Ain’t no valley deep, ain’t no lake wide enough……

So Peru…
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Ah the Peruvian Border. We arrived at the Bolivia side around 5pm and were met  by our Peruvian guide Ali. The Bolivian side was pretty straight forward apart from the fact that we didn’t have our entry cards-never got them when we entered from Chile, arrgh! There was momentary panic when we told Alejandro we didn’t have them but he was all “relax, I will get you one, just fill it out while you wait”. Yeah it’s that laid back, greeted with a shrug and a stamp and we were out of Bolivia!
A short walk with all our gear to the Peruvian immigration (all the Peru Hop bags were abandoned outside with Ali) and we joined the massive, very slow-moving queue….I was grand though, I was chatting to a Finnish girl we met on the boat back from the island. Eventually we got to the front of the queue, I went first, got my stamp and turned to go when I noticed Gav at the next counter. His immigration officer was standing there with Gav’s passport in one hand and in the other the phone, the look of horror on Gav’s face! Oh dear! I waited for him by the door… A few tense moments later and he had his stamp and was off, as was the immigration officer. Turns out the call was most likely to his wife to tell her he was on his way home. Phew!
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So we were now in Peru but the loss of half the Peruvian immigration meant we had to wait ages for everyone else. Despite the delay we were delighted with the Peru hop branded double-decker bus and were settling in for the short ride to Puno. We managed, I don’t know how, to be only an hour late arriving in Puno despite all the delays add a few unscheduled stops to pick up locals and drop them off. The sunset was amazing though.
When we pulled into Puno, we  were met by a fleet of taxis (paid for by Peru Hop) and brought to hotel (Kantati Amanecer Puno) where our room was upgraded – hurrah!- and the wifi was actually decent!
We had two nights booked here so the following day was going to be our sightseeing day but unfortunately I woke up the following morning feeling horrendous so didn’t do much just chilled out and got some food in town at a place ran by a very cute  couple.
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The following morning I was still not right but we had to check out of our room. There was one reason for being in Puno and that was to visit the Floating islands of the Uros on Lake Titicaca. While we were attempting to get near enough to the pier to scope it out we were approached by George (who had an assistant and two very apprehensive looking foreigners in tow), who offered to take us on his boat to the Uros islands for 15 PEN (about £3.50/ $5 each)- this it turned out was actually the going rate). We were (well I was) initially hesitant as we hate getting approached but in the end decided to take the boat with him, basically just so I could sit down. There was a fair wait in fairness but after what seemed like an eternity we were off for our second trip onto Lake Titicaca………..
So that was the Uros. Interesting but not sure we would recommend it if we were on a whistle-stop tour of Peru. It was different though, and the only place you can see that kind of floating reed island.
We may have checked out of our room but our pickup wasn’t until 9.30 pm, the staff were really helpful though, looking after our bags while we swanned about the lake and then they kindly let us clutter up their reception for the evening. They even provided free entertainment in the form of the receptionist’s son who was fascinated by Gav’s tablet (that we picked up in Thailand), unfortunately the poor chap was used to something responsive with games on so he quickly got bored with it and went back to dismantling the fake flowers in reception and throwing them at our feet. Bless. As a bonus just as he was getting tired the pickup showed up, hurrah! Off on the night bus to our next stop Arequipa….
Ah Arequipa, we first heard of this place was from Dimple on a Uyuni trip, she insisted that we must go (she mentioned seeing the Andean Condors here so that easily convinced us). It’s also known as the White City (due to sillar- a type of volcanic stone which many buildings are constructed out of), sitting in the shadow of the Misiti volcano the and the second largest city in Peru, and guess what? It’s another UNESCO World Heritage site (yeah I’m making a list). We were still sticking with the elevated altitude here at 2,300 m, though it was back at San Pedro level it was actually noticeably easier to breathe. Yay!
 Unfortunately to get here with Peru Hop was not the nicest experience (I still think they are great but some of their bus times are horrible), we ended up getting on the bus going from Bolivia (which we arrived on a few nights before) heading for Cusco. Around midnight we were transferred to the Arequipa bus (coming from Cusco) where every seat was taken bar two right at the front. Five hours of crippling discomfort later we finally pulled into Arequipa. We probably woke up everyone in the hostel trying to get in (we had told them when we booked but you know how it is, these things often don’t get passed on), had a few hours kip and went off to explore Arequipa and organise our trip to the Colca Canyon.
While we were at the market getting a juice, I was quizzing the lady about all the fruits I didn’t understand (this was in Spanish by the way, her other customer was very amused). We hit upon noni, which they mix with many different fruits but do not have it as a juice on its own. When I asked why she passed me a bit, its other name, rather aptly, is cheese fruit. It hums! Needless to say we did not try it.
