Beautiful Arequipa - the White City

Trip Start Mar 23, 2007
Trip End Apr 17, 2007

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Monday, April 2, 2007

Our trip to Arequipa had a rather scary start...while boarding the midnight luxury bus from Nasca to Arequipa, we were finger-printed and video-taped. A little strange, donīt you think? We were told it was for identification in case the bus went off the road...nice! It was a little hard to get to sleep after hearing that, I have to admit!

We arrived in the early morning to yet another bus terminal without any hostel booked...took a chance and booked with the one featured by the tourist information booth. We were a little nervous about jumping into a taxi in this unknown city but were assured that the taxi company was "secure". To our delight, the hotel was beautiful with colonial style architecture and wonderfully friendly staff...they were nice enough to rush me straight to the banos upon my arrival! Yes, Stacey is STILL sick.

Arequipa is not as commercial as the other cities, the colonial style architecture is amazing and the streets are very clean...Most of the buildings are white sillar which is volcanic rock, so the city is very beautiful. There are tons of wonderful cultural expositions to visit like the Museum of the Frozen Mummy aka Juanita. Juanita is an Inca girl that was apparently sacrificed to the Inca gods on the top of one of the very high mountains around Arequipa. Because the climate is so cold and dry, her body did not decompose and so she was found a number of years ago in almost perfect condition. All of the Inca artifacts that were found with her were also on display which was very interesting. Unfortunately we couldnīt take any photos...

One of the highlights of our trip to date has got to be our three day trek in the Colca Canyon. We had heard of a tour agency from one of the Aussie women we met in Nasca who had raved about the trek they went on. "Land Adventures" is a fairly new organization dedicated to helping the local economy of the areas that they have their activities. So, instead of having their tours stay in the usual touristic areas, they spread the wealth and give their business to the locals. The three day/two night trek to the Colca Canyon started off with a five and a half hour bus ride from Arequipa to Cabanaconde - on the local bus, no less! Letīs just say that people bring their chickens on this bus...and stand and sit in the aisles. Our guide made sure that we all had seats which sometimes we felt bad about when the local women came on the bus with huge bundles on their backs and had to stand in the aisles. The bus ride alone was an education on Peruvian life in the Andes! The road sometimes had a mud slide, or a river running through it... or you were bascially on the very edge of a cliff and holding your breath. Its amazing how hard the people work and how much those tiny little women carry! Our guide told us that the women wear such colour clothing to bring some happiness in their life because they do work so hard. Being the end of the rainy season, the mountains were lush with vegetation.

Our Colca Canyon trekking group consisted of about nine tourists and two guides. We were the only two Canadians but there were three people from France, two girls from Denmark, one American kid and a British guy. It was quite the electic group but most of us spoke some English...The main guide, Alvaro, was a really interesting and relaxed young guy who had been raised by his grandfather, a shaman, in the jungle near Puerto Maldanado. He of course pointed out many medicinal plants along the way and actually made an herbal tea for all of us the first night that temporarily cured my stomach my relief. Alvaro really took a shining to Rob for some reason (hee hee) and was also very intrigued by our relationship. We both found Alvaro to be a very special spirit and one of the best qualities of our trek.

We hadnīt expected the trek to be as tough as it was. The first day was advertised as a three hour hike downhill...which really was a four and a half hike down a MOUNTAIN into the Colca Canyon (which is actually deeper than the Grande Canyon!)on a donkey path. By the time we got the bottom, our legs were pretty much like jelly. Then we had a two hour hike back up the other side to our lodging! I am SO glad that we had trekking poles with us as the path was quite slippery with rocks...(thanks Etienne and Jean!) The altitude also took its toll on Stacey as well which was a little tough her ego...most of the rest of the group had come from Cusco so they were used to the altitude. I had to realize that being in shape doesnīt matter when it comes to high altitude for the first time...and yes, not everyone is affected the same way...Rob "the sick boy" showed barely any signs.

Our first night in the Colca Canyon was spent in a mud house...yes, the mud was still wet in fact. There was electricity and hot water however, provided by solar panels. Some of our fellow trekkers encountered a scorpion upon their return from the shower which made the rest of us paranoid about our sleeping quarters. We did have the best sleep of our trip that night!

The next morning we set off for what we thought was only an uphill trail...yes, after four and a half hours of downhill we were dying for some uphill! The terrain along the way was fantastic but alas there was lots of downhill...just two and half hours and then a few hours at the oasis before our four hour journey back up the mountain. We arrived in the early evening at Cabanaconde and had a hot shower before heading off to eat...most of us definitely feeling the last two days! We were all very happy to spend the third day watching the condors at Condor Valley and then hanging out at the hot springs before taking the long bus ride back to Arequipa.

We rushed back to our hotel room to pack our backpacks up AGAIN and then off to bus station to catch the overnight bus to Puno. We arrived there around 8 p.m. to drop off our bags so that we could join our fellow trekkers for a meal before our departure -only to find out that the bus was cancelled. The next bus left at 9:45 a.m. the next morning and didnīt get into Puno until 3:30 p.m. We had a flight booked to Cusco the following morning at 9:10 a.m. This meant that we had maybe 3 hours of light in Puno to see everything we wanted to see! After our initial frustration with the bus company and their lack of customer service - they refused to pay for our taxi or our accomodation for that night- we resigned ourselves to the short timeframe and the disappointment. The good thing is that we got to sleep one more night in that beautiful hostal instead of on a bus!

The next morning we got to live through an earthquake that was 5.5 on the richter scale! Yes it was very scary and as we stood there in semi-panic mode, Rob was the first one to snap out of it and lead me out of the terminal with the rest of the crowd. As we stood outside the terminal we could see off in the distance a huge clowd of dust setling in the mountain side suburb...we were told a house had collapsed. Ten minutes later everything went back to normal, and we warily entered the bus station to await our bus. At the second tremor everybody got up in a panic, but the bus station attendants quickly assured us that there was nothing to panic about. Shortly after our bus arrived and we happily departed.

Photos to follow shortly :)
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