Friday, July 08, 2005

Arequipa: A colonial architecture queen surrounded by pawns


My first steps in Arequipa were not as smooth as I would want them to be, and I didn't even know where I am getting my self into. Colonial architecture is almost everywhere, Arequipa is also jewelled with a colorfull monestary and faboulos plaza, overlooked by three volcanos. In the background, blockades and midnight effort to go on a bus to the famous Colca canyon ended in frustration and a return to over packed hostel. Luckily, three nice people (two Israeli girls and one German guy) offered me to share their room and since then I am travelling with these happy folks back to an old city, Cuzco, hopefully I could go back to Arequipa in the near future

Arequipa, a city under siege
I have decided to stay only one night in unattractive Puno, and the following morning I left the hostel Los Uros and boarded the 8:30 bus to Arequipa, without even knowing what I am getting my self into. The drive was suppose to be 5 hours, but eventually we left only on 9:00 am and by the time the clock stroke 14:00, the bus stopped abruptly and the conductor declared that there is a road block and all passenger must pass the blockade by foot. AGAIN?? I didn't believe it, after all I have gone through in Bolivia, and it repeats itself, only under a Peruvian production. I have mounted my heavy backpack on my sorry ass back (believe it or not, 21.5 kg…) and started walking down the road toward a town near Arequipa, which the strike was held in middle of the main road. Crossing the blockade I felt it was quite safe so I took out my camera and snapped some shots. The local people asked that I will take their picture, and because I was still un aware of the exact situation, I replied with a smile that I ran out of films, and the crowed roared with laughter…While the locals returned to their own business, a guy approached me and asked me if I am looking for a bus to Arequipa. I said yes and he led me toward an already waiting bus that numerous tourists and locals were just getting off it. Seems that this was the bus that was headed for Puno, and those tourists must have caught our bus back to Puno. An hour later, and I was in the central station, heading for a hostel, not the cheapest one I would say..In any case, I went to eat something and headed straight for the main plaza, Plaza De Aramas (for some reasons, almost all the main plazas in Peru are named Plazza De Aramas, only god knows why..).

Plaza De Aramas ordeals
The beautiful plaza is overlooked by not less than three active volcanos, El Misti (5822 m), Chachani (6075 m) and the less high, Pichu Pichu, "only" 5571 m. The main plaza is boardered on its northern side by the beautiful main cathedral, all white from the special volcanic rock that it is build from (called sillar). On the other sides, two floor balconies (with colonial arches) boardered the rest of the plaza, making it one of the most beautiful plazas I have saw in South America. I wandered around in the plaza, and wanted to take some pictures from the second floor of the balconies, but the stairs were blocked by a heavy gate. After doing some inquiring, I have managed to find the working manager of the site, and he courteously opened the staircase to the second floor. While I climbed the stairs in double paces, I called that I need only five minutes. The scenery was beatifull, when the mighty El Misti and Chachani volcanoes peek behind the double towers of the cathedral. I snapped several shots as best as I could, as I knew I would not have another chance, and then went down. The gate was closed, and surprisingly, I found my self locked behind bars waiting for the manager to unlock me from the spacious cage I have put my self in. People peeked in curiously, not understanding what the hell I'm doing there, sitting on the stairs with a bored look on my face. Once I was freed, I noticed that there is another place I can take shots of the plaza, from a roof diagonal to the cathedral, so I have made my way to that side, gripping that I have lost the last rays of light. Seems that the roof top view belongs to a restaurant that occupied the whole two floors. I asked one guy that advertises the restaurant if I can go up to take a look, and he said no problems and going up the stairs, he met with a nice girl that works there named Anna. While I was doing my photographic thing on the roof, we had a nice conversation (my half broken Spanish, her half broken English) and it turned out that her father owns the place, which serves dishes cooked in the old ways, i.e., the Inca way. So, after organizing back my photographic equipment, she invited me to check out the kitchen, to see how things are done in the old way. In a two-room kitchen I saw the clay pots and cookware, the grill which was made of smooth volcanic stones placed over hot coals. It smelled great, and looked even better than great. While she was explaining the different techniques of cooking, her father came in, over fifty with a nice gut and very pleasant smile. Somehow, the whole aura around him reminded me of my father, which had a similar aura of authority and wisdom. "Welcome home" he greeted me and after seizing my puzzled look for that comment, he laughed heartily and for the next 15 minutes he gave me several examples of English and other languages words that were similar to the old Quechua language, used in the pre-Inca period. What he tried to prove to me was that once, before the land separated into different continents, there was only one language, Quechua, one of the oldest languages in the human history. I was impressed, but I knew that I need to dig a bit before I am gonna take that as truth from Sinai (as the saying goes..). I told him that I am gonna try his specially prepared cuisines in the next days, and went outside. Outside, the guy that advertise the restaurant (Jamil, if I am not mistaken) asked me for my name and where I came from. When he heard that I am Israeli, he greeted me in Hebrew, and after five minutes of talk he invited me to join him and his buddy much later (he promised a lot of girls, or as he put it, "you are a gringo, you gonna have easy life finding a girl.."). I was not sure if this is what I was looking for at that time, but I agreed to his invitation in any case. Later I have done some arrangements and looked for a cheaper hostel, which I found not far from mine, La Reyna, which costs almost half than my first hostel. I reserved a place and went back to my hostel to arrange my self for the upcoming night.

