From Arequipa to Cusco: onwards and upwards

October already eh?! Time is playing such odd tricks on me – half way through the journey now would you believe! I am writing this from Cusco, specifically from underneath three layers of cosy llama wool blankets (it’s chilly at 3400m above sea-level!). I’m pleased about my decision to build up the altitude slowly from Arequipa, as I’ve met a few people who have been knocked for six on arriving here directly from sea-level. That’s not to say I haven’t been a bit breathless and dry-mouthed, but no major headaches thankfully, and I’ve been drinking a lot of coca tea – a well-accepted remedy for altitude sickness. Hoorah for not feeling like crap and being able to enjoy this wonderful place!

Some troll-doll thingies I found in the hostel here - quirky eh

Some troll-doll thingies I found in the hostel here – quirky eh

Getting the grim bit out of the way first. I am probably full of such glee at feeling on top form due to comparison with a recent set-back. My stomach took a beating from some savage ceviche (fish in citrus juice) which I ordered back in Huacachina. The result was 11 hours of toilet-bowl-hugging on a night bus to Arequipa, conking out for a good day and a half once I got there and missing out on a trek to Colca Canyon, which I had been really looking forward to. BLOODY CEVICHE. The mere mention of the dish now makes me feel queasy. And gutted to have missed out on Colca. But as my wise wee pal Lindsay reminded me the other day, the great overall memories of this journey, and not the little unfortunate kinks that creep in along the way, will be what endure. God bless lovely Linds.

Arequipa. Once I had successfully managed to keep down water and a few bits of bread, I tentatively stepped out of my hostel for a wander around the Plaza de Armas area of the city. What little I did end up seeing of Arequipa, I liked very much. It was bustling and charming with some great little shops tucked away into broom-cupboard-sized alcoves under stone balconies. I paid a visit to the Santa Catalina Monastery – a beautiful collection of labyrinthine courtyards and cloisters once inhabited by an order of rather hedonistic nuns (contradiction in terms..?) El Misti mountain surveys the daily throng from on high, peering down imperiously at the city from about 5800m above sea-level. Very impressive indeed. I didn’t remain out an about for too long, as Arequipa’s 2300m altitude packs a punch of its own, and I was loathe to test my body’s coping mechanisms much more that day.

Arequipa's Plaza de Armas

Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas

One of the shadowy streets within the monastery - you can just see the mountains in the background!

One of the shadowy streets within the monastery – you can just see the mountains in the background!

Cusco. I have enjoyed these past few days in Cusco immensely. The city is unapologetically geared up towards the huge influx of tourists here (Starbucks, the North Face and numerous hotels and tourist agencies line the streets), but I feel it has managed to do so without compromising its character too much. Highlights have included walking up and down the cobbled streets, surveying countless hand-made garments and jewellery stalls, and discovering what may be the best ice cream I have ever eaten, which I watched being made from scratch in front of me – from quinoa! Less wonderful things have included the pongy exhaust fumes and some the bolshiest drivers I have ever encountered, who constantly honk and rev at pedestrians (and at each other) in their battered old bangers. But no place is perfect I guess!

The Plaza de Armas, Cusco

The Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Horse riding around Rohan. Not long after my arrival in Cusco, I got chatting to my room-mate Isabella from Montreal, and we decided to head up-hill together to the Saqsaywaman (‘Sexy Woman’) archaeological site and surrounding Inca burial grounds on horseback! It was so wonderfully peaceful up there, and looked so like Rohan from The Lord of the Rings that we spent quite a while imagining crossing paths with some hot-tempered horse-lords out on the rippling grassland. Seriously, if New Zealand hadn’t made the cut for some of the LOTR film sets then Peru’s Sacred Valley could have been a serious contender I reckon. My horse was named Alegre, although I secretly renamed him Shadowfax, because he had a bit of a magical look about him. Galdalf would have been proud.

The Sacred Valley a.k.a. Rohan

The Sacred Valley a.k.a. Rohan

Me and Alegre a.k.a. Shadowfax

Me and Alegre a.k.a. Shadowfax

Pisaq. On Friday I took a bus to this lovely little village, famous for its market and ancient ruins. The bus ride in itself was spectacular, with the road winding its way straight through the Sacred Valley. We passengers were all treated to the usual rounds of fruit and sweet sellers, who paced up and down the bus’ aisle chanting their wares in almost unintelligible monotones (“ge-la-ti-nas-ca-ra-me-los-man-da-ri-nas-ge-la-ti-nas-ca-ra-me-los…”), as well as the inevitable salesman who usually spends the first minutes of his pitch warming the audience up with gags about his wife leaving him before whipping out a pack of some nondescript chocolate bars or herbal remedies and waving them in each passenger’s face in turn. I have enjoyed these little shows since first experiencing them in Ecuador; although no one ever seems to buy much, these sellers are always very good-natured and entertaining. ANYway back to Pisaq. A lovely lady on the bus, whose rosy-cheeked little daughter fell asleep clutching my arm, told me where to get the best-quality alpaca sweaters in the market for the best price, so I am now the proud owner of some pukka woollen goods! After leaving the market and taking in the tranquil streets of Pisaq, I went for brief hike up through the ancient Inca terraces which rise up over the village. So so quiet up there. Gorgeous.

The terraces at Pisaq

The terraces at Pisaq

Pisaq

Pisaq

That just about brings us up to date! The rest of the day today will be spent getting ready for what really brought me to this part of South America: The Inca Trail and Mach Picchu. Four days of hiking right through the Sacred Valley, freezing nights and boiling days on windy, rocky terrain… I am SO ready for this 🙂

All my love from the ‘Navel of the World’ x x x x x

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