let’s leave the graphic description of that alone!) We’ve both had the odd tummy upset whilst here, but today was CJ’s worse episode. So, dosed up, we had our second look around MP on our own which was nice, but we were grateful for the information that was still in our heads from our first visit. It was very warm at MP and, as CJ wasn’t feeling tip top, we decided not to do the climb up to the Sun Gate and just chilax at the Citadel. It’s the most magical place that gives you the feeling that, although life must have been extremely hard for its inhabitants, it was a happy, organised and highly spiritual home. If it wasn’t for the tourists, the only noise you would hear would be happy birdsong (or the gentle chewing from a friendly llama).

We were lucky to have bright sunshine again. Several people have said that really is lucky as MP is often shrouded in cloud, but we had 2 perfect days.

The train journey back to Cusco seemed interminable and we could probably have walked it faster. They tried to relieve the tedium by doing a fashion show and laying on a traditional dance from the Cusco area. The crowd in the carriage were highly entertained by both – cheers of delight and wolf whistles abounded! However, once dark settled in and the glorious scenery was lost from view, we couldn’t wait to get to Poroy where we were greeted by ‘Mr Frank’, our lovely driver from a couple of days ago. He seems like a good friend now.

We are finishing our holiday with a visit to the Inca Museum and then it’s off to the airport for the long flight home. Thank you all for your company – it’s been really good to hear from you all. xx

Made it to Cusco!

Just to say we have made it safely to Cusco. Lots to do tonight so no proper blog – will endeavour to write before we fly tomorrow.

Marvellous, magical Machu Picchu

The classic Machu Picchu

It was another early start and we headed off from our hotel at 6.30 to take a short walk to the train station where we boarded the Vistadome train. The journey took an hour and a half and was, yet again, phenomenally beautiful, enhanced by clear blue skies and bright sunshine. We followed the path of the Urubamba river all the way from Ollayantambo to Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu Pueblo) and passed by steep mountains soaring above our heads, sometimes with snow capped peaks, moving to increasingly deeply forested scenery with lush green vegetation as we approached the ‘jungle’ area around MP.

Upon arrival at the station, we joined a queue for a bus to Machu Picchu proper. The bus journey took 20 minutes as we zig zagged our way up an unmade road, the scenery becoming ever more stunning as we climbed towards MP. Chris said it reminded him of Thailand; Bev thought the shape and colour of the mountains was reminiscent of Doubtful Sound – take your pick!

Machu Picchu is almost invisible until almost the very top of the climb and is most definitely worth waiting for. We again wondered how on earth the Incas made their way up these hugely steep mountains and then built the most magnificent buildings there. For anyone who’s interested, it was ‘discovered’ by an American called Hiram Bingham in 1911. A local person took him to MP as he was searching for a rumoured lost Inca city called El Dorado. (You may have calculated that it’s the centenary of MP’s discovery this year.) We were surprised that the weather was not as humid as expected and in fact it was quite a dry atmosphere and pleasant to walk around in.

When Bingham found MP, it was in some state of disarray as some of the buildings had fallen down. Our guide told us about 50% have been rebuilt. The site is utterly beautiful and beguiling, but the restored stonework is not of the same fantastic quality that the Incas achieved.

We wandered around the site, with our guide explaining the significance of particular areas and buildings. All fascinating and we are hoping that at least 1% of it might stay in our brains for posterity. Our tour lasted about 3 hours and we visited various temples, dwellings and a royal mausoleum. Theories suggest that MP was for those of noble descent, because of the quality of the stonework.

It was pretty busy by mid morning, but not even loads of people could spoil the magic of the place. There are spots where you can just sit and look down upon the whole site and it feels really tranquil – no mean feat when swarms of tourists are traipsing about. We have taken hundreds of photos so beware! Bev had started to worry whether MP could compete with the other Inca sites we’ve seen in recent days, but her doubts were put to rest the moment we clapped eyes on the place. There really is something magical about its location; and the beautiful Inca constructions still standing and the green of the agricultural terraces combine to make it an awe inspiring place. We have run out of words to describe the beauty of the Incas’ work, their skills in construction and their ability to tame apparently impossible landscapes. Our guide was telling us that there’s apparently another site, even bigger than MP that’s been discovered not too far from where MP stands. It seems impossible to believe that a wonder such as MP could ever be eclipsed.

