Tuesday 17th April, 2018 Arica (Chile) to Arequipa (Peru)
We’re heading to Arequipa in Peru today by public transport. It’s about 425kms by road, but we’re expecting to take all day to get there.
It is still dark, due to Chile’s weird time zone, when our taxi picks us up just after 8am to head for the Terminal Terrestrial for the first leg of our journey.
We are directed from the terminal to the shared taxi compound, where we were taken in hand by an elderly, and hence, trustworthy woman, who showed us out the back, to where she moved one car to direct us to another which was empty. We were taken to a kiosk to buy platform tickets for 350 pesos each (which assume this is to stop the hoi polloi hassling the passengers), then introduced to our driver, who, strangely we thought, asked for our passports, then disappeared, but we weren’t overly worried as there a large board detailing the procedure. He came back, presumably with us added to his manifest, and gave back the passports. Ever optimistic, we asked for a front seat, but he explained “tres”, meaning three in the front, so we settled for back right, with seat belts which worked.
Pretty quickly we had a full complement, us with a woman beside us, and two men in the front, plus the driver,
and we were off about 9am. The car was a Ford Taurus compact, in reasonable condition, with an engine which sounded Diesel, but got us along pretty well. This was very different to our previous blasting across the desert to Nazca in a big American car with eight in it, no muffler, and no AC on a blistering hot day. Things may well have changed in 15 years. It was also early in the day, the road was smooth tar, and it was a mere half an hour to our stop at the border.
Our driver shepherded the group through, using his manifest to get us all treated as a group. As usual, Dianne’s passport caused delays with too many interesting visas and a Chile stamp hard to find. They also wanted our police slips, which Murray had fortunately kept in the money belt, so we were stamped out OK, then led through to the Peruvian side, where we were stamped in for eight days, our bags were X-rayed, and we were led out to where we waited for the car, and paid our 3,000 Chilean pesos each fare before getting back in with the bags.
A$1 = 2.44 Peruvian soles
1 Peruvian sol = 41c Australian
The drive from Arica had been through flat, sandy desert, with sandy mountains off to the east, sometimes close, otherwise distant, typically up to 1000 metres high, not bad for what look like sand hills.
Tacna is in a large flat valley between sand hills, and is very green by comparison, with planted crops, trees, even parks and gardens. We had expected a lot more of a frontier town look, but it is a big city of 300,000 people, with even a few new high rise buildings.
We are deposited in a large compound full of Border certified taxis, and are directed across the road to the bus depot, where we see a lot of major bus lines going all over the country, but not much in the way of buses to Arequipa, but we are taken in hand by an efficient young woman, who directs us to a bus which is just leaving. It’s now only 8.30am as we’ve had a two-hour time change, and this is the 8.15am bus (the fact the bus leaves fifteen minutes after the stated time comes in very handy on our return trip). She hustles around to get us platform tickets (2 soles each), then bus tickets (20 soles each), and gets us on, with the baggage in a hold under the back double-decker passengers. All checked in, we are shown by a hostess to top deck seats, a couple of rows back from the large front windows. Before we get on, Murray wants to use the banyo, but our helper assures us there is one on board, and, sure enough, there is. This is real second-world travel.
The bus is a double decker, with a bunch of people wedged into the lower deck, with semi-leito seats (obviously for those who want to sleep). The loo, and also the driver, are downstairs, with the rest upstairs, with picture windows and a more-or- less unobstructed view forward, except for the bus company name and a wreath of leaves across the glass. We are about three rows back on the left side, with a pretty dirty window, not ideal for either viewing or photography. Murray decides that it is important to have a go at what looks like shower soap scum on the outside, but could be the remains of the anti-sun coatings they love to put on bus windows in the second/third world. The window is actually a sliding one, but resists mightily until Murray puts his full weight behind it. With it open, he can reach out and wipe the window with a moistened wad of toilet paper, without a lot of success. The problem is the window now doesn’t want to shut, which means we might be in for a chilly trip. We manage to sort it out with the help of the guys behind us, with the window almost closed, and the curtain keeping most of the air out. In fact the air seems to be sucked out, maybe because we are close to the front.
Tacna is situated in one of the flat, green valleys that the gorges end up as. Half a kilometre from the flat valley floor, we are into full desert hills, turning into mountains and steep ravines.
The whole trip is a series of flat, sandy deserts separated by ravines leading down to flat bottom valleys, with running water in the river, irrigated crops of wheat, corn, potatoes, onions, chilies, and pasturage for black and white cows. We see bare fields covered with bright orange drying harvests, which we later determine are chilies. We also see fields studded with large, purple sacks for onions and potatoes.
The road condition is excellent,
aided by frequent maintenance, which we experience as long delays to allow for one-lane traffic past road works. Even in the flat, desert sections, no attempt has been made to use side tracks. Maybe the sand is too soft without road base to use as side tracks. Either way, this stretches our six hour journey to more like eight, so we are glad we started early. An intriguing feature of the desert landscape is that much of it is divided into allotments, using rows of rocks collected on site. The divisions include a service road alongside the highway, and streets sometimes going as far as the eye can see, at right angles to the road. There has been a lot of work put into this, for what we see as little return.
Occasionally there is a walled compound with the name of a development society, and there are “houses” on the land, typically 4×3 metres, and 2 metres high, sometimes in concrete block, sometimes just in woven split bamboo matting.
The block houses have a doorway and a window opening, some have roofs, and some are painted the favourite blue/green colour. Occasionally there are rows of spindly palm trees, and, rarely, some sign of agriculture.
There are no electricity wires, in spite of large high voltage grid towers marching off into the distance, and there is no sign of any form of irrigation.
We later found out this was a uniquely Peruvian way of settling the wastelands. Both flat and elevated desert was divided by rows of stones into a grid pattern, and some of the plots, but not nearly all, had the small sheds on them. Peru has a complicated way of turning squatting into ownership, which involves the unlikely continuous occupation of these for seven to ten years, with at least one hundred and fifty people there, and the formation of registered owners associations. After the requisite time the Government may or may not start supplying roads, electricity and water. We see this all over Peru, in the unlikeliest spots, including halfway up volcanoes. Some, particularly close to town, do have roads and electricity, and we assume they have passed the seven to ten year requirement. Town water and sewerage might be a stretch, but this applies in Australia too.
Our first and only major town is Moquegua, which is, incidentally the name of our bus company (and we’re later told, the only good one on this route). The town is a couple of kms off the main highway, up one of the flat, green valleys,
and is a substantial town, with a landscaped dual carriageway, and a large, modern bus terminal. We stay on the bus, but a lot get off, and not all return. We climb out of Moquegua on a steady climb on a series of switchbacks between steep ridges, and get back into high, flat, sandy desert.
At a couple of locations there are massive solar farms, which are near the power grid, but not near any towns.