Partying Arequipa
I found Jamil and his friend waiting for me on a bench near the fountain in the main plaza. We talked a bit (he showed me his little notebook where were so many sentences and words in Hebrew). After ten minutes we looked for a place to sit down and have a beer, and after we passed several places, we came to a place close to my next hostel. We entered the place and found mainly Peruvian groups talking over loudly music. Jamil`s friend recognized there a friend of his that was sitting with two girls, and they talked a bit, and then that other friend asked me if I want to meet his two friends and I, in my naïve ideas, joined him not knowing was behind it. I ordered more Pisco with sprite jug, and we talked as much as we could, as all of them had a bad English (beside one of them, that through her I have done most of the conversation). We had some laughs (the two girls were already half drunken already) and then we looked for a place to dance. We went to one joint, The Blue Bar if I am not mistaken, but they charged there five soles for entry. Then we went to another one, The Deja bu, with free entrance, great music was with lots of place to dance. It was Saturday night, the best night for clubbing in Arequipa. The girls went upstairs for the bathroom and me and this guy sat beside one table. He asked me if I like the girl that I walk with (named Kelly), and I said she was nice. Coming down, the girls split: the other one went to the table, but Kelly went straight for me, with her hand stretched in an invitation for a dance. I got a feeling what she was up to, but still I was surprised. We started dancing and all, and almost immediately I noticed she was dancing dangerously close to me, smiling and all (forget about all my partying in Israel, this was something totally different, for me in any case). Well, it didn't take too much time till we kissed and amazingly, this dirty dancing lasted for two hours! In that time I checked to see if we can go further down the road, but after she mumbled something about she don't know (?!), I abandoned that idea and just enjoyed my self. And MAN, it was sure as well nice after so much time (and people, you KNOW how much time passed since my last time..). Around 2 and half in the morning, I was already tired from the long day, and we found a place to sit down (and kiss more, of course..). I knew I would never see her again, and frankly, I didn't want to. She found her niece (the other girl..) and we went outside, where a long line of taxis waited for the clubbers. We parted and that was the end of that night for me. I went straight for my hostel, sleeping till only 7 am, as I had some plans for that day…

