Another 6-hour bus ride today. This time from Puno to Arequipa, the second-largest city in Peru. No good stories emerged from this trip. The bus wasn’t great — it smelled bad and had cracked windows — but it didn’t break down and had sufficiently good air circulation that the windows remained unfogged the entire time (unlike our last bus, which was impossible to see out of).
Amanda slept most of the way and I spent the time writing the last few blog entries on my Blackberry, reading about Arequipa, reading At Home by Bill Bryson, and staring out the window at the passing countryside.
As I’ve mentioned before, Peru is spectacular. Desolate, but spectacular. We drove through seemingly endless stretches of absolutely nothing. First flat nothing, then hilly nothing, then giant mountains and volcanoes nothing. All the same dirty golden color under lowering grey skies. We passed virtually no people the entire way, only a few dirty little villages built of mud-bricks and stone. We did pass, however, quite a few sheep (including some that ran across the road in front of the bus), llamas, and some wild vicunas, one of the camelid species of South America (the others being llamas, alpacas, and something else I can’t remember). The vicunas looked a lot like antelope but behaved like llamas.
We got some serious altitude, too. The highest point between Arequipa and Puno (which we drove over today) is 14,856 feet above sea level. Crazy thing is, there were still mountains that were a lot higher than we were…
We got to Arequipa sans incident and found ourselves in an ugly, seedy part of town, which I guess is the nature of bus station neighborhoods. It made me nervous about the city — we had heard it was beautiful, but I wouldn’t be able to tell until we got into the city center. I asked Amanda if I was a bad person for wishing that South America could be more like Europe, where you could take the train into a town and know whether it was going to be beautiful right away. She said no. (Whew!)
|Arequipa bus station|
The city center turned out to be verly lovely, and we found ourselves a delightful hotel called Casa de Melgar. It’s an old colonial mansion, full of courtyards with giant geraniums, bougainvillea, and cacti, and our room is a great, high-ceilinged, stone-walled number with a giant wardrobe and great windows. And, perhaps more importantly given recent experience, it has hot water! (That was the first thing we checked on arrival.) Boy do I like staying in nice hotels, especially after roughing it in the hostels. (I also like it when the nice hotels only cost $27 per night.)
|La Casa de Melgar|
|My side of the room|
|Amanda’s side of the room|
|View of the courtyard from
my side of the room
|Giant candles hanging on the wall|
We dropped our bags off and tried finding a tour up through the Colca Canyon to see the canyon and its famous Peruvian condors. It turned out to be a tricker task than we’d anticipated. Most of the good tours require three days (we only really have two) and require fair amounts of hiking and possibly some camping (which Amanda is not fond of). We decided to forego the three-day treks; we’ll keep searching for a good two-dayer tomorrow.
Another task that was unnecessarily complicated was finding the nearest Mormon church. We figured we’d break our heathen tradition of not going to church on vacation by trying to find a local ward where we could attend at least sacrament meeting. The church’s website, however, does not make finding a local meetinghouse easy. We ended up spending more than an hour, and many cross references to other map websites, before we found what we were looking for. Grrr. So we may or may not make it to church tomorrow — and if we don’t, may our souls rest upon the head of the dear brother and/or sister who designed the stupid meeting-locator feature on the website.
Oh, and we also went to dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in town, run by one of Peru’s celebrity chefs. I ordered ossobucco, which was delicious and very filling, although a bit saltier than I would have liked. What I particularly liked was when I asked for lemon to put in the water and my Coke, the waiter brought me a little glass of freshly-squeezed lemon juice — no messy squeezing, and I could put as much in as I wanted.
|Ossobucco at Chi-Cha|