Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Arequipa and Colca Canyon

It feels good to be home. Arequipa was wonderful as was Colca Canyon, but I am happy to be home in Cusco. Quick shout out to my cousin Emy, whose birthday was yesterday. FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS!

We got back from Arequipa this morning around 7am after 11 and a half hours of riding. It should’ve taken only 10 or so but the driver thought it would be a good idea to stop everywhere to see if anyone wanted to hop on for a ride. Needless to say, there were some angry passengers. Lots of “vamos” were heard. I would be yelling vamos too if I had had to work today. Fortunately, Maximo observes Dia de los Muertos y Dia de la vida. There were also festivities throughout Peru for Halloween but I didn’t take part. Instead I was on a two day tour of Colca Canyon.

On Friday night I took a bus to Arequipa and just so happened to be sitting next to Alex, a fellow Maximo teacher. When we got to Arequipa we took a good hour to search for a hostel to stay in. Alex was going to meet up with Elisabeth, his girlfriend on Saturday. She left to Chile a few days before to do a border run. Finally, after much searching and many places being way too expensive for what they offered, we found Hostel Regis. It was a nice hostel with the basic amenities and a wonderful terrace with a rooftop hang out spot to enjoy the city.
The most wonderful thing about it was the incredibly hot water. I hadn’t had a scalding hot shower since I got to Cusco. I spent at least 20 minutes basking in the warmth. After a nice shower we met up with Elisabeth and headed to dinner. I wanted to get shrimp but we found a good oferta or deal with a place that had pizza and wine for S./12. We also had live entertainment for a little while.

Arequipa has a very European feel to it. There are quite a few streets that are only for foot traffic and the architecture is gorgeous with beautiful white stone and lovely balconies. It’s funny because I was also reminded of New Orleans when I saw some of the buildings. The town is called “The White City” because of the white lava rock they built many of the buildings out of. It is amazing how clean if feels because of the architecture. It also feels clean because it is clean in comparison to Cusco.
I also noticed a lot more trees and not just Eucalyptus trees that dot the countryside of the Sacred Valley. Alex commented on how it felt like home when we were in a taxi driving to the Plaza de Armas. I fully agreed. I miss trees so much. I miss green space. It is not a lie when people say trees and green space are important for well being. I fully agree and I feel rejuvenated having spent some time with trees in Arquipa, as weird as that sounds.

What’s funny about Arequipa is that it is the second largest city next to Lima in Peru and it’s chalk full of modern amenities such as malls, fast food, and movie theaters. Alex and I went to see a movie. It was an animated movie about owls. It was your standard good versus evil plot but the animation was awesome and owls are just cool animals in general. Why not make them battle each other with armor? Walking through the mall was quite a trip. I felt like I was in anytown USA.
This picture of Burger King, KFC and and Pizza Hut sums it up pretty well. As much as I miss some things from the US, malls aren’t high on my list. I occasionally miss Target but other than that, large commercial stores aren’t a big loss. I did stop into a place called Vanilla Coffee which had a resemblance to Starbucks and the frappecino I had tasted exactly like one from starbucks.I am happy that I live in Cusco. It’s got a better atmosphere (even if it isn’t the cleanest in terms of pollution.) At the end of the trip I was kind of excited to be heading back home to Cusco. I am taking that as a good sign. ☺

Visiting Arequipa is cool but not as cool as visiting Colca Canyon. After searching around 10 or so different tour agencies we finally settled on taking a conventional tour for S./65. No meals were included but that was OK. We had a great tour guide and enjoyed the tour in Spanish. Personally, I get more out of tour guides when they speak Spanish than when they speak English since most of the time their English is limited.
The first day we left at 8:30am and headed to the mountains. We stopped at a few places along the way including Salinas which is a national reserve for Vicuñas.
They are in the cameloid group and they look kind of like hairier deer. Super cute and a great attraction. We can’t forget about the llamas and alpacas which are also very cute. We stopped at a camp where there were quite a few hangin out in a pen. Apparently their guano goes for a 130-200 soles a kilo. Great fertilizer.
You should have heard them crying though. They moaned and whined a bit as we took pictures. Of course, we had to be mindful not to get too close or else they would spit. Llama spit is disgusting and I didn’t feel like getting a loogie in the face that day. We also stopped and looked at some wild Southern Viscacha which are part of the chinchilla family. What cute little guys. Too bad condors like to eat them for lunch. ☺

Right before we got to Chivay, the town we would stay in, we stopped at the highest pass which was about 4900 meters which is over 15,000 feet. It didn’t feel too bad. I had a little headache but nothing terrible. What a gorgeous view. We could see all the volcanoes including Misti. There isn’t too much going on in the way of flora and fauna up there but there were plent of ofrendas, or offerings to the Gods. They are caryns, more or less, but they are everywhere. I made on myself and said a little prayer. It felt right.

In Chivay we had a little bit of down time before heading to Calera where the hot springs are. Oh man, did it feel good to jump into a hot spring. I have been craving a bath since I got here and it cured my need. I spent a good hour and a half in and out of the hot spring. A beer in hand and good company. We also had a great view of the zip line overhead. Alex took the plunge and did it. It seemed a little slow but he had a good time.

That evening we went to a peña restaurant which includes dinner and traditional dance. It was quite fun although I have to say one of the dances included beating the man with a whip and vice versa. They even got the audience to participate. I enjoyed a wonderful dinner of alpaca steak which is excellent! It was nice and juicy and seasoned very well. I highly recommend trying it if you ever get the chance. I still haven’t tried cuy yet. That is next on the list.

On Monday morning we woke up at 5:30am and started the drive to Colca Canyon. It was amazing and the countryside is beautiful! There are pre-incan terraces that dot the countryside as we drove along the mountainside. At one point we went through a tunnel that didn’t seem to have an end to it. I enjoyed the stop in a little town called Maca. I tried a Colca Sour which is like a pisco sour except they add cactus fruit. It’s better than I thought it would be. I am not a huge pisco sour fan but colca sours aren’t bad.

The canyon is gorgeous. I was fortunate enough to be able to see a few condors. One of them decided to give us a good show and flew around for a good minute. I wasn’t able to get a cool close picture but I got a few pretty good ones. Condors are such amazing birds. They live in the canyon because it gives them a good vantage point to see all the little snakes and animals they eat. Beautiful creatures they are.

On the way back we checked out a few pre-incan tombs in the cliffs. Back in the day there wasn’t as much erosion so it was easier for them to climb up to the places where people were buried. I really wish I could’ve seen Juanita, the ice princess mummy. She has been moved to Lima though. I think mummies have got to be one of the coolest relics left over from ancient civilizations. They aren’t just another piece of pottery or tool. It is the best proof that there was life way back when. History is so cool. Haha, the dork in me comes out.

So now I am ready to start the 3 day work week. Ready to rock and roll! I am pumped because I have a conversation class first thing in the morning which means I don’t have to be stressed about having something planned other than a topic or two.

P.S. If anyone wants to listen to some fun Latin music check out Camila’s album Todo Cambio. Also, thank you thank you thank you Dad for sending me all my music on a hard drive. Now I can copy music for my band to listen and cover. This is a picture of Misti Volcano. To see more pictures check out the link under photos.

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