A Travellerspoint blog

Arequipa and Colca Canyon

Corpses and Condors

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So after finally tearing ourselves away from Cuzco, we arrived in the equally attractive Arequipa, nicknamed ´the white city´ because of its white volcanic rock structures. Arequipa is surrounded by a load of volcanes which, like Salkantay, the Incas used to worship, and in the last 20 odd years people have found a whole bunch of dead kids up there in the snow that were sacrificed to appease said volcanoes hundreds of years ago.

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We spent one afternoon wandering around a museum housing one of these ´mummies´ called Juanita, which is in incredibly good condition because she was still frozen when found. Despite having a hideous face, the rest of her body was in incredible condition (skin, veins muscles etc) and was pretty creepy. Equally interesting were the tons of Incan artifacts they found buried around her- clothes, potteries, metal toys- all still in pretty good condition, and really well made considering the limited tools they would have had.

A day or so after, we headed to a town called Cabanaconde, situated just above Colca Canyon. The canyon is supposedly the second deepest in the world, two times the size of the grand canyon (the biggest in the world is just down the road, but is only 100m deeper, and much harder to access)- so after deciding we were hardcore trekkers after Salkantay, we headed on a trail through the canyon that would ultimately take us down one side to the bottom of the canyon, up the other, back down, then all the way back to where we started at the top of the canyon. The trek was HARD. Great views, cool paths through little (and sometimes abandoned) villages and glimpses of huge condors circling overhead, but all the up and downhill struggles were a killer on our legs.

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At the bottom of the canyon there was a little place known as ´the oasis´ where we were able to stay the night in a bamboo shack and have a swim in the pool before heading back up to Cabanaconde.

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This part of the walk was torture, it was so hot and sunny, and we hadnt yet had any food so we were starved of energy. To top it off we started to run out of water as well. We actually resorted to trying to eat a prickly pear off a cactus (resulting in me getting a ton of cactus spines in my lips), and then peeling and eating a raw potato that we had found. Nice. It eventually took us somewhere around 5 hours to climb to the top, including rests (and a short spell where I helped a small grunting local man load his donkey properly), where we quickly checked back into the hostel and collapsed onto the bed. We slept so much that we didnt get up in time to visit Cruz del Condor before heading back to Arequipa, which is a viewpoint from where you can see Condors all close up- but we saw one from a few meters away in Argentina so we werent that fussed.

Posted by St Martins 12:40 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Salkantay to Machu Picchu

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On monday we set of early for our 5 day trek to Machu Picchu. We´ve been looking forward to this for ages and it was incredible. There was only three of us in the group and we had 2 horses with a horse driver, two cooks and a guide. The first day we trekked mostly along a dirt round with a few steep short cuts to get to our first camping place. The first day was pretty hard as we were at quite a high altitude but we´ve been this high for a while so it wasn´t too bad. When we arrived at our camp site our tents were set up and dinner was cooking. The food for our whole trip was amazing... all they had was 2 gas stoves but they managed to make 3 course meals for lunch and dinner with pisco sours (a peruvian cocktail) thrown in. Things were looking good! The second day we were woken up at 5.30 with coca tea and set off after breakfast for ´the hardest day´ and it was pretty brutal! the hardest part was the ´switch back´a path that zig zagged 14 times up the side of Salkantay mountain. At the top we did a ceromony with our horse driver who was part incan or something, where we gave gifts to the mountain (to ensure us safe passage) which was really good.

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The mountain was amazing and the views were stunning, it was covered in snow and glaciers and we were so high up that we were actually trekking into the clouds.

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By the time we had lunch it felt like we´d been treking for the whole day but we had a good 3 hours left. We headed off again and the landscape was awesome, because there were clouds everywhere you couldn´t see much infront of you exept shapes of rocks and the sound of the river.

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At one point we stumbled across a poor calf that had falled down part of the cliff and looked really ill, our guide (who didn´t look particularly big) picked the cow up put him on his shoulders and carried him to to the road so the farmer could help. It was amazing, this cow was pretty heavy and he was just carrying him with no trouble at all!

