Sitting on a balcony in a small bar in Cusco, sipping a cold Cusquena on a hot midday, I have decided that Cusco is, at this moment, my favourite place in Peru.
Firstly, there was Lima, and as I said in a previous post, there is something about that city that denies comfort, it’s a place where I don’t think I could ever happily live. Too much smog, too hectic, it’s a city of eleven million people where everyone is alone. You can feel the souls of these people struggling to be heard amidst the drowning noise of a city that seems to suffocate. From my conversations with Lima natives, it seems the city is expanding and growing quite rapidly in this current era, so I suppose that because of this growth in Lima, people have not had time to adjust, to incorporate and regulate city life in regards to culture and history.
That being said, there are places in Lima that are still beautiful, and I think that finding these places hidden amidst the noise makes them even more beautiful, a hidden gem.
We then spent two nights in Arequipa after a relatively comfortable sleep on an overnight bus. That morning, there was an immediate change in both what I saw and what I felt. I spent some hours watching the landscape trail by. Gone was the heartbeat of the city, the emotion of exponential growth. The sky was clear blue, the landscape was sometimes mountainous, rocky apertures and mesas stretching into the outer distance, sometimes pure flatlands, with the sky in stark contrast to a rugged dark landscape. Several times we passed through what could only be called villages, a handful of houses and perhaps one or two local stores, all built from brick and sheet metal. Dogs and children ran through dirt roads, and after a few minutes I was once again watching arid landscapes crawl by.
Arequipa seemed much more like a home, like a place where people lived and grew old. Even now, I can’t quite specify why it felt this way, why I felt far more comfortable in Arequipa. Perhaps it was something as simple as being able to see the sky again.
The main point of adventure in Arequipa was our trek to Colca Canyon (actually several hours from Arequipa itself), where the most notable attraction is Cruz Del Condor. This is a particular part of the canyon, some 3900 feet from the canyon floor, which is home to families of Andean Condor. These immense creatures, reaching up to a 10 foot wingspan, nest on the opposite side of the canyon. As they play and hunt, wheeling through the sky, they fly extraordinarily close. In description and simple photographs, it may not seem like much, but there is a certain awe in seeing these condors glide by close enough to touch, close enough that you can feel the wind as they beat their wings, climbing ever higher, before diving suddenly towards some unseen prey.
Arequipa itself seems like more of a townland than a city, though it dwarfs my home country’s largest cities. It is far less concentrated, far less dense. It seems more like a place that gradually grew into what it is today than a city defined and planned. You could spend hours walking through the different districts, each seeming like an entirely new town. The one binding aspect is the ever present volcanoes, looming always on the horizon. I spent quite some time admiring these immensities, and they would often catch my breath unawares as my mind suddenly brought them to focus, after slowly receding to the background of my consciousness, as though my mind refused to let me forget that these three wonders existed. I have never before seen something of this scale; some days you could even see faint plumes of smokes rising thousands of feet from the most volatile of these three brothers.
After some days spent wandering and eating (the food in Peru is excellent and worthy of a post of its own), we would move on towards Cusco, for our first time, by way of Puno and Lake Titicaca. The idea being to slowly make our way towards Machu Picchu (with Cusco being the penultimate stop), staying at towns and villages, volunteering where we could and exploring where we dared.
At these times, we were still very much the tourists, having not yet begun our volunteer work placements and as I write this, there is what you could call a delay, because of my recent stint in the land of no Wi-Fi, I have fallen behind on these accounts. What you are reading now is a catchup to our current situation.
Much and more has happened since, our day exploring Lake Titicaca, our time working at a boat rental on the shore of Lake Huacarpay, and our return to Cusco. But fear not, dear reader, all these will be committed to writing in due time.