Anthony on the Gringo Trail 2005 travel blog

My Arequipa balcony breakfast with mountain backdrop

Courtyard in Santa Catalina Convent

Another bit of the convent

Street in the convent

More convent!

Last convent

Church detail

Colca Canyon locals

Colca Canyon - not a condor in sight

It looked like a bad start when my seat had no leg room, was built for someone half my size, and I had a neighbour. So I tried an old method of going to an empty seat somewhere, pulling my hoody deep over my head and pretending to be asleep. This usually discourages all but Americans, who know their rights too well. So I got a suprisingly good amount of sleep considering. Despite this, I did feel queasy as we pulled into Arequipa, and not just from the winding mountain roads. I am back at altitude again, albeit a mere 2,300 metres. I can still feel it though. The fact that Colca Canyon is at least another 1000 metres higher, there is no cover at all and it is always blazing hot (like it is now) has put me off trekking there. I am still in a dilemma about seeing the condors though, as the general idea is that one either stays in the canyon, or gets a bus at two in the morning from here in order to be in the Canyon when they punctually leave for their morning search for dead things, condors being vultures as well as the world's biggest birds.

Anyway, I psychologically regrouped at my hostel, which mostly involved giving them all my laundry from the jungle, and then went and had a nice breakfast on a huge long colonial balcony overlooking the main square. A very pretty city is Arequipa. And then I spent the whole morning in the Convent of Santa Catalina, which looked like a giant version of Frida Kahlo's house in Mexico City, very photogenic.

A spot of lunch, CD shopping and various, and then a couple of fine churches. One had this fab chapel painted floor to ceiling in bright jungley colours, and the pulpĂ­t of the main cathedral was noteworthy for standing on a Blakean devil, and for looking like the top bit would collapse on the priest at any moment. Considering one of the towers fell down in the 2001 quake, this may happen yet. Sorted out the condor issue too. I am getting a bus to Colca Canyon tomorrow at 8.30 - I just couldn't face a 2 a.m. bus - stay the night there, and generally do the whole thing in a much more leisurely way, with a brief 90 minute walk at high altitude in the blazing heat. No problem. We drive to nearly 5,000 metres, but only walk at about 3,500.

In the evening I went in search of a Thai meal but ended up with Mexican, and an early night.

14th Oct: A nice slow and civilised start to the day including my best Spanish conversation yet, about 10 minutes at conversational speed, a new record. Then pile into a crowded minibus with a bunch of other people to spend five hours driving to Colca Canyon, a lot of it on unsurfaced roads. This drive was punctuated by periodic stops to look at things like distant mountains and llamas, both of which I have seen plenty of and could see fine out of the window. At one stop to fill up on coca tea again (many of the older westerners think this is really naughty and exciting) there was a young alpaca (type of llama) who was going round all the tables poncing the remains of everyones' coca tea off them, which basically meant a steady and constant diet of coca leaves. It did have rather a crazed look, and I wondered what would happen each day after we all cleared off and its supply came to an abrupt halt.

I dont know if I said before, but when someone is killed in one of the frequent accidents here - often from the South American compulsion to overtake on blind corners - they put a cross by the side of the road. This prompts the devout bus drivers to cross themselves when they see one of these crosses, hence taking one hand off the wheel just when it is needed most, like overtaking on a blind corner on a mountain road.

Still we made it in one piece as usual, and are now in a town called Chivay at the head of the Colca Canyon. A few of us skipped the optional session in a hot spring and went walking instead, Inca ruins, big ravines, etc. Good fun, but hard on the lungs as we are now at 3500 ms. There are a lot of gringos here (incidentally a term sometimes reserved for people from the US) presumably all to see the condors rise tomorrow morning. I do think it is good that the natural world has become so popular, but perhaps more of them should stay at home and watch it on TV. Tonight apparently, there is to be some folkloric dance in the local restaurant. I am considering skipping tea.

Oct 16th: The folkloric dance was bad, very cheesy. Early night, but little sleep due to altitude and the fact the rooms don't have their own ceilings, so we can all hear each other, each other including a teething baby. Anyway, off we go on increasingly hairy roads, with occasional stops to admire the drops and the Inca terracing until we get to the Cruz del Condor, where guaranteed loads of condors fly up out of the 4km deep Colca Canyon at 9 am every morning. So 300 or so of us stand on the edge of this precipice - which I did not like much - for a couple of hours, and no condors whatsoever. This was depressing, and felt like a couple of days wasted. However, the drive back, though long and bumpy, is through great scenery with herds of llama, alapaca and vincuna wondering around. And back in Arequipa, I have bought myself a ticket to Puno tomorrow, with the intention of being in Bolivia by tomorrow night.

And I had a fantastic evening meal of 'Pre-Inca'food. On one level this was a slice of alpaca and some baked vegetables with beans, but it was all organic, tasted fab, and the meat was kept warm on this big stone. The chef came out to remonstrate with me for uasking for a knife and fork, as I wouldn't be so in touch with my food this way, and he was right! Its fingers all the way when I get back home.

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