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We found the farmer and continued trekking through the clouds, all our clothes were getting wet even though it wasn´t raining because the air was so moist. It felt like trekking through Jurassic Park minus the dinasaurs. That night we had a lovely dinner then sat round a camp fire drinking pisco tea, the night was really cold but the pisco did help!

The third day we started really early, the girl with us decided to hire a horse for this day as her shoes had ruined her feet on the first 2 days. This day was trekking through jungle and it was really nice, the climate was a bit warmer and there were lots of passion fruits, avocados and bananas growing on the trees.

We hiked for about 7 hours till lunch time and then we stopped, today was just a half day (sort of), so in the afternoon we washed our feet put on some clean clothes and had a bit of a rest. On the the 4th day we walked uphill along a section on the Inca Trail not included in the typical Inca Trail trek, which was cool.

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When we got to the top we saw our first view of Machu Picchu which was really nice!

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The landscape around it is beautiful! After getting to the top we had alot of down hill which was pretty grueling on the toes. At the bottom we walked along the river to the hydroelectric plant and the to the train track where we had lunch and got the train to Aguas Callientes, the town near to Machu Picchu!

At the town we stayed in a hotel with hot showers, which was lovely! After a shower we felt human again and went out for some dinner before having an early night. We had the choice of getting a bus to Machu Picchu or walking and we decided... we´ve walked this far, why stop now! We also wanted to climb Huayanu Picchu (the mountain in all the pictures) and only 400 people are allowed to climb it a day so you have to get there early. Sooo, at 3.30 we got up and started trekking in the dark at about 4. The walk was up steps the whole way there and you could see loads of lights through the trees of other crazy tourists up that early walking to the ruins. Eventually we arrived at the queue to get into the ruins at about 5:30 and waited at the gate for our Huayanu Picchu tickets and guide until the park opened at 6.

When we got in, it was awesome, just like the pictures only better! The sun hadnt quite come up yet so it was quite chilly to start with, but it meant we got to see the sun rise up over the surrounding mountains and shine all kinds of cool sunbeams onto Machu Picchu and that. Our tour guide took us round and told us loads of stuff that is mostly speculation because the truth is that people dont really know shit all about Machu Picchu, because it was abandoned for an unknown reason, and nothing of its history was ever documented. Still, it was really cool going round all the old buildings, most of which are a lot more intact than I imagined, just minus the roof- you can actually imagine people using it, carrying water around and selling things. It was also a lot bigger than I had imagined and it took us almost 2 hours to walk around just the main center of the town, seeing temples, sundials, royal houses and all that. After our tour finished we had a while to wander round and chill before our scheduled climb of huayna picchu, which was nice because it was still pretty early and so there werent that many tourists yet.

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At 10:00 we started our ascent of huayna picchu, which involved a fairly intense scramble up massively steep, exposed steps along the side of the mountain. After a fairly impressive time of about 35 mins we arrived, huffing and puffing at the top of the mountain. The peak consists of about 5 or 6 rocks where we sat and had some snacks while looking at the immense view of macchu picchu below.

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The descent was harder than the way up in fact, the steps were smaller and steeper, with a sheer drop to one side, and youre looking down the whole way so its a bit more scary. The trail down takes you past a load more ruins and terraces (I want to know how the hell the incans got the huge stone bricks to make these buildings all the way up the mountain) and after a vertigo inducing climb down we were back at the citadel where we explored a bit more and got the postcard shot of the town, had a bit of a nap and then headed back to Aguas Calientes (by bus this time) for some food before hopping on the train back to Cusco.

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We had an awesome time, probably one of the best things of South America so far!

Posted by St Martins 12:40 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Cusco

Volunteering at Yanapay!

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So, the first impressions of Cusco were good... its a lovely town with nice cobbled streets (reminds me a bit of Canterbury), ancient incan walls and it just seems like a nice place to be.

