Count the Adjectives

1 11 2008

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon were an even tighter mission than Cusco and MP. This time I managed to arrange just one day off of work to complete a weekend excursion to a city high in the Andes and far far away from Lima. This was on the condition that I made up the extra day by working the following Saturday.

No flying in and out this time either: I had to endure my first Latin American long haul bus journey.

Now even the shortest intercity bus journeys in Peru are comparable to what would be considered the longest of road trips that I have taken in the UK. Arequipa was billed at fourteen hours one way, but with mountainous roads, stoppages, and road accidents the journey ended up taking eighteen. This is by far the most preferred form of travel on the continent. There are barely any railroads except for the Machu Picchu money-spinner and flights are too expensive for the vast majority of people and those of us who no longer have any European money left.

So we sped down the Peruvian coastline on the night of 18th September (hmmm … let’s call it … writer’s block). I didn’t sleep a wink – buses are not built for people who need more than average leg-room. Plus I have the tendency to be intrigued by what lies outside the window. The landscape looked lunar at some stages with grey-brown dirt and barren rocks reminding me that Lima sits smack bang in the middle of the coastal desert that dtretches the entire length of the Peruvian coast. The Pacific Ocean loomed to the right, right up until the point that we cut up into the mountains on approach to Arequipa. After what seemed like a life time of bus travel – during which I finished reading an entire book (not something that I am renowned for) – we arrived in Arequipa.

Arequipa

Arequipa

The city looked lovely. We had little time to linger however as our time was pressed and we wanted to visit the Colca Canyon within our schedule. We had a couple of hours to tour the bus station – brimming with passengers and alternative bus companies – before we set off towards the Canyon.

The sunset on this journey was top banana, burning red on the horizon, pouring over walls and near-primitive farmland to project deep orange light over the mountains that surround Arequipa, which include the towering white volcano El Misti. After the sun fell we were greeted by the stars of the southern hemisphere. This is still not something that I am accustomed to given that I live in perhaps the cloudiest place south of the equator. I had already caught a glimpse of them on the MP train as I cupped my hands around my eyes and against the train window. Not exactly prime viewing.

A further 4 hours by bus wound us through the Andes to the small town of Chivay, deep at the base of the Colca Canyon. It was dark and true to Andean form bone-achingly cold. We searched for a hostel with seven spare beds and after some food an Irish pub soon drifted off to sleep.

Or rather a quick snooze. The first bus (yes another) to “Cruz del Condor” left at four in the morning. We wanted to spend the early hours of Saturday at such a place not for no good reason. As the name suggests, we went to see condors, and the cruz (cross) high on the edge of the Canyon marks the perfect spot to fulfil such a desire.

I don’t think I have ever felt this cold in my life. The Andes is so so cold at night and in the morning before the sun comes out. So cold. Seriously.

hat blows gracefully; scottish man slowly freezes

seven very cold people from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Scotland and Switzerland stand on the edge of a canyon in the hope of seeing condors

Anyway, the condors came out as the sun rose making for a beautiful display of wings, feathers, majesty, elegance and all that. There was certainly some swooping involved and I’m sure I caught the glimpse of a talon. “The Kings of the Andes” they certainly are and they certainly looked at home against a jaw dropping backdrop of crisp mountain ridges. They didn’t seem to care too much about us, and neither they should have.

As the morning went on and the sun rose higher a few of us decided to trek further up the canyon towards a small town. This walk I saw some of the most gorgeous landscape which became ever more illuminated by the warmth of the sun. Fields of golden grass bordered with green hedges were at the base of the canyon and the typically pointy Andes creased with deep caverns stretched high up into the sky. Terracing swept around the contours of the hills with rich brown patches providing flat fertile land for farmers on even the most precipitous of perches.

Our group walked for an hour or two, taking in our surroundings and enjoying the silence that is sorely missed in Lima. We jumped on a bus that our friends were already on – they had opted to wait at the cruz to catch a better glimpse of the condors. We twisted and turned through the canyon on out way to the small town Cabanaconda. The Agricultural terracing here was fantastic, like layered steps at every contour of the hills.

farms

Andean farming

Cabandeconda

Cabanaconda

After some breakfast (which felt like lunch – we had been up for hours by this point) and a bit of deliberation we decided to continue trekking to an “oasis” at the base of the canyon. This was an epic hike.

descent

descent

It took us over two hours to walk down; the view was, believe it or not, spectacular. It was possible to see where layers of molten lava had seeped down the side of the canyon to form the high walls of rock.

