Thursday, September 29, 2016

Southern Peru

Crossing the border from Arica, Chile, to Peru, exposes one abruptly to the rude and chaotic traffic of Tacna, which is typical of Peruvian cities. We high-tailed it through there and spent the first night at a hot springs resort outside of town.
Rather quickly (for us that means three driving days and two lay-over days later), we arrived in Chivay in the Colca Canyon at the friendly hotel La Posada del Colca. On the way, we stopped by the southern Peruvian coast and spent a couple days in Arequipa. It has a historic center which is a UNESCO world heritage site and a major tourist attraction, and it has the rude and chaotic traffic typical of Peruvian cities.
peruvian desert
south peru coast
South Peru Coast/Küste/Costa
outside Arequipa

The drive to the Colca Canyon took us across our highest pass so far: 4,910 meters (16,409 feet). We spent a week in the canyon, visiting the famous Cruz del Condor overlook but also the barely known Uyo Uyo ruins. The condors did their show as expected, soaring on the morning thermals around the overlook.
The ruins were a nice surprise, like a mini Machu Picchu without the thousands of daily tourists. I flew one of my gliders near the ruins in the company of two hawks and the volcano Sabancaya smoking in the background. These flights were at a record elevation for me: 12,500 feet above sea level. We enjoyed our time there. Should we have stayed longer? Maybe on the next round.
landscape Arequipa - Colca
Landscape/Landschaft/Paisaje Arequipa - Colca
altiplano alpacas

Lake Titicaca was our next stop. This large lake straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia, and, at 12,507 feet elevation, is the highest navigable lake on earth. More importantly, it is believed to be the birth place of the Inca nation.
We stayed the friendly Hotel Casa Blanca just south of the city of Puno. From there, we walked to the 3000 (!) year old ruins of Tunihuiri. These ruins are hardly visited at all, except by locals, who unfortunately think nothing about leaving their trash laying around all over the place.
rock formations
altiplano livestock
Above/Über/Sobre 13.000 ft - 4.000 m 
source of the rivers

We also visited the floating islands of the Uro indigenous people. The Uros build these islands by cutting large chunks of Totora reed, which grows in abundance near the shore of Lake Titicaca. They have been doing so for centuries, partly to protect themselves from enemies.
The Lake and the reeds have formed the basis for their way of life. They used and still use the reeds for everything from making hats to building huts, nowadays they even have a school and several churches made from Totora.
The Uros used to live from fishing and hunting waterfowl and collecting eggs. Now, the fauna of the Lake is protected, and the Uros live almost entirely off tourism. And the tourism industry is booming. There is a constant stream of tourist boats, carrying about 20 persons each, leaving the dock in Puno for the islands.
On the internet, we found Roger, a native Uro, to give us a private tour. On his little boat, he took us quietly and slowly through the Totora on small ancestral channels the big tourist boats can't use. He showed us the school on its own floating island, and we visited his family living on their island. We bought a handmade ornamental blanket from the family, something you're expected to do, when you hire Roger. But he spent five hours just with us, telling us tales and stories of Uro life, ancestral and now.
Andean snow peaks
snowy pass
Crossing the pass/Pass Überquerung/Cruzando el paso
snowy & smokey volcanos

We pointed our vehicle northwest toward the Inca capital of Cusco. On the way, we encountered the town of Juliaca with traffic so rude and chaotic, it took us an hour to elbow our way past the two central blocks. If you're wondering why I keep mentioning Peruvian city traffic, it's kind of like the Grand Canyon: words can't describe it, photos don't do it justice, and it's unbelievable when you first see it.
andean landscape
Chivay from above
Descending toward/Abfahrt nach/Bajada a Chivay
Andean high altitude pastures

In between Lake Titicaca and Cusco, off the main road, and deep down in the Apurimac canyon lies the Q'eswachaca grass bridge. But before venturing down there, we visited the Sillustani ruins. These are round structures built in pre-Inca times.
The Q'eswachaca bridge, however, is an Inca structure. It's a suspension bridge across the Apurimac River built from woven grass ropes. The bridge is said to have been built anew every year for at least 500 years. Today, it's mostly a ceremonial site, and its construction is the main act of the biggest annual celebration in the area.
Building the bridge preserves the ancient skill of weaving ropes from grass. While there, we met a man our age doing some maintenance. He told us, he traveled there as a boy and learned the skill from his grandfather. Today, Q'eswachaca is the only Inca grass bridge in existence.
Chivay surroundings/Umgebung/alrededores
termals, volcano and cactus

Eventually, we arrived in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Coming from the south, you know you're getting close, when you see the big and impressive Rumicola  Inca gate right next to the main road. It's a massive complex with hardly any infrastructure for visitors. We were the only ones there.
In Cusco, we hired an indigenous guide to give us a walking tour of some of the significant sites. Marveling at what is left of the Inca structures, I was left with a sadness, almost anger, at how starting about 500 years ago, greed and misguided religious zealousness destroyed untold treasures and forced their beliefs onto the land and the people. The actions of the modern-day IS makes one wonder if history repeats itself.
Colca Valley
Colca canyon

This concludes this post. The second part, covering northern Peru, will have to wait until we are at Samuel Härri's Jardin Suizo. If you're waiting for a report and photos on Machu Picchu, we did not go. We just could not bring ourselves to joining the 4,000 daily tourists at this site. But stay tuned, the northern Peruvian Andes are spectacular.

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