Mummies, Canyons, and Condors in Arequipa

Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 19, 2006

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

A ten hour bus ride took me from Cusco to Arequipa, Peru. If you are taller than 5 feet, I highly recommend not taking such a long bus ride with Cromotex. This was by far the most uncomfortable bus ride I have been on during the whole trip. There was absolutely no place for my legs. It's times like these it would be convenient to have detachable legs so you can just store them neatly under your chair.

I arrived in Arequipa around 5am and was immediately met with the usual taxi/hotel peddlars. One guy offered a place for 10 soles ($3). That sounded fair to me, so I got a ride with him to Hospedaje The Tourist House, a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas. I immediately checked into my unnecesarily large room and soaked in some much-needed sleep after a restless night. The ceiling for this room was maybe 20 feet high, I felt like I was in a warehouse.

I finally got up around noon and headed out to see the city. Arequipa is a town in southern Peru that is known for its strong regional pride and political activism. The people here seem to have more province pride than national pride. The Plaza de Armas for this city is spectacular, featuring a classical church, palm trees, and snow-capped mountains framing the whole picture. These people live inside a postcard.

There are four things to do in Arequipa:

1) Visit the Santa Catalina Monastery: This is a huge monastery, often called a "town within a town." It's a very nice (but expensive) tour. I ended up doing the night tour for 35 soles.
2) See Juanita: Juanita is one of the best-preserved bodies ever found from the Incan time period. She was a young girl who was sacrificed to the mountain gods. She was remarkably preserved in an icy grave until eruptions at a neighboring volcano caused a snow melt that revealed her.
3) Visit the Colca Canyon: Some people say that this is the deepest canyon in the world, although I've read that it was decided that a nearby canyon is actually deeper by about 100 meters. This is also one of the best places in South America to view the wild condor.
4) Climb a volcano: There are plenty around here, as with most of the places I've been in South America.

The first three activities are by far the most popular, and I managed to experience all of them. I spent my first afternoon in Arequipa wandering the town from travel agency to travel agency. You could tell they would do anything to sell you the same thing that everyone else was selling. In general, you should be able to get a Colca Canyon tour for about $30-40. I ended up paying $35 for a two-day tour.

Ninth wheel in the Colca Canyon
I ended up venturing deep into the Colca Canyon with a group that included a British couple, a Swiss couple, a French couple, and a couple of abnormally physical dogs that mysteriously joined us in the beginning of the hike. It's cute seeing other couples on my travels. Often times, they will even be wearing the same cute matching outfits. They will make cute gestures in response to cute inside jokes. It's very...cute.

I was going solo, and even the two random dogs were all over each other. I felt bad for the dogs, actually. You see, the guy was a small beagle-looking dog while the girl was a rather large black dog. The guy dog kept trying to do his thing with the girl dog, but wasn't successful at all during the whole trip (from what I saw). And they tagged along with us from the top, to the bottom, and back up to the top. I felt bad for both of them. Our guide told us that dogs will generally hop onto tours to get food from people at the end. It worked because the British couple fed them a few biscuits.

At some point on the three-hour hike down the canyon, my knee pain from Cotopaxi reasserted itself. Once again, I was unable to bend my knee without feeling needles stab through the side of my leg. At the bottom of the canyon we had a relaxed lunch before doing another three hour hike along the Colca River to arrive at a place known as the "Oasis." We swam and slept at the Oasis and I once again killed my knee during the three-hour ascent that started at 3am (I really have to stop these late-night hikes...)

I could tell you various anecdotes about talking with the French guy, or translating for the Brits (who didn't speak a word of spanish), or almost leaving the French girl at the bottom of the canyon...but I'm tired and these entries are too long as it is.

After reaching the top in my semi-crippled state, we took a bus over to La Cruz del Condor. Here is where we would get some amazing views of wild condors. You can check out my pictures for some of the images and info, but these animals are truly incredible. Their wingspan can be up to 10 feet! And they were circling all around us. Just amazing. We ended our tour of the Colca Canyon with a relaxing dip in the thermal baths of Chivay.

Walking in a horror movie
I ended up getting back into Arequipa just in time to see Juanita. This was really a spooky experience for me. To be staring through a bilayer of protective glass at something that was walking the planet over 500 years ago is incredible. And this isn't a mummy. No, this is a person. She has skin. She has hair. She has a spooky expression on her face. Too bad no cameras were allowed inside.

I couldn't stare at her very long because my imagination would race ahead of me, producing all of the theatrics necessary for a horror movie scene. Did her hand just twitch? Did her head tilt towards me? No... Is she moving? Wait, where did the protective glass go? Ok, I have to get out of this dark room...

My next stop: Lake Titicaca. Sweet.

Quantifiable Summary
Bus from Cusco to Arequipa: 25 soles($8), 10 miserable hours.
Night tour of Santa Catalina: 35 soles($10), 2 hours in english.
Hospedaje Tourist House: 10 soles ($3)/night/person. Big rooms, hot shared shower.
Colca Canyon Tour: $35, 2 days, incredible.
Juanita Tour: 15 soles ($5), 2 hours, spooky.
Still alive.
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