UROS FLOATING ISLANDS
We had arranged our own home stay on one of the floating islands of Uros, which is on lake Titicaca. Uros is a community of around 120 man made islands from the totora reed.
To get there we had organised a transfer and we were to be met by our driver in the Plaza Del armas in Puno at 10am. Unfortunately at exactly 10am in the Plaza Del Armas, a protest seemed to be going on followed by a mass influx of people. Feeling very confused and slightly worried, we were ushered over by a police officer. Thinking they were telling us to get out of the square due to the protest, it turned out they actually wanted us to pose for a picture with them, as they were the tourist police and running a mock demonstration on how they would react in a natural disaster!! No idea why they actually wanted a picture with us, but we are hoping we end up in one of their brochures one day looking very confused.
It worked in our favour though, as they let us into their offices after to us their WiFi to contact our driver - as there was no hope finding him in the mass of people. After we got in touch, we found out he had been held up by it all too. We eventually found each other and finally made our way to the lake.
It was a 20 minute boat ride to our particular island and we got to go through the main village on the way.
When we arrived we were amazed by the island, literally everything was made of Reed! After meeting the family we were staying with, who were all incredibly friendly, we were allowed some time to settle in to our amazing room, the view was perfect!
We then got to go out on one of the traditional reed boats with the family’s son, Ricardo. He paddled us around the lake, giving us different information ( some of which we understood) about the lake. He even let Dan have a go at steering and paddling the boat, however this wasn’t very successful and we ended up in the reeds! It was very heavy and needed a certain technique to move properly. Lisa decided to give this a miss after seeing how hard Dan found it.
We next got to have a go at cutting the reed. This was a bit easier, but still not sure we would be able to do it for hours like they have to in order to make their islands. We saw a few locals filling their boats for their own islands.
Ricardo then showed us different parts of the reed and their uses. Obviously when dried out they can be stacked together and create the buildings, seats, arches, boats and islands. However when wet and first harvested, you could actually eat the root which he called a lake banana. It didn’t actually taste too bad, but don’t think we would be ordering another. He also showed us the section of the reed that can be used for medicinal purposes, for example used on sunburn, just to cook yourself down or cure a headache, it was quite refreshing.
We did have a few questions about the islands, but due to the language barrier the questions and answers weren’t fully understood by either party, he did try his best though! We did feel like a few facts we were given either weren’t quite right or misinterpreted!
Back on the island we had lunch - you guessed it, trout! This was very tasty though as was cooked in a different way to other times.
After a little siesta where we read some Harry Potter, we were called out for a surprise. Maria, who we think is the grandmother, had brought out lots of traditional clothing and proceeded to dress us up in them, including platting Lisa’s hair. We weirdly enjoyed it and they made the experience fun, clearing enjoying it too. They got us posing around the island for different pictures!
After this it was slightly awkward as all the women of the family came out and showed us their hand crafted goods that they were trying to sell to us. They took a shining to Lisa and kept calling her to look at their products! Dan was the one that actually caved in when he found a wall hanging that he liked. They told us it had taken them a month to make and it tells the story of the origins of Lake Titicaca! We thought it would be a nice addition to our new place so gave in and bought it.
Still dressed up, we got sent out on reed canoes to explore the lake on our own. Sadly, we were both as bad as each other and could only really go around in circles. Lisa found this funny but Dan got frustrated with it quickly (shock). After 20 minutes of floating (and a boat change - turns out it wasn’t the boat), we decided to give up.
Soon after we were taken out on the big boat again, to watch the sunset from the water. It was really peaceful and cosy as we laid watching under blankets.
BLOG CATCH UP
After breakfast and goodbyes with our Uros Island family, we got the boat back to Puno late morning and then had the day to kill waiting for an overnight bus to Cusco. We were pretty behind with the blog with almost two weeks to catch up on so we spent our day get this up to date! We got picked up for our bus around 9pm and had a rather uncomfortable night not sleeping.
CUSCO AND APSEY FAMILY REUNION
The bus arrived in even earlier than it was supposed to to Cusco. Expecting to get in at 5.30am, the bus actually got in at 4.30am and dropped us off at our apartment, who weren't expecting to let us in until 6am. Therefore we had a fun 1.5hrs sat on the side of the road outside the building we thought was our apartment with no way of contacting them or finding out which flat we were supposed to buzz.
Luckily at 6.15am the flats owner called to us out the window and let us in. We tried to have a little nap before meeting up with Lisa's family who were all now in Cusco too.
We had arranged to meet at midday for one of the free walking tours offered of the City. Sadly this tour wasn't one of the best we'd had so far, much of the tour was talking about and showing us different stones around the City from the Inca Period. It didn't help that we were running on less than 3hrs sleep, and the group was so large none of us could barely hear much of what the guide was saying. It did give us a good idea of our way around the centre and ended up in a cafe with a really nice view over the City and a quick Pisco Sour Tasting. The view was so nice we decided to stay here for a late lunch.
We all wanted to hike to the Rainbow Mountain and the only really free day we had to do this was on the third the next day so we booked this in. The only problem - it meant a 3am start the next day! Therefore after getting this booked we all headed back to the apartment and had a much needed early night.
Our 7pm bed time the night before still didn’t feel early enough when our alarms went off at 2.40am, particularly for us, considering we hadn’t slept the night before. After getting picked up it was around a 2hr drive to get to a town where we were having breakfast. Sadly a little small considering the trek ahead of us, and Dan and Chris were still pretty hungry after. It was around a 1hr further drive through very mountainous windy sheer drop roads. Eventually we reached the foot of the Ausangate mountain range where the trek began, and we started our 1hr 45minute ascent. Rainbow Mountain (or official name Vinicunca), is at a higher altitude than what we'll reach on our Machu Picchu trek, sitting at 5200m at the peak, so it was a good test for us all that we were fine with that altitude.
