Thursday, 14 August 2014

Arequipa, Peru (not Bolivia!)

Having safely negotiated the immigration control on the Bolivian side, we then walk a over a bridge in to Peru, and queue up again for another passport stamp.

CP tries a Peruvian salteña, (CP: courtesy of a lovely British guy who overheard her complaining that we'd just spent our last coinage on ice cream for breakfast and offered to buy her one! RD: Oh my god. I tried to explain this at the time but spending our Bolivian coins in Bolivia had no bearing whatsoever on our ability to buy a salteña in Peru, ffs!), apparently it doesn't quite match her high standards, but it does at least pass some waiting time as the long queue shuffles along. As is the norm, arriving in a new country means that we have no local currency, but this is easily solved by visiting any of the half dozen chaps that set up on this side of the border and changing a few US Dollars for Peruvian Soles - done with minimal fuss and at a better rate than we'll get anywhere else.

This crazy long queue does finally end, but it's taken too long for our bus to meet it's intended connection in Puno, so when we get there, after a quick lunch in a plastic bag acquired by CP from a lady set up outside the bus terminal for less than $1, we're transferred to another company who, despite their claims, are most definitely not operating a semi-cama bus for the trip to Arequipa. Mental note made not to use them when we bus up to Cusco in a few days time!

It's not a bad bus, just that our knees are up around our ears for most of it, and I have to stop the midget in front of me from reclining their seat - your feet aren't even touching the floor, you are clearly not short of legroom, but if you recline that thing you will be sitting in my lap!

There is the obligatory stop at a seemingly random police checkpoint. We don't get how these work, not that we want to be delayed by any more stringent checks of course. There are no sniffer dogs involved, it's just a couple of blokes that open the big luggage compartments and peer inside. On this occasion someone walks the aisle of the bus with a flashlight. No bags are checked, yet we're given the all clear. Presumably because there doesn't appear to be several hundred kilos of white powder sloshing around?

Whatever, we arrive in Arequipe, only an hour after our original plans, and I'm already feeling good about leaving Bolivia - I'm pretty sure I can feel my sinuses returning to normal by the minute.  Cp thinks it's psychological but we will see! Our taxi driver even knows the hostel we're staying at (Bothy's) so we arrive in double quick time, ready to dump the bags in the room and get orientated in anticipation of tomorrow. We play a very long game of pool on the second worst pool table we've ever played on (with the worst being in Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua) and enjoy a much needed German beer to wind down after our little bus trip. The hostel has a nice vibe, cool tunes in the bar and lots of people unwinding for the evening. (CP: It was just a shame that the music didn't switch off until gone 1am...which after a 16 hour bus journey didn't sit so well with us, but thats hostel living for you!)

The main draw card of this hostel is that breakfast (bread, jam, coffee) is included... and more importantly, it's served on a rooftop terrace! (CP: Unfortunately that lovely roof top terrace is reached by metal steps, that are right next our dorm after our roommates exited relatively quietly at around 4am, by the time the cleaners started stomping around at 6am, we are well and truly awake!)

Arequipa is also famed (sort of) for having a number of non-shit coffee shops. I make it my mission to try as many as possible in our time there, and first on the list is the Cusco Coffee Company, which looks suspiciously like a Starbucks imitation, but we're here now so let's do this! (CP: Rich is insistent in his journey for decent coffee in South America...I just wish he'd give it up, there is no such thing! Give me an iced frappe with Oreos every time, then it doesn't matter if the coffee is bad...!)

This is the moment CP was told that her frappe has again cost more than my "so expensive" coffee:

This choice of coffee shop turns out to be a stroke of luck, as while we wait for our Starbucks priced lattes in the Starbucks lookalike coffee shop, an Aussie voice chirps up "so where are you guys from?", followed by "I saw you walk in and thought you looked like a couple of Aussies..." - it's true, I do. CP can obviously answer that question positively. A brief conversation later, and it turns out that we're all grabbing a coffee in preparation for a free walking tour, one which we are all slightly apprehensive about as the walking tours we've done in South America so far would, almost without exception, be getting a "must try harder" on a school report card.

Alas, this one is not an exception. Aside from doing something weird with his teeth which made him look and sound like a llama getting ready to spit in your face, our guide had a habit of pausing for effect at completely the wrong................... *make awkward eye contact with everyone* ...................time. This made it incredibly hard work to listen to him even though he was pretty knowledgable and informative about Arequipa. We didn't mind too much, as we were both more interested in chatting away to our new coffee shop friend, Todd. Good for us, not a great endorsement for the walking tour.

