Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz
From Trujillo, we just barely squeezed in a few days in the Cordillera Blanca region around Huaraz on our way back to Lima. Unfortunately, the weather here was less than perfect, especially after coming from the beautifully temperate ‘Eternal Spring’ of Trujillo and the Northern Coast. The weather was so bad actually, that we cut our trip here short after only a few days and with barely a glimpse of the famed mountain peaks we had come to see. That will have to wait for a revisit…
Monasterio San Francisco
Then, onward to Lima- Our last stop. Back to the beginning so to speak. It seemed like such an amazingly long time since we had stepped off the plane five months ago onto the South American continent for the first time, surrounded by hoards of Taxi drivers yelling in Spanish and barely being able to offer a word in response. Now, five months later, and a few thousand kilometers behind us, we felt so much wiser. So much more experienced. We had been so many places, experienced so much, it didn’t seem possible that it had been only five months. We had done so much more than just traveled through Peru. We had survived it. We learned the language, learned to navigate this crazy country, the busses, the crowded markets… We’d gotten lost, robbed, climbed mountains, and swam in Amazonian rivers. Peru wasn’t a place for a leisurely vacation. It was a place that took some figuring out. But once that happened, it had gotten into our hearts and it was going to be a hard place to leave.
Summer Rain in Iquitos
Hot, steamy Iquitos was one of our last stops in Peru. After five days on a stinky boat surrounded by hundreds of other sweaty bodies, we were glad to set foot on (relatively) solid land again. Iquitos is the largest city in the world which is not reachable by any road. The only way in (or out) is by river on the Amazon or Ucayali, or a plane over miles of thick jungle. It’s an awesome feeling being surrounded by unspoiled jungle in every direction for literally hundreds of kilometers before the next city of any size. Unbroken only by thatched riverside villages, the occasional sugar cane field, or banana plantations, the jungle literally swallows you up. Makes you feel so small and insignificant… Lost out in the middle of such a beautifully wild environment.
I write this now, as we sit in Pucallpa’s port, waiting for the boat to leave for Iquitos: Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, or the next day. Things just work a little differantly here… We arrived in steamy Pucalla straight from the cool central Andes after a long eighteen-hour bus ride though what is supposed to be the most drug-infested area of Peru. About two in the morning, the bus was boarded by a police officer armed with a semi-automatic machine gun who asked for a “protection donation”. We knew we were going to be in for something interestesting in this deep jungle town… Pucallpa proved to hide adventure and interest in many unexpected places, and heat, humidity, and mosquitos aside, and incedibly beautiful place to interact with the people, the culture, and the landscape of the jungle.
Church in Huancavelica
After a quick stop in the desert-oasis of Huacachina to break the long trip from Arequipa to Ayacucho, we got on yet another all-night bus bound for the Andean Highlands. We visited Ayacucho, the pretty colonial town of Huancavelica, and then a very quick stop in Huancayo… This was a great taste of traditional Peru, and a nice relief from the Gringo-Trail, visiting places very little touristed by outsiders. In Huancavelica for example, we were met by a curious crowd of children when we arrived, and all over town the people seemed extra-curious about what apparently were the only two gringos in town!
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a cloistered convent in Arequipa, originally built in the 16th century. The founder of the monastery was a rich widow; The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter religious service, and the convent accepted only women from high-class Spanish families. Each nun at Santa Catalina had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns invited musicians to perform in the convent, gave parties and generally lived a lavish lifestyle. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter’s entrance to the convent, and the dowry paid to gain the highest status was 2,400 silver coins (equivalent to around $50,000 today).
Kevin Overlooking the Canyon
Colca cayon, about 150km north from Arequipa, is a large canyon which at 4,160 m deep is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Until a few years ago, this was believed to be the deepest canyon in the world: Now that title goes to the Cañon de Cotahuasi, just 100km to the west, which is deeper by some 150m or so. Still, Cañon del Colca was incredibly impressive in it’s own right; From tiny traditional villages, soaring condors overhead, and huge snow-capped mountains looming in the distance, to the backpacker-mecca of ‘The Oasis’ with its palm-shaded swimming pools in the bottom of the canyon- This was a great mix of rugged nature, culture, and relaxation.
Ahh ahh ahh ahh Copa Copacabana… Well, Copacabana was neither literally or figuratively “The hottest spot north of Havana,” but it was an interesting place nonetheless to spend a few days ‘decompressing’ after our rough week lounging on the beach in Isla del Sol. The town itself is fairly bleak and touristy, except for the large 16th century Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana on the main square. Here you can see the interesting custom of blessing vehicles: Drunk drivers from all around come to have thier cars covered in flowers and dowsed in champagne in hopes that god will protect they and thier humble passengers…
Our Lovely Hosts
After Christmas had passed, we were more than ready to escape from Puno. Our main reason for coming to this region was to visit some of the local traditional communities in the area around the lake. Our first stop was to the Capachica Penninsula, where there are a handfull of tiny communities hugging the rocky mountains wich rise up out of the lake. Besides being nestled in such a gorgeous and untouched landscape, these communities are very infrequently touristed and the only accomodation available on the penninsula is homestay- which of course, is much of the fun!
One of Peru’s top tourist attractions (after Machu Picchu) is the floating reed islands of Uros. We were less than excited about traveling to Uros, but of course we felt that we couldn’t come to Lake Titikaka without visiting this famous sight… The Islands have become very commercial, now relying entirely on tourism for thier existence and livelyhood. Still, thanks to the trusty Polaroid, this short visit was due to be one of the most memorable interactions with local people so far! One of the woman caught sight of my camera and asked about it- Of course, being a good photographer (and a mediocre Spanish speaker), I opted for a demonstation. It caused such a stir that soon all the islanders had gathered around each one yelling ‘Amigo, a mi, por favor!’ One after the other, I shot off the last of the pack of film, which regrettably I didn’t even get copies of before our boat was ready to leave… But the islanders were all so pleased with the unexpected souvenirs brought by the gringos, I’m happy to settle for memories!
Lena on the Peke-Peke
From the highland of Cusco, we headed east for the sweltering jungle port town of Puerto Maldonado. Lena was less than excited, with the prospect of heat and mosquitoes awaiting her. We spent almost two weeks, sweating in hammocks, swatting bugs of all shapes and sizes, riding in rickety canoes called Peke-Pekes headed for strange jungle settlements miles from any roads… I will even admit: It wasn’t the most comfortable two weeks of my life, but it did provide an interesting glimpse at jungle life- The real thing; where everyone’s uncle is a Shaman, small-scale gold mining is the main source of income, and platanos (bananas) are the main source of nutrition.