Arequipa highlight: A special museum and one fabulous Monestary
Waking up so early was for a reason, of course, and it was for no Desayuno…I wanted to see the city at an early time, when the sun has just painted orange the white sillar stone of the buildings. It was Sunday, all is quiet on the streets, and the piegeons were just warming up for a long day of flying from one place on the plaza to another. I was still quite in thoughts after the following night and its experience.
After doing some phone calls home and contacting the family, I remembered that I should check in the hostel, La Reyna. So, arranging my stuff quite quickly, I paid my bill and hauled my pack to La Reyna. That hostel was definitely a backpacker's hostel, with signs about touring several places around Arequipa. I knew that I want to climb one of the peaks surrounding Arequipa: El Misti or Chachani, but I knew also that I need to be fully acclimatized for such a climb, over 5500 m each. Another attraction in the area is the famous Colca canyon, with the Condor scout point at Cruz del Condor. Usually most people do the organized tour, but I preferred to save on the dollars and spend more quality time at this place. That was actually one of the reasons that I moved into the La Reyna: Packed with backpackers looking for adventure. Turned out, that most people there were either been there already, or going to tour the canyon using a tourist agency. Great! I thought that in the meantime, that I was still a bit acclimatized in Bolivia and Puno, I could do one of the climbs, El misti preferably. BUT, the cost (50-60 USD) combined with the fact that I was not acclimatized enough, made re-think this all over. At the end, I waited one more day with all those plans and chilled out in the nice city.
La Reyna sits near the famous Monasterio de Santa Catalina, and has a faboulos view of the surrounding with all kind of porches protruding to the streets and into the sky.
After I got into the room, I went outside to eat and to visit the rich neighborhood, Yanahuara. In the midst of this neighborhood is an old and beautiful church which dates from the 18th century…It was a nice break after my lunch, that`s for sure.
In my room two beds were already occupied already two guys: Andy, a brit and a South African guy, that I forgot his name (not for the first time, as you can see). Andy was in Colca canyon at the moment and at the same evening I went with the SA guy to see the Gurre del los Mundos (Steven Spielberg version of "War of the worlds" of H.G. Wells). It was nice and very realistic, if a bit disappointing at the end (watch it your self and tell me what you think about it).
The next morning, when I gripped that I could visit Colca canyon with a tourist agency, or not to visit it at all, I booked myself a tour in the group that goes to the Canyon on Tuesday. In the meantime, I went to check out the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which is probably the only museum in the world that preserves the body of a 15th century 12 year old girl named Juanita. We watched a film done by the National Geographic Society about the rescue of another two bodies of other sacrificed children dated from the Inca empire. Afterwards a guide showed us some of the exhibits found near the body, at the summit of the Ampato volcano (6380 m) and also more exhibits that were found on another expedition to the summit of this mountain.
Dreadfully, every time the volcano erupted, the Inca priests interoperated it as sign that the gods are angry with them, so they have to sacrifice a child to the god, on top of this volcano. The children, it seems, were chosen for this holly cause when they were born, and were trained as well. They were regarded as the best children in the community. Apparently, after a long trek to the mountain (remember, this IS a very high mountain which requires winter equipment to master and, of course, to be highly acclimatize and in good shape), the children were probably exhausted and also hungry. They were drugged with a strong alcoholic drink and then a blow was sent to their right side of their head. They were then buried into the ground with gifts to the gods: metal work, garments and clay pottery. It was a good tour, and a professional guide that answered almost any question (a 10 year old kid made her life a bit tough with very intelligent questions..).
I then visited the famous monetary, Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which was built at the 16th century and is, according to the Lonely Planet, a 20,000 square meter complex. Big. Entrance was pricy, but worth it! Built in a colonial style, the maze of streets and alleys lead to small colorful plazas, fountains and gardens. I could have stayed a whole day, but I wanted to capture the bueaty of this architecture under the best light condition, thus entered the monetary only around 2 pm. I shot close to a roll in that monetary, so it can give you all an appreciation of the uniqueness of such a place, getting the feel of what is like to live in a monetary couple of centuries ago. Amazing!
Pictures are available here:
Wandering around, I found the cafeteria that the Lonely Planet guide mentioned, and tried their apple pie with couple of sips of tea. After my rest, I went on to the courtyard that was also part of the cafeteria. Looking around, I found an American tourist, Ariel, reading her book. We have stumbled one another in the different alleys of the monetary, and now was time to talk and share impression. We indeed talked for an hour or so realizing I am talking with a 21 year old girl, that her father is Jewish and that her trip was on the last leg. We parted near the exit of the monetary, and I returned to tour the complex till the place was closed.

