Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cusco (post Machu Picchu) - 30th Oct - 2nd Nov 2007

So what could follow the Inca trail and Machu Picchu I hear you ask, a lay in we all answer, and really really mean it!!

I´m staying at the same place as Leanne and Ant when we get back from Machu Picchu and then spend the next couple of days hanging out.
The first day all we did was recover from the last 4 days but then on the next day we decided we hadn´t seen enough Inca ruins and went off in search of more!

There are 4 sites that are within walking distance of Cusco so off we went.

We took a bus to Tambomachay, the furthest away, which had a still working crystal-line spring water fountain running right through it It´s said that this water can turn back the hands of time, so there was Leanne and I splashing on as much of it as was publically acceptable before heading off to PukaPukara across the road!

The famous waters of Tambomachay!

The third site we visited was Quenqo, and after emerging from the underground font area we came across what appeared to each of us as a strange little group. There was no one else at the site, just us and this group, there were two older guys, then a young girl and boy. To be honest I was too busy clocking one of the older guys to take too much notice of the others but Ant called me over and pointed out that the girl was infact Princess Beatrice!! With her boyfriend and two bodyguards (one of whom I had been checking out!!)

Ant then embarrassed both Leanne and I by asking her if it was in fact her, lucky for him he got the right sister huh?!

It was kinda surreal though, in the middle of nowhere just outside of Cusco in Peru, just us and them and we happen upon Princess Beatrice on holiday. We felt embarrassed that we had already intruded on her private space but as we passed her by she wished us happy travels and we did the same to her before heading off to a safe distance for the all important photo of her to prove she was actually there!!!

Princess Beatrice and her group!
The last site we visited was Saqsaywaman (or sexy woman as it´s known), it’s a huge and very impressive site which really needed a guide (which we had) to really appreciate it´s significance.


Back in Cusco it´s Halloween! And all the city´s children are out in force wanting candy and all of them are dressed up in all sorts of fancy costumes! There are so many Spidermen, it’s a wonder none of us developed arachnophobia!! J They were all very cute though and the party went on all night!

The next morning, after Leanne and Ant had left for Arequipa, I headed off on my last day in Peru to do the Sacred Valley tour.

We visited Pisac and Ollantaytambo and although extremely interesting and very very impressive, nothing really compares to Machu Picchu and all the other sites we saw along the way!

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - 26th - 29th October 2007

I know its taken a while to get this post up but there has been sooooo much to write!! I´m not sure I´m gonna be able to do it justice either but I´ll try!

This morning saw a very early start of 3.30 am, on the road by 4.45am!

The Team at the start!

This is where we´re gonna be hiking.

Our guide, Casiano, wants us to be the first to get to the starting point of the trail as well as the first to get to each campsite as well as the first up the mountains!! Oh dear! Not liking the sound of that too much! I`m planning on bringing up the rear each day!

Day 1

We drove to Ollaytaytambo for a spot of breakfast before we met with our porters and cook, our team are nicknamed the Red Army as, yes you´ve guessed it, they´re all in red! They´re a great team of all ages and from all locations as we were to find out during our introductions, the youngest was 19 and the oldest in their late 50s and still they were faster up the mountains than any of us!

Around 9am and after our introductions we and our porters got loaded up and headed off to KM 82 to start hiking.

This is what some bring on the Inca Trail!

It`s a lovely sunny day to start hiking and as we do it gets warmer and warmer until to be honest it`s too hot, typical huh?!

As we`re hiking the porters from different companies as well as ours are overtaking us, at speed, while carrying soooooo much more than us! Each time a porter comes up behind us the back person yells "porter" and we all stand to one side as they pass us by.

I choose Llama Path as a company because of the way they say they treated their porters, they give them proper decent warm clothers and gear, as well as backpacks and weight belts with which to carry stuff, complete with water bottles etc, in addition they give their porters insurance and provide a house in Cusco for them to live in. On the trek at every pace it was clear that I had chosen the right company, everyhting they said they did for their staff they did do and then some it seemed. Some of the porters from other companies didn`t even have proper packs to carry all the stuff in, it was just tied to their backs by ropes.

The Red Army always stuck together as a team which was really nice to see, while other groups were really disjointed, also the Red Army was always on hand to give us encouragement when we reached each stage of the trek claping us and shaking our hands as we went past.

I`m sure other trekkers were jealous of our little team. I know we were all really proud of them and extremely grateful to them for all the gear they carried.

So on our first day of hiking we eventually stopped for a very welcome lunch.

The team had arranged for us 8 bowls of hot water to wash with, had put up a dinning tent for us as well as preparing and serving us with an amazing 3 course lunch with as much food as we could possibly manage with then loads left over! You would not think they could carry and prepare all that food half way up a mountian, but they did!

With renewed energy we headed off on the next part of our trek. Casiano told us that today we were gonna trek quite a way up towards Dead Womans Pass, usually tours only trek to the bottom of the mountain then on the second day, their toughest day, they trek up to the pass. By doing it Casianos way meant that our second day wouldn`t be as bad, our first day however was gonna be pretty tough! Better now though we thought before we got really tired!

