Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Arequipa’ Category

El Terrapuerto

This morning we sent the girls outside to play in the garden while we got on with packing (it always seems to take two hours). Things were slightly delayed by our washing not being available – although it had clearly come off the line last night – a bit of a nuisance. Since we had to vacate our room by noon, we left our bags and fleeces in the Luggage Room and settled up – just under S/1500 (£300) for eight nights at Casa de Avila plus our overnight bus tickets to Cusco.

Surprisingly, our daily living costs have been around £40, not much below our £45 for the USA. The explanation is probably that we have been eating out every day in Arequipa, whereas we ate at home much of the time in the States. Still, no car hire on top of that so we’re looking at £70-£80 per day overall in Peru so far, and this should go down once we’re self catering in Cusco.

We took our final walk into the city centre, starting off with lunch at Inka Wasi on Plaza de Armas. We talked the girls out of chicken nuggets (they think they like them, but they never finish their portion) and into (uncoated) fried chicken with carrots and broccoli – and chips. The adults tried a Cebiche (or Ceviche) – cubes of white fish in lemon juice with potato, onion and pine kernels (I think). Enjoyable, but an extremely strong acidic lemon flavour. (And, as we later read, not the best thing to have if you’re having tummy problems.) All washed down with two freshly-made strawberry juices.

We then traipsed the hot streets looking for a simple thank-you card for the Hostal staff – perhaps saying ‘gracias’ or else blank. But could we find one? The occasional birthday, condolence or valentine card (yes, even in September) but nothing remotely suitable. We tried every bookshop and stationers in sight; the girls did at least buy two postcards. Once we had looped back to the Plaza de Armas, we sat inside and shared two bowls of ice cream (the same place where we had Ellen’s birthday lunch).

And it was there, gazing out of the window, that inspiration struck. Opposite the cafe was a ‘print your digital photos in five minutes’ stall – we could simply get a nice print of one of our photos of the girls and write a message on the back. So we chose a shot of Hannah and Ellen at Colca Canyon, and handed over the memory card. Now five minutes means five minutes, so the girl sat there and busily did nothing for 4 1/2 minutes before pressing ‘print’…

Back at Casa de Avila, we played our farewell games of Table Football before it got dark (daylight extends pretty well exactly from 6am to 6pm, so mid-day really is mid-day). We then waited in the cafeteria and had a Part I supper of rolls with chocolate spread or honey. (Part II was promised on the coach.)

At 7pm, we handed over our photo-card (plus a tip for the reception staff), said our goodbyes and took a taxi to the Terrapuerto for 6 soles. Plus a vehicle entrance fee of S/1.50 and then a facilities tax of S/2.00 per person (with Ellen free).

As you can guess by now, this is a bus terminal with delusions of grandeur. You check in your ‘hold baggage’ (our two large rucksacks), show your tickets and proceed through to the departure lounge after being scanned with a metal-detector wand. (It beeped wildly at my electronics backpack but there was no further investigation – a bit of a hollow show of security.) Are we carrying any explosives, etc?

Then a bit of a wait as we had wanted to be there in ample good time. Two coaches departed for Lima while we were there, and then it was our turn to board. Show your boarding pass (well, ticket), find your allocated seats, stow hand luggage in the overhead lockers and watch the safety video – ’emergency exits are located in the roof…’. The only thing missing was ‘we shall be cruising at an altitude of 14,500 feet’, which would indeed have been accurate.

The chicken supper was doled out; not a snazzy little plastic tray, but a cardboard lunch-box sort of thing with a roll containing flakes of chicken inside (plus a sachet of mayonnaise), a sandwich biscuit and a microscopic wrapped mint. And orange juice or coca tea to drink.

There followed in-flight bingo (your chance to win a return ticket for one) and then the film. Sadly, this was some violent thriller with Liam Neeson tracking down and killing the gang of Albanians who had kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter (didn’t catch the title). The sound came through every speaker on the bus so the girls did their best to sleep while gunshots, car chases and screams punctuated the air (fortunately, they did have their eye masks).

Around midnight all went quiet and dark at last, and we attempted to get some proper rest.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Frozen in time

As if to counterbalance our extra dose of dazzling blue in Santa Catalina yesterday, today’s sky brought long-absent clouds. Not nasty grey rainy ones, but long wisps which did little to shade us from the sun’s glare.
IMG_3042

Time for some school work for the girls. Ellen wrote some keywords and worked out sums, while Hannah concentrated on revising her numeracy; 3-digit additions, reciting times tables against the clock and multiplying the numbers on two dice.

