Friday, 25 March 2011

Final thoughts on Arequipa

As you may have gathered this year's trip to Arequipa Peru was a most fantastic experience. I will continue my association with Peru via its small but friendly community here in London. Specifically I am planning to act as a befriender to a socially isolated Peruana living here in South London. I am also going to seek out some cajon lessons and maybe try and develop my interest en la musica Criolla which I find I like a lot. Next year I'll maybe head off to Colombia where I know a few people and where they both dance and cycle well. Until then here are 3 links which I hope will be of interest. Take care and if I can help in any way with you own travels to Peru please let me know. Thanks for following this blog. Hasta luego, Alan

A cold ride up to some trees at the foot of a volcano

la despidida de Alan or Alan's extended leaving parties

Cycling video

Eva Ayllon, a fine singer 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Leaving Arequipa

Well, I just realised that this is my 100th post on this blog. Ah well, if you missed the other 99 you have some catching up.

Ariquipena Cerveza Queen

The final couple of days in Arequipa passed quickly enough. I mainly attended Spanish and salsa classes as normal and said my goodbyes to my teachers, respectively Carmen and Christian. I also dropped into the the bar Cafe & Vino for a final copa of his excellent Bordeaux and chilled out there among the to me at least, unintelligible french speakers.

The last dance in Arequipa

Bar Cafe y Vino, Claustro de la Compania
We planned and executed a small but successful house party with me inviting mainly cycling friends and Marta my cajón teacher. She was a big success, playing the guitar and singing well known Peruvian songs. The Party continued until around 1am and it was a really nice and diverse group.

Apartment hunting and Spanish school friends
Marta entertaining cyclists
My penultimate day was all go. I went to the centre with Chad and Johanna and we enjoyed a coffee overlooking the plaza with a great vantage point for watching the carnival procession and lively battles of water and foam spray. Carnival in Arequipa is more understated than Cajamarca but even in our small urbanizacion there was a spontaneous water fight, but here at least no throwing of paint bombs.

Me at Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

Later we had lunch in Capriccio's joining with Laura's happy band of expats and we made considered western world comparisons of the merits of local bathroom facilities and the advisability of carrying a personal supply of toilet paper. Laura asked me what I would look forward to most on my return to the UK and after giving it some thought it came down to friends and family and the relative certainty of western style living, bus timetables, less pollution, less sugary/salty food and maybe road bikes, oh and of course not tossing the loo paper in a box! That said, I haven't really craved for any of thise things.

That afternoon I was also scheduled for my last meeting with my cycling buddies. We gathered in the garden of William and barbecued pork steaks and salchitas. True to form the group partook of quite a lot of pisco and I furnished a bottle of Black Label. Everyone was very kind and as well as making embarrassing speeches they all signed a photo, presented me with a team shirt and Dante had produced a 12 minute video of some of my various cycling trips. How kind they all were and I count myself as very lucky to have enjoyed the company of such a fing group of cyclists.

Jesus at the BBQ

The next day chad and Johanna accompanied me to the airport and gave me a nice piece of polished aquamarine and we said our goodbyes. They have been great people with whom to share time and space and I have no doubt they will continue to shape their lifestyles to the challenges of living here in peru, and add their own style and flavour of life to Arequipa's growingly  diverse community. 

Chad and Johanna

Well, I guess in summary, with about 2 months in Arequipa I could happily recommend it to anyone. It is very much in change but the variety of its lifestyles and places offers much to travellers of all kinds and I at least have experienced nothing but kindness and friendliness from Ariquipeños.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Colca Canyon

Wow, yet another early start catching a taxi down to the hotel of my friend Hans where I waited half an hour for a tourist bus to collect me. I had bought a space on the bus but not the tour as I felt this was a reasonable option to walk unguided.  Having said that, I was the only walker I met without a guide! The ride to Cabanaconde was punctuated with a short stop for breakfast at the larger town of Chivay and I got to know a few of the other travellers, mostly Germans and all passing through Arequipa on longer journeys.

