Friday, 11 February 2011

Peru pt II: Arequipa, Cabanaconde, Cusco

by tim
After a relaxed few days in lazy Huacachina it was time to hit the road again. Departing from the nearby town of Ica in the late evening, this was to be a thirteen hour bone-shaker. To take the edge off, we booked a semi-cama bus; these are relatively plush with more leg space and extra reclining seats (and occasionally a working toilet). But lets face it, 13 hours in a bus (surrounded by people you might normally cross the street to avoid) is never gonna be fun. iPod on.

We arrived at our next stop, Arequipa, in time for Halloween. This was a big place, replete with all the things we've come to expect from a South American city: an impressive town square or two; black market (food, clothes, electronics... anything really), many cafes selling almuerzas (cheap lunch, invariably based on rice), mucho solero, beggers, dogs and hippies selling jewellery(!). The main square was bustling and actually pretty good; streets branched off in all directions full of shops and people.

Halloween is a big celebration in these parts. Most of the bakeries were enticing people with cakes and bizzare breads with heads on (if AB start marketing

these, I want my cut). Later that night, we went out for food and we weren't alone; the streets were thronged with halloweeners of all ages, running around with pumpkin-shaped confectionery-collecting devices.

Many were harranging the sweet-shop owners which seemed like cheating to me but at least it took some of the pressure of us as children milled around our table as we ate (occasionally being ushered out like stray dogs). We ventured from our restaurant into the herds of Halloweeners in the town square, feeling very under dressed and with no sweet-retaining-recepticles, we headed back to the hostel to prepare for our next bus journey.

Ahead of us was a six hour journey; breathtaking not only because of the scenery but also because of the road conditions... without doubt the lumpiest, bumpiest road we have ever ridden. We arrived in a mist shrouded valley with primitive tiered farmland covering the hills all around. Occasionally the bus would stop to allow people with enormous sacks of 'whatever' to get on or off. In this part of the country almost everyone wore the traditional styles of clothing which to us seemed cumbersome but I guess it must work for them.

By the time we arrived in Cabanaconde, the sun had burned off any remaining mist and the day was a scorcher. The main draw for the area was the Colca Canyon... correction: the ONLY draw was the canyon. There was pretty much nothing else to do here and it was about as rural as it gets, with the dogs in the dusty streets sharing their space with pigs and donkeys. We headed across the square and found our hostel, PachaMama. Pleasant enough - certainly in comparison with recent stays.

Unfortunately our arrival coincided with illness... Letty took straight to her bed while Katy & I had a mooch around the village (didn't take long). With time on our hands we then headed out to a condor viewing point (Cruze del Condor). The walk took about 40 minutes but at more than 3,500 metres above sea-level was surprisingly tough.

Whilst we took in the views and waited for the condors to return a couple arrived in an Audi 4WD (exceptionally nice for the area we were in). We started talking and it transpired that their travels made ours look like we were just playing! Luke (spiderluke if you are a couch-surfer) was italian but lived in Mexico; he and his mexican wife had been travelling for two years already. they started in alaska and had travelled down all the way in the same vehicle to south america and didn't plan to stop until they were at least in south africa... impressive stuff! Anyway, after saying our farewells, we waited and eventually saw some distant specs which we convinced ourselves were condors and headed for home, beer and pizza (in that order). Katy was planning to trek down to Colca Canyon the following day which is supposed to be a lovely walk with the added bonus of an oasis at the bottom where you can swim and eat etc.

The new day dawned with Letty feeling back to normal; she and I opted out of the canyon walk and alas by 5:00am Katy had caught whatever Letty had (or maybe it was a dodgy pizza from the night before)... she was going nowhere. So, the one thing that there was to do in the area was not going to be done by any of us! Instead Katy slept, while Letty and I strolled the streets. Somewhere in the distance a local band of musicians were murdering a probably pleasant tune somehwere in the hills.

Amazingly we found a concrete football pitch complete with stadium (sort of) where Letty patiently continued to teach me guitar; i fumbled with strings until a group of kids arrived with a football and a plinky-plonky radio, so we walked some more, through narrow paths past crumbling walls and crumbling homes until we arrived at a beautiful hillside with views into the valley of lush green vegetation where instead i practiced my rockstar guitar pose. I plucked at strings again until i thought Letty had sufferred enough, then gave her guitar back and she played and sang to me... on a hillside... in the middle of nowhere... and it was lovely. She really is very talented and it still makes me smile whenever i think of that afternoon.

And that was our time in Cabanconde at an end. The following day we headed back along the bumpy road toward Cusco (with a thankfully recovered Katy). On the way to the bus we found some of the band members from the previous day; their tastefully decorated drum pronounced them to be the 'Dinamicos de Cabanaconde' (with the emphasis on the 'Din').

Another protracted journey saw us arrive dazed and confused at 5:30am. We secured a room for the three of us for just 4GBP/night and slept.

Slightly recovered but hungry we tried to make sense of our new location. Cusco is a big, well developed city and the closest we'd come to civilation for some time. And by civilisation i mean recognisably english food! sorry - i know we should be immersing ourselves in the local culture... and to a large extent we do - but when you know there's a cafe serving sausage, egg, bacon, beans, toast and REAL COFFEE for the first time in months... oh, i fell in love with Cusco. We were in McCoy's - an unashamedly british cafe/restaurant/bar; everything was nice, they had free wifi which worked and we stayed for several hours!

But We were in Cusco as a starting point for the Machu Picchu (which I guess most people will have heard of). In preparation for the trek, we explored the black markets to kit out Letty with appropriate clothing and equipment. With all of us equipped to take on the inca ruins, we then needed to make sure we had plenty of nutrients. We thought McCoy's was good but then we found 'Jacks'. We'd been told by several people about this place (some before we'd even left the UK - thanks Em!). It didn't dissapoint, with an amazing burger.
Unfortunately it is so good it was where we ate almost exclusively thereafter... especially for breakfast where i was in cooked breakfast heaven, katy had something which was healthy AND tasted nice and letty became addicted to their blackcurrant jam and toast.

But all good things come to an end and we had the small matter of one of the seven wonders of the world: Machu Picchu...

[click images for a bigger version]

No comments:

Post a Comment