Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Second Deepest Canyon in the World

How's that for a fun fact to start off with? So, where I hear you cry, is the second deepest canyon in the world? Well it is for start situated in the state of Arequipa, also home to the world's deepest canyon, Cotahuasi (thank me later when you win the pub quiz with that fun fact) and the other more touristic and visited canyon: Colca Canyon.

We had another early start and pick up time was 3 am, I was slightly berating myself as I had stayed up until midnight in the bar of Wild Rover and I wasn't feeling the most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Anyhoo, the three hour journey until breakfast was just about spent sleeping. And then we had an uncharacteristically awkward breakfast, where we were forced to listen to a pretentious German spout how well-travelled he was - the type who insists they always goes off the beaten track - and trying to make stilted conversation with two Danish girls was like trying to get blood out of a stone. We hoped this wasn't our group for the whole trip.

Luckily, we were able to stop off at the Condor viewpoint where the promised Condors indeed made an appearance. Describing the experience is quite difficult without sounding like a flowery doylem but it was one of those uncapturable moments and the photos do not do it any justice. Me and Sarah found a viewpoint that no one else was crowding around so it almost felt like we were the only ones there.

Our relations with the group didn't improve in the slightest when after having queued in the longest toilet queue ever, we turned up 15 mins later, which normally wouldn't be too much of a problem as South American timing usually goes as such. But no, this was the second time throughout the whole trip that everyone was there on time. Oops. Cue lots of tutting and sighing once we got on the bus and Germans and French groups loudly expressing their disdain in their disdain thinking we wouldn't understand. Luckily, we were dropped off at the starting point and saved from having to spend the whole trip with them. We were introduced to our guide (his name escapes me now) and we set off to descend into the canyon. 

The trek down was straight-forward - follow the track and keep going down until you reach the bottom. This is where I realised that going as part of a tour is completely unnecessary. As long as you can follow a route and have enough Spanish to get yourself to the starting point, you're good to go solo. The descent took us an hour and a bit and when we reached the bottom, this is what awaited us:

It was just what we needed especially as it had started to properly heat up and we spent our time there by the pool until the sun went down. We spent the rest of the time chatting to the other groups, playing table football and by the time it was 9pm, it was high time for bed. The wake-up call was going to be 5am. We made another amateur mistake by forgetting a flashlight. Funnily enough, at 5 am it is still pitch black so we attempted to navigate ourselves for the first bit with our phones. Our guide took pity on us and gave us a spare headlight.

Whilst getting up at stupid-o-clock is never fun, the satisfaction when you see the sunrise is amazing. Despite the hard ascent, I actually found myself enjoying it although the feeling when we reached the top couldn't be topped. After two hours and a quarter, we had reason to celebrate.

We had a quick breakfast, a quick time to collect ourselves and then we were back on the road again to begin the journey back to Arequipa. One of the various stops along the way allowed us to look over the Colca valley. The panorama was incredible and regardless of the fact that I have seen umpteen terraces, I still can't get over how innovative the Incas were. It's a shame that panorama shots don't fit on the page because you had 180 degrees of amazing landscape.

We eventually arrived back in Arequipa in the evening and it almost felt like we had arrived home. Sadly, my time in Arequipa and travelling around South America was up so it was time to head to my last stop before Colombia: Lima.

Have you been to Colca Canyon? 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The White City: Arequipa

Arequipa (Sucre a close second) has got to be my favourite city we went to during our whistle-stop tour around Peru and Bolivia.


I actually don't know. It's most probably a combination of the fact that the city is stunning but also the (soppy alert) hilarious and enduring memories of the place (we stayed at Wild Rover, it could possibly be the reason why.) We also arrived in Arequipa just before it was celebrating its birthday and preparations for the festivities were in place. It's a shame we weren't able to stay around for the celebrations but unfortunately our time travelling had almost come to an end.

Oh and did I mention the food? We went to Mercado San Camilo and the food there is AMAZING and pretty cheap as well. I got this mountain of ceviche for around 4 soles ($1.75) Incredible.