A bit of football in the garden – the girls were trouncing an imaginary team  of boys – and then out into town along our usual route to get some lunch.

Our house, in the middle of our street (somewhere just past the green van, on the left).
IMG_3035

A typical Arequipan street
IMG_3038

although there are usually more taxis, like this. (Incidentally, who in their right mind would rent a car here? Hertz are optimistic…)
IMG_3040

We bought a roast chicken from El Super along with a plastic tub of cold vegetables in vinaigrette (broccoli, carrots, beans, etc.) and shared it out sitting on a hot, sunny bench in the Plaza de Armas – we’ve never yet found a nice shady bench; they’re all taken at dawn, we think.

After lunch, we visited another of the city’s tourist attractions; the Santuarios Andinos UCSM Museum, which houses Juanita, the Ice Maiden. Sadly, they don’t permit any photographs – indeed, they insist that you leave all bags at the entrance – so you’ll have to go to their website www.ucsm.edu.pe/santury to get an idea of what we saw.

Anyway, having seen pre-Incan artefacts at our first museum on Ellen’s birthday, we now moved on to Incan items a mere 550 years old, discovered at the top of Mount Ampato (a volcano we saw on the way to Colca Canyon). Once again, these objects are so well preserved because they were found at a burial site which has remained at sub-zero temperatures for all that time. They only came to light when the nearby volcano Sabancaya erupted in 1995, thawing the ice at the summit of Ampato.

But the most important find was the body of a young girl who had been sacrificed by the Incas at the summit as an offering to appease the mountain gods. The ice has preserved her body to a remarkable degree, so that as well as her skin and hair remaining intact, we know what she ate and how she died; DNA samples have also been successfully taken.

We began the tour with a National Geographic film (in English with Spanish subtitles) about the Ampato finds. The ‘Ice Maiden’  was discovered by Dr Johan Reinhard, a US anthropologist, and she has therefore been named Juanita (the feminine Spanish form of his forename). But the unintentionally amusing part of the film was the Spanish translation of the narration; every time Dr Reinhart was mentioned, the subtitles added ‘and Jose Antonio’. Even the moment of discovery had to be qualified with ‘thanks to the expert assistance of Jose Antonio’.

Who is this mysterious Jose Antonio who wasn’t even there on the expedition and got no mention in the English text of the film? Well, he’s the Director of the Archaeology Department at the university housing the museum. He had worked with Reinhard on some previous mountain excavations, but missed out on The Big One. So we have one peeved Peruvian who could have had the frozen Inca girl named after himself instead, determined to weasel his way into the history books somehow – he pulled rank with the Spanish subtitles and you’ll even find him mentioned twice (for no obvious reason) on the Wikipedia page for ‘Mummy Juanita’.

Following the film, we had an English-speaking guide to ourselves to show us the items buried with Juanita, including a Quipu (conventionally, a knotted cord used by the Incas to record information, but this one was a representational bundle of cords depicting Mount Ampato, the route to the summit and the burial site). Also colourful textiles (cochineal and indigo dyed) in remarkably good condition, dolls offered to the Moon, Sun and Water gods, pottery receptacles in pairs (Incas liked balance), gold and silver animal figures (llamas and vicuñas).

All this was the lead-up to Juanita herself, hunched in a foetal position, dispatched by a heavy blow to the forehead. She is kept at -20°C in a triple-cased enclosure in extremely dim lighting, and you can’t see much detail because of the ice, gloom and reflections. Even so, the girls were understandably reluctant to go up close.

I forgot to ask what happens if there’s a power cut. (For some obscure reason I even know that the Spanish word is ‘apagon’.)

At least today’s cloud gives an opportunity for a nice Peruvian sunset…
IMG_3046

Read Full Post »

Random musings

The people of South America who speak Castellano do so with a wide variety of accents, all significantly different from that of modern-day Spain. There are also differences of vocabulary from country to country; get it wrong, and a baby becomes a bus – or far worse, you end up not just catching a bus but doing something far more intimate with it.

