Sunday, July 14th: We planned to visit the
Monastery in the morning, but the entrance fee doubled in the last year, so we walked
around the plaza and watched (yet another) parade/festival. In the afternoon we rode
160kms to the town of Chivay, on the edge of the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is a
few hours north of Arequipa, and a popular tourist destination for trekking and visiting
the many small villages. On the way into the mountains, on this side of the pass,
the road is (mostly) paved. Just before reaching Chivay, we came across a pass, at
4,900 meters. There was snow and mud everywhere (no more asphalt), making it a bit of fun
to cross. When the GPS said Chivay was only 5kms away, we could see it in the valley
below. It took us 45 minutes to get down the winding road. When we reached the town
center, we were approached my many hotel owners. The prices were all reasonable
(cheap) and we opted for the Hostal Ricardito; a new hotel with white-white walls, firm
mattresses, hot water, and parking. After unpacking and getting settled, we headed
out to the thermal pools and watched the sun go down.
Monday, July 15th: Pulled the panniers off the bikes and headed out at 7am.
Our goal was the Mirador del Condors a look out point some 45kms away, at the
highest point of the Colca Canyon, and down what was reported to be a very bumpy road.
Well, the road shook us up something awful, and we finally reached the look out around
8:30am. Well, aside from the many tour buses, there were also about 7 or 8 huge condors
flying so close overhead, you could see their faces without binoculars! We watched the
giant birds float above us for well over an hour, then headed 10kms further to the town of
Cabanaconde. There was (what a surprise) a festival/parade in town, and people had
obviously been partying since the day before. A large band, surrounded by locals in
elegant dress blocked the entrance to the town. They cleared a slot for the bikes to pass
through, but as we passed I gained a Saxophone player, while Erins rider belted out
on a trumpet. We participated for a while in the parade, then headed to the town
center for a late breakfast. We would have stayed all day, but Erin was feeling something
terrible, so we rode back to Chivay where Erin climbed into bed and stayed for the rest of
Tuesday, July 16th: There was no electricity in the morning, as the power
plant was under snow, so the planned hot shower was out. Erins temperature was a
little better, so we decided to push on, out of town. The local police/mountain rescue
squad had recommended a longer route around the mountains, but we opted for the shorter
route, back up over the pass. The 2 days of sun had helped to dry up the mud, so although
extremely bumpy, we eventually got up to the top of the pass. It was absolutely stunning,
being almost 3 miles above sea-level, surrounded by pristine snow covered mountains.
Eventually, we got down out of the mountains and picked up the main road north.
About an hour later, we came to a row of trucks, buses, and cars spread out across the
road. Being in the middle of nowhere, I was nervous that there had been a catastrophic
accident. Fortunately, it was only the remains of a previous demonstration blocking the
road. We snaked our way through the people and parked vehicles, and eventually found the
source of the delay - a mound of boulders (each at least 1 meter x 1 meter), covered
in dirt, was blocking the road. The land below the road was flat, but completely flooded,
so sneaking around that way was out. (I still have no idea where these massive rocks came
from). I went around the lead bus, and found a crowd of people standing around while 2-3
guys were trying to clear the debris. They had cleared a big enough gap for the bikes to
pass through, but I wasnt sure how we would be received. Still wearing my helmet, I
approached the crowd and asked if it was possible for the bikes to pass through. One guy
said (in Spanish), "sure, after you help dig for awhile". I said, OK, let me get
the bikes through, then well help. The crowd laughed and said it might be better if
I worked first. So, I grabbed a pickaxe, swung it a few times, then was handed a shovel.
After about 60 seconds, I was exhausted, and they said we could pass. When I went back to
my bike, I noticed we were back at 4,500 meters, and it was no wonder I was exhausted from
the minor exertion.
The rest of the way to Puno was relatively uneventful: passing some major construction
where we had to pass through narrow gaps of soft dirt, while trying to keep from sliding
down the embankment. We eventually hit beautiful new asphalt, which snaked its way through
the valley, wearing the knobbies off the sides of the tires! Erin was starting to feel
human again, as the medication and warm sun started to take effect. We reached Puno after
lunch, and checked into the Hotel Arequipa, the first hotel we stayed in when we first
arrived in Peru. The plan was to meet Liam and Catriona (his girlfriend) tomorrow, as they
would be passing through around the same time.
Wednesday, July 17th: Erin woke feeling worse then the day before. This cold
has been going around between all our friends this last month, so it will be good to get
out of the altitude, away from our sick circle of friends, and on to warmer climates. We
received word from Liam that he would be delayed an extra day, as he ate something funny
and was unable to venture too far from the toilet. Being that we were also subpoenaed to
our room, we spent the day catching up on emails.
Thursday, July 18th: Liam and Catriona arrived from Copacabana, and we spent
the afternoon/evening jabbering away. Erin still was feeling only slightly better, and so
we moved on to antibiotics for her.
Friday, July 19th: We bid farewell to the terrific couple from Belfast.
Weve met up with Liam on 14 occasions on this trip, in 9 different countries and 3
continents. Theres a chance we may meet again up near Mexico, but it looks pretty
slim. Hes a good guy to run into, even if he is on a Red Wing! We spent the day in
bed, as Erin was still feeling terrible, and I now was sick. When we got married and we
swore to share everything, I forgot that "sickness and health" part :-)
Saturday, July 20th: I was feeling a bit better, but Erin was not. We
decided to push on to Copacabana, just across the Bolivian border, a resort town on Lago
Titicaca. It was only 140kms from Puno to the border, and we made it in record time. We
passed through the border with relative ease -- only one official asked us for a
contribution, to buy new flowers (I told him no and walked out).
Although we were only in Peru for a month, it certainly felt like longer
probably because we spent a lot of time in only a few places. Yes, southern Peru is filled
with Gringos. For budget travellers, it can be a bit more of a challenge, but even
"do-able" on a budget. The truth is there are a lot of
great/interesting/historical things to see in Peru; the people are very friendly; you
dont have to speak Spanish to get by; it is cheap (by Western standards); and
thats why there are so many Gringos. So, take advantage and come visit.