Tour over, we headed back down in the bus and then on to our hotel for the night. On arrival, we were told we’d been moved to their sister hotel, also in the town but much posher. Yep, another upgrade! So we are now ensconced in an eco lodge set in 11 acres of what they call ‘cloud forest’. We will be joining a twilight walk and downing a couple of Pisco sours as part of our upgrade!

Having checked in, it was time to bid farewell to our guide and go in search of lunch. We went to a restaurant recommended by our guide and had a lovely, fresh veggie sandwich and yet more asparagus soup. We’ve had a lot of soup this holiday as it’s recommended as a light meal to help acclimatisation. Peru grows lots of asparagus, and we have become slightly addicted to fresh asparagus soup!

Our plan for tomorrow is to return to MP in the morning and look round by ourselves, do a walk recommended by our guide and have lunch up there before we have to return to the train station to catch a train back towards Cusco. We are entirely on our own until we get off the train in the evening so heaven only knows what trouble we’ll get into.

Well, just back from a spectacular meal at the hotel which followed a bug and gnat free twilight walk (we were very surprised by this owing to our almost tropical location). The twilight walk took us through the rear of the hotel gardens and into their large tea plantation; we learned a bit about the flora and fora from our guide who equipped us with lanterns which were only just capable of illuminating our path through the dense foliage. Good fun though. CJ managed a huge chocolate pudding at dinner, no surprise I suppose! We have decided to try and get back to Machu Picchu at around 10:00 tomorrow and do the Sun Gate walk which takes us high up over the complex; wish us well for an oxygen filled trek.

Cusco to Ollantaytambo

Another amazing day scrambling over Inca remains, having lunch in the most incredible setting and finally arriving in our lovely hotel for the evening.

We were picked up at a very respectable time this morning and headed out of Cusco into the hills and on to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Our journey weaved us high into the Andes (though we have ended up at an altitude lower than Cusco) and our first stop was Pisaq at a respectable 2850m. Here, we stopped for a look over an ancient Inca settlement and coped well with the up and down clambering over steep, uneven steps that hang over a 1000 foot precipice with no guarding to speak of. Returning to our van with slightly shaky legs, we then took a slow wander through a huge craft market where we were unable to resist buying some lovely local crafty things. You’ll have to wait to see what we’ve bought as they’ve gone back to Cusco with our suitcases.

After Pisaq, we were then taken to our lunch stop, a huge Colonial building that offers an enormous range of buffet food to travellers taking the Sacred Valley route to Machu Picchu. This part of the route right through to our destination looked more affluent than  many of the other places we’ve passed through. Our guide said many Chileans have bought properties in the area. The setting of the restaurant reminded us of a formal English garden with rose and chrysanthemum bushes growing naturally. It was one of those places that, unless you knew about it, you wouldn’t necessarily stop and would miss an amazing experience. With full tums and a quick goodbye to some tame Llamas, we were on our way again and headed deeper into the Sacred Valley toward our final destination; the fortress at Ollantaytambo.

This Inca construction really took our breath away; it is absolutely huge, dedicated to the sun god and it’s impossible to comprehend how it was constructed. We were told how the Incas built a huge ramp to transport the massive stones from their quarry, (some ten miles away and up another mountainside and across a river) up to the summit of the temple. The accuracy of the stonework is unfathomable; a reason why some people believe that the Incas came from outer space!

Our hotel tonight has lovely gardens and is quiet and pleasant. Our room has very low lighting levels – must be trying to keep the electricity costs down! We have an early start to MP tomorrow, via the Vistadome train. Bev came over all unnecessary at the thought of finally seeing MP so let’s hope she pulls herself together for tomorrow.


Inca construction at Cusco

It made a nice change to have a lazy morning today; the only downside was spending breakfast with a host of loud and intense American students who were deeply annoying. Although we both had a good night, CJ woke up completely shattered and almost unable to keep his eyes open which was a bit of a shock as he’s been pretty lively up ’till now (for a boy of his age). We have put this down to the altitude and a lack of drinking, so he has been downing bottles of water/electrolyte drink all day which seems to have perked him up a bit.

We did a bit of wandering around the main plaza of Cusco this morning. It is a very attractive city, spoilt by the hundreds of street vendors who want you to buy hideous art, sunglasses, have your photo taken with a baby alpaca etc etc. Many of the streets are incredibly narrow and steep so their one way system must take some getting to know. As the chap who met us last night said, the city was originally for people using llamas so no need for wide streets.

