Thursday 3 January 2019

Arequipa and Colca Canyon Peru

Heading South from Nasca down Ruta 1S , also known as "The Pan American Highway, " was a pleasant drive . To our right we had rugged Pacific Coastline, with steep cliffs and crashing surf and glorious blue skies . This was somehow exactly how I imagined the Pan Amercana to be.

We camped a few days on the beach at Puerto Inca.

Although very inviting, the sea was a bit rough for our swimming abilities and we had heard that swimmers had had problems in the past so we confined our activities to a mere paddle.

We were starting to realise that the Equator was getting nearer and the weather in general was becoming very pleasant

Just to the south side of the bay were the remains of what was once a thriving Inca settlement

We stayed with the coast for a short while further and then headed inland to the historic town of Arequipa.

Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru after its capital Lima.

It sits at 2300 m in altitude in the shadow of a Volcano known as Misti. It is home to about 900,000 people.

Staying in the garden of Hotel Las Mercedes it was only a short walk from the historic centre and the main Plaza.

With Christmas approaching, the town was buzzing with the festive activity. Every Shop was belting out all the Christmas classics on Peruvian pipes and we quickly realised that this was the place to stay for Christmas. This decision was encouraged by the dozens of great restaurants in the town.

The historic city of Arequipa , for us , is actually the best town in South America so far.  we loved it here.

With 2 weeks to go Pat picked up a bug and it wasn't going away. reluctantly we gave up and called for a Doctor.

Within an hour we had  Dr Jorge Mercado Alatrista and his wife Sandra from Medical Assistance-Local & Travellers Health Service sitting in our truck telling us that Pat needed to go to the local Hospital to get some IV antibiotics. The suggestion was that she might have to stay in hospital simply to facilitate the antibiotics. The look on Pat's face said otherwise so Dr Jorge quickly suggested that he visit us in the truck at regular intervals to administer the drugs.

Within a few days Pat felt a lot better and we were back on track.  It would be right at this stage to say that the treatment we received from Dr Jorge and his wife was fantastic. They were very thorough, professional and caring. We will come back to these two later in this post.

With Pat feeling better and a week to go before Christmas we set out north towards the Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon is one of the deepest in the world at 3270m. The entire length of this Andean Valley is covered in Inca and pre Inca evidence. Thousands of ancient terraces, that are still used for agriculture today, cover the steep sides of the gorge.

The volcano on the left is still very active

Despite the beauty of the Canyon, one of the main reasons that people visit the area is in the hope of spotting the illusive Andean Condors that live in the valley. 

The Andean condor is the largest member of the Vulture family with a wingspan of up to 3.3m 

Primarily scavengers, healthy birds can live for 70 years .  Mature adults have distinctive white patches on the upper side of their wings and a white collar. The Immature juveniles are predominantly brown and grey.

The best time to see them is either early in the morning or the latter half of the afternoon.

We got lucky ( sorry lots of Condor pictures coming up )

We stayed a couple of nights in the Canyon and were lucky enough to see the birds on several occasions .

Another stroke of luck was bumping into two Brits who have been travelling south from Alaska for the last 4 years on a motorcycle. 

If your thinking of doing a similar trip then their Blog is a great reference.

These are only the 2nd set of British overlanders we have met in the last year.

We hit is off quickly with Steve and Janette and spent many hours with them in the canyon. We then arranged to meet up on Christmas day for lunch in a nice restaurant in Arequipa.

We fell in love with Arequipa, Its historic city is a really nice place to sit in the Plaza and watch the world go by. 
People are happy and being Christmas this bought an extra element of excitement, with its large Christmas tree outside the Cathedral and bands playing in the street. 
We made the decision that Christmas and New Year would be spent here.

The garden of Hostal Las Mercedes became our home and a very relaxing break from travelling was had.

Now Arequipa has a very special resident that all visitors should go and meet. 

Her given name is Juanita and her fragile frozen remains can be seen in the museum situated in the Catholic University of Santa Maria, just off the Plaza.

The Incas were incredibly religious and superstitious. They believed that their environment was a living thing and that when occurrences such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions happened it was because a lack of respect to the gods had been shown.

In order to perpetuate prosperity, regular offerings , including human sacrifices, were made to appease the gods.

Juanita was one such offering.

She was between 12 and 15 years old and from a reasonable important family. From the day she was born her fate was sealed. At sometime between 1450 and 1480 she walked the long journey to the summit of Mount Ampato ( Over 6000 m )  and following many rituals, and whilst heavily intoxicated, she died form a single blow to the side of her skull with a blunt ceremonial instrument. 
She was then buried in the frozen ground, where she remained undisturbed until her discovery in 1995.

In 1995 the Andian volcano of Sabancaya erupted sending a wave of earthquakes and landslides throughout the region. During this event Juanita's remains were unearthed and fell from her resting place ending up fully exposed on the side of mount Ampato.

By Sheer chance an  eminent American Anthropologist and climber "Johan Reihhard" just happened to be conducting research in the region and discovered her within days of exposure.

I found that going to see her was not only a fantastic insight into Inca life and traditions, but also a slightly humbling experience.  I would definitely recommend this . 

I remember reading about this story in National Georaphic Magazine when she was discovered.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph her directly so the following two images are library ones .

Now earlier I mentioned that we had had to call a Doctor.( Nothing serious )

The service they offered was fantastic and to top it all we were invited to their home for a Christmas meal on the 24th. It was really lovely and a great honour to be part of their family Christmas.

New Years Eve in Arequipa is party time. Its pretty tame until 12 midnight then the place sounds like a War Zone. The whole town set of fireworks and the display across the city went on for more than an hour.

Our evening started with a very nice dinner with our new travelling buddies Steve and Janette. 

Now I dont know if the restaurant took one look at us and thought we looked incapable of getting the food from our plates to our mouths successfully but they soon came up with a solution.


Some of you might notice that Paddington has now been deported is now safely back in Peru

After a few nice Artisan beers in the town we all headed to their rented appartment on the outskirts  were we had a really great view of the city and enjoyed the firework display.

Well another year has ended and for us it was amazing.

If you missed our highlights then your in luck, here is a reminder

Have a great New Year and we are now heading towards the coast to hopefully catch up with this years Dakar Rally

Hasta Luego