OK, the guide isn't that bad - he is at least able to convey some information about the city. Just like Sucre in Bolivia, it has the nickname La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), but this time it's because the buildings are often made from white stone. 

It's Peru's second largest city (after Lima), with a population of over 1 million. The guide also takes the time to point out Misti, Chachani and PichuPichu, the three volcanoes surrounding the city, and mentions that Misti and Chachani can be climbed without previous mountaineering experience. Oh really...?

The first proper stop of the tour is a nearby church. I can't tell you anything about it, other than to say that a solid half hour of detailed information is too much. Any questions? "Mmm yeah, what's the name of this place?"

As we wonder into a quaint Peruvian courtyard, we notice a little old lady with an ice cream cart, and a sign that says "queso helado" - cheese ice cream, what? I think I need some... as it happens, this is our guides next subject matter, and he explains that it doesn't contain cheese, but gets it's name as the ice cream is made locally using the same process that they use for cheese, which appears to mean "mixing it round in a big tub". It's actually made with a whole bunch of stuff, including beer, cinnamon, llama milk (maybe?), a few other bits, but definitely no cheese. Even better, we all get a free tasting, and it's good enough that I'm buying a full size portion.

Above this courtyard, there's some interesting buildings. I don't know much (anything) about Peruvian architecture, but this looks to be modelled on something out of Star Wars...

Other fun topics discussed on our tour include the possibility of an El Misti volcanic eruption (it smokes occasionally, and an eruption is apparently well overdue). We're invited to guess how long residents of Arequipa would have if/when Misti pops. Half an hour? No. 10 minutes? No. 5 minutes? No. Bored now. 1 minute. No. Come on ffs... 10 seconds is apparently the correct answer, so not really much time to do anything. Which invites the next question, what would you do with your 10 seconds. Oh god, are we guessing again? I'll save you the ordeal - apparently the answer is pray, because the whole city would be getting wiped out Pompeii style regardless.

We move on to a place that has a model of the Colca Canyon - probably the main thing people visit Arequipa for. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it's a popular choice. What follows isn't information about the canyon though, it's a 15 minute Q&A about how each of us have chosen a mate. The question doesn't make much sense in English, and a few of the Europeans with otherwise excellent English skills are stumped by the query. (CP of course has no qualms with explaining what attracts her to her "mate", basically describing particular events at a certain touch rugby tournament in Germany 5 years ago...)

By now he's in danger of losing the entire group, but eventually we find out that the purpose of this bizarre question is to do with the Condors, which frequent certain parts of the canyon. The story is that these birds mate for life... with a catch. If the female dies, the male will fly up high into the sky, several thousand metres, before plummeting to his death in a Romeo & Juliet style suicide. If the male dies, the female will just go and shack up with another male. True love...Romeo and Juliet gone wrong.

The tour ends with a trip to a very touristy restaurant/bar, where we are each given a very small Maracuya Sour, and encouraged to order from their overpriced menu. We happily accept the drink and then move on.

Over the course of the tour we've established that the three of us (CP, me, and Todd) are all keen to do the 2 day trek in the Colca Canyon, starting tomorrow. And I'm keen to climb Misti, which means that CP will do that as well. This puts us in quite a decent bargaining position, so we set of to find the best price on these tours. The Colca Canyon trek is a standard S130 (£29), but the second place we visit offers us a deal of S95 (£21) each, and Misti goes from anywhere between S250-400 (£55-£90), and this lady will do it for S210 each (£45), naturally we're a little cautious that such a cheap price is too good to be true, but we're happy to gamble, and sign up!

By now we've missed the standard lunchtime, so when we arrive in the food markets as they are down to their last offerings. Luckily for us, they have just enough of the rocotto relleno (a classic Peruvian dish of roasted pepper stuffed with minced beef and a side of dauphinoise type potatoes) left, although our late arrival means that it needs to be reheated in a less than classic microwave. It's still good, but we might need to try another one of these before we leave Peru to get the full effect! We explore the rest of the markets and stock up on snacks and fruit for tomorrow's trek, got to love a great market shop!

The afternoon is spent wandering the city, purchasing baby alpaca gloves (CP), woollen socks and a mask (me), chocolate lip balm (both of us), and working up an appetite for dinner, while I convince CP that climbing Misti the day after we get back from the two day Colca Canyon trek really is a good idea! Evidently, I was successful on both counts as our final stop before dinner was to the tour operator to confirm that yes, we will be climbing Misti!

