Wednesday, October 15, 2008

18 & 19th September - Journey to Arequipa

I'm writing this first entry in my blog whilst sat in the upstairs lounge of Luz's parents house in Arequipa, Peru. The time is now 6:43pm and it has now been dark for about 30 minutes. Being this close to the equator means that the length of days fluctuate by only around 85 minutes with the sunrise times varying from 5:32 in November to 6:29 in July and sunset times from 17:49 at the end of May to 18:40 at the end of start of February. The longest day in Peru is around the 21st December when it is 12 hours and 50 minutes with the shortest day being around the 21st June at just under 11 hours and 25 minutes. Compare this with the data for the adopted home city (near enough) of Amsterdam with day lengths varying from 7 hours and 40 minutes to 16 hours and 48 minutes.

Just before the sun went down I went out for a short walk around the area of Socabaya, the district of Arequipa in which Luz's parents live. I tooka few nice photos of the surrounding volcanoes (El Misti, Chachani (2) and Pichu Pichu) and other mountains as the sun was starting to go down which meant they were covered in quite a strange light. They really are a very spectacular sight and certainly very different from the view I have out of my window at home!

The journey to Peru actually started at just before 4 o'clock yesterday morning (Amsterdam time) when we had to be up ready for the taxi to take us to Schiphol airport for the 2.5 hour flight to Madrid with Iberia. I had not gone to sleep until around 1:30am due to a mixture of excitement and apprehension over the long flight ahead. I still don't really enjoy flying too much although I certainly don't get as anxious as some people can get. Anyway, the flight to Madrid left at around 8:50 after a delay of around 45 minutes due to there being problems with one of the landing wheels which had to be replaced. We still got to Madrid with plenty of time to spare for the Lima flight however. The flight was very smooth with no problems at all but even though I was sit next to a window it was unfortunately very difficult to see much due to heavy cloud for most of the flight. There was some very nice patchwork quilt type landscape just prior to landing in Madrid though but I was unable to get any good photos of it.

Madrid airport's new Terminal 4 is a very attractive, modern building even following the bomb attack which took place there in December 2006, shortly after it had opened and the day after we had flown back to Amsterdam following our previous trip to Peru! It is also one of the largest airport terminal buildings in the world with an area of 470,000 m² (Hong Kong´s Terminal 1 holds the record at 570,000m²) and we had to take one of the high-speed trains to get from the arrivals section to the departure gate we needed.

The 12 hour flight to Lima, also on Iberia, took off on time at 12:40 and as we were travelling with a small child it meant we could bypass the long queue waiting to board the plane. Of course we then had to wait for someone to take his push-chair to put in the hold just before we entered the plane so many people overtook us anyway. There were also a large group of nuns on the plane which also seems to happen whenever we fly for some reason. Still, at least it would make you think the plane had some added protection, if you believe in that type of thing. Of course, Madrid airport suffered a terrible crash last month which led to the deaths of 154 people so we could have done with all the protection we could get!

This time we were sat in the centre section on seats and so it was virtually impossible to see anything out of the window although the flight-path meant that there probably wouldn't be an awful lot to see anyway apart from the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon rain-forest. There were a number of films and short documentaries shown during the flight but I didn't fancy of them particularly not the terrible new Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull which is totally full of inaccuracies about Peru which can only mis-inform all the tourists which were currently been flown there. Other films included the more children orientated Kung Fu Panda and Nim's Island plus some other one which I missed the name of but which Luz and a girl from Trujillo who she was sat next to and became quite friendly with quite enjoyed. I just read a few of the many books I had brought with me or tried, unsuccessfully to sleep. Matthew handled it pretty well despite being uninterested in most of the stuff we had brought for him to play with on the plane. But with a combination of sleep, a couple of sticker books and some colouring we managed to keep him sufficiently occupied for the 12 hours or so. The first 8 hours passed quite slowly with a few short patches of mild turbulence but for the last 4 hours it was virtually non-stop turbulence which, despite being not particularly rough, was very uncomfortable due to its length. Due to not being able to sleep properly I was already not feeling particularly well and this constant wobbling about led to me getting quite a bad headache which meant I was lacking any real appetite for the snack that was served shortly before we landed in Lima. We were able to watch the landing on the video screen due to the camera positioned in the tail of the plane but it mostly comprised of seeing the plane drop through the heavy cloud covering Lima. It was only shortly prior to landing that we finally dropped below the cloud just in time to see that we were approaching the airport from the sea and had just reached the coastline. Lima airport is not actually in Lima at all but in the neighbouring city of Callao, an important Peruvian port and it was possible to see many ships and boats dotting the coastline as we flew overhead. The actual landing was very smooth and attracted quite a large amount of applause from the passengers, some of which I had noticed to appear quite worried by the turbulence on my many trips to the toilet. The time was now 17:05 Peruvian time on 18th September or just after midnight 19th September Amsterdam time.

Again having Matthew with us literally open many doors for us and we were ushered through the very long customs queue into a side desk which probably saved us about 30 minutes of waiting. But then we had to collect our baggage and it took more than 30 minutes to finally appear on the carrousel by which time it had been surrounded by the many other people, and their troillies, who were also waiting for their baggage and blocking the path for anyone behind. We did eventually manage to collect everything though and then went across to the money exchange desk across the baggage hall were we changed our euros into Peruvian Nuevo Sols.

We weren't flying on to Arequipa until very early the next morning so had decided to stay overnight in a hotel close to the airport. Therefore we took our large baggage to the storage facility so that we didn't have to carry it with us.

We then left the main airport building to get one of the many awaiting taxis to our hotel. It was only a short distance, about 10 minutes, but the minimal fee was 30 sols, or about 8 euro which was a bit steep but there was nothing we could do about it, it was the regulations.

The hotel ( was in a not particular nice part of Callao but it was close to a main street with quite a few different types of shops we once we had booked in and rested for a short time we headed out for a quick look around and to buy a few bits and pieces. We were also feeling rather hungry by that time so we stopped in at a Polleria (chicken shop) on the way back to the hotel for a quarter of roast chicken breast, chips and a salad all for 7.50 sols (less than 2 euro). The whole place was totally dead when we first entered, apart from one bored looking guy sat waiting at a table. But as soon as we made our order the place suddenly sprang into life we another 4 staff members appearing. The salad was covered in some strange tasting sauce so we didn't eat too much of that, or many of the chips, but the chicken was OK and filled us up sufficiently. We were the only customers though and the fixtures and fittings hardly looked spic and span so I'm not sure exactly how much custom the place usually gets.

Once back in the hotel we finally had a chance to try and relax after a very long tiring day. The hotel seemed to be like one of those which usually charge by the hour rather than the day with heart-shaped headboards and shower areas and mirrors all around the walls (but not on the ceiling it must be said). There was also a sliding glass door leading out to a balcony which Matthew tried to walk through when it was closed giving him a nasty surprise, a small bump on the head and a few tears. The door didn't look and I was a bit worried Matthew might wake up during the night, open it and get out onto the balcony so we drew the lace curtain across and placed a chair in front of the bit where it opened and this worked fine. The hotel also had the full cable package but apart from a few cartoons for Matthew, a short snippect of a Mexican soap for Luz and some football highlights for me we never really watched it and decided to go to bed at around 9pm due to our very early flight the next morning. We had booked a taxi for 3:30am to take us to the airport and had arranged a call to our room at 3 in order to wake us up in time. Int the event both me and Luz were unable to sleep particularly well - me due to the bed being quite uncomfortable with a very hard pillow and Luz due to being worried about not waking up in time. This meant she woke up just about every hour to get me to check my watch. Matthew slept fine though.

