Cuzco to Puno; the long way round
Trip Start May 03, 2011
23Trip End Mar 22, 2012
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Cuzco seems so long ago now, we had booked the bus for 8am on the Sunday morning, but were aware that there might be difficulties; the miners in the Puno area have been striking for over a month and on the Saturday the situation had escalated. We found ourselves at the bus station with the bus cancelled, the roads blockaded and the border into Bolivia closed; we made our way back to our accommodation and had a major rethink; deciding to go west instead of south east with the option of going to Bolivia via Chile.So Monday night found us on the bus to Nazca. All the buses go overnight; not something I relished, but in the end it was pretty comfortable with almost fully reclining seats. The downside was that we missed the journey up and over the Andes and down to the coast. With the winding roads and big corners it was quite hard not to slide around in the seats (didn't help that they were made of leather...),but I did get some fitful sleep and awoke at around 6am to a spectacular view of the foothills peeking out of the blanket fog on the coastal plain.The other downside of an overnight trip is that you tend to be in a bit of a daze for the next day, while being aware that you need to make plans & see things
Nazca is famous for its 'lines'; mysterious markings on the desert that were only discovered with the first overflights. We had planned a scenic flight, but due to the weather we had to opt for a ground tour instead, this was a bit of a disappointment initially, but it turned out to be a good move because up close you can really see how fragile they are and marvel that they have survived for over 500 years. Some of the lines are just that, straight lines maybe a couple of feet wide that stretch for many miles, others are symbolic animals and birds; all constructed simply by moving stones and sand. They have only survived because they are in the driest desert in the world.
After Nazca we travelled up the coast to Paracas; the weather was now glorious so we resolved to stop off in Nazca on our return to do the flight (which really showed the lines in their full glory). Paracas is a small coastal resort, developed because of the Islas Ballestas just offshore which have an abundance of bird life (and Humboldt penguins). It really is a tiny oasis at the edge of the desert. Birds included Peruvian boobies, one eyed cormorants, many others whose names I have forgotten, and thousands upon thousands on them,memorably flying overhead in formation off to find a breakfast shoal of fish
In the afternoon we walked 6 miles into the desert national park (rather than take a tour bus) and back again (although a very kind Peruvian gave us a lift back the last 3 miles in his rather smart new cement mixer). Desert as far as the eye could see until an abrupt halt at the coast with dramatic plunging cliffs, more birds and thankfully a cafe for a much needed cup of tea.
Back to Nazca for the flight and another night bus journey found us in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, very Spanish compared with the Inca architecture of Cuzco and with a dramatic backdrop of snow covered volcanoes. Once again we were a bit weary and the weather was overcast, so we didn't get off to a good start, but at the end of the day we talked to a recommended tour company about a 3 day trip/trek into Colca Canyon and made the snap decision to go the following day (it only left on Sundays..).Colca canyon is famous for, well its canyon not surprisingly but also because it is one of the best places in Peru to see soaring condors.Our group consisted of 4 couples (2 Dutch, 1 American and us) plus Carlos our guide. Once again we were be blessed with an excellent guide who really made the trip extra special. It takes about 6 hours to get to the canyon rim, so the first day was mainly on the road, but we stopped to see vicunas, alpacas and llamas, some strange rock formations and the scenic viewpoint at 5000 meters (except that it was snowing by now, so we didn't linger too long (and there was no view!), then down, down into the canyon to the major condor spotting area
The following day we started our trek; Colca canyon at Its deepest point is over 3000 meters, twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, but it was only 1200 meters deep at our point. We spent the next 3 hours on a continuous downward path, stopping every now and then to look at the view and to listen to some of Carlos' many tales.Remarkably, at the bottom is an oasis and from afar we could see what looked like swimming pools, bright turquoise against the green. Indeed they were, natural pools, beckoning us downwards. We were all glad to reach the oasis, quite a few degrees warmer than at the top and ready for a dip, surrounded by the sheer walls of the canyon. After lunch, the more enthusiastic amongst us went for another walk to the top of a nearby hill to see the view from the other direction.Over dinner we made plans for the next day, breakfast at 5am and set off at 5.30am in the first light. We would be glad of this early start, however inhumane it seemed, as it meant we could make the gruelling 1200meters climb in the shade
Back along the rim, we stopped again at the Cruz del Condors, this time it was 9.30am and swarming with tourists. The condors didn't seem to mind though and graced us with some more elegant flypasts. We rounded off the morning with a visit to some thermal pools to sooth our screaming muscles and an eat all you can buffet to satisfy our craving stomachs. Back in Arequipa and goodbye to the others; it had been a great trip, great guide, good company and fantastic scenic(plus little exercise).
We spent yesterday relaxing in Arequipa, (Cliff somehow managed to find some spare energy for a run..) enjoying the colonial squares and a visit to see Juanita, the famous little girl who was found frozen 21,000 feet up on the mountain back in the 1990's. She had been sacrificed in1550 or thereabouts by the Incas to appease the volcano gods after a series of eruptions. It was quite a chilling but fascinating visit. After spending weeks walking from Cuzco and climbing to the top of the volcano, she must have been exhausted, delirious with altitude sickness, freezing cold and terrified at her fate.
So now we are finally on our way to Puno, I'm writing this on the bus and we have just come down over the barren high plains to a magnificent view of Lake Titicaca. See you next week!