Sunday, November 29, 2009


I slept almost the whole time on the bus, waking up about a half hour out. Tiffany didnt do quite so well.

We caught a cab to get close to the hostal we had reserved. We had to walk the last couple blocks because the streets of the Sanblas neighborhood are too steep and narrow for cars.

The hostal was a craphole so we resolved to move. We wandered around Cusco for a while and found some good brunch. Cusco is a neat and pretty town but the tourist focus is immediately felt. We were offered massage, restaurants, handicrafts etc. at least 100 times within a few hours. It is the low season so the locals are scrounging for every dollar from the tourists. It can be very tiresome. We looked for new boots for Tiffany because hers killed her on our trek in the canyon.

A guy named Gustavo homed in on us and showed us a better hostal. He seemed a bit of a scammer but spoke good english and offered to help us. He took us several places but no luck on any good deals on trekking boots. Either no-name brand or American prices for good boots.

We finally ditched him, moved our stuff to the new hostal and took an offer for massage. Their flyers offered all kinds of massage but it ended up being fairly generic swedish. Still a good deal and relaxing for $15 for both.

Later we grabbed Mexican and listened to Gustav´s spiel on a Machu Picchu trek but decided to wait.

Went back and got some boots she had looked at. American prices but at least they are comfortable.

I ran into Gustav one more time and booked a rafting trip for tommorow. I wanted a multi-day but the rivers are up because of the rainy season and only part of the Urabamba is still being run. Wanted to get on the apurimac which is class 4-5.

Last day in Arequipa(Thansgiving)

This was the first day we have not had to get up for something since arriving in Arequipa so we were a bit lazy for a while at Marta´s. We played on the internet, had breakfast and laid around.

Later I used the Magic Jack to call my sister Karen´s to talk to the fam on Thanksgiving and had a nice chat with them on speakerphone. Since the magic jack is from the US, it´s free to call there. Marta and Jorwerd endearingly call it the magic yack.

We got overnight bus tickets to Cusco. We figured we´d save a night of lodging and sleep on the way.

Later we toured the Santa Catalina convent. A still operational convent originally built in the 1560s. It´s about a city block I think. Pretty impressive. You´ll have to see Tiff´s pics because I forgot my camera.

We went to the leather district and I bought a nice wallet and belt for about $10.

After getting back, we packed up, grabbed quick dinner(no big Thanksgiving feast for us this year), said our goodbyes to Jorwerd, Marta and Beatrice and headed to the bus station.

After a chicken sandwich, a cheesy latin dance video and bingo, I fell asleep.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rafting Wednesday

I had Elias schedule some of us trekkers a rafting trip on the drive back. So I walked downtown to meet the transport. Tiffany didn´t think her hip could handle it.

So I met up with Martin and Anne-Marie and a skeptical girl from NY named Ariel. They drove us a short way from Arequipa and gave us wetsuits, paddle jackets etc. The usual safety and instruction tak but in both English and Spanish. I assured Ariel that they seemed like they knew what they were doing and we jumped in the boat with our guide Roberto.

So the Rio Chilli is a class 3-4 river in between the Williams and the upper Yough(for the kayakers out there). I definitely would have been challenged a lot in my kayak. It is in a pretty narrow but not very deep gorge with tons of eucalyptus trees. It had several fairly steep waterfall like drops. Everybody had fun including the 2 spanish speaking girls in our boat. We did the usual jump rock and swimmers rapid. The water was damn cold though, at least as cold as upper Gauley water.

We headed back and I said goodbye to everyone and hope to meet up with Morten in Cusco.

After getting back to Marta´s, I met her new tenant, a pretty young German girl named Beatrice. She and I talked about America and Germany and how they view each other, learning Spanish etc. Europeans learn so many more languages than we do. Every one I have met speaks at least 3 languages.

Later after Tiff got in from her excursions, Beatrice, Tiff and I headed out for Mexican. Back to the house for Tiffany´s first try at making Pisco Sours(perfect) with Marta and Jorwerd and Beatrice.

All these early mornings have made me tired by 8 PM so off to bed.

Heading out on Tuesday

We had set the alarm for 4:45 but it wasn´t necessary because the local rooster woke us up at 4:30. After being entertained by some colorful Irish cursing about the rooster at breakfast we headed out.