When our early morning 3am call arrived we were already up and dressed and then had to wait around 30 minutes for our taxi. The short trip back to the airport proved to be quite eventful with the driver having a particularly unique method of driving which meant we were never entirely sure exactly which side of the road he would drive on at any point or whether or not he would actually break in time to avoid hitting vehicles in front of us. Fortunately though we, and the taxi, manage to reach the airport in one piece although without Matthew´s pushchair which we had managed to leave in the hotel. We´d now have to buy another one.

After picking up our luggage and checking in we proceeded to take the 4:45 LAN flight to Arequipa. Of course it was dark when we set off so despite managed to swop my seat across the aisle from Luz and Matthew with a window seat I was unable to see hardly anything apart from a few tiny lights far below for the first 45 minutes or so. Then, once the sun started to rise I was able to make out a very spectacular Martian-like reddish landscape with huge volcanos, mountains, ravines and gullies. This landscape was mostly very barren but it was dotted occasionally with a few green river valleys. Shortly before landing the sun was shining almost directly into the plane window making it very difficult to see much but once we started to descend into Arequipa airport the surrounding mountains blocked out the sun making it a lot easier to see things. The landing was slightly heavy and the braking a bit hard but nothing too worrying and we were soon able to leave the plane and enter the small Rodriguez Ballon terminal building waving to Luz's family as we did so (or at least Luz and Matthew were, I was just waving in their general direction due to not having my glasses on). Whilst waiting for our luggage the girl in front of me managed to drop her very long thin case onto the end of my foot which was (and still is) very painful.

Shortly afterwards we were able to meet up with Luz's family and exchanged many hugs, kisses and cries in Spanish of "look how big he/she is" and "isn't he/she beautiful" in the direction of both Matthew and Lucia. The 7 of us (me, Luz, Matthew, Luz´s parents, sister and niece Lucia) then had to squeeze into a taxi along with all our luggage plus the driver for the 30 minute drive to Socabaya right on the southern border of the city of Arequipa.

During the drive it was interesting to notice once again how many types of shops are collected together in one street or area. We passed through streets that seemed to contain only ladrillerias(brick shops), vidrierias (window shops) or shops selling nothing but bananas. It was also impossible not to notice how mad the majortiy of the driving was here in Peru with the hundreds of little yellow taxis whizzing around with barely a gap between them.

Once we had arrived at Luz's parents house in Socabaya and settled in we took one of the small minibuses into the centre of Arequipa to buy amongst other things sunglasses for me and a new pushchair for Matthew. The part Luz had brought us to was apparently quite dangerous with quite a few robberies and other crimes but I saw nothing untoward and didn't feel threatened at all. Still, I did decide to remove my watch on Luz's suggestion just in case. Although it was only a cheap one which I had bought last time I was in Peru it could still have caused some pain if someone had pulled it from my wrist. I always find it interesting to see the various goings-on in the streets and markets of Arequipa with all kinds people selling all kinds of things, sometimes poor mothers trying to scrape a living with their very young child on their back. We found a market which sold pushchairs and bought one at a very reasonable price as well as some "Gucci" sunglasses for 10 sols and a space-hopper bouncing ball thing for Matthew and Lucia to play on.

Afterwards we went to a very nice cafe where we had pork sandwiches and ice-cream (Lucuma for Luz, something called Black Forest for me which wasn´t anything like the expected Black Forest gateaux but still nice). Then we got a taxi back to Socabaya which was probably even more hair-raising than our trip from the hotel in Callao to the airport with a number of near-misses.

Tomorrow morning we will be going on a 4 hour bus trip around Arequipa which was bought for us as a present by Luz's parents and should be very interesting. You can read all about it, and see the photos, in the next few days! Bye for now!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

20th September - Arequipa bus tour

Last night we had been given a present by Luz´s parents of a bus tour around Arequipa which was due to set of from the main square, the Plaza de Armas, at around 9:15. We took a minibus at 8:15 which we hoped would give us enough time to reach the square but due to frequent stops and heavy traffic we were in danger of being too late and so had to switch to a taxi. This went much quicker and we were able to get there with 15 minutes to spare which gave us time for a quick look around the Plaza de Armas. It's a very beautiful square, considered to be one of the most beautiful in the whole of South America, with the large cathedral on its northern side and attractive terraces (now housing many bars and restaurants), built by the Spanish, on the other three sides. These buildings, like many in Arequipa, are built from the white volcanic sillar rock which led to the city getting its nickname, Ciudad Blanca (White City).

The bus passengers comprised mostly of Spanish speakers, both from various other South American countries and also from Spain, as well as a young French couple and a German couple and one English guy (me!). This meant the tour guide had to give her talk in both Spanish and English although the English section was noticeably shorter than the Spanish one.

The tour started with a trip around the Plaza giving us a better look at the terraces and a quick glimpse of the very decorated façade of the La Compañia church just off the SE corner of the Plaza. We then left the Plaza and drove around the small streets of the Historical Centre of Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, seeing various colonial and historical buildings such as the Santa Catalina Monastery, Casa Ricketts, the Casa del Moral (named after the Blackberry tree – “moral” in Spanish – which grows in its courtyard) and the San Francisco church.

The two volcanoes, Chachani and El Misti, dominate the northern horizon of the city and the tour included a number of miradors, of viewpoints, which gave very nice views of both of them. The first stop, in the most northerly district of Cayma was the Mirador La Rinconada in Carmen Alto, a very beautiful spot which looked over the Rio Chili valley up towards Chachani to the north and also with spectacular views towards El Misti to the northeast. A small café housed a few llamas and also sold some traditional Arequipeñan and Peruvian foodstuffs such as a liqueur made from the medicinal local herb maca which is thought to be a natural type of Viagra. Luz bought a bottle of it for some reason!

The narrow streets of Cayma caused some problems for our bus but after some tight squeezes due to building work being carried on in the main plaza we managed to reach our second stop, the San Miguel Archangel church. The church was built in 1730 and has a beautifully carved façade. Inside there was a mass being carried out but we were still able to have a quiet look around at it´s collection of religious icons and artifacts.

Next we visited the district of Yanahuara where another mirador can be found, this one very popular and famous in Arequipa for its spectacular views of El Misti which can be found on hundreds of postcards and paintings. This mirador frames El Misti between large sillar arches and colourful bunches of flowers (2). Carved on the arches are pieces of writing by famous Arequipeñan such as José Luis Bustamante y Ribero, President of Peru between 1948 and 1948 (and who also has a district of Arequipa named after him), the poets Percy Gibson, César Atahualpa Rodríguez, Belisario Calle and Albert Hidalgo and the educator and philosopher Jorge Polar. Close by is the beautiful Church of San Juan Bautista with a finely carved facade like many of the buildings in Arequipa but due to a wedding taking place while we were there we were unable to see much of the inside. Just before getting back on the bus we were able to try a local speciality, queso helado (cheese ice-cream). Despite the name it´s not actually made from cheese but from milk, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and is very tasty.

The next destination was the Incalpaca clothing factory in the district of Sachaca which, as well as supplying scarves, coats, jumpers and gloves made from the fur of various camelids such as llamas, vicunas, guanacos and alpacas, actually houses a few samples of each animal in enclosures behind the main shop.

Also located in Sachaca was another mirador, this time located at the top of a high tower which itself is located on a high hill. The result is splendid views over the whole of Arequipa and its surrounding countryside, including the three volcanoes Chachanci, Misti and Pichu Pichu. The tower also houses a large white statue of Christ halfway up. Down at the bottom of the hill it was possible to get your photo taken with a woman dressed in the local custom as well as with her hawk Pepe, which both myself and Luz did actually.

