Friday, 24 June 2011


16th - 20th Jun 2011

Plaza de Armas in Arequipa.

The bus journey was uneventful and we arrived in Arequipa at 2030hrs. Taxi ( I always worry about taxis, they are a major risk factor, and I promise to wax lyrical about them sometime later ) to the hotel 'Casa de mi Abuela' ( House of my Grandmother ). It is a most quirky place and quite fun.

Left: The hotel. It is an odd place with buildings spread out all over the place, parrots and budgies in the garden and geese around the back, but good service and value. Recommended if you ever pass this way.

Right: Looking down one of the shopping streets. Most of the old buildings are built out of a pale coloured volcanic rock. It is very attractive. In fact the city, the second biggest  in Peru with 4 million inhabitants, is really beautiful and on a par with any other of the best cities that I have ever visited. Clean, elegant, with impressive old and new architecture, up-market shops and restaurants, it has a cheerful prosperous atmosphere about it. It is head and shoulders above Lima, in my opinion. Of the many attractions listed in it's tourist guide no less than 26 are religious sites of some sort. These Latinos certainly get a bit carried away by churches! On the plus side, it does not have a MacDonalds;

Left: A happy pistol packin' local cop. She told me she would blow her whistle for me if I took her photo, and duly obliged.

Right: A happy looking Arequipan enjoying the sunshine in Plaza de Armas. I sure I recognise her from somewhere. Lots of people, and pigeons, were wandering around and enjoying themselves. So was I.

Left: This is Juanita. She was about 13 years old when sacrificed 500 years ago in an Inca ritual to appease the apu ( god ) of the Ampato volcano near Arequipa. She was walked, in procession, 160 miles, from Cusco and then up the 21,500 ft volcano before being put to death. Her mummified body was discovered by a German anthropologist, Johan Reinhard, in 1995 in a remarkably well preserved state. It is on 'frozen' display amongst other bits of kit in a museum here. I saw it. Look it up. It's an interesting story. Her name is derived from the name, Johan = Juan = Juanita, of her finder. Not, as in the old joke, because she only has one tooth. ( one eater....get it? )

I joined a two day tour of the Colca valley and canyon. We were a party of 10 plus our, again excellent, guide Donnell. This involved a 4 hour mini-bus ride over the highest part of the area, at 15,000ft, before getting there. We stopped at several sites on the way to be pumped full of coca tea! The guide carried altitude sickness pills and oxygen just in case. I think only one of our group felt ill.

Right: We stopped at places like this which looked towards various volcanos. The Incas worshipped the gods ( apu ) of the volcanos. There were always hundreds of little, and some not so little, columns of piled rocks. The tradition was, and is, to make a column, or add a rock, and make a wish to the volcano. I made several. We shall see.

 Left: A vicuna. We stopped to take photos of these in a 'protected area' en route. Vicuna, and the even more rare guanaco, live above 12,000 ft and were nearly hunted to extinction. They are now closely protected, although annual drives take place to catch them and get some of their wool ( only a little bit off their backs ) and to count them. They are of the same camel species as the llama and stupid spitting alpaca.
I am now an authority on these creatures. Llamas. Common as muck, are not good to eat and their wool is poor. Their only purposes are as pack animals ( max load on a llama is 40kg. Remember that, could come in useful. ), for leather and their dung is used as fertilizer. Alpaca. Silly sheep-like creatures that spit and lie down if you try to put a load on them. They are good to eat and their meat contains no fat or bad chlorestorol. Their wool is good too, especially on the 'baby' models. They come in both curly and shaggy long haired varieties. Vicuna. Quite rare, but increasing. Timid creatures that live at high altitude and are protected. Their wool is much sought after and expensive. Incas ( the kings ) wore vicuna. The peasants put up with llama wool. Guanaco. Very rare and live at high altitude near the coast. They look a bit like a vicuna but with a different head and darker colour.

Right: Gareth and Ann from Merthyr Tydfil. They were on a mega holiday going around the world. Poor Ann suffered a bit from the altitude. If you read this, Ann, hope you recovered OK!

Left: Our lodge, Mama Yachi, for the night. It was a charming place and full up with us and other tours. Just after we arrived here we were taken to a nearby place with volcanic hot springs. There were 6 'pools' of varying temperature. Even I got in. It was hot but remarkably relaxing with a healthy sulphurous whiff. They even had local children doing traditional costume dances around the side to amuse us. 

Right: Inside the lodge, which had a slightly Swiss chalet feel to it. The food was fantastic and both Gareth and I drank freely of a local Peruvian red wine. I think that may have caused me slight altitude sickness.

The next day, on to the Colca valley. Lots of terraced farming on 1000 yr old terraces. Very picturesque and lots of increasingly vertiginous cliff side driving, but I'm getting used to that now. It certainly never seems to worry the drivers.

