Sorry - long post - but things have been happening too fast to keep up.
Well 16,000ft turned out to be challenging. Janaki had a very bad first night but recovered well when we found out you can buy Oxygen in a can.
We have been slowly descending from the Colca high spot so no more issues. Apart from the altitude travails we loved the Andean plateaue, at around 14,000' it goes on for ever and is visually stunning, with strange rock formations, herds of Alpaca and Vicuña and active volcanoes on the horizon. (more pics here
The Colca Valley was also visually amazing although the Canyon end was perhaps not as impressive as some we have seen. The thousands of years of intensive agriculture in this dip in the Andean plateau was definitely worth seeing.
It was helped by Paul, our remarkable guide. He grew up in the Colca Valley in a family where even Spanish was a second language yet he spoke perfect English and was an enthusiastic font of knowledge about everything to do with the valley; history, flora, fauna, economics, social structures, everything. It was a great experience. Seeing the huge Condors soaring through the Canyon was definitely worth the effort as well. This one will have a wingspan between nine and ten feet.
Our experience with guided tours in Peru has not generally been like that. The norm has been poor to incomprehensible English and shallow knowledge. The visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca was a mixed bag, for me at least, Janaki was less troubled. Puno is a scruffy place that just acts as the gateway to the lake. We took a two day tour that included a visit to the floating islands of Uros (people really do still live on islands made of root mass and reeds which they initially made to escape the predations of the Incas)
and a home stay on an island further out into the Lake, which was very enjoyable and gave us a real insight into how they lived. This is Mama preparing dinner.
The downside of the trip was the constant commercial pressure. At times it felt like we were little more than a flock of wallets being carefully shepherded between shopping opportunities. Even the lovely home-stay family pulled out the standard range of stuff and guilted us into buying things at about three times the already inflated market prices - oh well.... This is something you have to live with in Peru. They do make some lovely (and VERY expensive) things but mostly there is a constant pressure to buy cheaply made souvenirs and (probably not) 'Baby Alpaca' knitwear. They are not as agressive as in India or Thailand but it is pretty constant and you have to develop a no-eye-contact policy to avoid being captured. There are thousands of stalls selling stuff everywhere we go. We have no idea how anyone makes a living with this much competition and the vaste amount of tied up inventory.
There are a few travel lessons we are re-learning. We have been happily paying about $12 for a main course at the typical (tourist) restaurants, not wildly expensive by US standards but it mounts up when you have to eat out a lot, then we went to the San Pedro market in Cusco (which was designed by Gustave Eiffel before his famous tower) and one end was about 100 micro-restaurants, serving all sorts of different dishes. We ordered quinoa soup, fried fish with rice and lentils (delicious) and Muna (mint) tea. The price? $1.50. We will have the hang of it before we leave.....
Airbnb has been working well for us. It is less sociable than hostels but the freedom to cook our own meals and relax in our 'own' space has been good. We had a well located apartment in Arequipa. A modern high rise apartment in Puno (with very challenging stairs at 12,500ft) and we are now in a lovely old Spanish colonial building in Cusco.
Generally the hosts have been a great resource for local knowledge and problem solving
We are now looking around Cusco and, after the initial shock of hyper-tourism, are really enjoying it. That can be the topic of my next post.
I have created a new photo album for our S. American trip here
. I have tried to annotate it in comments and would appreciate feedback on whether that is helpful.