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Arequipa Peru, Trip Report 8

MF at ColcaIt has a strange effect—knowing I’ll be on a plane soon and home in two days. That and returning to heat and sun, while not being dressed for it, well, I feel as if I’m done in Arequipa. There’s a letdown in energy. That won’t fly for Lima, however, my next mini-visit.

Terraces near MPI didn’t need much here in Arequipa. I left the city on my first day to drive into high (5000m) mountain passes, visit slush falling out of the sky, llamas, alpacas, vicunas, and then, at the Colca canyon, condors—huge 15 Kilo condors. (Have I impressed you with my pseudo-command of the metric system. We can do this, Mr. Chaffee.)

This was pure bonus. I didn’t expect to be able to make this trip and even when I was on it, I knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t see the birds. But there they were–magnificent. We had up to 6 in the sky at one time, circling for prey, gliding, never moving a muscle it would seem. We saw males, females, young ones. They owned the air and we many varieties of human onlookers could only oo and ah—a universal language.condor closeup

Solo Condor mt topBack in Arequipa I walked around the historical city center. Here, palatial buildings and a huge Cathedral of white volcanic sillar stone line the Plaza de Armas, while 3 huge snow-covered volcanoes play peek-a-boo in the mist. Many other buildings are also built from this charming stone—including my guest house. Huge wooden doors and metal fittings complement. It seems a brittle material for a land so rocked from below. But I guess the Cathedral has only lost one of its bell towers.

And now I’ll go to the airport at the recommended time rather than try to squeeze out an extra half hour (although why I would have to be at a small regional airport in the middle of a Tuesday for an in-country flight 2 hours early is well-beyond me.) I’ll write instead of having a grand lunch, since I’m hot and full from breakfast. And I’ll transition to Lima, where I have some definite things on my list—the huge Anthropological museum ( where I have to say I’m most interested in the erotic ceramics by the Moche people who inhabited a portion of the coast North of Peru between 200 and 700 AD.) I’ll also take in the buildings on the main square, near where I’ll be staying. I think I’m mostly done with Cathedrals and cloisters.

MF Lake TI’ll try and retrace my experience in Puno—jumping-off point for the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. After a 6 or so hour bus ride from Cusco (through some snow covered mountains, green covered mountains, and a great many llamas and alpaca along the side of the road) Puno looked pretty good, although it’s sort of a small nothing town. I got a peek at Lake Titicaca that would not yet reveal the vastness of this gorgeous lake. And Puno shines by juxtaposition with the awful town of Juliaca, which we had just driven through, with its floods and ruts and general chaos.DSCF7686

I had booked a bus and then tour with Nitzan—my travel buddy from my Cusco period. We did pretty much the same thing most tourists do on the longer slower side. After landing in Puno we got dinner and walked the square. Then the next day we took a boat bound for the Uros Islands—artificial islands built from reeds on Lake Titicaca and inhabited by people who have lived on these tiny docking points, supporting a few homes each, since some awful civil conflict drove them into the lake. Or at least that’s what I could gather. This is that human-zoo sort of tourism where you visit people who struggle with a difficult life and let yourself be pressed to buy something you don’t particularly need or want. I bought a hanging. I like it quite a bit.

Then onto Amantani, an island in Lake Titcaca. Amantani is a 2 hour boat ride from the floating island we visited. Here we would stay the night in a family home, hike to the top of mountain, dine and attend a community party.

The boat was a dingy (soft g) little affair but it was magnificent to climb to the top and be out on this lake. We were finally out in the main body of the lake where we could see the Bolivian side as well. It was dazzling to realize where I was–I dimly recalled studying Lake Titicaca in some vast wasteland of 3d or 4th grade geography where it all ran together. (Although I can remember it as distinct from both the French/Indian and Peloponnesian wars, so that makes me think 3d grade.) Later, perched outside on the back of the boat, I got to know my two future roommates, as they sought comfort or distraction from their queasy stomachs. I dispensed drugs for their journey back the next day. (I had a stash of Dramamine for the Galapagos, just in case.) None of us quite knew how to help the pretty lady puking over the right side of the boat.

Once on Amantani we were assigned in same-sex groups to village ladies. Sarah from Holland, Hannah from UK and I were assigned to Antonia who led us up the rocky trail to her home for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good and prosperous these homes looked. No electricity or indoor plumbing—we knew that. But they were charming little compounds of small buildings painted cheerful Mediterranean colors. Fava beans, potatoes and quinoa grew in terraces everywhere and this is what we ate, along with fried cheese.

Then all of us shipmates were taken to the town square by our ladies to begin our climb to the two temples on the top of the Island. Sarah and Hannah bagged the climb when Sarah balked at the difficulty and they discovered a little bar at the square. I climbed slowly—very slowly. It doesn’t take much uphill to get you panting at this altitude. I was way behind most of the group (well, I was also at least 35 years older than most of the group) but making slow steady progress and not too far from the Pachatata temple, when a man with a horse presented himself to me on the trail. For 10 soles, my not-quite-white charger and prince-sort-of-charming, went most of the rest of the way to the temple. And this was truly a great place to see the lake, the island we were on and think about it all in the thin cool air. We hung around for sunset and I hiked down with a lovely Dutch girl to find Sarah and Hannah and dig them out of the bar.

Antonia sent her 12 year old son to fetch us back home for dinner. I had a flashlight to help us negotiate the very rocky and sometimes pitted or flooded path home. After our slow progress to home and another meal of potatoes, fava beans and quinoa soup, we decided to skip the party, which would have required another trip up and down the same treacherous path. Instead we went to bed really early and fought to trap a little warmth under our 4 alpaca blankets in this now freezing island home.

Then up for breakfast of crepes (not fancy, just little pancakes we chose to roll up with strawberry jam) and coca tea and off on the boat to Taquile Island. Climbing Taquile reminded me of the Cinque Terre in Italy, only with Quinoa, fava beans and potatoes standing in for grapes. At the top we were rewarded with fresh trout, quinoa soup, sun and great views. We climbed back down to the boat and chugged on back to Puno for 3 ½ hours.

Back in Puno, Nitzan, my travel bud, had a sudden urge to buy every tsochke possible (having scored a very nice hat on Taquile.) Fortunately we escaped with only 3 bags between us (we literally bought bags,) a marginal dinner and a couple of Pisco sours.

The next day we were met by a guide to take us to see the towers at Sillustani. This trip to Inca and pre Inca burial towers seemed like an afterthought on this trip, but we were pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was just the isolation at this spot—just the two of us tourists and our guide Nilda. It put an excellent cap on the Puno trip.

Then we raced to the Juliaca airport to get Nitzan on his flight to Lima, which would connect hi to his international flight. Then the driver, Nilda and I raced around that halacious town until I could be delivered to a combi headed for Arequipa. A combi is a mini-van or slightly larger sort of creature that would hopefully provide a safe trip and with seating for a small fare. In my experience (mostly in SE Asia) they can sometimes be filled with up to twice the capacity of the van without notice, but this turned out to be a 1 to 1 tush to seat ratio for about $8.

I had a delightful seatmate. Betty introduced herself immediately. She was a Chemistry Professor at the Public University in Arequipa. She had a little English and I had bought an overly generous bag of some tropical fruit to share, so we enjoyed our trip through the mountains to Arequippa together. Once we got there, her husband gave me a lift to my hotel and I quickly settled in.