Thursday, August 20, 2009

Arequipa - Nasca - Ica - Pisco

As we said previously Arequipa is a beautiful city. The sunny plaza has a wonderful backdrop of the volcanoes and the city centre seems to built entirely out of white volcanic rock.
We dropped by the Santa Catalina monastry which is unbelievably photogenic and very peaceful. We managed to survive a couple of hours without setting on fire. No point boring you with the history, it´s all nun stuff.

Courtyard in cathedral

Gemma still not on fire

Not even guinea pigs are safe in God´s house

Plaza in Arequipa

First excursion was a trip to Colca Canyon, the second deepest in the world. The deepest is a few more hours drive north. It´s a strangely beautiful area but it seems the masses of tourists have ruined the local villages by turning them into circuses.

A tasty treat for an alpaca

And a nice cup of tea

In the canyon there are a couple of condors. People come from all over the world to watch them fly here. If they flew further south they could see millions.

Condor in flight

Boys are safe, condors only eat dead stuff

The shallow end of the canyon

We packed up our bikes and bags, hid them in a cupboard at the hotel in Arequipa and then left for Nasca. Very excited of course. Here are a couple of random photos we like.

Yummy Inca Kola smells like dandelion and burt`ock and tastes like Irn Bru.

Cup of tea Katie?

After big breakfasts we were very glad for the two hour wait at the airport. The tiny Cessna planes only seated 6 and the ride was very bumpy. It was a struggle keeping the stomachs in, especially when the pilot was intent on making us see the figures from every possible angle.
He would shout, "LOOK RIGHT SIDE... YOU CAN SEE RIGHT SIDE!!!" and then bank the plane round as quickly as possible before, "NOW LEFT SIDE... SPIDER LEFT SIDE!!!".
Smiling before take-off

Pilot waving his hands around - reassuring!




Twenty minutes and 50 banked corners later we were back on the ground. Getting off the plane was the most difficult. It was like learning to walk all over again. To people watching it must have looked like we´d been dropped off after an 18 hour bender.
After we´d settled down and found our feet we headed for the other sights in Nasca. Aquaducts which are 2,000 years old and are still in perfect condition. The vents look like portals to an underworld.

Obviously they couldn´t be, the ancient Nasca people didn´t build a Necropolis underground. They just left their dead to sit facing the sunset so they could enjoy that for ever. Not far from the cemetry a local family have a shed. For a small silver coin you can go in the shed and come face to face with their ancestors. Lovely.

The hair is still attached and is 3m long!

Ian´s farts can wake the dead and make them laugh

Back in the cemetry...

Look for the parrot in there too

Next we went to Pisco. We had forgotten something very important. This nice little seaside town was destroyed by a massive earthquake exactly two years previously. It was a wreck. Buildings were crumbled into the streets, some were missing altogether. A local man told us how the earthquake started at 7pm and he got his wife and two children to hide under the table (of course!) where they sat for 4 hours until it stopped. Fortunately they survived without injury. Nearby, 300 people took shelter in the cathedral (expecting God to protect them) and the entire building collapsed on top of them. Very cheerful.
We soon left on a boat to the nearby Ballestas Islands which are known locally as the "poor mans Galapagos". Home to millions of cormorants, Peruvian boobies, Inca terns, pelicans, Humbolt penguins, sealions and many more.
Obviously being sat in a boat meant we were target practice for the millions of birds.
So many birds produce a lot of guano. Every few years locals go to collect the droppings and export it for fertilizer. From the boats the smell was bad enough. Up close it must burn.

Pelicans queuing outside the restaurant back door

The dark patches on the hill are millions of birds

Finally on to Ica and Huacachina. Ica sits on the edge of a desert. A short taxi ride takes you to a small oasis called Huacachina. It´s a beautiful place surrounded by huge dunes. These dunes are now a playground for sandboarders and buggy riders.

With that little trip over, we are now back in Arequipa getting the bikes back to being roadworthy. Tomorrow we set off towards Cusco and the finish line. Woohoo!
We will update once we have more stories,
until then,

Friday, August 7, 2009

Puno to Arequipa - the road that wasn´t on our maps!

Around the shores of Lake Titicaca the scenery was very much like it was in Bolivia. The main difference we noticed was the number of people here that shout "Ey, Greeeeengo!!!!!".
It was funny the first time.

In Puno we enjoyed some sunshine in the day but it was freezing cold at night. It is winter over here. Although the town centre was nice, the lakeside here smelled of dead stuff. Dead stuff turned green.

Puno´s plaza was a great place to find empanadas.

Titicaca was not very watery here.

We stayed long enough to realise Peru has many more tourists than Bolivia. This meant lots more touristy tat shops and that Ian had to drag Gemma away quickly.
We had a quick and easy ride to Juliaca (45kms) which we were told was not a very nice place.
It seemed nice at first, here´s the plaza...

Moto-tricycles in Juliaca.

After a quick lunch we had a wander around. Not far from our hostal Ian felt a wet splodge in the back of his neck. Turning around there was a woman pointing up and shouting. Suddenly a couple more women started pushing at him from in front and Ian felt hands trying to get into his pockets.
Unfortunately for the women we have just cycled 5000 miles. Our thighs are giant coconut crushers. To get a hand into one of Ian´s pockets is not very easy. In shops and restaurants he risks arrest for indecent behaviour every time he has to pay for something.
So the women were quickly pushed away and off they scurried.

We left as early as possible the next morning and had to cycle through another nice part of town.

Clean air is thin enough at this altitude.

Sign says "We protect our environment - don´t litter".
Signs are like traffic signals - ignore them.

From Juliaca we were on a road which was not on our maps. Not sure how old either are. We were promised the road was paved all the way to Arequipa. Yeah...

Nearly paved.

On such dangerous roads it is important to wear the correct safety gear.

Crash test dummy.

Cycling up into a large canyon we were heading back up to the altiplano. High, barren, nothingness awaited.

We pushed on for ages looking for a good place to camp. We came across a road side restaurant near a big lake and asked for some place there. The man in the shop was happy to sweep aside the sheep and alpaca droppings from a corner of his barn. We slept for 12 hours next to the droppings.

Front of roadside restaurant.

Our place in the barn.

Nearby lake.

The next morning we cycled up over the hills again, it´s always uphill in the morning!
The entire day was a bit of a struggle. We had no idea where we were, no clue of any towns or villages on the way, and we didn´t know how far it would be. A small lake with a few flamingoes and a few alpaca were the only interesting parts of the day.

We found ourselves a lovely crumbling old railway building to camp in. It wasn´t very warm.


Obviously the next morning was uphill. Over the other side though was a great downhill section leading us to a flat plain full of vicuña and volcanoes. This meant we were close to Arequipa which is surrounded by the volcanoes.

Volcano Misti, Arequipa is just the other side.

After cycling around volcanoes for hours the road took us down. It may not look so spectacular in the picture but down there is nearly 2,000m of downhill sitting (not cycling). It was great fun.


Time for a quick game? Let´s play "Where´s Gemma?"...

Near the bottom we came across this and thought it was Arequipa. It turned out to be a giant cement factory which was the size of a town.

Arequipa is much nicer. A very beautiful place and it´s baking hot. And there´s air for us to breath. Oh and giant chickens to eat.

While here we will be taking time out to visit one of the deepest canyons on earth, we will visit the Nasca lines and will get very excited about the fact we have only about 5 days of cycling to get to Cusco. Woohoo!

Next update once we´ve got loads of pictures of monkeys drawn by aliens.