With lots of rest breaks to catch our breath back we all made it up to the viewpoint. Surprisingly we did see other people in our group needing Oxygen to help them get up and many people purchasing Mules to make the climb. It was quite funny as we'd all been climbing we'd assumed once we got to the peak then we'd see the Rainbow Mountain in front of us, but actually it was the Mountain to the right of us the whole trek, we just couldn't see the different colours until the viewpoint! We all got stamps at the top in our passports too! The reason for the very early start was so that we were one of the first groups to make it to the top. It was busy enough getting pictures without other people in the way this early, but we're so glad we did choose this early tour as on the way down we passed so many people climbing it would have been impossible to get pictures later on.
The guide told us the colours were formed by different mineral layers. The red is caused by Iron Oxide Rust, the Orange and Yellow Iron Sulfide and the Turquoise from Chlorite.
After posing with a few Alpacas on the way back down we all decided we also wanted to continue the hike to see the Red Valley. This wasn't far, just maybe 30 more minutes of walking up the path you can actually see in the pictures which goes along the top of the mountain.
The walk down from the Red Valley turned out to be a little more thrilling than expected. We were taken to the side of the mountain edge and told to basically slide down on our feet. We all started off pretty hesitantly as it was really steep but soon all got into it and it turned out to be super fun!
It was then time to jump back in the death van and head back down the same windy road for lunch. Thankfully much more plentiful this time - we were all starved!! We got back to Cusco mid afternoon, spruced ourselves up a little and went for an early dinner. Cusco has so many incredible restaurants its hard to choose but we were recommended one by our apartment host and it didn't disappoint.
PREP & SHOPPING DAY
After a bit more of a lay in than the day before, we decided to have a day to prepare for the Lares trek and also complete our touristy shopping in Cusco's markets.
We headed to San Pedro market, which was a mix of both touristy and local produce. Here we enjoyed haggling for all the items we had been waiting to buy, before handing them over to Helen and Chris who kindly fit them in their bags home for us!
Later that evening we had our briefing for the Lares Trek. This gave us a run down of the 4 days we were about to partake in. We also had a chance to meet our group and our guide Kliser. We were given our duffel bags to pack that evening and after dinner headed back to do this, ready for another very early start the next day.
LARES TREK DAY 1
Awoken again by our early alarms, we were all out the house and ready to be picked up by 5am. We jumped in our bus for the next few days and first off headed towards Pisac Inca Citadel, which sits in the Sacred Valley. Here Kliser gave us loads of information about the ancient remnants and the history behind the citadel. It was an amazing start to the trip, being high above the remains of this ancient civilizational, showing how impressive it was that they used to live on mountainsides.
After having a wander around we were taken down to one of the local towns for breakfast. Luckily this was much more of a feast than our other trip, with porridge, eggs, fruit, bread and cereals all there to fill us up before the trek ahead.
Before being taken to the start point of the trek, we were taken to a local market. This was to pick up last minute supplies, but also to buy a few presents for the local children who live in the mountains that we would be passing on the way. We brought a football and some Cocoa leaves for this as well as some bread.
After another 30 min drive, we arrived to the start point of our trek. Here we sorted out the items we would be taking with us in our day packs, with everything else being left in our duffel bags that the mules would be taking up for us (we were allowed a limit 8kg per bag). After a few more snacks to give us a boost of energy, Sun creaming and Deeting up (although this didn't stop Lisa getting attacked by Mosquitoes), we were on our way!
After around 3 hours trekking up the mountain path, looking out for local wildlife and birds, we arrived at our lunch spot. The amazing porters and chefs had already run ahead, set up the tent to each lunch in and started cooking - even setting up a portable toilet for everyone!
As breakfast had proved, each meal was more like a feast and lunch was no different. We had a fully cooked 3 course meal. We actually felt bad as between 10 of us we couldn't finish off all the food that was cooked (luckily the porters help out with anything left over!).
After an hour break we carried on our ascent up the valley. Luckily the last 2 hours were a lot quicker and we got to camp just as the sun was starting the set. The campsite was just outside of a local community - a stunning setting that is overlooked by a glacier in the mountaintop.
In the evening we went to visit a local elderly couple who lived in the town we were next to. They lived in a one room house along with their dogs, cat and many Guinea pigs (sadly being saved for special occasions). We learnt about their life in the village before giving them a few presents we had brought from the market.
Dinner again was a feast, before heading to bed for an early night. Thankfully they gave us hot water bottles, which really did warm up the sleeping bags. We needed it, it was freezing but both managed to get a decent nights sleep.
LARES TREK DAY 2
The guides woke us up in our tents with a much appreciated Coca tea, needing the warmth by this time to entice us out of the sleeping bags. After breakfast it was time to climb out of the valley with a 3hr uphill hike to reach the highest summit of the trek. We started off in the dark and cold and it took us over an hour to reach sunlight and warm up.
We were treated to incredible views of lakes and glaciers to help us up the ascent. After a few false tops we made it to the highest part of the trek at 4700m, and the view of the Glacier was stunning so of course we had a little photo shoot.
It was then time to start our descent down to the next nights valley and campsite. It took again around 3hrs to get down, some of this just as hard as the ascent due to the steep slopes and we had a few slips., mainly from Siân and Lisa. We walked down past a trout farm, a waterfall and more incredible views. We also met some more kids on the walk to give away some of our purchases to.
We reached the campsite with a little sun to spare and with the local women having set up shop, so a few more Peruvian goods were purchased. We'd decided not to have lunch until we reached the campsite to save the porters setting up and packing down twice. So lunch and dinner ended up being in quite close proximity, which given the portion sizes was a struggle!