It was a long trek up the first afternoon and as we got higher and higher our breathing also got harder and harder, or it could just have been me and Leanne chatting at the back that took our breaths away, in addition to the amazing scenary we were seeing at every pace!

We finally reahed our camp for the night at 6.30pm, the sun had gone down and it was begining to get dark and cold, still with the encouragement of Casiano we continued, making it to camp in time for "happy hour" of hot chocolate, popcorn and biscuits. Mmm!

Dinner was another extremely elaborate affair, still not sure how they do it with just a small gas hob, but they do and they continue to amaze us with their culinary delights, chocolate pudding for afters, thats what mountaners recommend when at altitude (apparently) so who are we to argue!

After attempting to learn an Israely card game, and failing, we headed off to bed at about 8.30pm, sharing a tent with my French man!

Day 2

The view from our tent on the first morning up the mountain.

This morning was a relatively early start, although not as early as yesterday, and after waking to amazing views of the mountains and llamas outside our tents we had an amazing breakfast and continued up the long trek to Dead Womans Pass.

Dead Womans Pass, and I think it nearly was, is at 4200 m or 13650 ft.

The team at Dead Womans Pass!

We did really good actualy, and did it I think in just 2 hours (or so). Nik had already been at the top for half hour and the others had made it just before Leanne and I, and because of this we had time for just a few postcard pictures and a quick snack then it was off back down the other side!

Me at Dead Womans Pass.

The weather was begining to look not so great on the descent down the other side, but with the thought of lunch half way down the other side we carried on with renewed vigour!

After lunch Casiano asked us whether we needed anything from out duffel bags (which the porters were carrying) as some of the porters were gonna head off to set up the night camp, I stupidly said no and 10 mins later it started to rain, guess where my waterproof jacket was? Fortunately I had with me waterproof trousers and a poncho which did the trick, just about. Some of the others didn´t have waterproof trousers and were soon soaked through though, shoes included which made the climp up to the second pass a bit uncomfortable.

View from Sayac Marca.

By the time we reached Sayac Marca (meaning Dominant Town) the skies were clearing and the sun was coming out, we could see our campsite for the night in the distance, about another half hour walk but in the meantime we enjoyed a well needed rest and a chance to soak up the amazing views,as well as the sunshine, and learn more about the Inca history and culture.

The ruins show the Inca tendency to incorporate the natural structure of the site into the architecture. A large projection of rock is surrounded by several of the interior rooms in what looks to be a temple and there is a lot of stonework built right out of the existing stone surface of the site. Steps lead up and down to the various levels of the site as it conforms to the shape of the ridge. There are also the remains of an aqueduct system still visible coming coming off the ridge above into the top of the site.

Another half hours walking had us arriving at our campsite 9 hours after we had left our last camp. Once again it was happy hour and after a succesful game of trumps we headed off for an early night grateful in the knowledge that the hardest first two days were behind us and we had survivied!

Day 3

This was to be our easiest day with just a pleasant sedate walk down the other side of the final pass to reach our final destination of the hostal and bar at around lunch time.

The walk down the final pass was very steep in places and generally accompanied by many many many steps! Apparently the descent is 1 km in about 3 kms of walking!

And oh how the Incas loved their steps. Now I know I´m not tall but the Incas were even shorter and I´m still not sure how they managed them, especially without the aid of my trusty trekking poles and my new favourite footwear, my boots!

Steps, steps and more steps!!

On our decent down the pass we passed many different orchids, there are some 150 different species in the highlands of Peru but I think we just saw a couple.

We arrived at the campsite area bang on time for lunch.

The number of tourists that are allowed on the Inca trail per day is 200 and with porters this makes about 500 in total, and tonight is the first time that all 200 tourists that set off on the same day as us will be camping at the same place. On the previous two nights the groups and camp sites are staggered, with us tending to be the front group each time.

Our camp for this evening was no exception, we were right next to the bar and of course the showers, we had the perfect spot with fantastic uninterupted views from our tents of Machu Picchu mountain, can it get any better?

After lunch a relax and a shower (!) yes this is the way to do it (!) we headed off for a 15 min walk to Winya Wayna which was an amazing site and really beautiful, there is terraces down the mountainside, stone ruins up high and down low, a string of ceremonial baths connecting them and a beautiful waterfall as a backdrop behind the ruins. This is a really beautiful site, the most beautiful so far, which can only be matched I´m imagining by what tomorrow holds.

Winya Wayna.

Back at camp we treated ourselves to a well deserved beer, or Pisco Sour, and a nice relax before dinner.

That evening, our last with the group, we had a small ceremony with our porters and chatted about our expereriences on the trail and what it had all meant to each of us before we sang a few songs together and discused our strategy for the following morning.