Getting closer to Arequipa, we are again in mountainous terrain, and see some interesting colourful mineralisation, and drifts of sand on the slopes which look blue/ black, but it could just be the window tinting. We start to see the snowy peaks of the volcanoes appearing over the gaps in the mountains, and not long after, see the wall of a massive dam set high in the hills. Interesting place for a dam, but it looks to be entirely dedicated to water supply, as there is an extensive water treatment plant below it, and no sign of the massive water pipes needed for hydro-electricity.
From here we descend into the satellite towns of Arequipa, getting good views of the snow clad volcanoes to the north, and can now see the brown cone of Misti, the volcano right behind Arequipa, and the city extending up the flanks of the volcano. Misti is actually 18 km from the city, but dominates it.
Arequipa is the second largest town in Peru, with a population of about 840,000. The largest, Lima, has a population of nearly 8 million! Arequipa is set in another flat bottomed valley, with a good flow in the 30-metre wide Rio Chili, which is shallow and full of rapids. Most of the flat land is devoted to agriculture, with urban development on the hills, which is logical, as there is not a lot of arable land. There are also terraces on some of the higher land which looks like volcanic ash. There is no sign of spray irrigation, and we hear a lot of the irrigation is underground, but don’t see much evidence of that.
We are disembarked at the large Terminal Terrestrial, and have to show our baggage checks to get the bags. Walk outside to get a taxi, and take the first available, a small, yellow boxy Daihatsu type, with enough room in the boot for our bags, and even seat belts which work. As there is no obvious taxi-meter, we ask how much and are quoted 8 soles, which we can cop. Set off through thick traffic toward the very centre of the downtown area. We have maps.me up and running, so follow our progress and find we are going the right way. We have to circle around because of all the one-way streets, and have to stop around the corner from our hostel in a quieter street. Find Hostal Solar (3 of 190 B&B’s in Trip Advisor), push the button for the electric door, and arrive.
The hostel looks really good, and the bloke on the front desk has good English, and is very helpful. Our room is on the first-and-a-bit floor, with no lift, but we are getting used to this. The room is beautifully decorated, and is pretty roomy by local standards, with a queen bed, and enough room to walk around it and leave the bags at the bottom of it. The only down-side was one of Murray’s pet hates – water-saving shower nozzles. We had a small enclosed patio with chairs and a table, but it is too cold out to use it.
After settling in, we walk to the next main Street, Jerusalen which takes us down towards the Plaza de Armas, where we can see the arches and towers of the Basilica Cathedral one block downhill toward the river. The plaza is spectacular, with the cathedral running down the full length of the plaza, on the north side, and double level arched galleries on the other three sides,
all in the local white to pale yellow/pink sillar volcanic rock which is common in the Arequipa region, and gives the city the commonly used name of the “White City”.
Sillar is harder than the average tufa, a sort of tougher tufa, but not nearly as hard to work as basalt or granite.
At night, we consulted Trip Advisor, and found a restaurant only 80 metres from the hostel, El Fuego de San Antonio (27 of 415 on Trip Advisor) with a good recommendation on Alpaca steak. The restaurant was a bit hard to find, tucked away in a courtyard. The recommendation told us not to worry if we were the only ones in the joint, and this was the case for us, but undeterred, Murray ordered the Alpaca, Dianne the rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers, a local specialty). The Alpaca was a hit, but Dianne’s less so, but the Capiroska was a hit. Total bill was A$28! The owners had gone to so much trouble to have everything nice, with printed place-mats matching the staff’s uniforms, it was a shame there weren’t more customers. After the meal, we walk downtown to take some night photos with the small camera, as we don’t know enough about security yet to take the big camera. The Plaza is so brightly lit up that we get some good photos of the cathedral, galleries, the Central Park, and the Jesuit Church just off the south east corner of the Plaza.
Having enquired about the Colca Canyon two-day trips, we made a booking for the Thursday morning, giving us a day’s rest in Arequipa before the more strenuous attack on high altitude, and leaving ourselves two days in Arequipa before heading back to Arica. In the night we had a bit of a battle with the two thick native blankets, a soft fleece blanket, plus a doona to try and get the temperature right, but otherwise, the night was quiet enough.
Wednesday 18th April Arequipa (Peru)
The time between Chile and Peru is seriously stuffed up, with the sun not rising till 8AM in Chile, which is 10AM in Peru, where the sun is seriously high in the sky.
Breakfast is served on an outdoors terrace with fantastic views of the snow-clad volcanoes.
Breakfast starts at 7am, with the sun already above the volcanoes, and, at 2335 metres altitude, 300 Fleece country.
We have a good continental breakfast, giving the cooked egg menu a miss, and walk down to the Plaza de Armas
for some early morning photos, before joining the free walking tour of the old city.
The walk start takes some finding, as it is in the courtyard of a very Eco-conscious healthy eating restaurant complex on Calle Santa Catalina, and had an United Nations of about 20 people, all with some proficiency in English. We strike up an interesting conversation with a young Irish couple before the start of the walk, when we are ushered upstairs for a welcome cup of some ghastly concoction of Coca leaf tea and unsweetened chocolate to mask the flavour. Murray manages to drink it all, but it is like taking medicine. Holding the nose while drinking, while a bit uncouth, is the way to handle it. The somewhat clandestine start to the walk could be a reaction to paid professional tours.
The walk takes us north up Calle Santa Catalina, where we pass the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, with comment, but no visit, as it takes hours, then detour through a park with a couple of churches beside, where we take a break before heading into the streets near the Puente Grau. These streets are unusual for not being laid out in the traditional Spanish grid pattern, but follow the original contours of the river bank, and were the residence of traders. We pass a church with a characteristic green cross and no sign of the crucified Saviour, as this was considered too near the sacrifice habits of the Incas. A narrow street, with a lockable door leads us to the river bank, and up a flight of stairs to the road level of Puente Grau.
From here we work our way back to the Plaza, where we are shown the free access to the top gallery on the southern side, which is open every night till 8pm (we never would have found this on our own).
Shortly after we are led to a seller of genuine local ice cream (called “frozen cheese” probably because of its look, as it has no cheese in it), and Dianne buys one, only to find she hasn’t enough coins and has to cash her last 20 Sol note, which she was saving for the tip. We are taken to a park, and given a general address on what to do in Arequipa, which included not giving tips in coins as it is considered an insult, which poses a bit of a problem, as that is all we have now. The tour ends at an institute which promotes local weaving with local materials, and also has some live alpacas, llamas and a vicuna in a compound.
A woman attendant demonstrates by collecting a bunch of green feed, and calling them like chooks, and they came across to the fence to be hand fed by the visitors. Dianne is forced to apologise for the circumstances which led to our guide only receiving 18.50 in coins instead of a 20 Sol note, and it is accepted, with him telling us he was only talking about the small centimos coins, not the sol ones.