.......and in the oddest out of the way places there were local women selling the normal stuff from makeshift stalls; mostly at places where tourists stopped to admire a good view. There was always so much stuff on sale and seemingly remarkably few people buying it.
Talking of locals, there are two 'clans' in the Colca valley. The Collauhas and the Cabanas. Historically they fought each other relentlessly, but now almost co-habit. The Collauhas speak Quechuan and wear white hats ( as on the right ). The Cabanas speak Aymara and wear coloured hats. Believe it or not, before the Spanish put a stop to it, the different clans 'shaped' the heads of their babies by strapping wooden blocks to them. Because the Collauhas worshipped the apu of a cone shaped volcano ( Mt Misti ), their children were given cone shaped heads. The Cabanas worshipped the apu of a flat topped volcano so their children had flat fronted heads. How weird! But true. They were persuaded that wearing different hats was a more sensible option.

On to the Colca canyon proper. This is the deepest canyon in the world. Where we stopped it was about 4000 ft from the edge to the river Colca at the bottom. From some adjacent volcanos and mountains it was much more. It is famed for the condors which nest in the cliff faces. We arrived on a good sunny condor spotting day, amongst quite a crown of fellow gawpers.

Right: A juvenile condor . I now know that the mature male has a large crest on it's head, the female doesn't. The juveniles are a brown colour without the white collar and start to turn black at about 5 years old. Condors can live to about 50 years old in the wild. A bird in a German zoo is, or was, 70.


 Left: This old man quite obligingly sat down on a rock only about 20 yds away from the tourist 'gallery'. The sound of clicking cameras was deafening but the bird didn't seem to care! He was a bit of a poseur, probably to feature in Condor Monthly as Condor of the Month,

Condors, of the vulture family, are scavengers of carrion. This one thought my cap was road kill perhaps. I ducked.
I remember when I was in the army our soldiers only recognised three types of bird namely, spuggies, craws and shitehawks. This definitely comes under the 'shitehawk' variety.

On the edge ( left ). We were taken for a short hike
along the lip of the canyon.
There are several villages dotted about on the canyon floor. They have to be pretty self sufficient because there are no roads and it takes them about three days to walk out, with donkeys, to get any supplies from the outside world. Apparently some of the inhabitants never ever leave their village which has no electricity or modern gizmos that we 'need', and they are perfectly happy. Another lesson here?

Right: Most of our group. Gareth ( Wales ), Donnell ( guide ), Tina ( Germany ), Bill and Beth ( USA ), 2 x Peru, kneeling Susan ( Germany ). We were a jolly crew, I like to think.

Left: We stopped at various villages like this one; name escapes me. As always lots of tourist tat on sale plus llamas on strings to be petted and kissed, as here, yuck, and captured large birds to place on tourists' heads with which to have their photos taken

Right: In this village they sold a variation on pisco sour called 'colca sour'. They used a local fruit ( that green one in the bowl, haven't a clue what it is ) instead of lime. It was OK but rather 'sharp' on the palate. The lady making it is a Cabana. She is wearing a coloured hat.

Left: Would you believe it! In a small town called Chivay, pop. about 1000, on the way out of the valley, there was another Oirish bear; McElroy's. Amazing. I went in, of course, but did not find an Irishman present. Day off perhaps. How on earth an Irishman came to start a bar here is worthy of  explanation.

.....this place boasted of being the highest Irish pub in the world. I seem to remember that Paddy's bar in Cusco also made that claim. Chivay is at an altitude of 3651 meters which, by my calculation, is 11,975 feet. Paddy's bar claimed it was at 11,156 feet. I think Paddy needs to change his sign. Maybe, and I wouldn't be surprised, there is a higher one in the Himalayas. Anyone know any different?

....and so back to Arequipa. This volcano ( left ) is Mt Misti, overlooking the city. It's summit is at 18,760 feet AMSL. Apparently not too difficult to climb if you have the time, and the inclination. There's probably a f*****g Oirish bear on the top.

From Arequipa it was Cruz del Sur bus overnight ( 16 hours ) back to Lima. I had the upstairs front 'panoramic' window, which was not much of a benefit due to it being dark for most of the journey. I was again most generously looked after by Pepe and his family for a couple of days before returning to Panama City from where I write this at an outrageously expensive hotel computer. Many thanks Pepe and Milly. Panama is almost American prices.
Pepe, Milly, Emily and Sandy happily saying good-bye.
I won't bore you with the details of my flight from Lima, suffice to say there was again some hassle at check-in. At least my bag wasn't broken into this time and they didn't make me take off my shoes! Progress. Everyone waited at the baggage carousel at Panama marked 'Lima baggage' for half an hour before someone said that the baggage was on another carousel at the other end of the building. I'm sure 'they' do these things deliberately just to amuse themselves. I can imagine some bored jobsworth watching us from a window and laughing his head off.
 I am due to catch a ship, the Cap Cleveland container vessel, tonight at Balboa port en route to Auckland, New Zealand. No internet on board so this will be the last report until Auckland in 18 days time. I shall be keeping a 'Ship's Log'.

