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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 05 Oct 2006

Location: Arequipa, Peru

MapWe arrived in Arequipa late on Saturday. We spent Sunday morning arranging a trek in the Colca Canyon.

Arequipa is lovely - very colonial, built from white volcanic rock called sillar with lots of arches, colonnades and arcades. It´s very pleasant just wandering around. We went to the Santa Catalina convent on Sunday afternoon, it was founded in 16th century and was a closed order until 1970 when the remaining nuns retreated to part of the convent and the rest was opened to the public. It´s a mini town within the city with streets and colourful painted walls which look great against the white stone and bright blue sky. The original nuns´ lifestyle was not quite as we expected, at one stage they had to be restricted to only one servant each and their rooms (rather than cells) were hardly spartan.

On Monday, we had another early start for a 3 day trip in the Colca Canyon (for those who care and Matt - this was previously thought to be the deepest canyon in the world but now Cotahuasi Canyon which is nearby is supposedly deeper by 168m at 3535m - no doubt it all depends on how it´s measured). Anyway, it seemed a very long way down and an even longer way back up.

We were picked up from our hostal by one of our guides, Olivia, who somewhat to our surprise was carrying an extremely small puppy - apparently it was 4 months old but was still only the size of a large rat and was a singularly unattractive creature, even to dog-lover Sue. We had a long bus journey to Cabanaconde just by the rim of the canyon, seeing our first llamas, alpacas and vicunas on the way. We walked down on Monday afternoon, it was very steep with some sheer drops and when we stopped for one of our rests the puppy decided to explore off piste and fell several feet down the cliff face. The other guide, Flore, took her life into her hands and clambered down to rescue it - the consensus among the so called animal-loving Brits was that she was mad. Fortunately Flore and the puppy survived - the puppy slept the rest of the way down in Olivia´s hat.

We spent the night in cabins at the bottom (too soon for more camping) where the puppy was being delivered - not too sure of its chances since it would look like a tasty morsel to some of the other dogs and seemed drawn to steep drops. As is the way of travelling in South America, there were only about 15 people staying at the cabins but we bumped into three guys who had been staying in our hostal in Arequipa.

The next day we walked part way up the far side through small villages and then back across the river to an "oasis" with a swimming pool for a swim and lunch before the relentless 1,100m climb up, (we blamed the altitude again) but we did see condors as we climbed and the scenery was fabulous. Arrived back at Cabanaconde to our nice hotel desperate for a hot shower only to find that they had forgotten to switch the water on so Sue had to make do with a cold shower and Colin stayed stinky.

Next morning we took the first bus to Cruz del Condor, together with lots of local ladies with their wares, to see the condors rising up out of the canyon - they were impressively large (with a wingspan of up to 3m). Much to our amazement we also saw our friends Tony and Elaine from Solihull, who we had planned to meet up with in Cuzco. Back to Arequipa via some hot springs - unlike the showers these were a little bit too hot to stay in for long.

We had another day sightseeing, including the famous child mummy called Juanita who was found on the top of one of the nearby mountains having been frozen for over 500 years until a nearby volcano erupted and melted the ice covering her. She is now kept frozen in a special glass box and goes on world tours every year - all a bit ghoulish really. The museum maintains that she was happy to be sacrificed and become immortal, but we weren´t entirely convinced.