Sunday, January 31, 2016

Colca Canyon

Wow, there is no way I want to get up at 2:00 in the morning ever again!  We were out in the courtyard of our hotel dark and early at 2:45 for pick up. The van was right on time, which turned out to be because we were the first ones they picked up!  We settled in our seats as the van drove in circles around the Plaza stopping at other hotels and picking other people up. After everyone was picked up our tour guide told us that this was all just a dream and we should go back to bed. ;) It was a three hour drive to Colca after all!

I slept the best I could on those bouncy, rough roads, careening around other traffic, etc. Sunrise was beautiful. 

The landscape as we got up into the mountains was very harsh - not much but rocks and grasses and scrubby bushes. There was very little life to see - I didn't see any animals and very little sign of human habitation. 

We stopped in a small town, Chivay, for breakfast. This was the weirdest part of our journey. Our tour information said breakfast was included. I don't know what I expected, but not what we got! We came into a big room where there was a sort of buffet set up. The buffet was bread rolls and some tiny pieces of ham and some Inca Corn (basically puffed corn kernels).  They had some hot water for tea too. If you wanted eggs for breakfast, you had to let the cook know and that wasn't included. We had to pay 2 or 3 soles for the eggs. One woman on the tour was from Lima and she said the ham they served was the absolute cheapest available and eggs were not as expensive as they were charging. I'm not sure if they were trying to make some money on this part of it, or if that's all they could afford with what we paid. I don't know, but it was kind of a disappointing and sad breakfast. 

Afterwards we were dropped in the local town square for a few minutes where some local girls were doing a traditional dance around the fountain. It was pretty cool, but I got the sense that these poor girls danced around that fountain all day, every day for all the tourists coming through and they were hoping for tips. There was a girl going around passing a hat. There was also a little market and a guy with a huge hawk. For a few soles you could hold the hawk and get a picture of yourself. 

Every town, and I mean every town, has a town square with a cathedral. 

Back on the road driving toward the valley. I believe this is quinoa growing in this field. Everywhere we went there was corn, quinoa, and potatoes. Acres and acres and miles of it, and they farm right up the sides of mountains! They take advantage of terraces where there are any, or they just farm on the slopes. I don't know how they make that work, but somehow they do!

fields of quinoa. 

fields of potatoes.

Starting to get up in the canyon, and you can see all the terracing. 

Another town, another cathedral and a great view. 

These tiny little flowers were growing in the cracks around the rocks in the cathedral courtyard. 

You could also get your picture taken with a baby llama! I just snuck a picture from far away. ;)

It's hard to capture on a camera just how huge this place is, how vast and grand. How big the mountains are, how deep the valley is, how immense it all is. You'll have to take my word for it. 

We finally got to the main viewing point on the road and stopped for about an hour to look at the valley and look for condors. It seems like the main point of this trip is to see condors. Our cathedral guide had said it wasn't really the season for condors so I didn't have too much expectation. 

Others did...there were a lot of people! 

And we did get one condor that flew sort of close by. It doesn't seem close in my pictures, but it's much closer than the 8 or so that were flying of the tops of mountains on the other side. So I felt pretty luck we got to see one as close as this. Maybe some day I'll get to go back during condor "season" and see one much closer. Though... given how big they are maybe this is close enough! 

Back to the vans and back through the valley!

Our next stop on the tour was a stop at some hot springs. We came down into a smaller valley and I believe it was Colca River running through. This bridge (for people only) led to a path up the side of a bit of a mountain. 

Turning around, there was a rickety bridge across the river leading to the "rustic" hot springs. 

Just past that other bridge were the "modern" hot springs and swimming pool. I skipped both and walked down to the river looking for a place to hang out and stare at the beauty for an hour or so. I found a pretty good spot to enjoy the view. =)

On our return journey we stopped at a few more places. First, our driver came to a screeching halt as we saw vicuna on the side of the road. Not the best picture, but it's all I've got. Vicuna are the wild cousins of llama and alpaca. They aren't kept or farmed like the others. They are basically owned by the government. Once a year local folks will have a festival, round up the vicuna and shear them. Their wool is the most expensive stuff you can get. 

Then we stopped at the highest point on the journey, about 16,000 feet. We could see the volcanoes ringing Arequipa in the distance. This point was high up, cold and windy, and hard to breathe. We didn't stay long!

Coming down from there we spotted an enormous herd of alpaca and llama. Maybe hard to see in the picture, but there were loads of them as far as you could see. 

They were crossing the road left and right and stopping traffic. 

Why hello there!

We got back to Arequipa in the late afternoon and took it easy. I think we walked around the plaza a bit, but we didn't do too much. We had leftovers from Zig Zag for dinner. 

We arranged for a taxi ride to the bus station for the next morning. Next adventure: 6 hour bus ride to Puno! 

Saturday, January 30, 2016


After going to bed at midnight we had to get up around 4 to be ready for our ride to the airport. We had decided to save ourselves some travel time by flying to Arequipa instead of taking a 10 hour bus ride. The flight left around 7am and it had been recommended that we get to the airport 2 hours early.  I have no idea why. 

Getting to the airport was relatively easy as there was hardly any traffic at all. There was one scary moment when the taxi stopped behind a line of cars and a drunk guy opened up the car door on Susan's side. Apparently he had a bloody face and was quite drunk. I didn't see him at all but it freaked Susan out. The taxi guy shooed the drunk guy away and closed the door and we sped off. Susan took to locking her door every time we were in a taxi after that!