LARES TREK DAY 3
It was another 5.30am wake up with a hot cup of coca tea. Again straight after breakfast we were heading on our ascent back out of the valley to our next highest peak of 4200m. This climb felt tougher than the day before, maybe because we were aching more but we were all happy to reach the top and finish the ascent. Of course there were lots of lakes and beautiful views to help us get up!
We had less slips on our final descent, taking another 2-3hrs to finish our trek. We were all disappointed when it finished, we definitely made the right choice of trek, the whole walk we only saw one other group of tourists at the first campsite, which is pretty incredible when you think how many people do these treks each day! Taking in the last of the views we made our way to meet the van.
The van took us half an hour further down the Valley to Lares, where we were met with a much needed lunch and even better - hot springs! After soothing our muscles we said our goodbyes to the chefs and porters.
That marked the end of our trekking, and it was back in the van for a 3hr drive to the town of Ollantaytambo, where we were to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to reach Machu Picchu, which can only be reached by train. We had a very disappointing dinner, especially after how excellent all our food had been on the trip, then boarded the train for a very shaky ride. Sadly it was dark so we couldn't see the views coming into the town. It was late when we arrived so we headed straight for the hotels for much needed showers and sleep.
Yet another early wake up! We were down for breakfast at 5 and on the bus up to Machu Picchu by 6. The road up to Machu Picchu was a very scenic route, snaking through the valley - it reminded us of Avatar, we were expecting to see the flying dinosaurs at any moment!
We reached the summit around 6.30, just before sunrise and before it started getting busy. Kliser took us straight through the the best photo spots before the crowds started gathering. So we made the most of this making sure we got all the pictures we wanted.
Once we had got our pictures out of the way, Kliser started giving us a tour of the area, giving us information about the place. One interesting fact, that was backed up by a rock slide that we saw while up there, is that Machu Picchu means old mountain in Quechua. It was called this as even while they were making it, there mountain was crumbling around them, making it look like it was old. Due to this more than 600 terraces where built to prevent the city from sliding down the mountain.
There isn't a reason known as to why Machu Picchu was built, only a lot of different theories. According to scholars, Machu Picchu was a royal estate built for the Inca king Pachacutec around 1450. Others speculate the Inca city was a sacred center where the great political, religious and economic minds of the Inca Empire gathered. The population of Machu Picchu ranged between 300-1000 inhabitants, so was definitely an important hub however it was used!
Machu Picchu was lost to the world until 1911, when it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, a history professor from America (who was actually the influence for Indiana Jones!). We were told by our guide that other people before this had already found the site, a few families even living there, however Bingham was the first person rich enough to be able to publish his findings and get National Geographic over to the site. We were told the amount of treasure that was officially documented by Bingham was a lot less than was actually discovered - Bingham actually had 12 creates shipped over to America before he even told the Peruvian government about his findings. All the treasure and cultural findings where shipped to America for "Research" at Yale university. The Peruvians were told they would get this all back as soon as they were done with this research. However this went on decades without them ever getting it back. Finally the Peruvian Minister for Culture finally went over to see what was going on, when he got there he discovered all the treasure and items were locked up in storage having never been opened (a bit like Indiana Jones!). They finally got it all back in 2011. When they received it, they realised there was over 15,000 items that had never been notified to them! Interesting side face, Hiram Bingham's family is the owner of the biggest Diamond Jewelers in the world - Tiffany. Our guide made it clear where he thought this money had come from!
We obviously got lots more information, but don't want to bore you with it all! We then got another 30mins to take some photos of the area before having to leave our 4 hour slot.
After getting our stamps in our passport, we made our way back down to Aguas Calientes. Our train back wasn't until 4.30pm, so we had most the day to explore this touristy town and look through the markets. Dan enjoyed watching the trains going through the town while we sat for lunch.
After a long 4 hour journey back, we arrived to our apartment around 9pm, all ready for a good night sleep!
RECOVERY IN CUSCO AND JUNGLE PREP
After a much needed lie in we had breakfast in the flat with loads of fresh produce Helen and Chris had popped out to the local market to purchase. There was a huge carnival going on all over Cusco so when we were finally ready we headed to the main square to watch some of it. The end of July marks the festival of Inti Raymi (festival of the sun), and Cusco has parades and parties the whole month leading up to this. The parade was full of different groups adults and children all dressed in traditional festival wear dancing. It was crowded with locals watching too so we didn't stay too long. Next we headed to the Chocolate Museum - Cusco is apparently famed for it's chocolate too! It was actually more of a shop but we had a talk with loads of free tastings of different strengths and flavours of chocolates made out of different cocoa beans. We couldn't resist a few more visits to some of the craft markets.
We'd been eyeing up lots of cakes in shop windows for days so we finally treated ourselves to a cake stop. The cafe happened to be above a massage shop, so Dan, Lisa, Rhian & Siân treated themselves to an hour long swedish massage - for only £8 it would have been rude not to!
After this we needed to pack up again this time for the jungle, before having another delicious dinner in one of the restaurants recommended by our apartment host.
GETTING TO THE JUNGLE
Surprise surprise it was another 5am start for our jungle tour. We were picked up by our guide Rony. We'd hoped from what we'd been told by the company that it would only be us on the tour so we could spread out on the bus, but it turned out they'd merged us with a 3 day tour (we were doing a 4 day tour), so we had to wait for them to get to us before setting off. It's a very long drive to get into the jungle from Cusco so on the first day this was coupled with a couple of more random stop offs to help break up the journey.