Now we are doing our best to adapt our pronunciation, the most noticeable change being that the Spanish ‘th’ sound becomes a simple ‘s’. But my point is this: why are we eager to fit in when speaking Spanish in Latin America, while in the USA we resolutely retain our Best of British accents, irrespective of the confusion that may thus arise? Why didn’t I say ‘wahder’ for ‘water’? After all, we switch easily enough to transatlantic vocabulary – ‘gas’, ‘restroom’, etc. The answer is probably that we don’t want to sound silly by adopting a feeble generic parody of a US accent largely acquired from films and TV shows. But putting on a European or a Peruvian Spanish accent are much of a muchness for us, both equally silly…

Staying on the linguistic theme, it is surprising that the words for ‘stop’ and ‘go’ are so similar; pare and pase. Perhaps that explains the crazy and yet utterly precise driving round here; at any intersection there are cars travelling north-south and east-west simultaneously, neatly jigsawing and missing each other by only a foot or two. Somehow, they never collide – there are no dented vehicles around (unlike the ‘driving-as-a-contact-sport’ of Naples).

Some of you may remember those 1970s electronic doorbells that would play a selection of tunes to the hapless visitor. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but you don’t come across them nowadays. Why not? Because they’ve all been recycled in Peru for use in pedestrian crossings (Minuet in G, erroneously attributed to J.S. Bach) or refuse collection lorries (Home, Sweet Home); of course, this last one is the real clincher for my theory.

What you don’t find in Peru are pan flute players. Surprising at first – you’re expecting to hear El Condor Pasa at every turn – but then you realise that they’ve all sensibly been deported to London, Paris, Rome…

This evening I noticed that the drinking water in our Cafeteria is Santa Catalina (the same as the convent we visited this afternoon). No gratuitous comments about it having been personally passed by the nuns, please.

Read Full Post »

Nuns in the sun

A slow start to the day after a good night’s sleep, followed by our usual routine of checking messages/blog and having breakfast. Today we decided to eat our butter and jam rolls outside in the garden – what novelty!

Even before we finished our breakfast the garden started filling up with foreigners waiting for a one-to-one Spanish tuition with their Peruvian teacher and soon all the little tables were taken.  The girls had a quarter of the garden left to play in, but they seemed pretty happy making up games, drawing in their scrap books and playing with a ball one of the cleaning ladies brought out for them.

For lunch we chose to visit our local supermarket again for a large helping of fruit salad, a small tub with extra strawberries, a ‘tropical’ salad (with chicken, ham, peas, pineapple, carrots and potatoes in mayonnaise) for Tim & me and a small box of chips for Hannah & Ellen.  We headed to the Plaza de Armas hoping to find a bench in the shade – no such luck.  We occupied a bench in the sun instead and soaked up the ultra-violet and the atmosphere whilst eating our fresh-tasting food.

We carried on down the road to Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a convent founded in 1579, only 40 years after the Spanish arrived in Arequipa and which still houses about 30 nuns between the ages of 18 and 90.

The convent is constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone quarried locally and has been restored in places due to several earthquakes in 1958 & 1960.  The outside walls are mainly painted terracotta red and a ‘bluer than the sky’ cobalt blue, which on a sunny day like today made it look really stunning.

Apart from visiting galleries with beautiful paintings, and the cells and kitchen where the nuns used to live and cook, we spent a lot of time sitting in the cloisters or patios simply enjoying the peace and quiet and beautiful surroundings.  Both girls had fun drawing whatever they could see, whether it was a plant, a tree or something more complicated like arches, doorways and paintings.

We paused at the cafeteria for a light snack; we plunged into the unknown and bought two local treats; polvorones (an exceptionally powdery, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread) and chocotejas guindones (chocolate filled with caramel and prunes – weird).

After more than three hours we made it to the exit and Tim & I were very pleased that both Hannah and Ellen enjoyed the whole experience.