We then passed through the relatively new district of Hunter which was formed in 1948 and named after the Scottish doctor and philanthropist Jacobo Dickson Hunter who did much fine work in Arequipa in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is separated from the main part of Arequipa with scenic countryside which means it is a constantly expanding district whose population is growing rapidly.

The next stop was supposed to be the Mansion del Fundador, close to the small village of Huasacache in the south of Arequipa. This is the former home of Garci Manuel de Carbajal the Spanish conquistador who founded the city of Arequipa on August 15, 1540. It was restored about 30 years ago and turned into a museum which also holds private events such as weddings. In fact this was exactly what was taking place at that moment so we were unable to visit the building unfortunately.

The penultimate location on the tour was the Molino de Sabandia, a water mill that was built in around 1785 and is still working today. The choice here was either to visit the mill itself or to participate in a 15 minute horse ride through the countryside surrounding the mill. We choose the latter which was a lot of fun although my horse behaved a lot better than Luz´s which seemed to have a mind of its own and kept stopped to eat or going the wrong way!
We will be returning to the mill later on with Luz´s family so I will be able to give more information on the building itself then. The final stop on the tour was at Paucarpata, famous for its pre-inca terraces which also give very nice views of El Misti.

The bus then started to make its way back to the Plaza de Armas but before that it was possible to get off at the Tradición Arequipeña restaurant for lunch which is what we did. This restaurant serves traditional Peruvian and Arequipa food and is extremely popular with locals as well as tourists. We choose the Piqueo Tradición which was a mixture of various local dishes such as Rocoto Relleno (spicy peppers stuffed with mincemeat, cheese and potato), zarza de patitas (lambs trotters seasoned with onions), papa a la huancaína (potatoes covered in a spicy sauce) and chicharrón de chancho (deep-fried pork served with an onion and tomato salad). We washed all of this down with two large bottles of the local beer Arequipeña. The most popular drink in the restaurant seemed to be Inca Kola, the bright yellow soft drink which isn´t really a cola at all. It is far more popular in Peru than Coca Cola with Pepsi Cola being virtually non-existent. All in all, it was a very nice meal and we left the restaurant very full.

Monday, October 13, 2008

21st September - Breakfast in Miraflores, Dinner in Sachaca

Another early morning start today for a visit to the Miraflores district of Arequipa where Luz´s maternal grandmother lives. Luz drove us there in her father´s car and did very well considering she´s only been used to driving in Holland for the last few years.

Her grandmother is a very good cook (I´ve also tasted one of her specialities - Cuy or Guinea Pig) and has a small restaurant at the front of her house where she sells some of her dishes. Traditionally on Sunday mornings the dish in question is abodo (pork marinated in chicha, or maize beer, and spices) and many people in the area come to eat it on Sunday mornings. This particular morning her customers included us. It was very tasty and a good way to start a Sunday. Matthew didn´t have the Adobo but instead had Sopa de Gallina (chicken soup containing an egg and noodles) and loved it! We washed it down with a bottle of Kola Real and a cup of mate to which a few drops of anis can be added to aid indigestion (I choose to have it without as I don´t like aniseed).

Afterwards we visited a few locations in the district of Miraflores which is located right in the north of Arequipa directly below the El Misti volcano. We had planned to go to a children´s playground in the north of the district first but it wasn´t open when we arrived so instead we went to the main square of Miraflores, Plaza Mayta Capac. Mayta Capac was the 4th Inca Emperor who is said to have given Arequipa its name when he visited the settlement in the 14th century. He was very impressed by the beauty of the area and its strategically important position as a connecting point between Cusco and the southern coast of Peru and told his advisors to ¨Ari Quipay!¨ or ¨Stay here¨ in order to develop the settlement further.

Plaza Mayta Capac is a very pleasant square with the main administrative building on its southern side and various shops and cafes on the other sides. The centre-point of the square is a large fountain which is connected to the corners of the square with diagonal pathways. Many people were sitting there to enjoy the sun, to read the newspaper, indulge in romantic activities and play with their children. In the SW corner of the square a number of small motorised cars were available for children to sit in and ride and Matthew and Lucia tried them out. However, they were a little bit too small to be able to control the cars themselves and so had to be pushed around the park by one of the people in charge. They enjoyed it so much that they were then taken on a second ride and Matthew would probably be still there now riding around the square if he was able to.

After we had enjoyed some ice lollies to cool down we returned to the playground which was by now open. It was really very good, covering a large area with lots of slides, trampolines, swings, climbing frames and other play equipment and Luz and Matthew enjoyed themselves a lot.
In the afternoon we had played to go to a Cuy Chactao festival in Arancato in the Sachaca district of Arequipa where the restaurants there would have samples of various styles of preparation of cuy (guinea pig). However, when we got there we found that the festival had been held in the morning and was now finished. So instead we decided to visit the popular La Cecilia chicharroneria restaurant for dinner. Chicharrones are very popular dishes in Peru and other Latin American countries and comprise of fried pieces of meat, usually pork but also mutton, chicken, beef and even fish. I choose the Chicharron de Cancho (pork) which came with fried sweet potato, an onion and tomato salad and cancha (toasted corn). The restaurant was very full with a lively atmosphere as many Peruvian families eat out in restaurants on Sundays and today the restaurant had live music to which many people were dancing. After we had finished our meal we joined in and Matthew enjoyed the dancing very much, both with Lucia and with Luz and her family.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

22nd September - Arequipa centre and bike ride

A quieter day today with only a trip to Arequipa centre for a few things and then a bike ride around the area where Luz´s parents live which turned out to be more eventful than expected.

We wanted to visit the Colca Canyon whilst we were here as neither of us (including Luz who was born in Arequipa and lived there for 23 years!) had been there so we planned to visit a few tour agencies in the centre of Arequipa to look for a good value 2-day trip. The first tour agency offered a trip at a reasonable price of 105 sols (around 25 euro) plus a few extras per person but we wanted to go the following day and we were told that there were no other customers for that day so we decided to look for another agency instead. We found one, the Wayra Travel Agency (Portal San Agustin 145,, on the Plaza de Armas which we managed to get for only 70 sols (around 17 euro) each, plus it had a full group for the next day so we booked with them.

Whilst we were in the centre Matthew and I got our hair cut as we were both getting rather shaggy. The barbers we went to was a very old fashioned, traditional place employers and my hair was cut by a distinguished looking gentleman wearing a suit and tie who did his job very well and very carefully, using manual clipper rather than electric ones and splashing me regularly with aftershave. Matthew had his hair cut whilst sat upon a small horse (not a real one!) and, apart from a few tears at the beginning, behaved very well.

I wanted to buy a good map of Arequipa so we had a look around a few bookshops for one. I could easily have bought many of the books on Peru but I managed to control myself and eventually I managed to find the map I was looking for. It was quite expensive, 40 sols (10 euro) but it showed all the streets and districts of Arequipa which is exactly what I wanted.

I would later use this map when I went on a bike ride around the southern part of Arequipa. I started in the La Campiña (countryside) part of Socabaya, where Luz´s family lives. All the streets in La Campiña are named after flowers with the street on which Luz´s family live being called Pasaje de los Amapolas (Passage of the Poppies). La Campiña is located on top of a large hill and so I had a down-hill ride to reach the valley of the Rio Socabaya river below. This hill, the Alto de la Puna was the location of the Battle of Socabaya in February 1836 during the War of Confederation between the Southern Peru-Bolivian Confederation and the joint army of Chile, Argentina and Northern Peru. In this battle the former army, led by Andrés de Santa Cruz won a crushing victory against the latter, led by Felipe Santiago Salaverry. However, in the end the latter army won and the Southern Peru-Bolivian Confederation was dissolved.

