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Published: November 18th 2010
this little girl worked the crowd and made herself a few soles.
We arrived in Arequipa after an overnight bus ride from Nazca. Neglectively, no one bothered to mention that the road was going to be a washboardy, dirt nightmare of beyond twisty-turny, horn-honking belief! I really tried hard to sleep in the comfy reclining chairs, but alas, not a wink. We rumble into town as the dawn rises sharply behind the peak of a gigantic volcano. Suddenly, I am very aware of the not-so-subtle altitude changes (we are now at 3800m) creeping up.
Anyone who says they aren't bothered by altitude is, 1. Lying. 2. Has an iron lung. 3. Is a space alien - or is of Swiss descent. Case in point, my new friend from Switzerland doesn't seem bothered at all. I do see her eating a lot of chocolate though. Suspicious.
Ricola (not her real name) appears to be right at home here in Arequipa....like she never left the Alps. If she starts yodeling after breakfast, I may have to kill her. Me, I'm a stupid head. I should have started my altitude tablets about twelve hours ago in lowlying Nazca. But I knew they were a strong diuretic, and the idea of subsequently peeing every three
See, I swear they are posers. Same one has probably has had its picture taken a million times
seconds on a non-stop overnight bus did not sound appealing. So, my bad.
I decide that the only thing I can do about it now is to ignore the irritating symptoms, and explore this gorgeous city that UNESCO has put their stamp on as a world heritage site. Three volcanoes loom eerily around Arequipa, most noticeable is Misti. The entire place is referred to as the "La Cuidad Blanca" because it is built from the white volcanic rock.
Founded by the Inca, "Ari quepay" in Quecha means "yes, you may stay." So I guess they did. The Spanish took it over in 1540, and of course built over anything resembling Inca. But the whole town has an extremely interesting vibe. The people here are freakazoid friendly and greet us like old friends. We go to the local farmers market to take in all the sights and sounds while picking up vegetables and fruits for our trip. I try to identify things I have never seen before - they all seem very fond of frog meat here, but I pass on an offered bowl of skinned frog soup - opting for a familiar fruit smoothie instead.
Chivay hot springs
ahhhhhhh is all I can say
a dried llama foetus wearing a party hat? You'd be in luck here.
We visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, an active nunnery which is just stunning with its brightly coloured walls and fussed over gardens. An old painting adorns a wall, a portrait of the Sister whom resurrected this place from doom, and freed the slaves. Nuns had slaves? Her eyes follow you eerily...I worry that if I make sudden eye contact...I might be doomed to become a Nun...or a born-again virgin. Moving on.
At the Museo Santuarios Andinos, is where they keep the "Ice Maiden" named Juanita. She's a fifteen year old girl who was sacrificed by Inca priests on Mount Ampato. They did a carbon dating thing and figured it happened around 1440. She was found not too long ago when the ice melted, bundled in alpaca wool and buried with gold. Considered one of the world’s best preserved mummies, I morbidly notice she looks an awful lot like the little old grannies telling people's fortunes with coca leaves on the narrow streetways outside. I actually wished I knew how to speak a little Quecha, I would have gotten more out of my reading...perhaps the
Some of the most friendly lovely people in Arequipa
coca leaves may have really told me what I needed to know.
The highlight in Arequipa was the visit to the orphanage on the far outskirts of town called CasaVerde. Providing a safe home for abused and neglected children, if you are ever in Arequipa, you can always patronage their cafe (same name) - all the proceeds go directly. They do good work. We arrive late in the day and the kids go bonkers. There is a whirlwind of helping with homework, cooking up a giant pot of soup, arts and crafts, and play time before we all settle down to eat dinner. Some of my companions are disappointed that their lack of Spanish is hindering their interaction, so we play a game of "say the English word" which the younger kids love. The pre-teenage girls snap gum and look at us suitably bored, but as soon as I mention Lady Gaga and let them listen to my iPod, I have a following. Overall, these children are well rounded and extremely behaved, the older ones helping with the smaller children. Ricola bonds with a little boy named Daniel who is so excited we are there, that he won't even
La Cuidad Blanca
The white buildings of Arequipa
eat his only meal of the day. I try not to cry when we leave.
