Day 104-105: Arequipa and Colca Canyon

After Huacachina (I still don’t know if I’m spelling that right and currently have no internet to check), our bus tour took us to Nazca for a quick stop before making our way to Arequipa for two nights. I was surprised when our tour guide announced that we had arrived at Nasca because there seemed to be nothing there, but a small rickety tower.

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The beauty of the place revealed itself to us as we climbed the tower, however. Once we got to the top, we could see vast sand-drawings that decorated the incredibly flat landscape. As we were told in Paracas, these drawings (sculptures?!) are apparently 2000+ years old. I want to believe that and the lack of rainfall lends itself to the possibility, but the idea that no one would have walked across those drawings in 2000+ years, especially later on with a road nearby seems a bit far fetched.

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Arequipa is a fairly large town which seemed to be constantly bustling with life. A lot of travellers we’ve made fell in love with Cusco, which is the stop after Arequipa for us, but our personal favourite was here. It seemed less built for tourists and more built for locals, which gave us the impression that any events that took place were not put on for tourists, but were a real part of Peruvian life. One guy we were travelling with told us that apparently there was a religious festival going on in the main square that evening.

When we got there, a massive stage had been set up and what looked like the entire population of the town was there. There was also a vast amount of incense wafting through the air and at several points, I genuinely wondered if the Pope was going to turn up. We knew better than to bother using our main camera for this as it was in the nighttime. The first picture is what the town square looked like before everything was set up, and through the power of the internet, I’ve either sourced a photo from the exact ceremony, or one very similar.

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It may sound odd, but its not often that you can see thousands of people in one area, yet only hear one voice. The sheer amount of respect that was given to the religious figure onstage from the crowd was huge. Any children over the age of 2-3 knew better than to fidget, and all adults seemed engrossed in what he had to say. Living in a western world, religion is not a big part of our lives, and it features in the news for negative reasons more than anything. To see it alive and thriving is strange, but not in a bad way. I just think they have to deal with a far harder life than we could imagine, and religion is a big feature in keeping the community together and strong.

The next day, we visited Colca Canyon, one of the highest points on our trip – literally as we went to over 5000 meters. If we wanted to, we could have spent two days hiking down into the Canyon and apparently this is the best way to appreciate the place, but with Machu Picchu looming ever so closely, we decided to leave our muscles be for now and concentrate on becoming acclimatized. On our way over, we stopped at a little village that was a well known tourist stop. Six days a week, the locals dress up in traditional clothes and bring out traditional Peruvian animals for tourists to see.

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For 1 Sole (about 20-25p depending on how the pound is doing), you can go further than just admiring these beauty’s and get to hold one for a little while. We went for this majestic creature. He was trained to climb onto hats, but we couldn’t keep a straight face when he was doing that.

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Onto Colca Canyon itself. It is both naturally beautiful and a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the farmers here. How they cultivated this land is incredible.

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Peru grows 3000 different types of potatoes, as well as a variety of corn, quinoa and other vegetables. It achieves this by creating micro climates – the lower levels of land will have a different temperature and humidity to a higher level of land. They’ve mastered knowing what to plant and where to gain the most varied and nutritious diet. This is one reason why the Inca’s and their descendants are said to live to an average of 95 years old!

One special plant that grows at such a high altitude is the Colca plant. We westerners know all about “Colca Blanco” as the locals call it. Shove it up your nostrils and have a great night. The plant, however, has a much calmer affect on the body, with ingredients that help altitude sickness and enough caffeine to give you an energy boost. Every time Colca is mentioned, there’s always a little snigger, but I think you’d have to consume a lethal amount of this plant to want to party. From this day onward, Colca would become a big ally in us being able to move more than a few meters up here.

After appreciating the beauuuutiful landscape, we travelled onwards to a spot where Condors are known to gather. The condor is one of the three national animals in Peru, with the other two being the snake and the Puma.

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We were very lucky. Apparently its only common to see one or two, and fairly often not at all. We saw about six, and they were all baby condors, which should give you an idea of how massive the adult condors become.

The rest of the trip consisted of casually seeing an active volcano in the distance and taking a photo of us at the highest point that we’re likely to get to in South America – about 5100 meters! It amazes me that water collects to form a lake at this height, but the proof is in the pudding.

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I’ll leave this post as it is now, because the more photos I add, the more time it takes to load, and getting a chance to do that is becoming more and more rare!

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