So, our time in Arequipa came and went. Mainly as a result of mild concussion acquired on a trip to the Santa Cantalina convent. It turns out that there was just one too many low doorways and the resulting coming together meant some time in the onsite restaurant with a custom made icepack applied to head. On the plus side, the surroundings were pleasant enough.
With only minor side effects of a rather pronounced bang to the bonce, we headed in search of the mighty Condor; later learning that it is the symbol of the afterworld in the Incan version of the ‘Holy Trinity’.
The Snake is considered to represent the underworld, whilst the Puma was thought to signify the waking world and the present. The subject of our daytrip completing the trio by symbolizing the afterlife; soaring above and looking down on the people from afar.
Chivay (pronounced chee-vai) was the day’s destination and would provide us with a conveniently located base with which to make an early start in search of the Condors in the Canyon the following day. On the way, our privately hired mini bus stopped off at various Miradors (viewpoints) afforded with some of the most incredible vistas I’ve ever witnessed. I know I’ve already mentioned the beauty of Peru, but it seems to have a habit of surpassing itself at each and every stop.
The towns and buildings became sparse and endless reems of dust and rocks took over as we started to delve deeper into the Andes. The beautiful monotony was occaisionally broken with a herd of roaming Llamas, Alpacas or the much sought after and elusive Vicuña. Knowing a little about knitwear from my precious job, I understood that Alpaca wool is highly renound and paid for all across the world. The Vicuña however, has a much more smooth and softer fur. Thus, making it incredibly desirable for high end clothing. The dwindling population of vicuñas is such that the animal is protected and the wool can only be used once the animal has died of natural causes. Hence, the hugely inflated prices of vicuña clothing, ontop of what is already a relatively expensive Alpaca wool garment. A garment of Vicuña can fetch upwards of 2000 peruvian Soles (pronounced soh-less) (think £400 and some). We did see a handful of these shy creatures on the way, but the lack of a telephoto lens attached to my phone made the images a little pointless to post here. However, here are some Llamas and Alpacas that were a little more accessable.
We ascended further into the Andes, the ears began to ring and the noses began to bleed indicating we were close to our highest point of the tour. The scenery became more and more dramatic and we stopped, frequently, to take photos and enjoy the sights first hand, rather than through a bus window. At one of our rest stops, we were advised of a drink that would perhaps aid the symptoms of high altitude that some of us were experiencing. A concoction of the famous and abundant coca leaf, combined with Manzanilla (camomile) and Muño (a pepperminty type herb) helps aid digestion (which is almost non-existent at altitude) and relieve some of the other unwelcome symptoms. This ‘Mate Triple’ (ma-tay tree-play) or triple herb type drink when mixed with hot water has become a staple for Olleydays across The Andes so far.
Venturing yet further along winding, steep and mountainous roads, we had time to enjoy more incredible scenes. It became obvious that scores of people before us had too appreciated the beauty and stopped to take in the majesty of the Andes. Scattered across the landscape were thousands of small stone ‘towers’ created by the passers by to show an appreciation to Pacha Mama (if you read my last post, you’ll already know, intelligently, that this is Quechuan for Mother Earth). I felt it necessary to show my own appreciation and install my own shrine to Peru and Pacha Mama.
At 4910m, the highest point we’d reach on our South American tour of Peru and Bolivia, we stopped and took in our surroundings and stared in wonder at the volcanos soaring above in the distance.
The descent towards Chivay produced a great many more sights and the shrinking hours of daylight helped give the scenes an even more aesthetically pleasing appeal. The calmness allowing us to rest for the following day’s excitements.
Refreshed and raring to spot the mighty condor we set off early from Chivay to the Colca Canyon.
After a bit more Mirador action, we decided to ascend to the highest point at the site in anticipation of the avian giant. Hoards of tourists had been waiting patiently for a glimpse and, timing our hike to perfection, we reached the summit, glanced to the right and, swooping in the valley below, we caught sight of an adult Condor (juveniles are a dark brown in colour, the adult is jet black with flashes of white) drifting opulently beneath us. I tried to divide my time between experiencing the Condor between my camera lens and my own god given lenses. Although I have some great shots on my SLR, this was the best I could muster on my phone.
Probably not even worth posting.
But it got even better when three other condors decided to visit. The 3 juveniles spent 30 minutes just swooping and soaring around above us, showing off and giving us spectacular fly bys. I’m really looking forward to checking the pictures out when we get back to the UK.
The way back from the Colca Canyon was just as enjoyable as actually being there and enjoying the splendors of the views and birds. Again, Miradors aplenty with yet more super views to take in. And as before, Peru just keeps surpassing itself. Each and every time we find a new spot! Perhaps it has domething to do with venturing deeper and deeper into the heart of the range?