To celebrate, we decided to blow the budget for dinner and go to a nice place to try cuy al horno - more commonly known as the humble guinea pig. Roasted in a red wine and onion sauce, it was a little tricky to distance the idea of eating what could be a family pet from the tasty meat in front of us. The verdict... a bit fatty, and we wouldn't go out of our way to eat it again, although I am still keen to try it the authentic way - barbecued by a street vendor. For the other dish, we played it safe and went for the stuffed pepper again. Not being microwaved made a real difference, and this was awesome! So "blowing the budget" on dinner in Peru... a shared starter, 2 mains, and a jug of chicha morada (a juice made from fermented purple corn) to drink, plus tip? £14.

Having gone out for an early dinner, we're back by 8pm pretty much ready to go straight to bed in advance of an outrageously early start at 3am. We settle our bill, which takes forever as they are trying to charge us a different amount to what we booked and several attempts to explain this seem to flounder. Eventually we get there, and head for the room, which is locked. No bother, I pop back to reception and ask for the key. It's not on the rack, but she grabs a massive bunch and we head upstairs. The key she tried does nothing... try a couple more. Then she tells us that this room isn't "Pichu Pichu" (rooms are named after memorable locations in Arequipa, ours being a nearby volcano). Well, it is, and anyway it's where we slept last night and all of our stuff is inside, so how about we just open the door?!

We realise that the 2 new characters that we are sharing a room with have very cleverly locked the shared dorm room, and then gone out with the key. The hostel inexplicably does not have a spare, so here we are, sat outside our room, and then sat outside reception while they try to figure it out. Initially we're offered a different bed for the night (not really an option as all of our stuff is still in that room), but it turns out that they don't have any spare beds a anyway so this idea is a non-starter.

At this point it's worth mentioning that our roomies are a couple of Israeli girls. Previous experience makes them pretty easy to identify as such, and while of course there are exceptions, as a stereotype they will invariably be carrying the biggest suitcases I've seen (certainly bigger than anything I own), and so heavy that they can barely lift it without a second person getting involved. It's usually accompanied by a comment like "I'm travelling for so long, I need so much!". We're in Peru ffs, it's not as if anyone is here for a weekend break! What can they possibly have in there? Mostly a ton of makeup, and always a hair dryer, because you can't possible travel South America unless your face is painted up like Krusty the Clown, and your hair is immaculately coiffured. And that's just the guys. I bet they even change their underwear every day...

CP says it's not their fault... it clearly is. Obviously the hostel should have an abundance of spare keys, but it's a shared dorm room - why would you lock it and take the key with you? The only other dorm room we've had that required a key was at Plantation House in Salento, and that was because the door opened directly to the outside world, and the key was always kept at reception when you left. 

After almost 2 hours - success! A guy that had been called in especially has managed to either pick the lock or wedge it open with a screwdriver. Either way, we're in. Now... why are we paying for a full night in the hostel when we've been locked out for 2 hours and they've shafted our plans for a decent sleep... I think I do a pretty good job explaining our position and negotiating what they will do, entirely in Spanish, until CP can take no more and says in plain English "we have to pack, and then get up in 4 hours. This is very in-con-venienté. We will be fucked! We will continue to be fucked for the next 2 days!"

The response is simply: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!".

It's not this girls fault, she just happens to be the one working at the time, but someone has to take the rap for the hostel not having a key, and she manages to suppress her surprise when we tell her that we won't be needing that extra night of accommodation here between Colca Canyon and El Misti after all.

The end result is...  we get a refund of half of this nights accommodation. Which is nice, but we'd rather just have been in bed 2 hours ago. While all this has been going on, another couple have arrived to check in, but despite them having a reservation, they have no beds. "No problemo" says the underfire receptionist, she's booked them a room at another hostel nearby, which will cost them S70 instead of the S40 that they would have paid here... their response is similar to what ours would be, but this is not our fight so we leave them to it and get on with repacking our bags and getting our daypacks organised for tomorrow.

Partway through this big unpack/repack process, our roomies return, and we explain to them the etiquette of keys in shared dorms. "OH! You didn't have a key?!" No ffs. Then one of them unplugs my phone charger, and as she plugs in her own says "were you using this?" No, no, please just go right ahead.

With a early morning pickup scheduled for anytime between 3-3:30am, the alarm is set for 2:45am, and finally, it's time to get some sleep. Yay!

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