The key is to get to the checkpoint as early as possible to be the first through the gate and then the first to the Sun Gate, which is about another 1 and half hours walk away! Casiano was very keen for us to be the first to the gate and sent off one of his porters to find out what time all the other groups were leaving, the result was that we needed 2 be up at 3.40 am to aim to get to the gate for 4.30am.

Day 4

Nik was very keen to be the first at the gate and after breakfast of a fully iced cake at 4.30am he ran off to reserve our place. While we were packing up we saw another group head off but we were secure in the knowledge that Nik was racing for our team!

It was pouring with rain and the gate didn´t open until 5.30 am, Leanne and I were chatting about how strange it was to get there so early etc but as soon as the gate was opened the two of us and Ant dashed off almost at a sprint, eager to stay ahead of the other 200 people and eager to be first to view the magnificent Machu Picchu.

Nik had shot off like lightening but were we keeping a good pace folowing on behind, with the other groups way behinds us. We made it in 50 mins, 1 hour 40 ahead of schedule! I was 5th to the top just behind Leanne, Ant, Casiano and of course Nik and the sight that greated was truly amazing!

The team at the Sun Gate.

There was cloud cloud and cloud as far as the eye could see, we didn´t even have any idea which way we should have been looking to catch our first glimpse. It was still great to be there though, at the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, WOW!

Our first view of machu Picchu, or not!!

We started to head down towards machu Picchu in the hope that the sun would soon come up and burn all the clouds away, it did eventually and we were soon awarded with our first view of the famous Inca site!

Our first real view of machu Picchu!

Some of us were tempted to return back up to the Sun Gate to get that perfect first glimpse, but four days walking had got the better of us and physically we really couldn´t have made it!

Reaching Machu Picchu was an incredibly amazing feeling after walking for so long and really for looking forward to it for so long. It really was amazing to be there, and I can honestly say that at the end of the 4 days I felt at one with my hiking boots, my poles and my very good rucksac (thanks again dad!).

Casiano then gave us a two hour very informative guided tour of the site, pinting out all the extremely important parts of the area and all the history behind it all, without his knowledge there´s no way any of us would have had a clue!

Pictures from Machu Picchu.

The Brit team at Machu Picchu!

Following our visit to the site we headed off into the nearest town of Aguas Callientas for lunch and a beer to celebrate.

Aguas Callinetas

Aguas Callientas is a strange little town which seems to serve just Machu Picchu and the route between here and Ollantayambo where the tour buses pick us up to take us back to Cusco.

What was strange about this town was that the train came right into and through the main street, we were sitting there having pizza for lunch when straight past us went the train!

A great little town though and the perfect spot for a beer to celebrate our triumph before we headed back to Cusco, exhausted but happy!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cusco - 25th October 2007

The day before the trek!! And I`m still feeling pretty nervous!

My Californian roomys were very considerate last night despite coming in at about 4 am! But then at about 5 am we had two more roommates arrive from somewhere so for tonight, the night before my 3.30 am wake up call I decided to head off and find somwhere else to stay.

I came accross a nice little place near to the Plaza and got myself a single room with a bathroom which was a bit of a treat!

The rest of the day was spent wandering around soaking up the atmosphere and preparing myself for the forthcoming trip!

I had started to get my things together for what I wanted to take with me, which is when I realised I had forgotten the water purification tablets that I had trapsed all over Eastbourne and Orlando (!) for! Oh well hopefully someone else will have them if we need them!

At 7pm I headed back to the Llama path office for my briefing, I already knew there was going to be 10 people on the trek but that was it, and as there was an even number of people it would mean I would be sharing a tent but again I had no idea who with.

I was the third to arrive after an America couple who seem very nice and a very tall, handsome, very friendly single French guy who I would be sharing the tent with! :-)
Next to arrive was two more Americans, sisters and it was then that we found out that 2 peole had dropped out already!

We were still 2 down though and shortly after Leanne and Ant arrived, a lovely couple from England who have been in Australia for a year and are travelling around South America on their way home.

Casiano our guide went through the basics with us of what we need and what to expect etc.
Leanne, Ant and I are the only ones who have hired porters for our gear and I`m the only one to have bought my own sticks! Although a couple of others have hired them for the trip as well, after the Colca Canyon trip I was definately taking the poles! And the idea of carrying all my gear is not an option athough I think the others were a little like the "English team are taking the easy option!" YEP! Or at least a bit easier hopefully!

So tomorrows the big day!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cusco in the morning light - 24th October 2007

A bright and early start with not a great deal of sleep had me heading into town to pay the balance for the Inca trail and to see what the city was like.

View from Loki hostel of the Plaza de Armas in the distance.

I´ve started to feel really nervous about my forthcoming 4 day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, even though my whole trip has been centred around this very trek. I´m wondering about how tough its gonna be though at the altitude I´ll be going to and the terrain we´ll be covering. On that note however I head off to find the Llama Path office in order to pay the balance of the trek and find out the last minute details.

The Plaza de Armas.