Shortly before we arrived at Cabanaconde most of the others alighted the bus for a 2 or 3 day treck. It was pretty cloudy, not ideal conditions and I was glad of a rest and some reviving tea at my hostal, Pachamama. This is backpackers style of hostal but better than basic conditions and I was shown to a spacious but poorly light room with 3 beds to myself.

I elected for a shortish circular and local walk and found a path that fed down a by the side of a small river and a valley full of farms. 

After some time I came to the river and the end of the path but was directed across the 'pampa' towards one of the paths that fed in a Westerly direction down into the Canyon or back up to Caberconde. On meeting the other path the canyon first came into full view and it was truly impressive but somewhat obscured by cloud. 

As I returned to hostal it began to rain heavily so I elected for a siesta under 4 heavy blankets, and even then I was pretty cold. I had a quiet meal with pizzas cooked over a wood burning oven and due to the night chill and continuing rain I slept with most of my clothes.

The next day it was bright and clear and I set off for my walk down into the valley. It was so impressive that this took some time snapping many photos. The views of the canyon and the plant life was truly impressive.

Near the bottom I teamed up with a campacino and his son each carrying on his back a heavy load of roof sections and leading some donkeys. They showed me to the suspension bridge at the bottom of the canyon and told me that it had been constructed over 2 years with all of the parts being carried 3,500 feet into the valley. I stopped and rested in their small but pretty village of St Juan de Puchu and had a reviving and healthy lunch of soup and alpaca at their hostal.

I left them at about 1pm for the return climb which was hard, taking 2 ¾ hours to the road arriving back at Cabanaconde in time for the return of the rain. On the way down I had seen one solitary condor sweeping along the side of the cliff and on coming up I was frightened by a snake of more than 2 feet in length speeding by me at an impossible rate. 

The next day I took the tourist bus back. At Chivay we stopped for some hot thermal baths and dipped in the sulphur scented water of 39 degrees before heading back over the high pass to see llamas grazing in the hills. Allthogether this was a great trip and the Canyon could certainly offer 5 or 6 days of interest to the dedicated walker.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Ride down from Chanchani

Why is it that anything fun to do means leaving Arequipa at the dead of night. The plan for this ride was relatively simple. Catch the bus towards Puno at 3am - get off at a high point between the volcanoes Misti And Chanchani get on the bikes and ride back down to Arequipa. I went with Jesus and Dante.

Even at 3am the bus station was heaving - there were lots of people sleeping and waiting for buses and we bought our tickets from one of 50 or so bus companies. The evening before I went to the Marc Anthony concert at the university stadium. This was an interesting experience and I enjoyed event especially Eva Allyon a well known Criollan singer with hot rhythms and a big personality.

In the event I didn't get to sleep that night until we got on the bus. After only 2 hours sleep I woke to a perfect morning with no wind and excellent clear views of the volcanoes. We alighted at 4000 metres at a fork in the road for either Puno or Cuzco. There were a number of micro businesses and vendors, some toilets and petrol for sale that had to be siphoned it into large metal jugs!

At this altitude we set off at a steady pace and the first 10km was rolling countryside. I tended to fall back on the climbs an was grateful when I punctured for the forethought of Jesus in supplying walkie-talkies so we could keep in touch in the event of accidents or mechanical problems. Amazingly he also brought a track pump and a tripod for the camera and several sandwiches.  Eventually we began to descend back to 2,300 metres but not before seeing many vicuña crossing our path either singly or in groups - I love these graceful animals. As Pichu Pichu came into view we were circled by the three most prominent volcanoes.

As we descended the adrenalin set in as and we flew down wide and steep paths over rocky terrain with sweeping bends. The ride, as always was punctuated by photos at every point of interest. 

The last part of the ride was super fast asphalt and we finished our memorable journey with a nice lunch in Cayma overlooking the green valley and the Rio Chile. 

Photos to follow but this one of Chachani for now.