South America 2009 – Peru (1)

Monday, 9th February – Saturday, 14th February

When we arrived in Puno it was very busy. The guide who met us at the coach station explained it was the Festival of the Virgin of Candalaria, and our hotel had been switched to one close to the Carnival procession route. That afternoon and evening we watched as groups from local towns and villages followed the 5km route, dressed in their elaborate costumes and accompanied by their local band. There were over 80 groups in total and it was a continuous stream. The locals lined the streets cheering and drinking.

The next day we transferred to Colca Canyon, crossing the ‘Salinas Aquada Blanca’ National park and over a pass at 5000m where we saw a volcano at 7500 m which is one source of the Amazon. In the afternoon we visited ‘La Calera’ thermal springs for a swim in the pools. The following morning we were up early to travel to the ‘Cruz de la Condor’, to see the Condors rising on the morning thermals above the Canyon and also had a short walk along the canyon rim. On the way and back we visited local villages, churches and some rock tombs and bought some souvenirs from roadside stalls. We also saw Inca terraces and young folk dancers.

The next day it was back over the pass and on to Arequipa. The colonial centre of the city is constructed from white volcanic stone called sillar which is why the city is called the White City. We stayed at a hotel on the main square with a view of the plaza and the cathedral from our balcony. The next day was Michael’s birthday but he had an upset tum and was not feeling too good. However, we had a private tour of the city and visited viewpoints to see the volcanoes towering over the city, and guided tour of the Santa Catarina Convent, and also the La Compania church and its San Ignacio chapel with a cupola smothered with brightly coloured murals of tropical flowers, fruits and birds.

We were supposed to leave the next morning for an early flight to Cuzco, but our flight was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather at Cuzco. After trying to book for the next day we had to settle for seats on the overnight coach. We spent more time in the square and visited a museum about Inca sacrifices and the frozen mummies of sacrifices that had been found at the top of volcanoes. The Incas selected young people from an early age to be prepared for sacrifice to appease the gods if a natural disaster occurred, such as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption.

We had a fairly comfortable overnight journey to Cuzco. In the afternoon we had a group tour of the city and surrounding ruins. We visited the main square and cathedral, the city Inca site of Koricancha, to the north the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman and the Inca springs of Tambo Machay.

In the evening we ate at a restaurant on the main square where we got talking to a Canadian couple and experienced an earth tremor.

Inka Karal – Rowder Lee