Trip Start Jan 26, 2011
Trip End Mar 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Los Andes Bed and Breakfast

Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ah yes, another border crossing and yes, another story. When we left Copacabana we were only 10 minutes away from the border. The bus we were on was the first bus that had all tourists on it, and was quite nice for a change. Our driver was very helpful with information for us on where to go, what to do, etc. This was also a first for us. When we arrived to the border we did what the man said. We got off and got our passports stamped, then walked to the Peru side to get another stamp. We were very excited, because we were the first in line to do both. When Yvonne showed the man her passport, he appeared frustrated and told her the stamp had the wrong date on it. Apparently, the same had happened to about 20 of us. As we walked out back to the Bolivia side, we made sure to notify our fellow travelers. All was well, though and we got stamped with the right date, and from there we moved on. Note to self:  always make sure your immigration official knows and is using the right date.

Our plan was to arrive in Puno and stay the night, where we would visit the other side of Lake Titicaca, but when we arrived to Puno, it was far from nice and we made a snap decision to head towards Arequipa instead, where we had discussed possible treks into Colca Canyon. 

Arequipa is a marvelous white walled-city with beautiful buildings and churches. There was lots to be done around Arequipa, and we were not sure where to start. We followed the advice of Lonely Planet and walked towards a tour operator that was suggested to us. His office happened to be closed on Sunday afternoon, so we walked some more and found a place called EcoTours. We walked in and asked about Colca and other possibilities.  Karlton had also read about El Misit and Chanchani, which are two volcanic peaks near 6,000 meters. Karlton had been longing to do something challenging, and he was determined to make it happen. Our tour operator suggested that we do a 3day/2night trek into Colca Canyon first. This way Karlton would have time to acclimatize and be warmed up for a more challenging hike at altitude.  We agreed Colca would be a fine choice. We decided to pay the operator for our Colca trek and Chanchani, plus a day of rafting for Yvonne. This is where it gets a bit tricky. Tour operators will always say that they will give you a "good price" and so we sat there while the man figured out the price and the discounts for booking more than one tour. There were some issues that I will explain a bit later. Just note that you should take careful notes of prices being quoted.

Our first trek was Colca Canyon. We had to wake up at 2:30 a.m., so that our bus could pick us up from our hostel at 3 a.m. When we go into our bus, the only seat available were at the very back, which did not recline. We were stuck with two  super tall sleeping German men in front of us fully reclined, and we had hardly any space to breathe. The drive from Arequipa to our departure point was 3 1/2 hours. We were promised breakfast, but to a lot of people, breakfast is nothing more than bread, tea, jam, butter, and maybe some cheese. When you are going to be trekking for 3 hours, you need a bit more than that. Our tour operator was named Luis, and it just so happened that Luis' family was born in the small villages where we were going to be staying. So, he knew a lot about the culture and region. We couldn't have asked for more. We had feared paying for a tour because we were not sure of how many people would be in our group and how obnoxious some of them might be. We were lucky all the way around. We were 5 total in our group. Volker was from Germany, and Michele and Christina were from France. It was a very diverse group, and all the others were very much older than us. Our 3 day trek was amazing, although hard at times. We stayed in rustic villages and met the locals, many of whom were family of Luis. We even had a pool, but it was too cold for Yvonne to want to swim. Our last day was straight uphill for 3 hours with a 5 a.m start, and we didn't eat breakfast till we got to the top! This seemed like a very backwards way of doing things. Nevertheless, we were happy and pleased to make new friends and learn new and exciting things.

When the trek was over, we returned to Arequipa, and Karlton was geared up and supplied for Chanchani. Yvonne decided not to raft because she was a bit apprehensive about the guides, and the river was also flowing pretty fast. We returned to the tour operator to discuss the plans and cancel the half day of rafting. He had assured us it was okay, and he could give us our money back. When we arrived to discuss the reimbursement, he notified Karlton that the other two people on the trek had canceled. They were sick and could not leave until another date. We had already booked our bus tickets for Cusco and had to discuss what we should do. Our tour operator seemed kind of shady from the get go, but we saw credentials and thought it would be OK. When we decided to get refunds for both, he suddenly became much less friendly, explaining that he would have to talk to his boss, and we would have to return for our money.  Upon our return, he hastily went through the calculations and very quickly asked Karlton to sign the receipt for the refund.  Karlton had been doing his own math in his head and knew something was wrong.  Sure enough, upon our return to our hotel, he got out the original receipt and realized that he had shorted us exactly s100 (around $35), and to make matters worse, the "discount" he had promised for booking more than one trek was nowhere to be found.  We returned once more and politely explained that somehow, an "error" had been made, and he owed us another 100.  To make a long story short, we had to return another three times to finally get our money back.  Yvonne suspects a cheating calculator, and these things do exist down here.  Karlton thinks the man just added an extra s100 somewhere, with the hopes that we would not notice.  EIther way, it was like working with the worst, most dishonest used car salesman you could imagine.  Thank goodness neither of us trusted him or his affiliates with our lives doing anything potentially dangerous.

All in all, we enjoyed our time in Arequipa.  We got to enjoy some amazing food at some very fancy restaurants, but at prices far less than in the States.  The downtown area was very nice, although the outskirts were not.  We boarded an overnight bus with first class seating, to wake up in Cusco, gateway to Machu Picchu.

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Mi gato es naranja on

Sorry, I got nothing. BUT: by all means blacklist the SHIT outta that tour operator. Go on every website south of Panama and make that operation sound like the shadiest since Pinochet was booted. MACHU PICHU!!!! Man, another wet dream you two are conquering. Sweet! Do your best to smuggle back as many artifacts, stones, pot shards, etc. as you can get your mits on. Don't worry about guards or rules regarding archeological sites - that's all just blue smoke and mirrors for the sillier tourists. Load up, and ship whatever you don't want to carry. I'm looking for something in a giant stone Olmec head (a la Bart Simpson). Thanks!

Ranger Hobe on

WOW I don't know who that jerk was posting above me. You sure don't want to do anything crazy illegal like what was suggested there. That would be wrong, and could lead to further strains in North-South American relations (not to mention an extended stay in jail). Unless you've already got some cool stuff - in that case just RUN FOR IT. Woot.

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