Our guide and driver have taken us to a number of Inca sites today in the hills, just outside Cusco city and given us a wealth of information that I’m sure we will forget by tomorrow. Our guide, David, is a bit difficult to understand which doesn’t help our comprehension, but he is very knowledgable and friendly. We visited Tambomachay, Kenko, and Sacsayhuaman which are some of the best Inca sites in Peru. They all show what amazing stone masons they were, constructing vast temples and houses with massive stones that fit together with incredible accuracy. Unfortunately, a great number of Inca buildings from the area were destroyed by the invading Spanish who were convinced that the Incas had secreted gold and silver between the joints of the stonework. Also, a number of Catholic churches were built out of stone raided from Inca temples. There are a number of different opinions as to what some of the builds were for; made more difficult as the Incas didn’t write anything down.

Back in the city, we visited the cathedral, a colonial building built over an Inca Sun Temple. It is a vast edifice, set out in the form of a Latin cross. It must have about 15 altars, each with gold gilding and many with silver altars. Absolutely astonishing. No photos allowed so we can’t share the grandeur with you pictorially. David told us many Hollywood couple have come to be married there.

We have just come back from eating a very nice meal of quinoa soup with veg followed by pizza – no guinea pig for us. We had hoped to have a glass of wine with our meal but alcohol is forbidden as it’s Peru’s election day and no-one can drink until after midnight.

Our hotel is very quaint and has a real colonial style about it. We get hot water bottles for ‘”ze foots” brought to our room!

Tomorrow is a 9:00am start so not too early. We are off the Sacred Valley and have to pack light as we are only allowed minimal luggage for our trip to Machu Picchu.

Travelling in style by train – Puno to Cusco

Another incredible day (CJ says a contender for his best day so far). Our guide picked us up at 7.30am and we were driven to the train station where he organised our baggage drop off, tying a yellow ribbon on each bag so that we would recognise them in Cusco. We stayed in the van whilst the driver reversed about 20m into oncoming traffic to let us out at the passenger entrance. Not sure why he felt we couldn’t walk that distance.

In the ticket hall, (which looked liked something out of a western), we had to show our tickets to a man in a dinner suit and were welcomed onto the train by very smart suited staff, but not before we’d been serenaded by a band of 4 musicians who were singing and playing traditional Andean music on the platform. We realised then that this was not going to be an ordinary rail journey. If you think Orient Express, you’ll be on the right lines. We have to say that we were expecting something far less posh.

We were looked after brilliantly by the staff and kept entertained during the day with music and dance, a lesson in making the national cocktail, Pisco sour, and a fashion show with folk music; all designed to extract money out of us, but brilliantly entertaining never the less. All of that was in case the yet again magnificent views weren’t enough. Bev thinks Chris’ highlight has been reached today as he was chosen to dance with a fiesta-outfitted young lady (see photos for proof) (CJ – embarrassing for her me thinks!) We managed a Pisco sour, a glass of wine and a lovely mango champaign cocktail en route – a bit of a change from a British Rail sandwich.

The railway line literally runs through the streets of the towns that it passes. We passed through a large town called Juliaca where the market was in full flow and the stalls ended right at the edge of the rail track (or continued onto it in some cases where fruit was laid between the tracks for added street appeal). That market was incredible – you could have bought anything from car parts, rope of any size, great big bits of metalwork to your bog standard fruit and veg, all within inches of the track or so close we could have reached out of the train window and taken it.

The train attracts considerable interest as it passes through the countryside and we have spent the day waving at lots of children who seem genuinely pleased to see people. One other thing that we have discovered about Peru is that they appear to have bread a particular type of dog that likes to chase anything with a wheel. We have encountered this particular breed on the road (disconcerting at times) and now on a train. I guess that the sight of a moving object perks them up!

The scenery has changed again today and, as we got closer to Cusco, almost everywhere became agricultural land, edged in forest and the lush green of agave and eucalyptus. A large river that has water in even now followed us for some of the way, a big difference to everywhere we’ve been so far which has been parched. Some of the scenery close to Cusco looked almost familiar, a bit like Tuscany (on drugs) we thought.

