On the move

After nearly four months in South America it was time to move on. I boarded an overnight flight from Lima to Fort Lauderdale (US). From there, a connecting flight took me to Houston. The flight was delayed due to tornado warnings, but in the end everything went well and I reached my last connecting flight to Canada. We arrived in Edmonton in the evening and when I left the plane it felt like I was home. Everything around me seemed familiar, although I have rarely used the airport in Edmonton during my various trips to Canada.

Arriving in Edmonton almost felt like coming home

There were almost no other people around, so I got through immigrations pretty quickly and soon afterwards I had the “Work & travel” visa in my hands. Outside I was awaited by Gary and Sharen, who had been with me on the trip to “Manu National Park” in Peru. They live in Edmonton and had offered me a place to stay for the first few days in Canada and I had gladly accepted.

Reunion with Sharen and Gary, who invited me to their home

The next morning I woke up to a big American breakfast, with bacon, eggs, potatoes and more. It was really delicious! While sitting at the table, I noticed that there was still snow in the backyard. This was not exactly what I was hoping for. In my mind it was springtime – with flowers, green grass and warmer temperatures. I had forgotten that springtime in the prairies means bare flowerbeds, brown grass and snow…

A quick glance at the backyard revealed leftover snow

In the meantime, Sharen was trying to find something for me to do in the Edmonton area. It proved to be quite difficult, as it was too warm for ice skating and the “ice castle”, both had melted already with the temperatures just above the freezing point. The parks were still brown and without flowers and the “Royal Alberta Museum” was still under construction. However, I was happy to spend a few days without doing much, as I had been on the move for quite some time now.

Outdoor ice skating was not possible anymore

Still, time passed by quickly with playing cards and pinball, updating my diary and blog, watching pictures of our trip to the jungle and a stroll to Tim Horton’s to get my favorite Canadian drink, “Iced Cappuccino”. We also helped Sharon’s nephew, Ross, to load and unload his van with boxes and furniture, as he was getting ready to move across the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver.

Playing pinball with Gary
My favorite coffee chain in Canada – Tim Horton’s

One night Gary and Sharen took me on a tour of downtown Edmonton, which is all nicely illuminated during nighttime. We visited the modern city hall and the area of the new downtown ice hockey arena, currently under development to improve this part of the city, which has had a lot of problems with crime. On the other side of town we visited the Alberta Legislature Building. It is surrounded by a large green area, pitch dark at night, where I had to remind myself that I am now in Canada, where it’s still much safer to walk around in the dark.

Inside the modern City Hall of Edmonton
The Alberta Legislative Building is surrounded by darkness

Another day we made use of the sunny weather and went to “William Hawrelak Park”, located in a riverbend of the “North Saskatchewan River”. While the river was almost fully covered by ice, the trails were mostly free of ice. However, with the melting snow, some of the trails had become really muddy, making it quite challenging to move along. Nevertheless it was a great day and we enjoyed spending the time outside.

The “North Saskatchewan River” was still mostly covered by ice

We’re trying to find a way through mud and snow

Typical Peru

After returning from the “Colca Canyon”, we still had the evening to explore the busy streets of Arequipa. While Bastian and I were waiting for Madalina, who involuntarily got a two hour guitar lesson from her roommate, we were having a look at the different happenings around the central square: There was a small gathering for “Earth hour”, which was not really effective, as all the lights of the city remained on and their candles were constantly extinguished by the wind.

The organizers of “Earth hour” in Arequipa had problems with the wind

And then there was a march of the soccer fans of the local team, shouting and lighting fireworks as if it was a match day, which it wasn’t. We couldn’t find out what they were celebrating, but it surely was fascinating. When they were gone, Madalina finally arrived and we went for some Chinese food and afterwards for Peruvian drinks, like “Pisco Sour” and “Chilcano”, at a French restaurant.