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We went hunting round for a cheap hostel.. as we were staying for nearly two weeks we wanted to get a good deal. We found a nice cheap place which had Cable TV, a bit of a treat for us, but it has meant a lot of nights spent in front of the tv eating popcorn! We had decided to do some volunteering in Cuzco, as there is an afterschool teaching programme called Aldea Yanapay which is free to volunteer at. The premise is that Peru has some particularly bad education programmes (in order to get a steady wage in Peru you can become either a teacher or join the police, therefore there are a lot of undereducated teachers who dont enjoy teaching at all) and domestic violence problems, so the school acts as a haven for kids where they can be helped with their homework, taught about morals and values, and generally have a bit of fun. So we have been spending four hours a day popping in and helping out. The school is actually in the midst of preparing for a festival at the moment, so a lot of our time went towards helping out with that. The kids are going to put on a few shows so we have been teaching them songs, circus stuff (juggling and spinning plates), and ´theatre´, which is really just teaching four year old kids to act like animals and do rolly pollys. Its a lot of fun, and most of the kids are really sweet, although Sadie is working with some older kids and sometimes has to physically restrain them from play fighting! Its been really nice to feel like were giving something back to the communities that were visiting.

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So all in all we have a had a busy week, we´ve been taking spanish lessons in the mornings and so we have about an hour break between lessons and helping out at the school, but its been really nice to have a bit of a routine after having an endless amount of free time for 5 months. The other volunteers at Yanapay are a lot of fun too and we went out to a punk rock themed party (where I ended up looking like howard moon) and had a good night out.

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The bars in Cuzco are so desperate to get customers that they all give out one free drink for every customer, which means that its possible to bar hop all night and not have to pay a penny for drinks. We tested this plan out last night when we met up with two couples who we did the pampas tour in Rurre with, lots of drinking lots of fun and lots of dancing- all for free. I love Peru!

So today is our first day off in a while, preparing for our Machu Picchu trek tomorrow, and getting up to date with blogs and photo uploads! All our love to everyone reading (hope youre satisfied now theres been some dancing in the blogs Jon), will update again after Machu Picchu!

Posted by St Martins 13:52 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

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We left La Paz and headed to Copacabana which was a short and interesting journey. At one point we had to disembark whilst the bus was put on to a rikerty wooden boat and transported over a river. When we arrived in Copacabana we decided to make our way straight to one of the islands.... Isla Del Sol. The boat took about 3 hours and when we arrived we were confronted with alot of old Inkan steps which we had to carry our bags up to get to the town. Normally not a problem but at about 4000m above sea level everything gets harder and slower. When we got to the town we were suprised at how un touristy it was... there was some hostels and restuarants but that was about it. We checked into a hostel and had the most amazing view of the lake and all the farms with donkeys, llamas, pigs and sheep.

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It was James´birthday so we headed out for a birthday beer with a view. The Island was so peaceful and quiet... There were no cars, no machines and not too many people. When we stopped talking all you could hear were the odd donkeys and pig and the occasional person passing... it was lush! We found a really nice restuarant hidden through a eucaliptus forest that had a perfect view of the sunset and it also had no electricity so when the sun went down you ate by candel light. The next day James went for the 6 hour walk to the north side of the island and back. I decided not to go and stayed on a hill with a dog that we´d made friends with. he had a really nice time, the was an Inkan sacrific table, some old ruins and a sacred stone where the Inkans believed the sun was born... He said it was ´pretty good´.

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That night we went back to the resturant (called Las Velas in case you ever go) and had a nice meal again. The next morning we were woken up by the Donkeys and headed down to the port to get a boat back to the main land. When we got there it turned out that there were no busses because of road blockes and drivers on strike so we had to stay in Copacabana for a night. This was ok for the first 5 hours but after that it was a bit boring, the town is quite touristy so your constantly hounded by people to come in to their restaraunt or bar even if its the 20th time you´ve walked passed them! We managed to get a bus the next day and headed straight to Cusco as we didn´t want to get stuck again. We´ve decided to do some volunteer work in Cusco so we had to get there by a certain time. We arrived early morning in Cusco, hecked in to a hostel and had asleep before heading out to explore the city.

