Radio Felicidad

After spending the first 2 weeks in the highlands of Peru, our arrival in Arequipa was also the arrival to the (semi) desert climate zone. I had no idea that pretty much all of Peru’s coastline is in the desert. Anyway, Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and is called the white city because most of the historic buildings in the beautiful city center have been built with white (!) volcanic stone. It is also the gateway to one of the major tourist attractions in Peru, the Colca Canyon, second deepest canyon in the world (thought to be more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!).

p1020427

Historic center of Arequipa

Arequipa is flanked by snow capped volcano Misti (5822m) and Chachani Mountain (6000m). As you know, Swiss cannot resist the mountains and hence we decided to tackle Chachani. But this time we did it the easy way, by hiring a Toyota Landcruiser, two mountain bikes and a guide. Denis drives us to the base of Chachani at 4800m to the tunes of Radio Felicidad (90.3FM). This radio station was playing the weirdest 80s songs we had not heard in a long time. Little did we know that the radio station would follow us for the next 10 days and only once we got closer to the coast were the 80s overpowered by more appropriate salsa and merengue rhythms… The downhill ride was a blast – 52km of mostly unpaved road with some technically challenging sections. Fortunately no one fell off the mountain bike, no one was bitten by the stray dogs. When we got back to Arequipa we were just dusty and happy.

Mountainbikers

Mountainbiking at Chachani (Misti volcano in the background)

Dust would also be a major topic during our 3 day excursion to Colca Canyon. The canyon is about 150km from Arequipa and in order to get there we have to once again cross some major mountains with altitudes of up to 5000m. We drive through nature reserves with interesting microclimates and stop to see some amazing rock formations. Once we drive past Chivay we start to see the amazing landscapes of Colca Valley with the artistically terraced agricultural slopes dating from pre Inca times. We continue to drive towards Cabanaconde. The valley gets deeper, the terraces disappear and eventually it gets harder and harder to see the small river in the huge Canyon. Our last stop for the day is Cruz del Condor, one of the spots that keeps attracting busloads of tourists every day. Supposedly, this is one of the best spots to see Condors in Peru and Peru probably has the smallest Condor population of the Andean countries. We got lucky and could see several of these majestic birds relatively close up. It was truly a highlight to see them gliding through the air, effortlessly, without a single stroke of wing, just taking advantage of the thermal. Still, when they fly by the “noise” is very similar to the one of a glider… It was hard to leave this beautiful scenery behind us but once the sun disappeared behind the mountains (around 5pm) the air turned chilly and we instantly started longing for a hot shower… Next morning we started hiking down the canyon, descending a little more than 1000m to get to the bottom (at the deepest point the canyon is more than 3000m deep). While Gustavo El Tren took the lead, I decided to walk more slowly with the rest of the group. It took us more than 3 hours to get to the bottom and I had to eat a lot of dust because everyone kept sliding on the slippery path. Once we got to the bottom we were pleasantly surprised to find a swimming pool and some beer (even though it was warm), so we decided to hang out and take it easy for the rest of the day. However, down in the canyon the sun even disappeared at 4pm and from then on it got cold and dark and there was not really a whole lot to do.  So we ended up going to bed (to tent) at 8pm on a Saturday night – shame on us!! Next morning, our guide made us get up at 4am, so we could avoid hiking up the 1000m in the blazing sun. We started hiking at 5am and since I did not want to repeat my dust eating exercise I joined Gustavo at the front. We were in pretty good shape and arrived back at the top 1 1/2 hours later, way before the rest of the group and unfortunately also about 45 minutes before the first sunrays could warm our bodies. Man, it was freezing up there without sunshine… But somehow it also felt great. I dont remember the last time I have finished a major workout at 6.30am Sunday morning… From there it was just relax. We stopped at Cruz del Condor again, went to the hot springs and finally were driven back to Arequipa.