The first was at a viewpoint over the mountain range which included the rainbow mountain. We only stopped here for a few minutes before continuing on to the pretty town of Paucartambo, where all the buildings were painted white with blue trimmings.. We visited a small market - mainly to use the bathrooms - and then through the town where of course another little festival was going on. The stop here was to visit a museum which chronicled a huge festival which takes place in the town in July and had on display many elaborate costumes from the festival.
From here we continued the drive, again via very windy roads with conspicuous sheer drops on the side. Half way through we stopped off for a packed lunch, and at this point as we were still high up in the mountains, in a place called the cloud forest we were all pretty cold and starting to worry we'd have the same weather as our last jungle trip. Continuing on and getting lower it started to warm up a little (with a little rain too). On this last section of the drive as we had entered the national park and the edge of the jungle, we kept hopping out of the van for little walks along the road to try and have our first spot of animals.
We did manage to see a female cock of the rock bird, which is the national bird of Peru, and towards the end we also saw lots of Capuchin monkeys.
Finally we reached our first lodge, a short walk through the jungle from the road. We were only staying in this lodge for one night and it was pretty basic so we were rather grateful, with the next lodge being deeper in the jungle and still a few hours away! It was quite nice though as this was the first evening we'd all had together where we weren't all needing to be in bed at 7pm, so we got to finally use the cards and Uno we'd been carrying around.
MANU JUNGLE & RAFTING
According to our schedule we were supposed to wake up early on the second morning to go and view the cock of the rock. In the mornings the males, who are much more elaborate than the females, bright red with sort of bobbles on their heads, perform a mating dance, and we were supposed to go see this. We pressed the guide however he said we would be doing this a different day and so we got to have a lie in for our standards and wake up at 7am. A little later this day though Rony let slip that where we were going deeper in the jungle we wouldn't see any more cock of the rock birds, so we felt a bit lied to knowing we wouldn't be seeing the mating dance now. This was a bit of a disappointing start, especially as we'd expressed interest in really wanting to see this. We think as we were merged with the 3 day tour they needed to move them on quicker so they could stick to their schedule.
Despite this disappointment we had a nice breakfast watching lots of hummingbirds enjoying the flowers right outside the window of the canteen.
We carried on the drive again stopping off for walks along the road, all looking forward to getting properly into the jungle as walking along the roads didn't quite feel like the adventure we were expecting. Our final stop along this part of the road was to visit a coca farm to see the plants growing, and then to what seemed just like a local families garden to see a few fruits growing, including one in which the fruit created a vibrant red dye, which the guide painted our faces with!
Just a short drive on we came to Pilcopata where we changed into our swim wear and began our rating along the Koñeq and Madre de Dios Rivers. The rafting was really fun, it was only grade 1 & 2 waters so much tamer than our last rafting, we didn't lose anyone out of the boat this time! We saw lots more birds as we floated along, and had plenty of opportunities to jump in and swim, including another 5m jump off a rock into the waters.
The rafting lasted an hour and a half until we reached the Port of Atalaya, where we then jumped on our boat for a 20 minute ride to our lodge for the last two nights. This one was definitely much more the jungle experience we'd been looking for. After some much needed and refreshing cold showers, we settled down in hammocks to chill for the afternoon, watching more hummingbirds and spotting some more monkeys behind the lodges kitchen where they had a little feeding platform.
After a relaxing afternoon in the hammocks, Ronny said he would take us out on a night walk through the jungle. As soon as the sun set at 6pm we set off into the thick Jungle - it was amazing how dark it got as soon as you were under the cover of the trees! We were told to keep quiet and only have our lights on to look for insects, snakes and spiders. We were warned from the outset that there were poisonous animals all around so not to be silly and touch anything we shouldn't or shake on leaves or trees. Funnily enough, out of everything that could possibly be out there, the thing Ronny warned us about most was bullet ants. These were about 10 times the size of normal ants, and as the name suggests their bite can be quite painful - one bite can kill a human baby. Scarily they were everywhere! So we just had to be sure they weren't crawling up us at any point!
The walk lasted for an hour through the jungle and apart from the massive moths (the size of birds) that kept attacking us for the light, we came out fine and unscathed! During the walk we saw a lot of different spiders, frogs, insects and even a snake.
After dinner we settled down in our rooms, hoping we wouldn't see any of the creatures we had seen during the walk at any point that night!
ZIP WIRING AND LAGOON
After a surprisingly good night sleep and no unwelcome creepy crawlies, we had another early wake up to go and watch the Macaws feeding. Every morning they will go to a clay wall to feed off the minerals in it. This is to help them digest a lot of the toxic berries they eat.
We were all on the boat by 5am to catch them at sunrise. Sadly after spending around an hour at the place, it became clear they weren't going to arrive. Ronny told us this was due to bad weather and a few Eagle predators lurking around. We did see a few through Rony's telescope and groups flying above, but sadly none close enough to photograph.
After getting back and grabbing some breakfast, we had to get ready for an hour hike through the jungle to get to our zip lining activity. This was an optional extra that we all decided to take up. The hike through the jungle was very sweaty due to the humidity and having to carry all our gear for zip-lining, however our guides for the morning made it very interesting giving us different facts about things we were seeing such as termite hills and different variety of trees.
When we arrived to the first line, we were all a little nervous as we saw how old the system was - even more so when we were told that we controlled the brakes of the zip line - something that isn't normally the case! After the first line, we were all a bit more relaxing having managed to work the brake system. Apart from each platform feeling like it could collapse at any moment, it was pretty fun flying through the jungle! Lisa did get stung by a wasp at one point though which made her sad.