I then crossed over the bridge leading to Socabaya village where I came across a religious procession had just started. A large group of people were walking along the road with a group of them carrying a large statue of some Virgin whilst at the back girls were dancing and a band was playing. A police car waved all the oncoming cars (and me) to the side of the road until the procession had passed. Shortly afterwards I came to the main square, the Plaza de Armas, of Socabaya which housed the main church of Socabaya, La Iglesia de San Fernando which was brightly decorated with blue and white flags for the procession. It was also missing its left tower, a result of the strong earthquake of June 23, 2001 which caused extensive damage to the city of Arequipa and its surroundings.

Leaving the square I made my way east, up a steep hill until I passed the Regional Police School before entering the Umapalpa area along the southern ridge of the Socabaya valley, home to a large farming community. This area was very rustic with poorly built house and terraces containing various plants. There were also no proper roads only dusty, stony paths which made cycling very difficult. This, along with the steep slopes meant I had to push my bike most of the way. I also ended up getting a bit lost and had to make my way across an area of terraces in order to reach what appeared to be a main pathway through the village. As I did so a farmer appeared from his small cottage and shouted something at me. I didn´t quite hear it but shouted "Lo siento¨ (sorry) back at him just in case.

Once I reached the pathway I stopped for a drink of water as the going was quite difficult and the temperature in the late afternoon still very warm. I sat on a low stone wall to rest, drink and observe the surroundings. Across in the fields opposite a number of farmers were at work on their terraces using a small waterfall to irrigate their land. Up on the hill above was a large ruined structure in front of which stood another farmer who was watching both the two workers and myself. He probably wondered just what this gringo was doing there on his bike. Shortly afterwards another withered old gentleman came down the path from the top of the hill leading his cow down to the valley below. I exchanged a short greeting with him but he showed no surprise upon seeing me.

After I had rested sufficiently I continued up to the top of the hill where I saw a number of other cows and horses and also a small truck which was delivering bricks which were to be used to build and repair some of the buildings there, including what looked like a small church. I then made my way along the path which ran along the edge of the valley, sometimes walking with my bike and sometimes riding it if the quality of the path allowed it. I passed through some agrarian smallholdings containing a few domestic animals such as cows and dogs which usually barked loudly as I went past. By this time the light was beginning to fade and when I looked back down to the west I could see the sun appearing just over the mountains on the horizon. There was also a nice view of the La Campiña area of Socabaya, where I had begun my trip, across the valley with Chachani volcano visible in the distance.

A little way along the path I saw a young girl coming down from one of the cottages further up the hill. She was carrying two small buckets which she was obviously going to fill up from the small water channel which ran alongside the path. When she first saw me she appeared a little afraid and stopped but she soon overcame her fear and continued down the hill until she appeared on the path just on front of me where she again stopped and stared at me. I said hello and asked how she was and she replied she was very well thank you. I smiled at her, she smiled back and I carried on along the path leaving her to collect her water.

Not much further on I saw a large sign saying that all trespassers to the area at the top of the hill were at risk of being arrested. I saw on my map that this area belonged to the P.I.P (Policía de Investigaciones del Perú), the detective branch of the Peruvian police force. There were no fences separating that area from the rest of the hill but I wasn´t planning to go that far up anyway.

I then left the district of Socabaya and entered the neighbouring district of Sabandia, a very rural part of Arequipa. I soon reached the Molino de Sabandia which we had visited as part of the Arequipa bus tour a few days previously. This time it was around 5:45pm and so the place was deserted apart from a few young herders trying to round up their horses and cows some of which broke loose and ran down the small lane sending clouds of dust billowing after them. Another herder was trying to persuade his horses to cross the small stream which crossed the path just before it turned up towards the entrance to the mill. I stopped briefly here to observe the view across to the small village of Yumina with the Pichu Pichu volcano lit up by the setting sun behind the hills at the back of the village.

At the top of the small hill I reached the entrance to the mill and saw a small girl who was just returning home from school to be met at the gate by her mother. I then made my way along the small road which connected the mill with the main road which would take me through Sabandia, briefly through the district of Paucarpata and then into the district of Jose Luis Bustamente y Rivero (named after the Arequipa born president of Peru between 1945 and 1948, who later became President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague) from which it was only a short way back to Luz´s house. Just before I reached the end of the path I came across a young boy of about 11 who was also dressed in his school uniform. He was walked originally buy when he saw me he decided to run alongside me as I cycled. Luckily for him I wasn´t cycling too fast so he was able to easily keep up with me. At the main road I turned left whilst he turned right and continued up the hill towards Canchimayo village.

By now it was almost dark and as I didn´t have any lights on the bike I was quite worried as the road was quite busy. But then I saw a few of the cars didn´t have lights either! There were a few small hills which caused some difficulty and a taxi driver who cut a corner very fine and passed right in front of me but eventually I managed to reach the Bolivar part of the Jose Luis Bustamente y Rivero district and then turned off down a side road to avoid the heavy traffic on the main road.

As I was just about to enter the Socabaya district I encountered a large group of dogs at the top of a large hill. Once they saw me all hell broke loose and they started barking loudly and running after my bicycle. I was quite worried that they might bite me as I had seen a similar dog bite a cyclist the previous day whilst we were taking the taxi to Arancato. He responded by throwing some large stones at the dog but fortunately missed. I was cycling as fast as I could down the very bumpy road which ran down the hill but the dogs were keeping up with me and I lifted my legs up so that they couldn´t bite. Luckily, once I reached the bottom of the hill they gave up and I was able to escape in one piece.

It was then only a short distance to La Campiña and I made it back home without any further adventures.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

23rd September - Colca Canyon Day One

The bus for this trip left, as usual, from the Plaza de Armas at around 8:15am. The bus was just about full of contained a range of different nationalities including 5 Dutch females, a German couple, a French couple, a French-Canadian couple from Montreal, a Peruvian family of six and a guy from North Wales. We then made our way through the district of Yanahuara before stopping briefly in Cerro Colorado district in order to see the nice view of both the Chachani and El Misti volcanos with the farm land of Arequipa laid out before them. We also stopped at a small shop in order to buy provisions for the trip and to use the toilet as the next toilet would not be for another one and a half hours.

We then passed the airport and the NW district of Cono Norte which is built directly beneath Chachani volcano. The last part of the district before leaving the city of Arequipa is named Ciudad de Dios (City of God) and is a very poor shanty-like town which lacks many basic services and is home to around 4000 people. There are many charities and religious organizations trying to help out in this area.

Once we had left the city the bus took the main road which runs NW from Arequipa to the small town of Yura about 28kms away. Yura is home to a large cement factory and the town supplies many of its workers. There are also some hot springs nearby which we hope to visit later.
The road then turned NE and wound its way up the side of Chachani until it reached the Pampa Cañahuas on the northern side of the volcano. The road traffic comprised mainly of large trucks and buses with hardly any private cars to be seen. Some of these trucks and buses were in quite a bad state of repair and found it quite difficult to make their way up the steep road and we had to overtake on numerous occasions which is always slightly nerve-wrecking on the tight bends with sheer drops on one side.

