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South America 2015

You're-a-keeper Arequipa

PERU | Wednesday, 19 August 2015 | Views [406]

The highly photographed Misti Volcano. Saw lots of smoke coming out of the top of it during our days near by too.

The highly photographed Misti Volcano. Saw lots of smoke coming out of the top of it during our days near by too.

You're-a-keeper Arequipa

 
Another early morning flight and we landed around 9am, straight to our hostel which thankfully had our room ready. Our host was lovely and gave us all the info we needed to get out on the town and see what was about. We checked-out out Plaza de Amas, the main square of town, and a few streets that had been recommended to us for restaurants and shopping. We had lunch and then went to see the main attraction of town, Santa Catalina Monastery. The monastery was one of the first buildings in Arequipa, built by the Spanish in 1597 . It is in fact a little town inside the city with 6 streets inside the walls. Its also still functioning today, with practising nuns in residence, though in areas closed to the public. The most famous nun from the monastery is Anna who lived there from 1604 to 1686. She has been credited with many miracles and predictions and was beatified by Pope John Paul 2 in 1985 . All in all a pretty impressive monastery and good way to spend a few hours. We treated ourselves by visiting a chocolate factory that also made craft beers, winning !  We sat on the balcony and admired the views. Arequipa is surrounded by snow capped mountains, mainly the Volcano Misti that stands alone and the Chachani group of volcanoes. 
 
Another main attraction is 'Juanita'. No, not our Juanita but an Inkan girl who was sacrificed on the volcano, her body was placed in a tomb and the cold temperatures preserved her nearly perfectly. We went to the museum for a visit but found out we needed to pay for a guide, there wasn't a tour available for an hour or so and even then, you weren't allowed any cameras, phones or recording inside. We moved on to think about it and visited a few more local churches. Maybe another day. In the end we didn't get to see the Juanita-mummy.
 
Later in the afternoon we booked a tour for a couple of days to visit Colca Canyon near Chivay. The main reason we had come to Arequipa was to go to the canyon to see the Peruvian Condors flying in convection currents. Most of the options involved hiking the canyon but we weren't so keen, having just come off the Inka trail trek the day before. More hiking pain wasn't on the agenda, so our tour was a bit more touristy than we would usually go for, but we knew that going in so were prepared to deal with it. 
 
Chivay is about three hours from Arequipa. Our first stop after an hour or so was to fill everybody up with coca tea as we were about to go to serious altitude, the only road through the mountains passes at 5200m above sea level. We got out of the bus at the top of the pass and straight away felt the cold mountain air and lack of oxygen. The area was full of stacked stones or  Cairns. Groups of at least 7 stones stacked as an offering to the mountains for safe passage for travellers. The pass has been used for many years and there are literally thousands of them.
 
Coming back down the other side we stopped a few times to see local wildlife, llamas, alpacas, sheep, donkeys and pucina, a small deer type animal. We also stopped at an area of white cliffs. Strangely, although the whole mountain range is active volcanic, all of the rocks are white, similar to limestone. Our guide explained to us that the cliffs were all formed underwater, previously being the ocean floor. Pretty impressive as we were now at about 4000m above sea level, but there are fossils of fish and crustaceans in the cliffs proving this area used to be part of the ocean.
 
We had a standard tourist buffet lunch when we arrived in Chivay, Jorje dining on alpaca, Juanita going a more cautious choice in Peruvian cuisine. At this point we found out we weren't actually staying in Chivay but in Yanque, a smaller town about 20mins down the track, so on we went. After check-in and a quick nap at the hotel we headed to some local pre-Inka ruins at Uyo Uyo. This involved about an hour of walking. We were joined by a local dog who led the way and waited for us if we were too slow. Interesting ruins and the associated terraces are still being used by the farmers today. The walk ended with a trip to the local hot springs. It was nearly dark and about 4 degrees so stripping off wasn't very appealing but the steaming water won us over and we floated in the hot water for an hour.
 
Another early morning rise saw us at breakfast at 6am. We were off to the canyon to see the condors, but of course we had to stop at a market square on the way to walk past stalls full of tourist crap. For the 14th time looking at the same woollen hats, no one bought anything.
 
Our bus dropped us about 20 mins walk from Condor Cross. The walk was along the inside of the canyon wall and very impressive. Colca Canyon is 2-3 deeper than the Grand Canyon. We saw some condors circling above from the distance, as did the 500 other tourists who had gathered at Condor Cross. We waited, and waited, and waited. We could see some birds flying in the valley below, a long way below but no real action. An hour passed and our time was running out, we met with the rest of our group and discussed the lack of condors at Condor Cross. As we were about to head off the crowd gasped and a solo condor flew on a current just above our heads, beautiful to watch. It stayed for about 3 minutes circling around then off to the next mountain, and like the condor, we could leave happy.
 
The trip back to Yanque involved 3 more stops at tourist stalls on the edge of the road, all selling exactly the same crap as the last. Juanita bought cactus ice-cream that tasted like kiwifruit and Jorje drank Chicha beer made from purple corn, and no woolly hats were bought. Once back in Yanque, the majority of the tour group ignored the tourist buffet being sold in front of us and we opted for a simple and cheap sandwich in town instead, at a quarter of the price. The tourist bus trip was nearly over, it was what we expected, and we were over getting dragged around tourist stalls as anticipated, but we saw some beautiful countryside and the condors flying in the wild which was pretty special so we figured mission accomplished. Back to Arequipa to hatch the next plan.
 

 

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