Beautiful Scenery and Bus Rides From Hell

15 06 2009

A long post full of stories. The juiciest parts are at the end.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi was tons of fun. I went to a restaurant with several other volunteers and tried Chiriuchu, which was quite possibly one of the the worst-tasting dishes I´ve ever had. It consisted of nasty fish eggs that might have been from a lake, cold guinea pig, cold meat, cold chicken, cold sausage, some sort of cold bread, cold cheese and cold seaweed. None of us liked it.

Later that day, we watched the parade from a balcony at one of the local bars and played darts. There were thousands of people who turned up, and it was quite the celebration. After a few drinks, I headed home to pack and leave for Arequipa.

Chiriuchu (yuck!)

Chiriuchu (yuck!)

Corpus Christi Celebration

Corpus Christi Celebration

The Bus Ride

Turns out my fellow group members didn´t end up coming because they heard there were going to be blockades in the road. Right now, there is quite a bit of civil unrest. Basically, the government is trying to take land away from the native people. In retaliation, the natives have been blocking roads with rocks, boulders, cacti and anything else they can find, making it hard to travel.

My friends heard right because around 11pm the bus stopped, and we were alerted that there were tons of rocks in the streets. An hour later, we all had to get out of the bus and help move the rocks that were blocking the street. Meanwhile, locals were having a bonfire in the middle of the street. I was very tired and confused and could barely figure out what was going on. Fortunately, shortly after our walk in the cold night air, we were back on the bus for Arequipa.

The bus ride was super curvy, and it felt like a boat rocking back and forth or turbulence in an airplane. Little did I know that this bus ride was nothing compared to the ride back.

Arequipa

I finally arrived in Arequipa, took a taxi to the hostel and realized I needed more money to enjoy my time there. I lost my debit card, but I was still able to withdraw money using my credit card. So, I booked a city tour and a 2 day/1 night tour in Colca Canyon for a pretty cheap price. The girl at the tour agency was really nice, and we ended up exchanging emails.

Then, I headed to get some food. I ended up at the very top of this really nice restuarant with a great view overlooking the main plaza. I saw a woman sitting by herself, so I invited her over. She was a journalist and a PR professional from Quebec, Canada who was working on a story about mining for Tungsten. She ordered some breakfast, and I ordered an alpaca steak, recommendeded by the waiter. It was amazing! I also ordered a capuccino. Then the chef brought me a pisco sour on the house. Not a bad way to start the day.

Arequipeñan Restaurant with View

Arequipeñan Restaurant with View

I spent the rest of the day touring Arequipa. It´s a nice town, with less contamination than Cusco, friendly people, beautiful volcanic scenery and beautiful buildings. Luckily, I was able to fall asleep easily in the hostel, even though most people were partying. I was too exhausted to go out, and I wanted to save some energy for the next couple of days.

Arequipa and the Volcano Misti

Arequipa and the Volcano Misti

Chivay and Colca Canyon

Around 8:15 AM, my guide picked me up to go to Chivay. I got to sit in front between the driver and the guide.  Our group consisted of three couples, two families and a really obnoxious redneck American man and his son.

The drive to Chivay was gorgeous and took all day. On the way, I bought some Alpaca socks and a sweater because the guide said it was going to be really cold. We saw ponds that were semi-frozen, ducks with blue bills, large coots and tons of alpacas and llamas.

Semi-frozen pond

Semi-frozen pond

Later on, we went in some hot springs, which was fabulous since I was so cold. Then, we ate dinner, watched a traditional dance and retired to our motels. My motel had no heat. The temperature was well below freezing, and it sure felt like my room was freezing too. So, I slept with two pairs of socks (one of which was from alpaca), a t-shirt, my alpaca sweater, another sweatshirt, sweatpants, my beanie and my gloves. I took the blankets from the extra bed next to me and piled them on top of my own blankets. After all of this, I was still cold, but I managed.

