Cities and Seascapes

I spent three weeks in Peru in 2009.  I’d always wanted to go to Peru, to visit South America in general, but I’d always put it off, thinking “I really shouldn’t go alone, as a female.  I really should go with someone.”  And so year after year I didn’t go, and year after year I wanted to go.  I’m not sure what exactly made me say enough was enough, but something did and I jumped in, feet first, without checking the water.

I bought my ticket in February, and started planning what I would do.  I was starting off in Lima, and wanted to hit the Nazca Lines, Lake Titicaca, Cuscu and Machu Picchu.  While planning my route out, I decided to  stop off in Arequipa, as it was a good mid-way point between Lima and Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

In Lima, I got to go parasailing off the Green Coast in Miraflores, a district of Lima, Peru.  You jump in tandem with a “guide” off the cliffs, and float over the Pan-American Highway and Pacific Ocean.  Most rides take about 15 minutes, but as I was having the time of my life, and waving to everyone below, my guide let us glide for longer.  Obviously I couldn’t take picutres of myself – a girl, Eline, that I had met in the hostel was taking picutres and waiting for me.

After Lima, I took a 17 hour, overnight, bus ride to Arequipa, a city that sits below El Misti, an extinct volcano that was the site of many Incan human sacrifices.  Buses in Peru, at least the tourist buses, are kind of fantastic.  The seat reclines, and the foot rest unfolds from the seat, providing a reclined “bed”.  They play bingo, there’s a small tv screen that shows movies (in Spanish), and a toliet.  All in all, not a bad way to spend 17 hours.  I took Cruz Del Sur for the most part.  They say it’s a 15 hour bus ride, but buses in Peru do not run on time.  Nor do they leave on time.  If you feel like splurging, you can ride first class, where the seats are wider, have better padding, and are leather.  My preference is still for second-class – first class is on the bottom level of the bus, while second-class is on top, and, I think, provides a better view.

There’s lots to do in Arequipa.  It’s a great starting point for a hike to (or in) Colca Canyon – typically a 2-day 1-night trip.  You can also climb El Misti, if you are so inclided.  In the city itself, there are surprisingly, quite a few things to do.  I visited the Santa Catalina Monastery, a former convent, and on the UNESCO world heritage list.  It’s absolutely massive, and incredibly gorgeous.  I spent half a day wandering around the buildings and rooms.

Besides the Monastery, there is also the Museo Santury, a small museum that offers guided tours.  It showcases the Incan past of the area, and culminates in a viewing of Juanita, a frozen mummy that was an Incan sacrifice 500 years ago.  The whole tour takes about an hour, but is definitely worth it.  At the centre of the city is the Plaza de Armas, ringed by balconied buildings – must of which are restaurants.  They’re great places to sit down, have a drink (or a coffee) and watch the city stroll by below.

After Arequipa, I headed down to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  I didn’t have nearly as much time here as I would have liked.  I arrived in Puno in the early afternoon, and took a stroll to the main plaza.

Walking downhill was easy.  Walking back up the hill to my hostel?  I felt like I hadn’t left my couch in years, and was just now venturing into the wide world to get back into shape.  I wheezed, I stopped to rest, I walked sllllloooooooowwwwwwly.   Then repeated this litany every five minutes.

The next morning, I took a tour on Lake Titicaca – visiting the Uros islands, a series of “floating” islands that the Uros people make themselves, by methodically layering new reeds on top of the old, which rot underneath in the water.  The islands are surprisingly sturdy, although you do “sink” a little – think shag carpeting!  You don’t sink down into the water, though, and it’s easy enough to walk around the islands.  Here we learned how the islands are made, why the tribes started living on these island originally, and a little bit about their way of life.

After the Uros Islands, our boat took us to Isla Tequile, a rocky outcropping in Lake Titicaca that has been inhabited for thousands of years. 

We trekked up the island to the top, to take in the view – white stone and blue blue water.

It took us a little while to reach the top – not because the island is that big, but the altitude does affect how fast you can move (or should move!)  Lake Titicaca sits at about 3800 metres above sea level, and if you’re planning on doing the Inca Trail (for that matter, any trek to Machu Picchu) I do recommend a night or two around Lake Titicaca to help acclimatize you.  
After reaching the top of the island, we learned about some of the customes of the inhabitants, and then sat down to a late lunch.    After that it was back down to the boat, and then a sleepy ride back to the city.
After Puno, I head to Cusco, and Machu Picchu, but that deserves it own post.

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