Arequipa and the Colca Valley

After a reasonable nights sleep on a night bus, we woke up in Arequipa also known as the white city due to the good weather and the many buildings made from white volcanic stone. You can see 3 volcanos from the city; Picchu Picchu (5,600m), Chachani (6,080m) and Misty (5,800m) which is still active. It’s last eruption was in the 15th century although there has been ash as recently as the 20th century. It has 1 million inhabitants making it the second biggest city in Peru after Lima. It’s a very industrial city with the two most popular popular exports being cement and textiles.
After a delicious crepe for breakfast in a little French corner of Arequipa, Dennis took us for a walk around the city including a viewpoint where there was a market and a lady selling cheese flavoured ice cream. Sounds weird but it was actually really good and so refreshing on such a hot day.

After grabbing another empanada for lunch, we went to one of Arequipa’s top attractions: the Santa Catalina Convent. It was founded in 1540 after the Spanish had arrived so it is a very colonial style with streets named after cities in Spain. We walked into lots of cells of both novice and more experienced nuns and most of them had their own oven where they would bake things for the community. The novice nuns could pay 100 soles (about £25) for 25 of their personal items but other than that, all rooms were very plain. The most elaborate room was that of Santa Ana who is their hero and did a lot for the convent when she was alive (1602-1686). At the end we went up to a viewpoint where we could see that an earthquake had destroyed the second storey and also the new convent which is now home to about 25 nuns.

After signing the guestbook we went and turned water into wine at a rooftop bar. It had a great view of the cathedral and main square and also provided ponchos so you don’t get cold. What more could you want?!

“Ponchos or porn shows”

The next day we got back in our bus with tour guide Lucy and headed for the Colca Valley. We stopped a few times to take pictures of llamas, alpacas and vicuñas. There are 10-11,000 vicuñas in this area and they are all heavily protected as their fur is so expensive. There are two times that a vicuñas fur can be taken: when it has died or during a festival that happens every year and the villagers round them up and shave them. If a driver accidentally kills a vicuña, they can go to jail for 4 years so everyone is very careful in the area. In every group there will always be an alpha male and they fight for this title by biting each other’s balls off.

About 2pm we arrived in Chivay town where we would be spending the next two nights. We went for lunch at an all you can eat buffet restaurant. We had salads and soups and traditional Peruvian dishes like lomo saltado (salted loin with vegetables) and alpaca. I had a lot of food and then four puddings so I was happy! After lunch we went and checked into our hotel which was really nice and has the world’s comfiest beds but was absolutely freezing.

In the afternoon, Lucy took us for a walk around the city. We went past lots of statues in the street of variations of Colca dances which brought a lot of colour to the streets. We then walked up to a viewpoint despite still recovering from the inca trail where we could see the whole town. We could see a lot of Incan terraces that are still in use now, brand new swanky hotels and a slum area that is apparently going to get electricity within the next year. The mirador had been partially destroyed by an earthquake but you can still appreciate what it used to look like.

After our walk, we finally got a chance to relax and rejuvenate in some hot springs. We all turned up expecting lagoons in the mountains but it was actually about 5 swimming pool like things. It didn’t really matter: we all still had a great time and enjoyed a few drinks and a swim.

The next day we started early and were on our way to the Colca Canyon (stopping first at dunkin’ donuts and forcing them to open early for us). The Colca Canyon is made from volcanic rock and water erosion and its deepest point is 4160m making it one of the deepest canyons in the world and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA. There is evidence that two ethnic groups lived here before the incas and they showed their differences by shaping babies’ heads to look like two of the mountains.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Colca Canyon. I’ve been going up and down and through the Andes for 4 weeks now and it didn’t stand out to me as being amazing. Though there was one thing that did really impress me – the condors! Condors are the biggest bird in the region with an impressive 3m wingspan! They live for around 50 years and there are about 250 here in the dry season. We visited in the rainy season so we only saw 4 at the Condor Cross at a distance but then we stopped at a small market and had 2 swooping really close to us! We’ve seen a lot of birds here and it makes me wish that my grandma and grandad were with me to tell me what they all are!

At this small market I also tried cactus fruit ice cream. Imagine kiwi fruit flavour with an ice cream texture but also gooey at the same time. Weird but somehow nice!

Another stop we made on the way home was in Santa Ana town. Here we visited the cathedral, bought some postcards and also some people tried a Colca sour cocktail made from the same cactus fruit. I tried someone else’s and it was strange – I’d rather another pisco sour.

In the evening we all went to Kuntur Peña Show Restaurant for dinner and a folklore show. There were 4 men playing instruments at first and as a joke, one guy told them it was another guys birthday and they all sang to him for our amusement. After a few songs, 2 dancers came out and did a few dances for us including a yellow fever dance. They danced with a whip and an orange and it was all hilarious to watch. Then they brought out two volunteers who joined in and I wish I could explain this dance but I just can’t. Imagine one person lying on the floor then the other whips them a bit and then dances over them then sits on their face and then they are cured of yellow fever. The final dance was the dance of the condor and we all joined in and left feeling very merry.

The next morning we got back into our regular bus and headed back to Arequipa. Although it wasn’t long before we turned our regular bus into a party bus! Amy has a great throwback playlist on her iPod so there was a lot of singing and dancing and then we stopped at dunkin’ donuts again so everyone was happy!
As it was misty on the way there, on the way back we stopped at the highest point to take some pictures of the volcanos. It was a spectacular sight.

Back in Arequipa we had a few hours to kill before our night bus so Ammun, Emily and I hit the shopping mall and stocked up on a few more summer clothes. I’ve never felt more at home in a massive H&M.
On previous night busses, some of us had had a little nightcap before sleep and shared a bottle of wine or some vodka and our first tour guide Kike would join in and sometimes be the provider of alcohol. The particular bus company however, is very strict that you can’t be drunk or drinking so Dennis warned us not to be silly. Dennis also texted Kike as Arequipa is his hometown and Kike surprised us all by turning up! What didn’t surprise is was that Kike had a bottle of wine in his hand from Ica where we were about to go and shared it amongst us all. Kike and Dennis deserve all the wine in South America! 
The wine here in South America is really, really good (at least for my untrained pallet) and I’m looking forward to our wine tasting in a few days!
Annalise x