The blue water of the oasis taunted us on the whole trek as we caught glimpses of it winding our way down the rocky path.

closer ...

closer ...

and closer ...

and closer ...

and closer ...

and closer ...

When we arrived we were greeted by signs saying ‘welcome to paradise’ and ‘paradise – this way’. My mind quickly turned to Leonardo de Caprio – not because his acting has left a particularly striking impression on me – but because this setup looked overwhelmingly like somebody had watched (or read) The Beach a few too many times. Now, I’m not a picky person but when two adequate swimming pools and a modest bunch of palm trees accompanied by overpriced bar and restaurant are billed as ‘paradise’ then surely something is amiss.

"Paradise"

"paradise"

I’m being ungrateful again (please see about section for irony and sarcasm warning), the place was pretty enough, the canyon surroundings at the very least were idyllic and the isolation certainly added an edge even if the oasis was a touch surfer-dude-ish. A dip in the swimming pool was also welcome after the walk and I soon reminded myself of how crap I am at swimming. No matter.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed the beach … I mean oasis more if we had had more than an hour to explore. Our tight schedule dictated otherwise. After spending the best part of a sun soaked day descending a side of one of the world’s deepest canyons, few of us were enthusiastic to climb back up which was going to take twice as long as the walk down. Moreover, sunlight was not on our side as the sun god slowly creeped towards the edge of the high canyon. Luckily, the owners of the oasis had already thought the naivety of unprepared gallavanters over.

la mula

la mula

The mule: a stubborn but highly respectable animal, it climbed the mountain with little effort, even with a tall Scottish upstart lodged on to its back.

"muling it up"

"muling it up"

yet more mule action

yet more mule action

The muleteer knew what he was doing. He talked to the mules all the way up and they refused to walk without his guidance. They surefootedly marched us up half way to the top where we met our friends – who had started walking before us – to swap mule duty and make the whole procedure fair and more affordable (7 mules OTT).

As the sun finally set over the Colca Canyon, my German friend, my Brazilian friend and I heaved ourselves up the last stretch of the trek back to the town of Cabanaconda. We fumbled our way through an unorthodox farmland route before arriving in the town and meeting with our mule-aided friends.

I couldn’t help it. I shouldn’t have. Coca tea is just so damned moreish and we had spent a long day walking. It certainly has a buzz to it and I found myself sipping somewhat quickly on a cup of the home-made brew in the rustic restaurant our friends had discovered. I found it so hard to get to sleep that night as we bussed (again) back to Chivay. After crashing into another hostel bed (me not the bus) I drifted off into an unsubstantial altitude-hampered sleep.

At four AM the next morning I used what was left of my physical ability to drag myself to the bus station so that we could return to Arequipa in time to catch a bus back to Lima for Monday morning.

We arrived at Arequipa just after sunrise. The city is fascinating; most of the buildings in the centre are built from white volcanic stone. It has a very Mediterranean feel to it with Romanesque architecture such as pillars and domes garnishing the Spanish religious buildings. This has a much more polished feel than Cusco however. The city seems much more organised when compared to the haphazard colonial architecture that sits on top of the firm foundations which are the remains of the Inca capital.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

We took a sleepy and relaxed tour of the city. I found some birthday presents to be sent to my adorable older niece. We generally took it easy after the previous day and enjoyed the ambient atmosphere of the city and I indulged in some of the city’s renowned chocolate.

relaxing in Arequipa

relaxing in Arequipa

Arequipa is also famous for picanteries: restaurants that specialise in spicy food. Though the place that we found was good, it didn’t quite live up to Lima’s standards. I do not joke when I say that the food in the capital is absolutely amazing. Peruvian food is in the top five in the world for sure.

Ok, I digress, I’m sorry but the quality of Peruvian food should not be understated (f**king delicious by the way). On the journey back to Lima the bus was still to small for me, even after I had forked out for “Semi-Cama” (or “half-bed”). I just could not sleep with my legs jammed into the back of somebody who had reclined their Semi-cama as far back as it could go. At least this bus was faster and only took twelve hours…

The next day at work was an absolute riot. I had got off the bus at six that morning, got home at half seven and gone to work at nine, all with a total of seven-hours-in-four-nights-sleep behind me. I have never wanted to stare at a computer screen for eight hours less.

Of course it was worth it. The Colca Canyon was stunning. Arequipa was a marvel. Fresh air and sunshine are always refreshing. I am sure I will go back

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2 responses

3 11 2008
littledrunkenman

Yeah… This paints a pretty adequate picture of the trip to Arequipa. I would say… I like the wordpaintings 😉

4 11 2008
Jill

Great update! Keep them coming…

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