PS The last vid link for Peru was the wrong one. I have been instructed by the Peruvian Tourist Board ( ie Pepe ) to show the correct one. I haven't checked it because I'm in a hurry. For all I know it might be from an Inca Porno site. If so, apologies. Must dash.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


13th - 16th Jun 2011

Puno is a nice enough town on the north-west shore of Lake Titicaca. Tiny little streets and a maze of them with pavements so narrow that two people pass only with difficulty. The locals, in the town, are 'Aymara' whereas on the lake they are 'Uros'. You can tell, as with all the Peruvian clans, by the hats worn by the women. It lies at over 13,000 ft so it gets really cold out of the sun and the air is a bit on the thin side, although I think I am getting used to that. The town has a plethora of 'fax' and internet shops. It seems in Peru that if one type of shop is successful ( vis-a-vis shoe shops in Lima or money exchange shops in Cusco ) then everyone gets in on the act to the benefit of noone

Left: The Plaza de Armas in the centre. I stayed in a delightful little hotel, the Hotel Plaza Major, just behind where I was standing here. The lady proprietress, Milly, spoke excellent English ( a rarity ) and was most helpful. Lots of good restaurants as well.

Right: These ladies are Aymara. They all wear twee little bowler hats, either brown or black, with the normal colourful ponchos over their shoulders to carry their kit in. It has been noticeable that all Andean women seem to be a bit on the stocky side; built more for comfort than speed it could be said.. Or it may just be that they wear a lot of clothes to keep warm.

Left: Local taxis, small adapted tricycle-motorbike things with a cosy enclosed passenger compartment which has a bench seat. Some even have seat belts!

Right: A clutch ( what is the collective noun? ) of Puno's finest. Why is it that most of the Latin American traffic police look as if they are about to ride at Hickstead?

Left: The little boat that took us out onto Lake Titicaca to visit the floating islands. Our guide here, Giovanni, was, as with all the guides, very good. At least he could speak using facts and not, as with the Inca ruins tours, rely on guesswork and theory. Lake Titicaca is the highest 'navigable' lake in the world ( not quite sure what that means ). It is 170 x 60 kms in size and is 284 meters at it's deepest. 60% is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia, unless you are Bolivian then it is the other way around.

Right: One of the floating islands. These are made from reeds with a sort of peat base. They need continually to replace the reeds on top to keep themselves afloat. The inhabitants of these islands are 'Uros' ( note the hats ), but speak Aymara. They originate from the Inca days when, to maintain their independence, they took to living out on the lake. We were told to greet them with the expression ''Kami baraqui''. The polite repy should be ''Waliki''. I always suspect such advice, especially when they giggle.

Left: Once tourists are stranded on their island they have, of course, a captive market. We were invited into their little reed houses and there given the hard sell for local handicrafts and clothes etc. It was impossible not to buy something. They were very charming nevertheless. They are probably all multi-millionaires with second homes in Monte Carlo.

Right: We were crowded onto this reed boat for a short trip to a larger neighbouring island. The rower let us off if we gave him 10 soles ( $3 ). I wonder where he keeps his Ferrari.
Is this a relative of Kon Tiki? I rather think it is.

Left: On another floater. Pic taken from a small wobbly tower they had erected. This island had a bar and restaurant and even a mini 'hotel' where adventurous tourists stayed. Bring a life jacket! There was also a small post-office where they stamped your post-cards, and passport, with a special Isla Flotante stamp.
I was interested in what fire precautions they had. One spark from a cooking fire and the place would be ashes in seconds. I don't suppose they would take kindly to someone lighting-up, although I didn't see any obvious no-smoking signs around. I was also curious about their loo situation but didn't get an answer to that. I suppose they do it over the edge downstream and then it is their neighbour's problem; but there wasn't a stream. Further investigation is required here.

 Right: Wherever you go there are always parades. This one in the Plaza de Armas. I asked what it was in aid of and nobody seemed to know. I think these goose-stepping guys were the local forest rangers, or they might have been the rotary club. a float with someone doing a mock? execution. They don't take kindly to bandits picking flowers without permission.