To finish, here is a selection of photos from the convent:

As we arrived, we glimpsed this bride just before she vanished.
IMG_2965

Striking colours and contrasts (actually the Gents’ loo).
IMG_2969

A novice’s cell.
IMG_2973

A courtyard with orange trees.
IMG_2978

Just a few of the hundreds of frescoes.
IMG_2980

Geranium-lined ‘street’.
IMG_2981

A young artist at work.
IMG_2983

Nearly-ripe oranges.
IMG_2985

Sadly, these photographs do not do justice to the vivid cobalt blue of the walls.
IMG_2986

Kirsten’s floral shots.
IMG_2994

IMG_3005

IMG_3017

One of many intricately-carved doors.
IMG_3024

Chachani volcano looming in the background.
IMG_3032

Read Full Post »

Lasagna al dente

All the nines today: 09/09/09. Also the first birthday of our trip; Ellen has turned 6 (and if you turn 6 you get a 9…)

Now what do you do about birthdays if you’re travelling around the world for ten months with a small rucksack? Tricky to buy a present – if it’s an optional luxury, we can do without it, and if it’s an inspired necessity, then both girls should have one (as with the bottle-holders and hats).

So we agreed before we set off that birthdays would be more about doing something special than opening a stack of gifts, and Ellen was absolutely fine with this – not once did she ask where her presents were. Instead, we gave her plenty of say about where we went and what we did.

The usual included breakfast of fourpenny rolls with strawberry jam (it’s getting a little monotonous now) and then some play time in the garden. This morning, most of the tables and sunshades had been requisitioned for one-to-one Spanish tuition, so we had to avoid disturbing the classes in progress. But we had a couple of treats during the morning. First of all, one of the Casa de Avila girls brought out a big bowl of fruit salad for Ellen, enough for her to share with the rest of the family.
IMG_2932

Then Armando, the owner, repeated his offer of letting us visit the school next door, and soon we were being given a guided tour. The girls were a little reluctant; perhaps they thought we were going to leave them there all day… they were certainly the focus of much curiosity, and we got choruses of ‘Hello!’ and ‘Bye!’ from most classes we looked in on.

The school is for girls from 5 to 11 years old, and the premises are exceedingly cramped, squashed into a sliver of space to the right of our hostal. Class size around 30 pupils, so maybe similar numbers to DAPS but without the green and spacious setting. In the playground/netball court, some girls were practising a dance for this Saturday, which is the school’s anniversary. A small IT room was in use – perhaps eight machines. About half the staff (including the principal) were men; this would certainly be unusual for this age group in the UK. Sound discipline, a friendly atmosphere – and apparently this is one of the less expensive schools in Arequipa (all education must be paid for in Peru).
SDC11200

SDC11202

Then out for a birthday lunch. We didn’t tell the girls where we were going, but they weren’t disappointed when they realised we were eating at an ice-cream parlour. There was a glass cabinet with mock-ups of the various copas on offer, and we thus chose to order only two and share; Ellen and Kirsten chose a Copa Fantasia (with scoops of strawberry, banana and vanilla), while Hannah and I went for the Copa Stracciatella (chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla). We finished them, but only just…
IMG_2937

IMG_2938

After that, we escaped the heat of the sun in the dimly-lit Museo Pre-Inca Chiribaya.
IMG_2947

This is a new museum – just over a year old – containing a remarkable array of artefacts dating back about 1000 years; textiles, wooden carvings, pottery, hunting, fishing and weaving tools, necklaces and bracelets. We were not allowed to take photographs, but their website gives you some idea. Quite simply, I could not believe the age of the objects on display. Vivid colours, intact earthenware, fabric with scarcely a blemish. I asked at the end; it is because these items were all found in sealed burial sites – and perhaps the dry climate helps, too.

At Ellen’s behest we returned ‘home’ and played in the garden. No language lessons now, but the staff were busy hosing down all the paths, washing the sunshades, unpacking new plant pots, etc. – there’s a big conference here soon (perhaps tomorrow, given the urgency of tidying-up).

Some so-so cakes from a local pasteleria (a little bit stale) for tea – no-one was particularly hungry anyway – then out for supper. Initially the plan was chicken and chips, and we zig-zagged through central Arequipa looking for somewhere not too posh and expensive but not too greasy caff either.

In the end we returned to our Italian place of a few days ago and ordered a lasagna and a spaghetti carbonara; once again we shared these and even then there was slightly too much for us. As Ellen was eating her lasagna she suddenly complained of a hard bit; she took it out of her mouth and carried on. A while later, Kirsten spotted Ellen’s mouth – a distinct gap had appeared. Yes – after months and months of waiting, her first wobbly tooth had come out! (We had joked about it falling out in Peru on her birthday, and here it was, right on cue.) She now has a bit of a lithp…
IMG_2964

Read Full Post »

Condor dominion

After having had a very light supper (a handful of crisps and Snickers bar) I went to bed at about 7.30pm and shared a room with Hannah.  Although I was extremely tired I just could not go to sleep for at least another two hours thanks to the church bells ringing at strange times and someone singing the same dull song over and over again.  It was a very broken night and I was awake well before the planned get up time of 5.30am.  Hannah woke up easily and after we had packed most of our bags we went to visit Tim & Ellen next door.

