Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Desert On Sea

From Nasca I bussed it to the coastal city of Pisco, in order to visit the nearby Paracas National Park.

Little did I know but just three weeks after my visit the city was hit by a 7.9 scale earthquake leading to the deaths of circa 500, and turning much of the city to rubble. Naturally for me learning that a very nice city, next to a fabulous natural area, teeming with wildlife, is basically no more, is very thought provoking. Here are two photos post earthquake of the street where I slept in a small, and now guess, ruined hotel.

The day trip to the Paracas Reserve involved taking a fast launch out to the Ballestas Islands, past El Candelabro(whose origins are unknown, but may date back to the Nasca civilisation times), which are home to an amazing array of seabirds and sea lions.

The following picture is one of the last ever taken of this beautiful arch and stack, known as Cathedral Rock, for the arch collasped during the earthquake, leaving behind just a stack.

Here's before and after shot I found:

Monday, 23 July 2007

Doing Lines

I left Andagua on the one bus out at 6pm and arrived back at the bus terminal at 4.30am. The strike must be over! So I hopped onto the next bus heading towards Lima via Nasca. Eight hours later I arrived. What a journey.

From Arequipa the road heads down to the pacific coast. At this time of the year, winter, the coastal desert is fog bound, and it was an eerie ride along the rocky and occasionally sand dune clad coast.

Fortunately here in Nasca the skies were clear and sunny, as I came to see the Nasca lines.

The Nasca civilisation ran from 400BC to 600AD. Very little is known about these people and what they left behind just adds to their mystery. The massive Nasca lines, images of condors, spiders, dogs and monkeys, etched into the desert plain, are only truly visible from the air. So the next day I was sat in a small light aircraft to view the Nasca peoples art.

I really should not have had breakfast, for the plane was bumpy and the tight turns it made above the figures on the plain below made me fell a tad nauseous. Fortunately my breakfast stayed put! Great fun all the same.

Here's the image of the astronaut, I guess the main reason why some Dutch bloke who had chewed far too many coca leaves, decided the Nasca people had alien help in constructing their lines.

After my thirty minute flight, I went in search of the mummies at the nearby necropolis. Here the rather dead Nascas' face the rising sun, awaiting the after life when the next UFO passes to take them on to some nebulla out there. A dead good place.

Valley of the Volcanoes

With the strikes and blockades lifted temporarily, I took a chance and headed up to the Valley of the Volcanoes the day after returning from Colca Canyon. Buses in Peru seem to run at odd times. My bus departed at 4.00pm and arrived in Andagua at 3.00am. I guess the hostel owners in the main square of the village are used to being woken and supplying weary travellers rooms at this ungodly hour!! As expected for the three days I was there, I was the only tourist in town.

This high Andean valley, surrounded by snow capped peaks, violently erupted about 80 million years ago, leaving behind about 80 explosion craters. It very much reminded me of the Laki area in central Iceland.

Arriving at the dead of night can have its advantages. For it was not til dawn that I saw the wonderful views surrounding this charming and very friendly village. Everyone person I met wanted to stop for a chat, find out where I was from, and help me from constantly getting lost on the myriad of pathways trhrough the lava filled landscape.

For three days I trekked amongst the cinder cones, returning each afternoon to watch llamas, sheep, donkeys, mules and ponies run around the village square.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

A huge gash

North of Arequipa, high in the Andes lies the Colca Canyon. No one can quite decide how deep this gorge is, but it now reckonned to be the second deepest in the world, deeper than the Grand Canyon, and only just deeper than a similar canyon just north of Colca.

As the strikes in Peru spilled over day after day the only way to get up to this remote area was to take a bus at 1.30am in order to bypass the blockades via bumpy tracks in the dead of night. I headed up here for 3 days to explore this beautiful area.

I slept well on the bus, but others did not, telling me at one point the condensation on the window froze as we passed over 4500m. After breakfast in Cabanaconde, we set off to the gorge. Climbing down the 1100m to the river below, I kept thinking Snowdon would fit into this deep gorge. There are a couple of small villages down on in the canyon, the villagers must either walk or take mules and donkeys to get out and receive supplies. The going down was easy, the going up the next day was a little harder.

The villagers offer simply accomodation and this is where I slept. Being so remote the stars, and in particular the milky way, were quite a sight in the dark of night. Before climbing back out I had the chance to swim in a beautiful warm mineral pool, surrounded by palms and flowering bushes, which attracted many hummingbirds.

The climb out was hard as it was pretty much straight up. Many opted for mules, maybe I should have too but I didn´t want to cheat. It took three very thirsty hours to get back to the rim.

In the village a six day fiesta was going on. There were bands, dancing, and some highly dodgy fireworks. Great to see and experience.

The following day I bussed along the canyon rim to the Cruz Del Condor, where I watched these mighty birds ride the thermals in the canyon. Then it was the bus back to Arequipa. The strikes had been lifted to allow negotiations to take place which was a mighty relief as it would have meant walking around the blockades for a hour to reach the city centre.

Colca Canyon was a beautiful place.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Under the volcanoes

Arrived in historic colonial Arequipa, Peru's second city late on the Monday evening. Arequipa is labelled the "white city" by the tourist marketing men, and in parts it is accurate, particularly in the main square where the facade of the huge cathedral occupies one full side. The city's location is wonderful sitting below the volcanoes Misti and Chachani. Misti particularly is very close, and I do wonder that if it did a Mount St Helens lateral blast, most of Arequipa would land in the sea some 100's of kilometres away!

I many ways arriving here has been somewhat like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Wednesday and Thursday were designated as national strike days, so I was entertained by demonstrators and police in full riot gear. I did not see any trouble, but whilst having lunch the doors and shutters were quickly closed as a mob waving banners and sticks noisily walked past.

The city streets were quiet for these two days, the shops remained shuttered up and not much was happening. I did not mind, as I wanted to rest up and have got through two wonderful trashy novels.

The main sight in Arequipa is the convent of Santa Catarina. This was established as a city within a city very soon after the Spanish established the city. It is a riot of small lanes, plazas, and old domed rooms. For centuries the nuns lived in relative luxury, having slaves and enjoying the high life. This came to an end in the 1800´s when the Pope sent over an envoy to ensure the nuns lived like nuns should.