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Peru : Arequipa to Chivay vicuñas and volcanoes

Tuesday 21st August – Arequipa to Chivay

Now, we woke in a little trepidation given that our Lima contact had clearly forgotten to book half our holiday, but our UK contact had clearly sorted it because our coach to Chivay came to pick us up promptly at 8.00 AM. We collected from a few other hotels (inc M). Our guide was a local Indian with some strong views on social justice (though he was still a pleasant man). The coach stopped briefly at a coca outlet and he recommended buying coca leaves to chew to help with the altitude. Steve bought a smallish bag and off we started chewing. Half way up the altiplano we moved to sucking sweets. A bit further and, trust me, we were SO sick of coca I don’t think we’ll ever touch it again. Yes, I know it’s seen as a local natural cure for altitude sickness but, YUK. As a side note, as we went up I got a headache (not uncommon for me) so I thought, aspirin and took one. A bit further up and headache still annoying, so, fine, lets add a paracetamol (again not abnormal). At the top (the Mirador as I’ll mention later)- penny drops. I’ve got altitude sickness- reach for the Diamox Pills. OH YES, they work. Forget the natural remedy and go straight for the pharma next time.
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Anyhow, back to the trip. We headed out of Arequipa past increasingly less posh houses. When I commented on the tax situation of houses, our guide explained that many of the people where local Indians coming from the harder life of the altiplano as largish family groups and would work over many years to earn enough to buy each part of the house- e.g., work for 6 months to buy bricks for the lower floor and erect it, work 6 months to buy the roof and so on. He was also immensely proud of the fact that in the last earthquake some dozens of people in Lima died and not a single person in Arequipa died or was seriously injured due to better construction.

