For the last trip of the semester, my friends and I decided to head into Southern Peru to the city of Arequipa, known as the “White City” for its arquitecture, as well as being known for sitting right outside the Colca Canyon and for its incredibly delicious food. I was ready to get out of Lima after exams and enjoy the nicer weather, outdoors and spending quality time with some of my friends in the program before we all head our separate ways. Our trip to Arequipa was not the dream vacation I had previously seen in my mind, and it seemed everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. But when you’re spending time with such great friends in such an amazing place, it is hard to look back and not think a trip was fantastic. Its also the times when things go the most wrong that you learn how you deal with certain situations and how in the end, a trip is what you make it to be. I definitely learned that when things go wrong, I need to trust that everything will work out. I learned that the best thing to do is not to dwell on what the trip COULD have been, but instead enjoy and be thankful for the experience I DID get to have and the experiences I will hopefully continue to have.
As half of our travel group headed to Puno and Lake Titicaca for a day first, my friend Kelly and I went ahead to Arequipa (since I’d seen Lake Titicaca when i went to Bolivia a couple years ago). We arrived after descending and landing in some pretty heavy turbulence to a rainy day in Arequipa and thus began the long list of “unexpecteds” that would happen in our 4 day stay. We took a taxi to our hostel with a very friendly man who yodeled the words to a song from Heidi to us before breaking into a couple other songs we didn’t know and telling us his views on relationships in the US vs in Peru. It was quite the interesting ride and it is times like these that make me fall more in love with the people of Peru who are so amiable and genuinely live up every minute of life. The biggest challenge to the independence and confidence in my international traveling that I felt I had earned while here occurred when we went to check into our hostel (however along with it also came a moment of clarification and gratefulness). When I went to check us into the hostel that I had booked a week earlier, the women at the front desk looked at each other and said, “You’re Eliza? You missed your check-in time so we have given two of your four beds away and unfortunately we are totally full for tonight”.
I immediately went into panic mode and an “I’m a failure” mental state. I argued with the woman, telling her I had set our time for 3:00 and that it was only 2:45, upon which she politely informed me that Peru still abides by military time and that 3:00 is AM while 15:00 is PM and that there was nothing they could do except help us to find a hostel for the other two members of our group for the night. I was devastated. I had booked hostels before, I had arrived on time and picked the right hours before, shouldn’t I be able to do this by now? And then there was a peace about the whole moment. I called another hostel and booked it, rebooked us for the following nights at our original hostel, and figured out all the finances. By myself. And all in spanish. It shed light on part of the reason I came to Peru. To learn to deal with situations like this. Where I am not in total control, where things go wrong and there are unexpected barriers but where I have the capacity and the knowledge to figure things out independently and not always have to rely on others. At the beginning of the semester I would have broken down and given up, or called our director to help us figure out the problem. But I have lived and learned how to be more independent here; I have learned how to speak Spanish well enough that it wasn’t a problem to have all those conversations with the hostel people. I have learned that I am a stronger person than I thought I was before and that I can do so many things I would have never imagined being possible.
But enough self-reflection..we then visited a neat church and bought some delicious cookies before I made the biggest mistake of the entire trip which was the meal I ate for dinner our first night. Kelly and I decided to go cheap and split a meal for 5 soles (the equivalent of $2). Anyone in their right mind woud know that any meal, especially one that includes meat and is big enough for two people to split, should probably NOT be consumed. And yet we did it and so my sickness began. I felt bad that night but assumed it would go away and so the next day when i woke up feeling bad I knew it was going to be rough. I immediately took some Pepto (or Butismol–Peruvian Pepto) and we set out for the days activities. We went to a huge monastery where we expected to pay 15 soles to get in–cost 35 soles which we were not happy about but it ended up being really cool and it was fun running around taking artsy pictures and enjoying a huge mid-monastery piece of chocolate/caramel cake. Not a good decision on my part but I wasn’t really thinking about it. All i was worried about was taking pictures and staying hydrated. Therefore I wasn’t thinking when I ate a spicy Rocoto Relleno (the Arequipenan specialty) for lunch. This meat and cheese stuffed pepper is to die for–normally. But it also did not set well with my stomach and it became basically the last thing i ate for 2 days and one of the reasons I missed out on Arequipa’s delicious cuisine. But such is life in a foreign country where you eat things you shouldn’t and think your stomach is more accustomed than it really is.