After the tour, we have quite a good fixed menu lunch in a small restaurant in an alley behind the cathedral, then go home for a much-needed rest. Come out after sunset for a look at the Plaza de Armas with the big camera,
and hunt up some local food, finally settling on a very unsatisfactory shared dish and a Coke.
During the free tour we talk to people doing the Canyon and/or the trip to Puno and Cusco, and were reminded that acclimatisation was a big factor in altitude sickness, so we decide to ask the hostel for another night in Arequipa, and to put off the Colca tour for an extra day. They agree to this, which gives us a spare day in Arequipa to look around further, as there is lots to see, and to do some more exercise at medium altitude.
During the night we came to grips with the overheating problems by getting rid of the local horse blankets and opening the window to let a bit of cool air in, and this worked OK.
Thursday 19th April Arequipa (Peru)
Today we decide to visit the markets and also track down a building we visited on the free tour which had roof access. We had a fair idea that the market was South and east of the Plaza de Armas, so followed some new streets, a lot of which were grid-locked with mainly taxi traffic. We passed the law courts and major official buildings, noticing increased street commerce and people obviously coming from a market. There wasn’t much to see at the Mercado San Camilo, but Dianne had heard there were guinea pigs, which we found up a couple of flights of steps, in a separate section with fowls and birds. We had no luck finding the building with roof access on the way back, but tried some new streets, then headed home for a short rest.
After doing a bit more research on restaurants (we’re getting desperate to find something we like) we went looking for the Pasta Canteen (1 of 415 on Trip Advisor) which was quite close to our hotel. This was a tiny corner building with seating along one wall, and up in a loft over the kitchen. It was geared to a limited menu, and quick throughput, and frequented by university types and older tourists in the know. Having sworn off pasta and pizza after our five weeks in Italy last year, we found ourselves going back three times, because of the excellent salad, good crusty buns, excellent pasta, and good house wine, all for a very good price.
After lunch we decided to keep going,
and walk all the way to the Mirador de Yanahuara, across the river and up a hill, and get a taxi back. After crossing the Puente Grau, and taking photos up and down the river, we decided to walk along the park on the edge of the drop down to river level, looking down on a flash hotel grounds and sporting fields. Halfway along the park, we turned up the hill following the map, finding a very old church and park at the Mirador. There was a good view back over the city, but a surprising lack of viewpoints looking toward the ravine of the river, or the volcano Misti. We walked on for another block, then downhill to a major road and managed to stop a taxi which was probably fresh from delivering a kid from school to the upmarket neighbourhood. The taxi dropped us a long way from home because of traffic, but was only 6 Sol, so we couldn’t complain too much, though we were pretty weary at this stage.
We returned to the hotel to pack daypacks for our overnight in the Colca Canyon region, and pack our bags and stray odds and ends for a night in storage. Dinner was a scratch-it meal, with mainly bananas from the market, as we were still coasting from our late lunch. At night, Murray took a solo jaunt to the Plaza de Armas for some more night photos on the big camera.
Friday 20th April Arequipa to Colca Canyon -Coporaque Village overnight.
We are early to breakfast, so early the coffee is only warm, but fortunately not toxic, and are picked up at 7.45 by Sandra, the young woman guide from Giardino Tours, for our $US60 each two day, one night tour, which includes transport, guide, accommodation for one night and breakfast.
Walked around the corner to where our 14 seat Mercedes high-roof van is waiting. We circulate around the city picking up a total of eight people. Our route takes us where we walked yesterday, then climbing up beside the river canyon, passing terraced fields, before travelling the length of the interestingly placed airport, and climbing further along the flank of the snow-capped volcanoes.
As we proceed, the charming character of Arequipa is lost in a collection of industrial buildings, service stations, half-built residential buildings with reinforcing steel still sticking out the roofs.
It takes us over an hour to get out of the city. Further above the road, the houses get smaller and rougher,
with the top level of the small squatter’s shacks, with no power or water, reached by steep, roughly bulldozed tracks. The terrain here is classic volcano flank, rough, boulder strewn ground cut by deep, steep-sided ravines, steep, rocky slopes above, and rough, dry vegetation.
Out of the heavy traffic congestion of the city, the road improves, with a good quality tar road with cuttings through steep ridges.
Just where we are rounding the northerly end of the snow-clad volcanoes, we come upon the village of Yura with its large cement works, which has been turning volcanic ash into cement for the last 100 years. The plant itself looks quite modern (has obviously moved with the times), and we can see it looking back from many kilometres away. The road gradually climbs around the volcano, with a flat floored green valley below,
and the railway line from Arequipa to Puno snaking up the slope of the valley, and winding around the spurs of the mountain. The railway no longer carries passengers, but services the mines, with hardware and supplies coming in, and mineral concentrates going out. Just before we start serious climbing, we see a freight yard with the angled body of a tourist bus parked in it, a reminder that this road can be dangerous.
As the road climbs toward the top of the pass behind the volcanoes, the valley flattens and widens to provide a reasonable slope so the road and railway come together. Just before the top of the climb we come to a small village which has been the traditional point where goods from Arequipa and the coast are exchanged for those from the high Andes, and the jungle further east. From here we can see Sabancayo volcano, which has been erupting regularly since the middle of 2016, and catch a particularly black column of ash rising from it.
We see road signs indicating we are now in Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, the reserve for vicuña, and to slow down. Not long after we see our first vicuna a long way off. Over the top and heading down the gentle slope to the east, we follow the rail line closely, and see vicuna close up beside the road.
We stop for photos, getting within a few metres of the animals, which seem pretty comfortable with humans, even though they are regularly captured and shorn. This is the top of the climb to the altiplano, at an altitude of 4076 metres, according to maps.me, and we have circled to the far side of the volcanoes behind Arequipa, and can see them clearly across the plain. The railway has also managed to climb this high, and runs quite close to the road here. A local woman in traditional dress has set up a stall in a pull-off, and Dianne buys some souvenirs for the grandkids.
We pass the turnoff to Puno, and a small village where tourists take a break, and some change buses to go to Puno, Colca or Arequipa. There is a watercourse here, with rugged, wind-sculptured cliffs on the far side. From here, we climb to what is called our “technical stop”, at 11am, which is at 4,353 metres. The roadhouse has local remedies for altitude. Dianne settles for Coke, and the coca-leaf lollies which are readily available in Peru, and are not too bad, while Murray tries the local 3-weeds infusion, pretty dreadful, but maybe therapeutic. We buy a large bottle of water at the shop, wander around taking photos of their mixed herd of alpacas, llamas and ordinary sheep, and the dry-stone walled corral for the livestock, typical of the area.
