Week 25 – Arequipa and Nazca, Peru
Hi everybody! This will probably be a super short post as I’ve taken artistic licence with my Friday-Friday rule recently, and also we’ve spent a few days relaxing. This week we’ve seen the colossal Colca Canyon and captured carefree condors on camera!
Today was a slightly strange day for us as we got off one night-bus, and then had to wait around all day for another night-bus to take us on to Arequipa. We didn’t really have anywhere to base ourselves and felt guilty taking advantage of the hostel who were storing our bags. We lingered over breakfast in a cafe, then moved on to a Starbucks near the Plaza de Armas. We based ourselves here for most of the day, blog-writing and reading. We went to our favourite Cusco restaurant for lunch – a menu del dia place called Dumbo’s. I’ve been enjoying their grilled alpaca – I doubt it’s something I’ll be eating much when I get back to England.
We met Peruhop for our night-bus and settled in for another night in a reclining chair!
We arrived in Arequipa at around 5:30am, and spent the next few hours hanging around in our hostel until we could check in properly. Arequipa is the second most populated city in Peru and was founded in 1540. Our hostel is in a cool 18th century building with thick stone walls, colourful paint and pretty courtyards. We had breakfast sitting in the courtyard in the sun – it was really nice.
Once we’d checked in to our room, we went out to explore a bit. We found the central plaza, which is dominated by the huge Basilica Cathedral. The outside was really beautiful and a bit imposing. We wandered around the plaza and went up to the 1st floor of one of the buildings to try to see over the cathedral to the volcano behind, but unfortunately it was too hazy to see anything.
We were a bit sleep-deprived so spent the rest of the day quietly recuperating in our hostel!
You might notice a theme this week; today was another day of relaxation. I feel a bit bad for not exploring Arequipa more thoroughly, but we were listening to our bodies – all through the Inca Trail and the Amazon we’d been having very early starts, and so we’d accumulated a bit of a sleep debt.
Relaxing days do have their uses – I managed to write most of last week’s blog in that time, so it wasn’t a wasted day!
Today was also very chilled, partly because our attempts to do some of the touristy activities in Arequipa failed. Having spent the morning relaxing at the hostel, we went out for lunch at the main plaza, where we enjoyed the sunshine, the view over the square and a panpipe serenade by a group of busking musicians. In the afternoon we had planned to look around one of the local museums, which houses the preserved body of a 12 year old girl who was sacrificed by the Incas in the 1400s. Unfortunately when we arrived, we were told that while the museum was open, this main exhibit was closed for preservation works. We decided to give the rest of the museum a miss and instead went to have a look around the Basilica Cathedral. Here we were met with another obstacle – Ben was wearing shorts and so wasn’t allowed inside! I went in for a quick glance. It was quite pretty, with yellow walls and ornate white plastered decorations. It was a shame that we couldn’t go in properly to explore though – we felt it was an unnecessarily strict rule.
The upside of not going into the church was that, in order not to waste a trip to the plaza, we went to a cafe where we tried a ‘maracuya sour’. Pisco sour is the national drink of Peru – an overly sweet cocktail – and maracuyas are my favourite type of passionfruit here. The maracuya sour was quite nice but I think I prefer just plain fruit juice. Still, I felt like we had to try one while we were in Peru!
Today was the highlight of our time in Arequipa, although it was accompanied by our earliest start so far. After waking up at 2am (!!!!) we boarded a tour bus at 2:45am to go to the Colca Canyon.
The Colca Canyon is the canyon of the Colca river and is one of the deepest in the world. You can go on a multi-day hike through the canyon, but we decided to avoid the steep descent and ascent and go one a one-day sightseeing tour instead. As well as gorgeous scenery and impressive terraced farming fields, the canyon is famous as a great place to spot the Andean Condor. This vulture-like bird is the ‘largest bird capable of flight if measured in terms of average weight and wingspan’, apparently. It weighs between 8-15kg and has a wingspan of 270-320cm.
We were given blankets once we boarded the bus, and I managed to get a couple of hours additional sleep while we travelled out of Arequipa towards the canyon. I was woken up as we reached our first viewpoint, the ‘mirador de los Andes’ (view of the Andes). The road had climbed to 4,800m and we had an awesome view of multiple surrounding mountains and volcanoes, including Sabancaya volcano which had a thick plume of smoke rising from it. It was beautiful.
After stopping briefly for breakfast, we drove on to the river valley. According to our guide it became more canyon-like as it went along. The views were gorgeous. We could see the river, and then the lush green farming terraces behind. There were so many of them, following the contours of the landscape. They were really interesting to look at, as well as striking.
We eventually arrived at Cruz del Condor, the viewpoint over the canyon where condors are most commonly found. We were in luck, and there were a number of them soaring through the air, riding the thermal currents above the canyon. The Incas believed that the condors were messengers of the gods. It was one of their three sacred animals – the puma representing the earth, the snake the underworld, and the condor representing the sky. When one soared just past us and we saw the impressive span of their wings, we could see why they believed these birds were so special!
We stayed for about an hour, watching the condors and admiring the dramatic landscape, before climbing back onto the bus to begin the journey back to Arequipa, On the way we stopped in the village of Pinchollo, where we explored their pretty church and small plaza. We saw some people selling a drink called the ‘colca sour’, made out of Pisco and a strange cactus fruit, but we decided to give it a miss.
We stopped in the town of Chivay for a buffet lunch and then were driven back to Arequipa, pausing briefly near a field of alpacas for a photo opportunity. We spent the evening packing ready to leave early in the morning.
This does take us to another Saturday, but it gives me something else to write about in an otherwise very short blog post! Today we had a very long journey from Arequipa to our next destination, Huacachina. We boarded the bus at 5:30. The journey was straightforward until around lunch time, where we found the road blocked by some sort of protest. We ended up having to wait for an additional hour and a half before we could continue on.
The landscape outside the window was quite pretty. We had wound our way down to the coast, and then the road continued on for miles and miles, with dusty hills on one side and the sea on the other. It’s funny, in England a coastline like that would be crowded with houses making the most of the view, but Peru’s coastline is so vast that it was all unoccupied.
Just as the sun was setting we arrived at Nazca. The Nazca lines are a famous tourist attraction. They are a series of patterns scored into the desert floor by the Nazca culture between 500 BC and 500 AD. The climate in the area is stable and there isn’t much wind, so the patterns have been preserved for years naturally with minimal intervention. Their significance is unknown – possibly religious, possibly fertility symbols, possibly representations of comsological patterns. For the best view of the Nazca lines you’re supposed to take a helicopter flight, but two of the designs can be seen from a roadside viewing tour that has been set up. We were given 10 minutes to climb up the viewing tour and appreciate these patterns. We probably wouldn’t have diverted to Nazca otherwise so it was nice to get this opportunity to see them.
It was really cool to see the patterns. Their shapes weren’t immediately clear to me, although I’ve since found them online described as ‘the tree of life’ and ‘a pair of uplifted hands’. I found it more amazing to consider how well they’d been preserved, and how the Nazca people managed to maintain a sense of the picture they were creating on such a large scale. In that way it made me think of White Horse Hill in Uffington; a symbol carved on a huge scale into the landscape over a thousand years ago.
The bus continued on to Huacachina and we arrived in time to have a late dinner and go to bed!
Next week we’ll be leaving Peru and heading to the Galapagos – the final destination of this trip! It’s really not long now until we’re home!