Return to South America 2009, Part 1: Chile and Venezuela

South America Part 3: Peru (Arequipa and Colca Canyon)

Photo albums from this trip (more photos than shown on this page) are here.

Previous episode: Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu

In my last episode, I had just returned to Cusco from Machu Piccu and checked into the Monasterio Hotel, where I had stayed before. The next morning I would fly back to Lima for a two-night stay at the Sol de Oro before heading on to my next Peruvian destination, Arequipa.

On Sunday (26 July), when my guide arrived to drive me to the airport, he was most apologetic that I would have to walk two blocks (with him dragging my suitcase over the cobblestones) because much of the old city was closed to traffic for some Sunday event. Not that I minded the walk. There was very little traffic all the way to the airport. Although the bag drop-off queue was long, the security queue was short. For some reason my artificial hips did not set off the alarm, for the first time on this trip.

Once again I was flying on LAN Peru for the short hop back to Lima, and again I had a window seat. The flight left late, and while waiting the young child sitting next to me pooped in his pants after the flight attendant refused to allow his mother to take him to the toilet because they were waiting in the takeoff queue… where we waited for another 10 minutes or so before the plane moved. Never has the phrase “shit happens” seemed quite so relevant.

My room at Sol de Oro hotelAfter arrival in Lima, I had another very long wait for the luggage to arrive, but for once my suitcase was the first on the conveyor belt. Again I was met by my trans­port and driven to the hotel. This time, being Sunday the traffic was not too heavy, and being day­time I could see where we were going. The trip included a long drive along the ocean, between the cliffs and the sea, where a park is under construction. The park features a variety of amateur sporting facilities and places to eat or picnic. It should be quite nice when completed… assuming the project doesn’t run out of money or get derailed in some other way.

The Sol de Oro gave me a welcome voucher for Pisco Sour so am now well into comparative taste testing as I bought one last night at the Monasterio in Cusco. Dinner was a Peruvian dish alleged to be a light meal. Hah! Mind you, much of it was a serve of french fries and a serve of rice in addition to the strips of beef tenderloin cooked with onions and red capsicum. Very nice and not too spicy for me.

Monday (27 July) was a day off for laundry and a bit of wandering around this part of Miraflores. The hotel had no do-it-yourself laundry facilities, so I had to pay outrageous hotel prices to get enough laundry done to get me home—not that I mind having someone else do the work. I found the hotel´s business centre and was able to copy my photos onto my backup USB drive; discovered that I could get into the business centre after hours by using my room keycard. The hotel had free wifi in the rooms, and the computers in the business centre were free to use. That rather made up for the poor room lighting and the cost of the laundry.

The weather wasn’t great (occasional light rain), but I did get in a walk to the nearby cliffside shopping centre (Larcomar), which I had not realised was there until I found myself at the viewing area overlooking the sea (around 250 feet above sea level) and discovered I was standing on the roof of a shopping mall, which climbed several levels down the side of the cliff.

Good view, but obscured by heavy fog or smog. The shops were a mixture of touristy souvenirs, expensive-looking local products made from alpaca wool, somewhat fancy restaurants, and—at the lowest level—cheap takeaway food places, including Pizza Hut, Burger King, and KFC. The latter’s offerings were mostly completely different from those found in KFCs in Australia: local variations on chicken fajitas. Apparently the centre also has a cinema and various other entertainments.

Walking from the hotel to the shopping centre, in four blocks I counted 6 casinos! In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a tour of Lima in general and Miraflores in particular, but I didn’t have the energy.

At the hotel, I was a bit appalled at the prices in the restaurant until I realised they were in the local currency, not in US dollars as all the other hotels have used. Three soles to the US$ made the prices more than reasonable.

Tuesday (28 July) was Independence Day in Peru. There was very little traffic on the way to the airport for my flight to Arequipa and only a short queue at checkin. I left some of my excess heavy luggage at hotel until my return on Friday.

The flight into Arequipa included a good view of the Andes and of the desert in which the city is located, and on the approach a spectacular view of the nearby volcanos. The city was warm and dry, with mostly clear skies though later it became hazy or perhaps smoggy.

ArequipaSanta Catalina conventCity tour this afternoon, very interesting but way too much walking by the time I got back to the hotel. Views of volcanos, visit to main city square and buildings constructed from blocks of volcanic rock. The whole downtown area was festooned with flags.