The next day, we explored Colca Canyon, which was breathtaking. The views were absolutely surreal. I saw parakeets, eagles, hawks, hummingbirds and the infamous condors. They were incredible to watch, and their wingspan is so impressive. One of them landed really close to all of us, so we got some great pics of it sitting on a ledge.

Condor Perched

Condor Perched

Condor Flying

Condor Flying

On the drive back to Arequipa, I saw a smoking volcano in the distance. So cool! I was glad to be leaving the group because I wasn´t too fond of the families and the other Americans. One of the kids started throwing up the last hour of the ride back. Lovely.

Since I was too cold to shower at the freezing motel, I returned to my hostel in Arequipa and took a hot shower there. After that, I ventured out to a nice restaurant for a typical Arequipeñan meal. It didn´t disappoint. I ate rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers), tasty pork with marinated onion and tomato salad and a couple of potato dishes. Of course I had a glass of delicious wine to accompany the meal. And guess how much the gourmet meal cost? A whopping ten dollars. Not too shabby.

Then, I headed to the bus station. Here´s where it gets interesting.

The Bus Ride Back

Before I boarded the bus, I asked one of the attendants if there were going to be more protests that night. I didn´t want to experience another long delay. She said no, so I was happy that my ride would be smooth sailing.

Boy was she wrong. I wish it had been smooth sailing. I sat down in my seat at the front of the bus, and we took off. Even after they handed out blankets, I was still incredibly cold. The bus had no heat, and once again, it was below freezing outside. It was rocking back and forth, just like the first ride, but this ride was way worse. Throughout the night, the attendants had to get out and direct the bus on these narrow roads.

At about 5:15 AM, the bus was in such a tough position that we all had to get out while the driver tried to maneuver his way around the tight bends. At this time, ice was covering the windows. It then occurred to me that we were on a completely different road than the one I had originally taken to get there.

Apparently, since the main road was blocked by the protesters, our driver decided to take a different route that he´d never been on before. Consequently, he got lost and ended up following another ¨lost¨bus in the hope that the other bus driver knew where he was going.

The alternate route was not meant for big buses at all. On several occasions, I thought we might go over the cliffs. Long story short, the bus we were following got stuck in a ditch. Then, our bus got stuck in the same ditch. It took two hours to get the buses free and turn around. All the while, the driver made a huge dent on the front bumper and completely destroyed part of the back bumper.

Stuck in the Ditch

Stuck in the Ditch

We were literally in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone signals. Finally, we passed a couple of people on the road, and they directed us the correct way to go.

When we got to the main road, there were boulders and rocks everywhere. The natives had set up blockades. We all had to get out of the bus again and take turns removing the rocks. By this time, it was warm outside, and our bus had no air conditioning either.

Rocks Blocking the Road

Rocks Blocking the Road

The bathroom reeked, along with the French girl sitting next to me who was definitely not wearing deoderant.

Just when I thought things couldn´t get much worse, they did. Around 1 PM, fourteen hours after we started the journey, we all had to abandon the bus. The natives had taken out several planks from the bridge that we were supposed to cross and had covered the road with more boulders, rocks and cacti for at least a mile.

I carefully made my way across the broken bridge with my luggage and walked for over an hour. At this point, I pinched myself to make sure that this in fact was real life.

Crossing the Bridge

Crossing the Bridge

Finally, another bus came to pick us up. It was filled to the brim with smelly people, and I was sitting next to some lady who was coughing up a lung and in front of another lady who started puking. Thus, I quickly decided to get away from them and stand for the rest of the two-hour ride back.

At least the bus ride(s) were very scenic. I´m happy to say that I made it back safely and in one piece. I feel a strong sense of accomplishment going solo, and I surprised myself with how independent I was this weekend.

* Many more photos at my photobucket site. Click on my pictures tab to view them. Haven´t had a chance to label them because I´m too exhausted.