The train pulled into Cusco a little before 6pm by which time it was dark and the only way we could gauge how big the city is was by the thousands of lights on the hills around the city. What we managed to see out of the car window seems very nice, steep with very very narrow streets. We’ll find out a bit more tomorrow. Our hotel is described as boutique. It appears to be very high up as our room looks over the lights of the city. So far it seems quiet so let’s hope that lasts. The lady on reception was keen to let us know that breakfast is served from 5a.m. We’ll give that a miss, at least for tomorrow as we have the morning free before our city (an environs) tour starts at 1:00pm. Off to bed at 9:20 – oh joy.

A day out on Lake Titicaca

We’ve been adopted!

What a fascinating time we have had today. Our guide came to pick us up and we went by ‘eco taxi’ to the boat. An eco taxi is a seat for 2 on the front of a bicycle. It was chilly when we left the hotel at about 6.45 so we were glad to have several layers of clothing on.

The boat that took us to the lake must be in contention for the slowest ever! Apparently, some are powered by US Dodge engines. We’re sure that the trip could be much shorter if they used proper boat engines. Anyway, without a health and safety chat in sight, we headed out onto Lake Titicaca and about half an hour later arrived at the floating, artificial Uros Islands. There are about 60 of these, made from the reeds that grow in the lake. Our guide for the day, who was an absolute mine of information, (not a good analogy given the recent strikes!) explained how the islanders cut the reeds to make the floor of the islands as well as all their buildings. It is also their principal food source – it tastes a bit like celery (Bev tried a bit). As the reeds rot, the island becomes unstable so they have to cut new reeds every 15 days. They lay them in one direction across the islands one time and in the opposite direction the next. Their homes are very small (approx 2.5m square) and light and they pick up their houses when reed laying is going on, so that everywhere gets a fresh layer. It’s a very odd sensation walking over the islands; you have to trust that there is sufficient reed underfoot as we were given a demonstration that showed that the lake bottom was 15m below our feet.

A small group of women sang to us in Aymara, their native tongue. They also know some French as French visitors come to stay on the islands sometimes so we were treated to a chorus of ‘Gentille Alouette’ too. We were paired off with a couple and went to see the inside of their house (one room with a reed bed for the parents and a small space for their 2 children). We were shown the work they produce – woven boats and toys by the man and tapestry by the woman. Tourist trap heaven, however, tourism is the only thing that keeps this unique society going. As well as being free to have a wander around, there was also the opportunity to travel in one of their very beautifully constructed reed rafts to another of the islands. You might remember Thor Heyerdahl who built a reed boat (Kon Tiki) to prove that ancient communities managed to navigate the Pacific. We declined that offer and stayed to see a bit more of the island we were on. As the reed boat pulled away, the same group of women sang “Row, Row, Row your boat” – bizarre!! The islands rely on tourism; although they grow some crops and keep pigs and cows, they are not self-sufficient and many children leave for Puno as soon as they can. We were, as you’d expect in awe of these people and how they manage with next to nothing (compared to the cushy lives we all live).

The same (slow) boat took our party onward to Taquile island, famous for its hand woven goods. We were both dreading the climb up to the summit of the town, some 4050m above sea level and 150m above the point at which we were dropped off. We managed it tho, and although our hearts pumped and our lungs gasped, the climb was worth it. It’s another tourist trap with young kids selling anything they can for a Sol (24p), but a very peaceful place with a very well organised community. We learned about hat and dress etiquette, which is far too involved to go into here, and how they use the calendar to determine what happens in each month throughout the year. This month is house building month. We’ve just missed marriage month. How well organised.

Well, after our very early start we are absolutely shattered, not helped by CJ having a dodgy stomach, so it’s off to bed early for yet another early start tomorrow for a ten hour train journey to Cusco.

Puno and Lake Titicaca

Buenos dias Alpaca

We left Colca Lodge just after 7.30 this morning as we had a very long car journey to get to Puno. We have seen an incredible variety of scenery today, from the agricultural terraces of the Colca Valley, to moon-like surfaces at the Zone of Volcanoes, to relatively rolling (by Peruvian standards) green and fertile agricultural lands. We saw many herds of alpacas and, increasingly as we neared Puno, sheep. Unfortunately, we also saw lots of dogs, each sitting on its own by the side of the main road, running into the path of oncoming traffic whenever they felt the desire to do so. Our driver had to brake hard to miss one who decided to walk out just as we approached. Thankfully, we missed him.

