Peru lV-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas

Monday, November 20, 2017

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Why did the alpacas cross the road?

Because they could? 

These are one of the variety of camelids that live in South America, and ones that we had hoped to see for ourselves. There are also llamas, vicuñas, guanacos and vizacachas. Most of us are more familiar with llamas and while they all may look alike, there are characteristics that distinguish them from one another. Alpacas are smaller than llamas, have more round faces and feature a tuft of hair on their heads. 

Undeniably, their size, and their stylish hairdos make them very cute and adorable. Unlike llamas, used as beasts of burden, alpacas are bred primarily for their prized wool known for it’s softness and used in many woven and knitted items. 

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Also during the day, we were delighted to see the rarer vicuñas, whose fur is also a valuable commodity. 

We had departed Arequipa early in the morning, making good time through all the tangle of traffic that is common across the country. Somehow, even though all drivers ride each other’s bumpers and change lanes at will, buses, cars, trucks, moto-taxis, motor bikes, cyclists and pedestrians avoid collisions and untangle themselves as readily as they get themselves tied up. It was a bit un-nerving initially, but then we just sat back and every driver we had expertly managed to carry us, unscathed, to and fro from our destinations. 

In our bus, with other passengers, our 5 hour drive offered us very impressive views of Andean volcanos and other mountain peaks. Several stops along the way allowed us to get out of the bus to wander short distances off the highway for closer views and photo ops of alpacas, llamas and vicuñas.

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 “Shopping opportunities” awaited us at most of those scenic spots, which, as we soon determined, all sold nearly the same merchandise. All the fabulous colors of the fabrics and other items being sold did enhance the natural landscape scenes.

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Leaving Arequipa was on a steady uphill climb, often following behind ore trucks from a mountain mine many miles into the Andes. Our very experienced driver maneuvered his bus expertly - and with not too much fright and trepidation from the passengers.

On our 5 hour drive this day we would reach the highest elevations of the entire time in Peru. Arequipa was at 7667 feet above sea level and we would end the day at over 11,800 ft. a.s.l.

At photo op stops during the day, the chilly air of the higher altitude was very noticeable. Breathing was not noticeably labored however - UNTIL we stopped at another location, Volcan Hualca Hualca, an extinct volcano. Here people stack rocks atop each other, as in cairns, for the purpose of honoring a person’s memory and/or to offer up prayers for a good outcome. Walking around, briefly, I found myself experiencing more labored breathing, and much colder air to top it off. Seated back in the bus, it dawned on me, that we had really gone up much higher. As a matter of fact, signage at the stop told us 6288 m. which converts from meters to feet at 20,630 ft. 

Well, no wonder we were out of breath, there isn’t much air to be had at that height!

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Just plain CUTE! 

"Miquel had a little lamb, it’s fleece as white as snow. Wherever the lamb went, Miquel was sure to go”.

Up in the highlands, in the middle of nowhere, we stopped at a collection of buildings what were at the crossroads of traffic going to Puno or to Cuzco. It also was a bus stop, where passengers could transfer to whichever bus would take them in the direction of their travels. This was great time to stop and use the facilities. Which, by the way, were often “pay” toilets - an attendant sat at the door, where he allowed you in for a few sols (the Peruvian currency). He in turn offered you a few, yeah, A FEW, squares of toilet paper. If one was lucky it might be an actual flushing toilet. If not then you may be required to dip a small bucket into a barrel of water and flush in that manner. Sometimes the attendant would earn her or his keep by flushing for you. Oh, and did I mention, toilet seats must be optional in Peru as many commodes lacked them. Learning to squat or hover was something new to me. Holding on to my backpack (I wasn’t about to set it on the wet, grungy floor), trying to balance, not drop anything, not fall in, keeping that precious toilet paper in the other hand, I only hoped that this would end quickly. But a loo with just a hole in the floor was the ultimate in toilet teetering.

Can you imagine? 

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NO, don’t!

Hilarious, ain’t it?

Back to our roadside stop. Coca leaves, grown in this country, are often brewed into a tea that is beneficial in easing the discomforts of altitude sickness. Some chew on the leaves as another cure. Nearly everyone on our bus ordered their coca tea and sat outside in the bright but chilly sunlight enjoying the hot beverage. This included a British woman who brought her own lemons to enhance the tea. She was quite the sensation and we all had great laughs about her compulsive but practical habit.

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No-one got high on the coca tea (that I know of), but it was a good prophalytic to avoid getting the treaded altitude sickness.

At an higher elevation we could see the road winding, down, down, down into a green valley and to the town of Chivay, another very old community ringed with thousands of the Inca and pre-Inca terraces. Prior to being delivered to our respective hotels around town, we enjoyed another delicious and bountiful buffet lunch.

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Later that afternoon, Henry, our guide, led us on a long walk around Chivay. Along the way he explained more about the Inca and pre-Inca terraces. During our time in Peru we learned that potatoes originated there. The Inca had developed more than 4000 varietis of the spud. Besides the potatoes, they grew corn, quinoa and other vegetables. The Inca understood that some plants and crops grew better at different elevations, even different varieties of potatoes, and planted their crops accordingly. We crossed over a river, then a long walk down a lane passing by fields that were being tilled by oxen, a herder with his donkeys, as welll as sheep and cattle grazing on the green grasses. Our walk ended at thermal hot baths, where we took advantage of the (not terribly) hot soaking tubs. Soothingly soaked and heated up, facing the cold air prompted a rapid re-dressing.

Our evening ended at a local restaurant in town that included a local band playing Peruvian music and some interpretive dances that relayed comical cultural traditions. Audience participation was encouraged, which added to the hilarity of the evening. 

Nighttime was colder in Chivay, not surprisingly with an elevation just over 11,000 ft., but the room was comfortable and warm enough for us both to get a good night’s sleep.

We had packed our backpacks before bedtime in preparation for our trip's first hiking adventure the next day. Supplied with all we would need (and more), the packs were more weighty than we had hoped. But, we reasoned, we would be prepared for most anything during the next two days.

Little did we realize the challenges that awaited us in our hike to the bottom of Colca Canyon.

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u © Donald E. Kline 2012