Alpaca

Ccaccolla, Peru: Living like a local

We arrived in Ccaccolla after a short drive from Ollantaytambo. Our driver parked in the “main square” of the town and we all filed out of the vehicle and were greeted by middle-aged Peruvian women dressed in traditional clothes, each holding a lovely colourful bunch of flowers. Our guide Grecia, translated that they had all welcomed us to their village. Then one by one each described the guests or said the names of the guests who would be staying with them. I heard one of them say “vegeteriano” and I thought, “yep that’s who I’m going with” (mind you I am not an actual vegetarian, I’m just picky with my meat, so this works better…).

Dani (the other vego in the group) and myself were handed flowers from this lady and we were told to follow her. We didn’t walk too far as she her house was in prime location – right on the main square! She showed us to the room that we’d be staying in, so we left our luggage and then followed her to the kitchen. She made us lunch – which consisted of a soup followed by rice and boiled vegies. She kept us company and we tried to have a conversation (neither Dani nor myself speak Spanish…) and I think we actually  did quite well! I asked her about her family and children etc and she replied using hand gestures and spoke half in Spanish and Quechua (native language before the Spanish invasion).

After lunch, she walked us to our room and dressed us in traditional clothes – which were very colourful! She then told us to go down to the main square where we would meet the rest of our group. A few minutes after we arrived, 2 other girls dressed similarly joined us. Slowly, the group had all arrived and were all dressed up. We went for a short walk with all of our mama’s (our hosts) and they explained how the weaving industry in this town came about and how the proceeds allow their children to get an education. After this informative walk, we went down to the football arena and played football in our outfits with the local kids. Some of us, mainly us Aussie’s, did seem to take it seriously – being very verbal (and occasionally screaming out Müllerrr to a German girl!). It was a lot of fun. We all went back to our mama’s houses and had dinner over conversations with the family members (well attempted to anyway…).

The next morning a few of us hiked up a small mountain and watched the sunrise – it was a nice sight! After breakfast, we all were taken to the hall where all the looms were located and were informed about the various patterns of weaving. We were also told that a woman should weave in order to be chosen for a good wife. We all then had a go at weaving using the looms – even a guy from the group had a go and all the mama’s laughed at him!!! We all then went to an area where they showed us the natural products for colouring the wool and how the whole process took place. Stalls enclosed the area and we were able to purchase scarves, gloves hats etc – which were all made from alpaca wool.

All in all, it was a nice experience to see how the locals lived and how they earned a living…

Colca Canyon, Peru: an animal expedition

We were woken up very early in order to get to the Colca Canyon and to get a good spot at the Condor crossing before the waves of tourists arrived. En route to the canyon, we had a little break at a truck stop where our guide recommended for us to buy cocoa tea – which basically was cocoa leaves in hot water. Surprisingly it was nice, but I think by this stage I had gown accustomed to the “cocoa” flavour. After about a 2.5hr drive, we arrived at the canyon.

Our initial impressions were not that positive. We could see maybe, 2 condors in the distance and we were not very impressed. However, we were told to be patient and to get a good “seat” along the cliff and simply wait. And so wait we did… it actually paid off!! Our guide had told us that the condors fly according to the thermals and this is EXACTLY what these huge beasts did. They were about 3-4m wide, clearly very large birds. Our guide also explained the features of males compared to females and juveniles vs adults. We sat there on the edge of the cliff for about 2 hours – I was in awe of these amazing creatures. They actually came very close to us – yes, I did get a little scared at some point when they were directly above us! A group of 5 condors were flying in a mesmerising pattern and they kept a whole bunch of us entertained.

Our guide took us on a little walk – I was actually quite breathless as we were at around 5600m above sea level! The canyon was absolutely beautiful, and I think the nice weather played a huge role in this great experience…

On the way to Chivay (small town semi-close to the canyon), we drove past a field of wild vicunas, alpacas and lamas. Our guide explained that vicuna wool was the best quality followed by alpaca then lama. It was such an amazing sight – it looked like something out of National Geographic! We actually pulled over and were busy taking photos and absorbing these gorgeous animals! Apparently vicunas are nationally protected animals, because the wool is so valuable, the animals have become very sought after. So the Peruvian government is slightly worried that these animals in the future may become extinct…

We stopped at another “truck stop” and we were told that they make fresh pisco sour here. If you EVER go to Peru, you will hear pisco sour everywhere! It’s basically an alcoholic shot with egg white and limejuice. BUT at this truck stop they made it with a local fruit (the name escapes me…). There was also non-alcoholic ones available – I ofcourse opted for this option. It was nice – it was basically fruit juice. Once we got to Chivay, our guide took us for a walk, up a look out. There were so many stray dogs in this town – one even befriended a friend on the tour and actually did the mini hike with us!