Our stops along the way have revealed that we are getting into colder climes. Puno is known for its baking days and freezing nights, no doubt a consequence of being at 3800 metres. We had our first glimpse of Lake Titicaca as we drove into town. Our viewpoints so far haven’t enabled us to see its full magnitude and it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to see it all as it’s 4800 km long! No signs of any blockades, so that’s good news.

We said a sad farewell to Wilmo and he gave us both a hug. He had dinner with us last night and recounted some hilarious tales of life as a tour guide. He’s been doing the job for five years and has many funny and strange tales, including being asked to fix guests up with prostitutes! He hates his fellow Peruvians as guests most, as they are always late for everything and have no sense of urgency. The English are best apparently – we think you can probably change that for the Americans, Canadians etc depending on who he’s talking to! We told him he should write a book.

We have had a brief introduction to our guide in Puno who we will see briefly tomorrow as he picks us up at 6:45am to go on the boat trip on Lake Titicaca. We are currently resting in our rather over the top designed hotel room and will probably head out a bit later to see a little of Puno.

Just back from our walk around Puno and we can safely say that it won’t be on our return visit list. It’s a rather threatening place with armed police at the door to every bank and cracked toughened glass to the bank doors (perhaps they were damaged as a result of the recent blockade?) Anyway, we’ve managed a nice pizza with “adequately disinfected” salad – a phrase that gives you hope that they have at least shown it the tap! So, we’re off to bed early tonight as it’s a dreadfully early start tomorrow. We’re hoping the presidential election parade that is going on outside our window stops soon.

A local day – Colca Lodge

After our early start yesterday, we had a more leisurely timetable today and headed out at 10 for a walk to see some archeological remains. We had to walk up narrow, gravel paths mixed with shingle – perfect for sure footed donkeys but we had to tread carefully.
The remains were of a village and date from the 11th century when they were attacked by the bloody Spanish. (Makes a nice change that it wasn’t the bloody Brits.) Some parts have been rebuilt and you can certainly feel that people lived there hundreds of years ago. In some ways, life for the country folk feels as though it might not have changed much since the first inhabitants were alive. Walking along the path made us realise just how hard these people work to scratch a living. Once they have walked from their homes half an hour away, they then have to climb the steep path to get to their terraces, work the crops and head home again. The soil looks thin and is like dust though they have a rather well Inca-constructed water channel to water the crops. We saw quinoa and maize today. Our guide told us that many farmers either stop farming in the winter and take up another business or live on what they have made from those crops for the rest of the year.
We walked a bit further to see a waterfall and then headed down to meet our car. We had lunch in Chivay again, another really good meal at the same restaurant as yesterday except today we were treated by a pan pipe player – our first encounter with the pan pipes, but probably not the last! Bev needed stamps so we asked our guide if there was a post office. Yes he told us and led us into a restaurant and into a tiny room at the rear where a woman who spoke excellent English sold us seven stamps! I don’t think we’d ever have found the place without Wilmo (our guide). Our next stop was for alpaca yarn. Upstairs in a tiny room was a family selling hand painted ceramic jars, jewellery, craft toys, alpaca rugs and yarn. You are now the proud owner of 3 skeins of baby alpaca yarn, Mim. We hope you approve of the colour, which has been modelled by Millie in a photo which you should see once we are able upload pictures. One other thing – no luck on bringing home coca leaves as we won’t get them through customs as coca is a derivative of cocaine!
We are now resting at the hotel before we have to think about packing and getting ready to go to Puno. Wilmo is having a final conversation with his boss this p.m. to see how the situation in Puno is, but latest reports suggest things are improving. Although it will be nice to see new sights, we will miss the unique atmosphere of the Colca Valley.

Condors to Colca Valley

It was a disgracefully early start today and we drove away from the hotel at 6.30a.m., off to see condors flying in the Colca Canyon. It was a bumpy ride along an unmade and very dusty road for about an hour and a half, though we did several stops along the way. Our very helpful guide was telling us that tyres have to be changed every six months here because of the gravelled roads, and suspensions even more frequently.

