Like many countries in South America, the diversity of Peru amazes me. In the two weeks since I have been here I have spent time in big cities, experienced the wildlife on remote islands, been sand boarding down huge dunes in the desert and almost been pushed down a canyon by a mule.
Here are the highlights so far:
Islas de Ballestas
Nicknamed ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’, I was expecting my trip to the islands to be a knocked-down version of a David Attenborough programme, with maybe the odd chance of seeing a bird or two.
But having managed to keep my stomach on the boat on the way over, I was rewarded with scenes which looked as though we had arrived on a film set. As we approached the islands pelicans flew alongside our boat and overhead thousands of birds filled the sky. It really was an amazing sight, which is impossible to capture in a photograph.
As we got closer to the islands we saw lots of Humboldt penguins bumbling along and, my favourite, huge colonies of sea lions which were sprawled out in the sun, looking perfectly satisfied with their lot in life.
|Cute little guys.|
|Life is good.|
Built as a resort for the Peruvian elite, this oasis is now famous for the sand boarding trips locals offer on the huge sand dunes which surround the two tiny streets which form the town.
Crammed into a dune buggy which the driver drove at breakneck speed over the massive dunes was scary enough for me. Battling up the steep slopes before flying down the other side was like being on a rollercoaster – without feeling as safe.
So when the time came to try the sand boarding (like snow boarding, but with sand – you get the picture) I opted for the easiest way to get down to the bottom which was to lay down on the board and slide down. At least it seemed like the best option. It was only as I was hurtling down the first dune that I realised a) you needed to keep every bit of you on the board or else suffer some severe friction burns and b) your only `brakes` were your feet. Needless to say I was the only person screaming.
|It`s a hard job, but someone`s got to hang out here.|
|Woohoo, I survived!|
|Goodbye beautiful shoes…|
|…hello ugly hiking boots.|
What the tour advertisement said: `On the third day you will get up at 8am and after breakfast you will take a leisurely 25 minute walk to the town.`
Translation: `On the third day you will get up at 5am. You will then walk up the side of a steep canyon for three hours. Along the way the sun will rise and as you bake in the heat a passing mule may try to knock you over the edge. You will arrive at the top of the canyon at 8am and, only then, will we give you breakfast.`
In all honesty, although the trek was not what I thought I`d signed up for, the canyon is absolutely beautiful. Day one of the trek was all downhill as we made our way into one of the world`s deepest canyons (3191m). The stony paths were pretty steep and, of course, I was the first one to fall. Most of the walking was finished by lunchtime and we had our meals and stayed overnight with a family who live in the canyon. For the first time on the trip so far I had my own room, which was bliss – even if it didn`t have any electricity.
The second day included another three hour hike, which ended in a pretty oasis. But it was the final day which was the toughest (and the most unexpected on my part!). We set off at 5am, just as the sun was rising and battled our way up very steep paths which zig-zagged up the canyon. Not only was the trek made more tricky by the altitude, which made it hard to breath, but there was also the hazards of passing mules to watch out for. Everything which is brought into the canyon arrives by mule so we got used to listening out for the clattering of hooves as they raced down the paths. They were usually accompanied by local men, with radios slung across their chests, as their own personal walkmen.
The trip was also my first chance to see some of the more traditional way of life in Peru. At many of the places we stopped women dressed in beautifully coloured outfits, with young children strapped to their backs with blankets, sold hats, scarves and toys they had made.
|The beautiful Colca Canyon.|
Not bad to have climbed a canyon by 8am. Who said I wasn`t a morning person?!