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Tegan & Ingrid's world adventure

Sand dunes & Canyons

PERU | Monday, 26 March 2012 | Views [937]

We arrived in Lima, Peru with not much more of a plan than a list of some places we wanted to visit and just under 6 weeks to do it in. Our first job was to work out a rough idea of the route we were going to take to avoid backtracking as much as possible and also to try and avoid as much of the rain as possible. We decided in the end that it would be most sensible to split Peru in to two parts. We would focus along the southern coast and then making our way into Bolivia to start with then upon returning to Peru, finishing with Cusco and Machu Picchu, hopefully when the rain has eased later in March. So with our basic plan mapped out we decided to firstly spend an extra night in Lima to have a look around. We were staying in what we think was the office area of the city. There were a lot of banks and other modern buildings around along with a few very wealthy looking residential houses and it was super quiet in the evenings. So there wasn’t a lot to do or see around there. On the other hand it was super safe and easy to walk around which is always a plus. We decided it might be better to walk in to the Miraflores neighbourhood. We expected it might take us 20-30 minutes. I think in the end the walk was more like 1 – 1 ½ hours! But it was a lovely sunny day so it was worthwhile. Miraflores is the main tourist neighbourhood of Lima. Lots of restaurants, cafes and shops by the seaside along with some beautiful parks and designated bicycle & walking trails in the surrounding area. We enjoyed just wandering around for the afternoon. But to be honest we didn’t really know much about Lima so after a couple of days we preferred to get out of the capital city and see a little more of the countryside. We caught a bus the following day to the small city of Ica and from there a taxi another 5 km’s down the road to the oasis town of Huacachina.

These days Huacachina is most famous for its sand dunes. It’s a backpacking tourists mecca. People come from all over to try their hand at sand-boarding, incorporating a bit of fun dune buggying while they’re at it. Despite the fact that the place was pretty much overrun with tourists and prices were a little higher accordingly we really enjoyed the laid back feel to this town and decided to stay an extra night. The weather was lovely and warm and we took the opportunity to lay in hammocks and take a swim in the hostel pool. But of course the main reason we came was to try sand-boarding. We booked through our hostel and they took us up late in the afternoon as it was starting to cool down. It would be unbearably hot in the middle of the day. First of all our driver took us on a great ride in the buggy across the dunes. It was like a rollercoaster on sand. It was awesome fun although perhaps a little minor whiplash and some sore bums by the end of it. The dunes just seem to stretch on forever when you are out there and we had some great photo opportunities whilst we were up there. There is so much space that you basically didn’t even see any other tourists up there other than the obligatory “scenic photo stops.” It was actually a little strange to think that this vast stretch of sand looked like it went on forever yet 5 km’s down the road was a mini-city where you wouldn’t even know the dunes where there.

Eventually we arrived at our groups own little isolated space of dunes to learn to sand-board. Those who had experience snowboarding seemed to pick it up pretty quickly. They just strapped themselves in and off they went. The first dune was of course the smallest, for practice sake. I was glad that I wasn’t the only one who had never surfed, skateboarded or snowboarded so I wasn’t alone with my struggle down the slope the first time around. But our guide was great. He gave me some good tips and by the third time down the introductory slope I went all the way down on my feet with no problems. In fact, by the end of the hour I was having no issues even on the bigger slopes. Mind you, the whole time I was going down I was thinking how strange it felt and a little scary to be standing sideways with your feet strapped together and just trusting your balance so you wouldn’t fall over. As those who know me are probably aware, I do tend to be quite clumsy when it comes to my body. Whether it’s bumping into things, tripping over things or just doing minor damage to myself in general. It can be very frustrating at times but it seemed that sand-boarding was something I picked up pretty quickly and I was very happy about it. Plus a big bonus was that sand doesn’t hurt when you fall over! Tegan, on the other hand, was a natural with his snowboarding experience. He had no problems and in the end I actually swapped boards with him because mine was going faster than his. I was more than happy to be moving a little slower, especially down the bigger dunes. On the very last dune we had a bit of fun and Tegan went down “skeleton style” lying on his stomach, head-first down the hill, whilst I used it like a toboggan. I was actually surprised to find that took more balance than being on my feet. Sand-boarding & Buggying fun over and done with, it was time to board an overnight bus to the southern city of Arequipa.

We spent two nights and days here exploring the old city, doing a little window shopping, enjoying the café culture and also a visit to the wonderful Santa Catalina Monastery in the centre of the town.

