Thursday, 24 October 2013

Arequipa and the amazing Colca Canyon

After one full day in Puno (which is all you really need) we booked a bus (Cruz del Sur, again) to Arequipa. Arequipa has about 10 earth tremors a day (apparently) and is at the base of Misti, an active volcano.
This was not the most pleasant bus ride we have ever had, not the bus company's fault (though the driver did get lost twice!) unfortunately Angel had either eaten something or picked up a bug as he was sick all morning, we should have cancelled the bus but we took it anyway and he was sick the whole way, it was not fun. But we arrived in the evening and shared a taxi from the bus station to our hotel near the Plaza de Armas with a Spanish girl who was on our bus, this meant it only cost us 6 Soles (about £1.50).Public transport in South America is very cheap. Average taxi within a city/town is about 3 Soles, which is about 80 pence!
Monasterio Santa Catalina
We had booked the hotel via the Trip Advisor app, which then took us through to the Hostelworld site, which must have had a glitch as it booked our room for the 20th of November instead of the 20th of October, luckily they had a vacancy. The main problem with the hotel was they had let the person who was in the room before us take the key with them on a 3 day trek, so our room had no key, we could only lock it when we were in there. This meant we had to keep all our valuables with us all day.
We dropped off our dirty clothes (Angel had puked on himself) and booked our Colca Canyon Tour for the next day and headed to the magnificent Monasterio Santa Catalina, just a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas. This was built and rebuilt several times and was opened to the public in the 1970's there are still nuns in there now, not many and they are in a section of the monastery you cannot visit. It's the best example of colonial architecture in Arequipa.
On top of the monastary
After this we decided to do the free afternoon walking tour, put on by the local University and the guides are Tourism students, it was a brilliant tour and we learnt things about the city which we would have never learnt ourselves, the tour is tip-based and well worth the 2 and a half hours. By the end of the tour it was dark so we decided it was time to eat, we had been recommended a pizza place which turned out to be very tasty, as Angel had been ill we did not want anything too fancy, just some basic pizza and this place was just the ticket. It was called Los Lenos and was very reasonable!
on our way to the canyon

Off to bed for an early morning pick up for our tour to Colca Canyon. We booked with Colca Trek as Ellen (who has been doing all the reading) had read some really great things about them and Matt, Paul and Rachel who we met on the Inca Trail had done a tour with them and said they were great. We were not disappointed. Paul, our guide, was brilliant, really friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, our driver Willy was also great. We had another great crowd, everyone got along and no one was a pain in the arse. We drove out of Arequipa and stopped to see the active volcano Misti (5,822m), along with the other 2 Andes mountains you can see from the town Chachani (6,075m) and Pichu Pichu (5,571m). We stopped for Coca leaves and water and headed to the desert. After about an hour and a half of driving we stopped to see the most endangered (and expensive) of all, the Vicuna, there are only 110,000 in Peru, their wool is worth US$800 per kilo. There were also Llama's and Alpacas, which are domesticated, unlike the Vicuna which is a wild animal.
Forest of Stones
Another hour or so along the road we came to the Forest of Stones, a section of the desert which is sandstone and has been eroded over time to leave vertical pylons of rock, apparently Colca Tours are the only group which will take you there. After a quick snack and eating some native plants (very peppery) we then climbed (in the van) to 4,910m where we saw the stone stacks left by locals as an offering as they walked from their villages to Arequipa to sell their goods. 
at 4,910m
Then we started to descend, the driver stopped to show us the habitat of the Viscacha, an Andean rabbit-like animal, we were told you do not often see one and as we stopped one jumped out from behind the rock, Bonus! Along the road a bit further we were shown a cauliflower type plant (not edible) which the locals used to use to burn as there is no wood up here this high, unfortunately it became endangered and they have planted Australian Eucalyptus trees at lower levels to provide both building and fire wood to save other native species (but this has had some negative impack, gum trees suck a lot of moisture from the ground).
really did not want to leave!
After a very tasty local buffet late lunch (loads of Alpaca in different forms, some trout, local soups and salads) we were shown around the local markets and tried some black corn Chicha and local fruits.
We then headed to the Canyon. It was an hour to sunset so we checked into our magnificent hotel and then had a 45 minute walk down to the canyon edge where we arrived just at sunset, it was spectacular. 
Sunset over the canyon
The hotel is great, each room has a big fluffy bed, with flannel sheets, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the canyon and an amazing bathroom (well, amazing buy the standards we have had here in South America). So far the best place we have stayed. It well and truly trumps the hotel in Cartegena now.
Cruz del Condor

Next morning it was a 5am wake up to get to the Cruz del Condor (3,795m), the place within the canyon where the chance of sighting Condors is most likely, after nearly an hour and a half of waiting and watching, just as we were about to leave an adolescent Condor flew by us, it was such a magnificent creature, so elegant and huge! We were so stoked to have seen one, it would have been a disappointment to have missed out. We then had a short trek up a hill to see some more of the Andes mountains (there are 3 x short treks on this tour, it was not a 'trek'). Just before lunch we stopped off at some natural hot springs which we had to walk over a very dodgy suspension bridge to get to, no health & safety here.
Hot springs
After lunch our tour ended and the group split - those going back to Arequipa and those heading to Puno (us), and this was a bit of an adventure in its own right. We had been told of transport strikes in Puno, we were told we were ok as our bus was a private transfer, so we headed towards Puno, about 2 hours into the drive, in the middle of the desert, we got a flat tire, the jack the van had was not strong enough to support the van so we (there were 6 of us on the transfer) had to find the driver some rocks to help support the van while he changed the tire. About 30 mins later, just as it got dark, we were done and were on our way. Just before Juliaca our driver decided to stop at a police station to check the strike situation, and came back out stating that there were road blocks and that we had to go to down a 'new road' which was a back road. New this was, like unsurfaced, rocky, dirt path. We really should have been in a 4WD. It was an adventure, and we made it, AND we got to see the milky way so clearly as we were driving down the dirt path, in the middle of nowhere, with no street lights or lights from towns. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great adventure! Glad you liked the Colca Trek!