Andes, Airports and Atlantic

Wednesday, 21st May 2014

So… we got up this morning and I had a good long shower, washed and blow dried my hair and rummaged through my case for my cleanest clothes.  We had a long, long couple of days ahead and goodness knows when I’d next be able to get a wash.

Then we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up our cases and brought them down to the hotel foyer, then just basically sat around whiling away the time.  Those who were going to the Amazon add-on were due to leave the hotel at 10.00am, at which point we’d have to say adios to Rosario, but the rest of us weren’t leaving until 11 o’clock.  I hate all this waiting around once the holiday is effectively over; all we want to do now is get back home.

Eventually the bus arrived and took us to Cuzco airport.  It’s only a small airport and basically just provides domestic flights rather than long-haul.  We were here to await our LAN flight back to Jorge Chavez International Airport, Lima.  Out of curiosity I Googled ‘Jorge Chavez’ and found out he was an early Peruvian aviator (around 1910) who was known for his aeronautical stunts.  Hey, you learn something every day.   🙂

When we boarded the LAN aircraft and took to the skies, I was quite nervous as we’d been told it would be a turbulent flight due to the many contrasting air currents over the Andes.  However, the 90 minute flight wasn’t too bad; there were some slight turbulence but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d braced myself for.  During the flight we enjoyed a snack and a beer each, before it was time to land in Lima once again.

Inside the airport we were advised that the KLM check-in desk wasn’t due to open until 4.00-4.30pm, so we had over an hour to kill before we could even check in our cases.  We therefore went, with Stephen and Alison, to a café upstairs where we had some drinks and pottered around.

Back down at the check-in desks the queues were starting to form, and as it was now 4.00pm we took our places.  There was still no sign of the desks opening.  After about half an hour, however, we saw some activity when some airport staff came out and started motioning for us to move back, and back, and back.  It was to make some space to allow them to erect the barriers that form the zig-zag queueing system.  Like they had all day to do it so they decided to start now!   😦

What had been orderly queues up to then, however, turned into a massive crowd of people, complete with trolleys piled high with luggage, all milling around waiting for the desks to open.  But still there was nothing happening to indicate this.  Instead, the staff got together into a group and decided to have a team briefing, much to the chagrin of waiting travellers!

The briefing lasted for 16 minutes (Stephen timed it) then the staff started to disperse.  At this point the crowd of people started clapping and cheered in a sarcastic sort of way.  This made the staff take even longer (just out of sheer cussedness) and it was at least another 10 minutes before we could begin to check in.  Hoo-flippin-ray!

Once we got rid of our cases (which we checked all the way through to Durham Tees Valley) we still had a couple of hours before boarding, so we decided to go along to the executive lounge.  Again, that was a complete farce.  In all the VIP lounges we’ve been to all over the world, we have never had to queue, but at Lima there was a massive queue outside the lounge.  It turned out that one of the other VIP lounges wasn’t open, hence the queue.  But at some point they decided to open it (probably because this one was getting full), so once the doors opened there was a mass stampede and another queue formed.  We stood in one of the queues for over five minutes without it moving, and thought “to hell with this” and decided not to bother.   😦

So we went along to a bar/café and had something to eat and a beer each.  Then we looked around the duty free shops and I bought some Yves St Laurent Parisienne perfume.  Then we made our way to the departure gate where we met up once again with Stephen and Alison, who looked as fed up as we felt (and we still had the 12 hour flight to come!)   😦

Eventually we boarded the KLM Boeing 777 flight for Amsterdam and took off on time.  This time Trevor had an aisle seat and I was seated in the middle of three.  But the seats were quite comfortable and if it hadn’t been for the dickhead sitting in front of me who reclined his seat almost into my lap, I could have almost enjoyed the flight.

When the stewardess came round with the pre-dinner drinks though, she made the dickhead in front put his seat back up to the upright position, until after dinner had been cleared away.  Ha ha!  🙂

We enjoyed some wine with our meal, which was actually quite nice as far as aeroplane fare goes.  Then, once the meal was finished, the cabin lights were dimmed as everyone settled down for the long flight back across the Atlantic.

Thursday, 22nd May 2014

As far as long-haul flight goes, I actually spent quite a comfortable night and did managed to snatch bouts of shut-eye from time to time.  We watched the progress of the flight on our Sky Maps, walked around a bit to stretch our legs and basically just got on with it.  It was quite a smooth flight with hardly any turbulence, and that suited me just fine because there is something very disconcerting about being stuck in a steel box with five miles of nothingness between you and the deep Atlantic ocean.

At some point we had to put our watches seven hours ahead to Amsterdam time, and eventually the lights came back on again as the stewardess came around with hot towels before a nice breakfast consisting of juice, scrambled eggs and bacon and some sort of croissant.

As we’d had a good strong tail wind, we landed in Amsterdam Schiphol ahead of schedule, where we had about six hours to wait until our connection back to Blighty.

But this time we made a beeline for the executive lounge, signed in, and settled down in the comfortable chairs and relaxing ambience to wait it out.  In this VIP lounge there isn’t a time limit; some lounges have a maximum-stay policy of three hours.  So I sat in a big leather chair with my feet up and enjoyed the food and free booze and read my Kindle and looked out of the windows at the aircraft taking off and landing, before it was time to go to our departure gate for the last leg of the journey.

The flight was on time, and it was only an hour-long hop across the North Sea back into Teesside, where we landed around 9.45pm.  It took no time to retrieve our cases and stash them in the boot of the car, then set off for Durham.

On the way back the traffic was very light, and we were able to make it to the “Newton Grange” pub (our local) in time for last orders.  🙂

Culture in Cuzco

This morning we started the day off with a half-day tour of the very interesting town and region of Cuzco.  It was also Stephen’s birthday, so he was spending it in some very unusual surroundings.   🙂

The bus set off, complete with local guide Arturo and the ever-present Rosario, who had proved to be a very personable, knowledgeable and pleasant guide.  Our first stop was to the Santo Domingo Convent of Cuzco, which had been built on the temple of Qorinkancha in 1633.  In 1650 an earthquake caused severe damage to the infrastructure of the convent, but the Koricancha Inca temple remained largely intact.  Reconstruction was delayed until 1680, but a lot of the original temple is still in evidence.

This church has three naves with a dome, a beautiful carved choir stalls made from cedar, the walls are decorated with Seville tiles. The décor was very ornate. It was unfortunate that we were not allowed to take any photographs, but we can understand the reasons why.

When we came out of the convent, we saw the inevitable hawkers peddling their wares outside.  I bought an attractive pendant on the chain made out of aventurine and wirework.  It was only 25 soles (£6.25) so a real bargain!  Other people in our party were also buying the necklaces and bracelets on offer.

Our next stop, which was only walking distance away, was to Cuzco Cathedral in the main square.  Once again, it was very ornate in the baroque style, but what was brought to our attention by Arturo was a couple of significant paintings.

One of them depicted a meeting between the Incas, including their leader Huayna Càpac, and the Spanish Conquistadors, with their leader Francisco Pizzaro.  The Spanish were trying to instil their religion (Catholicism) and beliefs onto the Incas.  Pizzaro handed a copy of the Holy Bible to Càpac and told him it contained an important message, so Càpac held the Bible to his ear to try to ‘hear’ the message, before throwing the bible on the floor.  The Incas worshipped the Sun and do they didn’t need another God.

But probably the most well-known painting in the cathedral was the one showing the Peruvian interpretation of the Last Supper, in which guinea pig features prominently as one of the dishes on the table!  Another interesting thing to note is that the face of Judas bears a very strong resemblance to the face of Francisco Pizzaro.

When we came out of the cathedral we walked around the main square, which had a central water fountain as well as a statue of Pachacuteq, the ninth ruler of the Inca state, on horseback.  We strolled around for a bit, enjoying the mild sunshine, until the coach arrived to take us to the next stop, a short ride away.

We arrived at the Inca construction of Saqsayhuamán (one of the various spellings, but it sounds as if you’re saying “sexy woman”) which is situated up a steep slope (it was hard work walking up there) and consists of a sort of fortress built of gigantic polished dry stone walls, with boulders carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar.

Overlooking the city, there is an impressive view of the valley to the south-east.   Surface collections of pottery at Saqsayhuamán indicate that the earliest occupation of the hill top dates back at least a millennium.

But today the grassy slopes within the fortress contained herds of alpaca and llama, some of which approached our group out of curiosity.  The llama didn’t like it if we went too close, however, and they would spit at you.  We were able to get some good, close-up photographs of these typically South American animals, probably the best we’d managed.  🙂

As we continued exploring this interesting area, we came to some natural caves where the air was cool and dry.  Inside the caves were a number of large, flat stones and Arturo explained that the bodies of sacrificial victims were brought here to be prepared before the perfect atmospheric conditions allowed natural mummification.  At this stage there was an appropriate rumble of thunder, and it looked as if rain was on its way.   🙂

We got back onto the coach and started the return journey into Cuzco and our hotel.  We had the rest of the afternoon at leisure for what was our last full day in Peru.   😦

Once we got back and dumped our bags in our hotel room, Trevor and I decided to wander out to try to find somewhere where we could get a birthday card and small present for Stephen.  We thought it would be quite funny to get a little toy coach and stick the “Condor Travel” logo on the side to remind him of this trip; all the more so as he’d moaned about the long hours we’d spent on the bus.  But despite asking Rosario and searching through the market and other shops, we were unable to find one, or even a card.

We did, however, go back to the supermarket where I bought another bottle of cava and spotted some bottles of Pitú, the Brazilian cachaça I love, for only about six quid for a litre bottle, very cheap.  🙂

Tonight we were not going to eat in the hotel, but rather our whole group, plus Rosario, were booked in for dinner at the Inca Grill in the main square.  As some of our party would be going on to spend a few days in the Amazon and some of us would be starting the long journey home, tonight would be our last get-together before the parting of the ways.

We were booked into the Inca Grill for 7.00pm, so we got ourselves ready and left the hotel around 6.40pm for the 20 minute slow stroll to the main square.  Once we got there, we found one big long table reserved for us on the mezzanine floor of the restaurant, which was decorated in a rustic style with tribal Inca masks adorning the walls, and the ubiquitous Andean pan-pipe band tootling a few tunes out in the corner, including the inevitable El Condor Pasa (If I Could) made famous by Simon and Garfunkel.    🙂

The meal was very nice indeed.  I had the lomo saltado which was strips of lean steak cooked with onions and mushrooms in soy sauce, and served with rice.  There were also bowls of vegetable crisps along the table for us to nibble on in between courses.  Some people in our party were brave enough to try the alpaca and even roasted guinea pig, but we were appalled at the thought.   😦

The atmosphere in our party was very jolly, and became more so as the wine and beer flowed.  After the meal the waiter brought a cake out for Stephen, and everyone sang happy birthday and shouted “speech, speech”.  Stephen didn’t take much persuasion, and he rose to his feet and did a great impromptu speech about how this trip had been quite an adventure, how it was worth all the ups and downs for Machu Picchu alone, and how our holiday would not have been half as good if it hadn’t been for the indefatigable Rosario.  At this point we all raised our glasses in a toast to Rosario and I started off a rendition of “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow” which everyone joined in lustily.  🙂

We came out of the restaurant around 9.30pm and walked back to the hotel.  Despite the fact that it was a week-day, the pavements and cafés were full of people, and we were surprised to see quite a few children out at this time of night.

Once we got back to our room, we did most of our packing, only leaving out the things we would need in the morning.  We then enjoyed a few drinks, me with my bottle of cava and Trevor with some Cusqueña beer he’d bought earlier.  Then we watched a bit of telly and settled down for our last night in Peru.  😦

We had a lie-in until 8.00am tomorrow as the bus wasn’t coming to take us to Cuzco airport until 11 o’clock.

Marvellous Machu Picchu

Ah… what can one say about Machu Picchu?  No serious visit to Peru is complete without a trip to see this latter-day Wonder of the World, as it was voted in 2007.

It was another early start for us this morning, but everyone at breakfast was wide-awake and in a suppressed state of anticipation.  We were out and on our coach by 7.00am where we had a new local guide called Arturo, who would be accompanying us today and for the remainder of our stay in Cuzco.

The bus took us to Cuzco railway station, where we had a wait of about 30 minutes before our PeruRail Expedition train arrived.  It’s a narrow-gauge railway and I was expecting some rickety old train, but in fact the trains are very nice indeed, and we found out they are owned by the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) group.  Although the track was narrow-gauge, the train locomotive and carriages are full-width, and we were told that the 57-mile journey down the mountains to Machu Picchu would take approximately three and a half hours!  🙂

We boarded the train and made our way to our reserved seats.  Our group were all in the same carriage, and people swapped seats and moved around until they were sitting next to whoever they wanted; we were opposite Stephen and Alison.  The train carriage was spacious and there was plenty of leg room.  The walls of the carriage had wallpaper on and large windows, and there were even glass windows in the roof of the train (a first for us!) which allowed you to look skywards.

When we were all settled the train whistle sounded, then with a lurch we were off!   🙂

It really was very pleasant travelling through the countryside at only 18-20 miles per hour.  We passed small farms, houses, schools and sometimes the rail track even went through streets, adjacent to the cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians.  It also wended its way along the mountainsides allowing breathtaking views of the valleys below.

As we were going to descend about 3,000 feet, the train had a clever way of doing it.  It would go down the track until it came to another length of track below, then it would reverse along the lower length of track, then rejoin another track and go forwards again.  Thus it slowly zig-zagged its way down through the mountains.

Although the journey lasted 3.5 hours, it wasn’t tedious – far from it.  When we weren’t gazing at the scenery and looking with interest at the small stations we stopped at on the way, we were eating and drinking the coffee, water and snacks that were offered to us from the trolley moving through the carriages.  We also saw lots of hikers and backpackers who were doing the Inca Trail, a more energetic way of reaching Machu Picchu.

When we reached our destination station, we all alighted from the train and joined some buses which were parked nearby waiting; these would take us for the final part of the journey to Machu Picchu citadel itself.   🙂

On the bus it was the usual heart-stopping hairpin bends round the unfenced roads.  We did get some fantastic views however, and when we looked down we could see the train station and the trains far below, they looked like part of a Hornby model railway from this height.

Finally we arrived at the gates to the citadel and waited for the other buses, as well as guides Arturo and our own Rosario to join us.  Then we passed through the gates and along a path (the paths were quite uneven and I was glad I’d been prudent enough to put on my trainers) where we got our first glimpse of the famous green terraces, ruined buildings and temples, and cloud-topped mountains that make up Machu Picchu.  Wow!   🙂

Machu Picchu is the world’s best known example of the ancient Inca citadel and agricultural terrace and a photo of it is instantly recognisable.  Its name translates as “old peak”.  It was built about 1450 and most archaeologists believe it was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1472).   However, it was abandoned in the middle of the sixteenth century, at or around the time of the Spanish Conquest, and was known only to the locals and not to the outside world, so the Conquistadors never got their hands on it.   🙂

It was brought to international attention by the American historian Hiram Bingham, who ‘discovered’ the ruins in 1911.  Since the site had not been known to the Spanish during their conquest, it means that it was a significant find in terms of intact Inca culture, and it was made a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

However, there is strong evidence, which we saw with our own eyes, to suggest that Hiram Bingham was not the first to visit Machu Picchu since Inca times.  One of the buildings we saw contains a large stone on which you can just make out some faint writing carved into the rock; the names of “Jesus Velarde” and “Juan Santillana”, along with the date 14/07/1902 – a full nine years before Hiram Bingham’s arrival.

The Incas were great Sun worshippers as they believed that the sun was the creator and sustainer of all life; from lighting and warming the earth, to making the crops grow to breathing life and energy into every living thing.  Human sacrifice to the gods of the sun was commonplace and one of the notable temples at the site is the Temple of the Sun.  Another notable temple was the Temple of the Three Windows, where the windows represent each part of the world –  the underground (Uku-Pacha), the heaven (Hanan Pachu) and the present time (Kay-Pacha).  In addition, the windows also represent the rise of the sun which, as explained, was an important event in the everyday life of the Incas.

As we walked around the citadel looking at the wonderfully-restored ruins, we were amazed that all this had been built from scratch 8,000 feet up in the Andes.  The builders would have had to chop down all the trees and other vegetation, then create all the terraces for planting crops, as well as move enormous blocks of stone, marble and bricks with which to build temples, houses and other buildings.  One of the reasons Machu Picchu is such a wonder.

Since the discovery of this marvellous relic of ancient Inca culture however, the biggest threat to Machu Picchu is the sheer number of tourists that flock to the area from all over the world.  In recent years the number of visitors has had to be restrict to a ‘mere’ 5,000 a day.

Arturo’s guided tour lasted for a couple of hours, and after that we could either go back out through the gates and go to the restaurant where a meal had been laid on for us, or we could climb a bit further up to the guardhouse from where the most famous photos of Machu Picchu are taken.  Trevor decided to climb up, but I said I’d go back to the restaurant and wait for him there.

On the way out, there was a stand where you could get your passport stamped with “Machu Picchu”, which we did.   Something else we can tick off the bucket list.   🙂

I went into the restaurant and enjoyed a buffet dinner, washed down with Diet Coke.  Presently Trevor came back and joined me, and gradually the rest of our party all reassembled outside the restaurant, where we would once again be herded onto the buses for our return journey.

The buses took us back to the train station and we had a short wait before boarding.  This time, however, we were not going all the way back to Cuzco by train, but instead we would disembark at the station at Ollantaytambo, and would then get the bus the rest of the way back, which was (allegedly) quicker.

We enjoyed some snacks and coffee and beer on the return train journey, and everyone was on a high, in more ways than one.  We would have preferred to complete the return journey on the train, where it was light and more spacious, but the bus it had to be.  😦

The bus ride back to Cuzco took about one and a half hours, and it was quite precarious negotiating the winding mountain roads in the dark.  We thought we would be really tired and sleep on the bus, but we were wide awake and it seemed to take ages until we finally pulled into the main road in Cuzco and back to the José Antonio Hotel, around 9.00pm.

What a truly great day it had been.   🙂

Cuzco and Cava

Ah… it was great to be able to get up this morning when we wanted (around 7.30am), enjoy a nice long shower, then stroll down for a leisurely breakfast.  Those who were going on the tour were just about to leave, so we said we’d see them later on.  🙂

We pottered around for a bit then decided to go out and explore our immediate surroundings.  Over the road was a large, covered handicrafts market, so we made a beeline for that as I was looking for a good, typically-Peruvian handbag.

The market was massive; it had everything you could possibly want under one roof.  I made a mental note to tell Alison about it when she got back.  There were stalls selling alpaca goods from knitwear to wall-hangings to throws to rugs, also hand-tooled silver jewellery, leather goods, souvenirs such as trinket boxes, toy llamas, panpipes and other holiday ‘tat’, and of course lots of bags of different shapes and sizes.  It was difficult to know where to start!

We wandered amongst the stalls for a while and I saw a handbag I liked; it was made of leather and woven material in a typical Peruvian design, with a shoulder strap.  The leather part and the woven part included local symbols like alpacas, ancient Inca shapes and even Machu Picchu, as well as the words Cuzco and Peru on them.  It was spot-on and so  different.  A little bartering allowed me to buy it for 45 soles, just over 11 quid!!

Trevor had to drag me out of there in fact, there is so much more I could have bought.  I love the stuff you can buy here in Peru; it is so colourful and unusual and so very good value for money.

We still hadn’t had the chance to write out the postcards we’d bought in Lima, so we decided to buy some more cards then look for the post office, which Rosario had assured us was walking distance from the hotel.

We bought some postcards of Cuzco, then walked into town and found the post office.  Even though it was a Sunday the post office was open, so I went in and asked ¿Quisiera ocho sellos para Inglaterra, por favor? (I would like eight stamps for England, please).  We had the cards and we had the stamps; now we needed to find somewhere to write them out.

On way back, we saw a lady who had set up her ‘stall’ by the roadside.  She was selling hand-knitted alpaca hats, gloves and scarves.  As we hadn’t bought any souvenirs for the folks back home yet we bartered with her for three pairs of men’s gloves and two hats; they were double-thickness and lovely and soft and warm.  We got the lot for 40 soles (a tenner!)   🙂  We were well pleased with our purchases today.

Passing a local supermarket, we went in there to have a look at the booze, as we wanted to take a bottle of the local Pisco spirit back to Blighty with us.  We bought the pisco and I noticed they were also doing a nice rosé cava as well, so we bought a bottle of that, in addition to a small canister of sour cream and chive Pringles, yum.  My appetite was coming back!    🙂

On the way back to the hotel, we passed the pleasant park and, as the sun was out and it was really quite a nice day, we decided to sit on one of the benches there to write out our postcards.  But first we had to go back to the hotel as Trevor wanted to get rid of his stomach bug once and for all; he decided to go in the bar, get a double brandy, and sneak it and an empty glass for the cava back to the park.   😉

It was lovely sitting in the park.  Trevor drank his brandy and I really enjoyed the rosé cava.  We wrote out all the cards and just whiled away the time, relaxing in the sunshine. Then we took a slow stroll back to the hotel where we watched TV, read, checked our emails via the free wi-fi and enjoyed an afternoon nap.

We didn’t go into the dining room this evening; instead we decided just to have a light bar snack of a sandwich, along with a drink.  But when my sandwiches came, they were a triple-decker club sandwich complete with a portion of chips.  I couldn’t eat all of it and ended up feeling guilty for leaving more on my plate than I ate.  I washed them down with a caipirinha, which was nice, but not as good as the ones I make at home!   😉

Back in our room for the night I finished off the cava, then we settled down as we had another 5.30am start in the morning.

Tomorrow would see the apogée of any trip to Peru – a visit to the amazing lost city of the Incas – Machu Picchu.

 

A Pack o’ Alpaca

Another early start this morning (5.30am) after an excellent night’s sleep.  When we go back to work it will seem like a veritable lie-in getting up at 7.00am!   🙂

We had another few hours to spend on the bus again today, but at least once we arrive in Cuzco we’ll be there for four days.

To be honest, if it’s a comfortable, modern bus then I don’t really mind the long journey if we have plenty of stops along the way.  In 2004 we went through the Canadian Rockies, from Calgary all the way to Vancouver, by coach but we stopped every couple of hours for ‘mini excursions’ so the journey wasn’t too long and boring.

Today we travelled for quite a bit through the rural parts of the country and we saw many little farms and lots of alpaca and llama grazing on the land.  There were also several ramshackle shanty-towns made of breeze-blocks, bricks, corrugated metal and whatever else the residents could lay their hands on.  Tattered garments were hung out to dry on washing lines strung between the buildings, and stray children and dogs running around added to the general air of dilapidation.

At lunchtime we stopped at a restaurant which offered a ‘serve yourself’ buffet once again.  Trevor and Stephen still had dodgy guts and had absolutely no appetite; they just had some bottled water.  I had a selection of salad vegetables and some meats, along with a glass of Cusqueña which I really enjoyed, having got over the worst of my altitude sickness.  We joked that we should have bought a whole lot of those magic red and white capsules for 2.50 soles each, and sold them on the bus for three soles as people wouldn’t have minded paying that if it made them better, lol  🙂

Alison filled her plate twice; she was the only one out of the four of us who wasn’t ill at all.  There was some home-made milky rice pudding as one of the desserts; I had some (it was delicious) and Trevor and Stephen managed a small portion each.

Off we went again, passing the time on the bus looking out of the window, napping, reading, talking with our fellow passengers and eventually we came to another rest stop which had a large shop attached, selling everything from coffee to pharmaceutical items to leather goods to alpaca knits.

The alpaca sweaters and cardigans were incredibly cheap, only about 55-60 soles which is less than 15 quid.  In Britain you’d be lucky to get a good quality alpaca jumper for under 200 quid – I’d checked before we came away.  I spotted some gorgeous shawls and wraps at the back of the shop and went to have a look.

I ended up buying the most gorgeous, softest, pale grey wrap, with an ornate hand-crocheted fringe at each end.  It was quite thick and was so soft and comforting.  It was only 80 soles (less than 20 pounds) – what a complete bargain.  I intend to wear it as an evening wrap with a long dress on our next cruise, but it would look just as good worn as a shawl over a coat.  I kept getting it out of its bag and holding its softness against my face.   🙂

As we continued on our way, we managed to drop around 1,000 feet in altitude and the mountainous, winding roads and landscape smoothed out a bit.  When we reached the outskirts of Cuzco (at around 11,200 feet), the bus made a stop for half an hour or so to allow us to visit the Basílica Cathedral.

As we approached the steps of the cathedral, we noticed a white lorry which was decorated with flowers; it looked as though it was going to be used as a wedding vehicle, albeit an unusual one.  We then noticed the red carpet leading into the cathedral and a lot of well-dressed people hanging around outside; a wedding!

We waited for a few minutes and then the bride and groom appeared, preceded by flower girls who sprinkled rose petals along the red carpet in front of the bride.  The bride was absolutely gorgeous and the groom very handsome; they looked a lovely couple.  They walked the length of the carpet then the groom helped his new wife into the cab of the white lorry.  Some of the guests tied lots of tin cans at the back of the vehicle, then off they went to cheering and waving, some of it from our party.

We arrived at our hotel, the José Antonio Cuzco, around teatime.  The hotel looked to be in a decent location; there was a pleasant park with a water feature over the road, as well as a large handicrafts market and some shops and banks nearby.  It was also only about a 20 minute walk into the main square.

We checked into the hotel and were given a large, pleasant room on the second floor which had a couple of single beds, a table and chairs, large bathroom and adequate storage space.  Our window overlooked a courtyard out of the back.  The hotel had a nice, low key bar and lounge which held traces of the evocative smell of incense.

Another couple of coach parties had checked into the hotel, and there were a lot of Americans as well as us British.  We decided to go to the dining room early to be sure of getting a table as it looked as if it was going to be busy.  Once again we only enjoyed a light meal with mineral water; it’s funny how our appetites had diminished.

Tomorrow we would be able to have a lie-in and get up and do whatever we wanted.  🙂  There was an optional full-day excursion which we had fully intended going on before we came away on holiday.  However, because we were still recovering from our various ailments and we were quite tired, we decided to skip the tour and spend a quiet day exploring the area on our own.

 

It’s all about the Altitude

What an uncomfortable night I spent!  I woke up around midnight with my stomach and guts bloated with wind, one of the unpleasant symptoms of a lower atmospheric pressure.  I couldn’t get comfortable no matter which way I lay; what I really needed was to be trocarised.  Several times I got up during the night to try to go to the loo, and I was eventually sick, which added to the headache that was starting.     😦

At 5.30am Trevor and I were both awake, and I told him that if we’d had to be up at this time, there was no way I would make it.  However, I had a couple of hours to try to get better, so I took a couple of paracetamol with a glass of water.

When the wake-up call came at half past seven, I sat on the edge of the bed but I really wasn’t feeling too good, so unfortunately I was going to miss the half-day boat trip on Lake Titicaca.  Trevor went down for his breakfast and brought me back a cup of coffee; he also left several packs of pills on my bedside cabinet; paracetamol, Imodium and some migraine tablets, Migraleve, as well as a bottle of San Luis mineral water.

Just before 9.00am Trevor went down to the front of the hotel to join the others.  I could hear the laughter and chatter outside our window while they waited for the coach to arrive.  I hoped I would feel better soon; we hadn’t come all the way to Peru to spend the day in bed and waste our holidays.   😦

Once I heard the bus drive off I slowly got out of bed, and got washed and dressed.  Then I drank some more water, read a bit of my Kindle and did some of this blog.  I decided that the Migraleve might be stronger than paracetamol so I took one of them; it was true, I felt much better.

At 12.40pm I heard the bus coming back, and sure enough when I looked out of the window here was everyone on their way into the hotel.  I walked down the stairs to meet Trevor coming up; together we went back to the room where he told me all about the boat trip on the lake.

Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake at 12,507 feet.  It has a couple of steamships that were brought over from Britain; they were dismantled, shipped to Peru in pieces, then brought up to the lake and reassembled.  There are also some curious floating islands made out of totora reeds; the people of the mid-coast region of Peru have used totora to build their caballitos de totora, small rowed and straddled fishing vessels, for at least 3,000 years.  The Uru people, an indigenous people pre-dating the Inca civilization, live on Lake Titicaca upon floating islands fashioned from this plant.  The Uru people also use the totora plant to make boats (balsas) of the bundled dried plant reeds.

It sounded as though I had missed a good excursion.   😦

As I was feeling better and was anxious to get out of the room, we decided to take a slow stroll round to the Casa Andina around the corner to use their ATM machine, as we were running short of soles.  Neither of us was particularly hungry, but I though I could eat a small snack, maybe crisps or something.

We walked out into the sunshine and came upon a small general store where I bought a packet of cheese flavour crisps and some Red Bull.  Then we went to the ATM and drew out some more money.  We decided we’d hail a taxi and go into the town, where we’d been told a large market was on today.

As we were walking along the road, a taxi overtook us and stopped a short way ahead.  He agreed to take us to the market for five soles (£1.25) and off we went.  I wanted to go to a chemist as we’d run out of paracetamol.

In the chemist I explained to the lady that I had dolor de cabeza (a headache, or pain in the head) and made her understand I was nauseous as well.  She quickly understood that I had altitude sickness and came back with a big jar in which were a number of red and white capsules, priced at 2.50 soles each.  She said to take one every eight hours and it would soon put me right.  We bought four of the capsules for 10 soles, as well as a couple of refreshing orange-flavoured ice lollies.

There were a lot of market stalls in the streets. but the stuff they were selling was not specific to Peru.  For example, there were lots of stalls selling household hardware, as well as clothing stalls and other vendors selling sportswear; I think most of it was knock-off or fake.   The vendors, while trying to get you to buy from them, weren’t too pushy if you said no.

One of the things I noticed was how the people all seemed to have the same look about them.  The native Amerindian Peruvians all seemed to be short but fairly stocky, with dark skin, black hair, and round faces with elongated eyes, flattened noses and wide cheekbones.  The women all wore the same type of clothing; woollen stockings or leggings, with large, voluminous gathered skirts over the top of them (not the most flattering of garments).  They also wore knitted cardigans or jumpers, fringed ponchos and a lot of them had on wide-brimmed hats.  Several of the stall-holders had babies with them and seeing them breastfeeding their young was not uncommon.

We didn’t see anything we wanted to buy, so we took another taxi back to the hotel, where I swallowed one of the red and white capsules with a glass of water.  I don’t know what was in the capsules, but after an hour I felt almost normal – what a difference!  I wish I’d discovered these capsules days ago!   🙂  Trevor had also taken a capsule, and we both perked up considerably.

At dinner that evening, we’d regained some of our appetite but I stuck to a salad as I still didn’t want to eat a large meal.  Alison was concerned because she said she could only see five alpacas outside; she was sure that there had been six yesterday so we hoped that one of them wasn’t on tonight’s menu.  Trevor and I even felt as though we could manage a Cusqueña each, and I really enjoyed the cold beer when it came.   🙂

After dinner we returned to our room, watched the football on TV, and settled down for the night, as it was another 5.30am start in the morning.  The effect of the magic capsules hadn’t worn off yet, so I was pleased to report that I enjoyed a great night’s sleep, one of the best I’d had for days.  🙂

Tomorrow we were due to set off for Cuzco, where we would spend four nights before the conclusion of our Peruvian adventure.

 

Puno and Lake Titicaca

Another early start, although we were both awake before the early-morning call as we hadn’t slept well anyway.  We were both really tired and it was a supreme effort to get out of bed and get dressed.  I had a slight headache and Trevor had to take a couple of Imodium tablets to fend off an imminent attack of the galloping trots; all he needed when spending hours on a long coach journey!   😦

We packed up our cases and left them outside our cabin door to be collected and put onto the coach for the next leg of our trip.  The sun had not yet risen and the air was crisp and cool.  We weren’t really very hungry, but we went into the dining room for some coffee, water and maybe some juice.  We still didn’t have much of an appetite; in fact I think this will be the only holiday ever where I could quite possibly go home lighter than I was when I came!

I had a cup of coca tea but I don’t know whether it actually does alleviate altitude sickness or whether the effects are psychological.  Nonetheless it was some fluid in my system.

We got onto the bus and set off on our way; all I wanted to do was sleep.  En route we passed through an interesting-looking little town called Juliaca.  It consisted of narrow streets which were already busy with traffic, lots of shabby but colourful shops, bars, restaurants, car repair workshops and the hustle and bustle of urban life.  If we’d had the time, I would have liked to have stopped here for a good browse around.

But our purpose for stopping here was to say goodbye to Lizzie and welcome a new local guide called Eduardo, who would be with us for our two-night stay at Lake Titicaca.  So it was “Bye bye Lizzie… no?”     😀

The coach continued on its way and we were due to visit another archaeological site on our way to Puno.  Before that, however, we were once again given a picnic lunch to eat at a scenic spot with views of mountains and valleys.  Once again a lot of the food went uneaten and it seemed a terrible waste when we’d seen local people who were obviously poor, but Rosario said that the coach drivers went through the lunch boxes and picked out any sandwiches, cake, chocolate, fruit etc. that was untouched and they gave it out to the poorer people, so that made us feel less guilty about not eating it.

This afternoon’s visit was to a burial site at Sillustani and also had a good example, set into the mountain sides, of the agricultural terraces.  It did, however, mean a walk of about 15 minutes up a slope; Eduardo said we would go nice and slowly but I didn’t feel up to it at all.  I told Trevor I’d just stay on the bus and wait for them to come back.

However, I wasn’t the only one by a long chalk who was in the full throes of altitude sickness.  Quite a few of us were really feeling under the weather, so Rosario had ordered some taxis to take us straight to our hotel, the Eco Inn at Puno, right on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Trevor was feeling fine and dandy now and was going to the archaeological site, so I said I’d see him later.

The taxi, like a lot of other cars we’d seen on the road, had seen better days and the driver took off over the unfinished roads as if he was in the wacky races.   I was glad when we finally pulled up outside the hotel around 1.30pm.

Inside, we all piled in looking a sorry sight;  in fact Rosario had already organised a doctor who was there waiting for us.  I knew that lots of water, a couple of paracetamol and a lie-down would sort me out, but some of the others were in a bit of a state and needed oxygen as well as other treatment.

Once I got the room key I thankfully went in and went to bed.  It was a pity I couldn’t appreciate the large, airy room and its big window overlooking Lake Titicaca and the distant mountains.

Around 4.00pm a knock at the door indicated the arrival of Trevor, along with the suitcases which had been on the bus.  I was then able to get showered, wash and blow-dry my hair and have a change of clothes.  When you’re feeling lousy if you look lousy as well it makes you feel worse, so at least being clean and presentable made me feel better, as well as the paracetamol having kicked in which made my headache abate somewhat.

We pottered around a bit and decided to go down to the pleasant hotel reception area to get a cup of coca tea each.  Then we watched a bit of TV before meeting Stephen and Alison in the dining room, where a number of tables had been reserved for the Travelsphere party.  Through the glass windows we could see four or five alpacas tethered in a small grazing area outside; apparently they belonged to the hotel where alpaca featured on the menu!  Alison had also been dismayed at the earlier sight of a couple of cages with warm, furry, cute little guinea pigs in, just waiting to be killed and eaten.  Dreadful.   😦

The menu was quite extensive but as Trevor and I still weren’t 100%, we decided to go for something light like soup or a salad.  I chose an Andean salad which consisted of lettuce, tomato, onion, asparagus, avocado and some roast chicken breast, all served with a piquant dressing.  It was actually delicious and the first time for a few days that I enjoyed my food.  I didn’t dare have anything stronger than a bottle of mineral water to wash it down with, though!

Back in our room we relaxed, read and watched the football on the telly before settling down for the night around 9.30pm. It’s early, but being at altitude (we were at 12,000 feet) makes you very tired as everything is such an effort.  We had a “lie-in” in the morning as we didn’t have to be up until 7.30am, so I hoped we’d get a good night’s sleep.

 

Condors at Colca Canyon

It was another early start this morning (5.30am) as today we would be leaving Arequipa to continue exploring this fascinating South American country.

At least when we woke up the room was clear of any CO fumes, and I started the day with a clear head, feeling in fine health and looking forward to my breakfast.

We joined the others in the dining room and I enjoyed a breakfast of boiled eggs, ham and cheese, and washed it down with some good strong Peruvian coffee.  Then we returned to room 125 in the basement and packed up our cases and took them to the foyer, ready to be loaded onto the bus.

Off we went once again, into the wide open spaces of the varied landscape.  The bus continued its way along the roads and dirt tracks, and we climbed steadily higher and higher into the Andes.  All around us was a rugged volcanic landscape with the occasional lush green cultivated valleys, where the farmers still use the ancient Inca agricultural terraces to grow their crops and try to earn a living from the land.  We also saw lots of sheep, llama and alpaca, and passed small villages and trading posts where the locals would wait for the tour buses to come along so they could try to sell their hand-made wares.

After a couple of hours we stopped for a comfort break (to use the ‘facilities’).  As we were climbing higher Roasario recommended a cup of the coca leaf tea which is reputed to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness.  The café where the tea was served was also a shop, selling all sorts of souvenirs from panpipes, to alpaca knits and leather to silver jewellery, handbags – all sorts of stuff.  I was looking for a gorgeous soft alpaca wrap or shawl, but there were none that particularly caught my eye, although they were all very nice.  There were lots of hand-knitted hats typical of those worn in the Andes (and indeed quite fashionable at home) with the ear-flaps and the plaited ties; I bought one for the bargain price of 10 soles, which is only £2.50!  How cheap is that?  In fact, quite a lot of the people in our party bought hats and scarves, if not for themselves then as gifts to give to those back home.

The sun was out but the day was not particularly warm; as we were climbing higher so the air would be cooler, and we already noticed that the breeze had quite a nip to it.  I had brought a hooded sweatshirt so I could put it on over the top of my t-shirt when the weather got cooler.

Once we were all rounded up and back on the bus, we continued on our way, Lizzie rabbiting on as usual.  She had a particularly irritating habit of saying “No?” or “Huh?” every three or four words; for example “Today… no?  We are going to Colca Valley… no?  Where you might see condors…no?”  In the end, Alison and I weren’t actually listening to what she was saying, but now many times she would say “No?”    Aaargh!   In fact, Alison put in her iPod earphones to try to block Lizzie’s voice out!   🙂

After another couple of hours, we arrived at a terrific viewing spot high above Colca Canyon.  Colca Canyon, at 13,000 feet deep, is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the USA.  All we could see were soaring mountains, valleys and lakes.  You felt as if you were on top of the world, in fact it brought to my mind those lyrics by the ‘Carpenters’:

I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation…

When we got off the bus, we noticed that the air temperature had cooled significantly, even though the sun was shining brightly.  We had now reached our highest point of the holiday so far (in the literal sense!) as we were at an altitude of just under 16,000 feet.  Today we were going to enjoy a packed lunch al fresco, and I noticed as we collected our lunches and bottles of water and found somewhere to sit and eat them that it was much more difficult to breathe in the thinner air.

We had been provided with a prodigal lunch; there were two lots of club sandwiches; one containing cheese and ham and one containing chicken, avocado and salad, as well as an orange and banana, fruit juice, cake, chocolate and a little packet of sweets.  To be honest, however, most people didn’t seem to have much of an appetite, but we made sure to drink all of our water as dehydration (due to the increased rate in breathing) will make altitude sickness worse.

We sat there looking at the amazing scenery and indeed we were lucky enough to see some condors swooping, wheeling and gliding majestically on the mountain updrafts.  The condor is Peru’s national bird and is the most famous bird of the Andes.

After I’d eaten my lunch I decided to go and sit in a shaded area as I didn’t want to get sunburnt, and it would be easy to underestimate the sunshine in the cool mountain air.  So I walked over to sit behind some rocks, and I couldn’t believe how much of an effort it was, it really made me puff and pant.  One or two of the others looked as if they were feeling the effects of the altitude; one guy in our party had difficulty breathing as he has a bad chest.