Another long van ride but we took a couple stops(see pics at top of canyon). The first being a stop to hike above 5000 meters. Tiffany wasn´t feeling well. Not sure if it was altitude or something she ate but either way she stayed at the van and the rest of us hiked up. It was only probably a 400 ft climb past a small lake but it was tough at that altitude. I felt like I was 100 years old. We all chewed coca leaves but it was still tough. I think the whole purpose was just to say we did it. We had already been to much prettier places.

In Peru, coca is not viewed as a drug at all. It is more like green tea or coffee. They serve it on the bus. You can get tea anywhere, leaves, candy, cookies etc. I am told that almost no one abuses the drug in the form of cocaine even though Peru exports its fair share. All drugs are illegal otherwise.

After an un comment worthy lunch we went to a huge field of rocks with petroglyphs apparently made by a pre Incan society. Forget the name.

Got into Arequipa around 8 said goodbye to our fellow trekkers and guides, grabbed a local dinner, bed.

One other comment about Cotahuasi. Anne-Marie was sick so she went to the local doctor. The exam cost her 5 soles and the antibiotics cost 1.20 soles. Less than $2.50 total, a little cheaper than the US.

Note: the pics are in reverse order.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cotuasi Monday

After getting up before 5 we ate a good breakfast of pancakes, cereal and juice. We set off on the same route as before ahead of Elias. The porters took the tents down and all we had to do was walk. We waited for Elias in a shady spot and when he caught up he said he had been running the whole way. It had taken him 45 min to break down camp.

We branched off our original route to get closer to the waterfall. Elias stood on the very edge which I could not do but laid on the edge to take some pics. The pictures don´t give the scale. It drops in 2 stages with the first about 60 feet or so onto a rock then the second stage about 40 feet into a pool.

We had lunch when we made it back to the van. Sergio had stayed there the whole time bored out of his gourd. He said that he had to stay there to keep anything from being stolen from the van.

After that we headed to some hot springs that had been made into a very nice facility with three different pools. The hottest was about 106 degrees. Perfect. The view was incredible.

After that we headed back to the same hotel for dinner and early bed again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sunday in the canyon

After breakfast at the hotel we walked around town, again not the prettiest town but awesome vistas.

We then drove another hour or so down the canyon at one point being stoppped by a road crew. Our guides sped up the process of fixing the road with a 2 liter bottle of Inca Kola, a terrible drink but loved by Peruanos.

At the bottom we met our mule team and they loaded our packs into bags then onto mules. I was a little disappointed that we were not going to hike into the canyon but we were told we would lose and gain 1500 meters during our trek. The sun was brutal but we often had a moderate to strong breeze. The day was full of awesome views, good exercise, giant cactus fields, good conversations with our group members and lots of dust. We can´t seem to get away from it.

Our team consisted of Elias, our guide, Morten from Finland, Anne-Marie from Germany, Sinead and Carol-Anne, sisters from Ireland. All great, fun and interesting people.

After making our camp spot, I soaked my feet in the cold river then caught with the group for a soak in the semi hot natural hot spings. We had a great camp dinner then to bed. Getting up at 5.

Cotahuasi Canyon, the drive

I am just going to hit some highlights. Tiffany´s blog is more

We left Sat. morning at 7. It as a very long van ride with a few stops, nothing too exciting. The ride was about 60% gravel/dirt roads. From the top of the canyon(see sunset from van pic) to the town of Cotahuasi was about an hour and a half down crazy switch backed roads with no guard rails. A mistake meant certain death in most places. Luckily, our driver Sergio was awesome.

We had dinner at a nice hotel in Cotuasi. Cotahuasi is a dusty, not particularly attractive pueblo with some of the best views I have ever seen. Unfortunately the pics just do not do it justice. We had to get up early so we went to bed.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Last day of class. Had lunch on the balcony overlooking the square about 4 floors up. More expensive than other places but we had to do it once. After, we went on a 4 hour bus tour Here are some pics. Pepe is the guy on the right. Tiffany never had to work with him. She always got the girls.

We will be headed out tomorrow on a 4 day trek. 2 days will be in a hotel but likely no internet. If not, see you on the flipside. Should have some awesome pics to show.

I´m sick of typing by the time I get done with this but I do appreciate the comments and glad to hear everyone is doing well. I will try to respond to some when I get back

Thursday, still in Arequipa

After class today, Marta met us at the school and we walked downtown. She took us a different route through the leather workers and musical instrument districts. Some beautiful architecture. We stopped at another tour place, still looking for a good Colca trek. Not much luck. Then she took us to a place for lunch. She knows where the deals are. We had drinks, a huge bowl of soap, a giant entre and flan for about $2.50 each.

