I tossed and turned all night and had only had a couple of hours sleep when the alarm went off at 4am. It was still dark and the last thing I felt like doing was getting up. However, we needed to leave by 5am or thereabouts to start the ascent and get as far as possible before the sun came up so, after a very early pancake breakfast, we set off.
Surprisingly, it was easy to walk in the dark with head torches and it was only about half an hour later when it started to get light. Other groups had already left and there was a trail of lights zig zagging up the mountain. It also took quite some time for the sun to actually appear over the mountain tops by which time we were almost at the top. It was a hard walk but certainly a lot easier than yesterday and it was also a beautiful morning, which made all the difference.
We met Freddy, our driver, in the Plaza de Armas in Cabanaconde and Paul hurried us along so that we could reach the hot springs at Chacapi before all the other tour groups arrived. This we achieved and were able to soak our aching limbs in the lovely warm water. The hot spring is natural. However, the pools themselves were a little disappointing as they were like normal swimming pools but had tarpaulin roofs, which rather spoiled them. No doubt, this was useful shade but I would have much preferred to have had the pools open to the sky.
Afterwards, we were chivied along once again to get to the restaurant in Chivay where we were going to have lunch. This was much more up market than the restaurant we went to the other day and catered for tourists on a large scale. I could seem why Paul wanted us to be there early though. As we started on the buffet, more and more groups arrived. It would have been hideous if we had arrived there later.
Three of our group left us after lunch as they were travelling on to Puno. The rest of us continued back to Arequipa. We were again encouraged to leave as quickly as possible after we had finished eating as the anti mining protest was still in progress and we didn’t know if we would be able to get through the blockade. As it happened, Paul’s anxiety about this was justified.
As we approached Arequipa, the roads were blocked with all manner of things, but mainly with large rocks, which had been placed all across the roads. This wasn’t just on the major routes but also along any side roads that the protesters thought traffic might be able to use to get through. We turned off on to the back roads and twisted and turned through some fairly rough streets up the hills in poor areas until we could go no further. Paul and Freddy found a road on which the rocks were small enough to be moved easily and a couple of locals directed them to a way through. However, as we drove along, protesters threw stones at the van on a couple of occasions, which was a little disconcerting. They were too far away to actually hit us, though.
We eventually made it back to the city and I was dropped off last. I then walked up to the Plaza de Armas in the hope that the supermarket there would be open. However, the protest was in full force, with broken glass and rocks on the pavements, fires burning on the roadways and police with riot shields barricading the way. A number of people were standing round watching and the atmosphere felt decidedly uncomfortable. I decided to go to the big supermarket that was a little further away and then straight back to the hotel for a glass of wine and bread and cheese in my room, followed by a much needed early night.