We headed pretty quickly out of Arequipa and up, up to the Altiplano, which is sparsely populated with just, isolated farms and tiny hamlets. We passed a few things on the way up, including a truck half way down a hill (it had clearly fallen off the road but everyone was OK), a deep depression in the hillside (guide said it was from an volcano eruption), several glaciers, some very empty desert-style areas, a few greenish valleys, some mining factories. Pretty much the whole time we could see snow-tipped volcanoes, either El Misti, Chachani, Pichupichu or Sabanaya. After a while we reached a higher plain with an amazing view of Misti. This is the Pampas Cañahuas (3500 m/11,482 Ft), Reserve and we were lucky to spot quite a number of wild vicuñas (on both sides). The vicuna were within a few paces of us and we stopped to look properly. The guide said we were lucky to see so many and so close, including a male with his harem and a few young ones.
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Vicuna, Alpaca and Llama
There are four types of camelids in South America/ Peru: Alpaca, llama, vicuña, guanaco. They originated in North America about 40mill years ago before moving to South America 3mill years ago. They became extinct in North America in the last Ice Age.
The alpaca (vicugna pacos) is a domesticated version of the vicuna, bred for its soft wool (it is too slender for a beast of burden) and food (alpaca steak is lovely). Alpaca wool is soft with a variety of natural colours (the Peruvians say 52) that is made into textiles. They are herd animals, kept 3,500-5,100m above sea level on the Altiplano. Each group has an alpha male with several females and young. The male will warn against attack and kick if needed. The rock art in the Mollepunko caves shows domesticated alpaca at a date of 4000 BC and they figure on Moche pottery. Originally it was believed that the alpaca’s ancestor was a llama, but DNA shows vicuna is the correct choice. Like their camel cousins, all the Andean camelids spit. Basically this is a projectile air and saliva (with occasional grassy stomach content included). They generally aim at other alpaca, llamas etc. All the camelids in Peru can cross breed and produce fertile offspring- an alpaca-llama cross is a huarizo (soft wool & gentle).
The vicuña (vicugna vicugna) is a wild camelid living in the high Andes. It is the ancestor of the alpaca and its wool is highly prized and very expensive. Not much is made as the animals have to be rounded up from the wild (because of its value the government has an annual round up to prevent poaching). Both in modern times and under Inca law the vicuna is a protected species (only Inca royalty was allowed to wear vicuna clothing). Until recently it was endangered (by the mid 70s only a few thousand remained, though numbers have recovered since). Most vicuna live in Peru in the Altiplano (3,200-5000m) where their thick warm fleece prevents them from freezing at night. It is the national animal of Peru, and you see it depicted everywhere. Like alpacas they live in family groups- male, harem and young and are somewhat territorial.
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The guanaco (lama guanicoe) is of the llama family and lives wild in the Altiplano. It is generally brownish with a grey face. The name derives from Quechua wanaku/ huanaco and the young are called chulengo. They live in family herds- male, females and young. Groups of 10-50 young male herd together. They live as high, if not higher, than alpaca and vicuna and are adapted to the low oxygen at these extreme altitudes with a blood rich in haemoglobin. A teaspoon of guanaco blood contains 4x more haemoglobin than humans (so, about 68 million cells). Their wool is as prized as vicuna, but hard to acquire.
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Finally, the llama, domesticated over 6000 years ago, possibly from the guanaco. They are the largest of the four camelids and used as pack animals (carrying 1/3 of body weight), food and for their soft wool. They live in herds. Llamas are often seen as pets as they are relatively intelligent and can learn simple commands. The name llama is a native name (young are cria).
