Friday, October 19, 2012

2012, 8th – 12th October: Arequipa, Perú

For the full complement of photos corresponding to this blog entry, use the following link to the set of photos in my Flickr pages:

The City

An unmistakable feature of Arequipa is its volcanic context. From much of the city one can see the peaks of (volcanoes) Volcánes Chachani and El Misti - the latter having the classic cone shaped form. Furthermore, many of the buildings, particularly in the historic centre, are constructed in the volcanic stone, sillar. Sillar has a creamy pale grey colour with numerous voids – evidence of the explosive nature of its creation. The sillar stone is responsible for much of the architectural charm of the city. In case any inhabitants of the city forget that those picturesque peaks were created by the transient nature of the earth deep below us, it is rocked by earthquakes at times - sometimes strong enough to do real damage.

Arequipa Catherdral in Plaza del Almas

Unsurprising, the centre point of the city is the Plaza del Armas (pretty much every Peruvian conurbation I have visited has a square / plaza by this name). Notable buildings blessed by the aesthetic charms of sillar are the cathedral, Inglesia de la Compañía, Claustro de la Compañía and Monasterio Santa Catalina. Many, such as Claustro de la Compañía, contain courtyards ringed by beautiful columns with artistic features carved in the sillar. Monasterio Santa Catalina is a walled village within the city. Its hidden streets were built to give nuns a very quiet and contemplative life completely isolated from the outside world. The majority of the site is now open to the public, though walking around it does become rather repetitive as most of it is comprised of many individual nun´s dwellings which are all very similar.

Reflections in a Cafe Window with
Inglesia de la Compañía Outside

Arequipa Catherdral in Plaza del Almas

Claustro de la Compañía
Sillar Columns in Claustro de la Compañía

Laguna de Salinas

Laguna de Salinas is a salt flat / lake located at an elevation of 4,250 metres (13,943 feet) - nearly 2,000 metres higher than Arequipa. It is reached via a long winding unpaved mountain road that interestingly used to be the principal route between the cities of Arequipa and Puno – fortunately a few days later I could make this journey via the modern paved alternative!

I was given a tour by a very friendly local guide, Julio. The laguna is flanked by Volcánes Misti and Pichu Pichu, which together with the intense blue skies and clear light at such altitudes provide a spectacular setting. Normally at the end of the dry season, the water at Laguna de Salinas has evaporated. However, the rains were heavier than usual during the last wet season, so while I was there the salt was only visible at the edges. However, the presence of water meant that there were many flamingos feeding in the shallow lake.

The Amazing Colours of the Altiplano
at Laguna de Salinas

Volcán Pichu Pichu from Laguna de Salinas

This was my first taste of the nature of the altiplano (high plain) that lies on the spine of the Andes from southern Perú down through Bolivia and into the north of Chile and Argentina. The environment at Laguna de Salinas provided the slightly other worldly feeling that I was hoping to experience. The winds and challenging environment at such altitudes mean that there is no vegetation other than grasses and scrub like plants; as such it has a desolate air, however, there is much beauty in this wilderness. The intensity of the blue cast by a sky, which has a greater purity being that bit closer to the heavens, unifies the tones of the wide colour palette – from the earthy reds, browns and greys of the volcanoes on the horizon, to the green-grey water of the laguna and its dusty white borders of salt.

The Salt-Laden Earth at the Edge of Laguna de Salinas

Flamingos Feeding in Laguna de Salinas

Onwards to La Paz, Bolivia

After over two months in Perú, of which one month was dedicated to all those mountain ascents in the Cordillera Blanca, it was about time I headed to my next country, Bolivia. The first leg of this journey involved the bus climbing up from Arequipa past volcanoes to the altiplano. The views were splendid with azure skies above earthy yellow grasslands spreading to views of Volcán Misti in the distance.

After a quick pit-stop in Puno I changed buses to cross the frontier to Copocabana which is the first Bolivian town across the border (it is on the shores of Lago Titicaca). The third bus of my journey then set off to La Paz. Part way through this route it is necessary to cross a thin section of Lago Titicaca. We were told to get off and make this crossing separate from the bus in small wooden boats. The reason for our crossing being on a different vessel to the bus became clear. The bus was transported on a barge that was so low it looked like the bus was being floated across on a couple of planks. That all looked rather top-heavy – hence a good idea for the passengers to be on a vessel with a higher centre of gravity (I wonder if there are any buses at the bottom of the lake).

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