Sunday isn't a good day to arrive into small cities in South America. You feel like you're entering a ghost town. I arrived in the evening and found a hotel close to the main square in Arequipa where almost every door was closed. Walking the streets early Monday morning its as if you've changed towns entirely. The main plaza here has a very European feel in its architecture with a two walkways covered in adjoining arches and a large cathedral that just barely allows the snow capped mountain peaks to peek through it's steeples. I spent most of the day just running errands since Dee and Bob were due to later in the day. Arequipa is yet another beautiful colonial city which makes for great walking except for the traffic which I just can't figure out. Only about half of the intersection have traffic lights. At the others there aren't even stop signs. It just seems as if north-south traffic has priority which somehow just barely works depending on how rushed people are at the time.
I was hanging out on the hostel rooftop patio when Bob and Dee finally arrived. They were an hour late due to usual Peruvian bus nonsense. I quickly got them hydrated with some store bought beer before taking them out to all a happy hour spot. 3 drinks for the price of 1! Needless to say we weren't up too early the next day. It wasn't going to be a very fun day anyway as we had to make the rounds of the dozens of travel agencies to compare prices and itineraries for a 3 day/2 night trek in nearby Colca Canyon. We decided in the end to go with the travel agency in our hostel because they had a book of great reviews from fellow travelers. That done, I headed to take in the Monastery of Santa Catalina. the whole complex takes up an entire city block. While the outside is blocks of large gray stone, the inside is divided into many small brightly colored rooms with beautifully maintained flowers growing everywhere. A really surprising place.
We had to be in bed early in order to get up at 5am to be ready to leave for Colca Canyon. The guide showed up about 6am while we were having breakfast and quickly rushed us off the bus station and on to our bus. We thought it a bit weird that he never spoke to us for the entire 6 hour journey to Cabanaconde but hey, it was pretty early. When we arrived we asked him a few questions and so began our first tete-a-tete. Dee doesn't eat red meat with the tour agency said was fine but somehow the only thing available for lunch is alpaca steak. He even went so far as to tell us that it wasn't good to eat chicken or fish in this town because it wasn't fresh. Guess what we were served the next day! Not a big deal though. During lunch we found out that he had reserved our return bus trips without asking us when we wanted to return. He had booked the earlier bus without even asking us and we knew we really wanted to take the later bus home. This seemed to be the turning point because he rushed off to try and change the ticket and from that point on for 3 days and 2 nights he was as sullen as a 13 year old girl. After lunch on the way down the mountain Dee tried to draw him out of his shell but he was a virtual mummy.
Scenery was beautiful as we made our way down the steep and dusty path. It was hard not to look at it but it was more important to watch your footing on every step . We made it to the river at the bottom of the canyon after about three hours. Our guide thoroughly ignored us as we made our way over some rocks to the waterline where we watched two other small tour groups laughing and talking with their guides. We were a little bit jealous especially when we found out that they paid even less than us with a company we had decided against. We took off up the path towards the small town of San Juan without him. The hostel was colorfully surrounded by long vines and flowers. and there was a lovely terrace where we ploughed though some of our wine stash before dinner. Dinner was rice and stewed veggies. Delicious but man, I'd just walked for 4 hours and was craving some carne. As the light left so did the heat and we retreated into our little cabin with some candles and hit the hay.
Up early the next day for our two hour walk to the oasis, a small fertile area with a few cabins and swimming pools. There were no chairs around our pool so we pulled a few bedspreads out of a couple of the rooms and laid them on the ground in the shade. Dee and Bob ran in to some friends of theirs had a quick chat before we were all called in for lunch. I took one look at the heaping pile of spaghetti with a tiny bit a veggie tomato sauce and just lost it. I should have told them I hate tomato sauce but what was even worse was the guys next to us were having chicken, rice, a whole proper meal. I walked over to the kitchen and told him that the food was crap. I didn't mention that I thought he was crap but I wanted to. I was so freaking hungry and just plain pissed off and even Dee was tired of me complaining about the guy. I was done. I left the rest of my plate and went up to the pool and started foraging in my bag through all the food I'd brought. An apple and some crackers, yum, just what a girl needs before she's about to head out on a three hour walk straight uphill in the heat of the day.
Walking up out of the canyon was a killer but it was more my legs of lead than my lungs that made it tough. Dee and Bob like to hike quickly and then stop to rest while I'm much happier just going slowly at a constant pace and stopping briefly. We stayed pretty close together that way until the last few turns. I had been, in my head, making up a long list of reasons of why I thought the guide was an asshole. i thought of one that made me so angry and when I went to breathe I just felt as though my trachea had half closed and I just couldn't get air into my lungs. I just stood there holding on to the canyon on one side and focusing on getting my breathing under control. We had come up over 1000 meters in about 2 hours and altitude can be a real bitch. I righted myself and when I turned the next curve to hear Dee call down that the top was really close. I was so happy for it to be over. It was a real test of endurance of which I have none.
The hostel in Cabanaconde was quite nice with wonderful hot water to get the dust off and of course, dinner was chicken, the chicken he told us we couldn't eat there. We had to be up early yet again to catch the early bus to see the famous wild condors. Our guide lined up early to get us seats but evidently decided to sit with his friends instead of us and when we got off the bus he was no where to be seen. We were lucky to see over a dozen giant condors coming up out of the canyon. A few even flew over our heads stretching out their 3 meter wingspans above us. Very lucky indeed. We lost track of time and all of a sudden our guide ran over to tell us that the bus had arrived. He was saying something to Bob and Dee when I looked and saw the bus leaving. I pointed this out to him and he's just standing there. I yelled at him about three times to go and catch the bus for us. He finally did and we were off. Are you feeling my love for this guy?
Arrived in Chivay by 11am and before we got off the bus a local sitting beside me told me that it would only about 15 cents each to get to the hot springs. When we get off our bus our guide and a taxi driver exchanged smiles and told us it will cost us $3 there and back. I told him what I'd been told and he changed his tune, oh yes, it's only 30 cents each. I could have strangled him. We asked him for our bus tickets home and walked off to the town center for lunch. We never saw him again. Lunch was great and the hot springs were like a dream. They were like being in a big hot bath, except that you could also swim laps. We were the only ones in the outer pool except for two nice Canadian girls with whom we traded travel tips. The bus trip back was tiring. We had a persistent yelling salesman and our guide had sold his ticket (the one beside me) to a woman who had one seat for her and her 2 children. Back at the i had a little sit down with the manager and explained what had happened. He said he was in shock and even offered to give us some of our money back. God I hate tours. I need a drink.