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Shortly after this some strange geological formations, the road split between the road to Puno and the road to Chivay. We kept left towards Chivay and very shortly after stopped at a small café (Viscachani) and roadside market. We had an anise tea and wandered the market. I thought about the toilets until I went into them and then I thought again. Instead we walked to the nearby Andean lake, part frozen and were lucky to spot two black Puno ibises popping out of the rushes. Then, much to our guide’s annoyance, two people went on a stroll and were late back.
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So, off again, and past the high Andean Altiplano farms. Even at this height people lived, adapting to the altitude, raising mainly llama and alpaca herds along with small crop outputs. Many had artificial or enlarged natural, ponds in front with geese and duck. We had seen a small gauge railway running alongside us for some time and I asked about it. Apparently a railway for people was built between Arequipa and Cusco long ago, but it was so expensive (and not much quicker than road) that hardly anyone used it. We passed the abandoned station not long after. However, as mining in the area took off, the mining companies decided to take over the track for the ore, so it was still in sporadic use. We passed one of the mining villages en route (it was so high and such a long way that most miners lived there for several months so as to acclimatise to the altitude in order to work).
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Finally we reached the Mirador de los Volcanoes. This was the highest point of our journey (even in Peru) at nearly 5,000m (4890m/ 15,748’). There are over 80 volcanoes from the Quarternary Era. The view of all the volcanoes was stunning. We saw Ubinas, Mismi, Misti,
Chachani, Sabancaya (very active) and Ampata. There were apacheta towers everywhere (see my section on Paracas to explain apacheta). Steve with his massive lungs went jumping over the low walls up to a small hut (amusingly some one else from the coach tried to copy him and fell almost flat on his face). There was a small handicraft market (again) and a traditionally dressed lady with her llama pet (I assume to collect money for her photo).
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And now it was slowly down, down. This side of the mountain we came across llama and alpaca herds (with their herd dogs). Each herd was marked by the owner by ear-piercing a coloured tassel on each animal. They were free to roam (a bit like our system of common land) wherever, but the guide said they generally wandered home towards the evenings.
He told us little about the road we were travelling on. Originally it was an Incan track used by the runners- these were teenage boys (around 12-18 years old) who would take messages by relay from/ to parts of the Inca Empire. They had to be fit and able to run at altitude, so were often chosen from the local peoples. Tambos (rest houses) were built a day’s journey apart and stocked with food. In this way up to 400km could be covered in a day. It was considered an honour to be a runner and they were well paid (in kind and prestige). Most runners were retired at around 18. The Inca were keen on road building in order to establish a good communication network throughout their empire. By the end of the empire they had over 16,000 km of stone roads and suspension rope bridges up to 100m spanning the deepest of gorges. One such bridge, built in 1350 lasted until 1890!
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Into Chivay
We went around a corner and finally saw Chivay town far below us. Chivay (3,600m/ 11,811’) is pretty much the town in the centre of the Canyon. We snaked down to the town, stopping at the Main Plaza. Another traditional lady with her llama pet posed for photos as did a lady with a chained
vulture (our guide got cross at this as this vulture is endangered- he asked us not to pay her to try to dissuade her from the trade). The driver (local to Chivay) met his little daughter and amazingly managed the tight corners without touching once. We parked at the edge of town and walked down an uninteresting lane with high stone walls, to a large restaurant with the most amazing buffet. Alpaca everything (roast, grilled, casserole, spit-roast, fried....) and delicious puddings.