The staff at Llama Path seem very friendly so I pay up what I owe them and decide to go for a coffee to get over the shock that now I definately will be doing the Inca Trail trek!!

After coffee, or rather a coke, I opted for a wander around town to soak up the sights and the atmosphere.

I´ve decided that Cusco is a very busy city with lots and lots of people and with so much going on. Its a beautiful city but I think Arequipa is still more so, also Arequipa is far less touristy!

The Cathedral.

On a brief walk around town I was offered on numerous occasions a massage, a manicure and a pedicure! On careful consideration though (!!) I decided that with 4 days trekking with no shower facilities avaliable just 2 days away any of the above would have been pretty pointless!

I headed into the cathedral for a visit and guided tour but mainly to view the very famous oldest surviving painting in Cusco. It shows the entire city during the 1650 earthquake where the inhabitants can be seen parading around the Plaza with a crucifix, praying for the earthquake to stop. What do you think happened next?!!! Very interesting all the same though.

This evening I was meeting up for dinner, with Lynsey and Julian who I had met in Arequipa on the Colca Canyon trek. They are heading off on their Inca Trail tomorrow morning early but we still find time for pizza and a Pisco Sour or two!

After they headed off to their trek briefing I opted for a wander around town taking in Cusco by night before heading off back to the hostel to find that my three considerate Californian guys were planning a big night out, I`m wondering how considerate they`ll be then!!

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (a well known church also on the Plaza).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cusco - 23rd October 2007

This morning I headed off to Cusco in preperation for my Inca trail trek.

I took a bus called First Class from Puno which stopped off at several historical interest sites along the way. It was a pretty good service with lunch included and drinks along the way as well as a guided tour of all the sites.

The bus took 9 and half hours and stopped at 5 different sites which were all very interesting and it was good to get off and stretch the legs every now and then!

On arrival in Cusco I had decided to book into Loki hostel! Loki is billed as a "where the party is at" hostal!! I heard so much about it from so many different people that I decided I had to give it a go, and it did claim to have comfy beds, hot water and breakfast included, I was sold!

The hostel itself is at the top of a very steep hill and has fantastic views over the city.
Listening to other peoples accounts of getting no sleep at the hostel I had previously decided to opt for a small dorm thinking that it might be a little quieter! On arrival I was shown into the wrong room which was much larger, but as my temporary roomys were 3 Californian guys who seemed very considerate and friendly I decided to stay there and see how it went.

Well they weren´t kidding when everyone said you get no sleep! But hey the beds were supper comfy and the water very hot, and on that note I got an early night!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lake Titicaca and Uros Islands - 22nd October 2007

This morning, amazingly, at 6am the girls woke me up for the Islands tour and apart from feeling a little rough around the edges I was fine! They on the other hand had been up drinking and playing drinking games till 1am and were feeling the worse for wear for it!

We headed off to the port to meet our guide for the day, Edwardo, and took the boat trip out to Uros the floating Islands. Edwardo was very good but also very funny, I´m begining to think that maybe its the altitude and also perhaps the coco leaves of course!! He had so many props with which to explain everything and he was so particular in making sure everyone knew everything, he was very informative though, the guides that I´ve come accross so far have been really good at their job with amazing English and knowledge of their subject.

Out at the Uros islands there were many boats all heading in the same direction but as each island itself is very tiny with just a couple of reed houses, each boat went to a different spot so it wasn´t crowded.

Uros Islands reed boat.

The islands are floating on Lake Titicaca on cut roots of the reeds that are growing in the lake, the reed roots are cut into blocks and the islands are then built on top of them, the lake beneath the islands is about 18m and the base of the islands are about 2m. They have a very interesting culture and way of life and life on them is very basic, it´s a well worth visit out to see them though and very interesting.

After meeting with the island people and having an explaination of their culture I went out on the islands reed boat for a little cruise and were ccompanied by half the islands population and its children all dressed in their finery, some of the kids were chomping on reeds from the lake which apparently contains flouride for their teeth, they are well used to doing so though and even the tiniest of children will walk over to the reed pile and pull off a section to chew on!

Child chewing on lake reed!

Solar dish provided by the government as too many islands were going up in flames due to fires etc!

After visitng the Uros people we headed off to Isla Taquile, which is famous for the menfolk knitting tightly woven woolen hats. This island is very beautiful with some fabulous views of Lake Titicaca with Bolivia and Copacabana on the other side.
We had a stiff walk upto the Plaza which with me recovering from being sick and the others nursing a hangover wasn´t easy! We did it though and were rewarded with some more fabulous views of the lake, we then headed off to lunch and the walk down the other side of the islands for the boat trip back.

Lake Titicaca.

Lake Tititcaca also!

Lake Titicaca again!!

