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Perú - Arequipa

From the Sacred Valley we had planned on heading to Cañon del Cocha to see the Condors, stopping along the way to see the Q'eswachaka handwoven Inca bridge across the Apurimac Canyon. The bridge is remade each June and takes 4 days, to complete, with much dancing and celebration. We missed the fiesta but met a very interesting man who explained how it is built each year and how all the families in the community contribute 60m of rope each, which they make out of a local grass.

From there we continued south across the Altiplano, past vicuñas, llamas and alpacas. We had a few problems finding an open road past Espinar as many of the roads are being rebuilt for the huge mining in the area. Somehow we managed to circumvent the 7am-6pm daily closures by taking a back-road, although sadly, the back-roads proved too much for one of our tyres! The blown tyre in the middle of nowhere and the complete disappearance of the road to Cañon del Colca caused us to change our plans and we headed instead to Arequipa in search of a new spare tyre and a service/check-up for the van. Probably a good decision as, having booked the van into the garage, it turned out we needed new brakes, front suspension bits (tech term) and two new tyres.

Arequipa, known as the white city for its colonial buildings of white volcanic stone, is a handsome city with a fine cathedral dominating the Plaza de Armas. Time to catch up and socialise with friends Terry and Maria, whom we met in Ecuador, and to visit some of the local Picanterias to savour the local Arequipa cuisine. Oh and a haircut for Rachel. Later Terry and Maria kindly allowed us to stay in their Airbnb apartment whilst we awaited the return of the van.

One of the main tourist attractions in the city is the impressive Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Siena. Well worth a visit - mainly wealthy Spanish families would send their 2nd daughters here to be nuns.... like to have seen them try that with my younger sister.. or indeed any of my sisters....they'd have had their hands full!

Initially the nuns lived in houses with their slaves or servants on hand to cook and clean for them. The size and grandeur of the house each nun lived in would depend on the dowry the nuns brought with them. Later in 1871 a decree from Rome, clearly thinking this lifestyle was too cosy, resulted in the loss of slaves and servants and private quarters with the nuns having to live in dorms and eat communally. There are still some 20 nuns today living in this cloistered community.

Once the van had its new brakes, we had time to spare whilst the new tyres and suspension came from Lima, so we finally headed off to see Cañon del Cocha. Having parked up overnight at the Cruz del Condor, we were up at 6am to see a few condors out soaring the ridge. We had an hour with the canyon view pretty much to ourselves. By 8am there were plenty of condors and tourists. Impressive to watch the birds flying. Following the canyon, we arrived in Cabanaconde where hiked down into the canyon along the steep and rough path towards Oasis de Sangalle. We met a few people hiking up who were struggling. Apparently it is a 2 - 3 hour hike down to the oasis and 4 - 5 hours hike up, depending on fitness, as you have the altitude making it harder! We stuck to a half way hike - still hard going in places. Back in the van we pushed on along a circuitous route back towards Arequipa with beautiful views of the volcanoes, including Sabancaya erupting as we rounded a corner. We camped overnight on a patch of rough ground just off the road.

Next day we headed back to Arequipa to discover our van part was delayed and there was public holiday (Santa Rosa de Lima) to contend with. Back to the campsite and off to explore the city a little more, including a Ceviche lesson for Rachel. On our last full day, Rachel went in search of the Sunday parade held in most Plaza de Armas throughout Peru, when the military lay down their arms for the people. She was somewhat delayed as César Villanueva, the Prime Minister of Peru, was the special guest this Sunday and was running a little late! That's him - third from the left on the red stage!

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