Two days later we are on the move again. This time our bus will climb to the Pata Pampa pass (5100m). We stock up on coca and my Peruvian friend Patty Cho-la makes up little bundles of leaves with ash that you tuck into your cheek and chew gently while sucking out the juices. I feel my lips going numb and get this weird nervous energy. Great....they'd better not do drug testing at work when I get home. The plan is to hike through the Aguada Blanca National Vicuña Reserve. I am so ready to stretch my legs....so Vamanos! It's all easy flat plains, and we come across a herd of wild Vicuñas that appear to have been expecting us, and I'd even venture to say they actually posed for pictures. Then the snow starts.
Freezing, we meet up with our bus and start the descend into the Chivay valley. Chivay (3635m) is the first town where I actually witness real Peruvian culture and lifestyle, and not just for tourism. But I'm also witnessing lots of ridiculous looking tourists who are dressed from
stunning fountain arequipa
The do fountains nice in Arequipa. The Plaza de armas
head to toe is crazy woollen Peruvian items. I mean really
- do you need the hat with flaps, a sweater, mittens, man-purse, AND leg warmers??? However, by the end of the chilly day - I too deem them necessary and join in on the ridiculous colourful parade. Did I mention...it's freezing here in Peru. And, I know freezing - I'm Canadian - yes, the same Canadian whom mistakenly brought a shitload of summer shorts & tops to Peru - my bad...again.
After a wonderful soak in the La Calera hotsprings for what was four blissful hours and five cervasas, we retire early so we can get up early to go to the Colca Canyon. We will be doing some more hiking there in order to get acclimatized and ready for the Inca trail. We spend our day on a jaunt through the area that was created by three different civilizations. The endless agriculture terraces are a postcard. All the peoples here were known for their practice of malforming skulls to identify who they were. The Spanish came along and put an end to this practice, so now the women wear different styles of hats to identify where they
Anyone want a llama fetus with party hat?
belong to. I took probably 400 pictures of the valley and the terraces, but they just aren't as good as the real thing. Sorry. You'll just have to go there.
At the Cruz de Condor lookout (4900m), the Andean condors showed up and put on a pretty nice flight show for us. Me and about 10,000 other tourists, all frantically snapping pictures without a telephoto lens - so basically we all go away with loads of pictures with a black speck in the middle of them. Still breathtaking. Speaking of breathtaking - I am starting to notice that in addition to a constant headache, I am now having trouble catching my breath. Damn you stupid altitude - you will not ruin this for me.
Overall, the most memorable part for me, was our homestay in the small village called Canocota. We arrive in the early afternoon, all the townsfolk come out to meet us, and Julia leads us to her quaint homestead where her husband Pedro and their grown son Edgar live. Julia is no nonsense and she immediately puts us to work herding cows to a water source, as well as preparing for supper. I help Pedro
frog soup participants
yum. Skinned alive while you wait.
chop wood for the fire, and we all end up in their kitchen telling stories and singing into the night around a cozy stove. My video is of Julia shyly singing us a little ditty. Dinner was a delicious Alpaca steak with what else, potatoes. We tuck in early and spend the night sleeping under a pile of alpaca blankets in zero celsius. Next morning, we are supposed to hike back into Chivay with Pedro, but when I wake with a strange rattle in my chest and a feeling of malaise, I opt out.
I realize it was probably just the wood smoke, but I'll play it safe.
Back in town, we catch a bus to head for the town of Puno of the famous Lake Titicaca region. I am looking forward to seeing the floating straw islands and having another homestay on the Isla Taquile, as well as witnessing some of the diablo celebrations in the town of Juliaca. I love Peru!
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