On the morning of April 9th, I said goodbye to the mystical place that is Lake Titicaca (silently vowing to one day return) and hopped on a bus across the border and into Peru. After a long bus ride, Antoine and I arrived in the city of Arequipa at dusk. We checked into a relatively crappy hostel multiple blocks from the central plaza, and after dropping our bags we set out in search of dinner and a better place to stay for the next night. We toured a few swanky hotels before remembering that we were backpackers, and we finally settled on a cheap and cheerful hostel close to the center (Oh, and ate crepes for dinner…Antoine went for alpaca meat and raves about it. I’m not convinced.).
The next morning I woke up to discover an email from John, a traveler I had met in my dorm room the very first night of my trip back in Antigua, Guatemala in July. Imagine my surprise when his email informed me that he had seen me go into my room at the Arequipa hostel the night before! That morning at breakfast I had a lovely catch-up with him over the last eight months. Small world.
After breakfast, Antoine and I played a few games of pool. He was seeking revenge for losing miserably to me back in La Paz. Unfortunately for him, he was still no match for my serious pool shark skills (Don’t be fooled by my short stature and crutches, people.). After we had taken full advantage of hostel #1, we checked out and switched over to hostel #2.
Over lunch at the plaza, we discussed the second item on the Belgian Barbarian’s list of things to do/ways to torture me during our two weeks traveling together: Colca Canyon trek. At a depth of 13,650 ft (4,160 m), the canyon is more
than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Three days after the grueling Isla del Sol trek, my little body was still broken and exhausted, and the thought of doing another strenuous trek had me nearly in tears. I was afraid of not being able to physically do it and disappoint myself and the BB; however, I didn’t want to miss out either. Finally, we agreed on a plan: donkey!
That afternoon we checked out the informative Incan mummy museum followed by a happy hour pisco sour. That evening, we wandered for hours through the candlelit grounds of the breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful Santa Catalina Monastery, a massive convent that was closed off completely from the public from it’s conception in 1580 until 1970.
That evening, we bumped into a French couple we had met on our bus from Copacabana, and we joined them for dinner. Antoine, in an attempt to outdo himself and the previous night’s alpaca crepe, ordered cuy. Also known as guinea pig. As in, that cute furry animal that was your class pet in 3rd grade. Deep fried.
The next morning we were up well before dawn to embark on our trip to the Colca Canyon. We rode several hours in a van before reaching our first stop: a lookout point at the top of the gorge where we were able to watch gigantic condors soaring along the Peruvian geothermals. We finally ended up at the start of the trek, where Antoine and I met our guide Walter, my mule, and the mule’s best friend, a smiling rust-colored dog.
Our entourage slowly descended deep into the canyon; occasionally, I had to hop off the mule and walk because the declines were too steep for the two of us. Finally, after nearly six hours, we pulled into a beautiful warm oasis at the bottom of the canyon, where we went for a swim in the pool, had dinner, and crashed for the night in a chilly wooden cabin (mule and dog slept next to each other in the yard).
The next morning Walter, mule, dog, and I started our ascent up the mountain around 6am (Antoine got an early start). The climb was steep, and we passed numerous panting sweating hikers with pale, bloodless faces along the way; however, mule was a machine and got us to the top in two hours. After the hike we had a celebratory breakfast before saying goodbye to Walter and our furry friends. On the van ride back to Arequipa, we stopped to see some llamas/alpacas (I still can’t tell the difference!) in their natural habitat before going for an icy river swim.
We got back to Arequipa that evening, tired and rosy-cheeked. We mustered up the energy to go for a nice dinner in a strange French-Peruvian restaurant. Unfortunately, somewhere between the restaurant and our hostel I managed to lose about $200 out of my hostel. Typical.
The next day we wandered around Arequipa, taking in the views of the lovely city and its massive snow-capped volcano. That evening, we climbed aboard the fanciest bus I’ve ever been on, complete with huge reclining leather chairs, dinner service, and individual televisions/movies. We even played BINGO, in which yours truly won a free bus rode from Cusco to Arequipa. That will come in handy…
Next stop: Cusco and Machu Picchu!