One highlight was the Monasterio Santa Catalina, a convent, almost a town in itself, where for many years the wealthier nuns lived in apartments with their servants. Papal reform (1871?) ended that, requiring all nuns to live communally and care for themselves.

Santa Catalina conventSanta Catalina conventMy room at the El Cabildo hotel was small, cold, and noisy (construction workers next door with loud radio playing), and the bed sagged. At least the construction workers went home at night, but they started again very early in the morning.

Wednesday (29 July), collected by guide and driver for trip to Colca Canyon. Out past the quarries of volcanic rock (white; compressed ash?). Lots of desert with irrigation areas (water from Andean snow melt). Speed limit only 60kph even on fairly reasonable roads, similar to Venezuela.

Power station and irrigated fields near ArequipaVicuña reserve on altiplano, with volcanoUp to the altiplano (high plateau) and the vicuña reserve. Plenty of them to be seen. Other grazing animals also live here but we didn’t see them.

After a stretch of approx. 20km of very potholed road (once paved, badly), we reached a junction where a good paved road continued ahead and a fairly good gravel road went to the right. The guide explained that we would go to the right to do a loop through the Colca valley, unlike 90% of tour buses which go straight ahead. (Most tours are only 1 day, not 2 like mine.)

Window on Colca CanyonLlamasMuch bouncing over first-sized “gravel” later, we came to the magnificent “Window on Colca Canyon” view. Then down the valley past zillions of terraces, quite a few llamas, alpacas and sheep, lots of cactus and spinifex, a few small towns, and miles of great scenery. Awesome country.

We ate our picnic lunch by a suspension bridge, and eventually reached the town of Chivay, which is where the direct road joins the one we were on. Then on to Yanque and down a steep, narrow, even more bumpy gravel road to Colca Lodge, a very nice place set in pleasant grounds. Alas, I was too tired to really appreciate it, and I didn’t try the thermal baths. Good buffet dinner. Electricity from generator is on in the rooms only in the evenings and briefly in the morning. Good thing I had a flashlight with me!

Colca CanyonAndean condorThursday (30 July), I was picked up at 7 AM for a drive down the valley to the Andean condor viewing site. For most of the distance we drove on the opposite side of the river from the main tourist route. We could see many buses and vans on the other side, and lots of dust kicked up by them. For the last stretch we joined the throng.

The condors were not very cooperative but I did see a few, both juveniles and adults. Also eagles, kestrels, and some other bird (I forget what that was). People were perched all over the rock walls at the viewing area. After about an hour we (and many of the other vehicles) headed off.

I like this video of condors flying.

After an early lunch at Colca Lodge, we returned to Arequipa by way of the short, steep, well maintained (or new?) road over the 4910-metre pass. What a view!

Friday (31 July), I was awakened at 4 AM by other people making a lot of noise departing the hotel. Too soon the workers arrived next door. Good thing I had gone to bed early the night before. Eventually I checked out and was taken to the airport for my flight back to Lima, which was fogged in again (still?). Stayed again at the Sol de Oro, where I was given a larger room. Plenty of space for repacking my luggage for the trip home.

Saturday (1 August), start of long trip home. I was unable (not allowed) to check my bags all the way through to Brisbane, but fortunately I had plenty of time in Santiago to collect them and check in for the trans-Pacific flight. At a duty-free shop in Lima airport, I bought two bottles of Pisco to take home. At Santiago airport, I collected my bag and went through customs and immigration, then found someone to cut off the shrinkwrap so I could put the bottles of Pisco in the bag along with the Venezuelan rum that was already there. The new security rules meant I could not take those bottles in my carry-on. Then I had the bag re-wrapped.

Fortunately (having been through this airport three weeks earlier), I knew where business class check-in was located; this time I didn’t have a guide with me. Then LAN to Auckland, arriving around 4AM NZ time, and Qantas to Brisbane, arriving about 8AM, right on time. This meant a long wait in Brisbane because I had allowed extra time before my flight to Townsville, just in case the overseas flight arrived late.

But first I had to get from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. In Brisbane you’re expected to take the Airtrain, but I had too many heavy, awkward bags to cope with. The last time I tried that, I fell getting off the train. So I went for a taxi. The taxi driver did not want to take me, but I did my “little old lady” act as best I could and he grudgingly agreed to take me for $20. In retrospect, I suspect he is not allowed to decline to take me or overcharge, but at the time I was too tired to care or argue.

And so to Townsville, where Eric met me at the airport.