A Travellerspoint blog

Arequipa

19th October

sunny
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After 10 hours on an overnight bus, we arrived in Arequipa, the Ciudad Blanca (White City). It is the second-largest city in Peru behind Lima, surrounded by mountains, volcanoes and canyons, and gets it's name from sillar (the pearly white volcanic rock used to build with)
Today was a free day and a chance to acclimatise to the slightly higher altitude. At 2300m above sea level it is definitely not the highest I have been to on my travels so far, but having been down at sea level for the best part of the last month I feel my body needs to get used to the reduced oxygen again. There are plenty of things in Arequipa to keep you occupied though.

I had a quiet morning whilst I waited for my camera to be cleaned, having stupidly dropped it in the sand in Huacachina when we were sandboarding. Thankfully there was no lasting damage. I then had lunch on a balcony overlooking the Main Square and watched the world go by whilst listening to the little yellow Peruvian taxis beeping their horns to get the attention of passing trade like there was no tomorrow. They are tiny cars and I don't know how they can fit in them, but then again Peruvians are quite short!
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I then visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina where you can see the old living quarters and furnishings of the nuns that used to live there. It was a very peaceful and calming place to be, and I spent ages just wandering about and taking pictures.
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Finally, I headed out of town to Yanahuara which is a little suburb overlooking the main city of Arequipa. I hoped in a combi which is a public bus in Peru and communicated with the 'conducter' in my best Spanglish where I wanted to go, after a few blank looks on both our parts he ushered me out of the door at the main plaza. Here there was a mirador which gave you great views of the city iteslf and of El Misti, one of the active volcanoes towering over Arequipa.
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Our tour leader had informed us as we arrived in Arequipa that there are approximately 40 earthquakes in this area a day, apparently it's quite a normal thing and you may just notice your drink wobbling a bit but nothing to worry about. Quite a large one of between 3 and 4 was felt yesterday and apparently there was also one last night about 2am but I didn't feel anything.

I had a lot of first tastes of things today:
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Inca Kola, a very sweet fizzy drink which tastes a bit like bubblegum.
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Guinea Pig, which was very crispy and tasted like chicken.
Alpaca, which is a very lean meat with 0 fat and 0 cholesterol, and tasted a bit like pork.

Posted by slking 13:57 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Nazca

18th October

sunny 32 °C
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An early start took us to Chauchilla Cemetery. Here we were able to wander amongst the tombs of mummies dating back to the Nazca times around 1000AD. The tombs had been dug up by grave-robbers looking for precious items such as gold, silver and jewels to sell, and the remains scattered across the desert floor. Now some of the mummies have been reassembled and arranged back in the tombs where you can see the ancient remains surrounded by pottery and clothing. Our guide was telling us how they would love to be able to do a proper search to see if there are any undiscovered and untouched tombs remaining but they don't have the money or the equipment to be able to carry out the extensive work. I think Tony Robinson and the Time Team need to get on to this one!
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Next came one of the highlights of Peru, the Nazca Lines. A group of us had opted to take a flight over the lines to get a look at these mysterious markings and figures that cover over 500 sqkm and are made up of over 800 lines and 70 plant and animals drawings. There are many theories as to why they were made and what they represent but still no-one really knows why. We were given a map to help with the spotting of the lines as the pilot guided us through them. As we twisted and turned to allow good views of the lines from both sides of the plane, I was not feeling great. We banked from one side to the other and I didn't know which way to look to try to stop myself from feeling ill. Even typing this now is making me feel a little queasy! The lines and drawings themselves were amazing and I found it difficult to get my head around how they would have managed to carve out such accurate representations of the animals without ability to see what they were doing from above. Here are just a few of the animals:
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The Spider
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The Monkey
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The Astronaut

The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool at our hotel before setting off on our 10 hour nightbus to Arequipa.