Back in Puno Sarah, Vicki and I headed off to dinner and a look around the main area, almost getting ripped off by a post card selling place which was inisiting I had given them half the money I had which was equating to about $40!! We won though and headed off back to the hostal for my saggy bed and smelly bathroom!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

National Census - 21st October 2007

So the well desired and deserved layin didn´t quite go to plan this morning!
My bed was as saggy as it could possibly be and the smell from the toilet and drains in the room next door was incredible! It also didn´t help that there was a 2 foot gap at the top of my door leading into the hallway where the bathroom was! Oh well can´t have it all I guess!

The Inkas Rest is a nice little hostal, where on each floor there is a living area with bedrooms leading off of them, a dinning area and a bathroom and it was nice because Vicky, Sarah, Sterling, Anje and myself were all on the same floor.
We opted for a late lazy breakfast and then decided to catch up on email until BBQ time.

The people doing the census had apparently first arrived at 8am but Alfredo had told them to come back later as we were still asleep! Him and his wife are so funny and very friendly, although I wonder if they are a little stoned at times as they keep hold of their coco leaf tea caddy all the time, never letting go!

While we were having breakfast the first census people arrived for locals, then half hour later someone came to ask us questions. The people conducting the censusa were little more than college students and they were filling out the forms in pencil (!!) so I´m not really sure how much of the info will end up correct and in the right place but they seemed happy with it! They asked us some bizare questions but we obliged willingly and 10 mins later they were on their way and we were warming up for our BBQ!

Some of the others started early but I decided to catch up on stuff before joining the party, unfortutely for me it wasn´t a very long party! I joined the others on the roof and had an Alpaca sausage, a small amount of chicken and a bit of salad, accompanied with a glass of beer and then a glass of wine and that was it, honestly it was! Well, maybe an hour later I started to feel ill and excused my self then half hour after that I started being ill and didn´t finish till midnight! For those of you who have seen the Little Britain sketch of the ladies at the fete and the vomiting, well it was that bad and then some!! I felt rotten and it was all going on in a saggy bed which was next door to a horrid smelling toilet! I´m not sure what it was, whether it was food poisoning or just a bug but I was freezig cold all afternoon and evening under 4 Alpaca blankets till midnight then I felt 100 times better, warm and well enough to think about the Islands tour the next day!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bus to Puno - 20th October 2007

The bus to Puno was leaving at 9.45 am and I got to the bus terminal at 8. 45 am!!!!
Pretty good huh with my usual time keeping!

Since being here my timekeeping has dramatically improved, which is odd really as South America time is always a little late!

I had opted for the front seat again on this journey and luckily this time I got it which was great. I got to have a great view of the trip down to Puno, including the couple of times when the driver was convinced he was gonna make the overtaking of a larger vehicle when I could easily see he couldn´t, but all in good fun though huh?!

I did have a front seat but in front of me was two kinda bench seats with a table in front which was pretty good, I guess it was for people to come and have a change of scenary. This is where I met Sterling and Anje a young couple from Canada, they had spent the last 3 days solely on a bus from Lima missing out all the sights and delights inbetween just to get to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
They had no-where sorted to stay in Puno so decided to come along with me to where I was staying which had been recommended from Bothy Hostal In Arequipa. I think there is a bit of a system going for that kinda thing, it works though so thats good!

We were treated to a movie on the way down, this time it was Ghost in Spanish with no subtitles, luckily we had all seen the movie so many times we didn´t need it in English!

The journey down to Puno took 6 hours and the scenery as we were heading down to Lake Titicaca really was amazing and the first view of the lake itself was incredible, the water looked so blue and inviting, I´m guessing though with an altitutde of 3830m the water was gonna be pretty cold!!

My first view of Lake Titicaca

Arriving in Puno we were given a warm welcome by Gilda the owner of Inkas Rest Hostal. Back at the hostal after a well deserved shower I could hear a couple of familiar voices in reception and wandered out to find Sarah and Vicki who had been on the Colca Canyon trek at the same time as me but with another company! It is funny how we all seem to be going around Peru the same way!

Tomorrow is a big important day in Peru, the national census! Apparently they haven´t done a cencus since 1993 and unlike England and many other countries they are not sending out forms in the post, instead everyone and it really does mean everyone has to stay home and wait for an official to come to the house to ask them questions! This also includes us! I was planning to visit the floating islands on Lake Titicaca tomorrow and apparently that would have been ok!! In the end though our very hospitable hosts, Gilda and her husband Alfredo, decided to put on a BBQ for us and promptly went out and bought all the food and beer for the occasion and it was decided that we would all opt for a lay in, a catch up on the internet and have the BBQ in the afternnon and evening, visiting the islands the next day.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back in Arequipa - 19th October 2007

This morning, despite the tough last 3 days, I woke up really early!
The plan today was to visit the famous Santa Catalina convent then head off to Puno in the afternoon. Its funny how the best laid plans sometimes don´t work out huh?!

It started well, I went along to the convent with another guy from the hostel and it was really interesting.

It was founded in 1580 and was a place where only the very rich families in the area sent their 2nd daughters to become nuns at around the age of 12.

