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Peru Part 1

Hola from Peru! This will be just a quick update for all those back home.

In case you hadn’t heard, I am currently in Peru. The outline of the trip, so far:
Ben and Scott flew into Lima from Pittsburgh via Atlanta; Kunlun and I flew into Lima from Seattle via San Francisco and Miami. Scot and Ben arrived around midnight; Kunlun and I showed up about four hours later. We decided to wait until dawn to trek the mile or so to the Hostel where Ben and Scott were staying. Based on Scott and Ben’s experience, this proved to be the right choice. When they arrived, they set out for the hostel in the middle of the night. The hostel is a nice place near the hotel, but the neighborhood around the airport is a little rough looking. Although they basically made it to the hostel, they didn’t recognize it at first, and while they pondered where they had gone wrong, they were approached by what may or may not have been a police officer, who basically told them that they were in a dangerous area and might die. So they ended up walking back to the airport and getting a taxi, which took them right back to where they had been, but this time indicated the exact location of the hostel. Kunlun and I, on the other hand, had an uneventful walk to the hostel.

We freshened up while Ben and Scott got up, then we took a taxi into downtown Lima. The taxi ride was an exciting introduction to the art of driving in Peru — we had a couple close calls, but none closer than when we were cut off by a large truck and a bus. Our driver proved up to the challenge, though, and afer crossing himself we continued on, unharmed. The taxi dropped us off at the bus depot, where we purchased bus tickets to Arequipa for later in the day. We spent the rest of the day tooling around Lima, visiting a supermarket for food, eating lunch at a resturant in what appeared to be the financial district, taking pictures, and enjoying the thrill of being in a new country.

Initial thoughts were that Peru’s air isn’t as clean or nice to breathe as I am used to (due primarily to a wide array of vehicles producing all kinds of interesting fumes), everthing runs a little later (lunch doesn’t tend to start until 1:00, for example), and Peruvians drive crazy-cool, with most intersections being regulated by building up critical masses and pushing through rather than with stop lights (although there are a few).

The bus ride to Arequipa was ridiculously awesome — if busses were like this in the US, we think it would be a much more viable industry. The ride was 15 hours non-stop, but the awesomeness of the bus made it well worth it. There were three seats across the aisle, each more luxurious than a first class seat on an airplane (on US-based airlines at least). They reclined deeply, had nice footrests, and were very nice leather. The blankets were high quality and smelled nice; the food served was yummy, and basically the experience was about as good as a 15-hour bus ride can be.

We arrived in Arequipa around 9:30am, and headed to the Hostel we had looked up in Lima. It is just off the main town square, very convenient to all sorts of activities around the city. Once we had our rooms set up, we headed out to see the city. We ended up visiting some park around the city, eating some decent food in a ridiculously cheap ($1/person) resturant for lunch, and generally having a good time. We then decided to take the two-day trekking trip down the Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon at over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. We were to leave at 3:30 the next morning, so we grabbed a quick dinner and headed to sleep early.

The next morning, we were picked up by a large bus that, rather excitingly drove all around downtown Arequipa picking people up before heading out for the canyon, about a four hour drive. We didn’t plan it out very well, so we ended up bringing all of our stuff with us, when we only needed a fraction of it for the two-day hike we were signed up for. At any rate, the hike ended up being a little more than we had anticipated — the first day we descended 2100m (about 7000 feet) from the lip of the canyon down the the river at the base of the canyon. Ben, who has somewhat bad knees, had a particuparly rough time on the way down. We were one of the last groups to arrive at the camp, but truth be told, we were also the last group to start the hike. I handled the downhill pretty well compared to other in the group, but the next day was another story.

We slept well that night after the unexpectedly greuling decent, and awoke the next day at 5:00 am for the hike back out of the canyon — fortunately, to a different place than the start, and “only” a 1,200 meter ascent (about 4000 ft). We starting hiking around 5:45 am, but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough water, and ran out about half way up the hill. Up until that point, I was going pretty strong, but it got quickly worse for me after that. I ended up barely making it to the top, where a group that had made it up before us was kind enough to give me a bottle of water to drink, which helped me make it to the city where we ate breakfast and rendevoused with the van that was to take us back to Arequipa. It was a pretty rough morning for me, but the others fared better than I did.

On the bus, we met a nice kid from the UK who had just graduated from university in mathematics but had not found a job immediately, so we was spending the summer tooling around South America (not such a bas life!). Also in the van were a couple of American girls from New Mexico. Kimber had been studying abroad in Ecuador and decided to stay around for the rest of the summer. Her friend Drea joined her. We visited some hot springs and ate lunch with the two girls on the way back to Arequipa. Once back in the city, we said our goodbyes and then decided to splurge on dinner. We ended up eating at a place that served, among other items, guinea pig, which apparently is a local delicasy. This particular dining experience turned out quite poorly — the food was expensive, overcooked, undersized, and not very good. The restaurant claimed to be the “Most recommended Peruvian Restaurant in the world.” I would heartily NOT recommend them to anyone, so if you are ever in Arequipa and see that slogan, steer clear!

Today, we decided to take a day off to recover from the hike, so we slept in and then tooled around the city again, finding cheap eats and taking in the sights. We got some good sunset pictures of the city and El Misty, the large, well-shaped volcano that towers above the city, then we found a nice Mexican resturant for dinner. While we were eating, Drea and Kimber happened to walk in with another group, so it was fun to see them again. In a short chat after dinner,  I found that they are travelling to Puno, the town near Lake Titicaca, tomorrow, as are we, so our paths may end up crossing again.

Now it is time to find some sleep before a morning bus ride to Puno, our last stop before Cusco, where we will enjoy the Solstice festival Inti Raymi before departing on the central experience of this trip, which is the four-day hike on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Until next time!

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