Posted by slking 11:54 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Paracas and the road to Nazca

16th October - 17th October

sunny 32 °C
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Islas Ballestas are described as the poor man's Gallapagos. As I am not going to Ecuador on my adventures I thought it would give me a small insight into the types of birds and animals that you can find in the area. So we hoped on a little speedboat and headed for the small islands just off the coast of Paracas, dressed in waterproofs to protect us from the spray from the sea and also spray from the birds!
On the way out we passed a giant three pronged Candelabra geoglyph etched into the side of one of the islands, standing 150m high and 50m wide. No one really knows who put it there or why, but some have connected it to the Nasca Lines (more of those later) or as a navigational aid to the passing ships.

We spent the next 2 hours sailing around the islands' many caves and outcrops taking in all that there was to see. We saw seals and sealions relaxing on the rocks, Humboldt Penguins, Guanay Cormorants and Red-footed Cormorants, Peruvian Pelicans, and the Peruvian Booby.
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The smell as you approached the islands was overwhelming. As the birds' main diet is the local mussels, they produce a very powerful stench. It was not only a strong fishy smell, but one that got you right at the back of the nose and throat, burning as you tried not to inhale too much.

Back on dry land, we set off for our next desination of Pisco. We had been on the road for about an hour when there was a loud crashing sound and you could feel something banging underneath the bus. The bus slammed on the brakes and we all went flying forward. A flat tyre was the cause of the commotion so after assessing the damage we continued on at about 10 km/h as we were only 5 mins from our destination.
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Finally arriving at El Catador, a Pisco distillery about 10km North of Ica, we were given a tour of the vineyards and the equipment that they use to press the grapes and prepare the Pisco. Then came the tasting! We tried 5 different types of Pisco each one stronger than the last. Some of the more sweet ones smelt and tasted like Martini, but as they progressed they startedt to take on more of a tequilla flavour which didn't go down well with me! We also got to try some jams, marmalades and chocolates, much more tasty!
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With our bus tyre replaced, we heading off to Huacachina, a tiny oasis of a town in the middle of the highest sand dunes in Peru to do some sandboarding. Climbing into the dune buggies we were strapped in tight. Setting off at roaring speeds, we drove up and around the sand dunes. It was like being on a rollercoaster, gradually making our way up to the top of the hill then slowly tipping over the edge only to come soaring down the other side and being lifted out of your seat. It was great fun. We arrived at our first stop for the sandboarding and our tour leader Martin gave us a demonstration of the different ways you could go down the dunes, all this whilst I was lying on my board ready to be the first one to go. I was pushed off from the top of the dune by our driver and I went hurtling down the hill, trying to remember all the things that we had just been told: keep your elbows in to avoid sand burn, keep your legs apart and ready to brake and steer with them, head up, and most importantly...have fun! The first time was a little nerve-wracking, not quite knowing what to expect, but it gave me such an adrenaline rush that I was keen to go again. Once everyone had made their way down the dune, some with better efforts than others, we headed to the intermediate level sand dune on yet another white-knuckle dune buggy ride. We had 3 gos at sandboarding, each one getting more difficult and the dunes getting more steep and the courses longer. No-one was daring enough to stand up on the board, I'm told it's harder than snowboarding, so we all continued to fly down the dunes on our stomachs, getting facefulls of sand as we hit the bottom, yet jumping up and eager to go on to the next.
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After lunch and a quick dip in the pool we continued on to our next overnight destination, Nasca. As we drove the sun began to set and created some incredible colours in the sky. I have been fortunate enough to have seen some great sunsets whilst being here in South America, but this is my favourite so far.
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Posted by slking 09:44 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima

13th October - 15th October

semi-overcast 17 °C
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A 3am start and 5 hours later and I find myself in Lima, the capital city of Peru. On the surface Lima doesn't really look like it has much to offer apart from grey, concrete buildings and manic traffic. But if you can be bothered to wade through the fog that decends on the city you may find one or two suprises.

My first day here, I felt like doing no more than sleeping, so that's what I did until about 6pm when I ventured out to the shopping centre up the road. Larcomar is built into the cliff edge overlooking the sea, giving you lovely views over the ocean at night.