The fans of the “FBC Melgar” were celebrating with flags and fireworks
Tasting the Peruvian national drinks “Pisco Sour” and “Chilcano” (photo by Bastian Waldhof)

The next day we had planned to go on a free walking tour, but the guides seemed to be a bit unorganized, as none of them showed up. Instead, we went to the market for a second breakfast. The freshly made juices are just amazing and with a free refill it’s the perfect fruit serving for the day. And we also got to try the “Queso helado”, which is not actually frozen cheese but homemade ice-cream with cinnamon, a desert that Arequipa is famous for.

The fruits for our juice came straight from the market
Madalina and Bastian wanted to try “Queso helado”

In the afternoon we tried to join a different free walking tour. This time it worked and we discovered the northern part of the city, which we hadn’t seen before. After a quick stop at the “Mundo Alpaca”, a museum for alpacas and alpaca products, we continued across the river to the viewpoint of Yanahuara. It lies a bit elevated and allows for a good view over Peru’s second biggest city.

Arequipa as seen from the viewpoint of Yanahuara
The richly decorated outside of the “Iglesia de Yanahuara”

Last but not least we wanted to check the quality of Peruvian hairdressers – Madalina and Bastian wanted to get a haircut, while I could use a beard trimming. Although most hairdressers are closed on Sundays, we did manage to find some open ones. They were hidden in a little passage and were cornerstore and hairdresser in one. Madalina and Bastian gave it a try, but I was a bit more skeptical and decided to go for the men’s hairdresser a few houses down the road. While Bastian and I were happy with the result, Madalina wasn’t, although it looked perfectly fine to us.

Hairdresser or cornerstone? Both is possible in Peru
Getting ready for Canada (photo by Bastian Waldhof)

Afterwards it was time to part: Madalina and Bastian took a bus to the coast and I was headed for the airport. I had decided to fly back to Lima to avoid any problems with flooded roads, like friends had experienced on that route a few days earlier. And even with an hours delay it was still much faster, as it also saved me the 17-hour bus ride, which it would have been otherwise.

Bye bye Peru!

The Triple-C Canyon

Bastian and I arrived in Arequipa, Peru, in the late afternoon and decided to go on a tour to the “Colca Canyon”, which would start the next day. The canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and is located a few hours north-west of Arequipa. Without much sleep we got picked up at 3 a.m. the next morning. After driving all around town to pick up the other people, the bus took us to Chivay for some breakfast.

Looking down into the “Colca Canyon”

Not too far down the road we stopped at the “Cruz del Condor”, the condor’s cross, a popular spot for watching these majestic birds. But that day we could only see tourists, not condors at this viewpoint. As our tour guide Jean-Carlos explained, most condors migrate to the ocean during the rainy season to feed on the placentas of seals and sea lions, after they gave birth to their offspring.

No condors were to be seen at the “Condor’s Cross”
Watching for condors with Madalina and Bastian

Close to Cabanaconde we started our descend. We seemed to be the last group for that day and soon we were all alone. Not far down the trail we paused, as we had seen large birds circling below us. As they got a little closer, we could make out the distinctive white coloring on top of their wings, telling us that they were condors. It was an awesome feeling to see four of those majestic birds all on our own as they seemed to own the canyon. At that moment it felt like “Condor Canyon” would be a more appropriate name.

A small path winds down on the side of the canyon
And then we did see the majestic condors

We continued our descend and were happy to reach the bridge across the river after losing 1100m of elevation while constantly hiking downhill. The suspension bridge across the fierce brown waters was in much better condition than on the “Inca Jungle Trek” and we reached the other side without a problem. A few minutes later we had reached our accommodation for that night.

Crossing the wild river by suspension bridge
We reached our accommodation just before the rain started

However, all further hiking plans were abandoned as it started raining during our lunch break. Instead Alice and Alessandro (Italy), Remy and Manon (France), Madalina (Romania), and Bastian and I (Germany) discussed European politics until nightfall, when dinner was served and the rain finally stopped. Unfortunately, Nelson (Chile) and Jean-Carlos (Peru) were too tired to join the conversation for some non-European views on the issues.