The Colca Canyon was definitely worth waking up über early for! The animals that we saw were unique to Peru – which made the experience all the more interesting!!

 

Arequipa, Peru: Unique Food Experiences…

After a long long journey on the night bus (over 10hrs!!!), we arrived in Arequipa in the morning. I wasn’t feeling too well, I think the altitude had effected me as we were now about 2300m above sea level. I was feeling very nauseous…

We were all hungry, so Grecia took us to an empanada café – oh my word it was VERY delicious! I got a spinach and cheese empanada with a mango con leche (mango smoothie). We were taken to the markets where we had the chance to try fruit that was unique to Peru. Among these, there was something that looked like a huge passion fruit but the pulp was white/clear – had a similar taste but sweeter. There was also something the looked like pumpkin but it tasted like cheesecake – very odd; I didn’t like the taste at all… My eyes were on the mangoes; they looked very similar to the ones back home in Australia. After I had a sampling, I couldn’t stop! I actually bought around 6 mangoes!!!

We continued on our food journey and were taken to a stall at the end of the market: this is where it got weird! We were told that “frog juice” was a delicacy. YES you heard it right – literally frog juice! Basically the lady pulled on a rubber glove, scooped a frog out of a bucket below the bench. She then showed it to us, and ofcourse we all took photos as though none of us had seen a frog before (guilty…), the frog was then stunned (BANG!) and decapitated. She then placed the frog into a pot and cooked it, put it in the blender along with chia seeds, honey and milk and blitzed the whole thing! She then sieved the contents and placed it in a mug with a few straws… nearly everyone in the group tried it, besides me ofcourse… I think there are far better things to drink in this world than frog juice – so so rank!

Finally we were shown the infamous cocoa leaves, so we all bought a bag that also contained stevia. We were told to stack about 10 leaves with a little piece of stevia placed in the middle and then to roll it up like a cigarette. Then place this in the corner of our mouths and leave it there for about 30mins or so to prevent altitude sickness. Later on back at the hotel, 3 of us did this ritual; mind you it felt like we were doing drugs BUT WE WEREN’T!!! It was actually uncomfortable to have this huge mass in the side of your cheek. Though it did help with the sickness – so believing in its properties, I opted to buy the lollies, which were way more practical…

The look out point in Arequipa was not anything special. It was honestly quite disappointing… but the walk wasn’t too bad… actually on the way back I took a different route and ended up on a street where there were loads of artist studios. I walked into one and met an artist named Gabriel; his work was unique in that he painted not on canvas but on black “felt”. After a nice chat with Gabriel (with very broken Spanish…), I purchased a piece of art and was on my way. I came across friends from the group in front of the grand cathedral in the main square. When the cathedral opened (at 5pm), we all went in to have a look around. Well most of us walked in, 2 girls were wearing shorts and singlets/vest tops so the security guard didn’t allow them to enter…

On our first evening we went to a restaurant that had all sorts of “meat” on the menu for instance alpaca and even guinea pig! We were aware that guinea pig was like “chicken” in Peru, so naturally we were all curious. So the group ordered one to share (umm not me!). it came out looking like a stunned flat animal – all the teeth were still intact, it was hideous! But the people who tried it said it was actually nice and that it simply tasted like chicken… On the next evening we went to a dinner show in the evening, where there was a live band and dancers in traditional costumes. The dancers would tell stories with the various outfits (one was about malaria – which involved a mask). The guys from our group were called up: one was asked to lie down and got whipped (he didn’t get hurt). In the next dance, the other guy got dressed up in a skirt and was twirled around, which was quite comical but all good fun! In the end they got everyone in the restaurant to join them and did a “zorba” like dance around the entire restaurant. Both the food and entertainment was great!

Towards the end of our stay in Arequipa, my body had adjusted to the altitude – partly thanks to the effects of the cocoa leaves/lollies, they really are magical!