Marta went home and Tiff and I tried one more tour place recommended on the internet. They seemed much more interested in off-the-beaten-path treks but didn´t have any Colca treks that met with our time schedule so we left. After walking a bit we talked and decided to do the Cotuasi trek, a differnt and even deeper canyon-the deepest in the world. It leaves on Sat. and only has 4 other people on it. We headed to the ATM and reluctantly got a ton of cash out and went back to book. We know it will be a great trek but don´t want to blow our budgets. It´s still cheap by most standards, just a lot more than we have been spending.

Back home for dinner.

I have some observations about Arequipa and Peru in general:

They are not big on paper products. 4/5 of restaurants do not have paper towels in their bathrooms and the napkins everywhere are like 1/4 of ours- a little scrap.

I see dogs on roofs all the time. You see a fair number in the street but probably even more on rooftops, why I don´t know. There are no leash laws but I have yet so see any poop. When you see dogs they are either completely chilled on the sidewalk or look like they are on a mission.

Money. People are totaly fanatic about the bill looking perfect. They hold it up to the light and rub it. If it doesn´t meet their standards, they give it back. I guess there s a lot of conterfeiting.

A lot of bugs but no bugs. Like a lot of Latin American countries there are a lot of old VW bugs but almost no insects. The whole time I´ve been here, I´ve seen no mosquitos and maybe 3 flys. It´s pretty nice.

Weather. The weather here seems a lot like San Diego. It´s always in the seventies during the day with moderate to strong sun. Gets about 60 at night. Not even a hint of rain since we have been here.

Locals´ sweaters. People wear sweaters when Tiff and I are in shorts and sandles. They seem to think that 75 is cold. They dress like I would if it was 40 when its 70.

I have yet to see a mailman. Apparently the mail system goes from unreliable to non-existent. All bills are hand delivered by the companies.

Safety. There are cops everywhere and they all seem very nice. Some of them are motorcycle cops who where cool stormtrooper like outfits. I have never felt more safe in a major city.

There a city workers whose only job is to walk around and pick up trash so the streets are pretty clean. At least in the more tourist prone areas.

There are almost no overweight locals despite an apparent obsession with ice cream. There are carts all over the place. Almost no smokers either. Most of the people I see smoking are Europeans.

They love their car horns. It´s not as bad here as in Lima but still ridiculous. At least 60 percent of cars are cabs and the seem to be able to flash their lights honk their orns and swerve all at the same time. Also, everyone has car alarms and they go off constantly. One weird thing: I have seen only one ambulance with a siren going and no cops, in city of 800,000.

The fruit is a strange fruit called a grenadilla. I´s kind of hard on the outside, a white inner layer the the middle. It looks like tadpole eggs. The seeds aren´t hard and are sweet and easy to chew. Tastes pretty good. Not sure if it would catch on in the US.

The mountains are volcanoes. The big one is Misti and the other is Pichu Pichu. They mostly look like incredibly large piles of dirt. Most landscape is very brown if you get any distance from the river(Chili).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday in Arequipa

Language school continues. I have 2 instructors each day. One is very interesting. He calls himself Pepe and he is equal parts, bohemian European, drill sargeant and strange little Peruvian dude. He vacillates between these personalities during our sessions. It can be disconcerting. My hands sweat a lot. At time I think I´m learning a lot, at times I think I know nothing. Either way, it´s going.

After class and lunch, we headed out walking to the Plaza again. About 15 blocks. We mostly just ambled and looked in few stores(Tiff is looking for a trekking hat). We also stoppped in to one of apparently hundreds of tour agencies for the nearby Colca Canyon. We listened to the speal and were not impressed. Apparently all the agencies do the exact same bus and trekking route so it´s like a giant parade of tourists. Not exactly what we´re looking for. We´re bound and determined to find some good trekking off the beaten path. That´s the agenda for this weekend.

The Plaza is beautiful at night(see pics). Tiffany´s pics seem to be coming out better than mine. Check her´s on her link on her blog.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Arequipa Tuesday

Our second day of school went well. Not as exhausting as the first day. After class we had lunch and were going to go on a tour of a cathedral but Tiffany was feeling sick so we changed plans. I think she is a day or 2 behind my illness which I hope is on the way out. Before anyone asks, no diarrhea involved.