A little before 6am we headed down the stairs and across the courtyard to the dining room for a standard breakfast of fresh rolls with jam & butter, coca tea and fruit juice.

The weather was sunny but absolutely freezing (ice in the puddles up the road); we definitely needed our two fleeces each and I was beginning to wish we had packed our fleece hats and gloves and thermal underwear as well …

At about 6.30am we were picked up and settled into our four seats at the back.  After we had picked up the others Flor explained the plan for today. 

On our way to Cruz del Condor we stopped in a couple of villages, mainly to visit the local churches and have a look at what merchandise the local ladies had to offer. 

At Yanque (which I think was the name of a typical Peruvian shoe) we bought the girls a chullo – a Peruvian hat.  Each hat is reversible and Hannah chose green as her main colour and Ellen stuck with pink/purple.  We were pretty happy to pay 10 Soles/hat (= £2) if it meant keeping their ears warm -it took quite a long time before they were willing to take them off again!

Yanque church
IMG_2814

The girls wearing their new hats
IMG_2819

In Maca we visited a little church dedicated to Santa Ana, and as in Yanque the church was built by the Conquistadores.  They made sure there were two entrances; one for the rich people and one for the poor people being the Indians.  This little white church had two towers.  One was dated 1885, the left tower was dated 1899 and was re-built after an earthquake had destroyed it in 1891.

Maca church
IMG_2829

Again lots of local women and men showing their merchandise, but neither of us felt particularly harassed and forced to buy something.

Shortly after 8.30am we arrived at Cruz del Condor, together with lots of other tourists unfortunately, and had to wait patiently to find a good spot to photograph the big birds.  Flor had explained to us that young condors are brown in color.  When they are about 8 years old their colouring changes into black and white.  Tim managed to get some video footage and photos (being tall was definitely an advantage today!)

The backdrop was absolutely stunning and I could have sat there for ages simply enjoying the beauty of this country.  Actually that was exactly what the girls and I did while Tim climbed up a little higher to get an even better view.

Colca Canyon. Fault in the Earth’s crust between the colossal volcanoes Coropuna (6425m) and Ampato (6310m), greatest depth 3400m and 100km long.IMG_2865

IMG_2849

IMG_2850

img_2850a

Cruz del Condor
IMG_2867

All too soon it was 10 o’clock and we all had to clamber back onto the coach and start our return journey to Arequipa. 

We stopped at a couple of viewpoints to admire the landscape and in particular the Incan and Pre-Incan terraces.  The Pre-Incan terraces were very straight, whilst the Incan terraces are in the shape of a semi-circle, both types are still being used today.  Peruvians mainly grow potatoes and maize.

IMG_2905

IMG_2908

Incan and pre-Incan terraces
IMG_2915

A pacha, or Inca sacrificial stone
IMG_2914

Flor informed us that we would stop for lunch at Chivay.  Oh good, we could try out one of the local little eating places we spotted yesterday, we only want something small!  Forget it, just outside of Chivay we stopped at another posh-ish looking restaurant and were ushered in for another buffet at 20 Soles/person – just like yesterday, what a disappointment.  I noticed that our Flemish friends stayed on the coach and I couldn’t see them in the restaurant either.  After we had finished and paid our 60 Soles (the girls were again half price) I went in search of them.  They had wandered down the road and found a tiny shop where they managed to buy a soft drink and small bag of biscuits for the grand total of 2 Soles!  Not a bad idea, but with two young children we thought we ought to have something more decent to eat.  The food was really delicious though …

The second half of today’s journey was spent snoozing and catching up on lost sleep and before we knew it we were back in taxi-infested, traffic jammed, noisy Arequipa.

Only one couple was dropped off at their hotel (probably too far out of the centre), whilst everybody else was dropped off at Plaza de Armas and had to make their own way back to their hotels.  Hannah was extremely good about carrying her rucksack, while Ellen was in charge of her bottle holder, Muffin and fleece – at very nearly 6 years old and after an extremely early start for her I thought that was fair.