Back in the bus, our guide gives us a demonstration of how the locals chew the coca leaves – they take about three of them, then you have to add something to activate the coca alkaloids. Last time we were in Peru they used something like chalk, which just doubled the horrible flavor, but this time she added something which was quite sweet, which almost made the flavour bearable. You then wrap the leaves around the sweet addition, and put in your cheek and chew. We were all given our own little bag of coca leaves to try, which we did, as we’re about to reach the highest part of the trip. We’ve also started taking Diamox twice a day for the last day or so, so hopefully we’ll be OK. Murray has had altitude sickness in Cusco and Mt Kinabalu, so we’re pretty cautious.
We pass areas of button-grass, and wetland areas in the flat-bottomed valleys, with very green grass and small, braided streams. There are a lot of white alpacas and brown and white llamas grazing.
The uplands remain pretty much desert, with a scattering of low, green bushes. We pass a very small village beside a running stream, with a big parking area, a few buildings, and a tiny church. In a very long and wide valley we see several small lakes, and another village of stone walled buildings, and a large wetland with grazing animals. The general terrain is similar to the high altitude wetlands of Tibet and western China, but the animals are definitely different.
From here we climb steadily to the highest point of the trip, 4910 metres, which we reach about midday. The highest point has a big parking area, and paved steps to a mirador, with a sign reading “Mirador de Los Andes. Tramo de la Cordillera Volcanica en Los Andes Centrales”.
From here you have a great view of seven volcanoes, some extinct, some dormant, and Sabancayo putting on quite a show, with towering clouds of ash and steam. Each volcano has its own stone plaque indicating its direction from the mirador. The terrain is particularly bleak, just rocks and sand,
but thousands of tourists have managed to create a small forest of cairns.
From here we can see the descent towards the Colca Canyon area, and we see beside the road clumps of button-grass, very desiccated tufts of spiky grass, and small water meadows in the bottom of gullies. T
he road becomes steeper, and more winding, and we can see the massive far wall of the canyon, and the tiny buildings of major and minor villages.
The road down the side of the canyon is quite good, with steep but highway standard slopes, well-made switchbacks, plenty of visibility, and some pretty sharp drops over the side, and we make it down without incident.
We stop in Chivay, the main village/town in the valley for a toilet break and sorting out which of the group were staying at which hotel. This was one of the few hassles of the trip, as it took up a lot of time to disperse and reassemble the group. It seems like Giardino is the tour operator, but everyone has booked through various companies, some in Peru, and some overseas, and each company has their preferred accommodation. While we waited, we took a walk down the Main Street to the river, and back through the market, but it was mainly to kill time and not all that interesting.
The street featured sculptures on pedestals of local people in traditional dress, doing traditional activities, and were quite colourful, if a little kitsch. Featured in the main plaza, also on pedestals, were bronze condors. An interesting local feature were the fully-enclosed motorbike based three-wheel taxis, similar to those in the colder areas of China, but with local adaptions, including motor-bike back wheels and suspensions. An interesting item on sale was black corn, with a coarse grain size, and black as ink.
As distinct from many towns and villages we have seen, for a country so dry, Peru manages to keep most of its fountains active.
On our way out of town, we cross the main river, some 50-metres below the bridge, in a very steep ravine, then pass through woods and green terraces of grain, including the feature grain here – the fabled quinoa. Our woman guide comes from this area, and her family had quinoa fields, and it involved a lot of hard work, including washing the grain seven times to make it suitable for the hipsters of Sydney.
Our hotel, La Casa de Mamayacchi,
was at Coporaque (altitude 3,575 metres) a small village about 5 km from Chivay, and was a very pleasant surprise, set in green lawns, facing down the canyon toward the smoking volcano,
with a dining room facing the view, and well-appointed rooms with windows also facing the view.
Behind the hotel is the village, with a large plaza and a historic church, and terraced fields extending up the canyon walls behind. The hotel has a resident alpaca, quite young and playful, which keeps the two Austrian women in our group entertained. We had originally been a bit disappointed that we weren’t staying in Chivay, but our location is a thousand percent better, and our hotel is MUCH better than we were expecting.
Our 30 sol each lunch was enormous, with avocado salad, vegetables, alpaca steak, passionfruit flummery – enough to make the ¾ hour rest till 3.30pm essential to give us enough energy for the afternoon’s activity, an hour in the local hot-spring spa. With one of the two Austrian women, we took the bus a couple of kms down through the fields to the edge of the ravine, about 50 metres above the river. We were expecting a crowd, but found ourselves alone at the new, and pretty clean spa. Entry was 15 sol each, to what was basically a swimming pool with water taken from the hot springs – not what we were expecting. However we were here now, so changed into our swimmers, locked up our clothes, and gingerly entered the single pool, only to find it pleasantly warm at 36C degrees, and not hot. Water was being circulated through a jet a couple of metres above the pool, presumably to keep it cool. We lounged around in the pool, up to the chin in hot water, before being told to move out of the way, as it was time to add some more hot water, which came in from the side and fired right across the pool, cooling as it went, but still pretty hot on the surface. After our hour was up, looked around the area a bit, and saw that there were steep steps leading down to the river, with more bathing opportunities and spa buildings. Took photos of them, and up and down on the river,
We returned to the bus, and found the driver and guide looking up the far side of the canyon to the road with binoculars, where a minibus accident had occurred about an hour after we passed the same spot. The word was it had sixteen people on board, mainly German tourists, and two had died, and ten were injured. They pointed out the location with reference to a communications tower, but it was too far away to see with the naked eye, and the driver’s kids had been playing with his binoculars, and they were too hard to operate. A telephoto taken revealed a white spot on the hill, and yellow police tapes around the scene.
Back at the hotel, we take a walk up into the village, checking out displays in the church and associated buildings, but with no money on us to contribute.
Before dinner we tried a local cocktail (14 sol), the Cayllomino, hot and very like a Gluhwein, made with rum, orange juice, coca, cloves, cinnamon, anis and sugar, and quite delicious. During the evening we were shown a Facebook clip of the minibus shortly after the crash, with a lot of people milling around it.
For dinner, we shared one 30 sol 3-course set menu, and found it plenty. We had an early night, as the morning start would be very early to catch the Condors circling down low before the daily thermals took them up out of sight.
Saturday 21st April Colca Canyon to Arequipa
We are up by 5.30am having a breakfast of mixed superfood cereals – cebada (barley), canihua (related to quinoa) trigo pop (puffed wheat), kiwicha (similar to quinoa), quinoa, maca root, deos? pop and soya. Also had olives, coffee and fruit. Our guide says when she was a child, the locals had quinoa as a staple, but since it’s become popular in the West, most of it is now exported, and the locals can’t afford to buy it as it’s gone up 500% in the last few years.
