Surprisingly I was able to get some decent sleep on the floor of the airport. Probably because my bed (floor) at home was very similar in construction. Between the time when I made the reservation for the flight to Arequipa and now I had received a new passport. This meant that my passport # was wrong on my ticket. This was the sort of thing that ruins a trip. None of the offices for the airlines was open at 5am and the ticket counter was empty. I knew from past experiences that I needed to arrive at the gate 2 hours early even though the boarding took only 10 minutes. After searching frantically for 1 hour, found a small desk with a guy that agreed to change the # on my ticket for $15. I thought this was a little absurd, but what would you expect from a country that charges you to use public restrooms.
I will take a moment to explain the currency. Peru uses the Sole. Roughly S3 soles is equivalent to $1. It made an easy calculation. They used coins for anything up to S10, meaning I had to get used to carrying around change that actually meant something. The first few exchanges ended with me just holding out a handful of coins and them selecting what they wanted, much like passing out candy at Halloween.
The flight was uneventful, and I landed in Arequipa surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges and volcanoes.
I immediately caught a taxi to the bus station where I was hoping to catch a 5 hour bus into the Canon del Colca and a subsequent 2 hour hike into the second deepest canyon in the world (deepest is about 2 hours NW of Colca), where there is a small settlement, Sangalle, with bungalows and natural pools.
The only bus I could find was not leaving until 2pm, making it difficult to make the hike by nightfall (approx 7pm) and turn around the next day and return to Arequipa. I decided to take the bus as far as the gateway to the Colca Canyon, city of Chivay, and see what I could get into that night. I had a few hours to kill before the bus left so I caught a cab to a local attraction, the Monasterio de Santo Catalina. It is a working Monastery that allows tourists to tramp through the maze of rooms. I got to the gate and tried to ask them in Spanish how much it was. For some reason he did not understand me. I should say that 4 months ago I had bought a $500 copy of Spanish Rosetta Stone Language lessons. It has sat in the box for that duration, but was hoping that through osmosis I would have picked up something. Eventually he said in English, “what language are you trying to speak.” I responded, and he said, “why don’t you just speak that language then”. I sheepishly agreed with a “Good day Sir”.
Below is a sampling of the pictures I took.
After basically running through the buildings in order to make my bus, I cabbed it back and boarded for Chivay. Once getting out of the city limits, every building was 6ft cinderblock with a tin sheet or tarp roof. This was not what I expected at all. It was much more poor than Colombia. The GDP of Peru is roughly half that of Colombia. I guess they should have dealt more in drugs than Guano (bat droppings). To be fair, both countries GDPs are rising at a rapid rate. A point of concern is the relationship between Peru’s newly elected president (Ollanta Humala) and extreme Leftist leaders of Venezuela (Chavez) and Bolivia (Morales).
I fell asleep for a bit. Upon waking I got up to find a bathroom in the back of the bus. I was trying to open the bathroom door, until I realized that the bathroom was removed and it simply opened to the outside. I vowed that it would be the last bus ride without a supply of empty Gatorade bottles (I have mastered the art of relieving myself inconspicuously in public places). Getting back to my seat I about had a panic attack as I could not breathe. It took about 1 minute to settle down. I realized we had moved up to about 10K in elevation when I pulled out a Clif bar and it was exploding at the seams.
A brief lesson in science. The pressure at higher elevations is less, meaning it does not force oxygen into your lungs like it does at sea level, causing a struggle to breathe ("thinner" air due to less pressure, resulting in smaller concentration per square inch). Since the pressure on the inside of my Clif bar was greater then the air around it, it was pushing out. I began to appreciate my patients who had anxiety issues after having shortness of Breathe due to heart/Lung issues. The fear of it happening again is about as bad as the actual attack. I was not clamoring for an oxygen tank but I definitely felt the difference and knew it would take a toll on my movement.
About this time a guy got on the bus with a little Pan flute and started playing a Paul Simon song (The Condor) here is link
I was like, great, I come to Peru and these guys are covering Simon & Garfunkel. Later I realized it was Simon who covered a classic Peruvian song regarding the bird famous in the Colca canyon….Stupid American.
After he was done fluting, he talked to me about lodging options. As a rule you avoid the talkers as scams are the norm but he seemed trustworthy and I had no clue what I was to do when I got off the bus. Because I don’t speak much Spanish I end up trusting locals probably more than I should but so far it has worked out ok.
As we reached the rim of the canyon, we picked up a group of artisans heading back down to the city who needed a ride. It was kind of odd as they loaded up their crafts on their backs and then stuffed there Alpacas into the luggage compartments below the bus.
The town on Chivay was very poor. I rode in the back this contraption to my Hostel for the night
I was pretty tired, but I rallied and planned on hiking outside of town to a hot springs and beyond. After showering and leaving my clothes to dry, I put on my only other dry gear and found the Plaza de Armas. It started raining and I sought shelter, thinking twice about hiking as I wanted to keep one set of clothes from being wet for tomorrow.
I spent the afternoon checking out the markets and shops. This town was a tourist stop for day tours into the canyon from Arequipa, but few stayed over night. I wanted to pick up some items from Peru that would fit in my pack, so I made a pass through every shop before going back to my favorites.
This lady sold me some fabric that local campesinos use to carry anything from babies to food or crafts on their backs.
Here are a couple pieces as I have them displayed at my place back home
Here is the dog that tried to bite me
Once darkness settled, the food carts rolled out and the market streets took on a new social vibe. I sampled a few dishes, and tried to blend in as much as possible with the locals, scoffing as I looked across the street as the tourists entered to pizza joints and high-class restaurants.
Peru is famous for inventing the Potatoe. They have about 100 types. Most soups are a mix of onions and potatoes in a poultry broth. After eating I passed out at 7:30 in my hostel.
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