Our time in pretty Arequipa...and painful Rio Chili
¨Better safe than sorry,¨we said, plunking down a steep $30 bus fare to Arequipa, Peru. To our mild horror, we´d learned that the bus route between Paracas and our destination of choice was plagued by frequent hijackings and highway robberies. By splurging for the non-stop, super fancy autobus - we were (hopefully) minimizing our risk. Luckily, we arrived in colonial Arequipa - the ´White City´- with all belongings in hand. In fact, neither of us really remember anything in particular about the overnight journey...which, in the ranks of our many bus rides, is a very good sign. I do, however, remember waking early in the morning to an oddly lunar landscape - graceful, dusty mountains pocked with enormous, out-of-place white stones - the rising sun drenched the countryside in watercolor pinks. The pretty city Arequipa, through my sleep-heavy eyes, seemed to rise like an oasis in the middle of a seemingly uninhabitable wilderness. As we rolled into the station and the sun continued its climb into the Peruvian sky, Kelsey and I were in thoroughly happy spirits.
We found the city to be extraordinarily clean, friendly, and completely gorgeous. The Plaza de Armas, the heartbeat of the city, was a sweeping, green patch of happiness surrounded by stately, collonaded colonial buildings. Palm trees, birds, blooming flowers, a lively fountain and hundreds of Peruvians set a most magnificent scene. Kelsey and I passed several hours in the Plaza, simply watching the world go by: vendors hawked juices, ice cream, artwork and shoeshines; kids in sun hats charged the flocks of hungry pigeons; entire families promenaded with pride; young lovers wooed, old men snoozed. It was like the world´s most entertaining, relaxing lecture of Arequipeño culture.
Our three days in Arequipa were beautiful in their simplicity and relaxation. Aside from our time in the sunny center of the city, we wandered the cobblestone streets, haggled for handicrafts and frequented a local cafe run by an NGO for underprivileged children. In honor of American Independence - we celebrated with a Peruvian-style, cheese and mustard-covered hot dog and a rented American film (Family Guy, the movie). It was strange, to celebrate 4th of July with an extremely inappropriate adult cartoon, viewed in a stunningly colonial, stain-glassed Peruvian hostal. Kelsey and I both decided we missed fireworks very much.
We fell asleep shamefully early that evening (around 8 pm) - the exhaustion from our non-stop travel finally overcoming us. However, we were simply resting up for the next day...we were headed to a nearby river for a little Peruvian white water rafting. The excursion, as expected, was phenomenal. Our guide was a hilarious, hairy, 22 year old Arequipeño named Alvarro who deftly helped us to maneuver through class II - IV+ rapids...freezing cold, crystal clear, roaring Rio Chili rapids. Our raft tipped us into to river once, (thanks for that, Alvarro...he laughed), and flipped us completely over once again. With each plunge it felt as though my lungs were instantly crystallized and icy little needles pricked each of my pores...we were all sent into wide-eyed fits of gasping and whimpering and crazed excitement - with rocks and water and the world crashing down around us. By the end of it all, we could scarcely walk, nor peel off the wetsuits - our little fingers and toes were nothing more than uncooperative, immobile, throbbing nubs. In spite of the completely bone-shaking cold, it was also breathtaking in the most positive of ways: the mountain scenery was stunning enough to shame an idealistic Kincaid. After a full three hours, we hobbled back to our van. ¨It´s over already!?¨said Kelsey, ¨let´s do it again!¨
We spent the rest of the evening thawing out, and preparing for our next-day departure to Machu Picchu. While we could scarcely contain our excitement for the Inca city, we´d been wholly happy with our Arequipa experience and were a bit sad to say goodbye. Boarding yet another wonderful night bus, we were filled with visions of picturesque plazas, Arequipa architecture and wild white-water. Ciao for now, Arequipa!