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To Puno

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

4 November 2005 (Friday) – Arequipa to Puno, Peru

Today, when I packed my bags thoroughly, I realised something else was also stolen. I had a little bag of leftover change, mostly coins, from the countries I had been to. It was gone as well. Sigh… my coin collection… I felt a little sad about all this but anyway, it was time to leave Peru.

Fernando sent me to the bus terminal and I really thanked him for supporting me during my stay here and for taking care of me.

The route to Puno was through excellent highways, zipping through the highlands in merely 5 hours. I was surprised at how Peru had developed. It used to take 9 hours, if we were lucky, but up to 13 hours on a bad day.

I had hoped to be able to catch a bus straight to Copacabana, Bolivia rightaway, but there was no bus until 7am tomorrow. Oh no, I am not sure if I have enough soles to last me through one more night here in Peru. Puno had also changed quite a bit. There is now a Terminal Terrestre where all the buses are located together. And… there is a hospedaje (hotel) on the second floor of the terminal.

I decided to stay at the hospedaje here, as I figured the taxi ride to town and back early tomorrow morning plus a hostel in town would probably work out more than staying here. Also, there are cheap restaurants here. I had never stayed in a hostel at a bus or airport terminal before. They seem to be for desperate people. I wonder how it is like. I guess… pretty noisy!

I had lunch… Jumped Loin, if you want to know… and was captivated by a TV programme being played. This was a Bolivian wrestling programme of altiplano (highlands) women! Yep, no kidding! These indigenous women with the long plaits, flouncy skirts and layers of lacy petticoats, woolly stockings and all, were executing World Wrestling Federation moves! They jumped on each other from the corner stand, they ran towards each other with their arms outstretched to knock at each other’s neck, they pounced on top of the opponent with their elbows… pulling at each other’s plaits and hurling abusive words in Aymara. I was stunned beyond words. These women look exactly like those I kept seeing around in the countrysides, docilely working the lands, carrying their babies on their backs. Now, they had bloody noses, dishevelled hair and ripped sweaters. Er… I am so looking forward to going to Bolivia, haha.

A short walk around Puno brought me to a Puno Exposition, which is a huge area filled with tents, where kiosks all around were selling products from this region and beyond. It was interesting to see the crafts, the coffee, quinua (a type of cereal), fruit juices, and other exotic snacks on display. Puno is truly a very indigenous town as most people here are wearing the traditional dresses and the tiny bowler hats that do not quite fit.

When I was about to take a shower, I discovered due to the altitude change from Arequipa to Puno, there was a huge mess in my toiletries bag. Half the content of my hair cream had burst out, but with the lid still on. How did that happen? 6 years ago, I had the same problem. So, do not try and open anything if you are not ready to catch the content – like flying shampoo and moisturizing cream.

Gosh, it was indeed noisy here in the hospedaje, as there were people downstairs constantly screaming “Arequi Arequi Arequi ArequiPA… Cusco CusCOO…”. Why do people need to shout the destinations? Well, most locals here cannot read, so they have to listen to these shouts in order to know where to buy their tickets. The noise was also complemented by the musical undecipherable announcements of departing buses.

I could not sleep, so I joined the waiting passengers downstairs watching trashy entertainment programmes for a while. In a way, it was fun to observe the locals. These women with their large dresses and tiny hats, were carrying serious loads on their backs, wrapped by the colourfully-weaved shawls. Be careful not to stand too close to them, lest they turn around suddenly and you end up with a bruise on your face, having been smacked by a bundled baby. I would need earplugs tonight to sleep, but I was afraid I would not hear my own alarm clock.

Colca Canyon Trek

Friday, November 4th, 2005

2 November 2005 (Wednesday) – 3 November 2005 (Thursday) – Chivay to Colca Canyon to Arequipa, Peru

We departed rather early, around 6am, and drove towards Cruz del Condor. But along the way, we stopped at several towns like Yanque and Maca for us tourists to do touristy things like take photos of the traditionally-dressed ladies with their cute alpacas and children dancing traditional dances (and give them a tip naturally). Gosh, I could not believe that they dragged these kids up at 5am to dance in front of the plaza at 6:30am for us to take photos! Poor dears!! Well, perhaps, what we are doing are really benefitting them, I don’t know.

Poor little dears dragged up at 5am to dance for us

However, I must add that the traditional dresses here in this area around Chivay are the most interesting I had seen so far! Their tops are embroidered elaborately around the collars and sleeves, and the ladies wear another overly embroidered vests. Their skirts are long, all the way to the ankles, and also embroidered crazily at the hemline. Meanwhile, their hats… gosh, every inch is embroidered as well!! There are two types of hats… one for the indigenous group around Chivay and another, around Cabanaconde.