The following day I took a wander up towards the Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin. The changing of the guard occurs at 12pm every day outside the Palacio de Gobierno, the home of Peru's president, so I joined the other tourists lining the road infront to watch the guards marching in time with the band and performing their little routine as they went about their duties.
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In Plaza San Martin there is the obligatory statue of the man himself. Part of this statue is of a woman, Madre Patria. She was commissioned in Spain undder specific instructions for her head to be adorned with a flame. It transpired that no-one had thought about the dual meaning of this word in Spanish and she ended up with a llama on her head instead!
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I also sampled my first plate of ceviche and a Pisco Sour today, very nice!

Tonight I met up with my new group of 16 (9 male and 7 female), and everyone seems really nice.

Posted by slking 09:23 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

11th October - 12th October

overcast 26 °C
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Thunderstorms overnight broke the good weather we had been having on the island as we packed up our things ready to move on to the next desination. We jumped onto a private boat over to the mainland and as we went overcast skies turned to torrential rain. We were all huddled under the very small awning on the boat and yet all we could do was wait out the rain as it soaked us and our bags through.
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Arriving on the mainland at Mangaratiba we were picked up and driven for a couple of hours towards Rio de Janeiro. The rain eventually stopped and the skies began to clear. As we came into Rio, we were all anticipating our first glimpse of Christ the Redeemer, or Big Jesus as he had affectionately become known as amongst the group! Unfortunately the mountain tops were still covered by cloud but we only had to wait a short while before he began to appear. I had expected to see Big Jesus towering over the sprawling city below, but he was disappointingly small standing up high on top of the mountain.

In the afternoon we took a city tour to take in the sights that Rio has to offer. First stop was to see Christ the Redeemer up close. We spiralled up Corcovado mountain towards the top watching as the city of Rio opened out before our eyes below. The first glimpse of the statue this time was amazing. This time the 40m high statue was towering over the city below and commanding his audience with his arms outstretched. The sun was shining brightly and all of the clouds had cleared away to leave the most intense sunshine surrounding the statue.
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Next stop was the area of the city known as Santa Teresa. This area overlooks Guanabara Bay below and is home to many 19th century mansions and scattered with restaurants and cafes. This is where the rich and famous used to come in the summer to get away from the intense temperatures and the homes here are therefore extremely grand. This is an area where you will also find many local artists.
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There are a set of famous steps in Rio called Escadaria Selarón. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who started out in 1990 renovating the run-down steps that passed by his front door. Over the years it has become a labour of love for him as he is constantly changing the tiles so that they are an every-changing work of art. The public are invited to send him tiles from around the world which he promises to eventually use somewhere in the steps and then he will send them a photo.
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The Catedral Metropolitana was built in the 70s which can be seen reflected in the architecture. From the outside it comes across as a very boring, blocky building. However when you step inside it is a completely different story. The cathedral can hold 20,000 people and the colourful stain-glass windows tower a massive 210ft into the air. It is quite an impressive structure and really took my breath away when I stepped out of the bright sunshine outside and my eyes adjusted to the dimmed light inside.
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Last stop on our tour of the city took us to Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar). It gets its name from the shape of the mountain which is said to resemble the way that loaf sugar was refined. The clouds had started to gather around the top of the mountains again as we approached. We took the cable car first upto the peak of the neighbouring Urca mountain and then on up to Pão de Açúcar. Once at the peak, the cloud still remained making it very difficult to see anything below and it felt like we were on a floating platform surrounded by the murky, swirling sea of cloud. It would occasionally clear giving us glimpses of Rio below and as the sun began to set the twinkling lights came on one by one in the buildings, houses and roads below.
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A small group of us were hoping to hang-glide over Rio the next day but due to some very low-lying cloud it got cancelled. I can't tell you how gutted I was as this was something I had been looking forward to doing since the beginning of my trip. Unfortunately I was due to fly out the next day, but the rest of the group managed to go up the following morning.

The adventure for this leg of the tour comes to an end in Rio de Janeiro, Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City), as I fly to Lima and onward to the sights of Peru.

Posted by slking 23:04 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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