The railway, which once carried passengers from Arequipa to Puno but now only carries freight, ran alongside the road for much of the way but the only train we saw on it was a very small railcar which carried workers who were busy cleaning the track. This area of land is called Pampa Cañahuas and is home to many thousands of vicuñas as well as other camelids such as llamas and alpacas. There were also spectacular views of the many volcanos of the region, the familiar El Misti (5822m high), Chachani (6075m) and Pichu Pichu (5650m) but also in the distance Ampato (6310m) and Ubinas (5670m, which last erupted as recently as 2006)
Shortly after we passed the tiny village of Cañahuas and the junction between the road to Chivay and the road which ran to Puno and then on to Cusco we had to pass through a control point where a road toll had to be paid according to how many wheels a vehicle has from 7.80 sols for a 2-wheeled vehicle up to 27.10 sols for a 7-wheeled one. Military vehicles only have to pay 3.90 sols. Once we had passed through this control point we reached our first stop at Patahuasi village famous for its rock formations which are known as the Stone Forest. Just outside the village were a few small buildings containing toilets, a cafe and a market which was full of local women selling their woollen wares. A number of sheep and alpacas of various sizes and colours were also wandering around.

The rock formations, on the side of the mountain which rose above to the north were in various shapes such as cones, pyramids and even a large frog! After a short rest of around 20 minutes during which Luz bought a scarf and we had a very hurried cup of coca tea and a egg, cheese and ham sandwich we continued north along the now un-tarmaced road which meant the journey became very bumpy from then on.

We were now driving through the northern part of the Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca which contained many small lakes, salt flats and many thousands of camelids. We stopped twice here in order to see alpacas and llamas grazing in the wetland just off the road. Our very informative and charming guide (whose name I didn´t catch) told us all about the the various camelids, how they lived, what they ate and how to tell the difference between them. To cut a long explanation short the basic differences are that the llama is the tallest species at up to 6 feet with long legs and ears, alpacas (which come in up to 52 different colours) are a maximum of 5 feet with shorter legs and ears whereas the vicuñas and guanaco (which don´t live in this part of Peru) reach a height of 4 feet and have much shorter hair than the other two. Vicuña fur is by far the most valuable though, producing a very fine silk-like cloth which can cost very high amounts of money to buy (a full coat made of out vicuña fur can cost as much as $20000!). Next in quality is the guanaco, followed by the alpaca (especially the baby alpaca) and lastly the llama whose wool is actually quite course.

OK, enough with the lecture, back to the trip. After leaving the various camelids behind we started to climb higher and higher up a winding, and very bumpy, mountain road passing large lumps of ice and unusual rock formations. Eventually we reached the highest point of the trip between Arequipa and Chivay at Patapampa which is around 4800m above sea-level. This point is also known as the Mirador de los Volcanes (Viewpoint of the volcanos) due to it´s great views of Ampato (6310m high), Sabancaya (5976m) and Hualca-Hualca (6025m). At various points along the road I had spotted small cairns of rocks which had been placed on top of each other. Here at Patapampa there were many of them. They are made to give honour to the mountain gods or Apus which were once worshiped by the Incas and still are venerated today by the members of the Quechua speaking group of Peru. They also represent the sins of the faithful travellers who have passed this way.

After we had left Patapampa we travelled only a short distance before reaching the edge of the Cordillera de Ampato mountain range through which we had just passed. Far below us the green Colca Valley opened out and in the middle of it was the small town of Chivay to which we were heading. But first we had to make our way down the side of the mountain along a very steep and winding road with many tight bends and alarming drops of many hundreds of feet which were very close to the wheels of the bus at some points.

After a hair-raising 15 minutes or so we finally reached the valley bottom and not long afterwards the town of Chivay at around 1:30pm, capital of the Caylloma province and our resting place for the night. But first we had to buy a boleto turistico (tourist ticket) which helps to pay for the administration and upkeep of many of the tourist destinations in the Colca Valley and Canyon (although we were only visiting a few of them). The cost was 35 sols for me as a foreigner but Luz, at a Peruvian national, got hers for half-price.

Our first stop in Chivay was at the Urinsaya restaurant where an all you can eat type buffet of various types of local food were available. Neither Luz nor myself fancied this as we weren´t that hungry and were already quite familar (Luz especially so) with Peruvian food so we ended up having a hamburger instead.

We were then taken to our hotel for the night, in our case La Estancia del Colca, about 1o minutes walk from the main Plaza de Armas. It was nothing special but had a double bed and a small bathroom with a shower so it was perfectly adequate. However, we were located right on the main foyer and directly underneath the stairs so it could probably get quite noisy.

Our group had arranged to meet at 3pm in the main square, with the Nuestra Senora De La Asuncion church on its eastern side which frames a cross carved into the mountain side above, to begin the one hour walk to the La Calera hot springs. The Peruvian family opted out of his excursion and it was just about the last we saw of them for the rest of the trip. But not the last we heard of them.

The walk to La Calera took us north from Chivay through the very pretty valley of the Rio Colca with terraces up on the mountainside above us and small farmhouses alongside the road. In the cliffs on the opposite side of the river small caves could be seen which may have acted as tombs for some of the pre-Inca tribes that lived in the valley many hundreds of years ago. Just before we reached the hot springs we saw a series of young cacti growing next to the river. In order to protect them from being eaten by animals they were surrounded by a small wall made from rocks and covered with fully grown cacti with hardened spikes that would prevent any animals from removing them.

Not long afterwards we reached the La Calera complex which contained 6 pools of various sizes and temperatures. The source water, which contains high amounts of calcium, zinc and iron as well as several salts, enters the complex at a temperature of around 85°C but it is cooled down to around 38°C before being used in the pools. This was the temperature of the pool we used, number 5, and once we had changed into our swimming costumes and entered the pool we found that it was very hot and quite unbearable at first. But after a few minutes we had become more accustomed to the temperature and the pool was very soothing to our aching joints and muscles. It was also possible to order refreshing drinks and snacks from the small cafe next to the pool and all-in-all it was very relaxing and enjoyable. The 85°C water source which we had seen when we first entered the complex smelt strongly of sulphur (or rotten eggs if you prefer) but the water in the pool had no noticable smell at all although, according to Luz who managed to swallow a large mouthful, it didn´t taste particularly nice.

We spent around one and a half hours in the pool and then a further 15 minutes or so sat near the small cafe where we talked to a few of our fellow group members. By that time it was around 6pm and we took the short bus trip back to Chivay in the dark.

After a quick rest and wash in our hotel we made our way back to the main square to meet up with those of us who were to eat at the El Nido restaurant where local music and dancing would also be performed. The Dutch members of the group had decided to visit a different restaurant instead and the Peruvian family were still missing so there were only about 10 of us from our group in the restaurant but the presence of a few other tour groups meant that the small restaurant was just about full. Both of us choose the alpaca steak which was very tender and very tasty and we washed it down with a few bottles of Cusqueña Negra beer which tastes quite like a sweeter, maltier version of Guinness. This was followed by a slice of chocolate and vanilla cake.

Now came the time for the entertainment. A local band appeared on the stage to play a selection of Peruvian songs, including the ubiquitous El Condor Pasa. Then a young couple dressed in local costume appeared to dance the Wititi dance which originates from the Colca region. It is a dance of love with much swaying and swinging of skirts. A few other dances from the region were also shown ending with one which told a story where the guy accidently eats a poisoned apple and faints (with much comic twitching for effects) whereupon the girl starts to whip him with her belt and then sats on his chest and wafts her skirt in his face to wake him up again. It´s then the girl´s turn to eat the apple, faint and be woken up by the guy whipping her (a bit gentler than what she did to him) with his belt.