Interesting discussions with Alessandro, Nelson, Bastian, Alice and Madalina
Remy, Manon and I were at the other end of the table

After a good night of sleep, we woke up to beautiful sunshine and a bright blue sky. With a delicious pancake breakfast, everyone was ready to tackle the day’s hike. As we walked through the canyon, following the river downstream, we learned about the different fruits and plants that are grown here. We also learned about the little man-made caves, where the native people would store their seeds for the next seeding period or just to hide them from the Spaniards. These caves are called “colca” and gave the canyon its name – “Colca Canyon”.

A wonderful morning below the steep basalt cliffs
The little caves gave the “Colca Canyon” its name

Around noon we started to pick up cactus fruits as dessert after lunch. By the time we had filled our bag, we had crossed the river once again. On the other side of the river, elevated and in a riverbend lay a small oasis, which must be even more impressive during the dry season, when the rest of the canyon is brown and dry. To us it was still a little paradise with sunshine, swimming pool and free delicious mangos right from the tree.

We also came across a more basic bridge
We were happy to spend half a day in paradise

In the afternoon we met Alex, a 19 year old guy traveling through Peru all on his own. A few days before he had bought a live guinea pig, as he wanted to try this Peruvian specialty. He had been looking for people to share it with and we were willing to pitch in. The former owner had told him exactly how to kill, skin, gut and prepare the animal, but we were still happy for the two Gauchos that Alex was staying with, who helped us with everything and knew exactly what they were doing.

Bastian holding on to Carnal

Luckily we were able to use the kitchen of our hostal after the regular dinner was served. We seasoned and fried the guinea pig and had it with rice and yucca as our second dinner. To me it wasn’t tasting like much and it had way to many bones for the little amount of meat that was on it. It was definitely a very interesting experience, but I wouldn’t order another guinea pig in a restaurant. Nevertheless, it added another nickname to the canyon – “Cuy Canyon”, which is Spanish for guinea pig.

Bastian and Alex preparing the guinea pig
We shared four servings of this Peruvian specialty

The next morning we had to get up before sunrise once again. For the next two and a half hours we climbed back up to Cabanaconde. Along the way we could have hopped on one of the “live taxis”, that take supplies down into the canyon and come back up with an empty saddle, but all of us made it without additional help. By the end we were still happy to get some breakfast, which we had been waiting for since 4:30 a.m.

No one of our group needed a ride with the horse taxis
We reached the rim as the sun emerged from behind the canyon walls

On our way back to Arequipa we stopped for a view of the “Colca Valley”, which is upstream from the canyon and much wider. Afterwards we visited the hot springs right by the riverside to relax our muscles for a bit. Together with another stop at 4900m, the highest point along our route, and one more for some llama-selfies, this day was also pretty action-filled and all in all we were quite happy with the value of this trip. 

The “Colca Valley” is much wider than the “Colca Canyon”
The hot springs are located right next to the river

Strategic Arica

From San Pedro de Atacama I took a night bus to the Chilean costal town of Arica. I arrived there while it was still dark outside, so I waited for the sun to come out. The hostal was not far from the terminal and I arrived there just in time for breakfast. Here I also ran into Fabio from Brazil, who also had been on the tour through the Salar de Uyuni. We wanted to explore the city and two Belgian guys joined us.

In Arica I’m back at sea level after weeks of being high up in the Andes
One day was enough to see the main attractions of Arica

Even though Arica is right at the coast, it does get pretty hot during the day, as it is surrounded by desert. During the “War of the Pacific” it was the scene of an important battle between the Peruvian and the Chilean troops in 1880. Back then the “Cerro Morro”, a hill overlooking the city, was occupied and the former Peruvian city now belonged to Chile. Nowadays, there is a small military museum on top telling the story of the battle.

Arica used to be Peruvian territory until the “War of the Pacific”
The town with its strategic harbor is located in the middle of the desert

Back in town we visited the “Catedral San Marcos”, a little Gothic-style church made from cast iron. It was designed in 1870 by Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer, who would later provide the design for the Eiffel tower. After prefabrication in France it was shipped all around the globe to be assembled here on site. It’s now one of the nicest buildings in town and blends in perfectly with the colonial style architecture.