As they were from very rich families their living areas were like nothing you could imagine really, they had large almost apartments with a sleeping area, a kitchen, a bathroom as well as an area for entertaining other nuns. Also as they were coming from very rich families they also bought along their maids! Some of them apparently had 3 or 4 maids to care for them. The only draw back was there were not allowed to go out of the convent ever again but as our guide informed us, back then there wasn´t really too much to go out of the convent for, so they were more than happy being where they were and of course they bought great pride to their families by being a nun there.

One of the nuns living area.

At its peak 450 nuns lived, worked and prayed with in the walls of the convent.

The most famous member was Sor Ana de los Angeles who was reputedly blessed with miraculous visions!

Reportedly the nuns lived it up within the convent in the style they had become accustomed to before they entered. After about 3 centuries these goings on reached the Pope who sent a very strict Dominican nun to sort the situation out and what followed was the returning of the dowries to the families as well as the releasing of the maids, in addition to adopting a more group like living situation, eating, cooking and sleeping in one area.

This is the large communial washing area the nuns used after 1871 (on its side, sorry!!)

In 1970 the convent was opened to the public but there is still no contact with the nuns and just 3 dozen continue to live a cloistered life there.

After the very interesting visit at the convent I headed for the Plaza to decide on my next move.
Unfortunately, or fortunately perhaps, the Plaza is beautiful and it was so warm (I got burnt!) so I really had no great desire to move on plus I kept hearing reports that Puno really wasn´t worth the visit, let alone for the 4 days that I was planing.

Instead I headed off to the bus terminal to book a ticket for the next morning, then after a quick visit to the Cathedral and the Iglesia de la Compania nearby I met up with a few others back at the hostel and went out for dinner and a couple of drinks.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Colca Canyon Trek - 16th - 18th October 2007

So that was how at 4.30am I was up and getting ready to go trekking in the Colca Canyon, without really knowing what I was letting myself in for to be honest!

Rosevelt, our guide, picked us up at 5.30am, there is just myself and Jordan doing the trek so we have a bit of a personalised tour going on.
I really hadn't made myself aware of what the entire trip involved so it wasn't until we arrived at the local bus terminal that I even knew it was gonna be a 6 hour bus journey to the start of trek! The bus to Cabanaconde, the start of our trek, was a local bus which seemed to have the sole desire to pack as many people onto it as possible, and that was even before we had left Arequipa!
Our entertainment as we leave Arequipa is a guy playing pan pipes which was nice, but then asking for money, its almost like the tubes in London, almost but not quite!!
It was an interesting bus journey to our starting point with lots of sights to see, about an hour away from our destination around 20 Peruvian women all in national dress (although everyday dress doesn't seem to be any different) came running towards the bus with multiple bags of goodies (I'm guessing) and attempted to board the bus, well there wasn't too much room before they boarded and with them and all their bags it was a tight squeeze!
We arrived at Cabanaconde (3200m) around midday, just in time for lunch, Ive opted for the vegetarian option as I thought it the safest way to avoid Alpaca!
There´s 3 tour groups doing pretty much the same trek, we all had lunch at the same place then got ready to start the trek, everyone was feeling excited, I was just beginning to feel pretty nervous wondering how or if I was gonna be able to make it!
At this point I should point out that my trekking buddy, Jordan, is from Alaska 10 years younger than me (!) and in his spare time, apparently they get a lot of that in Alaska, he goes mountaineering, rock climbing and worst of all mountain racing!!!!!

Anyway we set off and I was beginning to feel the moderate effects of altitude sickness, a horrid permanent headache, which then lasted for the next two days.

The two lighter parts of the picture are actually two villages, a long long long way away!!!

After just a 10 min walk we got to what can only be described as the edge of the Canyon, we could pretty much look right down into the canyon and see where we were about to walk.

Rosevelt pointed out to us 3 villages. The first, San Juan had 80 occupants, the second, Cosnirhua where we were gonna stay the night had 180 people and the third village had 220 occupants and had only had electricity for the last 8 months, which took 3 months to install! I thought it insensitive to ask if they had Internet connection, least if it was broadband!

And so we began our 3 hour walk to the bottom of the Canyon. We started off at good pace, which of course was not going to continue. It was as seriously tough walk to the bottom, going down hill is sooooo much tougher than going up! And don't let anyone ever tell you different.

The scenery was amazing though, I don't think I have ever seen anything quite like it and I'm not sure a photo quite does it justice but Ill give it a go.
Once at the bottom we had just a 10 minute break before we started back up again the other side, the two other groups all stayed at the first village but we still had an hour and a half trek straight uphill to our village, it sounds a nightmare, and it was, but I'm glad we did the uphill trek then and not the next morning, as there were tougher parts still to come!

At our homestay we were given a fabulous welcome, a well deserved (cold!) shower and settled down for dinner. My veggie option was rice with fresh avocado and tomato, very nice and healthy!
The kitchen at our homestay with our host, complete with guinea pigs in the corner being fattened up for dinner!!

