Leaving Arequipa

6 04 2010

Although I’d only gone to bed at some time after 6am I managed to get up around 10. I then got my blog completely up-to-date and  started watching The Day The Earth Stood Still which Warren the South African had put on. It seemed like a run-of-the-mill “America is the world leader and only they can save the day” film. Sometime around midday Jenna arrived home from the previous night and I joined her in having an English breakfast (we had chorizo instead of normal sausages – it was really nice). I didn’t get to see the conclusion of the film because Dan and Josh came down wanting to watch the Arsenal Barcelona match – I’m sure I didn’t miss much.

Quite why they wanted to watch Arsenal get their arses kicked 4-1 I’m not sure. They seemed quite subdued in the afternoon though. I started off watching the football but wasn’t really bothered so I headed out into the garden and chatted to some Australians whilst they ate their Vegemite on bread. Julia I’d already spoken to quite a bit – she was on the 3-day Colca trek on the same day as our 2-day – and we’d chatted on the way down into the canyon. Zoe and Sharn had joined us in the last few rounds of Shithead the previous evening.

I checked out the bus situation to Ica and the strike was still on so I decided to head straight to Cusco instead. My sandboarding would have to wait for another day. Around half-four I said goodbye to Jenna as she left for the airport – she was heading to Lima (buses were still not an option) and then the next day to Miami. It’s a bit off the normal backpacking route but that’s Kiwis for you.

Julia and co invited me to join them for dinner in a local Mexican restaurant but then when they realised what time I needed to eat in order to make my bus they weren’t so keen. Julia joined me for a drink and some nachos whilst I ate (the food was great and the portions huge for a mere 10 soles) and the other two arrived as I was leaving so it all worked out well in the end. It turns out that Julia is also heading up to Mexico for early September so I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again somewhere along the way.

I got to the bus station 15 minutes before the bus left (having ignored the advice on the ticket to get there an hour before). The buses were in a whole new class to my previous South American experiences: I had to check-in; the guy had a cursory look inside my hand luggage; a metal detector wand waved over me (he didn’t seem to bother with anything metal in my pocket that it picked up though) and a comfortable departure lounge where you could wait.

Also on the bus we got food (sandwich) and coffee brought to you and there were no random stops in weird out-of-the-way towns. There were cup-holders and the seat actually been cleaned since the bus was built. It was like being on an aeroplane. And for the first time ever, the film – Taken with Liam Neeson – was dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles. Up till now all the films have both been dubbed and subtitled in Spanish.

Unfortunately I didn’t sleep that well on the bus (despite my lack of sleep the previous night) and spent most of my time listening to Radiohead as we cruised on up towards Cusco.

Raving till dawn

5 04 2010

I got up early and really started to get my blog up-to-date for the first time in ages. At around 11am I headed to Cusco Coffee (a local Starbucks wannabe) with Allie, Ceire and Erin. After that brief trip into town I came back and continued to update my blog. I also played a few rounds of Shithead with some of the English guys that I’d met in the bar previously – fortunately the rules they were playing were similar to the ones from the previous evening.

Later in the afternoon, I finally managed to find Stefanie and we got a taxi across town to a dodgy technical centre where I hoped to get my phone fixed (we’d been talking about it at the crepe place before I headed off to the canyon). Unfortunately the Nokia 6500 is apparently not sold in Peru so they didn’t have any spare screens although they said they could retrofit another screen into it. I wasn’t entirely convinced.

After lots of attempts they finally found a Samsung model that wasn’t sim-locked and I paid $60 to get myself a new working phone and alarm. We then headed back to the hostel where I bought Stefanie a drink to say thank you for helping me with my phone and then started the evening’s drinking. Most of the others went to the creperie once more but I really couldn’t face yet another crepe so I stayed behind at the hostel.

Some of the guys were ordering KFC which got delivered so I got myself a Zinger burger which tasted just like back home – except better since it had been a while since I’d had to some proper junk food. I chatted for a bit with a Kiwi called Jenna and a South African guy whose name I never actually asked. Most of the others headed off to Cusco (having given up on Huacachina) around eight so it looked like the bar would be really quiet that night. I then played Shithead once more with Jenna, Emma and two English guys that had just arrived – Josh and Dan.

After a while we got a bit bored of the same mix being played in the bar so we hooked my laptop up to the speakers and played a new mix, mostly of La Roux and Florence and the Machine. After that Dan or Josh (can’t remember which) plugged their iPod in too. At 1am they shut the bar but everyone still seemed to have a drinking head on so we just got some beers from reception instead and kept playing cards, pool and fusball.

Allie and Erin were both quite ill with Peruvian belly (actually most of the people from our trip seemed to be ill except for myself, Emma and Ceire) and at some point through the night when Emma checked on Allie she insisted on a doctor. Unfortunately the doctor wouldn’t come out until the next day so after getting some telephone advice from him we sat and watched Knocked Up for a bit with her in the TV room so that we could keep an eye on her. I eventually tired of the film – the plot was so unlikely that I had to suspend my suspension of disbelief and the jokes were quite puerile and not that funny – and went back to the bar.

