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The Last of Peru

Puno, Peru

The day after I got back from the Inca trail, I started lessons at a Spanish school in Cusco. The school was pretty cool, with a roof terrace where students could chat to each other (if you managed to catch the sunny part of the day, usually in the morning). I had two weeks of one on one lessons, and learnt quite a lot.

During the weekend between my two weeks of classes, I decided I should do something interesting. Since I'd had my fill of archaeological sites, I figured I'd go rafting. Having never done it before, I was a bit nervous, but also excited to try something new. As it was still the dry season, the section of the Urubamba river we were rafting has only level 2 & 3 rapids. In the wet season, it gets up to 5, but the dry season rapids are still pretty technical and shallow.

It was a 2.5 hour trip, and mostly a lot of fun... until we were traversing the most dangerous rapid, and our raft flipped over, with most of us ending in up in the water. The girl next to me landed on top of me, keeping me under for a few seconds. When I emerged, I was well away from the raft, moving alarmingly quickly downstream, and struggling to stay afloat. A guide from another boat threw ropes to me and another guy, which we grabbed. But mine was snagged on a rock. So I had to let go, and float a few metres further down to grab onto one of the kayaks. He paddled me to safety. I was seriously out of breath, but otherwise unharmed. I had to clamber over some rocks to the other side of the river, where my raft (now with everyone else back on board) picked me up.

The rest of the trip was uneventful (well, I did fall out once more, but grabbed onto the side of the raft this time). By the time I got back to Cusco in the evening, I was pretty exhausted, but still managed to go out for a few drinks for someone's 30th birthday. I'm still contemplating whether I'd be up for another rafting trip.

Once my Spanish lessons were over, I was pretty keen to get out of Cusco, having been there for about 3 weeks. I headed to Arequipa, one of the southern most towns in Peru. I found a really nice hostel, with a back yard to take advantage of the eternally sunny days. Arequipa itself is probably the nicest city in Peru. It's called the “white city”, because of the stone used in most of its buildings. It's not really touristy, like Cusco, but it does feel very wealthy, especially compared to everything else I'd seen in Peru.

One of the main attractions in the area (other than the frozen mummy and colonial monastry in Arequipa itself) is Culca Canyon, once thought to be the deepest canyon in the world, but now holding the title of second deepest (the deepest is also in the region). The best way to see it is to trek it, so I once again strapped on my hiking boots (trying to cover the blisters I still had from the Inca trail), and headed out on a 2 day hike.

After waking up at about 2.30am to get the bus, we stopped at “Cruz del Condor” to catch some snaps of soaring Condors. Then we set off on a 7 hour hike mostly downhill into the canyon. Our group of 7 was all pretty young, so we set off at a fairly decent pace. By the end of it, I was wondering how I'd managed to forget the lesson of the Inca trail – I was shattered. We spent the night in the “Oasis”, a purpose-built area at the bottom of the canyon, with a freezing cold swimming pool, and huts with comfortable enough beds.

The next day was straight up the side of the canyon – about 7km. The legs were hurting from the day before, but we managed to make it in fairly decent time (some faster than others). On the way back to Arequipa, we stopped at some hot springs. I'd been a little sceptical about the quality of these, but the pools were sparkling clean, and the temperature went up to 40 degrees. Just what we needed for our aching legs!

I'd spent nearly a week in Arequipa, so it was definitely time to move on. The next stop was Puno, on Lake Titicaca. I arrived there along with an Irish couple and an American guy who'd been on my trek, as well as an Aussie girl and Kiwi guy – Kim & Eric - who'd been in the hostel in Arequipa. Puno wasn't the nicest town, especially when compared to Arequipa, but it's a popular stop on the Gringo trail because of it's access to the islands, in particular the “floating islands” made of reeds. Along with Kim & Eric, I decided to do a one day tour there, while the others opted for two.

We got into an extremely slow (but pretty seaworthy) boat, and headed to the reed islands. On arrival, we were greeted by several enthusiastic locals, shown how the islands were made, and even allowed to taste the Totora reed used to make the islands. It was a bit touristy, but interesting. Afterwards, we took an even longer trip out to a further island, where we had lunch, and were given a demonstration of a local dance. For some reason, out of the entire group of 20 or so, I was the only one selected to dance with them. I managed to get through it without tripping over, or otherwise making a complete fool of myself.

We got back to Puno, and booked a bus to Copacobana, Bolivia. After about 6 weeks, I was finally about to leave Peru. It was a slightly odd feeling to be leaving, but I was still looking forward to checking out a new country. And I wasn't disappointed – I've already had some “interesting times” in Bolivia. But that'll have to wait for my next entry.

permalink written by  Sam_C on November 7, 2009 from Puno, Peru
from the travel blog: Epic Detour
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