This dance was then repeated a few times with audience participation when various males and females plucked from the onlookers to take part. The girl was gradually making her way over towards our table so the guy from North Wales disappeared to the toilet so as not to be chosen. I was not so lucky and was asked to join her for the dance. It wasn´t too difficult though, just a couple of twirls (one from me, one from her) and than I had to lie on the floor, be whipped a few times and then have her sit on my chest and waft her skirt in my face. Easy!

Once we left the restaurant it was around 9:30pm and as we had to get up at 5am the next morning for our trip to the Colca Canyon we decided to just head back to our hotel for an early night.

Friday, October 10, 2008

24th September - Colca Canyon Day Two

When I left you we had just had an early night due to our early start this morning in order to visit the Colca Canyon. You may remember the Peruvian family who were part of our group which had travelled from Arequipa but had gone missing in action once we arrived in Chivay.

Well, they turned up at 3:30 this morning after we heard them arriving from one of the local discotheques. I have no idea where the two children that were with them during this time though.

We had both slept pretty well up to this point and the night-time temperature was luckily not as low as had been predicted (up to minus 15) but it was still pretty cold and we had to sleep in our clothes and with the very heavy, very thick woollen blankets which the bed came with.

After our rude awakening it was only another 2 hours or so until we had to be up but we managed to grab a few more hours of sleep before finally getting up. We then had a small breakfast of toast with jam, coffee and fruit juice before piling back onto the tour bus to began our drive through the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon.

We climbed slowly up the cliffs that run alongside the valley and soon it could be seen spreading out below us with its patchwork-like landscape covered in terracing. Some of this terracing dates from before the time of the Incas when tribes such as the Wari and later the Quechua speaking Cabanas and the Aymara speaking Collaguas who still make their home in the valley to this day.

Moving along the side of the valley we passed through the tiny villages of Yanque and Achoma whilst down in the valley other villages such as Coporaque, said to be where Mama Yacchi - wife of the Inca Emperor Mayta Capac (who gave the name to Arequipa you may remember) came from, and Lari (home to the largest church in the valley) could be seen. We also stopped briefly at a nearby mirador (viewpoint) to see the landscape better. Here were also a number of local women selling their wares as well as a few young girls in local costume with their baby alpacas.
We gave them a few coins so that we could take their photos and when we asked what they would spend the money on they replied that they would buy sweets and give the rest to their mother.

By now the road was becoming very rough and wound its way along the edge of the valley which produced some breath-taking (but pretty nerve-wracking) views. Twice we had to pass through tunnels that had been hewn out of the mountain-side and the first one was particularly impressive, being almost half a kilometre in length. The inside of the tunnel was full of dust that had been thrown up by the vehicles passing through it and it was pretty difficult to see anything, even with the buses headlights on full beam.

We also stopped briefly in the village of Maca, roughly halfway between Chivay and the Cruz del Condor. Maca suffered a devastating earthquake in 1991 (as a result of the eruption of the nearby Sabancaya volcano) which killed around 20 people and flattened almost all of the buildings in the village, including most of the Santa Ana church. The church has now been fully restored, as has the rest of the village this time using building techniques thought to be more resistant to earthquakes.

The final village we passed through before reaching the Cruz del Condor was Pinchollo, with its San Sebastian church and eventually, after a drive of around 2 hours, we finally reached our destination, the Cruz del Condor. This spot, which is around 3300m above sea-level, gives stunning views of the Colca Canyon (the floor of which is 1200m below at this point) and its largest inhabitants, the Andean Condor. There is some dispute over exactly which canyon is the worlds deepest, this one or the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon. The deepest part of the Colca Canyon is thought to be around 3400m whilst for the Cotahuasi Canyon it is around 3500m but both of these figures are open to interpretation due to arguments over the exact measuring points that must be used.

What is certainly not in dispute is the sheer beauty of the views (2) (3) or the giant birds that inhabit the canyon. The Andean Condor is a huge bird (with wingspans up to 10ft) and to see one in full flight (2), soaring on the warm thermals that rise up from the canyon floor far below, is one of the most impressive sights you will ever see.

One also perched (2) (3) up on a rock just below the cross which gives the Cruz del Condor its
name. We were located at the lower viewing point and so I had to run back up to the higher one before it flew away. I managed it but needed about 10 minutes to recover from the run at this altitude! By now there were about 3 of them flying about and they often passed very close (2) to where we were standing. However, after an hour or so the condors disappeared and so we then went on a walk of a couple of kilometers along the edge of the canyon which gave more impressive views (2) (3) whilst listening to our very knowledgeable guide give us lots of information about the canyon and the condors.

Afterwards it was time to return to Chivay for lunch but we stopped a couple of times on the way back for more views of the Colca Valley (2) (3) (4) (it was easier to see down into the valley now as the sun had fully risen, unlike our outward journey when the low sun and heavy shadows meant that it was quite difficult to get good views) and to buy fruit or souvenirs from the local women who were still sat patiently at various viewpoints along the valley.

The rest of the journey to Chivay passed without further incident and we arrived back there at around 1:30pm for lunch. We actually missed this due to a misunderstanding and instead had a look around the town. But we once again stopped at the small cafe at Patahuasi where we were able to buy some sandwiches. So thankfully we weren´t too hungry when we arrived back in Arequipa at around 5:30pm.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

25th & 26th September - Writing, jogging, dancing, drinking

After our trip to Colca Canyon we were both feeling quite tired and as I was getting a bit behind with this blog and had a lot of new photos to sort out I spent most of the 25th just relaxing at Luz´s parents house while Luz, Matthew and her mother went out shopping.

We had planned to visit the jungle whilst we were here in Peru this time and Luz was going to look for a suitable trip for us while she was in the centre. We knew from previous research that it would probably turn out to be a lot more expensive to book an all-inclusive trip from Arequipa or Cuzco so we decided that the best approach would be to make our own way to Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madre de Dios district in the heart of the southern part of the Peruvian Amazonian rain-forest, and see what we could find once we got there.

Luz managed to find a reasonable return flight to Puerto Maldonado that would leave at around 11:30am on the following Monday, the 29th and return on Friday the 3rd October. That would give us around 5 days which should be enough for a good trip into the jungle.

We then needed to find a way to get from Arequipa to Cuzco and back around the above dates. Flights would probably be a bit too expensive and difficult to find around the required dates so we decided to use the overnight bus which we had also used on our previous visit to Cuzco in 2006. It takes around 10 hours and is along pretty rough and dodgy mountain road and I can never sleep during the journey but at least they were reasonably cheap.

Luz also bought some bits and pieces (clothes, medicine, etc) which would probably come in useful during our jungle trip.

The next day, Friday, I was feeling quite energetic and decided to go for a short jog around the La Campiña district. The district, is quite hilly and while it was still very early (around 7am) and hadn´t fully warmed up yet the altitude (around 2500m) meant that I found running up some of the small hills quite exhausting and had to walk for short periods. I also got a few strange looks from some of the local residents who were getting ready for school or work. I also encountered another group of what appeared to be stray neighbourhood dogs but luckily again managed to escape in one piece.

My jog took me up to the highest point in La Campiña which overlooks the Rio Socabaya valley and gives very good views over much of Arequipa and its surroundings. This small hill also contained a holy shrine containing a statue of Christ on the cross which is used in local religious ceremonies.

Whilst travelling through the centre of Arequipa we had noticed that a new, and very large branch of the Plaza Vea supermarket had recently opened here so we decided to pay it a visit. It contained just about everything - food, clothes, toys, electrical equipment and even clothes for pets! A lot of food seemed to be imported from the US, as well as the usual Peruvian stuff, and so it was possible to buy various new and tasty types biscuits, sweets and other foods that just aren´t available in Europe, an advantage which we gladly took.