The fact that the sun was shining even during winter and the temperatures were still around 20C made Arequipa all the more agreeable.

Have you been to Arequipa? What were your favourite Peruvian dishes?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The one I had been waiting for: Machu Picchu Day Two

So the day had arrived, the one that been awaited with great expectation and lo and behold, I was feeling like someone had been stamping on my lungs the entire night. The realisation that 2000 steps stood between me and Machu Picchu was not an enticing one. But still, the end prize was all to play for, so it was out of bed at 4am.

2000 steps later, we arrived at Machu Picchu. It was an amazing sight to see and all thought of the previous efforts to reach the summit were forgotten. There were even resident llamas (everyone loves a llama) there.

After a chance to wander around, we had a tour which explained the history of the site.

The above picture is the sun temple, which when it is Winter or Summer solstice, the light from the two windows will meet in the middle.

This stone is a carving of Machu Picchu. The more and more we learnt about the Incas, the more you realised how innovative and resourceful they were. Again, I'm normally not a big fan of tours but our tour guide was brilliant and very knowledgeable. Even I, with my severe lack of attention span, found myself listening attentively. We had more time to get photos after, so I went to get the obligatory one with me and Machu Picchu in the background. Thanks to my aversion to flash and general unphotogenic issues, this turned out to be more challenging than originally thought.

The best of a bad bunch, this had to do. But seriously, do people not know how to take photographs?! I wanted Machu Picchu, not the ground and my Barbie backpack. It reminded me of Arianwen's The downside of solo travel post which is highly relevant in this case. Luckily, with a cheeky bit of cropping, I ended up with this:

We had to leave at 11 to make sure we were back down in Aguas Calientes for the train back to our pickup. To be honest, I had had enough anyway as hoards of buses had arrived and the quiet paradise that it was before turned into a crowded Disneyland-esque attraction. It's obvious why so many people would want to go there and I'm being hypocritical, seeing as I was a tourist myself and I'm adding to the problem. But the amount of people who are let in each day is phenomenal, 2,500 tourists over the supposed limit. In turn, it's leading to structural damage and the likelihood is that unless something is down about it, Machu Picchu will potentially have to close. I just hope something is done, as it is an awe-inspiring place to see and the hype is worth it.

Have you been to Machu Picchu? Where is your favourite site to see?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The one I had been waiting for: Machu Picchu Day One

Call me unimaginative, clich├ęd, conforming etc. but if I had a bucket list, Machu Picchu would have been at the top. For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with South America and Machu Picchu is one of the reasons why.

Obviously, whilst planning our travels around South America, we had to include a stop to Machu Picchu, unfortunately we didn't have enough time to do a proper trek so we opted for the 2 days, 1 night tour which cost around $120 (if you have a valid ISIC card like I did, you get a $20 discount.)

The small amount of time meant an early start on day one, the driver even arrived early to our hostel - WHICH NEVER HAPPENS IN SOUTH AMERICA - whilst we were still eating breakfast. The driver got grouchy with us and I got grouchy back (my Spanish improves tenfold when I'm aggravated) and we managed to negotiate a later pick up. We eventually got packed into the minibus and we set off.

What ensued was a bum-numbingly, stomach turning, windy 7 hour journey to our starting point. When I wasn't concentrating on not trying vom on the poor Chilean girl sitting next to me, there were some nice views to be admired.

Like I said, it was windy

We eventually arrived at the start of our trek, which is a slight misuse of the word, as it was entirely flat along the railway line. This usually forms part as the penultimate day of most Machu Picchu treks. 

The peak of Machu Picchu in the background

We also made some friends along the way.

And because the temptation was there, a photo of me on a (stationary) train.

We then had our first glimpse of Machu Picchu

A little further down the railway we would reach our destination for the night, Aguas Calientes, and be informed of our early start (4am) the next day. It would be worth it though.

What has been your favourite trek? If you've done Machu Picchu, which one did you do?