Colca canyon o no canyon colca canyon?
I returned to the hostel, as I understood that due to the strikes, the tour would leave at 2 am instead of 6:30 am, as it regularly do. I went to pack some stuff needed for the tour and waited for the guide for last minutes updates about the departure time. Meeting with him, I have realized that the departure will be earlier, around 12:00 am, as the strike is getting stronger and stronger. Well, as I thought about it, it will be a waste of time to go to sleep for one hour or so, so instead I walked around in the city and entered couple of bars. At one of them I met with Adrian (if I remember correctly) which is the owner of a bar near my hostel. As the bar was empty, we sat together and talked over beer about lots of things, as we had good chemistry. The guy, a Canadian, has a Peruvian girlfriend (fiancé, actually) and he is in partnership with another Peruvian big guy nicknamed Bu-Bu. Bu-Bu is well known in town (you should have seen the chicks that came to visit him often..). After an hour I had to leave as time was pressing and I needed to lock my stuff and put them in deposit for the next three days.
When I walked back to the hostel, I saw three travelers walking toward the hostel. Somehow, I got the feeling that they were Israelis, but I wasn't sure. After they talked one with the other in English, I knew that they were Israelis. Well, actually only the two girls, the guy was from Germany. Lee, Adi and Chris were traveling together for two weeks, and they were quite a funny lot, I can say. They returned from Colca canyon (touring it independently) that day and had some dinner before going out for a beer, in Adrian`s joint. I bid them goodbye before they went to dress up for the event.
Coming back to the room, I found quite a lot of backpacks and one British girl sitting on one of the beds. Turned out that no less than 18 (!!) young high school lads organized a tour to Peru for a month, all supervised by a school representative and a British tour Agency. Some school trip, isn't it?? (I don't want even to think what a headache is to take those 17 year old kids to such a place). Due to the fact that there was no room for all of them, they stuffed the hostel over it capacity and a lot of them slept on the floor (at least they got a decent price). I towed my stuff into the deposit room and paid the bill, and waited for the guide. Turned out, that it was not the same guide but another one (a good one, it seems) and we all climbed into the Minivan. OK, so we drove through the streets of Arequipa and surprisingly reached the bus station. Then it hit me: we are going public! I was sure we gonna go by our own, but then again, it will cost more. I cursed it one more time why, why the hell it is so difficult to find some adventurers in Arequipa??
The bus station was a mess, even though quiet. And no wonder: suspense was rich in the air, as nobody knew if actually busses will actually could get out of town. Numerous travelers were dotted among the desperate locals, all equipped with out-of-the-world gear, talking in strange languages to the quechua and Spanish speaking locals. It was a bizzar view, to see that even though the aim is different, all travelers if locals or foreign, were desperate to get out of town, even for several days. We waited patiently while our guide did flip-flops to get the best info he can about the situation outside Arequipa.
As I understanded earlier, a representative of the bus station was waiting at the blockade and sending info via FM radio if the blockade is active or not. Suddenly a buzz went through the crowd, and a commotion was held near our place we were standing. Soon we understand that we were unlucky: no one can pass that night. The guide sprayed thousands of apologize, saying that the situation might be better tomorrow night. And who can blame him? All this blockades only fuck with his business. While we were doing our way back, I was already gripping that I might have no place to sleep, as there were two brits lying on the floor when I left the room, and one of them will occupy the bed. Justice or not, I am not gonna kick out of my bed any person in deep sleep.
When I arrive to the hostel, I didn't had the chance to see the room, as there were no keys for the room, they were all locked in the room upstairs. Great! Am I gonna wake the whole bunch?? I had thoughts of that, when I met the Israeli-German lot again, just returning from Adrian`s place. I told them the situation, and Adi, kindly, offered me that I can use the fourth bunk in their room for the night. After five minutes my stuff was already inside.
Adi and Lee, 22 and 26, are both from Eilat, while Chris, 21, is from Munich. We had good laughs, each one with his own specialty. We went to sleep and I thought that I might try to go for the tour the next night. Well, this is the way of traveling alone – you never know where the hell you gonna be in the next day!

