Tuesday, June 21, 2011

8 buses, 6 destinations, 7 days - It´s been a busy week!

Now that I had a big tick in the Inca Trail box of my Peru to do list it was back to my cyclonic itinerary. I survived a turbulent bus journey to Puno, a crappy little city with one big natural attraction - Lake Titicaca, and as a friend of mine once said "Everyone loves Titi´s". Lake Titicaca is a shimmering sapphire expanse that borders Peru and Bolivia, the highest lake in the world sitting at 3811m and the largest lake in South America.

During the couple of weeks prior to my visit there had been demonstrations in and around Puno over mining of the area’s natural resources, as a result it was a bit of a ghost town for tourism, after a long wait at the docks my small boat filled and we set off across the lustrous lago to scope out the floating islands of Uros. After a few dull hours caught in an obvious tourist trap I made it back to shore, booked myself an early morning bus and climbed up to get a panoramic view of Titi before I flaked out for the evening.

I had a birds eye view from seat 1A on the first floor of the slightly nicer bus I caught to Arequipa. The winter sun glared in, I dozed dreamily and roused to realise I was missing some beautiful scenery. During my 6 hour journey we passed lagoons, miles of barren land dotted with tufts of grass and then as we drew closer the landscape changed, reminiscent of a rocky wasteland as jagged mountains began to rise up all around. As we approached Arequipa a dusty haze hovered over the city and I started to doubt the reviews of the charming white city I had been promised. 

Fear not, on arrival Arequipa lived up to its reputation, filled with dazzling sillar architecture and a stately bustling square. That evening I took in an ethereal night time visit to Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a convent founded in 1580 which only accepted nuns from the most privileged of Spanish families. The following morning I received an education on the customs of ancient Incan human sacrifice in the Andes. I eyeballed "Juanita - Ice Princess", the almost perfectly preserved 500 year old frozen mummy of a 12 year old girl sacrificed to the gods at the summit of volcano Nevado Ampato.

An energising afternoon of mountain biking through the surrounding agricultural terraces followed, 5597m Volcan Misti loomed in the background, hairless Peruvian dogs trotted alongside and one of Arequipa´s 300 days per year of sunshine unfurled across the province.

Another trek, another early morning.... this time 2 days, 1 night and 23km of canyon country, Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon at 3191m. Despite the early morning Day 1 was an easy but dry and dusty decent into the canyon, after about 6 hours we arrived at The Oasis complete with clear blue swimming pools, hammocks and bungalows. Having decent what from the opposite side looked like an impossible rock face, the next morning at 5:00am we began our 3 hour accent to the rim of the canyon for a well earned breakfast and relaxing soak in the hot springs of Chivay.

No rest for the wicked, after my 6 hour journey back to Arequipa, a quick doble alto cappuccino (yes to my joy there was a Starbucks), I boarded my overnight bus bound for Nasca. After the risqué downing of a big Americano breakfast I took to the skies in a 6 seater Cessna for a 30 minute viewing of the Nasca Lines. Spread across hundreds of desert kilometers the lines remain a great mystery of the world, some span hundreds of meters and are elaborately designed animals and others are geometric shapes and lines strewn over the rocky sandy plain.

Following my stomach churning morning I boarded yet another bus, this time bound for the sandy oasis of Huacachina. Being back amongst the sand dunes reminded me of Dubai, without the multitude of 5 star hotels and Friday brunches but with an old friend. As I checked in who walks through the door - Laura, my mission partner from Buenos Aires! 

My only mission this time however consisted of two activities; Sand boarding and Sun baking! I´ve decided that I am much better suited to Sand boarding over Snowboarding; its hot and sunny and falling on your ass is less painful, the only down point being you get sand everywhere, and I mean everywhere. After my morning of dune buggying and sand boarding I reveled in the few hours I had no longer at altitude, baking my bikini clad and somewhat pasty body in the scorching oasis sunshine and taking in a few leisurely laps of the sparkling piscina before it was back to the bus terminal.

It´s my last week in Peru (Boo) and I am making my way North to Huaraz, back to altitude to take in one last trek before I close out South America Round 1 and head for Tinsel town and a few days with my Antarctic room-mate Jamie (Yay).

Everyone loves Titi´s

I will be back to conquer Volcan Misti in the future

Condors - up close and personal. They are MASSIVE

Colca Canyon

Hard to believe we came down that rock face

The vast pre-incan terraces in canyon country

Some big ass lines in the rocky and sandy landscape

By this point I was trying not to hurl!

Sand boarding - I am so cool right now!

Oasis of Huacachina

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