Traditionally-dressed Chivay woman with alpacas

Meanwhile, the view of Colca Canyon to our right was drop-dead gorgeous!! The other side of the canyon had numerous little towns, with terraced farmlands. Many of these terraces are Pre-Incas or Incas. Amazing that they are still in used now. I have to repeat myself… the views here was just fantastic! I know it is perhaps impossible to rank how great views are but I think, this is one of the most beautiful most beautiful most beautiful places I have seen in Peru.

We finally arrived at Cruz del Condor at around 8:30am. There were some lookout spots for us. I took out my little condor finger puppet and wiggled it around, hoping to attract a mate for it. However, we saw just a couple of condors but way down below, very far away… a mere dot. I was hoping we could see them fly really high up, near to the lookouts. As I was on the trekking trip, my guide hastened me away by 9am. I felt quite disappointed as I had really signed up for this trip to see the condors. Oh well.

Waiting for condors at the Colca Canyon

From my bus tour of 9 people, only Vlatka and I were on the trekking trip. I bade hurried farewells to some of them before hurrying (as much as I could hurry at 3,400m without dropping dead) to the public bus that would take us to the starting point of the hike.

My guide for the hike was Eduardo. Besides Vlatka, there were 2 other tourists – Emma from England and Sergio from Italy, both work as ski instructors in Switzerland so they speak French to each other. Eduardo is a very evasive kind of person. Whenever we asked him, how long it takes to hike down to wherever, he would smile shyly and say, “Depende” (It depends). OK, let’s do it.

Beginning the hike

Surrounding flora are mainly desert-like

We hiked to the edge of the canyon and saw the small towns of Malata and Coshiñihua on the opposite the Colca River. We even saw the oasis – the only patch of green in this very dry canyon – where we would be spending our night. Gosh… they all look impossibly tiny! How in the world were we to get through all this, I seriously wondered.

Our target destination today - the tiny oasis way down at the bottom

With my guide Eduardo

Here, there are no roads for vehicles at all. Everything had to be brought in by mules, donkeys, horses or on foot. It was really hot and dry, there were many types of cacti all over on the edges of the canyon. The locals had also used the pre-Incas terraces for cultivation. Eduardo told us that many years ago, there was a snowline at the top of the mountains. But now, no more, perhaps just some snow in January. Everything had become much drier than before.

Using mules and walking are the only ways to get around here

Soon, we came to a place where we could see the bridge that we had to get to cross to the other side of the canyon. It was tiny, really at the bottom of the canyon. In the end, we took 3 hours to hike all the way down, through zig-zagging rocky paths. My toes certainly had some serious blisters by now. I was afraid to look. And my knees, gosh… they really hurt, my legs were terribly shaky when I finally reached the bridge. We had to sign in at a guestbook to show the world who had survived the hike so far.

More stunning canyon scenery

Zig-zagging all the way down to the bottom

Then, it was another 1/2 hour to San Juan where we could finally rest as we waited for our lunch to be prepared. Right opposite us were incredible vertical lines of volcanic rocks, which, in many countries, they call them ‘organ pipes’. Just thoroughly amazing view. Meanwhile, I looked and my blisters, as large as my large toes, were already broken and oozing liquid. Argh.

Resting with Vlatka

'Organ pipes' formations

At around 3pm, we started out hiking again. There was a short climb of 20 minutes but we were nearly dying at the end of it. I could not imagine how I could climb for 3 hours tomorrow!!! Anyway, it was a straight path through the 2 villages we saw from opposite just now – Coshiñihua and Malata. They looked rather sad and deserted. I could not imagine living here, so isolated and so dry. But people had lived here since the pre-Incas time, so I guess there will always be people living here. I had also seen many criss-crossing paths all over the canyons. Eduardo told me they lead to even more isolated towns behind the mountains. For the locals, they would need 2 days to get there. For us, haha… 5 days, if we are lucky.

Remote church of Malata

Then, we had to hike down again. Yes, I could see the gleaming swimming pool at the oasis!! But how far it looked still!! How much longer??, I asked Eduardo, with pleading eyes. Again, he was non-commitant, “Depende… 30 o 45 minutos”. In the end, I took 45 minutes, I went really slowly as my knees were not coping at all. I ended up not being able to process anything in my brain and kept tripping over rocks or walking in a drunken criss-crossing manner.

Crossing the last bridge to get to the oasis

Getting closer to the oasis

Finally finally finally… after a total of 5 and 1/2 hours of hiking, I stumbled into the green grassy patch of the oasis!! Emma and Sergio had their feet in the pool. What? Why aren’t you guys in the pool yet?, I was incredulous. They explained that they were worried about feeling cold after they get out as the sun was setting and we were in the shade now. Huh?? I could not believe my ears. I came all this way here. So, I MUST get into the damn pool. I did not care if I froze to death later. I changed and plunged right in. Argh!!!! The water stung my blisters badly. But gosh, it was really refreshing and indeed, a paradise here as I looked up at the breathtaking canyon all around me.

