On Saturday the sixth of August 2011, I began a trip 25 years in the waiting. It is a journey that I have dreamed of doing since I was a child. I'm off to South America, specifically Peru & Bolivia with a relax at the end in Buenos Aires. To say I'm excited would be an understatement.

This journey began for me in 1985 when I lived in Port Lincoln. It was a beautiful summers day, the sun a rich golden warmth that eradicated the edge that lingers in people after Christmas and New Years. Children were everywhere frolicking along the foreshore and through the waters, jumping from the Jetty and enjoying all that could be from the day. The morning drew to afternoon and my sister and her friends started to wander further than my mother wanted them to. She sent me to bring them back closer to her view.

I stepped into the blue water lapping the shore, took a few steps into the pitiful surf, and fell. Electricity shot through my body, screamed into my skull, nerves became alive like never before. I yelled, but not understanding the pain, thinking it was probably just a stubbed toe, I reached into the water and pulled my foot free and into the air. My mind went white, my voice pierced the golden joy of summer, the water darkened, staining with the rich blood pouring forth from my foot, opened like a baguette.

During my stay at the hospital where they repaired my foot as best they can, I received a gift from my Grandmother. It was a calendar with pictures of places around the world. In the calendar I found two that I had to see – The Pyramids of Giza and Macchu Pichu. I have carried a picture of Macchu Pichu with me since then, and finally on the 21st of August 2011, I will be there after having hiked through the Andes for the previous three days.

Below are the entries for the Peruvian leg of this trip.

August 13 to 15 2011 - Arequipa, Chivay, Colca Canyon, Arequipa

A night bus from Nazca takes us across the country to Arequipa. An interesting thing to note about Peru, it seems almost everywhere is 8-10 hours by bus, it's a geographical anomaly. The bus is a double-decker, quite comfortable with reclining seats and a toilet downstairs. The night goes easily and the next morning we are in Arequipa, the White City.

Arequipa is beautiful, with many building made from Sillar, a pearly volcanic rock local to the area. When we arrived the city was preparing itself for a celebration. It was to be 471st birthday of the city. A number of the schools marched around the town square. Every city in Peru is based around the town square with a cathedral(s), a small garden area with a lawn you can't sit on, and often times a small market grows throughout the day and at night food vendors make their appearance.

Arequipa is also home to Juanita, at the Universidad Catolica De Santa Maria. Juanita is a remarkably well preserved mummy of a girl between the age of 11 and 15 who was sacrificed to a volcano atop Mount Ampato in the late 15th Century. Juanita was discovered in 1995 by an American expedition led by Dr Johan Reinhard and Peruvian climber Miguel Zarate. Juanita was incredible well preserved having only been discovered by the retreat of the glacier. Over the following years two more bodies would be discovered in the area.

Juanita was killed by a blow to the temple, although through scans and tests archaeologists confirm that she was in good health at the time of her death. To the Inca, human sacrifice involved only the best and most beautiful. They did not choose at random, and they did not practice it arbitrarily. Juanita was raised specifically to be a sacrifice, kept well fed and cared for. On her journey to the mountain in cotton sandals, she would have been fed well and given Chicha to drink and coca leaves to chew as well at to drink in tea. Juanita's story can be read in great detail in the 2005 publication by the Dr Johan Reinhard, The Ice Maiden.

In the museum with Juanita are a range of artefacts beautifully preserved. Most of the ceramic pieces are in pairs, and a number of incredible fabrics were found on the mountain, their colours incredibly well preserved. Unfortunately they do not allow photographs to be taken, so look up Mummy Juanita and see some images from the museum.

An interesting fact: The Inca kept the umbilical cord and placenta for the child to eat during times of illness to cure them. Interesting in that we now bank the blood from these to be used for medical applications at a later date.

