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Tales from a Rolling Stone

To Peru in The Black Tattoo

PERU | Saturday, 27 September 2008 | Views [1388]

So there we were, in the Chilean border town of Arica, purchasing our bus tickets to cross into Peru.  We'd done it a dozen times already - even in Spanish, buying a bus ticket isn't rocket science.  Anywho, after a few minutes of debating which Peruvian town we should hit up first, we finally decided to check out the town of Arequipa, and that was where our bus ticket was to.  Well, theoretically anyway.  For the first time, the guy at the ticket counter didn't actually give us a ticket.  For the first time, someone also picked up our bags to take to the bus.  A little strange, but we went with it.  We learned weeks ago that things work differently in different places, or oftentimes don't work, for that matter, and its just easier to go with the flow unless something looks especially dodgy.  I actually remember even telling Jen that I'd laugh if the guy with our packs just threw them in the trunk of his car. 

Fifty yards later the joke was on me, as I watched our bags get thrown in the back of a Chevrolet Caprice Classic.

Did I mention the name of the car was The Black Tattoo??

Not quite sure what to do with this situation, as our buses never took the form of an 80s Chevy, we took comfort in the fact that there were two other Americans camped out in the cushy backseat of the car - lets call them Bill and Ted, just because that's what they called themselves.  A crazy drive through the border later, we arrived at the bus station on the other side of the Peruvian border.  There safe, but definitely ripped off a bit.  Maybe you cant complain when you've ridden the Black Tattoo with Bill and Ted.

Finding the duo rather entertaining, we caught a cab with them once we reached the town of Arequipa since per usual, we had nowhere to stay and no idea where to go.  After getting dropped off at three overpriced hostels (possibly owned by friends/relatives of the cabby?), we finally settled on a hostel where we had a room for three for $3/night per person, sharing the room with a quiet Japanese-Brazilian who'd shared our cab ride. 

Lesson #1: If a hostel costs $3/night, there's probably a reason...  To be explained.

Anyways, after chatting w/ Bill and Ted for a while and learning that Ted's pack had recently been stolen out of a hostel while they were out, Jen and I decided it was in our best interest to lock up our bags, as we'd gotten rather lazy with our bag security.  Starving, we stumbled into town to find ourselves in a Chinese style restaurant, chowing down on a fried rice type dish we subsequently started eating for breakfast and dinner for the next few days.  Unfortunately, once we returned to our hostel, it was abundantly clear that someone had been in our room while we were out.  Thankful that we'd locked everything up, nothing was taken, although I don't think any of us slept overly well that night.

Alive and well in the morning, we woke up to cold showers. 

And now a word on Latin American showers: unless you're in a big, relatively westernized city, hot water does not exist.  The solution? Attaching an electrical contraption to the showerhead to heat the water as it goes through the nozzle, which really only ends up heating the water about 50% of the time by my estimates.

Nothing like risking your life for a shower which uses water that if swallowed, will probably give you diarrhea. 

You think I'm joking.  I don't think you realize that I put a light saber looking gadget in my water everytime I fill up my water bottle to UV zap the viruses, bacteria, and protozoa out of it. 

Seriously.  Chewy, back me up here??

Anywho, despite our sketchy/scary hostel, Arequipa was a great city with bustling life, and more calculators for sale than you could ever imagine.  The amount of crap sold was incredible, and everyone sold the same damn stuff.  Calculators, watches, batteries, and more calculators, calculators, and calculators.  Fascinating.  Who knew Peruvians were so concerned with basic math??

After two days in Arequipa, where we walked the city and tried our first pisco sours (Peru's signature cocktail, although dont' tell that to a Chilean - they'll swear they invented it)and ceviche (Peru's signature dish, where they cook a medly of seafood not with heat, but with the acid from lemons and limes - delish), we headed north to Cusco, Peru's most famous city.  Not only did Cusco have all of the fried rice, chicken and fries (all they seem to eat here), and ceviche a person could want, but apparently they also eat elpaca and guinea pig here.  I guess when you consider that they eat dogs in parts of Asia, guinea pig doesn't seem too bad.  But really, um PET!!

Anways, back to Cusco.  I've gotta say, the city doesn't get its great reputation for no reason - it has gorgeous colonial archetecture and museums galore.  (Did I mention they eat guinea pig here??)  It's also quite the tourist attraction because it's the primary gateway to Machu Picchu.  Unfortunately, since Machu Picchu is quite the tourist attraction, they've made it quite the money making business to get there.  Treks along the Inca Trail - aka Gringo Trail - can run anywhere from $400-$600, and even taking the train there costs nearly $100, and that's before the $40 entrance fee.  Luckily, Jen and I were pretty budget oriented at this point, and knowing that we couldn't eat for a good two weeks if we tried to finagle a $100 train ride, nevertheless a trek, we decided to take the lesser-known bus, which would drop us off in an obscure town, after which we'd need to walk to the hydroelectric plant and then follow the railroad tracks to Agua Caliente, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.  Bill and Ted had done it, and it seemed pretty straightforward, so onward we went.

I won't talk much about the bus ride there, other than the fact that we were stuck because of a landslide on the most frightening road I've ever driven on.  I know the most dangerous road in the world is supposedly in Bolivia, but this has got to be the second most dangerous with hairpin turns, hugging a canyon with no railing and hundreds of feet between the road and the canyon floor.  Let's just say that landslides aren't comforting.  Nor is staying in the bus when almost everyone else gets out to walk, and then having a crowd stare at the bus as we slowly creep around a curve rather crookedly.  (Me to Jen:  "Jen, why is everyone staring at our bus, and why are they taking pictures?  JEN WHY DOES IT FEEL LIKE OUR BUS IS ONLY ON TWO WHEELS?!?")

As you've probably figured out, we made it off the bus alive, and into the obscure town of Santa Theresa.  Our four hour walk turned into five and a half, and after getting ambushed on a bridge by mosquitoes where Jen and I counted 273 bites between the two of us, we finally made it to Agua Caliente.  I will say, however, following train tracks in the dark is not recommended.

Sore from our walk, we took the next day to enjoy the magical scenery of Agua Caliente and have the first vacation-like day of our trip, sitting in the sun drinking 4 for 1 pisco sours and pina coladas, while munching on free nachos.  The feeling of blissful thoughtless vacation was short, however, as we woke up at 3:45 the next morning to climb Machu Picchu.  Supposedly we got up that early to catch the sunrise, but there was no sun rising when we got up there just before 6am.  There were lines and we were sore.  Nobody likes to climb stairs for an hour and a half at 4:30am.

While we didn't see the sunrise, our early arrival allowed us to climb Waynapicchu, that big mountain you always see in the pictures of Machu Picchu.  Although that meant another hour of stair climbing, the people 3x our age gave us the motivation to trek to the top, and the view from the peak is - in my opinion - unrivaled by anything else I've ever seen.  Pictures don't prepare you for that kind of beauty.

Anyhow, after a few days of recovery from more hiking than anyone should do in a lifetime, I'm back in Cusco for the night, skipping the pirate party at our hostel to watch the presidential debate and keep up with the depressing Red Sox / Yankees game (it was 15-5 Yankees last I checked - booo!!) 

That's about all, but should have more stories after my next stop: The Peruvian Amazon.

Next stop: The Peruvian Amazon

 

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