Later that afternoon Luz´s grandmother came round in order to prepare the day´s meal, cuy (guinea pig). This was the 2nd time I would have tasted the dish as she had also cooked it for us on our previous visit and I had quite enjoyed it. As I did this time also, although my cuy now came without a head, as opposed to the previous one I ate. The flesh of cuy tastes rather like rabbit and although it can be a bit fiddly to eat with many small bones its an enjoyable meal.

This time Luz´s mother managed to find the tiny ear-bone shaped like a dog which is supposed to bring good luck to whoever finds it. Once it is found it can be used in a drinking game where it is placed into someone´s glass which must then be drank until empty. If the bone is swallowed along with the drink the drinker can make a wish. If not the glass must be refilled and the process repeated until the bone has disappeared down the throat. This game was often practised by the Incas and still is today in some rural parts of Peru and the drink involved is usually a strongly alcoholic version of the corn beer called Chicha which meant that the drinker would usually get very drunk by the time the bone was swallowed. Luckily our version of chicha was non alcoholic but I still drank enough of it to give me a bad stomach later that evening. And I still never managed to swallow it and in the end gave up and passed it on to Luz and also didn´t manage to complete the task.

On Friday evening we ventured out into the centre of Arequipa to sample (for me the 1st time, for Luz certainly not) its nightlife. At this time of year there are not so many tourists around but there were many locals enjoying a Friday night out and there are many good bars, restaurants and clubs, especially along Calle San Francisco which is the part we visited. The first bar we went to was Déjà Vu. This bar\club had two floors, each playing different types of music. The bottom floor was more like a bar and played a selection of trance music whilst upstairs it was more dance type music with an open balcony area which looked out over the street below. It also serves a selection of meals and shows English language movies at 8pm every evening.

The second place we visited was the Forum Rock Cafe, a huge building comprised various different bars, restaurants and a jungle-themed nightclub. Upstairs is a small area where you can play pool and we attempted to do this only to meet a rather drunken Peruvian guy who invited us to join him in a game. It later turned out that he hadn´t actually paid for the table and so shouldn´t have been playing so when he disappeared to the toilet we also disappeared, to the nearby bar whose walls was lined with various different Rock memorabilia.

We then made our way downstairs to the jungle nightclub (10 sols entrance fee) which was pretty empty when we first entered (at around 10pm) but which later filled up with a lot of people (the vast majority of which were locals) and played a selection of mostly Latino music with a few songs that I also knew. We had an enjoyable evening amongst the jungle vegetation and walkways and left at around 2:30am for a taxi home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

27th & 28th September - Football!

The weekend brought two football matches, one pretty small and one pretty large. But first we had to pay a visit to the Clinica Arequipa where we had an appointment with a paediatrician so that Matthew could have a check-up. Afterwards I walked from the Clinic, located on Puente Grau about 3km from the centre of Arequipa, to the Plaza de Armas so that I could have a look around and take some photos. There are a number of colourful colonial buildings in the La Gruta district, west of the Rio Chili, of the central district of Arequipa area I walked through including the Monasterio de la Recoleta church and there were also very nice views up the Rio Chili towards the Chachani volcano.

At 3pm in the afternoon the first football game of the weekend took place and I attended it with Luz´s father. The game in question was between IDUNSA and Atlético Huracán in the Copa Peru 2008. The Copa Peru is a competition for Peruvian clubs who are outside the top two divisions. The country is split into 8 different geographic regions each containing either 2 or 3

departments. Each of these departments also hold internal competitions various levels (district and provincial) and the top two overall in these departmental competitions go through to the regional competition with the top two of the other departments in that region. Then the top two in each region go through to the national knockout stage. The overall winner of the Copa Peru is promoted into the Peruvian Premier Division whereas the runner-up goes into the Second Division.

Teams from the department of Arequipa compete in Region 7 along with the qualified teams from the departments of Tacna and Moquegua. The six teams play in two groups of 3 with the group winners playing off for the regional championship. IDUNSA, from the city of Arequipa, were the winners of the Arequipa Department (Pierola from Camaná were runners-up and will also take part in the Regional competition) whilst Atlético Huracán, from the city of Moquegua, were the runners-up in the department of Moquegua.

The game was played at the very large UNSA (Universidad Nacional San Augustín) stadium, located in the Miraflores district underneath El Misti volcano, which has a capacity of around 50000 spectators and played host to a number of games in the Copa America 2004 competition which was held in Peru. Today, however, the stadium held only around 500 people and so looked very empty. And the game, played on a poor pitch, was also of pretty low quality with many mistakes and poor passes. IDUNSA did have a couple of good players in numbers 23 and 24, both wingers, who looked a cut above most of the other players and created quite a few chances. IDUNSA managed to win 4-0 in the end but should really have won by a far greater margin as they were a lot better than Atlético Huracán. They look a very good bet to win the overall regional competition and progress through to the national stage.

The next day, at 11:30 a much more important game took place and I also attended with Luz´s father. This game was between FBC Melgar v Universitario de Deportes in the Torneo Clausura (Closing Tournament) of the Primera División Peruana. FBC Melgar have long been the best team in Arequipa and won the overall Peruvian championship in 1981, the first time a team outside of Lima had done so. Universitario de Deportes, from Lima, are considered to be one of the "Big Three" of Peruvian football along with Alianza Lima and Sporting Cristal and have won the Peruvian title a record 24 times.

This game was played at FBC Melgar´s home stadium, the 20000 capacity Estadio Mariano Melgar (named after the famous poet from Arequipa) which although quite small at least has a good view of three huge volcanoes (2), something which can´t be said for 99% of football grounds. Although it attracted only around 10000 spectators they created a very good atmosphere with plenty of singing, huge colourful flags, dancing and fireworks. Universitario are a very popular team throughout Peru, not just in Lima, and they had also brought a large number of fans including many from Arequipa.

It was a decent game, probably of high English Championship standard, and overall Universitario were the better team and deservedly won 2-1 with two goals by their Peruvian international striker Roberto Jimenez, both following defensive mistakes by Melgar.
Melgar´s goal came in the last minute from their long-haired Argentinian-born striker Sergio Ibarra.

In the evening, at around 7pm, we left for the Terminal Terrestre bus station in order to catch our bus to Cuzco. This time we had booked tickets through the Cruz del Sur bus company whose luxury buses included seats which could be folded right down to make beds. I always find it very difficult to sleep on buses or planes and hopefully this would help. There was also waitress service, a meal, TV and the buses were equipped with various safety measures so all-in-all it should be a comfortable trip.

The bus left at around 8:30pm and made its way up through Yura and the Cordillera Volcánica, passing the Laguna Lagunillas until it reached the town of Juliaca, just west of Lake Titicaca, at around 1am the following morning. The road was very rough for much of the way and also rises to almost 5000m at its highest point. It also became very cold and we were thankful for the blankets which the bus company had provided us with. After a short stop in Juliaca to pick up a few more passengers the bus left and continued its journey through the night to Cuzco.

Oh, and I didn´t really manage to sleep properly on this bus either.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

29th September - Jungle Trip Day One

The rest of the overnight bus journey from Arequipa to Cuzco passed without any noteworthy incidents but it was still pretty bumpy and cold. We reached Cuzco bus station just before 5:30am and it was only barely starting to get light. We then decided to walk the 5km or so to the centre of the city to see if anything was open yet. Our flight to Puerto Maldonado was not until 11:30 so we had 4 hours to kill before making our way to the airport.

