Arequipa

I’m now in Arequipa, at an altitude of about 2400 metres in the southern part of Peru. The climate here is much more comfortable than either the jungle or Lima — it’s warm, sunny and dry, although I’ve been warned that it’s going to get pretty cold tonight.

An agent met me at the airport and put me in a taxi that brought me to the tour operator’s office in the centre of Arequipa. It took quite a long time, because traffic was restricted due to a religious festival going on in the main square, Plaza des Armas — lots of people (including nuns and monks), statues of Jesus and the Madonna, incense and religious fervour.

The folks at the tourist office explained the itinerary for the Colca Canyon hike I’m doing tomorrow: Somehow I’ve managed to book myself onto a serious walking tour — 7 or 8 hours hiking a day for 2 days — and cheat myself out of another night’s sleep! They will be coming to pick me up at the hotel at 1:30am tonight, after which we will go on a (probably rickety) public bus somewhere or another, start hiking around dawn, and will continue hiking in the hills pretty much all day until we stop for the night at some cabanas out in the sticks (sounds a bit rustic again). The next day we hike some more, and eventually finish up at the Cruz del Condors, a vista point in one of the deepest canyons in the world that is full of, er, condors (and reputedly one of the best sights in South America). They also told me I need to bring all kinds of things that I don’t have, such as warm clothing, a hat, gloves, and a torch/flashlight.

After checking in at Hostal San Isidoro (nice, but quite remote from the centro in Vallecito), I came back into town and had my first food for over 24 hours — a desayuno americano (American breakfast — basically the Peruvian idea of bacon and eggs). Probably not the best thing to break a fast after a period of stomach upset, but it was good! As for my stomach… So far, so good.

After breakfast I found a street full of cheap knock-off goods and bought myself a fake NY Yankees baseball cap for less than US$2 (I needed a hat anyway, as I got pretty sunburned in the jungle and my face is peeling), and then bought myself a jumper/sweater made of baby alpaca wool for about US$40, which will apparently do the job of keeping me warm (I think an alpaca is some kind of indigenous llama-esque creature). Then I went a bit crazy and, seduced by the idea of functional souvenirs, bought another baby alpaca jumper/sweater and a pair of baby alpaca gloves.

After my shopping spree, I visited the Monasterio d Santa Catalina, a huge convent, parts of which date back to 1579, and apparently the “finest example of colonial architecture in Arequipa.” It was actually very enjoyable strolling around the various cloisters and streets of the convent; I haven’t really done that much cultural/historical tourism on this trip, and it was architecturally interesting, highly photogenic and muy tranquillo, as the say en espaƱol.

Now that I’ve spent another hour or so in this Internet cafe, it’s almost time to find some dinner before heading back to the hotel for a few hours’ kip before they come for me at 1:30am…

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