A quick stop in Arequipa
10.06.2010 - 12.06.2010
It was one year ago while lounging on the “Redneck Riviera” in Florida when Sherri asked out of the blue “You want to go to Peru?” I have longed to see Machu Picchu for quite awhile, so we spent the rest of the vacation researching our next trip. To our dismay, we realized that the best time to go would be the dry season (winter time there) about 9 months away. We spent that interval reading tripadvisor and scouring every internet blog about Peru. We watched every PBS, Nat-Geo, and Discovery channel documentary on the country. We read several books about the Incans and Machu Picchu. I highly recommend Kim MacQuarrie’s “The Last Days of the Incas.” I couldn’t finish Hiram Bingham’s book; it’s too dry and outdated. I tried to immerse myself in Spanish with the Rosetta Stone. I learned enough to get through an episode of Dora the Explorer. In preparation for the Inca Trail, we wanted to get into some semblance of shape. We dusted off the old treadmill and started exercising. We also had to drop a small fortune on hiking clothes and gear. We ended up getting vaccinations for hepatitis A, yellow fever, and typhoid. A few days before leaving, we dumped the crying kids off on their grandparents. We also decided to take Diamox to help us acclimate to the altitude when we got there. That medication made everything (especially sodas) tastes awful.
The trip from Memphis to Miami and then to Lima was uneventful. We travelled on American Airlines because their partnership in the One World Alliance allowed for better rates LAN Peru flights. We had heard nice reviews about flying LAN from Miami to Lima but their flight schedule did not work for our itinerary.We arrived in Lima at midnight and decided to stay overnight at the airport since our connecting flight was at 5 AM. The airport was packed with people like us awaiting their connection flights. There was still much activity as many of the shops and kiosks stay open through the night. There were plenty of places to exchange our dollars to soles, and multiple ATM’s. We ended up renting a cell phone with Peru-Rent-A-Cell. It would be a mistake we regretted throughout the trip. The lady assured us that we would get good reception in all the places that we were going. We barely got any reception over the next two weeks. Every time our family tried calling us, the phone never rang. Inexplicably, we had no problems calling them, albeit at much more exorbitant rates.
We found that it was impossible to sleep outside of the terminals. There were many chairs in the food court area, but most were occupied and not comfortable enough (for us) to sleep on. Once they opened the terminal and we arrived at the departure gate, we actually had plenty of room to stretch out and got two hours of shut eye. Unlike the United States where the airport tax is paid when you purchase your ticket, the tax in Peru is paid right before you go through security. They take dollars and soles.
We flew into Arequipa and had pre-arranged transportation to our hotel Casa Arequipa. This was a great little boutique hotel in a nice, quiet area about a 20 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. I believe it was a large private house that had been transformed into a hotel. We stayed in the Balcony Room.
Our first stop was to see ‘Juanita’ in the Andean Sanctuaries museum. The tour first included a 30-45 minute video about her discovery (I believe it was the same as the National Geographic episode, but I was so tired that I fell asleep). Then an English-speaking guide explained the Incan artifacts on display. Finally, we came to a temperature-controlled area containing the frozen mummy. We then headed over to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina convent built in 1580. We didn’t see any nuns (~ 20 still live there). The buildings were beautiful and the gardens well-kept. I need to find some nuns to tend to my yard at home. We rushed through the place, but still managed to spend over an hour there.
We then took a taxi for a 10 minute ride to Sol de Mayo, one of the oldest and nicest restaurants in Arequipa. We dined outdoors as it was a beautiful day. The waiters were very attentive and professional. They gave us a dish of HUGE roasted corn kernals to snack on. We ordered way too much since we wanted to try foods characteristic of the Arequipa area. We started with some chicha morado (sweet juice made with purple potatoes) and an appetizer of ocopa (fried potatoes with a cheese sauce). Sherri elected for the picante de camarones (spicy shrimp stew), and I had the ‘Doble’ which included chicharron (deep fried pork belly) and rocoto relleno (fried stuffed pepper). The food was very good, but I think I clotted off one of my coronary arteries.