All feeling pretty confident on the lines, we got to the last platform and were told we were going to rappel down. All feeling a little nervous about this (especially with the aged equipment) we watched as we saw the guide give a demonstration and literally jump off the 15 meter drop like it was nothing. Luckily it was pretty simple once you had trusted it to take your weigh once you stepped off the edge - the trick was just to not look down!
All feeling pretty happy we survived, especially after finding a Caimen at the bottom near where we were rappelling, we headed back to the lodge for some lunch, before heading out that afternoon again to a lagoon.
This was a 20 minute boat ride away, where we again walked through thick jungle, before reaching a lagoon which was a haven for amazon birds. We got to go on fun little rafts which were punted by the guides. They took us to a viewing platform where we could get a better look at the whole area.
We headed back to the lodge, watching a thunderstorm in the distance from the boat. We didn't have any night walks planned due to our action packed day, so we had a nice dinner with wine for our last night.
LONG DRIVE BACK TO CUSCO
Not wanting to get back to Cusco late we decided to head back early, leaving the lodge around 8am straight after breakfast. And we seemed to leave just in time before the bad weather set in, with rain starting on our boat ride back to the van. It was the exact same road back to Cusco as we'd come, and after a few hours we reached the first lodge. Around this area we jumped out the van for one last jungle road walk, finally getting to see the male cock of the rock. Sadly we didn't manage to get the photo in time before he flew away but at least we saw him after our disappointment of the second day. We saw woolly monkeys too, they were playing coy and wouldn't look at us for photos!
We continued on to the same lunch spot as the way there, and arrived back in Cusco mid-late afternoon. All shattered that evening, we got Pizza take-away and had a final evening in playing cards.
LAST DAY IN CUSCO
With Helen & Chris packed up and bags up to their maximum weight full of all our stuff, ready for their afternoon flight home, we headed for one last trip to San Pedro Market. We treated ourselves to fresh fruit smoothies, the market has a row full of different ladies making them and all calling out for your custom, so we each went to a different lady!
Helen & Chris had to leave us around midday to make it to their flight so after goodbyes it was just the four of us. We all had overnight buses to Arequipa booked, with Rhian & Sian's bus leaving just half an hour after ours (we'd pre-booked ages ago) so we had the whole day to kill until around 6pm.
After a quick visit to the textile museum, never bored of browsing the markets and craft shops we had another mooch, then decided we needed to try tire ourselves out before the bus. We decided to climb up to Cristo Blanco, a large white statue of Christ overlooking Cusco. It was quite the climb, 620 steps to be exact. But it was a nice view over the City and we even saw a plane fly overhead at the exact time of Helen & Chris' departure so we're sure it was theirs!
After the trek down we felt we deserved a drink so went for Pisco Sours, before finding yet another incredible restaurant for dinner. Straight after this we had to head off to collect our bags and hop on the overnight bus. Again we got very little sleep but we at least got comfier seats this time. Although the driver made sure no one had a great nights sleep swerving about the place you felt like you were falling our your chair every bend!
JUANITA & COOKING CLASS
We arrived in Arequipa just after 6am and made it to our hostel by 6.30, where shortly after Rhian & Sian also arrived. Very luckily our room was free (turned out we were the only one's staying at the hostel) so we got to all go straight up to bed. After relaxing for a few hours we were starving so headed out for some breakfast. Our main goal today was to book ourselves onto a trip to the Colca Canyon, and we needed to decided between doing a trek or a tour. In the end the overall trek sounded better. In the main square there is an entire row of different agencies selling the exact same tour, and just walking down the street we were hounded by different companies and different prices. We took a bunch of leaflets to research later.
Lisa, Rhian & Sian then wanted to go to the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries , to see Juanita, whilst Dan not as interested headed back for a nap. Juanita is the mummified body of an Incan girl who was sacrificed atop Mount Ampato. Her body was discovered in 1995 by American explorer Johan Reinhard, by sheer luck. The neighboring volcano was erupting at the time of his expedition, meaning the snow and ice atop the mountain was melted, with Juanita's grave slipping down the mountain and exposing her body. Due to being near freezing conditions at the time of her death, situated at 6288m above sea level, and then remaining frozen in the grave, this naturally mummified her body, and it is preserved eerily well. Her mummy is on display in the museum, along with many other Incan artifacts found in her grave as offerings to the gods, and many artifacts found in other sacrificed children's graves, later found on the same mountain after the discovery of Juanita. Back in Incan times, whenever there was a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or volcano eruption (which given Peru's position over tectonic plates is a commonplace thing), the Incan's thought it was the God's being angry. Children from as young as 4 or 5 were selected or offered by their parents to be sacrificed to appease the gods. They could be male or female, the only condition be they were healthy and pretty. They would then live in a special school (as the best way to phrase it) in Cusco, and be trained ready to be sacrificed. It was seen as an honor to be a sacrificed child. When their time came, they would have to walk from Cusco to the sacrificial mountain in question (dependent on where the eruption or quake happened, bodies have been found through many sites in Peru & even Argentina) right to the top, to be closest to the gods. They would be exhausted, sometimes having walked for weeks or months and frozen when they eventually reached this spot. Some were close to death on arrival, so buried straight away, others given a hallucinogenic drink before being buried. It was discovered Juanita was killed with a blow to the back of the head fracturing the skull, she was 12 at the time. We weren't allowed to take pictures but have a google as she is worth seeing!
We popped back to the hostel to collect Dan, then headed out for a cooking class, or 'experience' as they worded it. We were learning to cook a typical dish of Arequipa, Rocoto relleno, which is essentially a stuffed pepper with dauphinoise style potatoes on the side, and a cerviche like salad for start. Arequipa is apparently known as the gastronomical capital of Peru. We helped chop up all the ingredients, and then were shown how to make the filling for the peppers, before pairing off and cooking it ourselves. After we got to eat it all, which was delicious but the pepper much spicier than we'd thought it would be! We found out afterwards that the dish is designed after the Misti Volcano which looms over Arequipa. The cheese on top represents the snow and the spicy filling represents the lava.
