C - The colonial city of Arequipa sits underneath a perfect cone shaped volcano called El Misti (5822 meters). Although, as usual, there was too much cloud for us to even catch a glimpse of it. The city is known as the White City as most of the buildings around the Plaza de Armas are made from a light coloured volcanic rock named sillar which is meant to dazzle in the sun. Of all the Plazas we have been to I think Arequipa has the most Spanish colonial feel to it, surrounded by numerous beautiful churches and mansions.
Although we had planned to spend a few days exploring the city itself, we soon found ourselves in a tour agency booked in for 6am the next day for a 3 day trek to the nearby Colca Canyon. For years it was thought that this was the deepest canyon in the world at 3191m but recently nearby Cotahuasi Canyon, also in Peru, has claimed the title just 163m deeper. Makes the Grand Canyon not sound so grand. I believe it is 1829m at its deepest point.
We then had just a few hours left in the day to visit the city sites. Of most interest was the Monastary of Santa Catalina which was so large it was basically it's own little city inside the walls. Ocupìed originally by nuns from the richest Spanish families, it seemed that these nuns were living life to the full as they always had done rather than as required by nuns and it took a strict Dominican nun to straighten things out 3 centuries later. After the nun pulled the plug on these hedonistic goings-on, most of the people who lived there never ventured outside of the convent which left it shrouded in mystery until it finally opened to the public in 1970. The convent was beautiful and there were many paintings and artefacts still on show.
Back to the Colca Canyon, we and three others plus our guide set off early for our three day trek down, in and out of the Canyon. The scenery from the very beginning was stunning. I actually finally felt that I was in the mystical Peru that I had always imagined, surrounded by imposing mountains and clouds. Day one was simple enough, downhill all the way to the bottom of the Canyon where we would then follow the water to the cabins where we would be staying for the night. Friendly Peruvians from the mountain villages passed us along the way with their mules heading into the nearest town to sell and buy supplies. I remember feeling lucky that we were going down not up. Until tomorrow anyway. After a while I started to wish we were going to go up hill, my legs were starting to wobble walking downhill for so long. The Canyon is also famous for wild andean condors and we were lucky enough to see a few flying around. From a distance its hard to imagine that their wing span can be 3 meters or more!
We stayed in basic cabins over night but I cant imagine you could find anywhere with more stunning scenery. Day two led us across the river and in to some of the mountain villages where we met the local people and sampled Tuna fruit, which when peeled looked a lot like beetroot but had a melon like texture and was filled with pips. It was quite strange. Not quite as strange as the dead owl and pig foetus hanging up over the sink, apparently an offering to mother nature. Or the rooms filled with cute Guinea-Pigs squeaking around, soon to be dinner as Guinea Pig is one of the main tradition dishes of Peru. I dont think i'll try that one. Or even the washing lines we would pass with clothes drying on one end and meat on the other. We saw some intersting things!
Around lunch time we arrived at the Oasis where we all cooled off in the pools before we began a killer 2 hour trek back up the mountain. Climbing for the duration. There was talk of hiring mules, by me mainly as I was struggling to get my breath climbing at altitude, but in the end I was proud to sort my breathing out and trek all the way in the pouring rain back to our Hotel. We were all freezing and the promise of a hot shower failed us. We had a great dinner and a great evening though and day three's trip to the nearby hot springs did wonders for all of our muscle pains.