Posted by St Martins 13:24 Archived in Bolivia Tagged cruises Comments (0)

La Paz and Rurrenabaque

La Pampas

After Uyuni we stayed in La Paz for a few days. We had our bag stolen on the bus (only a few books in it tho) and we felt like having a taste of home so we hunted down the Highest british-indian (it was actually called that!) curry house in the world and had a nice meal. La Paz is quite a hectic city and is a bit intimidating at first, but after wandering around the witches market and the center we ended up liking it quite a lot. It has a different atmosphere from other cities in South America, and definately feels a lot poorer and more run down, but its really interesting to watch all the indiginous locals, and wander through the markets, all the while with a cool backdrop of steep mountainous streets and snowy peaks.

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We also went to a few museums in town, including the coca leaf museum that details the plight of the coca crop- it was interesting learning all the medicinal uses that people have found in coca (going back to prehistoric times), and its importance in Bolivian culture- Bolivians have also had a lot of trouble trying to keep the tradition going since westeners discovered it could be used to make cocaine, and then tried to make it illegal.
Our favourite museum however was the musical instrument museum, which houses tons of instruments, some of which are really really old. I found it particularly interesting how careless Bolivians were a hundred years back about capturing endangered animals and then making instruments out of them: they had guitars and harps made of armadillos and turtles, and shakers made of toucans beaks. Pretty mad. What was also nice was a hands on feature, where they had a balcony full of interesting instruments which you could have a bit of a jam on.

So after La Paz we hopped on a bus for possibly one of the most sketchy journeys so far. If any of you have seen a picture of ´The Death Road´ this road was basically an extention of this. Just a narrow road on a cliff face with hair pin bends all the way along. At one point James was like ´Look at this!´and when we looked at the road it was crumbling away. After that i closed my eyes and tryed to sleep through the rest of the journey. Despite the scaryness the views were amazing all jungle covered mountains with little houses dotted in them. We saw one person going on a zip wire from one side to the other to get to his house, quite original! So at about 5 we arrived in Rurrenabaque and checked into this lovely hostel on the river with good breakfasts, lots of hammocks and there far share of animals. In every Bolivian town we´ve bumped into the same Irish couple and they were here too along with a couple we´d met briefly in Tupiza and as we all wanted to do the Pampas Tour we decided to book it together. You can do Jungle tours here but apparently you see alot of animals in the Pampas so this swayed our decision. We set off the next day to another river in the Pampas and stopped for lunch on the way. We had a dodgy meal the night before (not good in Bolivia) so i had a bit of food poisoning but it was all good! We set off on the river with our guide Mario and within 30 minutes we´d seen Pink Dolphins, Turtles, some awesome birds, an aligator and some cute little yellow monkeys! We were carrying all our food and the monkeys didn´t waste anytime locating the bananas and jumping on the boat to steal them.

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We were staying in some huts at the side of the river (mucho mucho mosquitos!!) and there was an overly friendly Caiman nearby who would smell breakfast and walk right up to the Kitchen.. he was a mean looking fellow!

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The second day we went hunting for anacondas and after about an hour walking in the hot Pampas we found one!!! He wasn´t massive (Pheww) but he was a nice size and we held him a bit... he was so strong it was like holding pure muscle.

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We were going to go on hunting for more but i was still feeling a bit ill and to everyones relief we headed back to the river. We then took the boat to a place where the dolphins hang out and most of us jumped or were pulled in the water. They weren´t really that friendly but it was really cool to see them pop up around you as you were swimming. Most of us were apprehensive to get in the water what with all the aligator, caiman and piranhas but mario said ´cuanto hay dolphin, no hay pirana´(where theres dolphins, theres no piranas). So after about 5 minutes of swimming about James scambles in to the boat because something scratched his foot and when we showed it to Mario he said ´Ahhh Piranha!´- Nice one mario! After that we went fishing for piranhas (pretty close to where we had just been swimming) but didnt catch anything- should have used James´toes as bait! On the way back to the camp, it got dark and we went looking for crocs with our torches, it was really cool- if you shine a torch at an alligator, their eyes light up bright red. The next day we had to get up really early to see the sun rise, all the while getting destroyed by mosquitoes, did some more swimming, and then headed back to rurre.

Back in La Paz now after another good tour (and another hairy bus ride, this time with rain and fog)- Pampas was just like a zoo but without any cages, and probably more tourists. Next stop Lake Titicaca.

Posted by St Martins 17:05 Archived in Bolivia Tagged cruises Comments (0)

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