The First Time

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Amazing Home Hostel

Flag of Peru  ,
Monday, February 1, 2010

Upon arrival in Arequipa, Alex the hostel owner was waiting for us, and a short taxi ride later we were checking into the "Amazing Home Hostel". We had two separate rooms with a bathroom in between and a fourth door connecting to the main hallway - a perfect set up for a family. Derek almost injured himself when walking into the "unexpectedly locked" bathroom door and was scolding Lauren and about to warn her not to spend too long in there, when he realized that Lauren was sitting watching TV with Alex and that Sarah was in the other just who was it that Derek was yelling at in our bathroom??? Turns out that sometimes it is used as a shared bathroom and one of the guests who had been staying at the hostel a few days earlier had returned and wasn´t aware that it had become a "private bathroom". Still not sure who was more startled by the incident, Derek or the girl???

Arequipa is a relatively new city in that it was established by the Spanish and therefore has no Incan or pre-Incan history like so many of the other places in Peru that we have been visiting. It is a city surrounded by desert and volcanoes; it tends to be warm during the day and cools off significantly as soon as the sun goes down. Locals like to say "when the moon separated from the earth, it left behind Arequipa".  Most of the historical buildings and the buildings in the city centre were built using sillar, a white volcanic stone, and the city is known as “the white city”. But, one of the reasons we had come to Arequipa was to go to Colca Canyon to see the condors and we had chosen the Amazing Home Hostel partially because Alex (the owner) was a trekking guide in Colca Canyon for ten years and helps tourists to set up tours to the canyon. However, shortly after our arrival we discovered that this is a bad time to see the condors and that we would be lucky to see them. Due to the distance (about 5 hours away) and the likelihood of not seeing Condors, we decided to pass on Colca Canyon and spend our time in the city instead.

So, our first full day in Arequipa was spent exploring the “white city”. We strolled around the main plaza and up and down the major streets connected to it; we wandered through side streets and smaller plazas soaking up the sun and enjoying the hustle and bustle of city life. We also enjoyed some of the highlights of Peruvian cuisine. In Peru, the main meal of the day is lunch, and many restaurants offer a “menu”, usually consisting of three courses (entrée, main and dessert) and may include a drink too. The biggest attraction of these can be the price; typically a lunchtime “menu” costs around S/.6-10 ($2-3) so as a family we can eat a three course meal for about US$10! After our “menu” lunch, we stopped mid-afternoon for ice-creams, beer and coffee overlooking the main square and again on a side street to indulge in “Happy Hour” Pisco Sours! (Happy Hour actually lasts all day in most of the restaurants). Pena are typical Peruvian restaurants that often have live music in the evenings, so for dinner we found a Pena and the music was great….although they left pretty quickly after just one set (it was pretty quiet in there). Some Peruvian culinary highlights of the day include; Ocopa Arequipena, sliced potatoes with a thick yellow sauce (all cold); Sopa Criolla, a soup which upon arrival we discovered contained large chunks of beef; Pollo Aji – a mild chicken curry; Escribano – sliced tomatoes in a spicy dressing; Palta Rellena con Pollo, advocado stuffed with chicken salad; Rocoto Vegetariano (the popular version of this is Rocoto Rellena which is stuffed with minced beef) – a pepper stuffed with vegetables (this is supposed to be spicy, but we suspect that we received the tourist version i.e. a sweet pepper rather than a spicy one); and last but not least, alpaca a la plancha – grilled alpaca. The alpaca was delicious (even for us non-red-meat eaters), very tender and we think it tastes a little like we remember beef tastes like.

Day two in Arequipa we exercised a little more than our stomachs; We started the day with a guided tour of the Convent de Santa Catalina – built about five hundred years ago. The kids were very interested to learn about the lives of nuns and just how things had changed over the time it has been operating. It is still an operating convent today, though with far fewer nuns who occupy only the newer buildings which are off-limits to the public. After a quick lunch of empanadas (pies/pasties), we were off on a city & countryside tour aboard an open topped, double-decker bus. Our tour included lots of stops at various points of interest, though nothing outstanding to comment on.

Our final day in Arequipa involved another joyous trek to the bus station to book more bus tickets. The next travel leg is an overnight bus to Nasca; following our less than ideal overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa, we decided to fork out the cash for the extra-wide, fully-reclining seats and bought Olthursa VIP tickets at S/.125 each (about US$45). This seemed expensive compared to our last two buses which were each S./100 for all four of us, but no more than we had been expecting to pay for each of the legs when we did our pre-trip research. A few quick tips for those looking to travel by bus in Peru; It's always cheaper to buy tickets at the actual bus station than through hotels, hostels or the agents you’ll find in the towns (even when they claim to be the same price); The higher end companies such as Cruz del Sur and Olthursa seem to be fixed price, but some of the cheaper companies can be negotiated with for really good prices; It seems that it might be possible to get good prices within twenty minutes or so of departure (while we didn’t ever try this due to there being four of us needing tickets, there was always a rush of Peruvians at the desk around 20-30 minutes prior to departure; Don’t rely on buses running to schedule when booking onward journeys or events…timing is pretty random; VIP (lower level, better seats) sell out really fast, but are worth the extra money if travelling overnight.

After booking our tickets for that evening and checking out of our hostel we took a taxi to a well-recommended typical restaurant for lunch. This was another Pena, only this one was huge and was packed with people, mostly locals it seemed which is always a good sign. The traditional band also played more than one set…another good sign? Our lunch was to be the moment Lauren had been dreading since several months before we left Canada. We started with traditional drinks and entrees; Chicha (a beer made from corn and fruit), Chicha Morado (a soft drink also made from corn), a potato and cheese pie, fried yucca and fried cheese pieces. Chicha is probably an acquired taste and neither of the adults were overly keen, though it was drinkable. All of the entrees were going down quite well, that is until the main courses arrived, when Lauren rapidly lost her appetite…..we had ordered pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken), corvina aji (???)(sea bass with a spicy topping of vegetables) and the dreaded cuy choctado (???) (deep fried guinea pig!). Deep fried guinea pig is served much the same way that some fish is served, i.e. split down the middle and served in its entirety, complete with head, teeth and four little pawsL Needless to say, this was the first time for us, other than Lauren ,,, she, of course, wouldn’t partake. So, the big question is; “What does guinea pig taste like?”. Well, and I’m not making this up, it actually tastes like chicken, at least the dark meat part, although there’s about as much meat in one as a single chicken wing (the fur adds half a pound). Unsurprisingly, Alex seemed to like it (he’ll eat anything you put in front of him) and Sarah started off ok, but lost her appetite for it as she approached the head.

With our paunches stuffed we headed for the bus station for our overnight journey to Nasca and the mysterious lines…
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Doug and Randi on

Great guys! Some adventures are more adventurous. Looks like your trip is
all you could have hoped for. Have fun at the Olympics!

Derek we pulled off a late tie tonight, so no ground lost or gained. It was good
to get the tie, they out hustled us and should have won.


Nance McEvoy on

I am with Lauren on the Guinea Pig - but besides that it looks like fun!


Brian on

I thought along that Guinea Pig would have tasted much like pork! Where else does baby back ribs come from? Have fun!

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