Arriving in Lima, we taxi to a wonderful hostel in a rather down at heel area near the airport. Our host, Harry, welcomes us with hot pineapple drinks and later Pisco. There are colourful murals everywhere: bright blue, orange, firey red. Everyone busy working, garages repairing old cars, washing cars with huge energy, women making and selling street food, work on buildings. Internet gaming with many people seated in lines at desks at night, dozens of dentist premises with graphic adverts pictures of teeth repairs. Breakfast yoghurt with fresh fruit and muesli. Driving through packed streets with few controls/lights, much tooting.
We fly to Arequipa. Traffic just as crazy and busy. Half the cars are taxis with varied colourful lights on their roofs. Tram system abandoned when cheap cars available in 70’s and no infrastructure since, so there is now only the small ‘collectivo’ buses which charge around with the conductors hanging out the back shouting out the route numbers. Can be loaded like sardines. So everyone uses a car or taxi. Clogged streets. No priority to pedestrians on crossings, but still surprisingly courteous and stop when several people waiting.
Poverty outside the lovely historical center is startling. Many slum areas up on the hills with no water at all. Corruption we are told, is rife. Anything can be bought, and any rules bypassed, for a price. Change will be very slow: people are fined if they don’t vote, but politicians can easily get votes from poorest class by simply offering a kilo of sugar and promising great things. These people have little education and can’t afford not to vote.
Visit to stone quarry where the famous white stone of Arequipa is cut all by hand. That day they were lucky enough to have an earth mover on hand as it was there to level a road (a dirt track) so could lend a hand. Big lumps cut from the cliff on Mondays and Tuesdays only, then worked into blocks the rest of the week. Explosives useless as this volcanic rock is too fragile. Some white, some pink with traces of iron, some grey with traces of magnesium.
On to walk up the gorge to a spectacular 40m high black waterfall. Only a handful of others there, locals enjoying a day out. Had to wade through the river to get there. Water gushing out of the side of the gorge forming artistic curves in the rock. Startled to find that the family who normally kept an eye on the guide’s car had all her animals stolen whilst they were tied up by ‘bandits’ only last month. Now various friends and relatives are driving out from the city when they can to help out.
Packed and ready for our 3 day trek, We catch a 3am bus to Colca Canyon, travel across the frozen Alitplana at 4,000m altitude, through -18 degC at 5am. Having been a bit ‘sniffy’ about the tourist ‘thing’, we are truly in awe of the magnificent group of Condors swirly about in the early morning sun.
Arrive at our start point, Cabanaconde, on the canyon rim. Down, down down, about 1700m of it, but the path is thankfully not too steep, with surprising views around every turn. Best of all the soak in the hot pools at Llahuar, right at the riverside, and a stay in the bodged together cabins next to the building site. good food and warm welcome at the (also bodged together) shelter.
The next day, we climb up to the Mirador de Apacheta at 2700m, but go rather carried away and ended up taking a much higher detour. Alas for the two trusting hikers who followed us to climb the steep canyon side up to 3,000m, but the views at luchtime were spectacular. We descend to the oasis at Sangalle, lush green and each of the 4 hostels has….a swimming pool! Incredibly, emptied and re filled every day. A whole new take on keeping your pool clean. Blissful swim. Our final day we climb the rather hot and relentless 1,200m, but still wonderful, canyon side to return to Cabanconde, and feast on pizza.
Peru has 400 different types of potato. We try a dish of 7 different varieties, with toppings of choice. The potato based drink ‘champi …’ deliciously refreshing drink. Last week was a world potato conference where varieties crops and the science of the potato were discussed in depth.
Now waiting for the weather to clear at Cusco. Stuck at the airport. The mountains are looking mighty snowy on top and are disappearing fast in the cloud.