076 / Peru's Arecuspuno
076 / Peru's Arecuspuno
When my plane arrived in Arequipa the majestic El Misti volcano didn’t leave too much space for doubt, Peru sees things B.I.G. It’s one of the highest countries in the world, and considers the Alps more as Europe’s beer belly, than as worthy mountain range. It’s the urge for extreme height that had driven me in Peru’s arm in the first place, so I shouldn’t complain when I sometimes feel like a 83 years old, chain smoking fish on land because of the low oxygen levels.
To acclimatize, I spend a bit (too little) time in Arequipa, where I decided to visit the world famous Colca Canyon, which is said to be one of the deepest in the world (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). I thought it’s more a very deep valley (space in between two mountains) than a canyon (made by river erosion over the years). After a discussion of 20 minutes with my guide, I think I’m now blacklisted in the region for attempt to undermine tourist revenues with an inconvenient truth ;-). Another great feature of this valley (…) is that it’s one on the best places in the world to spot condors, the biggest wing span bird in the world. I kindly attempted to convince my suspicious guide that the king’s albatross has larger wings, but deaf man’s ears were my part… Sometimes, I miss the confrontational spirit of Paris, I guess. Unfortunately, the condors we saw were so far away that they could have been painted pigeons with wing extensions, although I didn’t bring up this subject.
On the way back from this two day trip, we passed by a cute, colonial church where a statue inside struck my attention. It’s cool to have a black saint (Yes, they can, too) but guys really, does he has to hold the broom in his hand? A bit too colonial, maybe?
After this first date with 3000m altitude, I spend another day in Arequipa, where I found a German, professional mountain biker who was crazy enough to attempt to climb the 6075m high Chachani volcano with me. After a moderate climb the first day, we set camp at 5200m high for the night. The beautiful sunset made us believe that this place wasn’t so violent after all… That was until we tried to get some sleep around 6.30PM. Impossible! I was almost happy to stop trying at 2.30AM, when we started our stretch for the summit. 6 hours of walking up, fighting for oxygen on a mountain that was covered with volcanic stones, so small, that for every two steps we did, he claimed one step back. It seemed endless, until it wasn’t. At 9AM, we were standing on top of the world.
After being on its head, it was time to go to Peru's belly button: charming Cusco.
This town has grown big thanks to its exclusive access to Machu Picchu. I decided to participate in an “alternative” Inca Trial, called “Inca Jungle Trial” (Long live marketing), where you spend 4 days reaching Machu Picchu, using various ways of moving along (hiking, mountain bike, rappel lines,…).
A cool trip. Day 4 was the day where the people who wake up the earliest and do the walk uphill the swiftest get rewarded with an unspoiled picture of the hidden Inca city while the first rays of sunlight find their way through the densely forested mountains. Thanks to my EPO-less 99+ hematocrite level (following my 6000m altitude training), I virtually ran up that mountain, and arrived first. By the time the doors were opened (6AM), I got acquainted with a Canadian photographer who has been to Machu Picchu already for several days and finally discovered the vey best little spot to take “THE picture”. It needs no further explanation, when I tell you that I followed this guy like a baby chicken follows his mammy, straight to picture heaven.
When the sun brushes this deep green mountainous site, this place can simply not disappoint. After the mandatory “aaaaws” and “wooows”, it was time to put the leg machine again to the test, with the invigorating hike up Wayna Picchu.
I left Cusco for Puno, where I was to spend a day at the border of Lake Titicaca, that other superlative greedy highlight of Peru (and Bolivia…). After a short trip to the floating islands, that have the tourist factor of a Disney theme park, I decided to wave Peru goodbye and head off to Bolivia.