After bringing in the new year high in the hills above Cusco, our next stop in Peru was Arequipa, the country´s second largest city. We soon learnt a key meteorological lesson for this part of the country (at least at this time of the year): the mornings are beautifully sunny, but don´t count on doing anything in the afternoon as it tends to pour down!
Having lost a day following one lazy morning, we headed out again the next day to explore the town. The city´s Santuarios Andeanos museum is home to the famous Inca Ice Maiden, Juanita – a 600 year old mummy, who was just a young teenager when she was sacrificed to the Inca gods. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of her, but sadly she is not on display for the month of January and her replacement (there are a number of similar mummies) was being worked upon for the duration of our stay, which was disappointing. Instead we headed to the Monasterio Santa Catalina: a convent in the city centre which occupies an entire block and which is like a citadel within a city. Unlike your typical convent, for many years, this one catered to daughters of rich families who were required to pay substantial dowries on their admission. Within the confines of the monastery, these women were permitted several servants each, were known to give parties and generally lived a rather lavish lifestyle (at least until the Pope caught wind of things, and sent someone down to reform things!). In any case, the convent was a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours and I must have taken hundreds of photos while we were there.
Arequipa is full of tour agencies offering trips to the nearby Colca Canyon – one of the world´s deepest- and while we were there, Neal and I spoke to a number of them about a potential trip. However, after some research online, we decided we could just as easily do this trip ourselves and so we set off, catching a bus to the town of Chivay, some three and a half hours away.
From the outset, things didn´t go quite as smoothly as we had hoped. Firstly, the morning buses were all fully booked, meaning we didn´t get to Chivay till hours later than planned. When we arrived, we headed to the local hot springs, which were lovely and relaxing, although it was pouring down with rain, only one pool was open and we nearly got stranded there when the baths closed. The next day, we caught another bus towards Cabanaconde where we heard there were a number of trails we could hike. We hopped off en route at a point known as Cruz del Condor which is recommended as being a great place to spot the impressive Andean birds. Little did we know, the next bus wouldn´t pass for another four hours! We were left sitting on the roadside in the cold with the local women who come up to the point to sell their wares – but happily, we did spot several Condors within this time!
The local women were an incredible sight in themselves, they all wore intricately woven hats and beautiful brightly coloured traditional dress.
We finally made it to Cabanaconde and the next morning, we set off on our trek into the canyon as planned. It was beautiful and we both loved taking in the scenery, although it was a steep trek downhill followed by a slow ascent back up afterwards. Our trek ended up rather hurried as we had to catch a bus on to our next destination. So, unfortunately our DIY plans didn´t go as well as hoped – we would have been much better off if we’d signed up with one of the organised tours.
After the Colca Canyon, it was on to our last stop in Peru, Puno. The weather had picked up again in this part of the country, so thankfully we were able to regain our afternoons from the rain. We made a visit to see the Yavari – a former gunboat in the Peruvian navy. The boat was made in England and the pieces shipped over to Peru in the mid 19th century. It was then transported by man and by llama across the mountains to Puno were it was rebuilt, almost ten years later. Now the boat serves as a B&B but it made a curious and interesting visit. Later that night, we went to a restaurant which offered a show of traditional music and dance. The costumes the dancers wore were amazing, some with feather and masks like birds, other comprising mini skirts and knee-high boots. It was great to watch, if a little twee.
The highlight of our visit to Puno was the trip we took to visit the islands of Lake Titicaca. We set off early in the morning, and our first stop was the floating islands of Uros – a collection of over 40 tiny islands each made entirely of reeds. Each island is its own community, with the one we visited being home to nine families and 32 people.
The families who live on the island wear traditional dress, live in reed huts and earn their living through fishing, hunting ducks and collecting their eggs – and now, of course, tourism. We were welcomed to the island, shown how they use the reeds, invited into their homes and finally, given a ride on one of their ornate reed boats.
The islands are like nowhere else in the world and to experience them was fantastic for us. We continued on to another island, called Taquile, about two hours boat ride away. On this island, the people are Quechua and are known for producing some of the finest textiles in the country. The island was beautiful with stunning views (and fortunately for us, fantastic weather) – it reminded be of being on an unspoilt Greek island in the middle of the Med, rather than on a Peruvian lake.
The lake, of course, is not solely Peruvian – part of it is Bolivian territory – our next stop. But as the proud Peruvians like to joke, “Titi for Perú, Caca for Bolivia.”