Chile and Colca Canyon

17th December 2008, Nazca, Peru
We arrived in the incredibly touristy desert oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama on the Chilean side of the border. It's in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world, some places have never had any rain recorded! Hit me with those desert facts I hear you cry!

Despite it being very touristy and expensive compared to Bolivia we decided to have a good time as the setting was gorgeous. We even ventured as far as a night out which ended up taking us to sunrise! No small feat for a bunch of oldies like us!

Can't remember a massive amount but we befriended lots of Chileans, drank demasiado caipirinias in happy hour and went to a couple of clubs open to the stars with braziers in them as the desert gets mighty cold at night. And I might add that it has the best stars I have ever seen as it's also quite high up. It's possibly a made up desert fact but I think it's the highest altitude desert in the world.

Our inebriation led us to believe we were fluent in Spanish, in fact one couple we were chatting to told me I was almost bilingual but hey, what do they know, they also told us they'd taken LSD!!

We also, according to some photos but not my memory, spent much of the evening with a mummy - the wrapped up in toilet roll type, not the parental type or they would have ensured that we were tucked up in bed long before the ensuing debauchery.

We ended dancing up the sun in some warehouse in the desert outside town. We were the only westerners in the place, bar one man who is a photographer who writes speeches for politicians. Minton ended up spending the dawn chatting Bolivian politics (what the hell does she know about that) with him whilst I fell asleep spooning a feral puppy on the floor.

We did squeeze in a spot of culture and hired bikes to explore Devil's Gorge, ruins, caves, Valle de la Luna and the appropriately named - after so much cycling at altitude in the hot desert - Death Valley, for the sunset.

We decided it was time not just to leave San Pedro, but Chile altogether after our night out, so hot-footed it up to Peru again to visit Arequipa and the Colca Canyon.

Arequipa was fairly non-descript as a town but has a gorgeous volcano, el Misti, towering over it and a lovely Plaza de Armas with a big cathedral and a giant plastic Christmas tree! Very surreal. We sat by it for some time trying to absorb the Christmas vibes but it just doesn't feel quite like Christmas!!

We visited the museum to see Juanita the ice princess, a frozen child sacrifice which was discovered on the mountain next to Arequipa when one of the volcanoes went off and melted the 50 metres of ice she was buried beneath. She's incredibly preserved. It was absolutely fascinating if a bit odd.

We booked a trip for just the three of us with a lovely but pompous guide who is listed twice in the Lonely Planet and also in the Rough Guide... he insisted on showing us. He is also unsuccessfully learning the art of British sarcasm, which became rather grating after three days with him. However, he scored ten out of ten for lack of pervyness which is a first with South American guides, so fair play to him!

As usual, the bus rides were the most entertaining part of the journey. It was festival time in the canyon and there were several drunk passengers. One particular old lady in traditional embroidered costume, which is standard in the mountains, was steamingly drunk. Apparently she'd been drinking for three days. This was 9am, and she was trying to drag us up to dance with her in the aisle of the bus. She was really quite persistent and had a petrol canister of locally brewed chichi - a lethal corn beer made from chewed-up spat-out corn to start the fermentation. She was very friendly but gave up in the end and when we eventually got off the bus she was covered in food, giggling and still drinking with her mate!

Colca Canyon - wait for my next world record which is also probably partly made up - is the deepest and longest canyon in the world, and we decided to walk into it and then back out again. It was a bit silly when we could have just looked at it from the top I suppose, but there was a lovely oasis at the bottom with palm trees and a crystal clear swimming pool with only us using it most of the time.

There were loads of avocado trees with avocados lying all over the floor. So when we couldn't eat any more we smeared the rest all over ourselves so we looked like the incredible hulk and also got to moisturise our burnt, dry skin.

The climb down was much harder than the climb up as there was so much scree and we kept slipping with the very real danger of skidding right over the steep edge into the canyon. We had ruined knees and were exhausted from heat and concentration by the time we reached the bottom. Minton´s knees gave way and she collapsed three times!

We were fed alpaca Bolognese for our tea which was a bit sad as there was a very sweet fluffy white alpaca trotting round the lawn.

Managed to get sunburnt in our bikinis in our tropical paradise at the bottom of the canyon, and looking straight up there were snowy peaks which seemed very odd but proves how deep the canyon is!

We spent a mosquito and sand-fly infested night there before trekking back up again the next day where we spent the evening in a candle-lit bar at the top, huddled round a brazier with a carton of cheap Chilean wine and some yummy soup.

We got up early the next day to trek to Cruz del Condor to spot....wait for it.... condors! It really was a stunning walk and we got a real feel for the immenseness (is that a word?) of the canyon. A couple of condors were circling below us on the way to the Cruz del Condor too so we got a bonus preview!!

Unfortunately, the public bus we were booked on broke down so our guide managed to wangle the three of us a space on a private school bus which was doing a tour. This was very amusing, wedged on the rickety bus with the inquisitive children. The driver had to climb in and out of the window to operate the bus but it was all very good humoured! At one point the driver thought he'd found a dead condor so the bus was stopped and everyone piled out to find it was just a plastic bag!

He then, whilst we were going through a long tunnel cut into the rocks, turned all the lights off and continued driving at breakneck speed through the pitch black of the tunnel for the amusement of the children who all screamed loudly.

As with all South American buses, although most of it didn't work and it was mostly unroadworthy, the speakers worked perfectly and he blared out classics like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to entertain us all. He stopped only for the young children to pile out and have their photos taken with birds of prey, only fractionally smaller than a condor, on their tiny heads! They must have weighed a ton and it looked very wrong. The birds could easily have flown off with them in their talons!

We stopped off for lunch in - can't remember but somewhere beginning with a C or maybe an L - and they had a spectacularly translated menu which is one of my favourite things in the world. We had a choice from: Plates of bottom, sweaty trout, kill of chamomile and jumped loin!!! mmmm! I got a sandwich!

We got straight onto a night bus to Nazca after a three day trek. We scoffed empanadas and polished off the rest of the carton of wine at the bus station before getting on the bus where we were then served dinner!!

That's it for now, still got Nazca and Ica and then I´m up to date but can't be bothered now.

Looooovvvvveeeeee xxx