Peru – again! I can’t get enough of this place

I visited Peru (again), to catch up with my brother visiting Peru for the first time – and to call in at some of the places I didn’t have the chance to see on my first visit to Peru. Once again, Peru didn’t fail to impress… what a remarkably beautiful and diverse country!

Highlights

– Rainbow Mountain and surreal beauty – only very recently was this opened up as a ‘day trip’ option from Cuzco however now it is one of the most popular short trips available from Cuzco. Now you can see poster pictures of Rainbow mountain on almost every single tourist agency in the City. Not surprising given how surreal it appears. Although a day trip – it is a long day, after being picked up at 2:30am from Cuzco, breakfast at 7am, then 3 hours hiking at altitude – the main viewpoint is at 5000m. The views were simply stunning – dozens of layers of different colored rock and sediment layered in a mountain that has been pushed 90 degrees onto its side. The sideways snowstorm we faced as we started the final ascent turned out to be a blessing in disguise – most people at the top turned and left, we when we arrived at the top – the weather mostly cleared and we almost had the view entirely to ourselves.

– El Misti and a lesson learned – a massive 5800m volcano overlooking Arequipa. We attempted it without a guide or 4×4 transport – a decision we regretted badly. On the first day we started from 2900m and didn’t reach the trailhead at 3400m until around 1:30pm: in effect we lost half a day energy and time which proved to be costly. The size of this mountain is deceptive when you begin the ascent – rocks that appear to be only 30 mins hiking away, are actually several hours away. Camping on the side of the volcan provided spectacular views of Arequipa at night, and at sunrise. The second day made it just over 5200m before realizing we were running short of time to be able to complete the full ascent. It was a brutal walk back down the mountain and all of the way to the nearest paved road – another 7km away – this is where the 4×4 pickup would have been a godsend!

– Mollendo beach off the gringo trail – following the recommendation of a taxi driver in Arequipa, we decided to get off the tourist trail and head to a local beach a couple of hours from Arequipa. We befriended an extremely accommodating and welcoming family at a restaurant who were delighted to have some Australians in their town and for their son to practice some English with. They insisted on driving us to a beach where locals go, and it was picturesque spot. It was a reminder how friendly the locals are especially away from ‘gringo zones’.

– Colca Canyon a deep picturesque canyon – the Colca Canyon is remarkably deep, and can provide a strong challenge for those seeking a multi day hike. We were lucky enough to spot a couple of massive condors, who effortlessly glided from one side of the valley to the other, and over the peak with impressive speed. The scenery to and from Colca Canyon is memorable, dry deserts, massive snow capped peaks above 6000m, and deep winding valleys, for me it was just as impressive as the valley itself.

– Jungle near Puerto Maldonado – just like the amazon in the north, the amazon in the south of Peru feels like a world away from the Andes, the desert and the beaches that make up other parts of Peru (although it is a little more accessible than the north). We took a day trip to Lake Sandoval, and saw amongst many other creatures: macaws, caimans, monkeys, many types of birds. However the highlight for me was seeing the single family of beavers that inhabit this lake. There were 8 beavers in all, they would all dive underwater at the same time, then after perhaps half a minute, would start appearing back at the surface, some with fish that they were happily chewing on and the others seemingly chatting with each other, The jungle was hard to leave (as it is in the north) but were were on a tight time frame – we wanted to get back to Cuzco for the xmas party!

– Fireworks and Xmas in Cusco – it is hard being away from family and friends on xmas, but at least I was with my brother. At Cuzco, on xmas, the locals go a little crazy letting off fireworks. It is a lot of fun and reminds me of Diwali in India – and equally as hazardous! We had stocked up on a quite a few fireworks, including these exceptionally large ones that really impressed the locals – nicknamed ‘mortars’. It was an adrenaline inducing and heart pounding night – protective gear such as gloves, beanies,and even glasses if you have them are a good idea!