It was nice to be back at Casa de Avila and we all queued up for the shower and then all out for supper.  Again we were only looking for something small and preferably not too far from the hostal.  We ended up in the main square and Hannah & Ellen had the freshest strawberry juice you can imagine with the usual ham & cheese sandwich.  Tim & I both opted for a Hawaiano (sandwich with chicken, pineapple and peach), soft drink for T and coffee for me.

Back to our room and straight to bed!  Someone small has a very exciting day coming up…

Read Full Post »

High on coca tea

The first day of our Colca tour; we were awake with the sun around 6am, giving us ample time for showers, breakfast and final packing (for this trip within a trip we are taking the girls’ rucksacks plus our foldaway day pack, as well as our eight fleeces).

We left our valuables in the hotel safe and handed in the room key. While waiting by the entrance to Casa de Avila, a passer-by queried why our girls were not at school. Our explanation then drew an offer to go and have a look round the school right next door once we are back in Arequipa – we’ll certainly try to arrange to do that.

We were collected a little after half past eight. We expected/feared a squashed and overheated ride in a rattly old minibus, but we found ourselves with reclining seats in a 30-seater coach. Okay, so three of our four seatbelts didn’t work, and the ‘smash glass in emergency’ hammers were all missing, but we were still happy on the whole.

IMG_2736

For the next half hour we bumped over the cobbled streets of Arequipa, collecting the other members of our tour party. Some from Canada, from Italy, from Lima, from London – and even from the outskirts of Antwerp, as we later discovered.

We were introduced to Flor (our guide) and Alfredo (driver) and then given a brief summary in Spanish and English of what lay ahead over the next two days. As it turns out, this bilingual narrative is an excellent language-learning tool; try to glean as much as possible from the Spanish version, then check whether you got it right – and fill in any gaps in your comprehension. Maybe a 70% success rate today…

Then we were ready to head north from Arequipa. A quick stop at a roadside store to buy water, sweets, etc. (but we had packed these already) and also a striking view of the three volcanoes near the city; Chachani, El Misti and Picchu Picchu (so good they named it twice).

El Misti volcano
IMG_2690

Further on we drove through Yura, a town principally devoted to the mining of sillar, the volcanic rock from which most of Arequipa is built, and the manufacture of Portland cement.  Sillar comes in pink, yellow and white varieties, but the white is by far the most durable.

As we climbed twistily through the Andes we entered the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve. Several photo stops for three of the four native camelids – llamas and alpacas, of course, but also the shy and rather delicate vicuñas (just getting out of the coach was sufficient to send them scarpering).

Vicuñas
IMG_2724

Llamas and alpacas
IMG_2758

A loo stop at Patahuasi where we were also advised to have a nice cup of tea. Coca tea, that is, simply hot water poured over whole coca leaves.
IMG_2751

Not as unpleasant as we had been led to believe, and it seemed to do the job (of combating altitude sickness). The girls stuck with their water, and we bought them each a nice woven bottle-holder from one of the many local stalls at this stop.

We then climbed from this altitude of 4000m to very nearly 5000m at the pass before the descent to Chivay. On the way we passed through distinct zones of vegetation, with cacti giving way to spiky pampas grass.IMG_2711

IMG_2715

We paused at Mirador de los Andes to admire some more snow-capped volcanoes (including Mismi), and the thousands of little cairns piled by the Incas as offerings for safe passage to the other side of the pass.

IMG_2774

IMG_2779

But the lack of oxygen was getting too much for several of the party, so Flor did the rounds with an alcohol swab – to inhale and to rub on the forehead to relieve headaches. Ellen was given this treatment as she complained of a slight headache, but a couple of adults were far worse affected (the rest of Global Prices were fine, on the whole).

Even so, at 5000m I was struggling for breath when I climbed up a few rock steps to take photographs, and my thinking seemed muzzier. Over half the height of Everest, we were, and we needed both fleeces on despite the perfect blue sky and the sun overhead.

We began our descent from an altitude of 16,500 feet (wow – that sounds even higher!) and the pot-holed road littered with coach-crunching boulders (quite a slalom) switched to smooth tarmac, giving our juddered bodies a break.

