Tuesday, February 16, 2010

¡Hola Peru!

A question for you all...

Would you spend an extra $800 for a direct flight...or endure 3 days of travel?

$800...or 22 hours on an uncomfortable bus, trying to sleep while Barney Rubble snores in the back row, going without 3 meals because they are just that inedible, sitting right beside a boy who vomits all over his pants with about 6 hours yet to go? Oh, and had part of my backpack taken off, rummaged through, and then given back - apparently the robber saw nothing of interest.

$800...or trudging through one of the biggest cities in South America with a 10-15kg pack in 35 degree heat, with a 5 am wake-up call to get on a plane that makes three touchdowns in horrendous wind before finally getting to our destination?

We chose to save $800, and endured all of the above. Ask me what I'll do next time.

One plus on this trip, however, was some amazing scenery as we crossed the Andes dividing Argentina and Chile. Sick of pictures of mountains yet? We aren't!

Our windy road down!

¡Hola Peru!
Our heavy landing at the airport in Arequipa woke us both up with a jolt, as did our first steps into this new country. Gone are the chic, modern streets of Buenos Aires - we feel like we have stepped a bit back in time to the beginning of our trip when we arrived in Sucre, Bolivia. There are many similarities between the two cities, and it didn't take us long to feel right at home. After the disappointment of leaving Argentina and three days of exhausting travel, we felt re-energized to step back into an environment that is so new and foreign.

We unloaded our bags at our very nice, clean and cheap hostel (Yay! We are back in the land of CHEAP!) before beginning our desperate search for a good meal. We began our four block walk to the main plaza and were welcomed into Peru in a quite unexpected way - by being pelted with water balloons! We got hit twice, one smashed near us and got us only slightly wet, while I then took another one smack on my right hip. Across South America, it is "Carnival" time, with many countries and cities celebrating in their own ways. Here, it is celebrated by whipping overfilled water balloons or spraying foam at anyone who passes by - and I do believe that as gringos, our targets are bigger. I'm glad I only got the water, and not the foam, although some seemed to enjoy it:

We reached the main plaza without further incident, and were immediately overwhelmed with the architecture. Three of the four streets are lined with two tier, large arched walkways that contain many cafe's, tourism agencies and souvenir shops. On the final side of the plaza is the Catedral - an incredibly impressive structure that takes up the whole block. Originally built in the 1500s, it has been destroyed several times due to earthquakes and fire, and was rebuilt as recently as 2001. The inside is not quite as impressive as other churches we have seen, but it's overall dominating presence in the city is definitely something to see.

Inside the Catedral

Catedral at dusk

Arequipa is known as the "white city" because of their use of sillar, a whiteish volcanic rock that has been used in many of their buildings. We've seen much of it on our tours throughout the city, including our long visit to the Monestario Santa Catalina. Built in 1579, it is a massive 20,000 sq ft that housed nuns from all over - they built their own private rooms within; and were shut off completely from the city. The many buildings and streets within the complex were a large maze, Pete and I explored every corner for over 2 hours, snapping a couple hundred amazing photos as we went!

There is a lot to see in this city, and so for our final day, we hired a private tour guide to take us to all of the sights.

Beautiful vistas of the city!

Our most memorable stops of the day, however, involved a grouchy llama and a helpless guinea pig!

First was a store that exclusively makes and sells garments made from alpaca, llama and vicuña. Nothing special, we've seen it all before in Bolivia, but out back they had caged animals that were part of the attraction.

We wandered back, and Pete found himself in a staring contest with a llama.

Well, Pete lost that staring contest after the llama decided he had had enough... and spit his cud right in Pete's face!

I wish I had been taking video. The driver and I continued laughing about it for the rest of our trip!

I did finally stop laughing, however, when we stopped for lunch and Pete indulged in the most famous of Peruvian delicacies - cuy (guinea pig!) It is supposedly a very nutritious rodent. Ugh, the key word there for me is "rodent". I watched in horror as the waitress brought out a wholly fried guinea pig. It still had it's claws, eyes and teeth.

Pete said he enjoyed it and that it tasted just like Kentucky Fried Chicken! He didn't quite finish it though - he got to the head, pulled the skin back, and saw a beady little eye staring at him. That's when he had enough. I'm pretty sure I am a vegetarian now after watching that.

It has been an eventful few days in beautiful Arequipa, and tonight we are resting up for our disgusting 3am departure tomorrow. We are off on a 3 day, 2 night trek through Colca Canyon - the deepest canyon in the world! It will be a challenge given that we are back into high altitudes and there is one very steep portion to the climb. But it will have to satisfy our trekking appetite given that Machu Picchu is definitely closed through March. A big disappointment for us, but it just gives us one more reason to get back down here...

Curling in South America!
Pete and I have been checking ESPN South America the last few days to get some Olympic coverage, but all they have been showing is the bialthlon and cross country skiing (snoozefest). Thus, we were both pretty shocked to lay down today for our afternoon siesta, flip through the TV channels, and stumble upon Olympic curling and Kevin Martin's bald head!

Listening to the broadcasters coverage of the curling is most entertaining - I don't think they really have much idea of what is going on. In the first end, they seemed to be quite perplexed by Kevin Martin throwing his last rock through the house, commenting: "¿Un poco rapido, no?" (a little fast, no?) They obviously are not aware of the concept of the blank end!

Much of their chatter has also been on the Norwegian's John-Daly-style-pantalones. Probably wise for them to stick to talking about fashion (or, lack thereof, depending on your taste).

Hmmm...once our Spanish is better, perhaps this is a new career path for Pete and I? =)


  1. I love it! Having had my collar bone broken at the age of 5 by a water balloon (thrown from the second story across the street) in Lima, I can relate! Here Los Organos, N. Peru, Carnaval is, incredibly, restricted to the young, unlike other places we have lived such as Guayaquil and Cochabamba.

    Keep up the good work,

    David - www.inside-peru.com

  2. Nice blog, I laughed out loud when I read about the fried guinea pig!

    Since you're in Peru now, I'd like to ask you a quick question if you don't mind. Me and my friends want to go, but I'm worried about all the reports of flooding.

    Do you think it's still ok to go despite the floods?


    Chicago, IL

  3. David - broken collar bone - ouch!! I consider myself lucky for just getting soaked! I checked out your website - will send you some questions on Northern Peru if that is okay!

    Justin - where/when do you want to go in Peru? Macchu Pichu is closed until April due to all the flooding, and we just had some problems hiking Colca Canyon because of rain. If you stick to the coast, you would be fine. We are heading to Huaraz in a few days (another big ¨hiking¨ spot), so can report back on that soon.

  4. cool, thanks for the advice. It would be a 3 week trip, so we'd like to see as much of Peru possible. Also, it wouldn't be until July. We're hoping the flood problem won't be an issue by then, but who knows!