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  • Day30

    Into the Land of Volcanoes

    May 27, 2018 in Peru

    Whenever anyone travels in underdeveloped countries like Peru, one challenge which is commonly encountered, but seldom discussed, is blocked toilets. People who are not experienced travelers may not realize that, in most countries on earth, it is a definite no-no to put toilet paper in the toilet. Most hotels will have a sign next to the toilet advising that it is NOT for toilet paper. So what do you do with the toilet paper then ? They will always have a small bin next to the toilet which is specifically for the used toilet paper.
    Although this might initially seem quite gross to many, there is actually a very good reason for it. It is because the sewer pipes and sewer treatment plants (if there are any) are simply not designed to cope with anything other than human waste. Those who choose to ignore this direction are likely to see the very daunting sight of the water in the bowl rising to potentially disastrous levels and hoping that it will somehow unblock itself. This is just another example of things we take for granted daily in Australia, are quite different in other places.

    Why am I mentioning this ? I’d rather not got into too much detail, suffice to say that I might have had one of those nervous moments, just before checking out of our hotel in Puno. Of course, after our two nights in the city by Lake Titicaca, it was time for us to continue our journey towards Arequipa – the land of volcanoes.

    Our team loaded our luggage into the waiting bus and settled down to another long day on the road. In fact our journey was going to be over 350 km and would take us much higher than any other place we had visited so far in Peru. Fortunately the roads were generally quite good and our new driver proved to be capable and careful.

    During the morning we continued across the flat altiplano at an almost constant elevation of around 4000 metres. The warm sunshine coming in the bus window soon made me sleepy. In fact, lately I am discovering that just about everything makes me sleepy. When I looked around the bus I saw that many of the others had already succumbed and were fast asleep.

    The kilometers slowly ticked away until we started to climb steadily. We passed a succession of beautiful high lakes, some populated with pink flamingoes. When we finally pulled to a stop it was to admire the breathtaking views (and at this altitude, everything is breathtaking) and to be entertained by a small group selling all sorts of handicrafts. Up to now I had strongly resisted the urge to get out my wallet, but it must have been the thin air, or maybe the fact that we only had a few more days in Peru, or maybe it was because the sellers were really good natured and ready to bargain.
    Whatever the reason I found myself happily picking up an assortment of goods and handing over a number of Sols (Peruvian currency). It actually felt good to be making the traders happy although I am not exactly sure how much my bag will weigh when I get it to the airport at Arequipa.

    After the retail therapy, the mood in the bus was quite light hearted as we compared what we had purchased. The kilometers continued to slowly tick by. The elevation continued to increase. At around noon we stopped at a rather barren looking roadside stop to eat our box lunches. The coffee was excellent and the weather was absolutely perfect. We were also joined by our new guide. I did not catch her full name, but I think it was something like “Liz” or “Lisa”. This means we now parted company with Sue who had been an excellent educator and anecdote sharer for the past two days.

    A little while later we saw the first volcanoes. I was very surprised that it was actually spewing forth an impressive cloud of smoke and ash. I had previously though that the volcanoes in this region were extinct. I could now see that they certainly aren’t. Lisa (or Liz ?) assured us that it was safe and that it was some years since it had rained death and destruction on the region.

    At the highest part of the journey (almost 5000 metres) there were large patches of ice beside the road and countless other travelers had stacked rocks to form thousands of rock piles that stretched far in every direction. Of course we had to do the same, it would have been a sin not to do so. We each made a small rock pile, photographed it and then climbed back into the bus.

    The next stage was a hair raising descent down to the town of Chivay (pronounced kibay). Our lives were very literally in the hands of the bus driver, but fortunately he was not suicidal and delivered us safely to our hotel for the night.

    Tomorrow morning we rise (very) early to go to Colca Canyon to view the huge condors. These massive birds have wingspans up to 3 metres or more, making them one of the largest flying birds on the planet.
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