My laptop was once again playing the DJ but then we switched the music to some dance tunes (lots of Underworld and David Guetta) and had a mini rave in the hostel. Eventually it started to get a bit light in the bar area – it was 6am after all – and Julio came in to turn the music down a bit (I feel a bit sorry for anyone on the ground floor that was actually trying to sleep through all our noise) which was pretty much our cue to call it a night.

Climbing out

4 04 2010

Our guide woke us all up at 5am and we started the long ascent out of the canyon. Some of the girls were struggling so the guide went back to walk with them. Somehow I became the leader for the rest of the group we tried to walk for 25 minutes at a time followed by a 5 minute break. Towards the end of the hike the sun came up over the canyon wall which made it a bit harder and we often had to let mules past carrying people who had decided that they couldn’t walk out. We got to the top of canyon in 2 hours 20 minutes which we were all very pleased with – the guide had estimated 3 hours.

Jumping for joy at the top of the canyon

Afterwards we headed towards the local village for breakfast but we weren’t really sure which restaurant we were booked in for breakfast. After finding out where one of the other groups was we waited around outside that restaurant but it turned out to be the wrong place – our guide found us and took us to the right one. It turned out that all our group had made it up without needing a mule which was great news.

After breakfast we stopped off at a few more viewpoints and a small town where we all posed for photos with a llama and a huge eagle. It was very tacky but it had to be done. After that we headed to the hot springs – they didn’t really look much like hot springs: just a huge swimming pool. They were really hot and I found myself often having to sit back on the side until the wind made me cold before immersing myself briefly back under the water.

Posing for a photo with an eagle, llama and silly hat

After that we had lunch in the same place that we had breakfast the first day.  On the way back we stopped at the highest point on the road to get some photos of all the volcanoes but it was cold and the view wasn’t really very good so we didn’t hang around. We were also due to stop to have our photo taken with llamas but we were done with all the stop offs so we got a unanimous vote to go straight on to Arequipa.

The bus driver wouldn’t drop us off right by our hostel (even though there were 9 of us staying there) but we managed to persuade him to drop us within a block (quite why he wouldn’t go the extra 20 seconds I’m not sure). We arrived just after 6 so we still had plenty of time to catch our bus at 10. Whilst at the hostel I heard someone talking about a strike that was disrupting the buses. After checking with reception we found out that our bus to Ica was also affected and had been cancelled. No sandboarding on Easter Monday after all.

Since we now had plenty of time we headed off into the town and hit the creperie again. This time I had a steak pancake – it was possibly even better than the chicken curry one. Afterwards we headed back to the hostel once more, played a few rounds of Shithead (somehow I was Shithead 5 times in a row) and I sat around drinking until 1am. It was really dead in the bar that night – and at 1am when the bar shut there were only 3 of us left.

Crepes in Arequipa

2 04 2010

I got up even later the next day and hung around the hostel for a bit before heading out for crepes with Jess, Alex, Andreas (Swedish), Chris (one of the bar tenders), Stefanie (a local Peruvian girl) and someone else (can’t remember who). The food was absolutely awesome at Crepísmo, a local French restaurant. I had a chicken curry crepe which was really tasty but it was so rich and creamy that by the time I’d finished it I couldn’t face any more food.

Apparently I’d been snoring quite badly the previous night (no doubt in some part due to the rum) and Erin had shouted out “Shut the fuck up, Barry” in the middle of the night. This approach had apparently worked and caused someone else in the dorm to start clapping.

Once back at the hostel I booked a 2-day trekking trip to the Colca Canyon starting the next day. Apparently quite a few people from the hostel were also doing the same – Jess and Erin I already knew but also Emma, Allie,  Sarah (all English), Fee (Australian), Dominic and Ceire (both Irish) were joining the trip.

I packed my bag ready for the next day and headed off to the bar. Because it was Ladies Night (free drinks for the girls for one hour) and Happy Hour for guys all night I got a bit carried away with drinking. This was further exacerbated when I went over to join some people for a game of cards – only to discover that they were playing the Circle of Death drinking game.

Due to the drink promotions practically everyone in the bar was drinking cocktails and Chris and Alex (who’d just started behind the bar that day) couldn’t even come close to keeping up. This made it very difficult whenever anyone picked a waterfall card because there was always someone at the table who was still waiting for a drink.

Eventually it got so late that there was absolutely no point me going to bed for the 3am start so I just stayed up. At 2:45 I went up to the dorm (bottle of beer still in hand) to get my bags and check out. It is somewhat of an understatement to say that was ill-prepared for 8 hours hiking the next day but I was the topic of much discussion back in the bar.

