Lima was over in a flash, as we knew the entire trip would eventually be, short as it inevitably was. But that didn’t stop us from basking in every beautiful moment of it.
The day we left for Arequipa, the bus wasn’t set to depart until early- to mid-afternoon. After a delicious breakfast of fried fish, rice, and chicken soup, we spent the day exploring the city a little more, and also ventured into the art museum that was stationed across from our hostel.
Unfortunately for us, the majority of the exhibits were closed as they were doing renos to the building. We were only able to view two areas. One was more traditional Renaissance era art. Most of the depictions were either biblical in nature, or of prominent religious figures who had some sort of direct influence on the Catholic Church’s presence in Peru or elsewhere in South America.
The second area held contemporary art. A lot of geometrical essence as well as bright, pastel colours. This kind of art doesn’t provoke my emotions or my imagination as much when compared to the darker-toned religious art. All in all, it was a brief visit, which was cool as we eventually had to head further south to the bus station.
While we were on the road, we witnessed a major traffic jam exacerbated by a livid taxi driver who got out of his car and refused to stop blocking 2 lanes. It was 15 meters from an intersection where one of the armed traffic cops was stationed, but she didn’t do anything to stop the situation. Hundreds of horns blared for 10 straight minutes as this guy was trying to pick a fight with a truck driver. Eventually, he relented and things eased up. It was nuts.
Tepsa, the company we used, has at least one of its own stations in Lima. They weren’t too bad at all, and for what it was, the ride was fairly comfortable. When you’re getting into the double-digit hours, though, it’s difficult for any kind of bus to remain comfortable for long unless you have your own bed (a real bed, not a seat that reclines however many degrees). I have bad lower back and hip problems as well, stemming from a decade of fitness endeavours in which more safety and support would have been advisable. So eventually, the bus rides hurt like hell. 15 or so hours to Arequipa with Spanish movies playing non-stop. There were plugs for earphones, yet all of the movies played with full audio throughout the bus. It starts to hurt your head after a while. The food wasn’t bad either, certainly not for bus food. The view was disappointing; I was amped to get out of the big city and begin to see a lush rural area. I still had fantasies of Asia in mind. It’s not like that in the area south of Lima. It’s dusty desert and little more. We did get the odd view of the Pacific Ocean to our right and a nice sunset, as well. We passed through small towns here and there, eventually passing out.
When I woke up we were an hour or so outside of Arequipa and suddenly a few thousand meters above sea level.
It was very refreshing to step out in the open air. We hadn’t gotten off the bus for the entire 15 hours. I was getting dizzy from the altitude pretty quickly though, but not nauseous. This had me elated. Breathlessness I could deal with no problem, and it was a surreal feeling to walk a few steps and feel suddenly tired. I somehow relished in its novelty. I was in a really good mood to be off of the bus.
From Arequipa’s bus station, we bought tickets to Cabanaconde, where we would be staying to hike Colca Canyon. At this point, we really had little idea as to the logistics and timing of this hike. We went in with minimal info and a lot of ambition. An hour later, we took off on the next bus, much smaller this time, and much more gritty. Also, I should mention that as soon as we got off the bus in Arequipa, we noticed a stark difference in the complexion and physical features of the locals. The people were much shorter, much stouter, and much darker. Their faces reminded me of North American First Nations. A lot of people were wearing straw hats. The older women wore their hair in two pigtailed braids. They also carried handwoven satchels (I don’t really know a better name for it) that they sling on their backs and use it to hold any number of things from clothing to food to little children.
The bus ride took us on a winding route into the Andes Mountains. The views were magnificent; I can’t remember the last time I’d seen snow-capped mountain peaks. Teresa was starting to pass out, her way of avoiding some of the sickness she was beginning to feel the onset of. I relished in the journey, feeling pretty lucky that whatever I was feeling, it was keeping me awake.
Alpaca dotted the sides of the road here and there, grazing very peacefully in fields on either side of us. For much of the ride, we were thousands of meters above sea level, yet surrounded by flat land in many directions, the odd peak emerging here and there. The highest point I saw a sign for was just over 4,100 meters. We came across random little areas of habitation, with little more than 15 or so buildings in one given spot.
After about 4 ½ hours, we began to descend into a beautiful valley. A small town, Chivay, was nestled in the crook. Up on the hill that rose above it, a massive cross was carved into the side for all in the valley to see. This was the beginning of Colca Canyon, but from there, you can barely tell what’s going to open up beyond it.
We stopped in Chivay for a much needed bathroom break and, somehow, an alpaca empanada. I can’t go somewhere on not try something that is unique to the area, and certainly widely unavailable where I’m from. Maybe if it was fresh, it would’ve tasted better, but I really wasn’t feeling this one. Ritz crackers, water, and a mango I bought from the last bus station would suffice for the moment. The mango really helped Teresa pull through, as well. I think part of her sickness was from a lack of nutritional intake since boarding in Lima.
So here we were, at the cusp of one of the most beautiful, epic sites I’ve ever laid eyes on, even after all of my Asia travels, and everything before. Colca Canyon is truly godly if such things exist on this Earth.
Next: a first and everlasting impression.