Unfortunately nothing was so we had to sit in the Plaza de Armas for about an hour to wait. There were a few drunken youths still sleeping off the effects of the previous nights drinking dotted around the square as well as a large contingent of local police. After we´d been waiting for some time we decided to ask one of them when the shops or cafes would open and he pointed out a cafe on the northern side of the square which was now open. So we went there for breakfast and found a few other tourists who had had the same idea (although it seemed to be the only place open anyway).

After breakfast more places had now opened and we then paid a visit to the large and very impressive cathedral where a mass was being held followed by a walk up Hatunrumiyoc street, home of the famous 12 sided stone Incorporated into the Inca wall which runs down most of its length. I´m not going to go into too much detail about the various sights of Cuzco as they were covered in the blog of my previous visit in 2006.

We then visited the main market where we tried a delicious fruit juice made up of about 6 different fruits and then spent about half an hour sitting in the Plaza San Francisco to enjoy the warm sun and watch the people milling about there.

However, when it came time to catch a taxi to the airport it was noticeable that pretty heavy clouds were building up on the hills surrounding Cuzco and it seemed that a rain shower was imminent, something that is quite common in Cuzco at that time of the year. By the time we reached the Alejandro Velasco Astete airport some of the clouds in the distance were looking quite black and ominous, not really what we wanted to see when we were due to fly in a few hours!

Our flight to Puerto Maldonado actually turned out to be delayed for about 30 minutes due to it arriving late and by the time we took off the weather was a bit overcast but there had been no rain. There were still a lot of clouds around though, which meant it was difficult to see much out of the window and it took quite a while before we rose above the cloud level into clear sky. There was quite a lot of turbulence, some of it pretty rough, during the 30 minute flight but shortly before we were due to land the clouds cleared slightly and it was possible to see that vast expanse of green jungle spread out far and wide below us. The Inambari and Madre de Dios rivers and the road which ran from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado (a journey which can take many days during the rainy season) were also clearly visible as were numerous fires dotted here and there, presumably for land clearance.

Once we stepped off the plane at Padre Jose Aldamiz International Airport (named after a missionary who did much work with local communities) in Puerto Maldonado it was like stepping into a sauna. It was very hot, 30°C or so, but the air was also very humid (around 80% humidity) and I was soon sweating quite heavy.

After we had picked up our luggage we choose to make our way into the centre of the city by one of the ubiquitous motor-taxis, something which I´d never used before. The ride to the Plaza de Armas took about 30 minutes, was a lot smoother than I expected and cost us only 3 sols. Private cars are almost non-existent here and instead everyone buzzes around on either the motor-taxis or normal motorcycles.

Once we reached the Plaza de Armas we managed to find a tour agency very close-by and went in to enquire about possible jungle trips. We were told that it was still possible to join a 4 day\3 night trip but that the boat to the lodge would be leaving very shortly and if we missed it we would have to wait until the following day for the next one. But first we had to pay for the trip and there then followed a madcap rush around the various banks dotted around the main square looking for suitable cash machines from which to take the necessary funds. It took us around 10 minutes to do so and we made the boat just in time!

The trip down the Madre de Dios river took around 45 minutes and we passed through jungle-lined river banks before arriving at our home for the next three nights, the Corto Maltes Amazonia lodge, located in an attractive position right by the river.

The first thing we did once we had arrived was to enjoy a welcome drink in the bar and listen to the introduction given by one of the guides who worked there. We were then given the key to our hut, based in the very attractive grounds (2) (3) of the lodge. Each hut in the complex was equipped with a front patio containing a small sitting area plus two hammocks. Inside were two beds, one double and one single, with a canopy made up of a mosquito net which could be dropped outside the edge of the bed if required. There was also a small bathroom with a shower. However, the electricity to the huts was not constant and was only available for 3 periods per day, for a few hours each in the morning, afternoon and evening.

We then went for a short walk around the complex which included a small swimming pool with a bar and was also home to a toucan and two large macaws, one scarlet and the other blue and yellow The main building contained a small shop, selling various locally made souvenirs, a large dining area and a bar with a pool table, games and a selection of books which could be borrowed.

Later in the afternoon we went out on our first excursion of the trip, a visit into the section of jungle directly behind the complex. The 3km walk took around 1.5 hours and our group was quite small, just the two of us along with a 4 Israelis, and our guide seemed a bit unenthusiastic but he did give a reasonable explanation about the various trees and plants that we saw. These included wild papayas, passion fruit, lemons, bananas, guave and cocoa trees, the garlic and uña de gato (Catsclaw or Acacia greggii, commonly used in Peru for its medicinal properties) plants as well as the huge Kapok tree with its cotton-like seed pods. We didn´t see too much wildlife however, apart from huge wasps nests up in the trees, a brief glimpse of some wild turkeys flying overhead, lots of different types of butterflies (including the Owl Butterfly with its large "eyes" on its wings) and long trails of ants carrying bits of leafs back to their nest. Creatures like that we heard, but didn´t see, included various frogs and insects such as the cicada which produced some very weird and wonderful sounds and made the jungle a very noisy place.

Other trees we saw were the Walking Palm (Socratea exorrhiza) which, due to its long stilt-like roots, can move up to 1 metre per year looking for sunlight. Then there was the Strangler Fig, which grows around the outside of trees and slowly strangles the life of it it until the original tree dies and the Fig takes its place, and the Ironwood Tree (Minquartia guianensis) which produces an extremely hard, strong wood which is used for many different purposes.

In the evening, at 7pm, it was fully dark and the noisy jungle cacophony was in full swing now that the nocturnal creatures had awoken. One of these nocturnal creatures was the Spectacled Caiman (so named because of the bony ridges around its eyes which resembles a pair of glasses) and we were now going on a night-time boat trip in order to try and find some of them.

Just down the river from the lodge were some river cliffs which were home to many of this species. The boat we were travelling in was equipped with a large spot-light to help spot the caiman, or any other nocturnal animals that may be around.

This time we were in a much larger group, along with a number of travellers from France and Canada who were with their French-speaking guide (actually a guy from Arequipa who was a lot more enthusiastic and informative than the guide we had).

The first creature we noticed in the boat´s spotlight were Greater Fishing Bats (also known as the Greater Bulldog Bat due to the appearance of its face), large ghostly flapping things that swooped low over the river looking for a meal.

Once we reached the river cliffs it was also possible to see various pairs of Caiman eyes, glowing red in the spotlight, either just sticking out of the water or up on the cliffs or river bank. In a bunch of tree branches we spotted one individual perched very still and we were able to get in very close for a good look. Shortly afterwards we saw another one up on the cliff and after boat landing on the bank one of the guides was able to climb out and catch it. Caimans, like many reptiles, are able to go into a sort of catatonic state when approached very possible predators where they appear to be dead. In this way the guide was able to just pick it up and carry it back to the boat where we were able to have a very good look (2) at it and even touch it without any danger at all, a very special moment. After he had released it back into the wild again it woke up after only a minute or so and was off into the water never to be seen again!

The evening meal afterwards brought more caiman, this time in the form of steaks in a papaya sauce. Very tasty! Then, after a long, tiring day we retired to our hut to sleep. Dotted along the paths within the lodge were small oil lamps, used to light the way and there was also one of the lamps in the front porch of every hut which was a pleasant touch.
I attempted to sleep outside in the hut but had the porch light on in order to read. However, it attracted so many insects, of various shapes and sizes, that I was under almost constant attack. Turning off the light improved things somewhat but I still found it quite difficult to get to sleep, despite the hammock being extremely comfortable, and soon decided to go back inside the hut where a peaceful nights sleep ensued.