And Reality Sets In
Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
50Trip End Aug 31, 2009
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Where I stayed
La Reyna Hotel
Many of you may know that Kevin did most of the planning for this trip. On the flight here, I figured it was probably time for me to read the Peru guide-book - big mistake. By the time we arrived, I was pretty leery of the country - somehow I just didn't find all those warnings about tourist rapes and robberies comforting. I tried to keep an open mind (after all, these things are the exception, not the rule, right??), but the ride to the hostel just put me over the edge. We drove through many impoverished neighbourhoods and shantytowns - "houses" made of stones, boarded up windows, and walls that looked only half built
I'd like to say things got better when we got to the Hostel Espagne, but our "double" room consisted of one double bed with 2 extra feet of space along one side and 3 extra feet on the end. For five people? Hmmm. Michael and Sarah slept in sleeping bags on the floor and Laura was in the double bed with us. I lay awake wondering how I was ever going to make it through 365 more days of this...Moment number 2!
I'm happy to report that things have improved considerably since then. We spent two nights in Lima, and still didn't love it (or even like it for that matter) but we were able to accept it for what it is - a dirty, crowded, polluted city with lots of people and cars (mostly taxis). For some reason the cars all honk their horns incessantly - they honk when they go around a corner, they honk when the car in front stops for a light, they honk when the Chinese win another Olympic medal
Some of the highlights of Lima:
· Went to the Museum of the Inquisition and learned some potentially new parenting techniques. We don't know when we'll use them but surely there will be a time when body stretching on a rack, hanging children up by their wrists and strangulation will come in handy;
· Meeting Trevor - a 16 year old from BC who had been travelling alone in Peru for the last month...quite amazing. Trevor gave us our first 'Peruvian' dinner recommendation (Pizza Palace). And, yes, Pepperoni Pizza Fairy left the restaurant happy...;
· Trying churros (donut-like pastries filled with jam and covered in sugar) and Inca Cola (the Peruvian soft-drink);
· The hostel we stayed in definitely has character - naked statues everywhere, two parrots and two turtles (that wander freely around the main eating area). Laura tells us that one of the turtles is her pet, has named her Shelley and has started to teach her tricks (like "Stay" and "Come"). Perhaps next she could teach Shelley not to pee wherever she wants;
· The kids begging us to stay in this same hostel on our return to Lima - they even said they would prefer to have the same room (go figure);
· Realizing that not many people speak English in Peru
We left Lima and flew to Arequipa where we have spent the majority of the week. The flight to Arequipa was uneventful except that the signs directing us to "All Departures" somehow bypassed the check-in counter. We paid our airport departure taxes and casually strolled up to security with all our bags, only to realize our mistake. After a number of difficult conversations (which didn't involve either of the memorized phrases above), Kevin was "directed" out of security with our two backpacks and two suitcases, and back to the previously invisible (huge) check-in area. He also got the privilege of learning that you have to repay your departure tax even if you don't in fact depart the airport!
We arrived in Arequipa at 8:30 PM and got dropped off at the Plaza de Armas (every city here seems to have one - the big central square where you see people just hanging about all hours of the day). With the three children in tow, we proceeded to try to find a hostel to stay in. Within a half hour, we had found ourselves a room with 4 beds (woo hoo!) and negotiated the price down from 60 to 48 soles (the equivalent of about $18). The only bad part of the hostel is that Kevin and I both got stuck (literally) in the narrow, winding, stairwell carrying our backpacks up the three flights to get to our room (and Laura was disappointed there were no turtles)
We instantly felt safer in Arequipa. Perhaps it was the Peruvian gentleman dressed up like Santa Claus selling candies in the streets. Perhaps it was the Colca Coffee shop that looked and felt like a Starbucks and offered free Internet. Whatever it was, we got a jolt of reality when we saw the glass shards embedded on the top of the wall of the rooftop balcony to keep unsavoury characters out (or maybe to keep unsavoury characters in...)
Highlights of Arequipa include:
· Seeing Juanita the Ice Princess - Juanita was a 13 or 14 year old girl who willingly allowed herself to be sacrificed by the Inca Priests over 500 years ago. She was sacrificed to the Mountain Gods to prevent avalanches, volcanoes and other natural disasters. Her (almost) perfectly preserved body was found encased in ice on the top of the mountain in 1995. Sarah was particularly interested in seeing her - she says she has always wanted to see a dead person...you know, to see "whether there is a lot of blood and stuff"
· The authentic Peruvian food in Arequipa - for example, peppers stuffed with meat and spices, sautéed beef and vegetables, mashed red potato sauce with pork. All very flavourful and tasty;
· Visiting the Monasterio de Santa Catalina - This monastery was magnificent. It took up a whole block and is full of narrow twisting streets, hidden staircases, small chapels and bedrooms previously occupied by nuns. It gave us lots of opportunity to remind the children about our Christian beliefs (and, we got to answer Sarah's question about why Jesus wore a dress.);
· The Andes mountains throughout Peru- They are different from the mountains we saw in Canada and Alaska, but are still beautiful - just in a more desolate way;
· Having the children notice the lack of blondes in Peru...(I guess the ocean mist/pollution that constantly shrouds Lima obscured that fact). Wherever we go, people stare at our children - sometimes blowing them kisses, sometimes reaching out to touch them, sometimes just saying "Ola"
· Interesting to see a trench being built along a few blocks to bury some sort of cable...the workers had pickaxes and shovels and nothing more...these are some of the things that we want the children to notice;
· Firsthand experience of how there is less oxygen at higher altitudes...it was quite amazing how out of breath we were just walking up a small hill, and we are only at 2,500 metres above sea level here;
· Feeding the pigeons...in what has become a regular ritual, the children thoroughly enjoy feeding the hundreds of pigeons in the central square. A good reminder for us to keep things simple.
From our base in Arequipa we also took a side trip into the Colca Canyon through a town called Chivay. This two day trek took us into a canyon that is much deeper than the Grand Canyon:
· Inside the canyon, the Incas devised rock-walled terraces into the mountains to allow them to plant different crops
· Hearing Michael use his best Spanish with "Estaba buenisimo" (that was delicious) to the waitress in the buffet restaurant at the same moment that Sarah vomited all over the floor...this trek took us to 4,200 metres above sea level. Poor little Sarah had altitude sickness but now holds the family record for the maximum number of times vomited in a day. She is also the only one who can say she left a little bit of herself behind on the trail in Chivay! While Michael, Laura and I were mostly fine, Kevin also felt some of the effects...he even opted out of dinner! He said it felt like a hangover without the hazy memories;
· Seeing a number of new animals. While we had previously seen llamas, we were introduced to their cousins, the alpaca (domesticated) and the vicuna (wild). We also got to see the huge condors gliding on the warm thermal updrafts from the canyon floor. Their 3.5 metre wingspans were quite impressive as they flew right over our heads.
That's about it for now...the challenges for the rest of the day include figuring out how to get our laundry done, and how to get to Lake Titicaca, our next destination.