All completely shattered after this we headed back for an early night, which got thwarted by our hostel manager who begged us to have a drink in the bar as they had hired a saxophone player to perform and the bar was empty. Not feeling like we could say no, we had a beer each whilst he played lift music, and we weirdly got filmed by the hostel staff 'watching'... We were treated to a coca pisco shot on the house (on the proviso we had a picture with it)! Needless to say as soon as this was over we were very ready to escape to our room and finally sleep!
AREQUIPA WALKING TOUR
Feeling refreshed we headed out for the morning free walking tour of the City. Arequipa is surrounded by 16 volcanoes, 2 of them still active but no eruptions since the 70's. One of the Volcanoes is constantly billowing ash so you could feel ash on you just stood around. One of the mountains was called Picchu Picchu, which directly translates as Mountain Mountain... original. We headed up to a viewpoint to see the mountains clearer, but it was a misty day (due to the ash) so we didn't get any good pictures.
We visited lots of nice churches and the main square is absolutely beautiful. Arequipa has a huge Monastery, which we didn't go inside as it was fairly spenny, but it is supposedly a City within a City. In it's heyday, rich Spanish families would pay a huge dowry for their daughters to become a nun at this Monastery, which was supposed to be very strict, but after the discovery of a babies skeleton in the walls after an earthquake it's rumored many of the nuns weren't as saintlike as they were supposed to be!
Our favourite stop of the tour was to an Alpaca farm, where we got to pet and feed a few alpacas (although from the pictures Dan wasn't loving it quite as much). He did cheer up though when he saw an Alpaca spit in someone elses face whilst they were trying to get a picture!
At the farm we learnt about the different furs, the best fur you can get is the first shave of the baby alpaca, which is called super baby alpaca. Next is baby Alpaca, the fur up to 2 years old, and then it's a bit more coarse when adult, but still super soft. Vicuña fur is the softest by far and the most expensive to buy. We got to feel the difference of them all and then visit a local lady weaving to see the difference in the real and fake wool items.
After this we finally decided on a trekking tour to the Canyon to book. Funnily we'd been debating between two companies one more expensive but slightly bettered reviewed, but settled on the cheaper one. In the end this didn't matter as the company we'd decided to go with was who picked us up and ran our tour!
The trek meant a 2.45am wake up so we had a lazy afternoon before dinner and bed. Bless Rhian though, we think she got food poisoning from a warmed up empenada at lunch and spent a lot of the night sick.
COLCA CANYON TREK DAY 1
Always the trouper, on very little sleep and still not feeling great Rhian decided to come on the trek still. We were picked up at 3.15am and started a 3hr drive to the town of Chivay, where we were having breakfast. Not helping Rhian at all, the drive was very windy and fast as we had a tight schedule to make the condors on time. A girl sitting next to us got travel sick and started heaving and they wouldn't even pull over for her!
After a delectable breakfast of dry bread and rubbery eggs, we continued on for an hour to reach the condor viewing point. There were around 10 or more condors all flying right over our heads, it was incredible to see how big they really are, and the Canyon made for a nice backdrop. We were slightly disappointed we were only given half an hour here to view them, by the time we'd reached the best viewpoint we only had 15 minutes before we had to head back.
From here it was a short drive on to the start of our trek. Gutted we'd left our walking poles behind in Cusco, we bought bamboo walking sticks instead for 75p! It was around 9.30am when we started the trek, and the sun was already blazing down at us. We hadn't quite mentally prepared for how hot it would be and as we continued our 7km descent straight down into the Canyon, it was unrelenting with no shade or clouds at all.
It took us just over 3hrs to reach the bottom of the Canyon, and from there it was a further 20 minute uphill walk to get to the small village of San Juan de Chuccho where we had lunch. It was here a Labrador whom we dubbed Patrick, joined us for the remainder of the trek! After an hours rest and much needed shade, we had 5km more to walk to reach the 'oasis' where we'd be spending the night. Sangalle. The rest of the walk offered a little more shade, and was a mix of up and downhill, despite the guide constantly insisting it was fairly flat! 2.5 hrs later and with Patrick still keeping us company, we made it to Sangalle and to our hostel. It was very basic, the four of us shared a room that can best be described as 4 beds in a garage, but we were so grateful to have a bed and not be camping! Plus the place had a pool so we enjoyed dipping our feet before it got too dark.
COLCA CANYON TREK DAY 2
Alarms were set for 4am and we set off trekking at 4.30am in an attempt to make it out of the Canyon before the intense sun of yesterday hit. It was insane how many people were doing the trek, all you could see was a steady stream of headlights in front and behind going up the Canyon. The hike was 5km, climbing a height of 1200m with not a single flat bit of path. To make it worse even though they didn't pressure you, there was a time limit and if you hadn't reached the half way point before this you'd have to pay for a mule to take you up the rest of the way. Luckily we managed to escape this fate. Lots of people stormed up to begin with and tired themselves out too early - there were a lot of false tops! It was probably the hardest we'd found any of the treks we'd done so far just for how intensely uphill it was. But Dan did well and made it up in 2.5hrs, with the girls preferring to take lots more breaks and a slower pace but still making it up in an average time of 3hrs so we were all pretty pleased with ourselves and very glad it was over! Patrick was a trouper, he left the same time as us in the morning and made it up just after Dan, probably walking double the distance we all did.
After seeing the nearby Sabancaya volcano erupt with a cloud of ash (this is a constant occurrence), we had one small section of the walk to complete to get to our breakfast point - luckily all flat.
