My last week in South America saw me take in more places in beautiful Peru. First stop was Arequipa, Peru's second biggest city, also known as the white city. The night bus to Arequipa was awful. It was so hot it was ridiculous and during the journey the man in front of me reclined his seat so much that I could not actually move!! After literally no sleep we crashed at the hostel when we checked in at 5am.
Arequipa is a pretty city, up there with Cuzco but with not as much to do. The plaza is beautiful as are the surrounding buildings including the cathedral. All weekend the plaza was filled with parades which celebrated the military. In typical South American fashion they go all out with their parades, they even take all the decadent furnishings out of the cathedral and parade them around with them.
Arequipa is surrounded my many active volcanoes, on some of these volcanoes they have discovered remains of Inca children. The most famous discovery was that of Juanita found at the top of one of the volcanoes with a number of other mummy's. Juanita's body had frozen so when discovered the mummy had been fully preserved, she now holds pride of place in the city's museum and has unearthed many keys to the Inca empire. It turns out that Juanita did not die of natural causes, she was actually sacrificed to the Gods. The museum is an interesting insight into Inca culture and looks at it from an angle I was not familiar with, I did not realise they were quite so savage towards their own kind.
There are not many sights to see in Arequipa but the convent certainly should not be missed. The nuns still live in part of the convent, but the rest is open to tourists to look around. It is enormous, like a small city within a city, there are even street names! It was interesting to see the places where the nuns used to live and spend their time. There was even a pet guinea pig in one of the rooms, which made my day!
There are plenty of nice terraces to enjoy a drink or have a meal in the city. One of the best restaurants in town is the creperie which boasts over 100 types of crepes, both savoury and sweet.
The city makes a great base for exploring the Colca Canyon which is a few hours away. The Colca is one of the deepest canyons in the world and it is twice the size of the grand canyon which is pretty large itself!
We spent a few days exploring Colca and its surroundings. The many volcanoes that surround it make an awe inspiring sight. The road to the canyon even winds up to 4900m as it weaves around the volcanoes. You are guaranteed to see all sorts of wildlife around the Canyon, llamas, alpacas and vicunas fill the surrounding plains. The canyon is one of the best spots to see andean condors, though you have to be up early (5.30am) to head to the canyon and see them. We were in luck as there were quite a few around when we got there. The condors are endangered and most of the remaining birds in Peru reside in the canyon. They are pretty impressive creatures, the way they glide across the sky seems so effortless.
The small town on the way to the Canyon that many tourists stay in is called Chivay, it is a pleasant little place, with a little plaza and markets. We actually stayed in a tiny town called Coporaque, we stayed in a beautiful hostal. The place was host to a llama-alpaca crossbreed called huarizo, we were told it was quite nasty though so not to get too close to it, I did run behind it quickly for a photo though!
The canyon is host to many activities. Hikes run for several days through the canyon, but we just settled for a short hike along the canyon. We did partake in a bit of extreme zip-lining though. This took place over the Colca river. It was just two wires, they were really long though and extremely steep. We did not have to break as we were equipped with parachutes to slow us down! I was pretty scared at the top, a lot more so than the last time we zip-lined but once you were on the wire it was not that scary and the views were pretty cool.
After one final nightbus (I've lost count of how many I have taken this trip, but it must be a lot! I'll never moan about the national express again!) we arrived in the dry desert of Nazca. There is not much to the town itself, but it is host to the mysterious Nazca lines. I was not sure whether to do the flight over the lines due to my fear of flying, but I bit the bullet and went for it. After a bit of a misunderstanding where we were not told we needed to take our passports so had to go back and get them! We boarded our little Cessna plane to see the lines. I was slightly worried by the fact that the door handle of the emergency exit came off in one of the guys hands when we closed the door, but the flight was on the whole pretty smooth. The pilot uses the wing tip to point out the lines in the desert which means the plane is often at an angle. Many people are sick when they take the flight over the lines but I made sure I did not have any breakfast, which was a wise decision. The lines are incredible, I fail to understand how they could have been drawn when you cannot get the scope or scale of them unless you are metres above in the sky. There were several lines and you could see them all really clearly from the air.
One of the other things to take part in in Nazca is the Pachamanca ceremony. This took place in a hostel just outside Nazca. It is a ceremony that they only normally do on special occassions. During the ceremony, they cook all the food in the ground over a series of hours, it is all wrapped in banana leaves and buried. It was incredible to see them uncover the food, and they made a delicious veggie selection aswell.
Next stop was the oasis of Huacachina which is in the middle of huge sand dunes. It sort of pops out of nowhere as you are driving past all the sand dunes. It is a beautiful little town and is known for its sand buggying and sand boarding trips. So of course it was time to give it a go. The sand buggying was one of the best things I've done, it was so much fun, like being on a constant rollercoaster for an hour. The driver was nuts and I screamed for the majority of the time! He would drive us to the top of some of the dunes and we could sandboard down them, we spent most of the time going down on our fronts though which was brilliant fun, although I think I had most of the sand dunes in my shoes by the time we had finished.
On the way to Paracas we stopped at a famous pisco vineyard in Ica. We had a short tour of the way the pisco is made and then we had a tasting session with many tasters being passed around and many of the vineyards other products made from its homegrown produce. The pisco was pretty strong but had nothing on the pure pisco we tried in La Serena.
We finally stopped for the night in Paracas, finally back down at sea level and it was nice to see the sea and beach after being in-land for so long. Paracas is a base for trips to the Ballestas isles, known as a mini version of the Galapagos islands. We had to be up pretty early to take the boat trip out there. We saw several varities of birds, many sea lions but best of all loads of humboldt penguins they were so cute and small, and waddling all over the islands. You can occasionally see dolphins and whales but we were not in luck that day! I have never seen so many birds in all my life though, the islands are not inhabited but men go over once a year to collect the guano (bird poop) which they use as a natural fertilizer.
The final stop on my travels was Lima, which is absolutely huge. There is not really much to see and I think everybody pretty much has the same opinion of Lima in that its a bit of a shanty town, there are nicer areas but you would not want to stay there very long. I did not really do much whilst there other than a walk along the beach front. The nightlife was not bad though.
After almost 5 months it was time to say goodbye to South America. Lima airport is a pretty nice airport although I got completely ripped off there as a bottle of water cost a ridiculous 5 pounds and then I was told I could not take it on the plane despite buying it in the airport! Lima had the tightest airport security I have ever seen. The flight to Miami was not bad despite the seatbelt signs not being taken off the whole time and the worst movie I have ever seen 'The bounty Hunter' being the choice of film! I did not get much sleep and then had a 12 hour stopover in Miami airport to look forward to. I was going to go out in Miami but lack of funds meant I had to stay in the airport. It is not a bad airport, big enough to wander around and plenty of places to while away a few hours. The time passed pretty quickly and I was on the last leg of my journey back to London. The flight was pretty smooth but again I did not manage to sleep, I did see a pretty good film called Please Give, really recommend that one. I arrived at Heathrow on Tuesday morning after over 36 hours of travelling, suffering severe jet lag and sad that my trip had finally come to an end.
It has been an epic 5 months, I have seen and done the most awesome things, visited the most incredible places and spent it with the most amazing people. Thanks to everyone who I crossed along the way for making the last 5 months the best time ever. I am going to miss you all, and I am especially going to miss beautiful Latin America. I know for sure that I will return in the future!
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