More Starbucks and Pizza Hut...Really?

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who knows what the expression on my face must have been when the gate agent rattled off something a mile a minute in Spanish because she immediately switched to English.  Without missing a beat she gave me a most disturbing notification:  "You will become retarded in Arequipa."   What does one do in such a situation with that dire warning just hanging in the air?  Do I get on the plane and risk it all?  

Being the nice person I am, I started to screw with her and asked her how bad I could expect my retardation to become.  "Not so bad.  I make announcement for you when your retardation passes."   Whew.  Thank God it's only going to be a temporary.   While I do appreciate she was just doing her best to warn me of the timebomb ticking in my head, should I have told her that using the word retarded probably isn't at the top of the politically correct list anymore?  Oh man, the sticky dilemmas air travel poses nowadays.

Well, I've been here all day now waiting for my big transformation.  Maybe it's already happened and I just don't yet realize it.   Actually I think siroche, or altitude sickness, probably would have more a chance than that quack gate agent's predictions as Arequipa is about 8,000 feet above sea level.   Her intended message I am guessing was to expect a 20 minute delay departing for Arequipa.

A twenty minute delay on a one hour and twenty minute flight even at risk of retardation, excuse me...mental disablement and developmental delay, is well within my tolerances.   A 16 hour busride over the high altitude desert plains and sheer mountain cliffs from Lima might have just pushed my comfort boundaries a little over the edge.  For just $25 more than the first class bus, another StarPeru BAe 146 zipped me cross country in no time.  A few busjackings and robberies have been reported over the years along the highway as well so StarPeru it is.  No bandits, no breakdowns, no bone crunching roads...just a ham sandwich, a short nap, an irritable baby next to me, and the ever present risk of retardation while flying the Peruvian skies.

Seat 3A's tiny piece of glass gave me a huge birdseye view of one of the starkest, driest landscapes I have ever seen in my travels.  If any plant life exists, I sure missed any on the approach into Arequipa.  Seriously, this region makes Tucson look like a verdant tropical oasis in comparison.   Is the lush, flat mosquito laced landscape around Iquitos really even part of the same country?

Not all in this dusty mountainous town runs dry though.  Of all possible franchises, a Starbucks sits in all its caffeine fueled glory right there in the historic center expensively quenching thirsts, and I will admit walking past it really did evaporate any preconceived images I had of this so called "white city."  For now that unique Iquitos-like experience of local mom and pop joints offering in that part of the world only variety eludes me.  Iquitos is as colorful as its Amazon backyard whereas Arequipa at first sight just blends right into the brown desert pushing up against its borders.

The mountains beyond beckon of course and getting out into nature again will be a welcome relief from the city noise. I have already met some great people where I am staying, and we are undertaking three days of hiking and camping to the bottom of Colca Canyon. A 3am departure awaits us day after tomorrow for the winding drive up to even greater heights. With a depth of 13,650', Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and supposedly the deepest in the world.  Hiking to the bottom of this natural wonder is definitely not something I can pass up.

TGI Friday's and Starbuck's sightings won't cause me to give up on Arequipa just yet.   Digging deep enough anywhere always yields the most memorable local experiences.   I have all day tomorrow to acclimate to these altitudes and to unearth anything unique and local that Peru's second largest city decides to offer up. I randomly found broasted chicken in that tiny town of what, maybe a few hundred, back then in September so really anything is possible when we travel.

How I Got Here:

Flying Dog Hostel to Lima Airport - Taxi - 40 Soles ($13) - 25 minutes
Lima to Arequipa - StarPeru Airlines - $86 - 1:20
Arequipa Airport to Flying Dog Hostel - Taxi - 20 Soles ($6.50) 15 minutes

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