Sunday, 18 December 2011

Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno and the islands of Uros, Amantani and Taquile

Hi everyone.  Well the tour of Peru is fast coming to an end.  We are now in Puno and only one more destination in Peru awaits us.  That is the city of Moquegua, where we will be spending Christmas with Anny's family.  After that it will be back to Europe and back to full on running training ready for the MDS.  Because of all the travelling I haven't been able to run that much the last couple of weeks.  I was however able to run a little on the island of Amantani, although with the island located at over 3,800m above sea level the short jog really took my breath away.

After leaving Nazca our next stop was the beautiful city of Arequipa.  On the first day we did a walking tour of the city and saw the cathedral, monastery, Plaza des Armas and other key monuments.  Then we met up with some of Anny's cousins who study there and enjoyed some of the scrumptious Arequipa dishes, of which there are many.  I also tried the Arequipan papaya juice, which is very different from the usual much larger papayas that you find elsewhere in Peru.  In my opinion it is a lot more tasty.  In the evening I decided I needed to do some exercise, and since I didn't know the parts that were safe and not safe in Arequipa I decided to do my exercise in the hotel room.  I did a combination of press ups and sit ups and step ups on a chair, along with jogging on the spot with high knees etc.  By the end I was exhausted.

The next day we were off on a tour of Colca canyon for 2 days.  Colca canyon besides being stunningly beautiful is also a great place to see Andean condors whose wingspan can exceed 3m.  The guide warned us that the likelihood of seeing them was not that high though, because they had already started nesting, and only leave the nest for brief periods to look for food and then they return to the nest.  On the way to the hotel where we would stay for the night, we passed over a road at over 4,900m above sea level.  On clear days you can see all the volcanoes in the region from this point, but because it is now rainy season there were clouds covering most of the volcanoes.  It was still a precious view though, and on the top are many rock constructions that people have built, because they believe that the apus (spirits of the mountains) can protect them and so they build small houses from rocks and make a wish for good things to come to them.  Anny and I decided to build a small house and make a wish for a long and happy relationship.  It is always worth a try even if you don't believe fully in these things.

In Chivay we left most of the group and went to our hotel in Yanque, which was owned by some French people, and so gave us a good chance to practise our deteriotaing French language skills.  At the hotel there was an option to do some horse riding, which I was very keen on.  Anny agreed to join, but just before we set off the rain came and she decided she would rather stay in the warm and dry.  I had full waterproofs with me so I wasn't phased by the rain and went ahead with the ride.  The ride to the thermal baths where I wanted to go was very pretty, but the main road was closed due to construction, and the alternative path we had to take was rather steep in places.  I wasn't that comfortable with being on a horse on a steep rocky downhill, as I worried that the horse would slip and fall, taking me with it.  At some points we were only a metre or so from a sheer drop of a hundred metres or so, so there was a little adrenalin in my veins, and I tried to keep the horse as close to the rock face as possible.  All worked out fine in the end and I arrived safely at the thermal baths.  The water in the baths is lovely and hot, somewhere in the high 30s.  I spent around 45 minutes in the water and then I walked back to the hotel to meet Anny.  In the evening we took advantage of the sauna and jacuzzi at the hotel, and we also paid for a massage.  After the massage my aches and pains from the previous night of exercises in my hotel room were somewhat less, although still present.

Horseriding in Colca canyon

Early the next morning we were picked up from our hotel by the tour company, and driven along the Colca canyon to the Cruz del Condors viewpoint, stopping at various other viewpoints along the way.  We were at the Cruz del Condors viewpoint for around one and a half hours, and there was not a single condor in sight.  The group was worried we wouldn't get to see them, as we were meant to leave after one and a half hours and return to Arequipa.  Just as we were about to get on the bus however, someone spotted a condor and so the guide gave us a little more time.  Within a few minutes 3 condors were soaring up and down the valley.  It was an awe inspiring sight.  They are such masters of flight, and their flight seems effortless and graceful.  At one point the condors made a pass over our heads, so that there was less than 10 metres between us and them.  It was now that we could appreciate just how big they really are.  We left the Colca canyon and drove back to Arequipa very happy people.

By the time we arrived back in Arequipa I had a horrible migraine, and I decided to book a hotel room so I could rest, until it was time to take our night bus to Puno.  I haven't really had any migraines since arriving in Buenos Aires so maybe I am starting to lose a little fitness, as I only usually get them when I am not at peak fitness.  It could also be the combination of lots of travelling and altitude and early mornings though.

After taking the night bus and arriving in Puno, it was 5am and we were taken to the hostal owned by the tour company so that we could rest for a few hours before our tour of Uros, Amantani and Taquile began.  After a quick breakfast the driver raced down to the port at breakneck speed and all of us in the bus were scared to hell.  Someone asked him to slow down but he didn't seem to heed the advice and continued to swerve around the tuk tuks.

The first stop was the Uros floating islands, and these I have already written about before in a previous post, so I wont repeat myself here.  If you recall I visited the floating islands when I was in Puno on the bike tour before meeting up with Anny in Cusco.

After leaving the Uros floating islands the next stop was Armantani, which is the second largest island on lake Titicaca.  The island is a peaceful place free of traffic and noise, and we spent the night there with a local family.  In the evening the locals put on a music and dance show, and we all had to dress up in the local attire and take part in the dancing.  It was a lot of fun and almost everyone joined in.

Dressed in traditional costumes on Amantani island

The following morning we took the boat to Taquile, another island not far from Armantani.  We did a walking tour and took our lunch at a restaurant with views over the island.  Throughout the lunch, the guide explained the local customs on the island, regarding marriage and love, and how the way the people dress tells you whether they are married, single and looking or single and not looking.  Then it was time to head back to Puno, a 3 hour boat ride.  Once back in Puno we were transferred to our hotel and took some well deserved rest.  Later in the evening we went to a pena, which is a restaurant where there is also a music and dance show.  We saw dances from the various regions of Peru, and I really loved the eagle dance, where the men wore head attire so they resembled eagles, and danced like warriors.  Anny's favourite dance was the one from Moquegua for obvious reasons (with Moquegua being her birthplace).

View from Taquile island looking towards Amantani island

Now we have the day to rest and do some shopping and then we are off to Moquegua for Christmas.  I am really looking forward to it, and Anny is excited to be seeing her Peruvian side of the family too.  I will visit my family in the UK in mid January, and we will be with Anny's parents and sister in Madrid for new year.  Take care everyone and I will try to check in again soon.

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