When we arrived at the village we could hear music in the distance which Rosevelt said was some kind of village party so after dinner we headed off to main street to see what was going on.
Main street is a 5ft wide rocky pathway, fine really as there´s no vehicles of any description here! Oh except donkey of course!
The only way to travel, apart from feet!!

Up on main street and coming towards us in a procession was the village children all carrying individually made elaborate paper lanterns with candles inside them illuminating them, following behind was a very good village band being played by the village men. They went all the way to one end of the village where it appeared that the end house was giving the children goodies, before they came back past us again. All the children were very excited and were calling out hello to us as they went past. As the adults at the back of the procession came level with us they then invited us along to the party they were about to have, so off we went following on behind.

Main street in the day light!

At the main plaza there were more even more people and what looked like a bonfire pile ready to be lit, there were people drinking an interesting liquid from various bottles like shots, as well as a kinda doughnut stall, unfortunately we were both too full from dinner to try any but they looked really good! Instead we treated ourselves to a couple of beers and sat back in prime seats that had been offered us and enjoyed the party.
There was a prize giving for the best lantern and then the lighting of the bonfire with the children dancing around it, it was a great atmosphere and we were the only two westerners there, we felt very privileged to be part of the festivities but by 9pm we were shattered and so left the villages to their party in private while we opted for an early night!
Bright and early the next morning we were up and ready for the off, just before breakfast Jordan was laying on his bed when what he thought was a rain drop fell on him, but no it was a scorpion, a very small one but a scorpion all the same, and in our room all night!!
The trek this morning took us down to an oasis where we could swim or just relax for a couple of hours over lunch before we attempted the very long trek back up the other side of the canyon.
Once at the bottom of the canyon there was a very small trek uphill to the oasis, literally 10 mins, then down again, I was shattered!
Now I know that mountains go up and down but when you´re going up it is seriously irritating to find yourself going down when you know you only have to go up the same amount again soon!!
Once at the Oasis we had the option to hire a donkey for about $12 to take us to the top, no more walking mmm! and I was seriously tempted but with the encouragement of Lynsey and Julian, a couple from one of the other groups, I decided to give it a go on foot and I´m so glad I did, thanks loads guys. It was a good trek up, it felt like a real achievement to get to the top and everyone who had made it to the top already were giving encouragement as I neared. I am so glad I took along my trekking poles though, I really don´t think I would ever have made it without them, and the rucksac dad bought me was also a god send, so comfy and easy to carry even with a slightly heavy load, thanks loads dad.
Of course my mountain racing trekking buddy had already been at the top half hour by the time I got there!!
We stayed that night at Cabanaconde and ate dinner before once again grabbing a very early night, I could get used to those!
Bright and early the next morning we headed off to the main plaza to catch the local bus to Cruz Del Condor to go Condor spotting, apparently these huge birds (3m wing span) just know exactly where and when to turn up for the tourists, handy huh?! Well kinda!
The bus we caught was already packed with just about the entire town and the surrounding villages I think! Rosevelt managed to get me a seat but I think I was one of the lucky ones, tourist wise. Once the bus started it off it then stopped perhaps every 50 yards to take on more passengers, they were piling them on everywhere they could, I even saw several people get in the luggage compartment, an interesting way to travel!

On arrival at Cruz Del condor there were so so so many tourists, now if I was a condor I would be hiding behind one of the many rocks and saying no chance!! I think that´s perhaps what they were doing as we were there for a good 40 mins without seeing anything, then just as we were leaving one came flying by. We had actually seen a couple on the first day of the trek so we were ok with the show.
Then it was back on the bus to Chivay for lunch. Despite perhaps needing it we decided to give the hot springs a miss in order to get back to Arequipa before it got too late as we were pretty shattered and were both planning on moving on the next day.
From Chivay the bus journey was due to be about 3 hours, this time we had the joy of a movie, although for the first 20 mins the chap in charge couldn´t decide whether to have it in English with Spanish subtitles or in Spanish with English subtitles, in the end we got the latter, good movie though, Autumn of Change I think it was or something like that, Brad Pitt.
About 40 mins away from Arequipa we had a blow out on one of the bus tyres, for a mo we thought they were gonna just carry on driving but I guess they decided against it. At least it gave us a chance to get out and stretch our legs and with the help of the majority of the tourists on board they managed to change the tyre and we were soon on our way.
Back at the hostel it was a quick shower and bite to eat and bed, mentally planning my next move!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Arequipa - 14th/15th October 2007

I arrived in Arequipa at 7.30 in the morning with no accomodation sorted cause of the busy day yesterday! By 11.30 (!) I found somewhere, the Bothy Hostel. Its a great little hostel with very comfortable beds and hot showers (but only around the time I arrived as they were solar, I was to find that out the next morning!)

After dumping my gear I headed off to the main plaza which was absolutely heaving with families out for their Sunday afternoon, feeding the pigeons (just like Trafalgar square, but smaller!).