Left just after 6am, and on the road back through town for a couple of stops to pick up some of our tour, then out along the southern rim of the canyon to pick up others. One of our stops involved leaving the main road and going down a very steep driveway to a hotel on the opposite side of the river to where we went to the spa. The sun is still low in the sky, and a lot of the valley is in shadow, and there’s a lot of smoke haze making photography up the valley difficult. The southern side is quite steep, dropping straight into the river, and is pretty spectacular. We stop at the village of Yanque for twenty minutes while the vehicle goes to pick up another couple of passengers. Look at the historic church, and school students doing folk dances in the plaza to raise money for the school. One traditional dance involves males dressed up as females to replay an old Romeo and Juliet folktale. The church is currently propped up with pretty flimsy scaffolding,
but we can go inside and take non-flash photos. The church has a barrel-vault roof, and is painted white, but richly decorated. From here the road climbs along the southern side of the canyon, with steep slopes into the river and a couple of tunnels. There are lookout points along the road,
but these are fully parked out by tourist buses, so we’ll stop on the way back. We carry on to the check-point near Pinchollo, where buses and drivers licenses are inspected before they are allowed to continue. There is also a very welcome public toilet here.
We proceed toward Cruz Del Condor, where the majority of condors roost and hang about waiting for thermals, but stop short of it when some condors are seen low over the road. We get a good look at these, particularly two which perch to wait for better conditions,
or possibly food from the tourists, but don’t have too much luck in focusing on the birds, which come down just overhead, but moving quite fast.
This was quite exciting. It is important to arrive early, as there is only a small window of opportunity to see the condors up close, as they come out from their nesting places, and hang around to catch the thermals, and once they do, they disappear out of sight.
A decision is made to start our cliff-top walk from this end (which was probably a mistake) so we walk down a long spur to a lookout point right on the cliff edge, then along the rim toward Cruz Del Condor. We see a few condors, and also hawk and eagle types, but the concentration has shifted to Cruz Del Condor, where we can see up to 13 birds circling. The breeze is blowing down the canyon, producing updraft on the windward side of spurs running out into the canyon, with Cruz Del Condor being a particularly long spur.
We do the half-hour walk towards Cruz Del Condor steadily, as the altitude is quite high, and it doesn’t take much exertion to make one dizzy. From the path we can see the higher north side of the canyon,
some walking paths cut into the steep slopes, but no clearly defined path which goes all the way around contours, as there are deeply cut, steep ravines where the path disappears, and doesn’t reappear on the far side. Beyond Cruz Del Condor we can see a fair sized village clinging to the steep northern slope, with a zig-zag road leading down to it, and fairly level roads gunning along the slope of the canyon both above and below the village.
By the time we get close to Cruz Del Condor (altitude 3,287, lower than last night’s stay), most of the birds have flown, but we get some long distance photos. About this time the camera decides it doesn’t like the 16 gig chip we have in it, and we have to swap it out with the chip from Dianne’s small camera, so the photo sequence is a little strange. Near the Cruz, the path splits, going across to the parking area and the minibus, or up many steps to the mirador on a sharp bend in the road. Everyone else opts for the first option, while we opt for the latter, even though it nearly kills us, to get a look down the valley to where the real canyon starts, but while the indications are there, we cannot see far enough to get a feel for how correct the assertions of the world’s deepest canyon are.
We find it a bit disappointing that all the information talks about it being one of the deepest canyons in the world, yet we stop 20 minutes short of where it is deep. This is not really made clear when they are selling the tours to Colca Canyon. What makes it particularly galling is the reason we have to go back is to have an early lunch, and pick up other people in time for them to meet another bus part of the way home, which is taking them to Puno.
The bus picks us up in the parking area, and we head back to get a look at some of the miradors, in particular Wayra Punku, which is still heavily parked out but has room for us. There are about ten thatched shelters for the locals to offer their wares, and we get a good photo of one in particular. From the mirador we look across the canyon to the pre-Inca terraced fields which extend up the canyon walls to well above the village of Coporaque, which is at 3575 metres.
On the way back, we look at the village of Maca.
It has a nicely whitewashed church with walls of fieldstone, two towers and a large arched entrance. The interior of the church is elaborately decorated, more in the Mexican style, with complex dioramas, picture frames, intricately carved columns, and a whole lot of gold leaf.
The church faces a main street with shops on the far side, market stalls on the near side.
Pass the village of Achoma, which has an unstable slope above it, and was badly damaged in an earthquake in 2016. On the way into Chivay, we see harvesting activity on the terraces, plowing done with a bullock, and the road winding down the side of the canyon. We can see the wreck of the minibus and the yellow police tape around it.
It is not very far from the road, on a moderate slope, and the result could have been a lot worse on a different section of road. The road cuts a large scar across the canyon walls, and is visible from most of the valley.
In Chivay, we have lunch at a large restaurant, which is providing a buffet, for another 30 Sol each, drinks extra. The lunch is pretty good, with a couple of spicy surprises. We are well on the way by 1pm, with a full bus.
The return trip was purely for getting home.
No stopping for photos at the high point, no stopping for the “technical stop”, but we did stop at the village near the Puno turnoff to transfer those going to Puno and Cuzco, and for a toilet break. We had a harder look at the damaged bus we saw on the way out in light of the minibus crash on the canyon walls.
On the outskirts of Arequipa,
up on the flanks of the snow-clad volcanoes,
the traffic was pretty horrific, and we tried a shortcut down the mountain, but found the road closed and had to backtrack a few kms to find the main road. We dropped one passenger at a hotel beside the river, then we were next, getting dropped off on Calle Jerusalen, around the corner from our hostal. Back at about 4.30pm, with our bags already in the same room we had before. We can thoroughly recommend this two-day tour to Colca Canyon. However, knowing what we know now, we would try to spend an extra day there, and get to see the deeper section of the canyon. We probably would have done it on this trip, if we hadn’t lost four days in Peru due to the Latam airline strike.
In the evening we had another good salad and pasta meal at Pasta Canteen, and an early night with no night photos.
Sunday 22nd April Arequipa (Peru)
We’re heading back to Arica tomorrow, as we have to catch our flight from Arica to Santiago the next day, so it’s important we get a bus ticket. We asked if we could book a bus from the hotel, but there is a new receptionist who didn’t seem as expert as the others, so decided to call for a taxi to take us to the bus station, which took about ten minutes in Sunday traffic, and cost 10 sol. At the terminal, we found Moquegua, the same bus company we came with, and booked front seats on the top level on the 9.30am bus. Went out and scored a taxi straight away to take us back to the Plaza de Armas for 10 sol, arriving at about 9.30am. The cathedral was open, so we went straight in, getting photos of the features and the rather plain, but attractive interior
before walking up Calle Santa Catalina to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina to do the tour.
We started off thinking we would do an English Language tour, but with the map of the monastery, and the Lonely Planet guide, we decided if we didn’t have to take the tour, we wouldn’t. Entrance was a steep 40 sol each (A$16 each), but it is supposed to be one of the “must sees” in Arequipa.