Anyway, the early start and bumpy ride were more than worth it as we saw more than 20 condors swooping and gliding on the thermals 1400m above the Colca Canyon floor. They came close enough to hear the air in their wings and what a magnificent sight they were. They are the largest flying birds on the planet, with a wing span of more than 3 m. We have restricted the number of condor photos we’re inflicting on you, and spared you the ones that were meant to be of condors but ended up being just sky! It’s impossible to do justice to the Colca Canyon; a huge stretch of vertical, craggy, rock formations that plunged to a river in the valley floor.

The scenery today has again been magnificent and unlike anything else we have ever seen. We drove over a geological fault line where landslides can still be clearly seen and a once flat road is now sinking on one side and rising on the other. A village called Maca is situated on the fault line and the villagers keep moving each time there’s a big earthquake or eruption. They are only 10km from the still active volcano.

On the way back from the condors, we stopped to get a high level view of the agricultural terraces. There are apparently 9000 of them in the valley, but only 4000 are now farmed as many are too far from where the people live. They pre-date the Incas, around the 11th century they think. We hope you agree they make for spectacular viewing.

All along the route today we have seen people working, using their donkey to carry crops or pushing the crops on a barrow. Bev’s favourite sight of the day (other than the condors and the staggering beauty everywhere you cared to look) was a woman in traditional dress leading her donkey laden with crops whilst a sheep followed behind. The people must walk miles to tend their crops and they do it all along dusty, bumpy tracks. No wonder they look hardened to their environment. We wouldn’t last 5 minutes in their shoes.

En route back to the lodge, our guide and driver led us down one of the myriad of narrow, dusty streets in Chivay to find an amazing cafe/restaurant where we had lunch from a bulging buffet whilst listening to a man on a harp. We were thinking that if we had organised this holiday ourselves, we wouldn’t have had any idea of these interesting little secret places. Lunch consisted of fresh veggies and salad, cheese, beans, sweet potato fritters and fried banana followed by orange cake – all made on the premises, fresh and tasty.

Just to let you know, we are both feeling what we imagine is the affect of altitude – slight headache and shortness of breath. Apparently, the body compensates for the lack of oxygen by manufacturing more red blood cells, which can leave you a bit light headed and lethargic. Still, it’s not too bad, thank goodness. Also, it looks like Puno might have ended their strike by Thursday, fingers’ crossed.

Posted 31 May 2011 

Arequipa to Colca

Well, this has been a packed day. This morning, we said goodbye to the guide who had been looking after us in Arequipa and met our new guide for Colca Canyon, after which we set off for a long drive high into the Andes. It won’t come as any surprise by now that it has been warm and sunny again and that remained the case as we wended our way along and up into the Andes.

The scenery today has been jaw-droppingly beautiful with enormous vistas and skies at every turn. It’s also been the day to see Peruvian wildlife in the wild. We saw vicunas, alpacas and llamas and a range of birds we’d never heard of, alongside the …seagull! Our guide told us that over 80% of vicunas were hunted and by the 1980s there were only 1900 left in the country, from a population of 9000. The government made them a protected species and have a breeding programme which is slowly increasing the population again. Vicuna wool is obtained by an annual shaving, having 1st round up the vicunas and tied their legs together to stop them escaping – poor things. Well at least they don’t eat them. We climbed steadily as we drove and had a stop for coca tea at an altitude of 4500 metres. The good news is that we both felt fine. Coca tea apparently combats the effects of altitude by relaxing your system. You may have worked out that the leaves are from the plant that goes to make cocaine and the Incas used to use them and leave them as offerings to their gods. The scenery became ever more dramatic and beautiful, with snowy peaked mountains and agricultural terraces on which many of the crops are grown. We made a number of stops for wildlife – you have been spared the full number of photos of vicunas in the album! We eventually arrived at a small town called Chivay where many women wear traditional costume. We only had a quick stop there but hope to return for lunch tomorrow as it looked very interesting. Then it was the final push to Colca Lodge. The lodge is an adobe construction and is very peaceful and lovely. We have just returned from dinner and are planning an early night as we leave at 6.30 in the morning to hopefully see condors in the wild. The climate here is a lot cooler and our room is equipped with a lovely llama blanket and an electric heater – I think we might need them both tonight.

Posted 30 May 2011 

Thank you for your posts

Your comments are, as always, very entertaining and thank you very much for taking time to write and to comment on the photos. Yes, there is black sweetcorn here as well as the one we recognise, although their version is more cream than yellow and the individual corn ‘seeds’ are bigger.