After breakfast it was time to start making our way back to Arequipa, with a few stop offs on the way. First of all was to an incredible viewpoint over the Canyon, where there were some baby Alpaca's to also admire, and of course get pictures with.
The most appreciated stop was to some hot springs, where we got to spend an hour relaxing and trying to recover from the trek. Finally we made a very quick photo stop in the national park we passed through on the way back, to see lots of Vicuna's and Alpacas.
Eventually after what felt like a long drive back we made it to Arequipa and back to our hostels for much needed showers and sleep!
RECOVERY & BLOG CATCH UP
Sadly we had to say goodbye to Rhian and Sian at 6am as they had to head to the airport for the first of their many flights home. We'd arranged to have a spare day in Arequipa just to help recover from the past 2 weeks activities and many early mornings, and importantly to catch up on the blog which we'd gotten nearly 3 weeks behind on. It was a gorgeous day so we sat out on our hostels roof terrace and slowly started to catch up.
BUS TO HUACACHINA
We were back up at 4.45am today to catch our very long bus to Huacachina. It was supposed to be 12hrs, including a lunch stop, and a quick stop off for a view point of the Nazca lines. These are pre-Columbian geoglyphs etched into desert sands, suspected to be over 2000 years old, and no one knows exactly why or how they were created. Dan suspects aliens obviously. The bus was a little late arriving, meaning the 4.45am wake up was a bit pointless, we didn't end up leaving Arequipa until 6.15am. All started well, until around 9.30am and we hit a traffic jam. After sitting stationary for 30 minutes the guides hopped off the bus to find out what was going on, and turns out the farmers were striking, and had caused a road block, with huge stones and fire preventing anyone from clearing it. Anyone who went close was getting fire and rocks thrown at them. We didn't see any of the action as we were pretty far back, but after 4hrs we saw riot police walk up with a lot of the protesters and the road was finally cleared. This ended up being a nationwide protest which wasn't publicized so no one knew it was going to happen and therefore couldn't plan alternate routes.
Due to this our bus journey ended up being 17hr by the time we reached Huacachina, not reaching Nazca until it was dark so unable to stop and see the lines. The only upside being it was a very scenic route along the west coast of Peru and we had front row seats and got to see a beautiful sunset.
HUACACHINA, DUNE BUGGYING
& SAND BOARDING
After a decent night sleep, we awoke to find a totally different looking place to what we had arrived at. Due to it being dark when we arrived we hadn't noticed any of the massive sand dunes that surrounded us, now it was light you could see them towering over the whole town! Huacachina is a little Oasis town in the middle of a desert, next to the town Ica which is the main export town of Pisco.
Due to only having a day here, we had packed two tours into the day. The first was a tour to a local Pisco Vineyard. Here we learn about the process of how they created pisco - which is a mix of ow you create wine and whiskey. The first step if more like wine, where they crush the grapes with their feet, but then the distilling side is more like whiskey. A stat that shocked us both was that to make a bottle of wine it takes around 2kg of grapes; to make a bottle of Pisco it takes 7kg! After we were taken around the vineyard and distilling area, we had a tasting session trying 7 different wines and Piscos they made there.
After a very cheap Menu Del Dia lunch, we had a walk around the town - took literally 10 minutes it was that small! We then decided to take a bit of a harder walk up one of the main dunes that overlooks the town. We didn't realise how hard it would actually be walking up steep sand! We were both shattered by the top, but was worth the pictures!
The main reason everyone visits Huacachina is due to the sandboarding and Dunebuggying. We had booked up with a tour for the evening so we could watch the sunset from the dunes aswell. Our buggy was for 10 people, so was a decent size. We were sat in the back, which meant we definitely had a bumper ride! Our driver took us around some of the dunes at high speeds, dropping and racing around them all! After 20 minutes he stopped for us to take a few pictures of the area and buggy, before giving us our sand boards and showing us which dunes to go on. It was actually a bit scarier than we had anticipated, due to how steep the dunes actually were, and the boards not really having proper handles (Dan cut his finger open on the board on the first one!). We also had to lay flat on our bellies to go down. We had thought about sitting on them but were told that more injuries happen this way! Just still didn't feel safe going down face first for the first time! However once you had done it once or twice it became a lot more fun!
We got to go down around 8 slopes, before jumping back in the buggy to continue with the ride. We stopped on top of one of the dunes to watch sunset, then had one final spin, before heading back to the town. We had a bus 30 minutes later to get to our next destination, Paracas. Luckily it was only just over an hour away so we didn't have to sit covered in sand for too long!
We decided to have a more relaxed day exploring Paracas, with a tour booked of the reserve in the afternoon. We didn't actually realise how small Paracas was until we had a walk around - after 20 minutes we had basically seen it all! We spent the rest of the morning having a nice breakfast and chilled until our afternoon tour. Sadly while waiting for the bus, it became apparent that they were running really late; 30 minutes with still no show. We decided to push this tour till our last day here instead, as the guide had said it was going to be rushed today due to the lateness. We instead went and brought some dinner and a bottle of wine, and had a relaxing evening watching the sunset from the balcony of our hostel.
Paracas is a tourist spot visited to its proximity to the Islas Ballestas. These rocky islands are uninhabited and instead play home to sea lions, Humboldt penguins and lots of birds. It is known or sold as the 'Poor Mans Galapagos', so missing out the Galapagos Islands on our trip, of course we had to pay these Islands a visit. This can only be done by boat, sitting 24km off the coast, and you can only see the islands from the boat so as to protect the area.