Our group wandered the town, gathering a feel for it. We wandered the markets, discovering all manner of souvenirs which would taint us for most of our journey. Almost every city in Peru has a large market filled with all the same kinds of souvenirs, in fact many have exactly the same. After 20 shops of the same it becomes easy to be jaded by markets. I searched them all for the one souvenir I wanted from my journey, a new deity to add to my collection. There were literally thousands of icons to choose from, and not a single one sang to me.

The next morning we journeyed toward the Colca Canyon. Before leaving Arequipa, we needed to get supplies so stopped at a small shop. From this shop I bought a bag of Coca leaves. Coca leaves is the natural source of cocaine (average 0.8% of the content of a leaf) but has been utilised in South America for millennia and my guide tells me it is one of the reasons the Inca and pre-Inca civilisations were capable of producing some of their massive structures and other super-human feats as running 40 kilometres at high altitudes faster than marathon runners. The leaf contains several alkaloids besides cocaine which can suppress hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue. It also apparently assists people with altitude sickness. The strange thing about this plant is that if Cocaine wasn't an issue it would most likely be the most widely distributed herbal medication on the planet, but is instead restricted because of the 0.8% Cocaine. Go figure. The purchase of the leaves was for me to chew, to brew and to offer the Apus, Inti and Pachamama along my journey for their blessing.

The drive through the countryside was beautiful, vast majestic plains with graceful mountains, some capped with snow, some with the threat of eruption.

We stopped here and there to take pictures of the Andes prized camels – Llama (pack animal), Alpaca (Meat & Wool), and Vicuña (the most expensive wool in the world). Then we stopped at a small tourist truck-stop café where we had Coca tea. I had the 'triple' of coca leaves and two local herbs. It was delicious. This was our halfway point to Chivay, the town we would spend the night before rising early to see the Andean Condor.

At Chivay we checked into a lush hotel, far better than I was expecting and settled in. On the other side of the hotel there was a small walk up to an old fortification. I wandered over and got to the stairs that led to it. Believing in my own invincibility and believing the stair runs at work could prepare me I began bounding up the stairs as fast as I could. I reached the top and my lungs were heaving, burning at the exertion of running up maybe 30 metres of stairs. Then I remembered, I'm at 3600m and the air is a little thinner here. So I sat and tried to control my breathing. Paul (22), one of the people I am travelling with came up behind me.

“Tried to run up the stairs, huh?”

“Yeah” I gasped.

“Me too. Almost killed me”


I was glad that someone else had suffered the same fate, it made me feel not so bad at having nearly torn my lungs free, especially one over a decade younger who has never smoked.

The fortification was excellent, and I took some great shots from the top. We then walked around and saw some stone domes similar to an igloo in shape. Then we wandered along the paths that led to the Colca river. We reached the cliffs edge and the sight was impressive. An Inca bridge spanning the sheer cliff, shattered boulders lining the river below. We then walked back up to our hotel to meet the group and head to the hot springs to relax.

The hot springs are located about 3km from the town, and it's a nice walk first along the cliff then along the river. The hot springs are fed from a mountain flow and in the pools the temperature is around 38 degrees centigrade. Staying near the inlet is the hottest, but the entire pool is warm enough that you would not consider it tepid. Cocktails are served to the patrons and I ordered a Colca Sour. This drink is like the Pisco sour except they use a local cactus fruit similar to kiwi fruit but very sour.

We went to dinner that night at a quaint tourist restaurant where they had a local band on. The band played traditional post-colonial music and there were a couple of dancers as well. Part way through the dinner, they gathered a few people from the crowd, one from each group to make an offering to Pachamama and drink some Chicha. I made the offering and drank the Chicha, which was very nice.

After dinner we walked to the town square where the Celebration of the Virgin Mary was starting up. There was a parade, The square was filled by people celebrating and the parade was unique. In each of the corners of the square was an altar. The parade was made up of a people in traditional dress and musicians followed by the priests and a large display of the virgin carried by a number of men dressed in black.