Past thawing ice rivulets, with a spectacular view down onto ancient terraces around our destination of Chivay, gateway to the Colca Canyon.IMG_2773

IMG_2787

I must admit that the Andes are smoother and greener than I expected. Those iconic views of Machu Picchu show immensely steep mountain sides and rocky outcrops, but today’s drive had high plateaux where the road stretched ahead perfectly straight for many miles, wide marshy areas with vicuñas drinking, rolling hills with the odd snow-capped cone of a volcano lurking in the distance.IMG_2727

IMG_2769

At around 1pm we rolled into Chivay. First stop, lunch at a tourist trap. I suppose it’s inevitable, but we were ushered into a low-rent eatery and directed to a buffet – and thence to the two long tables reserved for our coach party, rather than the many other coach parties. A bit of a conveyor belt; there wasn’t much the girls would eat (chips and dessert, mainly) so I asked how much they would be charged – the standard rate was 20 Soles per person (you can get a full meal in Arequipa for S/3.50). The waiter said he’d do half price for them, but he still overcharged us with some dodgy addition (as he had done for a couple at the end of our table). However, I chose not to quibble over the £2 in question, and paid it in lieu of a tip. We resolved to avoid such establishments in future (it’s universal, I know – we encountered a similar disappointment in Venice years ago).IMG_2790

After this, we were deposited at our hotels. Yes, hotels – three groups here, four groups there, one somewhere else. We are staying in Hostal La Pascana del Inka, very close to the main square, and we used our free 90 minutes to unpack in our two neighbouring twin bed rooms and then to sit in the pleasant square.

Hostal courtyardIMG_2794

The ubiquitous earthquake safety zone sign
IMG_2795

Main square in Chivay
IMG_2797

Chivay church and mountainside cross
IMG_2798

What a contrast from taxi-infested Arequipa! Here you can stroll across the street with scarcely any traffic to endanger you (the odd putt-putt three-wheeler taxi, perhaps – but you can virtually out-walk them…) and find a free bench by the fountain. And then receive no hassle from touts – indeed, the only approach was from a (decent) old gentleman astonished by the blue of our girls’ eyes.

(Kirsten) Yes, I must admit I am always wary of strangers walking up to me or the girls or behaving in a bizarre manner, so when I saw this older man walking up towards the girls chatting away to them I was ready to jump up and run over to them.  But to my surprise the girls weren’t at all fazed by him and actually smiled up to him.  I walked over gently to see what the matter was and ended up having a little chat with him.  He had the most kind face and warm smile and only wanted to let the girls and me know that he really loved the girls’ blue eyes, it’s just so unusual for Peruvians to see someone with blue eyes and blonde hair – the girls are getting used to it and sometimes even willing to wave back.

Many older women dressed up in traditional colourful costume with white brimmed hats; at first we wondered if this was just for the tourists, but we think not – they are just maintaining the old ways.

At 4.30pm we were collected by coach to go a few miles out to a hot springs spa – La Calera. The water emerges at 70°C and needs a lot of cooling to get it down to a bearable 40°C to feed the six indoor and outdoor pools. We bought our tickets (10 Soles for adults, 5 for Hannah with Ellen free) and enjoyed a good 1½ hours soaking away the day’s jarring journey. The best thing was the majestic backdrop of a sheer cliff in the evening sun, with shadows climbing the rock until we were bathing by floodlight.
IMG_2804

IMG_2805

Back on the coach at half past six, and we chose to give the evening’s entertainment a miss (a meal out with traditional dancing) – how much are they going to charge for that when all we want is a few nibbles and some water? And besides, we have to be up at 5.30am tomorrow to drive to Cruz del Condor…

So I ought to turn in soon – it’s now 9pm. My main thought is the extreme contrast between how exotic this must sound from a distance and how matter-of-fact and ‘doable’ it all seems once you’re here. Yes, today we drove with two young children for five hours up to a height of 16,500 feet in the Peruvian Andes, saw volcanoes and llamas, ate alpaca stew and chuño (I think – looked like olives and tasted like potato) and bathed in hot springs by twilight. And tomorrow we’ll see the second-deepest canyon on Earth (deeper than the Grand Canyon by far – it’s about two miles down) and perhaps glimpse a condor or two. And all this for about £25 a head (once you’re here) with an English-speaking guide to help you.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »