the flaoting islands and homes
Peru is full of must-sees and must-dos and it is hard to cover everything you want to do. Its a beautiful country and all the places i visit seem so different. From the snow covered peaks, to the sanddunes stretching as far as the eye can see, to the beautiful cities or little towns made of reeds.
I travelled around the stunning Lake Titicaca from Bolivia to Peru and spent a couple of hours on the Floating Islands. Something I really wanted to see, but this has become horribly touristy. So, i spend a short time and go on the most touristy of tours. Oh well. The Uros people looked for a different and ingenious solution when yet anopther group of people (the spanish this time) tried to conquer them. They decided to hide in the middle of lake titicaca.
the inti rami parade going through the main plaza of cusco
Cutting reeds to form an island that would float (needing the reeds to be topped up often), making homes and boats (as they had always done) from reeds as well. They live on these islands still, sleeping, going to school and cooking their meals - carefully.
Then to the tourist mecca of South America, Cusco. I had been in Cusco 2 years ago. And actually really like the place, with the old incan stonework underlaying many buildings, great bars and food, friendly people, beautiful plazas and cobblestone streets. And a great place to hit surrounding areas.
I love machu picchu and head back to the ruins. I go on the "Inca Jngle" trek where the first day is downhill mountain biking, past little villages and following the line of the river.
Glenn, a friend from highschool with me on the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu
Of course, I feel lied to when the downhill ride includes some uphill. But it is a lot of fun racing down the dirt road, avoiding chickens, and getting closer to machu picchu. Eating local foods the whole time (rice, fires and some sort of meat - everytime!) and having some great conversations with the group, including Glen a friend from highschool, and Raz. The following days we continue to hike along the river, the surrounding hills getting higher and greener, getting closer the the snow covered mountains that can be seen from machu picchu. Along rivers, crossing rivers in a cable car, past locals and their villages, playing with a pet monkey, past coffee and fruit farms, watching our guide trying to pick up a new girl in every village (where is he again?!), past the water rushing from the hydroelectric plant, down the train tracks and relaxing in a lovely hot springs.
Then staying a night in agua calientes on the 3rd night, for the early hike up the incan steps to the ruins at 4am the next morning.
Machu Picchu is stunning. It definitely does not disappoint. Even covered with mutli coloured travellers, it still holds onto its mysticism and beauty. The setting is on the ridge of the hill with a small mountins, Waynupicchu rising up at the end of the ruins, and the sun rising from behind the mountains to light up the temples and stone work. Then the mountain drops away and on the other side of the white river is steep mountains, covered in jungle or just exposed grey stone. Its hard to imagine what this place was like 500 years ago at the height of the Incan rule but it must have felt alive! Now it is just with tourists and llamas on its terraces and you can still feel its life and it seems complete.
llamas on the Incan terraces of Machu Picchu
Maybe just complete with tourists now, a whole new phenomenon? We follow the tour and hear the stories of this powerful, yet short lived civilisation. Then we climb the very steep Waynupicchu. Hang out on the couple of stones on the top admiring the surroundings and staring at the ruins from above. Seeing the homes of those that lived here, the temples of the condor and sun, the terraces and i love the perfect stonework of the incans, something they have not managed to replicate in restoration.
From Cusaco I headed rafting on the Apurimac river for 3 days. This is one of the better rivers in the world and was great fun! It had some big 4s and a couple of 5s that me and another constantly argued overwho got to sit at th front. It was cute that the two biggest scariest looking guys were more comfortable sitting in the safer dryer sats at the back (with a simone-sized dry patch on them!).
The white steep canyon walls on the Apurimac River near cusco.
There was a really good group with some fun israelis (incl Raz), a brazilian and a scottish/ozzie on the raft. We camped on the sand alongside the river, chatted, ate great food and drunk wine around a bonfire. In the end we spend about 15hours rafting down the river, and the surroundings are magnificent, with fake looking grey smoothe rocks along the edge, steep high canyon walls, and not a sign of anyone else, except for the indiana-jones bridge that looks as tho itis going to fall. Our guide was good, but we knew to be wary when he says to the safety kayaker "vamos a jugar" (we are going to play). I got flipped more times on this trip than in all the rafting i have done as he suggets we all sit at the back and go down the rapid at t 45degree angle .
getting a little wet.
.. and flip. or if we paddle hard upstream to surf standing still in a spot at a 60degree angle .... and flip. But it is fun and keeps us on our toes ... and wet! But we pushed him in later. I love the adrenalin rush of rafting, getting hit by a huge wave, and keep paddling. dig in, keep in time and keep in rhythm, lean forward, use the whole body, look ahead. And keep paddling - or we´ll hit that hole/rock ... and flip.
From the paddling trip we head quickly back to Cusco for the biggest party of the year. Not only is it Inti Rami, but today is cusco´s anniversary. Every day I have been in cusco there has been a parade going through the streets - or several at once. It started wth the little kids then the school kids, then university students trying to outdo other students and now the whole city is involved.
making it through the big rapids
They parade celebrates the people of Peru in their traditional dress and their dances, and sometimes floats with dieties etc. The city has felt full of life and colour at all times, even with practices happening in the plazas at 3am! Tonight, they take the party to the streets. Mot locals still in traditional dress from the parades, beers are for sale, they have their drums and instuments and are playing spontaneously. Its a chaos of colour and music. Love the local hats and i steal many to try on (i feel the traditional dress is always about the hat...) in the beaded beanies, women in top hats with bows, the flat hat, masks with feathers, too many. Ladies and lads dancing with each other and dragging us in. The happy mood is infectious and i love being so included by the locals.
partying in the plaza with the locals.
And they are always appreciative of the beer i pour for them.... plus the blonde.... the guys are so short it is almost comical dancing with them and ducking under their arms as we twirl. Or dancing in a cirle then spinning in the middle, or an older lady dragging me into the tight centre of a band and slowly and stately dancing round together. Great night and one of mybest in South America. They know how to have a good time, though i still dont know how to dance to the irratic drum beat.
Every night out has been great in cusco. From partying with gringoes in fancy dress for friday the 13th, to not having to buy a drink at the clubs as they all fight for your business and offer free drinks, to good food in restaurants of peruvian or western cuisine.
The hats. Almost everywhere and every culture has a different hat. From Mexico to here, men and women in most places.
Then the rave (outdoors again) for inti rami in the sacred valley. Dancing to sala, reggaeton, electronica... anything. Definitely like cusco.
Adrienne and I decide to try Ayahuasca - a shamanistic midicinal ritual - and go on a search for a shaman. We fast for the day and then meet our peruvian shaman and enter the adobe hut with thatch roof in the upper valley of cusco. He mixes the vines into a red drink and we gulp down the foul tasting mix. It is made from vines of the amazon and has been used for centuries as a path to the soul and to help cure illnesses, I go in looking for some direction or sign. The shaman chants / sings in a ritual offerring to pachamama (mother nature). My friend 5 mins in throws up the vines ("cleansing") and curls into a little ball, seeing fire coming down the roof and fluro colours on everything.
a local lady in traditional dress welcoming the Sunrise of the Winter Soltice with her drum, atop the Temple of the Moon. Not for anyone but herself so it was magic to witness
The peruvian guy also trying it says "muy fuerte" and also retreats into his own world. I.... twiddle my thunbs, wait.... ask for more. Later in the cold of the night the shaman chnts over me, feather moving over my body on drops of incense. Well, I went in with an open mind, but I just had a cold night with a lot of time to think.
In the morning we arose early for the summer soltice. We climbed to the top of the temple of the moon and witnessed the new sun rising. There was a local lady there in beautiful intricate traditional dress, welcoming the sun with her drum and low singing in her own ritual. That was magic to witness as it was just for herself, the sun and pachamama.
We leave cusco exhausted by all the experiences, and a couple of us head to Arequipa.
Its a nice city, complete with plazas and old colonial uildings and beautiful intricately designed churches, and surrounded by volanoes. When we discovere that an erruption will only take 7mins for the lava to it the min plaza we had some reat drunk conversations about what we would do for the last 7minutes of our life. Anyway... before dying a horrible death from an errupting volcano, Blair, Hamish and i explore the city and i fall in love with Santa Catalina Monastery. It is a labrynth of little hallways, stairs to nowhere, small orchards, the comfortable sleeping quarters of nuns, tiny gardens, plaza and fountains. There is lovely artwork everywhere and the walls are sienna (redish), deep blue or the original stone. The kitchen is huge and still has all the old pots and pans, and well (where i mke a wish - tho nowing what to wish for with this life i am leading is the toughest thing iwill do today).
The Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa
The nuns sent here from the 1500s were from the richer families and continued the lifestyles they were accustomed too - some with maids, lush quarters and visitors. And the brownie and icecream truly was sinful - always all about the food.
And to see the sacrifice. The incans, that I was loving just days ago left an almost perfectly preserved "ice mummy - juanita". She was recently discovered atop one of the volcanoes near town, and since they have found several more mummies - mainly of children led to their deaths to appease the gods. It is said she went willingly to save her people, but she was just 12 years old and many others have been much much younger.... so I am not sure how knowingly she was led?
I head off on the bus to a hike of the Colca Canyon at the unearthly hour of 1am in the morning.
The group at the top of the Canyon.
This is the 2nd deepest in the world (the neighbouring canyon was recently found to be marginally deeper) twice as deep as the grand canyon of the USA. The canyon at the top is dry, dotted with cactuses, with snow covered peaks above us reaching 6000m high, and we hike the steep path down to the river at its depth. The bottom is greener with an irrigation system throughout the terraces. There are little villages that we wander through. We hike most of the day to arrive in the oasis that night. It is such a different scene to the dry hills above. We pass a couple of waterfalls and enter a green world in the corner of the river canyon. It is dotted with bamboo huts and nice swimming pools, and surrounded by dry walls of the canyon, reaching to the blue sky above.
The magestic Condor. Ungly bird actually. But is 10ft across! Can pick up a sheep!
It is a whole other world here from a couple of steps away. We sleep and get up at 3am in the morning to make the dark climb to the top 4 hours away, with only our headtorches for light. So no way to know how high, how much farther.... But we get to the top and see the sunrise over the canyon. We are up so early to see the condors up close. They fly on the morning thermals near their nesting place. They are ugly birds, but so majestic and huge - 3m across! They can lift a sheep. I have been seeing condors for ages but never close enough to really appreciate their size, especially when they soar so close to us. We are lucky and see 8, some still broan and young, but others the full huge size and black with some white. We are even luckier as they fly right over the top of us, giving us their protection supposedly.
Lucky and protected now.
For pure fun and a whole new vista of Peru i cant help but stop in Ica. This is a small oasis town in the midle of huge sanddunes, which stretch about 480km. It looks like the Sahara Dessert. And it is a true oasis. With huge walls of sand surrounding it, a little lake in the middle that is surrounded by restaurants and tour companies offerring sandboarding. This is the place where you do not have to hike up a massive sanddune, lugging a board but the sandbuggies scream up hills and fly over the top of dunes to drop down the other side and make sharp turns. They are the craziest drivers ever, and it is more than once i hold on and scream. Then we lay faceforward on the board and peer over the steep sanddune. Deep breath - dont yell otherwise you will be full of sand - and go! It is fun.
we camped by this lake on day 2 Huayhuash
And scary steep. About the funnest tour i have done yet.
I head north to Huaraz, to trek. I have been looking forward to trekking Huayhuash for a longtime. It is meant to be one of the best treks. And I am not disappointed. After a whirl of organisation booking donkeys and a donkey driver for 8 days, buying food in the local market, and renting tents and warm sleeping bags me, Evert (dutch) and Matthew (ozzie) and 3 scottish we joined up with head into the mountains. We hike for 8 days and it is a blur of moments and images, crossing 4500-5000m passes three times, hiking up and down through beautiful valleys, camping near rivers and lakes with the jagged white peaks of the Huayhuash against the blue sky.
bull fight with the lady watching her herd Huayhuash
Whipped by wind and freezing at night but very lucky with the weather. Hiking by tiny little mud and straw brick or stone homes in the middle of the remote valleys, llama trains going by, sheep donkeys and horses on the hills. Two bulls fighting while the local lady looking after them tries to keep out of the way. Trekking along path cut into the side of the steep slopes, or down crisscrossing the rivers. And hardly any trees as we are so high. Greeting locals working or hiking to the closest town the better part of a day away. Hot springs. Then on the last night a quick dive into a glacial pool. Too many stars. And breakfast in bed on 2 days - thanks guys! Good conversations and games hiking. Playing the card game Frank Zoo!!! Blaming anything and everything on the altitude.
the snowcapped mountains behind the three of us. matt and evert were great to hike, camp, and cook with (but that is too much salt!!!)
Cooking dinner at 430pm everyday before it got too cold for us to leave the tent. Running down slopes. Easily hiking the mountains. On struggle street up that one damn hill. The new breathtaking view around every corner. Stopping, staring and appreciating.... Stunning and magnificent.
My last trek of the trip... worth the wait. And no more mountains for me!!!