Pirate night in Arequipa

1 04 2010

I got up quite late the next day to discover the weather was really gorgeous. It was certainly a nice change after the mixed weather of La Paz. Eventually Sam, Jess, Alex (another Aussie), Matthias (Swedish) and I headed into town for some breakfast but by the time we got there it was already lunchtime.

Jess still had a breakfast head on so she ordered a muesli whilst most of the rest of us ordered a menu (once again the cheapest option). I started with a sweetcorn soup and my main was one of the local specialities – rocoto relleno (a slightly spicy pepper stuffed with minced meat, quinua and peanuts). They served this with some cheesy potatoes. Since Jess’s food was so insubstantial she spent most of the meal trying everyone else’s dishes too. We also discovered that the Coke bottles in Peru could be very precise. For some reason Matthias had 296mls in his and mine had 295mls!

Precise coke measurements

After lunch, Jess, Alex and I headed towards the market. I wasn’t really looking to buy anything but it was quite nice just wandering around town. After a few fruit purchases we headed back to the hostel where I engaged in yet another mammoth blogging session. I could finally feel my blog getting near to real-time again – although I knew that once I headed to Colca Canyon it would once again fall behind.


It was Pirates Evening in the hostel that night and I expected it to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately the bar was quite quiet, it took a long time before anyone so much as donned a bandanna, and only Sam and I took up the unlimited rum between 10 and 12 offer. (And we started more than an hour into the promotion). Sam had checked out of the dorms that night and booked himself a double room and arranged to meet the Peruvian girl from the previous night so I expected him to go to bed early although he was still there for most of the evening. I played a few games of pool with Erin, an Australian girl who had just moved into our dorm, and eventually went to bed feeling quite drunk from all the rum and cokes that I’d drunk.

A long day’s travel to Arequipa

31 03 2010

I’d arranged with Jess that she should wake me up for the bus since we were both heading to Arequipa the next day. As it turned out that wasn’t necessary – I managed to wake up on time. Unfortunately it turned out that we were on different bus companies but when I got to my bus company it turned out that there had been a mix-up and they couldn’t fit me in on the 8:30 bus.

I quickly ran after Jess and found room on her bus but there was so little time before the bus left that I didn’t even have time to go back and try to get my money back. (100 Bolivianos well spent). It turned out that Paul and Becky were also on the same bus – as was Anthony (although he was heading to Cusco).

The border crossing into Peru was really quite smooth and we were soon heading towards Puno. My original plan had been to spend a day there but I’d been told that it wasn’t really worthwhile unless you wanted to do a home stay with a local family. At Puno we waited for ages for them to give us our onward tickets and there wasn’t really much time left after getting our tickets before boarding the next bus. I quickly rushed around the terminal to get some food for the journey and then we headed off to Arequipa.

It was the first bus journey that I’d done during the day and it was actually more tiring than I expected. I chatted to the American girl next to me for a bit and she charged her phone up from my laptop.

I’d booked a hostel in Arequipa but unfortunately I hadn’t made a note of the address, it wasn’t in the Lonely Planet and the taxi driver didn’t know where it was. So Jess and I jumped in a taxi and quickly picked a hostel out of the Lonely Planet. We decided on the Point hostel and luckily they had beds for us both. We ordered a Chinese takeaway to be delivered from one of the nearby chifas and then I had a few drinks in the bar. Whilst there we met an Australian called Sam and a French guy called Cedric.

They were heading off go-karting around the corner and – although we initially failed to find it – after asking some directions and heading back towards the hostel we finally managed to get there. It was really good fun – the karts got a serious speed going on the straight and they didn’t seem to be very tough on the rules (we were often ramming each other’s karts even to the point of damaging the side bumpers) – but the only downside was that we had to do it in 3-minute stints, even though we’d paid for 12 minutes.

The go-kart track in Arequipa

Sam was very good at peer pressure and although I was still a bit tired from a long day’s travel he eventually persuaded me to go out with them that night. Jess stuck to her guns and retired to bed early whilst I went out clubbing with Cedric and Sam. Cedric was suffering from an acute migraine (apparently he gets them at the same time each day) so he went to got some food first to try to help it go away. So it seemed to take forever before we ended up in our final destination – Deja Vu.

Deja Vu turned out to be a real meat market – I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The local women seemed extremely keen to attach themselves to any gringo going (including old, ugly guys) but somehow (perhaps I was being too choosy and my heart wasn’t really in it) I spectacularly failed to pull. Apart from a really fat, Peruvian woman who Sam kept trying to set me up with. Cedric on the other hand (a silent French killer apparently) managed to hook up with a girl within seconds of walking in the joint. Sam took a bit longer to ensnare someone but also found himself a local girl.

At about 4am I finally decided to call it a night and headed back in a taxi to the hostel. I was very surprised to see Sam there. Apparently the girl had a 4am curfew from her mother so he hadn’t seen any action. After a bit I went to bed for some much-needed sleep.