Dec 2012. Place : Cusco. Location : Argentina Section : South America
S13.50570 W71.98484 Kms this section : 1492. Kms since UK : 129,093.
Peru - inca and more . . .
The first hundred or so kilometres on Peruvian soil follows the shores of Lago Titicaca. Though the lake is still pretty, the flat farmland that it borders, is less so.
We parked on the football field next to the museum as it was getting dark but within half an hour the security guy turned up to inform us that we would be “safer” parked just by the museum and that he would gladly give us a night-time tour (for a small fee!)which we did.
At the end of the lake we made a brief stop to visit the renovated British steamship the Yavari. The YAVARI was delivered in pieces by mule to the Lake over two miles (3,810 m) above sea level. After nearly 100 years of faithful service, she was found slipping rapidly into decay. Now she has been saved, all her original features restored, her engine repaired, and she is getting ready to be fitted out to comply with today's standards of safety in order to sail again. http://www.yavari.org/
Originally we hadn’t planned to visit Arequipa but having spoken to some fellow travellers who had recommended it, we decided to make the detour. It proved to be a lovely city, the buildings in the centre almost entirely built of the white volcanic stone called silla. Our favourite visit was to the gorgeous convent of Santa Catalina which is almost a small village in its own right. The walls are painted in vibrant blue or warm terracotta and the little narrow passages filled with pots of scarlet geraniums. The former nun’s cells were a revelation and surprisingly spacious and cosy. They even had their own kitchen areas. There are still nuns inhabiting the convent but nowadays they have their own, secluded newly built areas.
We also took the opportunity to visit Juanita. Juanita is the famed mummy of the young Inca girl who was sacrificed atop a volcano and was found only fairly recently by a mountaineer due to the snow thawing. Her well preserved body had become detached from the ice and had become visible. The museum presents some of the artefacts that were found later and an interesting video tells the alleged tale of how she would have travelled with the priests from Cusco, climbed the volcano to over 5000m and then probably have been sedated before being despatched with a blow to the head. Her body is now in a glass, deep-freeze cabinet and though it’s under very low lighting it is still possible to make out her features, hair and even fingernails. Quite spooky and extraordinary really.
A rough mountain road and a rather scary river crossing took us north from Arequipa to Chivay, the little town at the end of Colca Canyon.
Famous for its great profundity –they say it’s deeper than the Grand Canyon and for its Condors, Colca Canyon is indeed impressive. Furthermore there were several excellent spots along the canyon where we could wildcamp AND get great views of the mountains and the gorge itself. Apparently it was once possible to witness dozens of the great birds riding the thermals over the gorge but sadly numbers have dropped alarmingly. The most we saw at any one time was six or seven but they are truly impressive birds and when one landed on a precipice just a few metres away, we were very delighted.
As we returned to Chivay after several days of bird-spotting, we happened upon another festival.
Five metre high bamboo arches now filled the plaza, gaily decorated with silver serving trays and stuffed toys of everydescription.A brass band played a rousing, if rather monotonous tune and hundred, yes hundreds of locals sashayed around the square in the most exquisite indigenous costumes. Such a shame it was pouring with rain that they had to protect their fabulous hats with plastic bags!
And so to Cusco . . . which at a breathtaking 3700metres, is probably one of the world’s highest cities. We camped above the city –adding further metres at the traveller-famed Quintalala alongside a French family and a German couple.
From the top, the city has a look of an Italian city with its earth coloured buildings and terracotta tiled roves. As you wander around the winding and very steep streets it’s possible to encounter original Inca walls of carefully mortised stone. It’s definitely a city of tourists and it’s almost impossible to avoid the touts selling trips to Machu Picchu or massages but it’s calm and safe and has plenty of good cafes to take a break from the sight-seeing.
We visited an excellent museum of Pre-Columbian art and whilst it was mostly ceramic pots, the collection was so well curated and presented that it gave a fascinating over-view of the development of some amazingly well preserved artefacts.
At precisely 6.45a.m. the following morning we set off to “walk the line” to Aguas Calientes. Yes, we could have taken the train, but as it was a dead flat, 10km walk, we preferred to walk it. It was a gorgeous walk, very jungly and though hot there was plenty of shade from the severe sun. We were accompanied by a rather handsome, stray dog from the village who wanted nothing more than our company for the day.
Reaching Aguas Calientes (there is no road to here) we went off in search of our ticket and we were happy to be able to buy one for the same day (not always the case). Then off to find the bus that would wind, up, up and up through some serious switchbacks to the site itself.
True to form Phil was keen to walk down the mountain, not take the tourist bus. The walk was steep but pretty and some of the corners of the switchbacks were avoided by taking the stone steps. It took around 45minutes to reach the bottom and the railway track from whence we would begin our return journey.
The following day we drove the rough track which leads to the thermal pools just beyond Santa Theresa. We weren’t expecting too much as we are so often disappointed by our search for the perfect pool. We were not disappointed this time. The entrance is a bit scruffy and temporary looking-we later learned that the whole place had just been rebuilt as it was destroyed by a landslip a few years ago. However, the pools themselves are large, sparklingly clean and that perfect temperature which is so hard to achieve in a bathtub. I was actually able to swim-properly swim, though the warmth of the water seems to make your body quite sluggish. Heaven . . and all for about £5.
When we arrived at Yellow River, we were greeted by Maya (the stunningly pretty daughter of Andrew and Tati) who solemnly informed us that mummy and daddy had gone up to the farm and that Grampa was “somewhere around”. We retired to the truck for a cuppa whilst we waited their return.
Andrew was a colleague of my great and good friend Rose. His wife is Peruvian and her family own an organic coffee farm here in the Sacred Valley. Originally we had suggested that we stay as volunteers for a couple of weeks but circumstances had changed for them and they were having to temporarily close the hostel. We were, they said, very welcome to visit and stay as tourists and so this is what we did. It’s a gorgeous spot, right down by the raging river but still at around 1200metres. The gardens are full of tropical plants, bananas, mangoes and avocadoes and the brightly-painted, modern buildings are very cosy and welcoming. Andrew took some of his precious time out to show us the old village that had been entirely destroyed by the river flooding a few years before and then drive up the mountain behind them to show us the coffee plantation and their new building plot. Along the way we lopped down bananas, gathered pineapples and were shown wild turmeric and various other weird healing plants. It’s such a shame that they have to shut down for a while as they were just getting a name for themselves and what they are doing, both for themselves and the community, is wonderful.
We left the hostel amidst throngs of children who were being given their annual treat –we think provided by the local communities/gvt. Every child in the village received a cup of hot chocolate and a special bread roll studded with dried fruits. That’s Christmas for Peruvian children-none of the plastic and batteries that nourish British children!!! As we drove along the valley that day we witnessed this happening in every community, the children dressed in their Sunday best, occasionally carrying new and precious small toys.