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caty’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 15 Oct 2005

Location: Arequipa, Peru

MapArequipa is a beautiful city at 2,500m, surrounded by mountains and snow capped volcanoes. The main plaza is the nicest I´ve seen so far. with lovely arcades on 3 sides and the cathedral on the other. The most impressive thing in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina monastery (it was for nuns though) Built in the 15th century, from the outside, all you see is white stone walls. Once inside there´s an explosion of colour. It´s a huge area, with plazas and little rooms and streets and churches and dining halls. Internal walls are whitewashed but external ones are terracotta or blue or red.

Of, course the main reason people visit here is to go to the Colca canyon (2nd deepest in the world) and see some condors. I was all set to do the 2 day tour by bus but at the last minute opted for the 3 day trekking one.

So I left on Thursday at (surprise, surprise) 6am. My group was me, a Belgian couple in their fifties, a weird Spaniard and our guide Rene. It was a 5 hour bus journey to Cananacode, a village at the top of the canyon (3,200m). The scenery was amazing - deserts, mountains, terraces, valleys & the canyon. The best I´ve seen so far. We had lunch in cabanaconde and then it was a 3 hour trek down 1000m to the bottom of the canyon. It was hard going, steep and slippy. Josh, the Belgian gave me one of his hiking sticks towards the bottom and it helped a lot. We crossed the bridge over the river and then it was a really really steep climb for 20mins. At this point my back started to hurt - carrying my rucksack and climbing was a little too much for it. Luckily was flat for a long time after that but the last 30minutes was a climb to the village and I was wrecked by the time I got there.

We were staying in a hostel of sorts - the rooms were in what looked like outhouses - stone walls, mud floor. metal door and tin roof. The shower (hot water!!) & toilet were outside. The village is not accessible by road and has no electricity. The woman of the house cooked our dinner (vegetable soup, followed by fish, chips & rice) on a fire in the kitchen. We were fascinated just watching her. They all had a great laugh at me at dinner because I produced my Malaria tablets, anti-inflammatories and Valium. This was all washing down with Mate de coco (coco leaf tea) to help with the altitude. It´s palatable with loads of sugar. Needless to say I had a great nights sleep.

We set off at 9am after a breakfast of coffee & pancakes for a 2 hour walk down to cross the canyon again (in a different place). The up for 30 minutes to the Oasis, where we had a 3 hour break and went swimming in the swimming pool. After lunch we had a little siesta and then it was all set for a 3 hour hike up the mountain. I managed about 30 minutes and then hit breaking point. My back was killing me and I´d taken the valium and the anti-inflamatories, so there wasn´t much else I could do. The guide went back down to the Oasis and got his friend who had a mule, so i hired the mule for about 10.50 euros and went up the mountain on a mule! Well it´s another experience. I´ve hired a porter for the Inca trail to carry my bag so I think I should be OK for that. Fingers crossed. I´m a bit stiff now but not sore and walking straight.

Once we got to the hostel in Cabanaconde it was dark. We just had dinner and straight to bed because breakfast was at 6am. At 6.30am we were on the bus to the Condor viewing point (it only left at 7.30am when the driver decided it was time to go) and we stayed there until 9am. We were lucky that we saw 6 or 7 condor and one flew really close over our heads.

Then on to Chivay, another town. We went to the hot springs, had lunch and hopped on the bus back to Arequipa by 4pm. Despite not actually doing all the trekking myself, this been my best experience so far. The scenery was incredible. Most of the people we saw outside the city were wearing the traditional outfits - not for tourists but because that´s how they dress. We met people coming up the mountain with their mules or donkeys carrying supplies. Or women with huge bundles wrapped in colourful shawls on their backs.

Hope you enjoy the photos that go with this. I´m off to have dinner and tomorrow I´m heading to Puno an lake Titicaca - another long bus journey.