Colca Valley

Agricultural terraces in Colca valley

Condor

King of the Andes – El Condor

In Arequipa we had no time to waste since the next highlight was already waiting for us – the famous Nazca lines. We took an overnight bus and arrived in Nazca 6am next morning. We did not sleep very long and not very well and I felt like I was dragged out of the bus in the middle of the night. I felt like a sleepwalker and in that condition we went straight to the airport (the best way to see the Nazca lines is by plane). Next thing I remember is that we found ourselves on a small 4 seater Cessna plane, flying across the desert with the pilot excitedly pointing out some astounding figures drawn in the sand. Some of them were difficult to recognize, even more difficult to photograph and then we also had to worry about our stomaches that started to turn funny… At some point I saw Gustavo fumbling with his little plastic bag but I quickly looked to the other side. And then it was all over, it all seemed like a surreal dream, but honestly my stomach was soooo happy to be firmly back on solid ground. It took us about an hour to recover and once we found our voices again we asked to be shipped back to the bus terminal. Next destination Huacachina, a small oasis in the desert.

Nazca Lines

The famous Nazca lines

Huacachina used to be a vacation place for the Peruvian elite but these days it is mostly inhabited by backpackers that are chilling out in the desert and enjoy sandboarding in the dunes. Naturally we signed up for the sandboarding too. So we hopped on a strange looking vehicle called sand buggy and thanks to a crazy driver felt like we were flying (oh please not again!) across the sand dunes. The funniest part was actually the 3 Italian gay men we had on board. They were screaming like little school girls at a Robbie Williams concert. The sandboarding was different from what I had expected. Instead of standing on the board like in snowboarding you actually lie on the board face down (and ideally with your mouth shut…). Some of the dunes were quite steep, the speed accordingly high but it felt very safe because the sand is normally quite soft (except for some of the speedbumps when I seriously started worrying about my manhood). When we got back to the hostel we realized that we had carried back half of the sand dunes in our pockets and shoes… Reportedly the cleaning ladies in Huacachina had to work overtime to clean up the whole mess…

Sandboarder

Sandboarder in Huacachina

Currently we are in Lima, the capital of Peru. We arrived here after a brief stop in Paracas, a small beach resort about 4 hours south of the capital. The major attraction of Paracas are the Islas Ballestas, also called the poor man’s Galapagos (we are talking about a $10 vs $1000 price tag). The 2 hour boat trip to see the Islands was really worthwhile since we got to see dolphins, penguins, sea lions and a variet of different birds. Back onshore we got ourselves a big Ceviche (raw fish) lunch at a local restaurant. Ever since that day we have been carrying the diarrhea bug with us. Hmm…

Islas Ballestas

Wildlife at Islas Ballestas

As for Lima, we have arrived here with no expectations since most of the large South American cities are nothing to write home about. However, we were pleasantly surprised how modern and cosmopolitan the place is (we even found a Hooters!). Our hostel is in a beautiful residential neighborhood called Miraflores where the streets are clean and safe. We have also been surprised by all the beautiful parks around here and the best part is that Miraflores is built on a cliff, about 80m above the Pacific. The views would be spectacular if it was not for the mist that has been hanging around for the last couple of days (mist in the desert, how does that work?). The city center of Lima is also beautifully maintained with lots of historic buildings/plazas and relaxing pedestrian areas that are patrolled by a cute police force (women in white uniforms…). With 10million inhabitants, Lima is by far the largest city in Peru but I kept wondering where all the people are hiding? The (few) neighborhoods we have seen are really really well organized and civilized… Best of all, Lima has developed a thriving restaurant industry with some very sophisticated menu’s. This is the icing on the cake after all the good food we have already enjoyed throughout the country!

Miraflores

Miraflores in the mist

Tomorrow it will be time to say goodbye to Peru since we are catching a flight to Bogota, Colombia. Peru was really fun and it has a great infrastructure for tourists making it easy to travel around (even if you dont speak Spanish). Unfortunately we have only seen the Southern part of the country but that will give us an excuse to come back! For now, I am very excited to return to Colombia, a country where I have travelled extensively 10 years ago (when it was still dangerous, hahaha!). I am sooooo curious to find out how it has changed in the last decade. Will keep you posted!

Hasta la proxima

Adrian

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