Its a lovely Plaza though so I just hung out for a while soaking up the atmosphere and trying to stay awake!

Arequipa is a really beautiful city with loads to see and do, its also the starting point for trekking the Colca Canyon and the pictures Ive seen look amazing but after yesterday Im feeling a little sore so need a little presuasion, I feel!

Back at the hostal I met with Linda and Lobka from Holland, which as we all know is very flat with no mountains and they had done the trek, so by the end of a shared dinner with them I was convinced I could do this trek also!
The following morning the three of us met with Sophia and Jordan both from America and set off for the local market to soak up the atmosphere of dead cows and sheep heads being offered for sale! A fun experience though.

Next stop was Juanita, the Ice Princess.
The Ice Princess is the frozen body of an Inca maiden sacrificed on the summit of Nevado Ampato over 500 years ago. Over the years there have been discoveries of several mummies of children that have been found in the area that were human sacrifices also but Juanita is different in that she is just frozen with all her internal organs intact, the others had their internal organs removed and offerings placed there instead. It was a very interesting museum, well worth a visit and done in a nongoulish way.

In the afternoon three of us decided on an open top bus tour around Arequipa to see the sights, it lasted 4 hours!! Quite a long bus trip but very interesting and we did get to see fantastic views of the perfect cone shaped volcano El Misti and the more ragged Chachani and Pichu Pichu, perfect for me!

Back at the hostal I booked in for the Colca Canyon trip the next day!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nasca lines and sand boarding! -13th October 2007

So in the end I did manage to convince myself that sand boarding down a 2078m sand dune was a great idea! In the meantime though I was up at 6.30am to meet Abdon at 7am for my flight over the Nasca lines, when he then tells me that the weather isn´t the best at the mo so we´re gonna leave it for about 40 mins.

When we arrived at the airport you can really tell its the low season as there´s only me and another waiting to go up! We were ushered into a small room to watch a video on the lines that seemed to go on and on, during which we could hear other planes taking off and landing, but still we waited! I was beginning to see the disadvantage of traveling alone out of peak season!

(While we were waiting there was an earthquake (which again I didn´t feel) apparently it was a Magnitude 4.5 but was centered 1000km out to sea at a depth of 28km!)

After another hours wait Abdon ushered me off to another part of the airport which was for VIPs (!) and said that I was going up with one other couple and to exaggerate about how much I had paid for the flight as they would have paid more! Now I was beginning to see the advantage of travelling alone in the offpeak season! I also got to ride shotgun with the pilot which was a lot of fun.

The flight over the lines was truly amazing, apparently a lot of people get sick on the flight as its only in a small Cessna plane and they do swing it about a bit but we were all fine on our flight, it was a bit like some of the rides at Islands of Adventures or Disney!

The views were truly incredible, the flight lasted for half hour and we saw all the major drawings, the astronaut, the monkey, the condor, the humming bird and spider etc.

The afternoons activities were then taken up with sand boarding!! And this one I really hadn´t thought through to be honest!

To get to the top of the dune was gonna take 3 hours of tough hiking! Some described it as a brutal hike to the top, well it was that and then some!

The peak in the far far distance is where we were headin for!

The organised tour that runs sets off very early in the morning as its too hot to hike after that but as I had been flying in the morning and had booked the bus ticket in the evening we didn´t set off till 12.30, and it wasn´t till I got in the car that I realised it was just me and Abdon again!

10 minutes into the trek, it´s 1.30pm and I´m seriously wondering what on earth I´m doing, but hey it is the largest sand dune in the world (isn´t it?)!!

Every 5 minutes I´m looking at my watch hoping an hour or even 3 had gone by but no chance. Abdon, kept saying to me, don´t worry you´re not going to die, but until that time I hadn´t even thought about that!

On top of the world!

The last 1 and half hours of the trek was just on the sand dune making hiking even harder, although I did find a trick and that was to walk in the footsteps of the person in front of you, it works honestly, and it also helps that my guide was 4" nothing and had little legs also!

By the time we got to the top I had firmly decided that there was no way I was gonna be sand boarding down and invented the very popular, at least with me, sand sledging sport! Hey it worked for me!
The other part of the trip I didn´t quite know about was the 1 and half hours trek out of the mountains! By this time it was getting dark, it was a new moon, and we still had quite a way to go. Abdon had bought a torch which reliably run out of battery power and the only other thing we had was the light on my mobile phone and the battery on that was quickly running out!

We happened upon a rock in the middle of nowhere, in pitch darkness and here was were Abdon said the driver would be meeting us! We waited for him for 45 mins before thankfully he eventually turned up, boy was I pleased to see him!

After that it was a quick dash back and shower before my bus.

The bus to Arequipa arrived half hour late but that was ok I was just looking forward to sleeping in my front row seat.

Getting on the bus at Nasca I was the only person, all the others had come from Lima and were fast asleep when I got on, including the person in my seat! So there I was a couple of rows back next to a large Peruvian man who snored for the next 8 hours!