Finally, I arrived!!

A well-deserved dip in the pool

What the tour companies described to us as ‘bungalows’ were mere straw shacks. Vlatka and I refused to look around for snakes or spiders. After dinner, we had an early night as tomorrow, apparently, we had to get up by 2:30am to start our hike at the ungodly hour of 3am!!!!! We kept asking Eduardo, why we had to do it this way. He explained it was better to get going before the sun comes out as it would really be tough hiking uphill.

Back at our straw shacks

Sergio, Emma, I and Vlatka

Indeed, the next morning, sleepily, we set off at 3am in the absolute darkness. I was knackered after 15 minutes! How could I complete this hike in 3 hours?? Well, I give up wondering, I just concentrated on surviving to the next half hour. I was the last in our group, and after each 20 minutes, Eduardo and the rest waited for me. By 4:30am, when it was starting to light up a little, Sergio went up ahead at his pace and Eduardo stayed with me. He even helped me carry my small backpack, how sweet of him. I also started chewing coca leaves by then. Other groups passed us, one group even went by ‘taxis’ – horses, that is.

Slowly, the canyon started to wake up as well. Gosh, it was surreal and incredibly beautiful to see the colours change. I mean, this was the other ‘face’ of the canyon… first, a skyful of stars in pitch black darkness and then, some grey shades discerning the distant layers of mountains and finally… we got orange. Yep, we got orange!

The canyon wakes up...

Hmm… thanks to the coca leaves, I passed Emma and Vlatka and finally managed to reach the top by 6:10am. What an amazing sense of satisfaction! But no, this was not the end… we still had another 30 minutes’ walk to the village of Cabanaconde for a hurried breakfast before dashing to take the 7am bus to Arequipa.

We just made it as the bus was actually already pulling out of the plaza when we arrived. When we climbed onboard, I saw that it was full, and crowded with people standing along the aisle. Oh, no way are we going to stand for 5 to 6 hours to Arequipa!!, I thought. My knees are killing me. I need a place to DIE now, please. But, the ticket guy told me to follow him. Oh great, Eduardo had shoved us our tickets just now and our tour companies had made reservations so we actually had seat numbers! The ticket guy shooed the poor Peruvians off our seats, sorry, and so, we happily collapsed down.

We arrived in Arequipa at 1:30pm and bade one another farewell. I helped Vlatka buy a bus ticket to Nazca and I myself got my ticket to Puno for tomorrow. Back in Fernando’s apartment for a well-deserved wash, some food and sleep, yes… sleep.

“Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” (dear, dear Macbeth)

Mate de Coca

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005
1 November 2005 (Tuesday) - Arequipa to Chivay, Peru There were many tours being sold as just a 2-day-1-night bus tour, which sounded too touristy for me. And 2-day-1-night or 3-day-2-night Colca Canyon trek. However, this tour I was taking ... [Continue reading this entry]

Case of The Missing Jewellery

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005
31 October 2005 (Monday) - Arequipa, Peru I wanted to show Fernando the glass jewellery I made and searched for them in my bag. THEY WERE GONE!!!!!!!!!! Shit!!! What could have happened?? I took everything out of my bag and there was no ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Arequipa

Monday, October 31st, 2005
29 October 2005 (Saturday) - 30 October 2005 (Sunday) - Lima to Arequipa, Peru This Sunday, there is an election happening in Arequipa to decide if they would be united with 2 other states, Puno and Tacna. So, those Arequipeñas living ... [Continue reading this entry]

No Flag For You

Sunday, October 30th, 2005
28 October 2005 (Friday) - Lima, Peru Danitza arrived at Percy's home to deliver my glass items. However, as I had to go with her to buy the silver fittings for the glass jewellery, I simply left them at home without ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Smell of Fear

Friday, October 28th, 2005
26 October 2005 (Wednesday) - 27 October 2005 (Thursday) - Lima, Peru I had these two days free because my course instructor Danitza was busy in an exhibition. But I also had to wait at least 24 hours for the glass ... [Continue reading this entry]

V for Vitrofusion

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005
24 October 2005 (Monday) - 25 October 2005 (Tuesday) - Lima, Peru I spent these two days at Danitza's workshop learning how to make the glass items and jewellery using the method called vitrofusion. She taught me how to clean ... [Continue reading this entry]

To Lima

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005
23 October 2005 (Sunday) - Huaraz to Lima, Peru I left Huaraz on the morning bus to Lima. We crossed the high plateau for a while, surrounded by yellowish-green licho grass and soon, we could see the gorgeous Cordillera Blanca in ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chavin de Huantar

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005
22 October 2005 (Saturday) - Huaraz, Peru Same orgy, different day. I made friends with Julie, from Canada and David, from Italy who were also going on this tour to Chavin and the 3 of us lodged ourselves in the front seats ... [Continue reading this entry]