Saturday 11th June 2016 –
I stayed in Cusco before I left, and was treated once more to a chance meeting. Shira and Danya had just arrived from their time in Bolivia, so we met up for dinner after we’d sorted out where we were going to eat. I think I’m allergic to vegetarian food. Once more, this mysterious WhatsApp group from back in Pucón cropped up, and I was recruited for a photo – evidence I’d been spotted. It’s like I’m a yeti or something. I’ve still yet to see these photos. .
Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing with myself when I arrived in Arequipa, early in the morning after the overnight bus. Just that people had said that Arequipa is a nice city, really. It was like I was in a daze – a funk – and I was strangely not enthused with the prospect of another trek, this time to the Colca canyon. It seemed to be what everybody was there to do, and it kind of put me off. So I didn’t go. I just pottered around for a few days, rather aimlessly.
Don’t mistake that for me being lazy. There’s a strong case for such a trait in me, but I’m certainly not going to have that sort of thought bandied about the whole world, or even those few who read this. I did things, real things, after a couple of days of mooching and reading. Like a tour around the city – that was real effort – I had to walk around! Arequipa is quite nice, really – beautiful white walled buildings pocked like an acne sufferer due to the volcanic rock used to make them. It’s remarkably peaceful, too, considering its housing a population of two million. I don’t know where they’re hiding.
I got invited to a meal out with some of those on the tour, to meet at seven, and promptly stood up. I didn’t even know that was possible to be honest – I’d only known them a couple of hours, a record for my fastest ever rejection, I reckon. After waiting around for a bit (see, courteous!), I wandered from our original rather fancy restaurant locale, to the nearest pollo a la brasa place, full of Peruvians, and watched as presidential candidate Kuczynski (not a traditional Peruvian name, believe it or not) addressed his supporters on the TV. They were celebrating, and although he urged calm and to wait for the final votes (which would take a few days – it was very close), it was obvious it was a big deal. A large stage had been erected on my street to the other candidate, Keiko Fujimori (also not traditionally Peruvian) over the last few days, with big speakers and a poster. As I returned, a couple of blokes were morosely packing everything away. From the few people I managed to speak to about it, and the fewer who proffered an opinion (strange, considering its against the law not to vote), Kuczynski was deemed preferable, if not loved. A safer pair of hands, as it were. Springs echoes of back home, I guess.
Up (relatively) early the next day, I actually had something to do. Something I wanted to do, strangely enough. A cooking class. Now those of you who know me may question the necessity of such a frivolous activity – I learnt to make pasta long ago, and what more do I actually need? – but, you know, self improvement and whatnot. So I wandered down, arriving with the air of an expert chef, clad in shorts of course. The fancy hat and apron fit just right, too, as if it was always meant to be.
British Bake Off style, my little group and I (a Swiss and four Belgians) worked under a little tent in a beautiful sunny courtyard. Fortunately for me, not British Bake Off style, no one got voted out, and my spilling of some of the meat on the floor went unchastised. A good job these Belgians were veggies. It was all, actually, great fun. Between the six of us, things got done pretty quickly, I never had to put any thought into timings (not my strongest suit), and I got to cut pretty shapes into food. Who knew you could make stars out of olives? By the end, we had created beautiful rocoto relleno and pastel de papas, and it was pretty tasty, too! Our teacher, Lady, (no, seriously, that was her name) didn’t even have to pull any Blue Peter ‘and here’s one I made earlier’ rubbish.
The Belgians and I headed off to the museum afterward. Not just any museum though, but the current resting place of Juanita, the Ice Maiden. Sacrificed to the Gods by the Incas back in the 15th century, atop Mount Ampato (the largest mountain in the vicinity), she was quickly entombed in ice. This caused her to be remarkably well preserved, to the extent that when she was found in 1995, she actually had possessed real skin, organs and blood. Only her face, exposed to the sun following thawing just before she was found, was dehydrated. Here, in Arequipa, you can see perhaps the best preserved pre-Columbian body in the world. It’s real creepy. Interesting, but creepy.