Cuzco? But what about Colca Canyon??
Yep, I didn't thought about it when I opened my eyes, but yes..plans change. Around 10 am we dragged our asses to a Turkish restaurant for a coffee (not Turkish, how surprising) and thought what to do. Outside, the demonstrators were making a lot of noise, and thoughts were moving toward leaving town as soon as possible. Only, you can't really. Not by bus, that is. So, it was either walk 400 km over mountain ranges with all your shit, or take a flight. AGAIN?! Not that I don't like flying, of course, but damn, those little luxioruis costs a good damn load of money! This lot had their time in Arequipa and were anxious to leave to Cuzco, but me? Well, I started to think it might be wiser to go to Cuzco, acclimatize there for couple of weeks (trekking and the whole shebang) and once the blockades are cleared off (I hope), move straight to Arequipa and book a tour to Chachani or El misti ASAP! Yep, that sounded nice and also I could have some fun with this gang in Cuzco. PERFECTO! So, reaching an agreement, we went to look for flights to Cuzco ASAP. We went to the agencies and found that it costs 66 USD. Damn! In one agency, one of the agents told us that we should book it now, because the prices could rise in any moment due to the protestors. Yeah, right! I thought, a clear marketing trick, to make you stressed and hand out the cash. We left to another couple agencies, and the story was the same. So, seeing no other possibility, we draw our credit card for payment. Suddenly, the price jumped to 76 USD! WHAT THE FUCK?! A minute ago it was 10 USD less! Damn! Adi stayed in that agency to book us, and I and Lee ran back to the other agency, hoping they have a malfunction with their computers. On the way, a protest parade blocked the whole street, from one sillar wall to another, and we had to find our way through the loud protestors. Luckily, they were peaceful, making only a lot of noise and no more. We reached the agency and asked to book a flight. I asked for the price, and got a lower price than 66. THAT was fishy..since when prices are going down?? I didn't had the time to re-think it over, and ran out of the agency back to the former agency, to cancel our reservation and to get Adi. Reaching the agency, Adi was already in process of purchasing a ticket. A miss! But, before we could arrange a cancellation, I saw Lee running down the street with disappointment. Turned out, the computers in that agency were fine. Same price, 76. OK, that was it! We purchased our tickets at that agency and at least felt better that we have a flight the day after at 14:30. "You should leave to the airport no sooner than 7 am, as there are blockades also to the airport" said the agent after finishing the transaction. 7 am? Damn…this was serious. Well, if she says, who are we to argue?
That evening we went to celebrate our departure from lovely but siege Arequipa at a local bar, not other than Deja bu (familiar?). While we were taking our last bits, a screen on our right turned alive and no other than the "Motocycle Diaries" film was screened! Wonderful, I wanted to see this movie again, now that I am in South America. So, I and Chris stayed there while the girls left for the hostel to pack everything. We returned to the hostel to pack and afterwards left to Adrian`s bar for a last drink. Bu-Bu was there, and due to the fact that his English is like our Spanish, we were mostly talking with each other. It was a nice conversation, as Chris told me some stories of his life in Germany, which were interesting. We returned back to have our sleep before we wake up at 6 am!

All passengers flying out of Arequipa should pass the blockade on the right, please!
No joke, we had some interesting events that day also.
We were out of the hostel by 7 am or so, and we started looking for a cabi that will take us to the airport. Easy? Well, not actually. Most of them didn't want to take the fare, saying the road is block and nobody can pass. Finally, we found two little taxis that took us some 2 km before the entrance to the airport, and a mere 500 meters from the blockade. At first, it looked intimidating: Around 100 people standing in the street and totally blocking the way. The police was there and let some car pass, and eventually we saw quite a lot of cars passing through. In any case, even though the ground was flat, it took us some effort to go into the airport. Arriving there at 8 am, we had quite a lot of time to spend before the flight was departing. I have written a bit in my diary and listened to music, similarly to what the others did. Finally, we boarded the plane at 2 pm and by the time it was 3:00 we were already in Cuzco, looking for a cab. Tim recommended me a good place to stay, but after walking up the steep stairs (with all our gear, it was not easy I can tell you that..) we found out that the place was full. The owner recommended several proximate hostels, and we found another one (cheaper it seems) named San Cristobal Hospedaje. I managed to bargain down the price and we received a 4 people room with private bathroom. After rearranging our stuff, we went out to the main plaza (Plaza de Aramas, of course) to eat something at Café Bagdad, a restaurant with various food styles, but none of them is related to the middle east, not to mention Iraq cuisines (not even the coffee..). At least they have a very good (and also very expensive) Pizza.
That's it, fellas…Tomorrow I'm going to explore the four ruins near Cuzco: Sacsayhuama, Qenco, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara and the day after I will go to the famous market in Pisac and visit the Inca Pisac ruins.

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