Land of the Incas and the Condors
26.03.2008 25 °C
After a couple of days in Lima, we arrived in Arequipa in southern Peru. It is an old town with lots of historic churches, monestaries and convents. We visited the Santa Catalina convent in the centre of town which was just amazing. The convent is beautiful and absolulely massive (about 20 acres) and is really a minature town in itself. We decided to hire a guide which turned out to be the right decision as we received so much more information than we could have got by wandering around ourselves. Apparently, the convent was established for the daughters of rich Spanish families. The eldest daughter of the family was to be married, the second became a nun, and any other daughters stayed at home to look after the family. The nuns in this convent, being from noble families, had faily large private quarters and even had maids! Not a bad life eh?
Jess: I loved Santa Catilina so much Paul wanted me to write a few details. It is probably one of my most favourite places that we have visited. It is very european, obviously built by the Spanish for rich Spanish families. There are cobbled streets and the walls were made of mud and beautifully smoothed. The walls of the convent were then painted glorious colours of cornflower blue, tuscan red, sunflower yellow and pristine white. The streets were named (yes the convent was so big to have named streets) after places in Spain or rich Spaniads.
There was a main courtyard framed in arches with large trees to cast shadow to allow the nuns to pray or meditate in the shade. Each of the nuns quarters was huge. They were allowed candles flowers and religios paintings on the walls. The nuns were not taught to read as they were only women after all!! The convent was oozing with religious paintings on the wall to enable the nuns to learn the stories of the bible.
The convent is still in use although we were not permitted to see the active part of the convent we were told that the current nuns live in much more simple conditions. In the centre of the convent was a peaceful garden that has a recent addtion of a cafe added to it that the current nuns bake cakes to help raise money for the convent. The cakes were absolutely delicious, I had a beautifully moist carrot cake and Paul a huge slab of apple crumble. It must have been beacuase the cakes were holy that they tasted so good!! Santa Catilina was stunning and absolutely made for photos.
Paul: Next we went on a tour to the Colca Canyon. This is the second deepest canyon in the world at 3200m deep. The deepest is a few miles down the road at 3300m deep. The jouney there was five hours long plus some stops to check out the llamas and alpacas by the roadside. We stopped at a viewpoint at 5000m where you're supposed to be able to see five volcanoes but unfortunately we were in a cloud so didn't see a thing.
We stayed overnight in a hotel and went to a traditional Peruvian dancing show. It was pretty good, and both me and Jess got dragged up to do some dances. Jess enjoyed her dance and also enjoyed seeing my poor attempt to move.
Next day we set off early (although a little late as our tour guide stayed up drinking most of the night!). Jess was really feeling unwell probably due to the horrible buffet lunch we'd had the day before, but braved itt anyway. We were excited as we were heading out to see the Condors flying. We arrived at the viewing point called Cruz del Condor at about 9am. We were very lucky as two Condors came up almost straight away. These birds are absolutely massive with a wingspan of up to 3m (10 feet)! The way they swoop majesticaly overhead is just awe inspiring. Sometimes they seemed to be close enough above to reach up and touch them. Just as we were beginning to think no more condors were going to fly up the canyon that morning, another nine of them came flying up at the same time. It was just an incredible experience sseeing these huge birds swooping and gliding around us.
We headed back to Arequipa on our tour bus. The bus didn't make it all the way though. It was getting slower and slower throughout the day an belching more and more black smoke. Eventually, they had to organise another bus to pick us up and take us the last hour back to Arequipa.
Next we headed on an overnight bus (arriving at 4am!) to Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca. We'd arranged the tour in Arequipa through a travel agency run by a lovely couple. They even came with us in the taxi to the bus station to make sure we got off alright. We were picked up in Puno and taken to our hotel for an hour or so of much needed sleep.
Our Lake Titicaca tour started at 7am. First we got to our boat and headed to the floating islands of the Uros people. These people have lived on islands made by themselves out of reeds for 600 years after being forced onto the lake by aggressive tribes who took their land. They have to rebuild the surfaces of the islands every year. The islands are just incredible with around ten houses on each one. The people welcomed us onto their island with big smiles and we saw inside a typical home. The homes are built around a central fire where the islanders cook. They had a little Guinea Pig coop at the back of the island (for food, not pets). The island people were very friendly and we felt very lucky to see the unique lifestyle of these people.
Next we headed to Taquile island. This is a land island where we had lunch and had an opportunity to get ourselves some nice Peruviian hats. From here, our boat took us back to Puno.
Next day we took the Inca Express bus to Cusco. This is a bus with an English speaking guide which stops at a few historical sights on the way. The journey is nine hours, but, is quite interesting. The most impressive sight in my opinion was Raqchi where there was an ancient Inca temple which is fairly well preserved. At about 5pm we arrived in Cusco.
Cusco is the old Incan capital and is an impressive city with many old Incan buildings in the centre. We spent the day there exploring the streets and making our final preparatons for heading off on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.