The Santa Catalina monastery is a wonderful old city within a city. It was built in 1580 and at one stage housed more than 450 people in the cloistered community. It was in fact an extremely wealthy nunnery. Most of the nuns who lived there had between 1 & 4 servants each and their families were required to pay hefty dowries to allow them to live there. In the 1870’s this was all reformed when a nun was sent by the pope to free the servants and send the rich dowries back to Europe. Today there are just 20 nuns who live in a small part of the convent which isn’t open to the public. But the part that is open is quite amazing. You can visit the nuns quarters, or cells, as they were called, as well as the old gardens and the many different streets and alleys which wind around the complex. There is even a café when we enjoyed some coffee and a slice of delicious cake baked by the current nuns who live there.

However, our main reason for a visit to Arequipa was to see the Colca Canyon. We decided to do a 2 night, 3 day trek which we booked through our guesthouse. We were picked up by minibus at the spritely hour of 3am! We then had to drive 3 hours to where our breakfast was served and from there another hour on to see the “Cruz del Condor” where you can supposedly view Condors, the largest bird of prey in the world. We however didn’t have any luck at the viewing spot itself. It was a little further down the road when we saw a huge condor just sitting on a log above the roadside looking down at everyone.

By 10am we had arrived at our starting point for the trek. There were 5 people in our group plus our guide, Juanito. We had two French girls, Celine & Muriel, a Belgian guy, Wim and Tegan & I. It was a really great group and we had a lot of fun together over the three days. The first day walking was almost all downhill. Now perhaps that sounds easy. But I can tell you it really isn’t. Walking consistently downhill winding 1200m vertically down the side of a mountain on a rock pathway that is constantly slipping and sliding beneath your feet is definitely not easy. However a few hours later we had made it to the bottom with a few blisters forming on the tops of peoples toes from them pushing into the front of your shoe constantly. From the bottom it was only a ten minute walk uphill and then 30 minutes along the plains through veggie and flower gardens of the local village community to our stop for the day. We enjoyed a much needed hot lunch on arrival and then a shower and some rest in the afternoon. After a 3am start that morning everyone needed a bit of downtime. The evening saw us playing some cards by candlelight before having dinner and then an early nights sleep.

The following day was perhaps what you’d call the easy day. We had a 45 minute fairly flat walk out of the village where we had spent the night and then a little tough 30 minute walk straight up to the next village. When we were resting at the top we met up with an American man who decided he wanted to walk with us the rest of the day as he was out on his own. So he tagged along as we walked through the next few villages. We had a couple of hours walking on fairly flat ground just admiring the villages as we passed them by and Juanito, our guide, pointed out a few bits and pieces along the way including giving us a taste of one of the cactus fruits. Eventually though it was time to power through those blisters and walk down into the next valley where our second night would be spent. The place where we spent our second night is known as the oasis. All of the lodges have lovely swimming holes where you can rest your feet after two days of walking and prepare for the epic climb of the following day. The third day is definitely known as the most difficult and involves a 5am start with a 3 hour, 1200m vertical climb back out of the canyon and back to the village at the top. As I mentioned earlier I do have a tendency to be clumsy and what did I manage to do the night before we had to that huge climb. Well I said goodnight to everyone who was still playing cards by candlelight and even though I didn’t have a light I thought, no worries I can get back to my lodge. Hmmm yes and I didn’t see the little concrete step right in front of me. I was wearing open toed shoes and bang, that was the end of my walking. I stubbed my toe so badly and didn’t realise until I had limped back to the cabin and got out my torch that I was bleeding everywhere and had managed to split the top of my big toenail. Majorly painful and extremely annoying. So when all the others in my group set off at 5am I had to sit there and wait to be picked up by a mule to be taken to the top. Yes, in the end I did get the easy way out but I still think I would have liked to have been challenged by walking up myself. Oh well. These things happen. Tegan said afterwards that it was one of the hardest walks he has ever done, and that’s saying something as he likes to be challenged. So I thought afterwards maybe hurting my toe was really a blessing in disguise. We were given breakfast at the top and then it was time to board the minibuses to drive back to Arequipa. On the way we made a few brief stops for some photo opportunities, some thermal baths and a lovely traditional Peruvian buffet lunch which was simply delicious.

Then it was time to say farewell to Arequipa as we boarded an overnight bus to bring us closer to Bolivia.

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