The monastery was founded in 1580 by a rich widow, dona Maria de Guzman. It was quite interesting as a building, but also as a concept, where daughters of the wealthy could be warehoused in relative comfort and convenience once they passed the rigours of being a novice. After passing under the silence arch, you enter the Novice Cloister, where novice nuns were required to take a vow of solemn silence and resolve to a life and work and prayer. They lived as novices for four years, during which time their wealthy families were expected to pay a dowry of 100 gold coins per year. At the end of the four years they could choose between taking their vows, or leaving the convent – the latter would have brought shame on their family. Graduated novices passed onto the Orange Cloister,
where they could even have servants. The quarters here were more like an apartment building, or townhouse complex than a collection of cells where nuns lived in poverty, silence and hard labour. The complex was provided with streets, plazas, gardens, a cemetery, orange trees, a common laundry, and common and private cooking facilities.
The buildings are painted burnt orange in the streets, and blue-bag blue in other sections,
quite different to when it was a more traditional monastery. The poster-girl of the monastery was Sister Anna, who came from poor circumstances, but because of her piety was admitted to the order, and spent many years in the monastery, becoming known as “Blessed Sister Anna” and eventually being declared a Saint.
As well as an extensive gallery of religious art, the complex also includes a large chapel, divided into two sections with a double screen in between, accessible at a higher level which also gives outdoor access to look over the complex.
After we finish the tour, we return to the hotel, then go out to visit the Pasta Canteen again, but arrive too early. While Murray holds the fort outside the restaurant, Dianne checks out an alley with an open iron gate which leads to a park and San Francisco Church,
which is open (it had been closed when we’d come before).
Finds it interesting, so goes back to tell Murray to go up and have a look, and take photos. The food at Pasta Canteen is good as ever, clientele mainly students, a lot of them American.
After dinner, we walk the streets, taking night photos of the monastery, the Cathedral,
and the La Compania, the Jesuit church off the corner of the Plaza de Armas, which is now open for mass, and is pretty fancy inside.
We settle our hotel bill for the five nights. Our original booking was for two nights, at a very good price, so weren’t sure what we were going to be charged, so were very pleasantly surprised to be charged A$260, which works out at A$52 per night, for what we considered was a great hotel.
We’re leaving Peru tomorrow. We definitely thought this would be our last trip to South America, but we’ve really enjoyed Peru, and we’ve had no health problems, and are starting to think we might come back to revisit some of the highlights. These thoughts are tempered a bit when we are googling to find out more about the minibus crash, and lots of serious bus crashes (with 30 or so people killed) keep coming up.
Monday 23rd April Arequipa (Peru) to Arica (Chile)
The 9.30am bus booking has left us with plenty of time to have breakfast and a leisurely trip to the bus station, but we are keen to get away, and arrive at the bus station early. At the counter we see that we are the only people booked on the 9.30 bus, and as the bus was not shown on the internet timetable, we start to worry that our bus might not get a start, and enquired if the earlier, 8.30 bus was still there (now knowing that they leave quarter of an hour after the advertised time). We had some problems with the bus being “here”, as distinct from “gone”, but sorted it. The bus hadn’t left, and there were two seats up the top in the second row, so we decided to go for it. The confusion became clearer when the assistant walked us out of the terminal and across the road to a secondary terminal, and we were able to load our bags and find our seat, not long after the advertised departure time.
The semi-Leito seat is a wonderful invention if you are intent on sleeping,
but has its moments when the seat in front is laid back when you want to sit up, but we managed, getting a better look at Peru through much cleaner side windows,
but much more stained and pitted front windows.
One advantage of the lay-back seats is you can see over the top of them. We didn’t see a lot of new stuff, but took photos anyway, getting a different perspective going the other way.
We were keen to get to Tacna as early as possible, as there is a 2-hour time change at the border, and we weren’t sure what the border opening hours were, but encountered a lot of road-work delays, getting us into Tacna at about 3.30pm Peru time (5.30pm Chilean time), about on schedule.
As we now knew the procedure with getting a share taxi through to Arica, we were quickly out of the bus terminal and in another compact Ford with three other passengers and the driver, and on our way. The border formalities were quite short, and we arrived at the Arica terminal, caught a taxi and found our same hotel (Hostal Jardin del Sol) without incident.
At night, Dianne checked up on Trip Advisor, found Los Aleros de 21 (2 of 135 restaurants) just a block away. Dianne had two entrees – Good Woman’s seafood (fresh seafood and mushrooms in white sauce with cognac) for 6,900 sol and Victory Avocado (stuffed with Ecuadorian shrimp tails) for 6,900, while Murray had sea bass. We finished off with a half bottle of Valdivieso demi-sec sparkling for 6,900 sol which was OK, but nothing special. Definitely a much better meal than our last one in Arica (and we weren’t the only customers, though the restaurant was far from full). Back to our room to sort our gear and pack for air travel, semi-confident that the Latam flight was going to happen.
Tuesday 24th April Arica (Chile) to Valparaiso (Chile)
We had to start for the airport before the 8am breakfast started. Got to the airport in plenty of time for our 10.30am flight, but found a line-up of people already trying to check-in. There was a monster argument going on between a group of people, with one particularly strident woman, and airport staff, presumably about not getting a seat on the plane, but we were only guessing. We got some feedback in Spanish from people in the line, indicating there may be a 5 hour delay, but nothing positive, and the departure board showed our flight still on-time, but with one column of the board indicating it was the 17.30 flight (last night’s??? todays????). The Sky plane leaving at the same time as us didn’t have this time discrepancy. We were pleased when the line started to move, and the argument died down, and we were able to book in and confirm our seating, with a window on either side, just behind the wing.
There wasn’t much happening in security, with the doors locked, so we sat at the restaurant, had a strange sort-of omelette, and waited. After security, we were able to do a diary catch-up. Were very pleased when we eventually boarded the plane, and it looked like we were going to make it to Santiago today. Had to decide who was taking which side of the plane. As we had come north out to sea, looking at the coastline, Murray figured we would be going back inland, so took the right hand seat to get photos of the coastline, but, apart from some initial beach and coastline photos over Arica,
only the first hour of the trip was over the coast, and the rest over mountainous desert until we came to the wine growing area north of Santiago, with flat-bottomed green valleys between dry, rugged mountains.
We definitely don’t want to spend any more time in Santiago, so we’ve decided to go to Valparaiso for two nights. Last time we were here we spent a couple of nights in Vina del Mar, and visited Valparaiso, and wished we’d stayed there instead, so now’s our chance.
