Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Peru, Puno to Arequipa and the Peruvian Altiplano

(Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side)

Another day, another country.

To my surprise it turns out that the customs people required an insurance policy on the bike. Unfortunately, they did not accept any of my papers as being a valid insurance. Ok, might be because I don't have a valid insurance (at least not for this part of the world). Well, luckily for me, the customs officer was rather lenient and allowed me to enter the country with my bike anyway. So after a while we were finally in Peru.

The road followed Lake Titicaca and to our surprise was much move scenic and more interesting than the Bolivian side. In particular since on this side there is both a lot more to see and it follows the coast for a lot longer. On this side there was also a lot of more of the typical reed beds which is typical of this lake. Puno like Copacaba on the Bolivian side are the major points of embarkation for people taking cruises on the lake or visiting the islands (floating or not). As such they are similar in the tourist infrastructure (Puno being much larger of course). Having already spent a week on the lake, and not planning on doing any excursions, we just spent the night. Nevertheless, we found Puno to be pretty nice. The usual plaza and church, some interesting architecture, and plenty of tourist shops.

The best thing about such towns from our point of view is that we can spent a lot of money quickly as the prices are always higher than in non-tourist areas. Ok, maybe this is not really the "best" thing. That being the fact that we can sometimes find stuff which we don't get anywhere else. In the case of Puno, we found a bakery which had excellent bread, and croissants. Not only that but they had some smoked ham and Philadelphia cream cheese, and lots of really great desserts, including a good cheesecake. Can't always save money! So next time you are in Puno, don't forget to stop by Rico Pan. Oh, and while you are at it, don't forget to enjoy the free pisco sours at happy hour. If you are really a cheap skate, you can go from bar to bar and get a free pisco sour at each one, without actually spending any money on the next drink. Most bars offer the first drink free, followed by 2 for 1 for the following drink.

Continuing from Puno we headed to Arequipa. The road passed through a town called Juanica, which for my money wins the prize for one of the most chaotic towns we have been through in South America, regardless of size. Luckily for us things looked up once we made it through. The road goes up over 4500 meters before coming down again. For the most part the road is excellent and is extremely curvy at both ends (the middle part being pretty straight and boring). The Altiplano here has plenty of canyons, mountains, volcanoes and even a huge lake at the top. This being a major north south artery it had its share of traffic, in particular plenty of trucks and buses, but the views were worth it.

(Arequipa, Peru)

Arequipa is Peru's second largest city and this was immediately believable as its suburbs stretched for kilometers before getting near town. The town lies along a valley flanked by a large volcano and mountains to the north. The town is another tourist magnet with lots of churches and monasteries, and the usual palette of tourist offerings in the mountains and canyons nearby. Particularly impressive is the main square, with a huge cathedral on one side which takes up the whole width of the block. Behind the cathedral the volcano presides over the whole town and valley. Cobblestone streets and lots and lots of hispanic architecture complete the picture. One thing that stands out are the white stone blocks which make up most of the building in the old part of town. All the old building have large open courtyards, and a whole maze of passages, corners, stairs (although buildings are only 2 or 3 floors, due to frequent earthquakes).

To our surprise the first day we got here, there was a food festival in a park near our hotel. This was an opportunity we could not pass up, so we spent the whole day, sitting in the park and trying the various specialties on offer. This included stuff like Cuy (Guinea pig), stuffed peppers, rice with duck, and chicharron (fried pork). Check out the pics below!

Chicharon de chancho, Rocoto relleno, pastel de papa, arroz blanco, aji de habas, zarza de pata

Arroz con Pato

Albondigas, salsa de anchoeta, guiso de habas

pepiche de cuy (guinea pig)

crochetas de atun

pure de arvejas, chuño relleno de alpaca y higado de cuy, suffle de verduras con anchoas

torta bicolor, pie de manzana, crema de fresas

In addition to the great architecture and all the monasteries and churches, there are some very interesting museums. In particular, the university museum here has the frozen mummy of Juanita. An inca maiden who was sacrificed on the nearby volcano. This is the 4th or 5th mummy of this type we have seen. (The others being in the museum in Salta). All of them fascinating if a bit macabre. Katheryna visited the St. Catalina monastery and found it extremely fascinating. Not only the architecture but also the lifestyle of the nuns there turns out to be really fascinating. The nuns being the daughters of wealthy noblemen were allowed to live a very luxurious cloistered life, basically in the style to which they were accustomed, regardless of the fact that they now "served" God. Their quarters, reflected the riches which they were allowed to keep in their monastic life. After a couple of hundred years of this "lax" living, the pope finally sent a mother superior who clamped down and enforced a simpler lifestyle with less luxury.

(Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru)

The plan is to continue south to the coast. Although we might be taking a little side trip to see Colca canyon near here, which is the "deepest" canyon in the world. Even deeper than the Grand Canyon apparently. After that we will check our Nazca and then back into the mountains to Cusco and Machu Pichu. But of course with us, one never knows. Too much planning is not our style.

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