Our first real experience of modern-day Peru was the southern city of Arequipa. Coming from the small towns of Bolivia and more specifically Lake Titicaca, it felt strange to be in such a huge city again.
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city, known as the Ciudad Blanca (White City) due to the grey/white volcanic rock used to build the beautiful colonial buildings that occupy its historical centre.
The city itself is surrounded by some of the wildest terrain in Peru. This southern tip is a land of active, snowy volcanoes, high altitude deserts, thermal hot springs, last but not least the world’s deepest canyons.
A trek down the worlds largest canyons is the main reason for coming to Arequipa, as such we didn’t really spend too long in the city itself. Even though it was a relatively short stay it was a city that played host to a number of ‘…first time that has happened…’ experiences.
It was the first time we were actually able to eat some vegetables since coming to South America! Coming from Bolivia, which has to have just about the worst food on the continent, we were delighted that all the great things we had heard about the food in Peru where in fact true!
It was also the first earthquake I had ever felt! The area is known for its seismic activity and regularly experiences earthquakes, which is in fact one of the reason for all the buildings only being one story high.
Finally it was the first time we were lucky enough to stumble on a military procession which made the already beautiful Plaza de Armas even more memorable.
Cola Canyon is about 6 hours from Arequipa, requiring you to spend the night at a small rural village at the top of the Canyon called Cabanaconde. The journey itself was pretty interesting since we passed through a village that was having a big festival where the surrounding towns compete in a traditional folk dance.
Given that public transport between the towns is pretty scarce, the bus was completely overtaken with drunken revellers attempting to get home which proved to be an interesting insight into the culture of rural Peru.
As in Bolivia the women in these parts wear traditional clothing (although not as religiously as in Bolivia) which is very different to what we had seen previously. This particular region of Peru is occupied by two conflicting groups, the Cabanas and the Collague. They used to distinguish themselves by performing cranial deformations. Thankfully these days they prefer to simply wear differently shaped hats.
In the Chivay areas east of the canyon, a White hat is worn usually made of straw and embellished with lace, sequins and medallions.
Whereas the women that occupy the West end of the canyon wear rounded hats made from painstakingly embroidered cotton.
As you can imagine given the festivities, the bus soon stank of alcohol which clearly both the men and women are particularly fond of. The men (as with Bolivia) were completely paralytic and all seemed to act like teenagers; the women were no better either, giggling relentlessly like group of japanese girls.
The canyon itself was pretty spectacular; being 100km long set among volcanoes that are over 6300m high, the canyon can reach depths of over 3000m, making it the second deepest canyon in the world! Second only to neighbouring Canon del Cotahuasi which is just over 150m deeper. To put this into context both are amazingly twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the US.
At the base of the canyon is a beautiful oasis which was home for a night after spending nearly three hours making the steep decent down to the bottom.
It was the type of accommodation that caused the first of many arguments since Andre felt that it was far to touristy for his liking preferring to solider on through the canyon to the next remote town on the other side.
Helen (our new traveling friend) and I preferred to stay put for the day, topping up the tan by the pool which was set amongst the most beautiful backdrop.
Ironically they next town ended being too far away for even GI JO Andre to make within the same day meaning that the stubborn mule had to return and spend the night anyway!
Since our next place would be Cuzco (to do the famous trek up to Machu Picchu) we decided to skip out the remaining circuit of the canyon which would have taken the best part of the next two days and made our way back up the way we came down. This proved to be one of the hardest treks I have ever done (considering it was really a vertical climb of over 1000m) which as you can imagine didn’t do much for the tensions between us! Not withstanding the tensions between Andre´s spinal discs which took a pounding on the way up nearly forcing him to quit. Thankfully I was there to save the day and carry both the bags for us:)
A bus delay of over 4 hours, topped off with the bus needing a new tyre half way through the journey back meant that we missed the last night bus back to Cuzco requiring us to spend another night in Arequipa.