At the airport, we bought Turbus Aeropuerto tickets (1,800 pesos each) to the Pajarito Terminal, where the airport buses connect with buses to Valparaiso. There was a long line at the bus stop, and we had to wait for a second bus. At the Pajarito Teminal, there didn’t seem to be much except a Metro Terminal, but a local woman took us in hand, led us across the rail bridge to a bus terminal at the far side, and left us at the Turbus window to organise our tickets, which at 3000 each, discounted due to some promotion,were a pretty good deal compared with a list price of 7400. The bus was due in about ten minutes, so Dianne had time to get us some pretty greasy, but substantial empanadas and a bottle of Coke.
The bus route took us north and west, on good roads, through a mountainous area with some road tunnels and flat valleys planted with vines. The mountains varied from bare and dry to tree-covered, with both pines and eucalypts. The eucalypts still showed the stunted regrowth from the disastrous bush fires they have had in the past few years. When we were here in 2003 the papers were headlined with catastrophic bushfires.
Arriving in Valparaiso, we were pleasantly surprised to find the bus terminal quite close to the city centre and port, probably walking distance to our hotel, but we took a taxi from the terminal, passing through most of the CBD before taking a steep street up the escarpment to our street, which was a pedestrian path only, leading to the ascensor Reina Victoria.
Our Hotel, Hostal Ecomusic (A$63 per night), was a three-storey green stucco building, on the edge of the escarpment, facing the sea. Our room, #21, the Bob Marley room, on the first had a window with good sea and city views,
all the way up the coast towards Vina del Mar,
and the breakfast room on the second floor had panoramic views of the sea, the city and the hills behind.
Interestingly, in Valparaiso, the real estate gets cheaper as you go up the mountain, and only the poor live at the top, where the bushfires are worst. We take photos all over the city and coast from our room and the breakfast room, then, later, go out to look at the area further uphill from our hotel.
We’re extremely pleased with our hotel and its location – right in the middle of the funky area, with plenty of restaurants around, and in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage listed area.
Valparaiso is famous for its old buildings, a lot of which are clad in corrugated galvanised iron,
and many of them are covered with officially sanctioned murals.
We take a lot of photos of buildings and murals,
walk uphill till we have had enough, then circle around the more-or-less flat area south of our hotel, checking out eating possibilities as we go.
We finally settle for an early dinner at a cafe rated 17 of 407, Cafe Del Pintor, only a hundred metres from home.
We settled for the fixed menu, a beef stew for Murray, fish for Dianne, plus a full bottle of white wine. The meal was quite good, the cost reasonable, paid cash because the credit card is having communication problems. We take some night photos when we get home, but don’t go out again.
Wednesday 25th April (Anzac Day) Valparaiso (Chile)
We have decided to do the free tour of the city, but wake up pretty early due to the 2-hour time difference to Peru. Take some early morning photos from the hostel, with the sun rising behind the mountains, and the streets lights of the city on the still black hills. After a good breakfast, we take the 50cent ascensor down to the lower city, and walk to the plaza where the tour meets at 10am. We are early, so take some time to buy water, finding an enormous two level shopping centre and buy a 2-litre bottle of still water for a reasonable price, and take a photo of the facade of a multi-storey office building tiled to form a massive mural.
The city tour was mainly a tour of the murals and special buildings on the Cerro where we live, starting off by taking our Reina Victoria ascensor
up to the top, then demonstrating the curved slippery dip built into the platform for the ascensor, and discussing the special qualities of the murals at this level below the brightly painted yellow weatherboard house.
We had picked up a couple of the stray dogs which people in the city feed, and apparently come on every walk with the guide. There are a lot of other stray dogs, and all look pretty well fed. Our progress is accompanied by barking and snarling from other stray dogs and pet dogs kept behind fences and gates. We walk past our hostal, and then up the hill where we walked the day before. The guide points out the cemeteries for Catholics, Protestants and Jews, the circular plaza in front of the prison, and talks about the social strata and how the poor are forced up the hills to find cheaper housing.
We traverse to the west to find a steep street with paving, but no access for vehicles. At the top of it are two high steps with the famous sign “We are not hippies, we are happies”
picked out in white paint over a background of colourful triangular tiles.
The walls on the street are also decorated in larger versions of the colourful triangles.
We walk past more colourful houses and murals,
to the edge of the escarpment near our hostal, where we get views over the city to the Parliament building, and stop at the Lutheran church, which is an interesting combination of masonry for the lower level, and corrugated iron for the top because they ran over-budget during construction after spending too much on the tower. The interior of the church is nicely done in curved timber trusses and a carved timber balustrade to the side gallery level. Due to inter-church rivalry, the nearby Anglican Church was allowed a spire, but no big entrance arch.
To reach the level below, we walk down a set of steps painted like piano keys
to honour a music teacher, with a menorah picked out in flat stones fixed to a concrete wall to commemorate his Jewish faith. We carry on to another bright yellow building with a high peaked roof and a terrace of black and white tiles, which started life as a failed ascensor project.
Our progress brings us closer to the navy end of the harbour, with interesting old buildings, and graffiti inviting city officials to live up on the hills where the bushfires are worst.
We go down a set of steps to the main street that defines the edge of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Conception, past a lot of murals
and a building block with the remains of what was a historic house before a fire. We climb steps to another terrace, which gives us good views over the harbour, and leads around a corner to a mansion known as the Yugoslav House, now an art gallery. The house is mainly white, with red checkered panels from the Yugoslav flag, with multiple balconies, and turrets. The house is familiar because we were impressed by it last time we were here.
From here we walk down to the level of the main CBD, stopping on the way for excellent empanadas and small shots of Pisco Sour at a recommended cafe. There are large, historic buildings all built on reclaimed land,
and we see markers showing where the shore line was at different times. There is a very large monument to a naval defeat by the Peruvians, featuring the gallant Arturo Prat, killed in action along with his four remaining men while attacking a stronger vessel. The story led to a discussion of the interestingly named Bernardo O’Higgins, who is both revered and reviled for his deviousness, including a defection to Argentina. Our guide is definitely on the anti-side.
We reach the edge of the harbour, which marks the end of the tour.
The guide recommends taking a trip on one of the tour boats which visit the beaches and the sea lions, and some interesting bars and cafes down on the lower level. He also indicates the train station, where there is a food hall, and ATM’s. We tip him the recommended 10,000 pesos for the two of us (it’s definitely helpful when he tells you the expected rate) and say goodbye to the other people on the tour. It’s amazing that we’ve seen practically no Australians the seven weeks we’ve been away, then on this tour we have three Australian couples, all of whom came independently. We chatted a lot with Helen and Paul from the ACT who were about our age. Make our way to the station, but decide against the food hall, and walk back to where we got our excellent empanadas on the way down the hill, for another two before walking back to the ascensor and back to the hostal. We spend the afternoon taking it easy. Later, have a look for a restaurant which is hard to find, even with the maps.me app. When we finally find it, the cafe is closed, so we return to our first Cafe Del Pintor for another good meal.