– Reflective NYE in Pisac – I was a in a reflective mood at NYE and preferred to be in the chilled, alternative community at Pisac rather than party central of Cuzco. Pisac was lovely, very serene, friendly locals, and a small but significant celebration. This is another one of the those small seductive cities that some travelers get ‘caught’ in as it is so charming and seems to have a magical energy about it – especially after the hordes of tourist buses exit the town mid afternoon.

– Downtime in Huaraz – in Central Peruvian Andes sits Huaraz – a trekking mecca in South America. It has some famous treks including the Santa Cruz trek and the Huayhuash Treks. Unfortunately I was there in January which is the off season and I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning. I spent the first week literally lying in bed and lost quite a bit of weight – one of the fastest ways to lose weight! (along with hiking Patagonia, backpacking in India, or tackling an Ironman). After recovering and slowly getting my strength back, I did several day trips, including to Chavez, an ancient city with a deep history and sites that have survived the test of time), Pastoruri, getting up front and personal with some rapidly disappearing glaciers, and some giant Raymondi plants, and to several local Cities in the valley.

– Teaching Yoga at Huanchaco – initially I was only going to stay at Huanchaco for 1 or 2 nights on my way to Lima, but I ended up staying over a week. As with most travel, it is the people you are with that make the experience enjoyable and memorable – I stayed at a relaxed and great hostel with a fantastic bunch of people from around the world (Frogs Chillhouse). Before I knew it, I learned that the resident Yoga teacher was traveling elsewhere, and I found myself teaching early morning Yoga classes on the beach. I contemplated registering as a volunteer at the hostel and staying even longer. But after a few days of sun, surf and late night music parties on the beach – I knew it was time to keep on the move… too much of anything isn’t good for you!

I’ve now been on the road for a long time – longer than I initially planned, and now feel “I have had my fill” – and I’m ready and actually really excited to get back into work. I’m looking forward to returning to a weekly and daily routine and being a productive member of society again! So many things I’ve learned and gain from this trip however – perhaps for another blog post..

 

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Walking towards Machu Picchu.. the second time I’ve been there.

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Cuzco – a beautiful historic City.

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Some of the colorful locals looking for struggling tourists who might need to rent a donkey to climb Rainbow Mountain.

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Rainbow Mountain. Not hard to see why this is quickly becoming very popular day trip from Cuzco. Here we were lucky, the rough weather which turned most other travelers away, cleared up just when we reached the top. The evidence of the snow storm is on the right hand side of the pic – it was falling almost horizontally at one stage.

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Sampling some of the many types of potatoes and quinoa that is grown locally here (near Puno).

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Colca Canyon – checking out the impressive and very deep valley before spotting some soaring Condors.

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El Misti – a tough challenge already – but made much much harder by trying to go solo and starting from the nearest town (rather than then trailhead which is another 7km in and another 600m higher).

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Teaching Yoga in Huanchaco. There is practically an unlimited demand for Yoga teachers at hostels these days.

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The beautiful charming small town of Pisac in the sacred valley.

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Chilling in the Peruvian highlands near Hauraz,

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The Giant Raymondi plants near Hauraz.

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After a challenging game of ultimate frisbee in Hauraz with some of the locals. Although only around 2700m in elevation – I certainly could feel the altitude when running around.

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The picturesque town of Hauraz – check out that massive mountains overlooking the City!

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Peru is an extremely diverse country – after leaving the Andes within a few hours I was heading through the desert.

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Pretty sunset over Huanchaco.

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Majestic glaciers at Pastoruri. Sadly these glaciers are rapidly disappearing. Where I am standing in this picture was under the glacier only a year prior.

Peru – Inkan ruins, mysteries, floating islands

Back to backpacking, I love it! –

It was a good feeling to strap on the back pack again. In my career to date, I’ve spent an accumulative time of over 3 fulls years of short term stays in nice swanky hotels.Whilst extremely convenient, clean and predictable (i.e. perfect for work), staying in hotels can be a bit sterile and impersonal. So it was a welcome change to get back into backpacking. After a few days I remember how much I love it. Meeting so many friendly people, with like minds, mostly about exploration, discovery and sharing experiences. Staying in a dorm, you never know who you are going to be bumping into! I’ve met some incredibly fascinating people I would have never met otherwise. Also, I think there is no better way to get recommendations on what to see and do, then from people who have just done it.