This struck me as being odd, here was Catholicism blended with traditional pagan iconography. Peru has managed to integrate both of its sides into one harmonious structure. By day the Peruvians are Catholic, by night Quechua.

People danced in the streets and drank copious amounts of alcohol. It was a good party.

In the morning, we rose early and drove to the Colca canyon. The Colca Canyon is the deepest surface canyon on the planet, reaching 4000m at its deepest, although the sides are not as steep as the Grand Canyon. At the section we arrived at, it was only 1km deep, but that's all you need for the Condor.

Walking down to the lowest viewing platform, I was struck by the same awe I felt when I arrived at Indian Peak in the Grand Canyon. It was stunning, the colours of the canyon seemed like a freshly painted backdrop more than reality. I gazed for about 5 minutes at the sight before I saw my first condor.

The Andean Condor is large, majestic and endangered. The Andean condor is of the new world vulture family, and is a carrion eater. At its largest, the wingspan is 3.2m making it the largest land bird capable of flight. One of the reasons for it being endangered is that each year a mature adult will lay a single egg. Another is habitat loss and tainted food supply. The condor is quite specific regarding food and as such it is easy for it to suffer secondary poisoning due to carcasses left by hunters. The condors design is a little strange in that its talons are largely straight and blunt, adapted for walking rather then gripping. This also leads towards its inability to gather carrion as it is unable to grip its food and take it to safety, rather it must eat where the food dies.

Over the course of the next hour, there were four condors in the sky, gracefully drifting on wind currents, seemingly for our benefit. A Quechua man was playing his flute, trying to summon them, and the music added an extra ambience to the sight. The beauty of seeing a condor in flight will stay with me for decades to come.

That afternoon, we returned to Arequipa, the sights lingering in our minds.

In Arequipa, we were forced to leave our bus early. It seemed that the city had erupted into full party mode, celebrating the 471st birthday of their city, and the street that our hotel was on was right in the middle of it. We struggled through 3 blocks of packed streets, with people dressed in all manner of costume – traditional Quechua, Inca, colonial, dance costumes, school uniforms, everything they could think of. It took around 30 minutes but we made it, checked in then went to the balcony to watch the spectacle.

A few of our crew decided to go for coffee but Paul and I opted to stay and watch from the balcony. Ten minutes later we thought to go join them and see this parade from the street. It was absolute chaos. Even without our packs it was hard going, and after making it to the first side street opted to go around to the corner where the coffee shop in question was located. The crowd was so dense it seemed impossible to cross into the parade let alone the crowd on the other side. After a few attempts, a local girl promised to get us in for a kiss on the cheek. I complied and found myself in the road. Trying to get out the other side was a different story. A couple of other local girls offered the same to get me through but failed to fulfil their end of the bargain once they had received their kiss on the cheek. It was then I noticed an arch guarded by a police officer who ushered us through. We then had only 3m to go to get to the store. It still took 15 minutes.

Inside we had coffee and waited for the others to arrive. They didn't so we thought we'd check out the extent of the parade. It was massive. The parade consumed the road of our hotel, then entire town square and another street stretching off into the distance. Most of the side streets had turned into mini-malls of food vendors and souvenir sales. Being we were now on the wrong side of the parade to return to our hotel, we began looking for a way to breach the crowd and get to other side again. It was like living a crazy joke. For around twenty blocks we tried and failed to cross. We could see the arches but couldn't reach them. Finally, we doubled back to the block closest to our hotel. After a few hours navigating the city we came to the intersection closest to our hotel. It took a bit of effort to get in the middle, this time no kissing, and we were in. Then straight up to our hotel and over the crowd.

We had made it back. So, we sought out the rest of our crew and could only find Nathan, then headed back out into the melee for dinner.

The party continued on until after midnight, with much the same enthusiasm if only slightly diminished crowds. Peru knows how to celebrate.

The next morning we flew out to Cuzco.




Other Peru Articles:

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