We had planned to do a tour of the Colca Canyon the next day so I took more meds and went to sleep early hoping again that I felt better when I woke up. Our tour left the hostel at 3am and would return at 5pm and we would drive all through the Colca Valley and then the canyon. After arriving in Chivay, half of the way into the valley, we paid our 70soles entrance (before learning we could have shown a special student id we have that would have discounted us to only have to pay 5soles–we’re still bitter!) and then headed to breakfast. At this point I was feeling pretty weak and sick but I figured I could sleep in between stops, take pictures at overlooks and then on the way back sleep the whole way. We made a couple stops in some beautiful small towns where we saw local dances/cultures displayed in the Plaza de Armas and the views along the drive were undescribable. The land was very green and there were tons of agricultural terraces, over 25,000 in the valley!! It was breathtaking and totally took my mind off of not feeling well.
We then stopped at the Cruz del Condor where we hoped to see some of the huge birds of prey. Our guide had told us there wasn’t a big chance of us seeing any because it was a cloudy day. All I wanted was to see one so I was kind of bummed. We had an hour at the stop to wait and hope. After about 30 minutes there and waves of discouragement the sun came out and less than 10 minutes later a condor appeared. And then another. And another. And even another. At least 6 or 7 different condors came out flying. It was so cool to watch them fly over our heads and through the valley. We were so excited and there were bunches of people there taking pictures. It was such a cool moment. When the sun came out, and the condors, and my friends and I just sat and took tons of pictures and talked and joked and laughed. I am so grateful for the friends I have made here, who can make me feel better when I’m sick and can make any situation a lot of fun! I don’t remember much of the ride back because I fell asleep but I gave my camera to Kelly who took lots of wonderful pictures for me (some below).
I did, however, wake up for our stop at the highest point in the entire valley, at over 15,000ft! Although it was cloudy we could see multiple volcanos on the horizon which was really neat. On the way back I also remember being awake when we passed a couple big herds of alpacas, llamas and vicunas (which have the softest and most expensive coat of any–just one kilo of “fur” costs $500). It was amazing that they could live at such a high altitude where it was pretty cloudy all the time and very very cold/windy. All in all the tour was really great (what I was able to stay awake for) but we were all exhausted. I went to sleep when we got back as the rest of the group went to get dinner and then the next day when I got up, our last day, was feeling slightly better.
We had a lot of time to kill until our flight and we had seen most of what Arequipa had to offer so we sat in a coffee house and played cards for hours before going to eat at a nice restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner. Still sick, I watched as my friends ate yet another delicious looking plate. Oh how I wish I’d been able to eat everything! I did eat my cup of Queso Helado (“frozen cheese”–or the best ice cream in the world) before i left. I knew the dairy would mess with my stomach and today i question whether it was worth it but in the moment it was to die for. Queso helado has nothing to do with cheese. It is this super creamy/icy/vanilla-y ice cream that they sprinkle cinnamon on top of before they serve it. I could eat it forever. After that we headed to the airport where one of the girls in our group realized she didn’t have her passport. The story that follows is too long and stressful to tell her but included her going back to the hostel where it was decided her passport was gone forever, her seat was given away on the plane, the flight was closed as she arrived back at the airport, she thought she’d have to stay a night alone and come back to Lima a day later, there ended up being one extra seat on the plane so the attendants had to choose between her and another man, she cried, and !!!! they gave her the seat!!! So all ended up fine. She got her emergency passport this morning and will be able to go back home. (Although she claims her losing her passport so close to when we leave is a sign she is supposed to stay here forever. Lots of denial that the program is over is floating around right now).
I’m still getting over my sickness and had my first real meal in 4 days for lunch. slowly but surely improving. But Arequipa was awesome! And I would go back in a second. Colca canyon was unlike anything I have ever seen before or will ever see (its twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!). I learned a lot about myself this trip which was good. This whole experience has taught me so much and I have loved soaking up every bit of it. Stay tuned for a very sappy next post that will come soon and will include my final reflections on this semester abroad. Can’t believe it’s almost over..
Herd of llamas
Cathedral in Plaza de Armas