I just realized it has been nine days since my last post- the time has flown by so quickly that it hadn't even occurred to me to write until now. I'm writing this entry as I fly over Peru and Bolivia on my way to Iguazu Falls, Brazil.
I spent the last couple weeks in Arequipa, Peru, which has quickly become perhaps my favorite destination of my trip so far, not so much because of the location itself (which is beautiful, don't get me wrong) but more so because of the incredible people who continued to embrace me into their loving family. Leaving Arequipa the day before yesterday definitely constituted the most difficult goodbye I've experienced, complete with hugs, gifts and tears. I'm still feeling a bit of withdrawal, though I know Brazil will offer a whole new group of loving friends.
After returning to the city of Arequipa from the farm, I found myself falling sick, yet again. Might have been the cuy (my pet Wanda's revenge!), might have been the water, might have just been a virus, but I was once again knocked down for a couple days. It's disappointing to be sick when traveling, because I feel like I'm wasting precious time. To be fair, however, I couldn't have picked a better place to be sick- the aunts continued to dote over me and the cousins were great company, keeping me entertained with their new favorite card game, Rummy.
Once I was feeling better, I was ready to visit one of the main attractions of Arequipa, the monastery of Santa Catalina. Kenny and Aledia accompanied me as we explored the 16th century walled city within the city, complete with its own streets and brightly colored buildings. It was both fascinating and beautiful.
Over the weekend, Lizzy, Kenny and I made the spontaneous decision to take a minivan through the winding (and I mean SUPER winding) hills of Arequipa out to Mollendo, their home town on the beach. I had visited Mollendo with my mother briefly (near where we got those fish on the beach), but this time, the weather was just warm enough to sunbathe and swim. We arrived after dark on Saturday evening, and explored the beach first at night. The waves were impressive, crashing up against the rocks and reminding me again of how drawn I feel toward the water. We ate dinner at a local restaurant where I tried “anticucho” for the first time- I admit, it was quite flavorful, but I just couldn't get over the fact that I was eating heart meat. (Also, you'd think I'd learn by this point not to be so adventurous with the foods I eat- this might be contributing to my frequent gastrointestinal distress- but I just can't seem to turn down a chance to try something new!)
The next day, we got up early and were thrilled to see the sun was shining bright. We drove with Kenny and Lizzy's father out to Catarindo beach, parked the car, and proceeded to walk over three sand dunes to another private cove. The sand dunes of Arequipa made me feel as though I was walking on the moon- the landscape is arid, and the sand so white and fine that it almost feels and looks like chalk. The private beach cove was not sandy but rather speckled with brightly colored rocks and pebbles. Lizzy and I spent a good hour collecting rocks, admiring the smooth textures and often fluorescent colors, while Kenny entertained himself skipping the stones across the water. After a while, we headed back to Catarindo for an afternoon of beaching, strolling, card-playing, swimming and napping. The water was cold but refreshing, and it was nice to have a little taste of paradise, made complete by a lunch of local ceviche and a creamy fish based dish, a Mollendo specialty. Mildly burned (I was much more diligent with the sunscreen this time!) and quite exhausted, we returned to Arequipa later that evening.
Monday morning, the travels continued. Kenny was kind enough to accompany on the six hour busride up to Puno, the town bordering the highest and largest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. We opted to save money on this trip, and ended up taking the not-so-luxury bus for 20 soles (about $7). Really, as it was during daylight hours, the trip wasn't too bad. I had to laugh at our “bathroom stop” though- we simply pulled over to the side of the highway in the middle of the desert highlands and everyone, men, women and children alike, got off the bus and proceed to squat or stand to do their business in plain view of the rest of the travelers. I cracked up.
Puno itself is quite high at 3800 meters (12,467 feet), so it was back to the coca tea. However, at this point, the altitude barely seems to affect me. By the time we got to the hotel though, it was Kenny's turn to feel sick, and we called it an early evening. In the morning, he felt recovered, and we took a 3 hour boat tour out onto Lake Titicaca to visit the floating islands of Los Uros, an indigenous population who literally makes their home on top of buoyant mounds of straw and mud. We received an orientation on the construction of both the islands and the local homes, and the people invited us to see their dwellings and understand a little more of their lifestyle. They then invited us to purchase some of their handicrafts- I couldn't resist buying a pillow case from a lady named Maria who carried her baby named Nicole on her back. The hand-sewn design on the pillowcase told the story of her life.
The ladies of Los Uros sang us a goodbye song in the local dialects of Aymara and Quechua as well as Spanish, and we rode on a typical boat across the lake to another island, this one slightly more touristy with more artesania and stores. From their, we rode our original boat back to shore and caught a bus back to Arequipa. A very brief visit to Lake Titicaca, but definitely worth the trip for me.
On my last day in Arequipa, I did some shopping for some final gifts downtown, had lunch at Vera Lucia's (one of the cousin's) barbecue restaurants (no more heart, just some good ole' ribs this time), printed some pictures and bought some flowers for Aledia, Lizzy and Kenny. Like I said, goodbyes were difficult, but it was time to catch the night bus for Cuzco again.
I spent just one night in Cuzco, last night, at the largest hostel I've stayed at this entire trip. It was a bit of a party hostel, with some 150 guests, a full restaurant/bar, Internet cafe, and a night of drinking games which I politely declined given my early morning flight this morning. I shared a room with two Brazilian guys and some other guy who woke us all up with his arrival at 5am this morning. A night of little sleep made worse the discovery that my debit card had gone missing, I think when I last took money out of the ATM in Arequipa. I spent an hour this morning on the phone with the bank and my parents, hopefully sorting out the situation- we'll see when I get to Brazil. A hard learned lesson, but one of the trials of traveling I suppose.
I hope to post this blog entry tonight or tomorrow morning from the hostel near Iguazu. More stories to come!