Anyway, other than that we spent a little while trying to work out what tour company to go with to the canyon, in the end we went with the hostel (PEN 125 each/ £25/ $40) it was cheap but we hoped it would be ok.
That evening we went for dinner at Zig Zag (someone recommended this to us, annoyingly I can’t remember who). As we had to be up for a 3.20 am pickup (Peru loves the early morning starts, this was ridiculous though!), we took a chance that they would have a table. We were in luck!
The following morning we got up at 2.30 am to get ready and grab some breakfast. I was also slightly worried about the increase in altitude again since we would hit around 5000m, so the hostel (we were staying at La Casa de Sillar Hospedaje Turístico for those interested) kindly offered to make me a coca tea for the road (in addition to an early breakfast!). As we were heading out the door, with a warning to wear insect repellent at the oasis, I was handed a large plastic bottle filled with scalding hot tea. Once on the bus I had to carefully balance it so it didn’t burn either my hand or leg. Anyway, to the journey! As we were the last pickup we had to take the last two (and most uncomfortable) seats on the minibus as we hurtled in the direction of Chivay. Three hours later we arrived there for the breakfast stop before a short drive towards the viewpoint over the gorge.
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 So we had reached the bottom of the valley (a descent of about 2 km)! Yay! This, for me anyway, had been the easy bit. To get to our lunch spot we had to climb up an almost vertical slope, it was only 300m but felt like a mile, thankfully the rest of it was quite flat. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at our lunch place, where the menu was soup and then alpaca with veg, rice and potatoes. Very nice. Then we were off, along the undulating  side of the canyon to our home for the night, the oasis at Sangalle!
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 I was so glad once those red roofs came into view! Ours was right next to the river, the furthest one away in the picture above. Complete with pool, which despite the dropping sun, we all took advantage of…apart from Gav, that is,  he wasn’t bothered. Dinner was due to be at 6, so he decided to get showered and ready before we all got out of the pool and the queues would get big. It was fine in the end, we were all washed and ready and in the bar area for dinner… Only there was a football match on, Uruguay v Peru. There was not a jot of cooking going on I can tell you, all everyone wanted to do was eat and go to bed! We eventually got some food about 8.30, similar fare to the lunch but with an added bonus of a mate with what we think was lemon balm, it was nice anyway whatever it was. Then we could go to sleep…finally! Oh and remember the insect repellent? We didn’t! I got eaten alive overnight but they didn’t come up till late on the following day. Damn mozzies, you forget how itchy they are, it had been months since I had been bitten last.
So back to earlier that evening, when our guide suggested that since I had struggled on the way across that I should maybe think about getting a donkey back up.  I seriously considered it but then Gav said to me “You can do it, I believe you can do it!”. Ah the magic effect of those few words! (He confessed later that he also wanted to save the unspecified cash we would have spent on the horse, plus the ones that did ride up looked very lazy!). I was armed with my bag of coca leaves and the mysterious resin and hell yeah, I could do this!!
The following morning, at 5 am (breakfast at 4.30-so early again!! Damn it Peru!) in the pitch black of night we were ready to leave. I put a little bit of the resin (it was basically mashed leaves mixed with toothpaste that the locals used) up under my lip-which quickly went numb-and I was super focused and ready to go with only the circle of lamp light and the heals of the boots in front to focus on. Which was awesome for the first 30 mins until the first rays of dawn began to appear. We slogged on, I passed out the coca (even the guide was up for it as he was really struggling initially). Until we got half way and the coca got too much, I started to feel sick so from then on I was on my own. The pace slowed and we separated into two groups, the boys at the front, guide in the middle and the girls at the end. My main aim was to not be last up….
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Mission accomplished! We made the top! Our group! Annoyingly I didn’t write down everyone’s names and since it is.. errr …six months since we were there. I do remember that the three guys at the back are called Andre, all from France and rather randomly live together in Mexico city (met through friends apparently!) What are the odds!

And that pretty much was the Colca Canyon. We survived! It was another mile or so to the nearest village where we had a proper breakfast, then it was on to a hot spring (in fairness it wasn’t that hot, but pleasant enough), then back to Arequipa..

Once we got back into Arequipa, we didn’t have much time to do anything other than grab some food and pack back up our stuff (the hostel kindly looked after our big bags) and got ready for guess what? Another early start and a 5.30 am pickup for our next stop…..the Incan capital of Cusco!

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