Gradual ascent towards the heavens

Trip Start Jul 31, 2006
Trip End Aug 24, 2006

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Monday, August 7, 2006

Night bus!!! These are the two words in the English language, that make me cringe. I have never had a good experience on a night bus, and yesterday/today was no exception.

The idea was to take an 8 hour bus from Nasca to Arequipa. First off, the bus was running dreadfully late. In turn, we abided our time in a restauranty-type bar across the street. Afterwards, at the bus station, we were then subjected to the original Superman movie with Spanish subtitles. A little difficult to digest.

In the end, we didnīt leave the station until around 12:30am, which was about 2.5 hours late.

When I boarded the bus, there was a brief glimmer of hope that it would be an alright experiece after all. It was by far the most posh bus I had ever seen. A double decker with seats that reclined far back, televisions, and even a "bus attendant" who served us coffee and breakfast in the morning. Things were looking good.

That changed quickly however........

Crammed against the window, try as I might, sleep was impossible. I was trying so hard to relax that it became counter-productive. At one point, the road turned into a mountainous track next to a sheer drop-off. Trying to navigate the road, (at a exceedingly quick pace), the driver threw us around with every corner he took. The on-the-verge "sleepy head dance" is bad enough, but to have someone else throw your body around in this state is even worse. My head conked the window quite good at one point. Needless to say I was up most of the night.

At half past nine, we arrived at the Arequipa bus station. In a convoy of little taxis (that seem very popular in every place but Lima), we arrived at our hotel. Really quite a lovely place. I threw my stuff into my room, went down stairs, gorged on the breakfast buffet, had my first coco tea (nothing too great), and then organized my money before I met the group for a walking tour of Arequipa.

Arequipa seems friendlier than the other places weīve seen thus far. We had a fellow stop us and give us a lengthy explanation of some architecture. He just wanted to practice his English and surprisingly, he didnīt even ask for a tip/propina at the end of it all. Drivers also seem to stop for the pedestrians here. And local kids were more readily saying "hola" to us.

We toured the Plaza de Arms (main plaza), a church, and the local convent, but nothing compared with the seemingly impromptu parade that occured around the main plaza. I have always wanted to see a festival for a patron saint in Latin America. Iīve seen video of the costumes, the dances, and the vibrant colours during these local celebrations, and they have always come across as being so exotic.

To my amazement, I had the pleasure of taking one in.

Despite the small size of the parade, there were dancers, musicians, and entertainers that followed the image of their patron saint. It was a brilliant representation of Peruvian culture, and will be the one overwhelming image I retain from Arequipa.

As far as the affect of the altitude is concerned, (since Arequipa is at about 2500 m above sea level), I seem to be holding up pretty good. At times, my breath seems to be shorter and possibly laboured. However, I think my lack of sleep and my severe hunger during these moments were to blame for the attacks. Tomorrow will be the true test, as we begin hiking a portion of the Colca Canyon. Apparently at times, the surrounding mountains will reach above 4000 m. I will make sure to "coca tea" up for the day.

Lastly, I tried alpaca steak tonight and quite enjoyed it. I ordered "The Trilogy" and was given beef, alpaca, and ostrich steak. Fortunately, hokey cartoon bibs were provided with the meal; because of this, my shirt was undoubtedly saved from the sizzling grease. My pants, however, suffered a very different fate.
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