January 19, 2006

Mice and Condors

What an amazing two days I have just had! I will hardly be able to put into words the things I have seen, but I´ll try.

Well, I'm back in Arequipa today and am staying for one more night before heading to Cusco tomorrow. I loved Arequipa and will be sorry to leave here - it's a much more authentic Peruvian city (if you know what I mean) than Lima. It's not without its tourism, of course, but the people here make you feel like less of a tourist - they are very helpful and friendly, and are just going about their business. It's the kind of place, you can just get up and wander around at your own pace, you aren't constantly watching your back here, and the flavour of Southern Peru is much more tangible here.
Anyway, for the last 2 days I was able to sample rural Andean life at its best. Was collected at 7am on Tuesday morning by Raoul, our tour guide. Our little minibus began its steep climb into the Andes on asphalt for the first 100km or so. After that, we had a bone-rattling 2hour journey on dirt track full of potholes all the way to Chivay!! It was easy to forget about the pain in your ass though once you began to focus on the scenery passing by outside the window! We passed shanty towns with no running water, mountain dwellings made entirely out of stones that looked like they were about to collapse at any minute, groups of vicunas and llamas, cherubic Andean children (I have somegreat photos of them!), and towering cliffs. I tried NOT to think about how close Miguel was driving to the edge of the cliffs!!
Along the way, we stopped for a serious sugar hit and some coca tea. Apparently, the ways to beat "soroche" (altitude sickness) is to keep your blood sugar high, your breathing even, and drink lots of cocoa tea! Thankfully, I didnt feel any of the effects of it, apart from some breathlessness. Everything small becomes an effort at this altitude! At our highest point on Tueday, we reached 4,900m about sea level!!
Chivay is a little jewel of a town nestled in the mountains. It's barely a town, more like a little village, but amazingly it has an Irish pub! If you saw Chivay, you would find it funny. They barely have a bank and a pharmacy, and right in the thick of it sits an Irish pub. I didnt actually make it there myself, but I heard from some backpackers that I met yeserday that it is a good spot, although the Irish man who originally opened it has sold up and moved to Arequipa to work as a tour guide.
After we checked into our little hotel, a group of us went for a 7km hike into the mountains - it was breathtaking. We passed ancient Pre-Incan terraces and Raoul told us about the history of the place. The traces of the past are everywhere - there is a sort of heavenly or mysterious air to the place. Thunder rolled loudly as we climbed and you felt like you were walking along the roof of the world or something.
A couple of hours later, we arrived at some thermal baths. The heavens had opened and it was POURING rain, but it didnt matter. The water was gloriously hot and gushed into the baths from the mountains above - apparently,due to its volcanic source, it{s full of minerals so its great therapy for the skin. We spent over an hour there witht the rain pounding into the baths!
I felt completely envigorated afterwards, and I was STARVING! We went for dinner almost immediately and I spent the night dancing, which was very memorable. Turns out I{m not a bad salsa dancer! Really enoyed myself!
Had a very fitful sleep however, and was very tired the next day. NOt only was my roof leaking and water trickling into my room, there were also a band of mice engaging in their own festivities on the roof above. The fact that it was galvanise amplified the sound of their little scratchy feet and I didnt get a wink of sleep cowering under the covers!
5a.m. start on Day 2. Was NOT in the mood for trying to make conversation with my tour group (I was the only English speaker which, although good for my Spanish, was difficult at times.) After breakfast we began the journey to Mirador del Condor (this is a very high viewpoint into the Colca Canyon where the condors live)
ALng the way, we stopped in these tiny little Andean farming villages to say hello to the locals and take photos. Raoul showed us some ancient Pre- Incan burial chambers constructed high up in the crevices of the mountains which were daubed with a red colour which had amazingly retained its hue throughout the millenia! The colour was believed to ward off evil spirits. All arund huge mountains towered above us, and it was easy to see why the people believed that the mountains were gods. The mysticism of the place couldnt but impress you - it was like being in another place, another world.
The Colca Canyon is stunning. The photos I have cannot begin to capture what it is really like. We trekked alng the edge for about 45 mins, straining to see the bottom. It{s the second biggest canyon in the world, but I heard a lot of people on the tour agreeing that it is more beautiful than the Grand Canyon. We had to wait patiently for about 2 hours for the air to heat sufficiently for the condors to tke flight. They fly using the thermal air currents, and if the canyon is cloudly they may not appear at all. Luckily, the sun was out and we eventually got to see the majestic birds as they rose, wheeling and surfing the air. Sheer beauty!
So, I leave Arequipa tomorrow. I'm expecting Cuzco to be much more touristy, but Im looking fwd hugely to it, and hope to do the Inca Trail. Also, I might be meeting up with the Irish girls I met in Nazca. I got an email from them yesterday - they are on the trek at the moment, but will be spending a few days around Cuzco afterwards, so hopefully our paths will cross again.

No comments:

Post a Comment