We had arranged with the hotel for a guided tour of the city. We were driven to a small "farm" on the city outskirts. There, we could get a great view of the city, the surrounding river, and Mt. Misti in the background. Interestingly, we saw several poor, adobe-style houses that really stood apart from the cleaner stone buildings characteristic of "The White City" of Arequipa. Our guide explained that poor people from the countryside would hastily build shelters on occupied land--essentially become squatters. Eventually, as enough come together, they will form a district, elect a mayor, and become part of the city.
We then went to a large local market and saw several varieties of potatoes both fresh and dried. We were especially interested in the fruits and bought some that we have never seen before. With the dry and dusty air, we were both parched. There was a whole row of women selling made-to-order shakes and juices. We split a chirimoya shake. It tasted much better than it looked--sweet and custard-like. The guide showed us some more sites including several cathedrals. My favorite, though, was a store which served as a small outlet for the brand name alpaca clothing lines. Arequipa is the center of alpaca goods in Peru, and I knew Sherri wasn't leaving town without some. Being the cheapskate that I am, I was thrilled with "saving" 50% or more on all the junk she bought.
After saying goodbye to our guide, we headed over to ZigZag that night. The tour book had described the food as "Peruvian-alpine," whatever that means. We both started with salad "appetizers." They were big, tasty dishes that were filling on their own. Then they brought out our entrees. I had the "trio of meats" (alpaca, beef, and lamb). They were served with three types of sauces, my favorite being an anchovy butter, at least that's what I think they said. I know that may sound pretty disgusting but it was really good. Sherri had the "trio of fish" (tuna, salmon, and some whitefish). My food satisfied my carnivorous instinct, but Sherri thought that the fish was only mediocre. Sherri thought that the lemonade was the best she’s ever had. Ever. We drank the equivalent of 2 pitchers over dinner. Since we were warned that some areas in Arequipa are dangerous at night, we took a taxi back to the hotel for only 4 soles (~$1.25). I slept well that night, albeit 20 lbs. heavier.
During our breakfast the next morning, we tried some of the fruit that we bought at the market. The lucuma was starchy and mildly sweet, similar to a sweet potato. The grenadilla was essentially a passionfruit. We ate the seeds and the surrounding mucus-like flesh. Our least favorite was the pacaes. It is a pod with a small amount of flesh surrounding an inedible seed. It wasn’t really bad, but it was just too hard to eat. We spent the rest of the morning touring the Casa de Moral, a well-preserved house from the early 1700’s.
Sherri also had to shop for more alpaca. Fortunately, most of the shops had clothing designs that were very outdated to our standards. They would go well with a Members Only jacket or leg warmers. Unfortunately, Sherri found the Kuna by Alpaca 111 store. It looks like our kids won’t be going to college after all. We wanted ceviche for lunch because we were going to be heading further inland for the rest of the trip. We ended up at Chicha, a more casual chain restaurant in the Gaston Acurio empire. Sherri loved her sea bass ceviche as did I with the ceviche mixto.
We then flew out of the Arequipa airport which is small but pretty cool. The jets take off right in front of you and the mountains create a nice backdrop.
We arrived in Juliaca where our pre-arranged car from All Ways Travel drove us to Puno. Juliaca was the dirtiest and ugliest place that we saw in Peru. There were many people selling cheap clothing. Our driver told us that most are black market textiles smuggled from Bolivia to avoid paying Peruvian taxes. Then again, when I asked about World Cup updates, he also told us that the USA got blown away by England when in fact they managed a 1-1 tie.
We checked into the Casa Andina Private Collection in Puno and got upgraded to a suite! Yay! I was feeling the fatigue from the altitude, so I wore out the free coca tea in the hotel lobby. Our room had a nice view of Lake Titicaca, an oxygen machine, and a jacuzzi spa that I couldn’t figure out how to work. It was already late so we had dinner at Alma, a nice restaurant in the hotel and possibly the best in the city. The quinoa soup was perfect as it was very cold outside. We did not enjoy the kingfish tiradito, a ceviche-like dish with Japanese influences. It was just too sweet. Trout is the specialty in the region. I had the some with a yellow chili beurre blanc sauce. Sherri had the kingfish with a sesame honey glaze. Both were very elegant and well prepared dishes.