M – forgot to say we asked about vicuna wool and you’re going to be out of luck unless we can capture and shear a vicuna as we head off today! Even in Peru the cost of vicuna garments are horrendously expensive – a scarf we saw yesterday cost 400 US dollars and a poncho was 1400 USD! A dollar is roughly 60p if you want to do the maths. It works out about 3 times the price of alpaca clothing which is everywhere and gorgeous.

I’m trying to recall any Alpean/Andean fusion dishes from last night’s menu and I think it’s probably fairer to say that you can find both styles of cooking on the same menu. We think the owner is Swiss and we could have ordered fondue, which is not a typical Peruvian dish! Bev ate rosti with Roquefort; also a Swiss dish.

We might have a change of plan enforced upon us after the Colca Canyon as Puno is experiencing a strike by the miners. They’re saying the mine owners are not complying with certain regulations and have blocked the main road so no-one can get in or out. Talks are underway and I guess it depends how much the mine owners are prepared to concede how quickly whether we will be able to travel there or not. Our travel company is waiting to see what happens in the next few days but alternative plans are being looked at in case we can’t go. It will be a real shame not to be able to see Lake Titicaca – maybe the tourist dollar might mean the government gets involved and bangs heads together sooner rather than later. Tourism is Peru’s 3rd largest source of income after mining and fishing, so it’s anyone guess if the mining companies use their top dog slot to hold out or the government looks at the effect on Peru’s reputation as a destination and insists on a settlement. I don’t know if the mines are privately or state owned.

Anyway, we will be in touch as soon as we can and let you know where we will be after Colca Canyon.

Posted  30 May 2011 

Ambulating in Arequipa

Santa Catalina Convent

Despite a night interrupted by fireworks at intervals throughout the night and into this morning, we both slept reasonably well. Chris woke up feeling less than great and was concerned the altitude was getting to him, but luckily has improved during the day, thanks to his electrolyte sachets. Our guide was very helpful in his advice and helped us buy a couple of things from chemists too.

When our guide left us yesterday, he said ‘it will be sunny tomorrow so make sure you use sunscreen and wear a hat’. We were discussing what a British tour guide would be able to say –  we concluded ‘bring everything; anything could happen’  would be safest. Lima gets about 2 inches of rain a year, in the form of light drizzle; Arequipa gets more rain but only in the Summer. The temperature has been lovely for us – low 20s during the day and then cool nights, so none of that discomfort of feeling clammy in bed.

We had a light breakfast and met our guide at 9.30a.m. We went by taxi to the food market which sold everything you might ever need in the food line, including frog juice (yes, made from frogs – yuk)! We saw loads of fruit we don’t get in the UK and more varieties of potatoes than we knew existed. As we walked to our next destination, we came across thousands of people in the central square. We were told they were the people from the shanty town on the outskirts of the city (the adobe buildings we mentioned) and they were celebrating because they have been given title to the land their homes are built on. The shanty town holds about 70% of Arequipa’s 1 million population and people who came from the ‘highlands’ live there. It’s equivalent to our rural population moving to the towns and cities. Amazingly, living in what looks to us like near poverty is preferable to trying to rebuild their former lives.

We visited a lovely church and then a museum which has the almost perfectly preserved remains of ‘Juanita’, a young girl sacrificed by the Incas more than 5oo years ago to appease the god of a volcanic mountain. The film explaining the reasons for the sacrifices and the fact that they were a sign of great status was interesting, as was the tour afterwards when real Inca artefacts that were found with this and other sacrifices were on display, along with ‘Juanita’ herself. She was found when the volcano erupted in the 1990s because the eruption dislodged her body from her grave and she rolled down the mountain into the path of people investigating the eruption. Her resting place is normally under ice which is why she was so well preserved. 14 sacrificed children have been found in Peru. I could go on for a long time about what we learned but maybe we’ll get to tell you more when we’re home.

After a tasty lunch of asparagus soup, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before heading back out to visit the Convent of Santa Catalina. Another tour, this time with a Spanish woman who spoke English at a rate of knots and with quite a strong accent so it was hard work trying to keep up! We learned lots about private convents and how you had to be rich to get into one as a nun. The building was interesting and attractive to visit. Part of the grounds is still used by 20 nuns who live in a new convent nearby.

We needed to lie down after we’d all taken in so came back to the hotel for a rest. We’ve just got back from our tea, another very nice meal in a Andean/Swiss restaurant; an interesting and successful combination.

