South America | Peru | Southern Peru | Southern Coast | Pisco – Volcanoes, Camelids and Penguins
From Puno it was a short comfortable bus ride to Arequipa – The white city. So called from the white volcanic ‘Sillar’ used to build many of the cities buildings.
I gave myself a day to see the main sights of the city such as the impressive ‘Plaza de Armas’ (main square), the beautiful labrynthine convent of Santa Catalina and the Sanctuary museum which holds the frozen mummy of the girl ‘Juanita’ – sacrificed on a mountaintop as an offering to the Inca gods.
The next day I started a 2 day tour of the Colca Canyon – the 2nd deepest canyon in the world (the deepest being Cotahuasi, also close to Arequipa) and one of the best place to view Andean Condors in Peru. As we left Arequipa we got great views of the volcano ‘El Misti’ which dominates the skyline of Arequipa on clear days. The route took us through the Salinas y Aguadas Blancas National Reserve where wild Vicu?as roam free. The Vicu?a is a wild camelid, much smaller than its domesticated relatives the Alpaca and the Llama. It’s wool is so soft that it commands the highest price of any natural fibre. 100 g of Vicu?a wool can cost 300 pounds and a scarf made of the fibre can you set you back 750 pounds! Once through the reserve we passed the highest point of the route (at over 4800 m) and stopped to build a small cairn as a way of making a wish to the gods of the mountains. We then descended to the valley town of Chivay where the kids were busy throwing each other into the fountain in the main square (apparently it was the last day of school). In the evening we tried out the thermal baths: chatting, relaxing and sipping the local speciality Cayllomino (orange juice, lemon, coca leaves and pisco).
The following morning our minibus took us up one side of the canyon and as we made our way up, the valley bottom dropped further and further away from us. The route took us past large geological faults and towns that has been destroyed by seismic activity and rebuilt in recent years. At about 500 m from ‘El cruz de condor’ – the legendary Andean Condor viewing point – we got out of the bus to walk. From here we could see an adult Condor circling close to the viewing point. Unfortunately as we approached ‘El cruz’ it was clear that it had flown further down the canyon and we didn’t get a close look at this magnificent bird. However whilst we were waiting for another one to turn up a Giant Hummingbird came to feed (clumsily) from the flowers of a bush about 3 m in front of us, so we had some consolation.
From Arequipa I took a 13 hour bus journey (they had told me 9 hours when I booked the ticket) in a bus with not enough leg room even for the Peruvians, let alone me. After about 9 hours my knees were in a lot of pain and I had to keep trying to straighten my legs out as well as I could by standing up where I was sitting. I couldn’t easily get out into the aisle of the bus because there was a small boy sleeping there. After 10 hours on the road, the driver called out that we were going to make a toilet stop. (There was a toilet on board but I didn’t see anybody use it the whole journey; either it was out of use or nobody dared try it.) I got out the bus and jumped around, stretching and kicking my legs out in all directions until they felt like my own again before sitting relatively confortable for the rest of the trip. My destination was Pisco, the seaside town that gave its name to the national drink.
The next day I took a boat trip out to the Ballestas Islands. En route we passed the ‘Candelabra’ a 180 m high image of, well, a candelabra (although some people belive it to be cactus) carved into the sand dunes to a depth of about 0.5 m. Nobody knows who made it or what it signifies but there are theories that it was made by the Chavin culture or the Nazca culture (the Nazca lines are only 200 km from here) or even that it was made in the 19th century to guide ships into the bay. From here it was only 10 mins by speedboat out to the Islands where we got great views of Humboldt Penguins and large Sealion colonies dominated by the males that weigh-in at up to 200 kg. I would have loved to have spent longer at the islands because they are so alive with the sights and sounds of the thousands of seabirds that nest there but the tour came to an end and we speeded back to shore.
In just a few days I had seen Vicu?a on the highland plains, Condors and Hummingbirds in the mountains and Penguins and Sealions on the coast which really highlighted the amazing biodiversity of this country. This marked the end of my whistle-stop tour of southern Peru and from here it was back to Lima to spend Christmas with my friend Monica and her family.