I never could have predicted how this trip would unfold in each stop on the itinerary but it has gone above and beyond my wildest expectations. When I last wrote I had just arrived in Arequipa. Right now, I am sitting at a very cozy restaurant, sipping a local craft beer in the little town at the base of Machu Picchu. The people, places, and events that have filled the void between then and now are truly beyond what I could have ever predicted.
Arequipa stole my heart. The energy of the city is immediately felt in the warm faces and breathtaking snow-capped volcanoes that greet you. As soon as I stepped onto the tarmac, that rush of unbelievable joy washed over me, replacing my sheer exhaustion from a sleepless night prior.
My first interaction with the city was with my taxi driver, Dennis. As soon as I got in the car, we established that he spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish. Solution: I’m to speak only Spanish. Dennis insisted. So I tried and managed to learn a bit about him and this city I was very quickly understanding is no Lima. This city operates at an entirely different pace and style from Peru’s capital.
As we weaved our way through the streets, I started to see how relaxed it all felt. You could feel the sense of community and by the time we arrived at Mercaderes Backpackers hostel, I felt like Dennis was family and this city was welcoming me with open arms.
My first impression proved to hold up throughout my two days in Arequipa. My hostel was situated just off the Plaza de Armas (city center) and had a rooftop terrace with incredible views of Misti and Chachani. Friends were made pretty much as soon as I arrived (hostels really are the best). What amazed me the most was how many people have extended their stay in Arequipa weeks beyond their original plan. If I didn’t have train tickets and a Machu Picchu ticket locked in, I might just have joined the club too.
On day 1, I met Brian from Belgium. He’d been in Arequipa for a few weeks already and had quite the handle on what to see, do, and eat, including cheap yoga classes, swim lessons, and Spanish tutors. Within first meeting, he’d helped me plan my entire next day and make the most of my short stay. A killer headache stole most of my first day in Arequipa but my second day was full steam ahead, Brian’s recommendations in mind. I happened to arrive in Arequipa during a strike so many of the shops were closed and protesters paraded the streets almost 24/7.
I had one scary moment on my first walk around the city. I needed caffeine so I stepped into a cute little coffee shop. No sooner do I put in my order, the shop owner slams the garage door to his store shut and deadbolts it. He says the protesters are coming and that they’ll rush the shop if he doesn’t close it. The combination of timing and just arriving in Arequipa had my mind jumping to all of the worst conclusions. I thought I had just walked into my death scene. I later realized, this is common practice at the sound of the horns and chants of the approaching protesters. “Being held hostage” happened a few more times over the course of my stay. I actually started helping them lock me up.
The final moments of my all-too-short visit in Arequipa were spent over pizza (not good but seriously everywhere you turn), a sunset and the company of my new friend who made sure I experienced all the best Arequipa has to offer. Thanks Brian! Then it was a 3am wake-up call for my two-day trek through the Colca Canyon…