Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Peru: Feb 18 until Now

I am presently in Puno, but I will try and summarize the trip to date:

Feb 18th Maude and I arrived in Lima about 1:00 a.m., a half hour late. It was a smooth direct flight with Air Canada, and an amazing deal- $802 return!! I met Maude at the Toronto airport, where she had arrived from Montreal earlier. She is a lovely young French-Canadian woman, who now heads the fair trade NGO (see www.pachamamacanada.com) which was started by her friend, Michel 10 years ago. I had met Maude in April 2013 when I was demonstrating spinning alpaca at the Orangeville Alpaca Show, where she was selling alpaca products. I told her that I planned to be in Peru in Feb-Mar 2014, and discussed the possibility of helping somehow with the co-op. We have been in touch since then to make plans.

We were picked up by a pre-arranged taxi and driven to our B and B, quite near the airport. It was very comfortable, and our host, Kelly, was great. Maude had to leave early for a meeting in Lima, and I was catching a mid-day flight to Arequipa, with a plan to meet in Puno in a week.

I started taking the altitude medication which was recommended by the travel clinic. Without it, my brain might react like this sealed packet of tea that I brought from home.

Arequipa, altitude 2350 metres

I spent three nights at Samana Wasi guesthouse in Arequipa, at 40 soles ($10Can) per night with breakfast. The city is beautiful, with many old buildings constructed of white volcanic rock called sillar. The downtown area, with cobblestone streets is a World Heritage Site.

This was the view from my window, with Volcan Misti in the background.

I spent almost a full day wandering around Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a 500 year old convent, soaking up the tranquility as there was virtually no one else there and thinking maybe the life of a nun wouldn't be so bad. 

Here are a few shots from inside the convent: 

This one shows a water filtration system through stone.

I spent another day walking around the city appreciating the gorgeous architecture. I saw these little boys playing in the market:

But it is a big city of about a million people, and the traffic is crazy.The areas I have seen so far are much more middle class than I expected. Certainly much more middle class than Guatemala. Almost no beggars or marginalized people. Most are very fashionably dressed. The women love their ass-enhancing jeans and their breast-enhancing bras, and very high heels. I'm guessing the women aren't the only ones who love that.

No stray dogs. (I do hear a rooster each morning -and I am right in the centre of town) The streets are very clean. They have a crew of women dressed in green suits with green hats, who clean the streets. The driving is wild!!!! I haven't figured out what cars do at corners, and it looks like they haven't figured that out either.

I had a few good meals in Arequipa, including two versions of rocoto relleno, stuffed hot peppers, served with potatoes and cheese. Both versions were delicious, one with meat and one without.

After three days, I'd had enough of the big city, and took a bus to the small town of Chivay, to spend the night. 

Chivay, altitude 3630 metres, population 6300

Chivay gets a poor write-up in the Lonely Planet Guide, but I liked it very much. There were virtually no tourists, and the local people were very friendly. I enjoyed sitting in the Plaza des Armas (town square) and watching the world go by, sometimes chatting with whoever sat by me on the bench. It was hot and sunny in the day, but cooled considerably at night.
View from Chivay:
Around town:

A different type of tuktuk:
Selling alpaca fleece:

The following morning I joined a tour group at breakfast, and continued with them by van to the Colca Canyon. It is apparently the deepest canyon in the world -twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. 

We drove partway, stopping to view condors at a good viewing point. We were lucky to see four of them, soaring spectacularly below us.


Feb 24, Back in Chivay, after the Colca Canyon Hike

I am feeling on top of the world!! The Colca Canyon hike was very challenging, but I completed it with a smile on my face. The first day we walked about 12 km down into the canyon, going from 3287 m to 2300 m. Going down is not hard for me, when I have good footwear and my hiking poles. The main issue was the heat. It was 40 degrees C for most of the hike, and we were in full sun.

There were only four in our group, a German couple and a French guy and me, and our guide, Renaldo, but we encountered other groups on the way. We did a homestay the first night at Colca Garden. When we arrived we had a big lunch, including alpaca. I didn't think I could eat alpaca, but it tasted fine. Coca leaves are common, to make tea:

Renaldo went fishing in the river and caught trout for dinner.

No electricity there so it was a very quiet night and I slept like a baby. Pancakes for breakfast, before heading out from there. 

The mama of the homestay:

Sunset from the bottom of the canyon:

The second day was relatively easy, going up and down about 8 km through villages and the lush flora of the canyon.  Apart from many types of cacti, they grow pomegranates, figs, peaches, pears, avocados and lots of other fruits and veg. There were yucca plants about 10 metres tall! Again the biggest issue was the heat: 42 degrees. 

Guinea pigs, raised for meat:

We spent the second night at Sangalle (The Oasis). There was a swimming pool to greet us, and then lunch. I enjoyed meeting a bunch of other people there, from all over the world. My three hiking companions were very nice, but very quiet. The 50 or so people who stayed there last night and completed the hike today were 25-30 years old. Actually that is not totally true. There was an Australian woman traveling with her two adult kids.

It rained quite a bit from late afternoon into the night, which cooled things off.

The hike up was very challenging for me, going from 2300m to 3287m over 6 km in three and a half hours. I knew I had the option of hiring a mule at the bottom, and I considered hiring one as backup in case I was totally holding up the group. I decided against that, and thought I'd prefer to know I had to do it on my own steam. All 50ish people started out at about 5 a.m. with headlamps because it was still dark. That was so we could complete the ascent before it got too hot. One young woman passed me on a mule, and it looked so easy.... I found that the first half hour was the hardest. I was breathing very hard and sweating like crazy, even though the air was still cool. Then I found my stride, my rhythm, and didn't worry about keeping up with my group. Then I felt fine. It was still hard, but as long as I stopped regularly to catch my breath, I was able to enjoy it, and appreciate the incredible scenery of the canyon.

Congratulations all around at the top.

We stopped at a hot spring on the way back, which felt amazing. Then I jumped into the cold riiver, then back into the hot pool, then back in the river. My muscles are thanking me. I bumped into the "mature" Australian woman at the hot spring. We congratulated each on completion of the hike and I asked how old she was. Only 53, so I have her beat by 7 years.

I'm back in Chivay now for one night, and it's raining again, with thunder and lightning.  Tomorrow I'm going to Puno to meet Maude and begin our work there with the alpaca women's cooperative. New adventures await.


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