Just to explain what altitude sickness is – it’s a phenomenon that affects people at altitudes of over 8,000 feet.  It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, fit or unfit, some people are susceptible to it and others aren’t.  The symptoms are brought about due to two things; the reduction of atmospheric pressure and the drop in oxygen levels.  The drop in pressure causes your guts to expand, so you’ll find your clothes feel a little tighter and you also might suffer from flatulence (!!) as your intestines fill with gas.   🙂

Also, the lack of oxygen means that your breathing and heart rate increase to try to get the oxygen round your system; this also has the effect of suppressing the appetite.  The less-pleasant symptoms include a severe headache as well as dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting.   😦   During this tour we had been climbing up slowly in order to try to acclimatise ourselves to the altitude, and 16,000 feet was the highest we’d go to, so as long as we could cope with that, we should be OK.

We finished our lunches, packed up our stuff and got back on the bus, where I collapsed, puffing and panting, into my seat.  Quite a few of us had a nap on the bus; it was either due to the thinner air or the early-morning start, or both.

We arrived at the Casa Andina Colca hotel around 5.00pm.  The hotel looked very nice; it consisted of individual log-style cabins which were very spacious inside.  Trevor and I had a gigantic double bed; in fact you could have put four of us in it easily.  There was also a large bathroom, table and chair, flat screen TV and some thoughtfully provided portable oil-filled electric radiators.  We also noticed that electric blankets were provided.  🙂

Dinner tonight was included, and we’d already given our choices to Rosario earlier.  We had a couple of hours to kill before dinner; I went outside to have a look around, but the sun had gone and with the dusk came the cold night.  Also, as I was walking along the path to the main part of the hotel, I noticed my breath coming heavily and quickly, so I went back to our room and decided to have a nap until it was time to eat.  Trevor had already gone to bed as the altitude was starting to get to him too.

Just before 7.00pm I decided to go over and join Stephen and Alison and the others for dinner, but Trevor said he wasn’t hungry and decided to stay in bed; nothing I could say would tempt him to come and eat.  He said he had a headache and also his guts were rumbling in an ominous manner; I’d said I’d bring him back some coca tea.

The meal was very good.  I started off with potato soup which was hot and tasty, then I had vegetable rigatoni in a spicy tomato sauce, followed by fresh fruit.  We were then entertained by a group of local musicians who played the traditional and easily-recognisable music of the Andes using panpipes, the flute, guitar, mandolin and drums.  They were all dressed in the traditional woollen ponchos and wide-brimmed hats and they were joined by a couple of dancers who gave us a display.  Trevor had picked the wrong night to miss dinner!

I wanted to buy the musicians’ CD, so I returned to the room and got some money from Trevor, then went back and bought the CD for 30 soles (£7.50).  I then decided to chance a glass of white wine (it’s not recommended to drink alcohol at high altitude as it contributes to dehydration).  So I bought the wine and decided to take it back to our room to drink.  But I couldn’t finish it!  It’s never been known for me not to finish a glass of wine!!  I must have been feeling out of sorts!   😦

We went to bed early tonight, after first of all turning on the portable heater to take the chill off.  Despite the nice big bed with huge quilt and plenty of firm pillows, we both slept restlessly, punctuated by visits to the loo.  We hoped we weren’t going to be struck down with anything; already quite a few people in our party had shown signs of sickness.

 

Under the weather in Arequipa

During the early hours of the morning, I woke up to see Trevor standing at the window, which was open wide.  I asked him what he was doing.  His reply was that the room was full of fumes, the type given off by an oil-burning boiler.  Trevor is a mechanical fitter, so this is something he would know.  From my bed at the side of the room opposite the window I couldn’t smell anything, so I went back to sleep until my alarm went off at 7.00am.

I went to have a long, hot shower and wash my hair.  I felt a little dizzy and thought it might have been because I had the water too hot.  When I was drying myself off, I felt a bit sluggish and could feel the beginnings of a headache.   😦

Once we were dressed and down in the dining room for breakfast, I found I had no appetite and picked at my food.  I just had a cup of coffee and a glass of water before we gathered in the hotel foyer and awaited our tour bus.

Today we had a new local guide (in addition to Rosario) whose name was Lizzie.  Our group had been split into two as we boarded two smaller buses; the other group’s guide was Jorge.  As the coach set off, Lizzie introduced herself – in fact she didn’t shut up after that at all.  She gave a running commentary on anything and everything, and all with an almost-comical over-the-top enthusiasm.

As the bus made its way into town, we stopped at a small refreshment place which allowed us to get fantastic views of the mountain peaks of the Andes, in particular the volcano El Misti.  With its seasonally snow-capped, symmetrical cone, Misti stands at 19,101 feet above sea level and lies between the mountain Chachani (19,931 ft) and the volcano Pikchu Pikchu (18,599 ft).  Misti’s last eruption was in 1985, but you could still see wisps of smoke coming from the crater and mingling with the clouds.

I still had a bit of a headache and felt under the weather, so I bought a bottle of mineral water to drink with a couple of paracetamol and some packets of Peruvian sweets to take back to work.

Back on the bus we only half-listened to Lizzie’s incessant chatter on the way to our next stop, the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos, which was part of the Catholic university of Santa Maria.  One of the museum’s lecturers came to tell us about some of the finds and artefacts from the Inca times, in particular some human mummies that had been found who were believed to be the victims of human sacrifice.

One of these mummies was the extremely well-preserved frozen remains of a young girl who was nicknamed “Juanita”, also known as the Inca “ice maiden” or the “girl from Ampato”.  The remains were discovered in 1995 by anthropologist Dr Johan Reinhard, and were believed to have been a young girl, aged from 11-15, who was killed as an offering to the Inca gods sometime between 1450 and 1480.

The mummy “Juanita” had to be kept in a specially refrigerated glass container in almost complete darkness, in order to prevent any decomposition of the naturally-mummified tissues. But it was fascinating to see how well preserved the body was, even down to her fingernails which had become white from the conversion of body-fat into adipocere.

Studies of the corpse had shown that Juanita had been given a strong sedative on an empty stomach, in order to put her to sleep before she was killed by a sharp blow to the head, just above the right eyebrow. The body was fully clothed and the material was also well preserved.

We also saw displayed various other items of clothing, jewellery, bowls and other items found on the mountainsides and believed to have belonged to other sacrificial victims. It was all very interesting.

Once we were back outside in the Arequipa sunshine, we had about a 10 minute walk until we came to the main city square.  By this time I was almost having to drag my feet and I felt quite sick and lethargic, and was hardly taking an interest in my surroundings. Our next stop was to the Santa Catalina Convent, but once we went inside the courtyard I spotted a few benches arranged around the outside and I thankfully took a seat, where I was quite happy to stay as I felt unable to take another step.

Rosario asked if I was OK and if I needed a taxi back to the hotel, but I said I’d wait and just go back on the bus when everyone else was ready.  I felt as if I was going to be sick, so I went into the nearby lavatory and tried unsuccessfully to make myself vomit.