After a time relaxing after lunch, the guide offered a complimentary tour of pre-Inca/ Inca Chivay. Most of us agreed, but one couple wanted to go to the hotel, so we dropped them off, then went to the nearby town of Yanque where there was a beautiful church with mountain views behind before we came back to the coach park at the edge of town.

Ancient Chivay
We set off walking down a dusty path at the edge of town, and quickly turned a corner to see an amazing vista of the river (Rio Colca), canyon walls, terraces (pre Inca and Inca) and greenery. The path got thinner as we headed away from Chivay into the hills. After 10 mins of walking we reached the Inca wall (complete with built-in stepping stones to walk up it) and road. Set on top was the pre-Inca reservoir/irrigation system. Over the water basin we walked to the top of a hill with a view of the terraces all around us. Our guide showed us the lower pre-Inca terraces with the Inca ones above, including their field labs (circular depressions for crop growing surrounded by banks of terraces on the perimeter designed to create a mini-climate. We crossed the Inca bridge to see one of their colpas- hollowed-out depressions in vertical rock where food could be stored and kept cool using a) shade b) the updraught of cool air. Coming back we met a local with his donkey troupe carrying firewood back to Chivay.
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We walked back and our guide said would we like a trip to the Caldera (Hot Springs) Thermal Baths. Sounded lovely and relaxing, so we all agreed. A quick drive up the mountains brought us to a modern complex of several heated swimming pools. Each pool was set to a different temperature by a careful use of the cold and hot springs. We paid for towels and headed down to the end pool, a pleasant 35°. It had seats all around the edge so we could sit neck deep and admire the amazing canyon around us. After 40 mins we were wrinkled prunes, so we headed back to the coach, which took us to our hotel on the outskirts of town. It was such a steep cobbled entrance the coach reversed up! The hotel had amazing views and a whole-glass
restaurant (and oddly a French speaking concierge). Our room, in the courtyard below was large and comfy with fab views from the sofa. Our guide recommended a restaurant in town and organised a taxi to take us (sunset).
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Although it looked uninteresting outside the food was excellent (fresh fish and alpaca) and the show was the best we saw in Peru. The local musicians explained every tune they played and the instruments they were using, including a ancient quena. Then the dancers again explained (in English) the meaning behind the dances. The dances were, at times, quite suggestive like when the lady danced over the prone man!! We definitely saw the Diablada dance (from Puno), where the man wears a devil suit and mask.
Peruvian Dances
The Wititi is an Aymara (not Quecha) dance originating from the Altiplano/ Lake Titicaca area (with links to Tiahuanaco culture- the dance means shining warrior conquers the dark). The Collawas group/ tribe/ culture who moved to Chivay/ Colca brought the dance with them c1500BC. Later it was used to celebrate the alliance between Mayta Capac and Princess Mama Yacchi of the Collawas Union. This dance is a sort of romantic warrior dance similar to a Harvest Festival. It can be inside or outside and lasts as long as people dance. Men wear military costumes of straw monera (helmet), shirt, Llicllas (loaded blankets), unko (military Inca dress) or polleras skirt (the Spanish banned the unko) and chumpe (girdle). The women wear traditional dress (often with sweets in the apron) with huatos coloured braids and a black hat with different details depending on their collawa (e.g. White straw hat= snow) and coloured llama threads. The dance involves a honda/ huaraca weapon, which fires fruit. Hence the use of a hard straw hat! The Kashua (an outdoor communal dance) and the Huayno (a couples dance) are the most common. The Llamerada dance imitates a llama’s walk. Llipi-puli and Choq’elas are vicuna hunting dances. The Huaconda or Wanka dance is also well-known. The Karabotas- a brave rider with whips, broad hat, earflaps, chullo, alpaca/ vicuna poncho, dagger, and spurs leaps to music- probably dates to the rebellion of Tupac Amaru. Finally the Tinku, a kicking, circling dance.
The dancers were very keen that we get involved and Steve was quickly chosen to join in, given a traditional lady’s skirt and hat. He really enjoyed it and ended up doing a sort of conga. What with the wine (Tacama Gran Tinto- a Malbec/ Tannat/ Petit Verdot blend which was a deep crimson and smelt of blackberry, liquorice, cherry and at 12.5% strong for the altitude) and the coca leaves and the altitude and the long day (not to mention the 5 am get up tomorrow) we decided to call it a day at 10.30pm!
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Inca Life
Beyond the royal/noble life, most Inca were farmers. A breakfast of chicha (corn beer) would precede working the land until lunch. Then a lunch on corn with chili and herbs, or potato soup, of cornmeal bread, or if lucky stewed guinea pig. They made their own clothes from cotton or alpaca/ llama wool. If you were gifted, you may be trained as an artisan (craft or record keeping) and live a more comfortable life. An intelligent boy might become a yanacona and used as a page for the nobles or in priests. They would make contacts and could rise high. Finally, the most beautiful 10-year girls might be chosen to be “Maidens”. After studying religion they were put into noble or royal households as maids. Occasionally they were sacrificed and buried in mountains.
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Posted by PetersF 17:13 Archived in Peru Tagged animals volcano peru arequipa vicuna llama camel chivay Comments (0)

