Its a high life in The Andes
Hola Amigos y Amigas
Last week, my four months in Huaraz sadly had to come to an end and it was time to cram all of my prized posessions into my backpack, that had been laying neglected for a good two months or so.
Bidding farewell to all of the people that had become my friends over the past few months was certainly difficult and I will openly admit that I shed a tear or two as Alan and some of some of my students waved me off as my bus slowly pulled away from the bus terminal and away from my home for the last four months.
After little sleep I arrived in Lima very early in the morning and asked the taxi driver to take me to The Flying Dog Hostel in Miraflores, the cracking place i had always used as a base when I was in Lima.
As it was my last visit to Lima, i was a little sad when I discovered it was full and so i ended up in another hostel just around the corner, which was recommended by driver. He picked up a tidy commission!!
Having already purchased a ticket out of Lima later that day, i tried explaining to the weary soul behing the desk that I only wanted a few hours sleep and would be staying for half a day at the most.
Being a Gringo, I had almost no chance and I am quite certain that the chap had great satisfaction in telling me that the price was the same whether I stayed a full day or an hour! It was still only 6am and the prospect of being mugged out on the street, coupled with being very tired, handed the man his victory and collapsed into bed for a few hours of broken sleep, thanks to the snoring German in the bed above me!
After a hearty and very cheap Chinese dinner, I eventually made it to the Bus Station and boarded a bus bound for Arequipa, 1100km to the South of Lima. I shared the journey with a very friendly middle aged peruvian named Pedro. He spoke no English at all and so I had yet another chance to practice my Castellano!
For the first 12 hours of the journey we followed the Pacific Coastline, navigating tight turns with two or three hundred foot drops only inches away. The numerous Crosses situated on numerous corner didnt exactly fill me with confidence, neither did Pedro and the couple next to me making the sign of the cross before we left!
After a suprisingly good nights sleep on the bus, I was awoken by the kind steward handing me my breakfast, consisting of coffee, a sandwich and cake.
Eventually I said my last goodbyes to the Pacific and the bus turned in land ready to commence the 2300m ascent to Arequipa, the principle city of the South.
Arriving just after noon, I wished Pedro well and found a taxi driver who would take me to my Hostel of choice. I had already decided where i would stay in Arequipa, whilst i was still 3000m up in Huaraz. Hostel Regis seemed the only choice, considering I had spent three years of my life at university in sunny Bognor! I felt it would have been a crime had I of stayed somewhere else.
The Hostel itself has proved to be very nice, with a friendly receptionist, hot water and a stunning assistant who certainly opens my eyes first thing in the morning.
After a filling three course lunch, shared with a Swedish couple, I headed to the Plaza De Armas, the Central Square in the city. I was very impressed when I arrived as i took in my first views of the stunning Cathedral, which creates a lovely backdrop to a bustling green squre, complete with waterfall and numerous restaurants, bistros and tourist shops that surround the other three sides of the Plaza.
Later that day I also booked a two day tour to the famous Colca Canyon, famous for the magestic Condor.
After a nice meal shared with a friendly peruvian family and a fantastic nights sleep I awoke very early, ready for an American style breakfast and collection at 8:30am.
I was quite taken back as my driver actually arrived on time, something which is very rare when Hora Peruana ( Peruvian Time ) is considered polite.
I soon got to know the other gringos on the bus, most of whom seemed to be regualr holiday makers, who only had two or three weeks in Peru and were planning to see as much of the country as possible. They were a nice bunch and I enjoyed the company of Steve and Serena, an Ozzie guy and Slovenian girl in their late 20s.
For the first hour or so, we climed relentlesly and i was stunned and equally impressed with the number of cyclists out on a road, with a gradient so steep in parts that even Mr Lance Armsrong himself would be out of the saddle, honking himself up the hill. Even more impressive was the fact that at this point we were at an altitude in excess of 3000m, where breathing is much harder. i will not be suprised to see a young Peruvian in the Polka Dot Jersey of the Tour De France very soon ( If the race isnt stopped because of doping that is! )
Eventually we passed the last of the mountain climbers and limped into a roadside cafe, situated at an altitude of roughly 4000m. Here our guide Pablo, a bubbly young man with great English encouraged us to take some Mate de Coca, a hot drink which would relieve the symtoms of altitude sickness. As i sipped on my hot drink and wrapped my hands around the warm mug to protect me from the increasing cold, I gazed out across the bleak Andean Altiplano, which stretched out onto the horizon, with the towering 5,845m Misi Mountain looming in the distance. Also had my first close encounter with a Llama, which proved to have an extremely sweet tooth as it hoverec up spilt sugar on the floor and tables!
We all had plenty of time to enjoy the view and cold as our bus decided it liked it here and didnt want to go any further. An Hour later after a weather beaten old man had trqaveled out from a nearby village to fix the problem, we were back on the bus and made the rest of the journey to a small non descript town named Chivay, gateway to the Canyon and temming with Gringos and Gringas. En route we reached the highest altitude of my trip so far and got out of the bus for a short while to experience life at just under 5000m. As you might expect it was damn cold and there was ice on the side of the road.
Later that evening, we were all sent off to various hotels and met together for dinner and Peruvian entertainment. I ended up being an interpreter for most of the group, as they spoke very little Spanish and then ended up dressing up in Peruvian costume, dancing very badly considering that I was stone cold sober. Best part was being asked to lay down on my belly wheere the kind lady began spanking me with a whip!
By 10 pm it was time for blanket street, as we needed to rise at 5am the following morning, in order to get up to the vantage point in time to see the Condors. Seeing as I was sleeping at an altitude of 3600m, I got little sleep that night as I was constantly awoken by Jack Frost and his many assistants!
Weary eyed and dressed like an inuit, I boarded the bus and we bgaon the 2 hour jouney along the side of the Canyon to the Canyon de Colca, the place we had all risen so early for to see. En-route we stopped at a small village, where women and children were dancing around a fountain at 6:30am. All a little touristy for me and certainly wasnt going to take any photos. I certainly wouldnt have liked prancing around for a crowd of camera faced tourists in the cold at this time of the morning when I was 12!
After passing through tunnels carved into the cliff faces and more crosses along the roadside, we eventually drew nearer to the Colca Canyon and we all awoke from our slumber as we spotted the first Condors on the Horizon, a little bit like the first time you see bthe filthy Irish Sea on a trip to Blackpool as a child.
We pulled up alongside the deepest part of the canyon, which plummets almost vertically to the cascading river nearly 1500m below! Above us we all gazed in awe as these incredible birds glided gracefully to and fro on the thermals as if all of us gawking toursits didnt exist. There is almost no effort involved on their behalf as they cruise above the huge gorge using their 3m wing span like two wings on a plane. Sometimes they glided so low that I found myself wanting to reach up and touch them.
It was an amazing moment for me, which certainly exceeded my expectations. I also found myself thinking of Poppie, as these birds almost had a divine presence!
After a short hike along the Canyon side and the tedious journey back to Arequipa, we all parted from each other and I strolled back to the Hostel Regis very happy with the two days, despite knowing that there would be no Special brew or Sea Views at the Hostel.