Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My trip through Peru, part 2... AREQUIPA!

If you've looked at my photos on facebook, you probably saw a billion photos of a canyon and a monastery. So you probably already know what I did in Arequipa, but I feel like I ought to talk about it anyway.

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and is also considered the second most beautiful city (behind Cuzco). Why? It's in the Andes and surrounded by (currently) inactive volcanoes El Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu. But more distinctively, most of the city was constructed from sillar, a pearl-colored volcanic rock. Between the way the sillar glows in the sun and the Spanish architecture, the entire city is gorgeous. Because of this, Arequipa is known as the White City. And to top it all off, it's right near the Colca Canyon, which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

I arrived there on Sunday, November 7, at about 6:30 am. After finding a hostel and dropping off my stuff, I headed to the Plaza de Armas for breakfast...and there I got a huge surprise.

Lima is such a modern, big city that I sometimes forget that it's essentially a Latin American city, which inevitably comes with a violent, dictatorial, military background. Occasionally I get brief reminders of it, with a random police invasion, visiting the Shining Path exhibit at the National Museum, seeing posters for Keiko Fujimori (I'll explain that another time), or even the slightly-increased numbers of police in the street. But in general, I tend to forget about the role the military plays here.

But when I got to the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, I was shocked to see a huge event of some sort. There was a stage set up with a huge crowd in front of it and a military parade of some sort. The military was marching through the streets in full uniform, massive guns held at the ready. But there wasn't just one type of military. I saw probably 6 or 7 different uniforms, and each different military branch had their own separate procession. And, to my shock, there were even tanks. That's right, they were parading tanks through the street.

I was flabbergasted to see this. I figured that the parade was for someone important who was visiting Arequipa. But when I got to breakfast (on a second-floor balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas to keep watching everything), the waiter said that this was normal. Apparently, every Sunday, the mayor does a show of Arequipa's military power. To reassure the citizens that they're safe? To show how powerful Arequipa is under his governance? Just for fun? I'm not really sure about the reason. But a lot of arequipeños (people from Arequipa) seemed to like this. I think what shocked me the most was that so many people would cheer for such an overt show of military dominance, despite Peru's recent history of military oppression and abuse of power.(Read my post on Museo de la Nación for a mini history lesson).

Anyway, once I got over the shock of that, the rest of my day was much more normal. I almost didn't go to the Santa Catalina Monastery because I didn't want to pay 35 soles to see another church, but I'm so glad I decided to go. It was absolutely beautiful. The history behind it was nice, but what I found most amazing was the architecture. It was created by the Spanish, yet it was more clean and streamlined - sort of a modern version of typical Spanish architecture. I completely loved it, especially with how it played with geometry. It layered rectangles over semicircles/circles over and over again, so when I glanced through any opening like a door or window, I would never just see a wall. Instead there were more and more openings in different geometrical shapes, drawing my eye through the rooms and courtyards. Plus the monastery was so colorful. It was painted in a bright blue, bright red, and a burnt sienna orange, with bright red flowers as accents. So combined with all the layers of arches and rectangles were also layers of colors. I know I'm explaining it pretty badly, so suffice it to say that it was beautiful.

I spent the rest of my time walking through the city, eating some of the food Arequipa is known for (queso helado and rocoto relleno!), and trying to find a tour agency for my trek the next day. Because I sprained my ankle hiking Huayna Picchu, I wanted to take an extra day to rest my ankle and do a two day trek through the Colca Canyon instead of the three day trek I had been planning. For the extra day, I figured I'd mountain bike down the Chachani volcano instead. However, the tour couldn't run with just one person, but the tour agencies kept telling me that they had another group about to confirm that I could join. However, by about 6 pm, the other group hadn't confirmed, so I decided to do the 3 day Colca trek again.

The trek left at Monday, November 8, at 3 am. Needless to say, that was a lovely time to be awake. The first day of the trek consisted of 5 hours of driving to Cabanaconde where we started the hike, stops at Chivay and Cruz del Condor (to watch the non-existent condors) along the way, and about 3 and a half hours of hiking down into the canyon. We arrived at about 2 in the afternoon, so we all laid out on the grass reading and talking until our candlelight dinner (no electricity!).

The next day, we hiked along the canyon (about a third of the way up the wall) for about 3 hours, passing through tiny towns of 10-15 families, then descended for an hour into Oasis. In Oasis, a cluster of hostels at the bottom of the canyon, we relaxed all afternoon at a pool filled with running natural water from the Colca River.

Then for the third day, we had to climb straight up the canyon wall. The guide told us that the hike would take 3 to 3 and a half hours, but I pushed hard and reached the top in only 2 hours. Even though a few other tour groups left about fifteen minutes before ours, I was the second person to reach the top. The only person to beat me was a 6 and half foot tall backpacker from my group, so I felt pretty happy.

Then after driving back and dinner in Arequipa (personal pizza and a glass of wine for only 13 soles!), I boarded my bus for Lima at 9:30 pm.

And that was it for my trip! It was really a wonderful experience. Arequipa was absolutely gorgeous, and the Colca Canyon was pretty astounding. We didn't hike the deepest part of it, but it was still pretty phenomenal. And the natural high from pushing myself as hard as I could physically go on the third day of my trek was a really wonderful feeling.


A quick summary of my entire trip

* Best experience: hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu and sitting at the top for 2 hours watching the mist clear over Machu Picchu

Runner up: relaxing poolside at the bottom of the world's deepest canyon with an Arequipeña cerveza

* Best ruin: Machu Picchu, of course

Runner up: Moray (nothing can really compete with Machu Picchu, but this came close)

* Best scenery: Sacred Valley near Cuzco

* Best historical building: Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa

* Best hostel: getting a triple with a private bathroom for the price of a single, perched on a hill overlooking Cuzco

* Best meal: Personal margarita pizza and glass of wine for only 13 soles (Arequipa)

Honorable mention: Massive veggie burger topped with guacamole, portabello mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, and greens; served with herb fries and limeade at Jack's (Cuzco)

* Best name: Sacsayhuaman, pronounced "sexy woman" (ruins in Cuzco)

* Best sunset: first night in the Colca Canyon

* Condor spottings at the Colca Canyon: 4

* Llama and alpaca spottings: 6 plus a herd of 30+ alpaca

No comments:

Post a Comment