Cuzco and bustling Central Plaza De Armas, so much going on –

One of my favourite things about Latin America Cities is the central plaza – usually a square plaza, in the middle of town, with plenty of shade and sitting places where a lot of local activities take place. In Cuzco I spent a lot of time at the picturesque “Plaza De Armas” which had the Andes as a backdrop, and in the foreground large historic buildings, the more recent Spanish buildings (i.e. churches) build on the old foundations from the Inkas. In a bit over a week (over the Christmas period) I saw a lot happen at this plaza, including: an Earthquake ‘simulation’ and evacuation of surrounding buildings, large military parade, local markets, numerous religious ceremonies, and a simply mad nights of locals and some visitors myself included) letting of firework on Xmas eve.

Obligatory Machu Picchu visit (4 day “jungle trek”), lives up to the hype –

Before heading to what is frequently called the #1 tourist destination in South America, I spent some time absorbing the local Inka sites and learning a bit about their history. There are so many impressive sites in the Cuzco area well worth a visit, numerous old Inkan archeological sites, famous salt mines to name a few..

But the big puppy I came to see was Machu Picchu, I went with a tour group on a 4 day ‘trek’ which included mountain biking, rafting and of course quite a bit of trekking. It was a whole bunch of fun, highlights included getting a lesson in Soccer from the locals at one of the villages we stayed at, learning about and sampling the variety of fruits and food on the hike, and of course the ascent up Machu Picchu. We were amongst the very first people to enter the site which was well worth the effort. I also went up the steep Wayna Picchu (this is the steep hill you see behind Machu Picchu in most postcard pics) which had even better view of the surrounding valley. Wow – once up here you could see why the big fuss. It was one heavily hyped site that didn’t disappoint.

Mysterious and impressive architecture (to me at least) –

I spent a little longer in the Cuzco area then originally planned because I became fascinated with the incredible buildings that were built before the Spanish arrived. These really have to be seen to be believed. I never thought something like this would hold my interest for so long. What am I talking about? It is mostly the brickwork used and how sophisticated it was, and how large the rocks were. Buildings were created from rocks that had been so perfectly formed and adjusted, that when they were fitted together, they fit so perfectly that you couldn’t even put a toothpick in between the rocks (I’m not kidding!). There was no plaster used, and the size of some of the rocks was massive! Furthermore, they had earthquake resistant features such as ‘L’ shaped rocks on the corners of structured, and holes in the top of rocks, where a corresponding shaft from another rock would be inserted. It was incredible. It is though someone was treating these rocks like light play-doh before assembling them. I asked a lot of questions about these to the guides (so many I must have been annoying) but the explanations they give just don’t stack up for me. After a couple of searches online I found some pretty crazy theories out there which also see implausible, so for me this seems just a genuine mystery. In the age of information overload – it was good to find something out there so mysterious still.

Overrated Uros ‘floating City’, and underwhelming experience –

After a stopover at Arequipa (a dusty, dry City surrounded by large volcanoes and canyons) I stayed at Puno to spend a day out on the much hyped floating islands, and then a further trip out to an island on Lake Titicaca – Taquille Island. Maybe I had set my standards to high after the other Peruvian sites, but this was a disappointing day. Classical tourist trap tactics, like dumping you at a site (a small island) which is packed with overpriced souvenir shops, and locals selling supposedly ‘handmade’ items (which are identical to the ones you can get in the City for 10% off the price). Admittedly, the islands made just of straw were impressive, there were approximately 80 of them near each other forming a sort of ‘floating village’. However, I seriously came to question the authenticity of the claim ‘this is how they have lived for centuries’ when I saw the solar powered panel on top of one of the thatched houses! There was even TV turned on inside. We then took the boat out to Taquille Island which was I’ll just say was not worth the 6 hours return trip.

Alas, as underwhelming end to my trip in Peru, which overall was far more interesting experience then I was expecting! Now on to Bolivia!