Eventually the bus took us back to the hotel.  Inside, I got talking to another woman who wasn’t very well; she had the same symptoms that I did – headache, lethargy, nausea, shortness of breath etc.  It turned out she was in the room next door to us (318) and she had also been woken up in the early hours of the morning with her room full of fumes!  When we looked outside our rooms, there was a long outlet pipe climbing up the wall opposite our windows; its top was clotted with soot.  It looked as if we might have been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning!  Two rooms next to each other, both filled with fumes, both occupants displaying the same symptoms.  That wasn’t a coincidence!   😦

We were quite alarmed at this and decided we would go back to our room, pack up our things and ask at reception if we could move to another room.  On the way up to the third floor I suddenly broke into a cold sweat and vomited; luckily into a plastic bag we had and so avoided a mess.  Trevor went to reception while I went to bed.  I did feel better after being sick though.

Trevor eventually returned and said we had been re-allocated room 125 on the ground floor.  We packed up our cases and moved to the room, which was quite small and dingy but would do for just one night.  At least it wasn’t near any heating pipes!  When I drew back the curtains I saw that building work was going on immediately outside our window; in fact a little guy in overalls and a hard-hat popped up, waved cheerfully and called ¡Buenos dias! 

After drinking some more water and having a sleep, I felt a lot better and perked up considerably.  The guy on the reception, when we’d asked to move rooms and explained why, had said that the symptoms were those of altitude sickness, but it’s funny how I didn’t have the symptoms once we’d moved!

After the previous evening’s fiasco in the dining room, we decided to have a walk into town and eat elsewhere.  We took a slow wander in, and came to a sort of fast-food emporium which housed a Starbucks, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut all under one roof, with communal eating areas.  We ordered a BK Whopper each and I had mine washed down with a good hot coffee.  After we came out, we saw that a lot of the shops were still open, and we had a good browse around.  I spotted a shoe shop (!!) which had a sale on, so I went in and bought myself some pink mules with a high rope wedge heel; they were only 65 soles which is about 16 pounds.

We went back to room 125 and had a fairly early night, as once again we would have to be up at 5.30am, to leave Arequipa and continue our Peruvian adventure.  This time we slept well, without any noxious fumes in our room.

 

On the Pan-American Highway

After an excellent night’s sleep in Nazca, we were woken once again at the unearthly hour of 5.30am, to be packed up and on the bus for the longest leg of our journey en route to Arequipa, Peru’s second city.

We breakfasted well from the buffet selection of cereals, breads, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, washed down with the strong Peruvian coffee.  Then it was onto the Condor Travel bus once again.  Today was to be a long, long day, but Rosario advised us that there would be sufficient comfort stops and we would be able to have lunch along the way.

Off we went on the bus around 7.00am.  We passed through tiny villages with their mish-mash of dilapidated shops and buildings, and saw a great many stray dogs.  Not all of the roads in Peru are finished off, and several times the bus rattled and lurched along potholed dirt tracks.

After a couple of hours we stopped to stretch our legs at a small sandy beach, while several lively waves washed ashore.  As ever, I could not resist going for a ‘plodge’ and I kicked off my flip-flops and rolled my (already cropped) linen trousers above my knees.  There were several large shells in the sand and I examined them closely in case any of them were nice enough to use in my jewellery-making, but they’d all been buffeted about by the sea too much.

While enjoying the wavelets lapping over my feet, a sudden large and strong wave took me by surprise and soaked my trousers up to the crotch.  Another lady was caught completely unawares and was swept off her feet, becoming completely soaked.  She had to retrieve her suitcase from the coach and get out a change of clothing.  I, however, was wearing a long top to preserve my modesty, so I just took my trousers off, wrung them out and hung them up on the bus to dry, just sitting in my knickers!   🙂  I wasn’t the only one to do so…

After another hour or so it was time to stop for lunch, at a little place called Camaná.  There was a restaurant as well as the ubiquitous souvenir stalls.  We were advised that we could purchase a two-course buffet lunch for about 20 soles (5 quid) so we got into the queue (before it got too big!) to see what was on offer.  There was a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes as well as salads.  We piled our plates with whatever we thought looked quite appetising, as none of the dishes were labelled.  We didn’t dare to think what we might be eating (alpaca and guinea pig feature frequently on Peruvian menus!).

We soon discovered that some of the food didn’t taste as nice as it looked.  There was some sort of ‘mystery meat’ on the bone, and some black things that we thought were mushrooms but they turned out to be a type of seafood (might have been octopus) that none of us could identify.  We hoped we wouldn’t have dodgy guts as a result…

We enjoyed a cold beer each, then browsed the souvenir stalls before getting back on the bus to continue our journey.

After a while the landscape changed as we abandoned the coastline, turned east and started to climb steadily towards a plateau of ash-grey sand dunes.  The bus slowly wended its way along the zig-zagging mountain roads and it was very disconcerting as we climbed higher and higher, because the roads didn’t have any guard rails and the wheels of the bus were only about a metre away from the sheer drop down to the valleys.  😦

The scenery was pretty dreary as the mountainsides were completely barren, and the land was desert, only one or two small shanty towns breaking up the featureless landscape.  In the greener valleys we saw alpaca and vicuña grazing, or being herded by a lone shepherd.

Our winding (and hair-raising) journey up the mountains lasted about two hours, and we did get a nice view of the snow-capped volcano called El Misti, its distinctive conical head swathed in cloud.

Once the road levelled out we thought we could relax a bit, but it was an unfinished road and the rattling and lurching nearly jolted your teeth out of their sockets.  We had one or two photo stops to stretch our legs and relieve the boredom a bit, but I think everyone would be glad when we reached our destination.

We eventually arrived at our Casa Andina hotel in Arequipa, around 7.30pm – over 12 hours in total on the road.  We were all tired and dishevelled and looking forward to getting washed and having dinner.  We were staying two nights in this hotel, so we’d hopefully get a ‘lie-in’ in the morning.

The hotel was about 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre.  In the reception area was a hot drinks dispenser where you could get a free cup of maté (tea) made from coca leaf, which is supposed to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness, as Arequipa is situated just under 8,000 feet.  The coca leaf tea was palatable, but only just!

We were given room 319 which looked OK, but not as nice as the other rooms we’d stayed in.  Depending on how we felt later on, we thought we might take a slow stroll into town and check out the local bars.

At 9.00pm we went down to the hotel’s dining room with Stephen and Alison and ordered a meal from their à la carte menu.  I ordered a chef’s salad, as I only wanted something light.

Well!  The service was rubbish.  We waited over an hour for our meals to come and, when they brought mine, it bore no resemblance to chef’s salad (or any other kind of salad) at all.  It was trout fried in batter served with mayonnaise which I didn’t like the look of at all.  I told them it wasn’t what I’d ordered and, as it was now 10.15pm, I’d changed my mind about having something to eat so I went without.  We could see and hear other diners in our party complaining about their meals (or lack of meals) as well.  Not a good first impression of the hotel, but this was just the start!  😦

By this time, we were really tired after our early start and the long day, so we decided to go straight to bed.  We were overjoyed when Rosario told us our wake-up call wouldn’t be until 7.30am tomorrow, a luxury indeed.