Getting close to the end…Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno y Lake Titicaca!
Countdown: 5 Days
Alrighty, with only 5 days left in Peru (yes, only 5 :/), I’ve decided that I’m going to do a final countdown until I leave. This post, numero uno, will be a bit longer because I’ve got too many good pictures not to show them to the world…a few weeks ago, before all of this final exam business started taking over my life, I took a spontaneous trip (I bought the plane tickets two days in advance…I’ve never been quite that efficient at planning ahead) to southern Peru to visit the cities of Arequipa and Puno, as well as two of Peru’s largest natural wonders (aside from Machu Picchu, obviously): Colca Canyon (the deepest canyon in the world…twice the depth of the Grand Canyon) and the famed Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world).
After a brief 5:30 am flight from Lima (I had to be up and in a taxi by 3 am just to make sure I was on time, but well worth it), I landed in Arequipa with two of my good ol’ pals from the program. The national airports here, I’ve got to say, are just kind of abysmal…usually they consist of single terminals without jetways located smack-dab in the middle of the desert, a 30 minute taxi drive from the nearest city. This was the case when we arrived in Arequipa. However, the city itself, the second largest in Peru, was reminiscent of Cusco with it’s beautiful colonial architecture and brick-paved roads. “La ciudad blanca,” (Peru’s City of White) was named as such for the use of white volcanic “sillar” stone native to the area in nearly all of the original construction. As you can see in the pictures of the city below, the churches and central plaza were simply breathtaking…if there were a hammock at my disposal at the time I wouldn’t have had any qualms about tying it between a couple of trees in the plaza. It was an oasis out of which I easily could have made a temporary home.
We settled into our chill little boutique hotel, explored the town a bit and had some queso helado (this was in the mistura post…it’s basically heaven on earth. Cream cheese ice cream is the best way to describe it…and Arequipa is it’s home! Needless to say, I had it pretty much everyday.) We called it an early night because the next morning we had a 2:30 am wake up call…it turns out, with a limited schedule, the only way to see Colca Canyon was in an all-day trip that left at the ungodly hour of 2:30 in the morning. The upside was that we got to catch the flight of the condors, which only happens between 8am and 10am apparently [this truly was an amazing experience…with a wingspan of over 10 feet (only exceeded by that of the albatross and great white pelican), these birds are GIGANTIC…to watch and listen to them fly was awe-inspiring. A few times, they flew so close that I could hear the wind flowing over their wings, a sharp whistling like that of the wind whipping over the airfoils of an airplane]; however, at an altitude of nearly 5,000 meters, we were highly unprepared for the cold we encountered. On the way back, we stopped to see a few colonial churches (especially that beauty in white below, the maca chapel)…all in all, a day well spent.
The following (and final day) in Arequipa was spent exploring the Monastery of Santa Catalina. This place was enormous. Taking up more than an entire block of the city, the monastery (founded in 1579) was a seemingly never ending labyrinth of cloister after cloister, garden after garden, dormitorio after dormitorio. The pictures below don’t really do it justice (nor do they implicate its size)…suffice it to say, it took us nearly 3 hours to traverse the entirety of this small civilization. The only part left untouched was the modern day monastery, that which still houses nuns and is off-limits to visitors!
An 11pm overnight bus was our next destination…awaiting us on the other side of a 7 hour trip: PUNO and lake Titicaca! (Literally, Lago Titicaca = “Lake Boob-shit.” Peru likes to claim the boob part, and Bolivia the poop part. The entirety of this town is just utterly strange.)
Unfortunately during the course of this overnight bus trip, one of my friends was ROBBED! (We were on the first floor of the bus…in the good, spacious seats with only 7 other people. I’m not going to point any fingers, but judging by the fact that it was a closed bus, there was a good chance that one of those 7 folks was the culprit…) Although disappointing and slightly upsetting, we made the best of the situation and of the last day of our trip by finding our hostel at 7am, booking an islands boat tour of the lake, and settingggg sail!
The Uros Islands, also known as the floating islands, are the home of a population of Aymara indians even today…now, I say that cautiously because although they are certainly Aymara, they have definitely not been secluded from the era of modernization (most of them walk around the islands talking on their cell phones in between tours). Although the islands themselves are pretty neat, and it was interesting to hear about how they are made (many layers of inter-woven reeds grown on the lake itself), this was definitely what I would consider a tourist trap. It was by no means expensive, pretty average for Peru actually…just a bit quirky for my taste.
The remainder of the day was spent touring Sillustani, an ancient Incan burial site on one of the prettiest lakes in the Andes. This was probably my favorite part of the trip to Puno (even though I was feeling sick and almost didn’t go!) The scenery was just so picturesque…I was a big fan. I have a thing for water…oceans, lakes, boats on oceans or lakes. I love it. Anywho, that pretty much sums up the trip. We took a bus to the airport to catch our flight in the morning from Juliaca, and landed safely back in Lima. I’ll leave you to enjoy the pictures from Sillustani…Until Tomorrow! (Day 4…exciting, yet very bittersweet. I’ll definitely miss Lima!)