Right: Next stop Arequipa by Cruz del Sur bus. It's a mere 6 hours downhill to the south. I am fast becoming a fan of Latin American bus travel. Comfortable, relatively hassle-free ( no baggage problems, so far ), convenient and quite cheap...... and you get to see ( in daylight ) the countryside. Even wi-fi if I had something to benefit from it, plus in-flight meals, film shows and music.

 Left: Inside a Cruz del Sur super-bus.

Arequipa is, apparently, a very pleasant city built among volcanos, indeed famous for being built out of white volcanic stone. The area features the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon which is the deepest canyon in the world, by far. We shall see.

Onwards onwards. Arriba arriba.


13th June 2011

The Andean Explorer

I was really looking forward to this; the Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno on Lake Titicaca. There had been a few local problems involving 'strikes' ( to do with arguments between miners, farmers and government ) which had stopped the train and buses in the area previously. Luckily they had agreed a two week truce over the presidential election period which suited me. So the election had some beneficial effects after all.
The train left at 0800hrs for the 10 hour journey. It had porters, smart staff, wood-panelled and tastefully decorated carriages and was altogether a most de-luxe mode of conveyance.

Left: Our send off by the band at Cusco station. There were only about 20 passengers ( possibly others were discouraged by the strike threats which had turned a little violent in the preceding week ).

Right: The lounge and dining car. The train consisted of only 4 carriages; a kitchen/staff car, this dining car, a bar/saloon car and a sort of observation/sitting outside car. With the violent strikes in the offing I was disappointed they did not have an armoured carriage fitted with machine guns, a la Russian revolution.
We were served breakfast, pre-lunch cocktails, lunch with ( some ) free wine and afternoon tea ( which included bellinis ). The food was delicious and the service beyond reproach. They were a happy, smart and charming crew who seemed to enjoy looking after us. You know, a bit like on British trains. 

Left: The bar/saloon with another resident band, or probably the same guys as at the station. They kept changing their outfits to confuse us. They were very good and most exuberant, if a bit loud.

Right: The observation car where, if you wished to take the air, you could hang onto the rail at the back of the ouside area. The train did not go very fast, a very sedate ride indeed, and there were frequent stops for various reasons ( maybe the driver needed a pee ). I'm sure if your hat blew off they would have happily stopped the train, and even reversed, to recover it. It was that sort of journey and, as far as I was aware, ours was the only train on the line.

Left: As well as the music there was dancing. The dancing girls did their best to get us up to partake. I nearly spilt my Pisco Sour in doing so.

Right......and there was a fashion show. Lots of clothing on display and all for sale and all, when not vicuna ( very expensive ) was, of course, 100% baby alpaca.

Left: There was a demonstration of how to make a proper Pisco Sour. This is important, so please pay attention. Pisco ( a coastal city south of Lima ) produces a distilled grape spirit, 42% alcohol, nothing like cognac, called pisco. It is clear coloured, as per the bottle on the right, and tastes like......pisco. The recipe is: 3 parts pisco, 2 parts sugar syrup, 1 part fresh lime juice and 1 part egg white. This is shaken together for 15 secs and poured out. The resulting slightly frothy white concoction is topped with a couple of drops of Angustura bitters. It tastes very good. Give it a go, if you can find a bottle of pisco that is. I'm not sure if Tescos stock it. We were given a few freebies to get us hooked and certainly developed a taste for it.

Right: We passed through a few small towns, all very 'ethnic' and in no way touristy. Some gave very little leeway either side of the tracks.

Left: A couple of the stops were at track-side shops where we hopped off and the locals enthusiastically tried to flog us more handicrafts and, naturally, 100% baby alpaca garments.

Right: Most of the journey, after a climb out of Cusco, was across a high pampas type plateau. I think we were at about 11,500 ft altitude. There were many wild llamas here, as well as sheep and some cattle.

Left: ....sorry. here are a few llamas with some 100% bleedin' alpacas behind. There were lots of them but once you've seen one you've seen them all.

Just before we got to Puno we passed through the township of Juliaca. This place is a really scruffy dump; a sort of industrial trading outpost and is, apparently, one of the hotbeds of the revolution/strike. We were told to return to our seats in the lounge and draw the curtains. Whether to avoid the sight or for the sight to avoid us was not made clear. The locals here had been known to throw stones at the bourgeois pigs luxuriating on the train. They didn't bother on this occasion.

We arrived in Puno in the dark at 6.00pm. It had been a marvellous journey, very luxurious and entertaining, if a bit expensive. Well up to expectations. Quite a social trip too and, as always on these trips, one makes a few amusing, if temporary, aquaintances. If you read this John ( from England ) and Murray ( Australia ), I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. You seemed to!
On getting out of the train at Puno, by the cringe it was cold. Apparently we had gone up to over 13,000 ft and it was, literally, freezing.
Next entertainment is a boat trip on Lake Titicaca........stand-by.