A new destination tomorrow as we go higher into the Andes and visit Colca Canyon where we might not be able to blog for the next few days due to the remote location. Hopefully, see you there, altitude sickness and technology willing.

Arequipa has alpacas

Ed, Millie and a few Alpacas at our hotel

We managed to sleep last night which was a great relief. The hotel was packed at breakfast time, mainly with Americans and Europeans. We were picked up at 9.30 and had a less hair raising ride to the airport than last night’s. Our flight (no llamas, Jan!) was lovely with wonderful views of the Andes, including some snow capped mountains. We’d left the camera in our bag and couldn’t get out of our seats to get it, so you will just have to believe us about the views on this occasion.

The homes on the very edge of Arequipa appear to be made of adobe. It seems to move from mountain to a flat desert-like plain very quickly. It reminded me of the mud caves scene in one of the Star War films.

Our guide gave us lots of information when we got to the hotel, including a lot about the effects of altitude. Our tums are feeling a bit delicate but we have, so far, avoided other symptoms. We are taking it easy and not eating big meals and making sure we drink lots of water. He advised us to have lots of glucose and to eat sweet things. Chris is heartbroken at the prospect.

Our hotel is really nice and we have been given a free upgrade to a ‘senior’ suite. Maybe that’s because we look old! We have a lounge area, an enormous bed,  a jacuzzi bath and a very good shower. The hotel has peacocks and peahens and alpacas in its grounds.

Despite the adobe outskirts, Arequipa is known as the White City and our stroll around the centre this afternoon justifies its name. It is apparently a wealthy place and we certainly saw some smart shops. Alpaca clothes are on sale everywhere and there is a strange mix of third-world street cafes and bars to swanky, modern shops selling all sorts of glamour gear. We have been surprised at how early it gets dark here. At around 6:00pm it’s getting quite dark and chilly which also coincides with most people hitting the streets.

We went to a restaurant recommended by our guide for our meal this evening. We were very restrained, bearing in mind our advice on how to acclimatise to the altitude and had non-alcoholic cocktails and a small serving of pasta. It was a really nice restaurant.

We’re out with our guide tomorrow morning for a walking tour of Arequipa, so more of that tomorrow.

First siting of the Andes

Well, what a long day. We’ve been travelling for around twenty hours and we feel as if we’ve lived every second of it. Everything has worked out well with connections and transfers, but boy is Peru a long way from home.

On the up side, KLM managed to produce some quite edible veggie food – above the standards of both Air NZ and Thai Airways – and there was no sign of the ash cloud.

The twelve hour flight into Lima took us over the cloud covered Andes where CJ’s phrase “where are the Andes, they’re on the end of my armies” began to wear a little thin after the eighth time of saying it. However, the Andes looked very broody and we were both quite excited by seeing them. This is our first trip to South America and we are excited by the prospect of experiencing a new culture. We have been very surprised by the size of Lima. It took over an hour for our guide and driver to get us to our hotel and if you thought the Italians were mad drivers, they cannot compare to the mad and reckless driving that seems quite normal here. It’s perfectly acceptable to drive at high speed down a dual carriageway, flashing the car in front, swapping lanes, bibbing the horn and cutting everyone up you possibly can. Everyone seems ok with this, but we were on the edge of our seats for most of the way here. Our guide gave us lots of interesting snippets about Lima (little did he know that we are just going to crash and go to bed!). He was also keen to tell us about the wonderful bitches that Lima has. Indeed, there are a number of bitches where people go at the weekend to sun bathe. Lucky bitches. The hotel is not much to write home about (which is what I am now doing!) It is quite traditional, slightly knackered and pungent and sits on a side road, but because of the constant bibbing of horns, even the side road is quite noisy. CJ managed to negotiate a slightly quieter room in his best Spanish, and we are now contemplating bed at 9:00pm. We’re off on an internal flight to Arequipa tomorrow morning. Wish us luck for a good night’s sleep tonight.

Here we go again – our blog covering our trip around a very tiny part of Peru. We are off to Peru to mark Bev’s significant birthday this year. Bev has long wanted to visit Machu Picchu and this seemed like a pretty good birthday present!

Please feel free to add comments and visit our Picasa web albums – the links are on the right of the page. Our route and rough itinerary are on the tab above.

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