Tuesday, 19 May 2015
After a few days resting our weary bodies and washing our smelly clothes after Machu Picchu, we were en route to Arequipa, Peru's second biggest city. With the sun shining on roof top terraces and with some friends in tow, we spent a relaxing afternoon overlooking the city enjoying Pisco Sour cocktails. The next morning we had a 3.30am wake up call as we had a day trip booked to Cañón del Colca which is the worlds second-deepest canyon - twice as deep as the more famous Grand Canyon, and was our best chance at spotting the famous endangered Condor birds, which are among the largest flying birds in the world and can have a wingspan of up to 3.5m wide. The Condor, whilst not being a particularly good looking bird with direct relations to the vulture, are majestic icons soaring through the sky and are revered by the Peruvian nation. As we had driven straight to the Condor viewpoint when we first arrived, we made several stops on the way back to appreciate the views of the canyon, to peruse market stalls and for me, to try cactus icecream; nice if not a little gloopy!
The canyon ridges have been agricultural terraces since around 1200 and the crops are watered with a natural irrigation system formed directly from the melting snow from the neighbouring mountains. This creates a microclimate which enables to two groups of indigenous people to farm almost any crops. The Cabana and Collagua people are easily distinguished to a uneducated traveller by their choice of headwear - Cabana people wear embroidered hats, whereas the Coyawa decorate their headwear with knitted roses. As these two groups share the landscape and still have their pagan-esque beliefs, every August they climb the nearest mountains to give a sacrifice to Pachamama - Mother Earth - in order to get a good yield that year. This mountain was the place where Juanita was discovered in 1999. Juanita is believed to have been a human sacrifice made over 500 years ago and because of the freezing temperatures, she has been almost perfectly preserved and today resides in warmer climes in the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa. Not only is Cañón del Colca a thriving agricultural region but also a place that holds mystical legend. There are lakes on the lowest of the terraces where the water can change colour in a matter of hours encouraging local folklore to claim the lakes hold magical powers. Sadly for the believers in us, the colour change is more likely to do with the nearby copper mines than any influence from the supernatural.
Back within the city limits we found ourselves caught up in protests which have been a continual theme in Arequipa for the last four years. As far as I was able to discover the disruptions were over an oil source found at Tia Maria in the southern region of Arequipa and had brought miners, farmers and construction workers to blows. In March 2015 the riots had gathered momentum again and only four days before our arrival, two people had been killed as the protests escalated. We only witnessed peaceful demonstrations from the farmers within the city centre but as we were leaving, the threat of civil war was on the cards and with no intervention from the government, we were quite happy to be leaving - on one of the few buses that were still running, in the dead of the night away from the attention and abuse of those protesting. Although at times this had been quite a scary experience, I was glad to have been able to see past the tourist facade and into how real life is like for Peruvians and I left with sadness in my heart for those who's lives will be so drastically affected, whatever the outcome.