Peru : Colca Canyon condors

Wednesday 22nd August – Colca Canyon

We used our alarms to wake us, as there was NO WAY we’d naturally wake at 5 am. Breakfast (in the dark, but filling) at 5.30am and collection by bus at 6am. We passed the interesting street statuary (larger than life brightly coloured dancers) and collected the other people, before setting off for the road up to the Canyon.
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We stopped in the main Plaza de Armas at Yanque to watch the local women dance in their traditional clothes a sort of twirling dance called the Hillori. Our guide said it is performed every morning. Now it is said to be a celebration of Quecha peoples over their Spanish conquerors, but it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see it as a pre-Spanish dance of celebration to the sunrise (in keeping with native sun worship). Our guide told us the “history” of the dance- When the Spanish took this valley they wanted the people to adopt Christian beliefs, but the people were not very enthusiastic. So, the Spanish took all the men away to work the mines, locking them in each night. The women in the village had Spanish soldiers billeted nearby. This way the tribe would die out. However, the men knew better. They had a way out, so they dressed as women and snuck back to the village en masse one night. Lo and behold nine months later came a population explosion. The Spanish had no idea what had happened and the women used their beliefs against them, claiming they were virgin births!
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As we drove along our guide told us about the history and customs of the area.
Originally, in pre-Inca times, there were the Hill People and the Valley People. Although originally of the same tribe, they had developed their own cultures over time and their interactions weren’t always harmonious. They bound their infants heads different (back to front or on two sides- later both banned by the Spanish), have different agriculture (terraces with crops, mainly corn and potatoes or Andean plateau livestock hill farming). I would imagine this is a folk recall of the Amyara and Quecha tribes moving north from the altiplano into the colca valleys. Archaeological and linguistic evidence shows this double immigration.
The local Quecha (pre-Inca) in the valleys had already an extensive terracing system, which was added to by the conquering Inca. As we drove I wondered why all the small fields had low stone walls topped with cacti. It was to deter donkeys from entering the field and hoovering up the crops. Apparently if your donkey entered a field the owner could take the donkey until you repaid him. If you refused the donkey went to “donkey jail” until you paid bail (which pretty much everyone did!). We drove along the winding banks of Rio Colca to the village of Maca, which had a very pretty little church (the 17th century Barogue Iglesia de Santa Ana) and courtyard. We stopped for toilets, church visit, stroll because we’d be too early for the condors otherwise.
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Then after 20 mins we carried on up the road, over the river to a tunnel through the rock. The story went that if you could hold your breath all the way through you could have a wish (I didn’t manage). The Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon and home to a stunning array of wildlife. A bit further up, passing terraces and small ponds all the way, we arrived at the Mirador Cruz del Condor (a 2 hour trip in total). Quite amazing! At first we perched by a wooden barrier close to a small statue, looking down/across the canyon and two brownish juveniles crossed several times. We moved a bit right and the two adults took off, sometimes flying solely, sometimes as a pair and sometimes the whole family group. At one point all four swooped overhead only a few metres above us.
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Brilliant! It was quite busy, but there was plenty of space for everyone. When our guide came back he told us we’d been REALLY lucky seeing so many and so close. It was now nearly lunch (we could not believe how long we’d been there) and we headed back down the same road, stopping briefly for some panoramic shots. Then we went back to the same buffet restaurant as yesterday.
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I was keen to try some local fruit, so tried the chirioya (custard apple) which is native to the Andean highlands. Its sort of heart shaped and custardy-creamy and tastes like banana meets strawberry. Another local fruit was the Aguaymento (Peruvian cherry or pysalis), which we already knew.
Then we headed to the coach station. Unfortunately, this is where the Lima guy’s negligence really hit us as the luxury coach we should have been booked on was full, so we were on a rickety “extra” coach for an unpleasant journey to Puno (should have got a refund, but didn’t). We went back the same way as we came up to where the road split to Puno, then headed through the Altiplano towards the large lakes outside Puno (we got off for a leg stretch), through the modern town of Juliaca (dusk) and finally to the bus station at Puno where our efficient lady guide met us and (thank goodness for efficiency) told us she had sorted everything out properly for us. A taxi drove us from the station to our hotel in central Puno. Neither of us was hungry (and we didn’t need the free air!) so we took the lift to our room (good, a bit corporate) and slept.

Colca Canyon- Cultures
The local people come from the Collawa/ Collagua and Cabana Cultures and it was they who started cultivating the valley sides with terraces. Interestingly the Collawas are Aymara speaking (coming from Lake Titicaca) while the Cabanas are Quecha speaking (coming from, probably, the Wari culture). They cropped potato, quinoa and maize. Either they or the Inca carved small colca (granaries of mud and stone) into cliffs or canyon walls. There are still pre-Inca hanging tombs in the area. The Inca arrived at 1320 AD and the Colca area (Caylloma) joined the empire. The Spanish, under Gonzalo Pizarro arrived in 1540 and took the valley, In 1570 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo ordered the people
to abandon their villages and move to centrally located Spanish pueblo (a clear attempt to control the population). Missionaries arrived in 1565 and built the first chapel in 1569. The first road was not built until 1940!
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Colca Canyon- Geography
The Canyon, at 4,160m, is over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and probably the deepest in the world. The river starts at Condoramo Crucero Alto (High Condor Cross) in the Andes, through Colca Canyon, over Majes Plain and to the Pacific. Chivay, elevation 3650m is at the mid point. Above Chivay is livestock farming (mainly alpaca and llama), below is terracing. The area is home to the Andean Condor (Vultur Gryphus), Giant Colibri hummingbird, Andean Goose, Caracara, Chilean flamingo as well as the vizcacha (a rabbit sized chinchilla relative), the zorrino (skunk family), deer, fox and vicuna.
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Posted by PetersF 19:55 Archived in Peru Tagged animals birds peru church colca inca mama chivay yanque Comments (0)

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