Peru-sing my way through South America ...
Another day, another country. Already 1 week into our great South American adventure and we were exploring our second country, Peru. Lima was the meet up destination for our Contiki tour, so we spent our first morning meeting likeminded travellers from across the globe, who we would spend the next 25 days driving, flying and trekking across the continent with. With individuals from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, USA, Canada, Ireland, England and Scotland, you could say that we had quite the diverse group. We spend the day exploring some of Peru’s capital’s sights, visiting the Plaza Mayor, Monastery of San Francisco and its catacombs and the Lover’s Park to name a few. We even tried a traditional delicacy of Dulce de Leche Churros, which are delicious churros filled with a creamy caramel sauce. Prior to our Christmas dinner in Miraflores we visited the Parque de la Reserva for the Magic Water Circuit Show, with numerous water fountains, lit up in different colours; ones you could run through and others that you got stuck in and inevitably got drenched under. Although it was only a quick visit to the capital, it was a delightful snapshot.
The following morning, we were already jetting off to the White City of Arequipa. We toured the city on foot after visiting the look-out across the city, in the shadows of three active volcanos. It was here that we had our first taste of one of Peru’s traditional dishes; Alpaca, and much to my surprise it tasted delicious and was eaten plenty more throughout my travels. Yet again we were off again to our next destination, this time travelling by coach towards Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon. Travelling through Peru’s highlands we were climbing up significant altitude, which placed us at risk of altitude sickness. We came prepared for this having pursued professional medical advice prior to leaving for the trip. We were taking altitude sickness prevention medication so that we would not be affected. The locals also have a natural preventive treatment using Coca Leaves. The coca leaves can be chewed or brewed in a tea to help alleviate and prevent symptoms of altitude sickness. Coca leaves however, are illegal in most parts of the world aside from Peru, Argentina and Boliva, due to being a raw material in the production of cocaine. We drove through the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reservation where we were lucky enough to encounter the wild Vicuna, a member of the camelid family. They produce very fine, soft wool, competitive to cashmere, and is extremely expensive due to the restrictions on only collecting wool every three years and the animals remaining in the wild. Further along the long journey we stopped at the highest altitude we would reach on the trip, 4910m above sea level, equal to the highest peak in Europe, Mont Blanc. Safe to say we all felt a little light headed walking around outside. After reaching the highest altitude we drove down towards the canyon and prepare for an adventurous afternoon of ziplining. Nearby the town of Coporaque we geared up and ziplined across the river. Of course, when the option to zipline upside down came out, I would have been a fool to say no, so of course upside down I went, and it was so much fun!!! After our adrenaline pumping ziplining, we relaxed and recuperated in the natural hot springs. After a long day of driving and the physical stress of the altitude change we had reached our hotel where we had an incredible buffet dinner with chicken soup, quinoa soup, pasta, quinoa, and a variety of meats. There was so much food, but it all tasted so incredible and was made by the locals in the village for us, so it was even more authentic and special. We were all so appreciate of it and I think it had to be my absolute favourite meal I had during my two weeks in Peru.
On our way to Puno, the main town by Lake Titicaca we stopped at Colca Canyon to admire the beauty of mother nature and catch a glimpse of the Andean Condor. Although the rainy season is off season for Condor sightings due to their migration patterns, we were lucky enough to see three flying above the canyon. We also visited the remote town of Maca, where we dressed up in the traditional dresses, unique to this region of Peru. The dresses were absolutely stunning with such intricate embroidery in so many different colours and designs.
In Puno we spent the day on Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake in South America, visiting the floating Uros Islands, and the island of Taquile. We travelled to the port by triciclo, a three-wheeled bicycle taxi. We then boarded our boat and headed towards the floating islands, made from entirely from reeds, a very unique experience. We spent some time speaking with locals and admiring their handcrafts. We also learned about how the floating islands were made and how the locals live. We even tried some of their main food source, reeds, which are also used as the foundation of the islands. A very eco-friendly and recycling minded population. We then left most of the tourist groups, and headed to the lesser known, more remote island of Taquile. Taquile is a natural island, located closer to the Bolivian side of the lake but still belonging to Peru. The natives of the island are world renowned for their textiles having been honoured and protected by UNESCO. Knitting is performed solely by the males with the females being responsible for spinning and dyeing wool. It is such a unique and interesting culture to learn about and see how little impact the modern world has had on the population. Although they have access to mobile phones, they still remain true to their culture and perform tasks the way they have been done for generations and generations. We enjoyed lunch with the locals, being treated to delicious fish and rice as well as a lovely quinoa soup. We also took part in a running Contiki tradition of a football match against the locals. We were up against the undefeated Taquile team, but somehow, we made history and won the match. Unfortunately, our day on Lake Titicaca was coming to a close so before we left we got the opportunity to purchase some unique and extremely high quality textiles. Before jumping back on our boat, we got the opportunity to go for a swim in the lake, but it was absolutely freezing so only a few people did it.
Our next morning we were heading to the Incan capital of Cusco but before arriving we visited the ruins of Raqchi. Our tour manager invited us to take part in a ritual which the Incan’s used to perform to get permission to enter Cusco prior to entering the capital. It was a nice start to the next phase of our trip; focussing on the history and culture of the Incan Empire.