The “Catedral San Marcos” was designed by Gustave Eiffel
The church is mostly made of cast iron

After a quick stop at the indoor market for lunch, we visited a small pre-colombian museum, the “Sitio Colon 10”. The name of the museum is the address of this former town house. A few years ago the owner wanted to remodel the house and found several dozens of mummies from the Chinchorro culture (5000-3000 BC) buried underneath. The demolition was stopped and the house was turned into a museum.

The mummies at “Sitio Colon 10” still have thick hair covering their skull
Dozens of Chinchorro mummies were found underneath this town house

In the afternoon we also had a look at the harbor. During the morning hours, a large fish market is held here, but now there were only few fishermen left cleaning up the place. This attracts not only pelicans and other birds, but also several large sea lions, whose strategy is simply waiting. They know that sooner or later they’ll get their share.

Only a few fishermen were still in the harbor, cleaning up their catch of the day
The sea lions were happy to finish any leftovers

Back at the hostal I met Bastian from Germany, who also wanted to cross over to Peru the following day. That morning we caught a local bus heading for Tacna, the closest Peruvian town behind the border. Crossing the border was fast and easy, much to our delight. Just after, a young man entered our bus and started talking about bad eating habits and the diseases that come from them. We were fascinated about this free health education, but were a bit disappointed that it turned out to be part of the sales strategy to sell his magic products.

What seemed to be a free health education was in fact only a selling technique
The packages on sale were not legible, but supposedly contained stevia, a natural sweetener

Up close with the universe

We had decided to take the one-way tour from Uyuni, which brought us to San Pedro de Atacama in the very north of Chile. We reached the town in the early afternoon and were quite happy that it greeted us with the warmth and sunshine that we had been missing for the last weeks. At about 2400m, San Pedro is much lower than all the places we had been to since Cusco, so it was naturally warmer.

Strolling through the dirt roads of San Pedro de Atacama
The prominent Licancabur volcano reaches almost 6000m

In the evening we were still sitting outside in the courtyard of our hostel, when we heard some live music playing somewhere. As we went over to have a look, it turned out to be a “St. Patrick’s Day” celebration in the bar next door. And although we were a bit tired, we decided to join, which turned out to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately though we didn’t find the four-leaf clovers, which would have gotten us some free drinks.

The bar around the corner was celebrating “St. Patrick’s Day”

The next day we booked a tour to the “Valle de la Luna”, the moon valley. As the tour wouldn’t start before late in the afternoon, we walked around town for a bit and found a really cool shop just outside our hostel. And while Dani got a handmade top, Krissi went for a black and white picture on plywood. What made it so special was the fact, that the shop owner was burning the picture into the wood by using a simple magnifying glass.

Using the sunlight for drawing pictures
Krissi got one of the plywood pictures with her name engraved

The tour of the moon valley was very interesting as well, as it rained just before we had arrived in San Pedro. The rain had washed out the salt from the rocks and as the water evaporated, the salt remained on the surface of the rocks, creating a white cover that almost looked like snow in the desert. And although this is one of the driest deserts of the world, rain is not uncommon in San Pedro between December and March, however only in small quantities.

What looks like snow is actually deposited salt crystals
The bare landscape of the moon valley

During the tour we had a look at the different rock formations – steep crater walls, eroded rocks supposedly looking like three virgins, and high sand dunes. Somehow our tour guide always managed to avoid most of the crowds that were with us in the park, which we were quite happy with. Only the last stop seemed to be identical for all tours, as everyone turned up at a cliff overlooking the moon valley to watch the beautiful sunset over the desert landscape.

The craters and sand dunes were quite impressive
Sunset over the desert

The next morning, after two exciting weeks of traveling together, it was time to say goodbye – Dani and Krissi were heading over to Argentina, while I was about to go the other way, back to the coast and up to Peru. But before I continued, I went on an astrological tour to watch the night sky with large telescopes. Here we got to read stellar maps and got explanations for different objects, the most impressive being Jupiter with its four largest moons.

The last adventure with Krissi and Dani on this trip
Watching stars, planets and the milky way without urban light pollution (photo by Tour Astronomico Astrocoya)