Time for one last thing. Dinner. Special dinner, though. I’d been meaning to get around to it for a while, so when one of the guys in my hostel, Terry, suggested it, we went to eat cuy, a Peruvian delicacy usually reserved for special events. Conventionally referred to, in English, as guinea pig. Four of us went out (Alana and Fabio joining us) and three ate cuy. Alana told us stories of having them as pets, showed us pictures of live ones and even imitated their squeaking noises, but we were unaffected and undeterred. This was business, and we got down to work. If I’m honest, the three of us agreed that it’s not that great. It tastes fine (like chicken?!) but there’s not a whole lot of meat on there, and it’s a lot more expensive than chicken. However, the hilarity of eating it is worth its weight in gold. As we busily set about giving them names (incidentally, the same ones as Alana’s pets’), Terry started messing around with his guinea pig’s head, and we broke down laughing. My mum always said not to play with my food…
All of a sudden I realised time had crept up on me, and I had to leave. I only had 15 minutes to be at the bus terminal, so urged the taxi driver to step on it – somehow, I’d secured an absolute steal of a ticket on the fanciest bus company around, Cruz del Sur, and I didn’t want to miss it. He duly did, thankfully, and I arrived just in time for the bus, if slightly sweatier and more panicked than before. Queue a slightly uncomfortable journey, as we wound around the mountains. Bend after bend after bend after…
Thursday 16th June 2016 –
Lima wasn’t as bad as people had made it out to be, and I’m not exactly a city sort of person, but it wouldn’t be top of my list of places to visit. It wasn’t as warm as I’d hoped, dropping to distinctly chilly in the evenings, and misty clouds swamped over the high-rises, blocking any possibility of sun. If you want to know what everybody’s skies will look like once global warming really kicks in, I’d suggest looking here. However there were lots of places to eat (very important for me), the public areas seemed nice (and sometimes full of cats) and plenty of stuff seemed to be going on. That though, was Miraflores, the unabashed touristic and very much rich part of town.
I exited this area only once during my time, mainly due to the fact that the city is humongous, and a bit of a pain in the arse to get around. For a city of seven million (or ten million, depending on who you talk to) it does seem ridiculous that there is only one real form of relatively rapid public transport, and it’s essentially a priority bus lane. Just the one route, as well. Anyone not living on the line is just a bit screwed. Nevertheless, I did get away, and bobbed my way into the centre of town.
Now, for the sake of the guaranteed full disclosure I use here (at my discretion, obviously), I shall reveal that I did so on a city tour. Lima’s a bit big and ominous for country folk like myself, and I thought I’d save myself some effort. This was a mistake. City tours are normally performed by interesting and enthusiastic people, and give the most underwhelming places a silver lining. Our guide, on the other hand, was possibly one of the most boring, unenthusiastic and weirdly quiet (considering he was leading a group of 20+) people this end of the Americas. The only time he raised his voice over a whisper was when he wanted us to take group photos, in what seemed like a strange fetish. Two hours of my life I will never get back.
Suffice to say, I learnt almost nothing about central Lima, and didn’t really care to after that. My fellow tour revolvers and I went to eat as soon as we escaped, and I got go see England go up against Russia. By the time I got back to the hostel, I was able to read exactly where England screwed up to end in a draw.
I was left alone for the evening, so did what I do best in these circumstances. No, definitely not that. Or that. No, I went to the cinema. It turned out there was one down the road from me, in the very fancy sea facing (not that there’s much to see) Larcomar shopping centre. As usual, I left it pretty late, and it took me a bit to find my way through the maze of boutique shops. When I finally arrived, it turned out I’d walked through the exit, and missed the ticket booth somewhere else. Just in time I sat down to see it start – that’s an improvement on my Brazilian effort! It’s not exactly received rave reviews, and the story went missing along the way, but I enjoyed X-Men Apocalypse, and most of the new actors aren’t bad. Sure, it’s no Days of Future Past, but it’s still watchable.
Trying to think back, I think that was it for my stay in Lima. I did spend another day eating food and chatting to people, but avoided anything requiring real effort. Having failed to convince anyone to come along with me, I set off the next day to Trujillo – on the day bus for a change.