At the airport we breezed through security and everything else. We found our gate on the bottom floor of the airport. It was completely abandoned, not a soul in site. And there we waited for two hours!  Oh well. 

As we flew south the landscape got drier and drier, almost deserty. But there were still lots of mountains. 

Canyons and mountains from the air

volcanoes from the air! There are three or four volcanoes around Arequipa, and one of them has been a little bit active lately. It's the one in the middle smoking away. 

Even though we'd just booked this hotel  (La Hosteria) the night before, they were kind enough to send a taxi to pick us up. We did pay for it, but of course it was worth it. It was funny to arrive in this new city and feel out of place and like everything was strange and different. We were still in Peru and not all that far away from Cuzco!  But Arequipa is nowhere near as touristy as Cuzco. 

Similar to other places I've seen, the entrance to our hole was a doorway in a wall opening into a stunning courtyard with a fountain, trees, and lots of flowers. There were multiple levels with courtyards and seating at every level. I'd love to go back and spend more time at this hotel. There were Roman baths there somewhere, which we didn't have time to take advantage of. The room was lovely too; this would be the perfect place to relax in...if we weren't eager to explore as much as possible! 

View of the hotel courtyard coming in through the entrance. 

Eating area in the courtyard. 

Looking at the flowering courtyard from the second floor courtyard. There was another deck/balcony on the third floor. So beautiful!

These birds were all over our hotel grounds. Some sort of dove?

We settled in for only a few moment before heading out to see the sites. We wanted to see the crafts market, the cathedral, plaza, monastery, and eat dinner - and we had to be back home early to bed because our tour the next day left at 2:45 in the morning!

Arequipa is known as the White City for the white stone a lot of the buildings are made of. There is also a lot of fabulous carving in some of these buildings. 

Our first stop was to walk to the Plaza and see the cathedral. 

It turned out there was a little tour we could pay for, pretty inexpensive, so we went for it. It was a fabulous tour with a very knowledgeable guide who kept things moving along. We had plenty of time to look at everything and not too much time so we got bored. It was interesting to see all the sites and get the history, and go places in the cathedral that you wouldn't get to go into normally - like the roof!

The humongous organ.

Lots of fancy carvings and statues. 

Also a lot of images of various saints. I think this might have been Candelaria. 

This is a hand-carved pulpit that the priests still use from time to time. Very ornate. 

That's meant to be the devil at the bottom, signifying the word of God (being preached above) crushing the devil. 

I felt a little silly later wearing my only shirt with words into the cathedral, but it's a good message. ;)

We climbed up to a balcony above the organ and got to look down on the organ. 

There was a room off the balcony where they had cases of the outfits worn by priests, etc. This stuff was massively embroidered and looked really heavy. 

Bells in the bell tower! 

The huge ball that makes the bell sound. And lots of graffiti. 

I thought it would be fun to take a picture of Susan and I in the bell! 

The bells were hung on these huge beams. It didn't seem like enough to support them, they were so heavy. 
We looked over the wall of the cathedral and saw a lot of activity in the Plaza. We could see some dancing off in the left corner. Something was going on there. After the tour we decided to go check it out. 

It's my lucky day! It's a giant ice cream festival! 

There were about two dozen entries in this series of tents with mostly women (in fabulous outfits) hand churning homemade ice cream. I have no idea what this was made out of (cow milk??) and I wasn't sure what the flavors all were. Ice cream seemed a bit different down there. A bit more like gelato, but not just like it. I know I had a coconut one and I think I saw one with chocolate chips. When we showed up they were having a sort of beauty contest with a bunch of young women and I think voting on who would be Ms Queso Helado. 

Susan noticed someone interviewing one of the ice cream vendors and took a picture of them. They noticed and offered us samples of ice cream. We accepted, and then the TV crew got excited about interviewing us about the festival! So, maybe we were on Peruvian TV that night. =)

We went exploring in a grocery store later... Will you look at the size of that papaya (or mango)? I can never remember which is which. But they were huge! 

We found the craft market and bought a couple hats. The market wasn't as big or impressive as the ones in Pisac or Cusco, but it was really nice that no one was chasing us down pressuring us to buy things. They seemed very relaxed about us looking and not buying. 

We found this little public square with a cute fountain. 

We went back to the hotel to relax a little bit and then went to the cathedral again around 5. We had heard that the organ was only played once a week for an hour on Saturday nights. Lucky us! It was really fun to hear the organ.  (This is Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by the way!)

Afterwards we went to a restaurant called Zig Zag which was recommended by Susan's guidebook. It has a wrought iron spiral staircase designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that guy). Wow. This was one of the best meals we had the whole time. 

They brought out this appetizer with herbed butter, the green sauce I have no idea but there was garlic in it and it was incredible, and fresh made bread. It was incredible. 

Then they came and put paper napkin-aprons on us, which seemed funny for such a fancy restaurant. I was soon to find out why. 

Here was my dinner: a grilled alpaca steak and a quinoa risotto. The little dishes were for the steak: more yummy green sauce, an olive tapenade, something very spice, and more herbed butter.  The alpaca is sitting on a flaming hot piece of volcanic rock. It was sizzling away for most of the meal - spraying right onto my bib! So thank goodness for the bib. I ate way too much. It was so good I almost cried. 

We went back to our hotel a little later than we planned, but not too late. Here is the cathedral all lit up from our balcony. Early to bed, our tour bus was coming to collect us at 2:45 am for our trip out to Colca Canyon!