Arequipa and Canyon del Colca

Trip Start Sep 12, 2008
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Arequipa! I like the sound of that city.
Sure enough, we had a great time there and ended up spending 4 days there exploring the old buildings, enjoying views of the Plaza de Armas and delighting in the best hot water shower of the trip so far.

Arequipa is called the white city because many of its colonial buildings are made out of a light grey volcanic rock called Sillar (I guess ¨Grey City¨ didn´t have the same ring).  The main plaza is made out of the same rock and on one of its sides is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I´ve seen yet.  We went to mass there one night and had a chance to wander around inside... it was painted meticulously and filled with statues and carvings, including a super ornate pulpet sort of thing that we assumed was for the Pope visiting.
One of the days we decided to visit a monastery, so we headed to the cheaper and less touristy option across the river from the downtown. There we got to see some colonial buildings (for a change!), I posed for a picture with the oldest clay jug in Peru, we saw a lot of strange stuffed animals brought back from missionaries to the jungle, and we visited a library containing thousands of REALLY old and somewhat crumbling books.  The missionary history room told a fairly one sided story of the hundreds of years (aka how they suffered a crippling loss when the indiginous people finally had enough and rebelled), but I would have wanted to know more about those years from a neutral source.

A big highlight of our Arequipa time was a fantastic brunch we had (we called it Almuersayuno) where we found a supermarket to buy cream cheese, other real cheese, peach jam, bread, fruit and juice. We thought it best to finish the entire package of cream cheese so we basically gorged ourselves and loved every minute of our pseudo-canadian breakfast (that wasn´t meagre like most ones here).

While we were eating breakfast another day we saw a protest of university workers going by. It was a little lacklustre, with a man calling out chants on a loudspeaker and getting very little response.  It got even sadder when an ice cream vendor stopped by and most of the back of the protest decided to give themselves an ice cream break.  I wish them well with their cause though.

The last slightly funny (for you) story was our last dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Plaza. We found an unbelievable dinner deal so decided to go for some traditional Arequipenan food of a hot pepper stuffed with alpaca meat, peanuts, raisins and sauce made of corn.  I had eaten this dish another night and loved it, but that night we both got caught by a bit of chilly pepper that was super spicy and spent most of dinner alternately crying, choking, dying and generally wishing we could rip our tongues out.  During my spell, the chef came by and remarked that the food was pretty spicy, then he laughed, told us to enjoy our dinner and walked off.  So sweet!

Canyon del Colca:
I hope the story of our trip can be told mostly in the pictures that I can very hopefully post, to save you from more reading.  But here are a few quick details: We hiked for 2 days, basically one day all the way down and one day most of the way up, then all the way down then all the way up again.  The fact that Colca is the 2nd deepest canyon in the world became painfully obvious to us the second day when we hiked 1.7 vertical kms, including our marathon 3 hours straight up. Actually, I´d say that fact was more painfully obvious yesterday and today after 17 total hours on the bus in 24 hours.
But back to the canyon.  After our amazingly beautiful hike down the first day, we stayed the night in a tiny village (ok, it was mostly just 2 houses) called Llahuar, where they had basic accomodations complimented by incredible views, fresh fish from the river and hot springs to enjoy under the stars.  We also enjoyed the company of 5 other tourists from various countries, and shared our stories of the gringo trail together over dinner and lemongrass tea.
The next day we were walking by 8 but since it´s basically a desert, the sun was as strong as it could be as we panted up what felt like cliffs of sand.  Most of the walk was on a narrow path of switchbacks, either going straight up or straight down, but at midday we enjoyed a long stretch of straight path where we could look around at the canyon without dying (though we had to remember not to fall to our deaths down the canyon..  minor detail).  On the way down we passed through amazing terraces built before Inca times on quite steep hillsides to permit agriculture, though Joseph and I both speculated on whose brilliant idea it was to build a settlement there in the first place (an avid pre-inca hiker perhaps?).
We at lunch at the tourist trap called the Oasis, which I would not recommend to anyone.  It´s called San Galle as Joseph just pointed out.  I have no  love for it though, or for the man who tried to rent me a mule for the climb up about 4 times.

At the top of the canyon, feeling very accomplished by our 3 hour climb, we sat for a while on a rock overlooking the canyon and spotted several Andean Condors gliding around below us.  It was a beautiful sight, as the sun was lengthening the shadows cast by various ridges in the canyon. 
So in summary, the canyon was a big highlight, please go there, it is wonderful!
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