Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Travel Journal - part 3

Arequipa, Peru

(part 3 of my travels with Tia through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia back in April and May of this year. Part 1 was posted Sept 1, and part 2 on Sept.8, and can be found by scrolling down. Parts 4 and 5 will be posted,someday, tal vez.)

Most unfortunately, our trip from Puno to Arequipa took us back through Juliaca, where we stopped once again for an interminable amount of time. After a while, many of the passengers had had enough, and they started stomping the floor of the bus and slapping their hands against the windows. Accompanied by shouts of “vamos, vamos” these folks were making a lot of noise, and Tia and I happily joined in. The driver and helper climbed back on board, nonchalantly, and we began to move, ever so slowly, through the streets. The driver was “trolling”, a fairly common tactic on local busses but rare on long distance runs. While the driver moves along at about 3 mph the ayudante shouts destinations out the door, and sometimes will address an individual or group in an imploring manner that seems designed to convince them that, no matter what their plans for the day might have been, they really should, they really want to, get on this bus headed to . . . wherever.

After a quarter hour of this nonsense, the passengers got restless once more, and began their stomping and chatting with even more fervor than before. Exasperated and unable to fill the few seats remaining, the ayudante moped aboard and the driver finally shifted into second gear, then third. We were on our way. It was late afternoon, and again I was disappointed that much of our trip would be in darkness, therefore I would see very little of the passing scenery.

We arrived in Arequipa around 10 PM. We had had no luck phoning ahead for hostal reservations from Puno but we tried again, this time successfully, from the Arequipa bus terminal and then climbed into a taxi for the ride downtown.
The streets were filled with people, especially in the center city. Churches and significant government buildings were awash in colored lighting and the large central park was likewise beautifully illuminated. Couples, families, and groups of friends strolled without hurry, arms draped over shoulders or around waists. Although my daughter was by my side I had a momentary longing for “home”, a place where I belonged, where I was known, and where I was loved.

A few minutes later our driver announced “ha servido”, and we were at our hostal. A lovely old colonial building, we checked in and were led to our room, which was cavernous and very comfortable. Dead tired, yet hungry and anxious to be part of the throng on the street, we splashed some water on our faces and headed out. It was a lovely night, crisp and clear, and we wandered for blocks and blocks, making circles and getting our bearings, whetting our appetites for more the following day. On our way back to the hostal we found a little hole in the wall pizza joint and decided to eat there. We were chatting with the owner, a pleasant Peruvian in her late 40`s, when “the cook” stepped into the room. A gringo, about my age, sporting a red and white Ohio State Buckeyes ball cap, who just happened to be the owner`s husband. We ordered our pizza and talked a little about life in Ohio and what particular circumstances found us each where we were at this moment. I wanted to tell him that if he knew of any other nice Peruanas who were single and owned pizza joints to let me know, but I kept my mouth shut, for once. The pizza, cooked in a giant microwave oven which dimmed all the house lights while running , was not too bad.

We were woken at 7 the next morning by someone shouting “hellooo down there” through the skylight in our ceiling. I looked at Tia across the room and we both shook our heads in disbelief. We got up and went out to the common room of the hostal where a rudimentary breakfast was served, and we came face to face with the culprit, a middle aged city councilman from Hood River, Oregon. He apologized profusely – “I didn`t know you guys were in there, I was just goofing around with my kids!” – and I commented that my ex-wife and I had lived across the Colombia River from Hood River in a little town called White Salmon, Washington many years ago. He of course knew the area well, and we murmured a few things about what a small world it was. Then his 2 young daughters showed up, and I blurted out – “I know you two, I`ve seen you in the corner internet café in Otavalo!” Otavalo is about 45 minutes south of Ibarra, in Ecuador, and indeed I had seen these little tow headed gringitas a few times when I had been there. The mom comes out to breakfast, and it turns out that she is a doctor who has been working with a medical mission for several months and the family came down with her this time around. We chatted for a while, and then they were off – returning to Ecuador for just a few weeks, and then back to Hood River. Small world, indeed.

Arequipa is a beautiful city, the second largest in Peru, bordered to the east by magnificent snowcapped mountains and opening up to the west into one of the driest desert regions in the world. We should have stayed longer than 2 nights, but movement was in our blood by now, and we rationalized our decisions to keep moving by telling ourselves that this trip was “exploratory” and someday we would be back. We did wander extensively through the city, and particularly enjoyed the Plaza de Armas in el centro, the Cathedral, which boasts the second largest pipe organ in South America, among other wonders, and La Compañia, a Jesuit church built in a Baroque style. A major earthquake hit Arequipa in 2001, and caused major damage to many of the older buildings and churches in the center city, but all seemed to be in good repair during our visit. Just a short walk out of the center we found the barrio of Yanahuara where there is a beautiful mirador (viewpoint), a lovely park, and a very old church with an incredibly carved stone façade. The snow capped volcano, El Misti, towers over Arequipa and there are great views from here. Although we did not visit either, it`s worth noting that near Arequipa are the 2 deepest canyons in the world, Cotahuasi and Colca. Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US – Cotahuasi is deeper yet.

Along with another guest, we cooked a delicious meal in the hostals` kitchen that night. It was great to eat a “home-cooked” meal after so many restaurants and so much street food. The three of us polished off a good bottle of wine which led to a good night of sleep. In the morning we did some laundry, wandered about town for a last look around, and later in the day we headed off to the bus station. As we stood in line waiting to board our coast bound bus, we were shocked to see that all passengers were being fingerprinted and filmed with a video camera. It was a grim reminder that although Peru seemed to be a model of tranquility this was not always the case. While true that the Shining Path rebels are now mostly underground, splinter groups and factions were busy taking up the slack, not to mention less organized groups leading strikes and transit blockades, which often led to violent retaliation from the police and military often leading to injury and death on both sides. For more info, go to ----

We had our pictures and fingerprints taken, then settled in for the trip through the desert to Camaná, on the southern coast of Peru.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe we could blind fold the Ramblin Man and put him on an aircraft, parachute him out into any undisclosed location in the world. And within 24 hours of being on the ground, he will find someone he has a connection to back in the "world". lol Brian S.