The first stop of the boat trip is to see 'The Candelabra', a prehistoric geoglyph. Similar to the Nazca lines which we didn't get to see, these mysterious lines date back to at least 200BC, and were created by the Paracas Culture. The lines are cut 61cm deep and is 181m tall. We were told by the guide it could be seen from 12miles out at sea, and it was so well preserved due to the direction the wall it sits on faces, protecting it from weather damage. There were also plenty of birds to steal our interest here.
It then took us around 10 minutes on the boat to reach the Islands. We saw lots of sea lions lazing around, as well as a few in the water. And of course plenty of birds including pelicans, guanay (a type of cormorant), lots of other types of cormorants and Peruvian booby (interestingly these birds were where the term booby trap came from, as they used to land on ships and the sailors would catch them, booby actually means stupid!).
We did manage to spot some Humboldt penguins on top of one of the rocks and also just as they were jumping into the water, but sadly they were too far away and too quick into the water for us to get any photos.
One of the other reasons the islands are so protected is because of the harvesting of guano - bird shit! Guano is used as fertilizer and special constructions are built all around the islands to help harvest it. This means the islands have quite a distinct smell too.
That afternoon we'd read about a restaurant in Paracas which was supposed to serve the best ceviche around! Finally being by the sea we figured that claim could be true so went to check it out. We had to walk through an insanely fancy hotel to get to the restaurant, which sat at the end of a pier, and it made us wish we had a spare £200 per night to stay there. As well as offering amazing views of the sun setting, the ceviche lived up to the hype!
PARACAS NATIONAL RESERVE &
BUS TO LIMA
After filling ourselves up on our favourite cheap way to eat, menu del dia, it was time to finally do the tour of the Paracas National Reserve we'd pushed back two days previously. This time, it was running on schedule so we hopped on the bus and drove 5 minutes out of town before reaching the reserve. It is the oldest marine reserve in Peru, and also helps to protect prehistoric sites of the Paracas culture. We were there purely for the views however and got to stop at various different viewpoints throughout the reserve. Although not the most exciting place, it was interesting to see the contrast of the desert right next to the ocean.
From here it was time to jump straight in the bus to head to Lima. On the way we stopped off at Hacienda San Jose, which in its heyday was one of the most affluent houses in Peru. The house was built in the late 17th Century, and gained its wealth as a sugar cane plantation. However the thing that makes this house so interesting is in fact the tunnel system beneath. As a way to avoid tax, the owners created a labyrinth of tunnels from under the house, to four other Haciendas in the region and connects all of them the old Chincha port about 17km away. When the slaves were shipped over and reached the port, around 100 were transported to the Hacienda normally, and if seen by officials, it would look as if they had bought 100 slaves so this was all they were taxed on. The remaining slaves were smuggled to the house, and would have to walk to the Hacienda using the tunnels, so as to stay hidden. Some slaves would have to stay down in the tunnels for months and many died down there due to the horrific conditions. There were lots of bones found in the tunnels when they were discovered, but its not known if these were from the slaves or perhaps parts of the tunnels were used as a crypt. A few bones had been left here so we could see them as we walked through. We only walked around one small loop of the tunnels under the house, but it was incredibly dark and cramped at points, as well as very dusty making it hard to breathe. Ten minutes was enough for us ,let alone months! The Hacienda is now a hotel and used for weddings, but despite lots of looting, has managed to retain many of its original furniture from the 17th Century.
A few hours later we finally reached Lima, and got dropped off to our hotel around 10.30pm, very much ready for bed!
DAY IN LIMA
Due to only having one full day in Lima, we set off early after a great breakfast from the hotel. We had wanted to do a walking tour, finally get some jumpers and get Dan's haircut. Sadly after looking where the walking tour was, we realised it wasnt really do-able, as it was a 40minute taxi from where we were staying - Lima is massive! Instead we first headed to an Inka Market, which is literally a massive market with everything we had been seeing sold over the last few months. Awkwardly we were the only two that seemed to be browsing at the time, and every shop we walked past were trying there best to get us in. After looking in a few stalls, we finally both found some jumpers that we liked - Dans hoping his will work well as a Christmas jumper at the Apsey house this year, so he doesn't have to borrow another atrocious one!
After escaping the market we headed to a barbers Dan had researched to get his haircut, which, thank god, he ended up being happy with.
One park we had wanted to see in Miraflores where we were staying was Kennedy park, also known as Cat park. It has become home to over 100 cats over 25 years but no-one actually knows how this came to be. A volunteer group now feed the cats daily, neuter and spay them as-well as help find adopters, The cats are all really friendly and used to tourists giving them strokes.
Having not seen any of the beaches in Lima the day before, we headed towards the beach front to see what they were like. Sadly due to it being a cloudy day, they didn't really look that appealing to go down to. However we had fun watching the people surfing, chilling in a mosaic park and took a walk to the lighthouse nearby.
One of the main things Lima is known for is great food, however this would only appear true if you have money to spend which sadly at this point of the trip, we don't. So instead we opted for the best rated cheap eat in the area, a sandwich shop. To be fair it did have queues leading outside all day and the sandwiches were very good. Dan was happy as he got a brownie shake.
Due to having an early flight the next day, we decided to have a chilled evening in the hotel. So we brought a few snacks and a cheap bottle of red wine and packed up our bags ready for Colombia!
FLIGHT TO COLOMBIA
Again showing how big Lima is, it took us an hour to get to the airport which is still classed as in the city. Our flight was very straight forward with no problems. It was around a 4 hour flight, luckily with extra leg room due to booking emergency exit seats.
Arriving in Colombia straight away reminded us of Brazil - the heat hit us as soon as we got off the plane. Getting to our hostel and having a quick unpack, we had enough time to head out and grab a quick bite to eat before heading back for an early night so we could properly explore Cartagena tomorrow!