After another stop for a digestion aiding Mate Triple, we headed for the afternoon ‘activity’ of bathing in some natural hot springs.
Hiding just behind the straw huts were several man made pools channelling the natural hot spring into various, relatively controlled and maintained temperature baths. We spent a good hour or two swapping between the various temperatures and dunking ourselves in the fresh river water. An incredible experience and a great way to wind down after a travel filled day.
Having arrived back in Chivay with an incredibly bad headache, I headed to bed early hoping to be fit and ready for more travel to Arequipa. It was suggested that the headache was a result of the sulpher present at the hot springs and after a shower, it seemed to have cleansed my headache almost instantly. The lesson here? Always shower after a visit to some hot springs!
The journey back to the concussion territory of Arequipa stuck with tradition and meant that we were travelling in postcard territory almost the entire journey.
Any geographers out there would have been fascinated with some of the rock formations we witnessed. One particular interesting formation was the ‘tusk-like’ protrusions on this rock face. Particularly the single unicorn tusk to the right of the image. Perhaps a keen geologist can shed some light on this?! Feel free to comment below.
We spent the afternoon wondering around Arequipa and preparing ourselves for another night bus, this time to Cusco. We were getting nearer and nearer to the Inka trail…
It turns out, that Cusceños (people hailing from the town known as the ‘gateway’ to the Inca trail), like nothing more than a parade and an excuse to party. While we were there for the first time, the locals were celebrating the birth of the Virgin. Cusco is cosily tucked into a valley and the views from the Plaza de Armas show the mountains cradling the city.
One thing that triggered some memories of staring out of the windows whilst travelling around Peru for the last 14 days, that was at the time a dormant vision, was the prominence of the rainbow flag. I realised that I had seen the flag quite alot and had assumed that Peru was very comfortable with showing solidarity for the Gay community. However, I later learned that the colours actually represent the Incas and their movement to the Andean people. Recent research has however suggested that Incans probably didn’t even use flags, but you try telling that to the heritage proud South Americans.
The celebrations lasted all day and right across the city in various pockets of festivity. Our Sunday finished with sampling the local beer, Cusqueña, from a balcony in an almost empty bar with incredible views of the square and, what felt like, our very own parade.
Next up was our Sacred Valley day, beginning with ziplining across the valley, on one of the longest lines in the world. The very kind lady at the venue took photos on my slr so I have none to share with the blog at the moment. (I really need to sort out some sort of decent internet that is going to be capable of uploading 2000 odd 6mb a piece images…)
The ziplining was pretty amazing. The adrenaline rush, trying to avoid burning your fingers and remembering to enjoy the views and experience was difficult to manage all at once. With me being me, it resulted in forgetting to brake and ploughing into the ’emergency slack zone’, burning my fingers and being too scared to brake on the second zip, resulting in someone having to brake for me in the emergency slack zone a second time! Either way, it was absolutely awesome and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!
The afternoon’s galavanting about the sacred valley was just as enjoyable, albeit a less adrenaline fuelled affair. First up were the Salt Pools.
The sun was waning and threatening to hide behind the mountains and disappear for the day. The view across the valley was great, although there is obviously not a great deal to do, other than to confirm the existence of salt. It was.
For dessert, and my not so narrow favourite, was Moray. Moray is home to one of the most spectacular Incan terraces. The Incas were so advanced that they identified and utilized the small temperature differences from each terrace to allow them to cultivate crops that were introduced to the country from elsewhere. Each terrace had its own microclimate allowing exotic, newfangled foods to be introduced to the area. Alongside this history, it still looks outrageously incredible.
Even the backdrop was breathtaking. The fact that we were a little slow getting to this place after the sun had disappeared behind the sacred valley for another day meant that the place was deserted. No tourists to ruin the views!
I’m aware that this is quite a long blog and was quite a while ago in the grand scheme of the Olleydays grand tour. I’m trying to get my head around having so many amazing experiences that I need to filter and be selective of what I see and only record certain things.
Although Olleydays is currently in Argentina for the next 24 hours only, I still want to do another post and dedicate it to the Inca trail. It will be short, I promise! In the meantime, here is a photo of us in (prepare yourselves…) Ollantaytambo (oi-an-tai-tam-boh).
As a final interesting fact, the Incans used to angle their building blocks at an angle of 30 degrees. They’d fathomed that this acute was an optimum degree of protection from frequent earthquakes. Notice how there is no mortar and how they had carved the stone to be so smooth. In the words of Neil Young: ‘They built with their bare hands what we still can’t build today’. Its awe-inspiring Neil, it really is.