I went with Marta to the central market which was quite an adventure. First we jumped on a combi which is either a large van or a small bus, I´m not sure which. It only stops for a few seconds so you have to be quick. The seats are made for people 4 feet tall or less and it can get very cramped with people standing in the aisle. From school kids to men in suits to grandmas. When you get off you hand a coin to the guy who stands in the door. He´ll give you change. No matter how far you ride, it´s 70 centimos, about 23 cents. We got off and walked to Mama´s house and after walking a block or so, very slowly and then caught a cab to the market.

This apparently the biggest market in the whole city and I beleive it. It seemed about 5 times bigger than Super Walmart. There are differnt sections for everthing you could imagine but all individually run stalls. There are sections for meat, vegetables, fruit, grains, shampoo and soap, pirated movies, shoes, clothes, cooking supplies, liquor and tons of other things. I saw raw meat hanging, sheep heads, white potatos that had been dried, salted and frozen in the Andes, white meat that had undergone the same process. Apparently this is how the incans were able to preserve food for long periods and is still popular today.

We got everything Mama wanted and I carried the progressively heavy bags. Once she was done, Marta and I shopped for the things she needed and then I got the ingredients for the pisco sour, the drink that peru is known for. I also had marta pick out five or six fruits unique to this region.

So, after another cab ride back to Mama´s house, we finally headed back to Marta´s. Tiff was feeling a bit better and shortly after, Jorwerd made us some pisco sours and another drink called cocktail de algarrobina. Both are pretty sweet drinks with a base of pisco which is a grape based liquor. The algarrobina is a tree based syrup that looks and smells like molasses.

The kitchen is on the roof and is open to the air. Having a very consistent temperature has its advantages. It hardly ever rains so most roofs are flat and are used as extra living space. The stove, sink and washing machine are all on the roof.

We had dinner late then bed. It is customary to eat dinner(la cena)late, usually around 8 or 9. Almuerzo is the biggest meal of the day and it is usually eaten around 4 or so.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spanish school

I just found out my facebook acct. was hacked. It may have nothing to do with me being in SA and using internet cafes but either way, don´t open any attachments that appear to come from me. So if you receive anything at all suspicious, it´s probably not from me.

Also, I added some stuff to the last post.

We left our beautiful stone room on Mon. morning and headed to the language school. After a lot of sitting around, we met our host family and went to their house, about 6 blocks away. Marta and Jorwerd(Howard) are extremely nice and talkative folks. They also have four boys whose names I can´t remember. For $150 we get all meals, lodging and 4 hours per day of instruction for 5 days. Not a bad deal.

We then headed back and had our first lesson. 2 hrs grammar, 2 hrs conversation. Went well but exhausting.

After dinner we took a cab to Jorwerd´s club. This is a massive sports complex that I have never seen the equal of. Every sport imaginable was available and being used(except for American football). Ping pong, pool, bowling, martial arts, track, weight rooms, dance, 2 massive pools, bocci ball, hand ball, soccer etc.; the place went on and on. It seemed at least as big as an average university campus.

I can tell we are going to learn a lot of Spanish. Possibly more from spending time with our host family than from classes.

By this point it was bed time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The bus ride was from 3 to midnight and was not too bad. Pretty decent meal, windy roads towards the end. We also lost all lights so we could not read but we had our ipods. We found a hostal called ¨Home Sweet Home¨ but it was anything but; lumpy bed, no windows, no TP, no soap. We resolved to upgrade.

We got up and walked to a place highly recommended by the guidebook: Casa De Melgar(with help from the ¨tourism policeman¨,who was very nice). This place is a bit more expensive: $48, but well worth it. It must have been a monastery or something. Our room is all stone, with arched ceilings(pics to come), and a comfortable bed. The place is humongous with courtyards full of trees. plants and birds. It took us 15 min just to walk around the whole place.

After settling in, we took off of walking around town. Arequipa is a very modern city with all you would expect; streets are clean, beautiful architecture(pics to come), tons of restaurants of all types and it seems very safe. We got a smoothie and walked aroud the Plaza De Armas which was beautiful. Apparently every city in Peru has a Plaza De Armas. Got a meal for a bout $12 for both of us that was more than we could possibly eat.

Back to the hostal for some lounging and reading in the courtyard with the birds. A quick nap and out to use the internet, walk around and search for some food.

Tiffany wanted Mexican so we went. They played only 80s and 90s American music; a clarion cal for gringos I guess. Almost everyone there was not a Peruano. Our whole meal came to 20 soles, less than $7.

P.S. I´m feeling a little sick but feels like either a cold or allergies from pollution and dust from Lima and Nazca. We have had no ill effects so far from the 8000 plus ft elevation here.