Thursday 26th April Valparaiso to Santiago de Chile
We’re flying home tomorrow from Santiago, so will spend the night there to make sure we don’t miss our flight. We take it pretty easy as we only have to get to Santiago by late afternoon, so have a late breakfast, take a lot of photos from the breakfast room, and of the hostal. As we have plenty of time, and the lower city is pretty flat, we considered walking all the way to the bus station, looking at the city as we went. On the way, we took photos of notable buildings and churches, some of the stray dogs, and the high city above us. On the way, we passed an electronic shop and bought a new mouse, to replace the suspiciously old one we bought in Cayenne, as it has already disintegrated. What we really wanted was a new charging cord for the IPad, which gave up the ghost last night, as the nearest Apple supplier was in up-market Vina del Mar. Later, on the street, we bought a knock-off charging cord, and a spare pair of knickers for Dianne, as she hasn’t done any washing for a few days.
The bus terminus took a bit of finding, but we followed someone with luggage and found it. We had a short wait for a bus to Alameda Terminus, and a comfortable trip to Alameda with not much to see on the single decker, with no forward vision, as it was one of those horrible buses where the driver is in his own glass compartment the full width of the bus, with curtains on the glass. We did get some good photos out the side windows of the vineyard area.
At the bus terminus, we struck trouble finding the apartment we’d recently booked through booking.com. It was called “Santiago Bus Terminal” and we thought it was like an Airbnb. We didn’t have a paper copy of the booking, but that wasn’t a problem (we thought, incorrectly) as we had the confirmation email. The only problem was we could have read it on the iPad, if the charger hadn’t died last night, and Dianne had run the battery completely flat listening to a podcast on the bus. But at least we had the iPhone….. well, we would have, if it wasn’t for the fact that we had been reading emails on the iPad, so hadn’t downloaded the mail (including the confirmation) for a few days, so we needed wi-fi to read them. We had trouble finding any acceptable wi-fi, so Murray stayed in the bus terminus while Dianne went looking for the hotel, or help to find it, taking the iPad and charger with her, so Murray couldn’t charge it, even when he found an electricity point. Dianne knew the accommodation was close to the bus terminus, in a high rise, probably brown, so she tried the first high rise, but found it was not the right one, but the receptionist and a resident, who spoke a little English, tried to help her. The resident then allowed her to use his phone as a personal hotspot so she could download the emails on the iPad!! The apartments turned out to be right next door. All this took over an hour.
At the apartment the booking-in was complex. The receptionist phoned someone, and eventually they turned up to show us to the apartment. There were some language difficulties, and our credit card wouldn’t work on her machine, and she was telling us we had to pay the 19% tax, which we knew was not correct if we paid by a foreign credit card. Eventually she said she’d get another machine and return. After a while, when she hadn’t returned, Dianne went to find her in an apartment one floor up, and told her we were going out for an hour or so to get some food, as the area around the bus station was a bit iffy, and we didn’t want to be walking around in the dark. Had a meal at the bus station, which was filling, but pretty ordinary. Decided to pay for room with cash, and had to try several ATM’s before we had a win.
Back at the apartment, we had a knock on the door, and German, the owner/ manager of the unit made his first appearance, apologising for the problems, and offering no tax and a 27,000 Peso cost (A$57) which we accepted. The apartment was quite good -a proper apartment with kitchen, bathroom, double bedroom, lounge room and balcony, and very clean and modern. Murray even managed to find a working electric heater to allow him to sit up at the bench to do computer work without freezing. The area around the block was “interesting”, but Murray was careful not to take a photo from the balcony, as didn’t want to draw unwanted attention. We were happy not to go out at night, even though we were short on breakfast supplies. We can’t believe that, after a seven-week trip with no problems, our biggest hassle is on our very last night
Friday 27th April Santiago (Chile) to Sydney (Australia)
We were up reasonably early for the run to the airport by the Turbus shuttle. Bought tickets and were directed across the street to a different terminal, where there was a line-up at a Turbus. Checked our bags in, and were away quickly, travelling through light traffic to the Pajaritos Terminal, then onto the expressway, which featured habitation for the homeless on the verges, and a fair bit of rubbish. At the terminal, we were dropped at Domestic, and walked along to get to International.
We booked with Latam, but it was on a Qantas flight, and there was a massive lineup at check-in extending beyond the bollards, and along past the Iberia check-in. We took a place in the line, then Dianne went looking for a better solution, as we were had already checked in over the internet. Found an empty line in front of “bag drop”, enquired and found we were acceptable, so collected Murray and we lined up for a relatively quick bag-drop and ticketing. Because we had already organized last week with our travel agent for one aisle seat, and another beside it, we didn’t carefully check the seat allocation, and proceeded to the restaurant upstairs, city side of security, where we selected the breakfast special, which comes with a list of extras which we didn’t get till Dianne asked for them. The breakfast was plenty for two. We finished our water, traded in our excess pesos for US dollars, passed security, but couldn’t find a seat at our gate, so settled down in the next one.
At the phone charging station, we encountered a couple of a certain age who had also been stuffed around by Latam. This gave us some common ground and we talked until it was time to board. It wasn’t until we found our seats that we found we were on a Jumbo, MIDDLE TWO SEATS in the central row of four, with a young man either side, and seat supports at feet level arranged to severely disadvantage the centre occupants. Fortunately, there was plenty of entertainment, and the bloke beside Murray had a few beers, so he got up regularly enough so we didn’t have to disturb him too much.
In true Qantas fashion, cabin service was civil, but not friendly, and the food was pretty ordinary, particularly the middle-of-the-night stodgy, fatty empanadas. For some reason, Murray never got an offer of a cup of coffee.
We arrived home in the late afternoon, having had very little sleep. The self-register electronic passport reader wouldn’t work for us (probably because we’d been to yellow-fever countries), there was a big queue at immigration, and one of our bags was just about the last to arrive (we were starting to think it hadn’t made the flight), but at least we were quick through customs, in spite of coming from South America. As it was still daylight, we decided to take the train/ferry option home, only to find the automatic top-up of our Opal cards hadn’t worked, and we had to top up with the last of our Australian cash. We arrived at Wharf 5 just in time to see our ferry leaving, and had to wait another half hour. It was raining lightly, but held off until we got home, one small consolation. At home, everything was ship-shape (we’d had a homeswap couple from Berlin stay for a week while we were away – next year’s trip!)
In summary, we had a good trip, with amazingly few hassles, especially seeing we were in some out-of-the-way places in South America. One of the surprises was Peru – it was really easy to travel independently, and we loved Arequipa and the Colca canyon area. We originally said that after seven trips, and nine months overall in South America, this would be our last trip there, but we are now starting to rethink this – never say never!