Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana
I hope Pachamama likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It’s tradition to give the first sip of an alcoholic beverage to Pachamama, the Peruvian version of Mother Earth. Lacking anything more fermented than peach jelly left out in the sun, I dropped a piece of crust into a patch of flowers. If Madre Tierra didn’t appreciate it, the beetles might’ve.
Locals told us it would take about half an hour to climb from the town of Coporaque, Peru to Yuraq-Qaqa, the Incan burial tombs. That, of course, meant it took us a full hour. Altitude is a bitch.
Though we didn’t see anyone else on the trail, the tombs are highly trafficked. Coca leaves and Peruvian coins litter haphazard piles of vertebrae, splintered jaw bones and dirty swatches of burial cloth.
In the U.S., I don’t believe in spirits, but in Peru, I’m firmly convinced they exist. So I was more than a little nervous to scale the burial towers. Exploring tomb after tomb took me farther and farther into the underbrush bearding the steep side of the mountain—perfect hidey holes for malicious duendes.
Barricaded by an enclave of bramble, I found myself squinting up at a small tomb two stories off the ground. My stomach did a quick somersault and settled comfortably into queasy. I was scared. So I was gonna climb that sucker. Por supuesto.
Childhood summers spent in the walnut orchard back home paid off handsomely, and my lack of youthful elasticity was mercifully forgiven by a few handily placed stones. The view from the tomb top was gorgeous and dizzyingly terrifying. The tomb itself soon became a crawl space, and after hoisting myself the last few feet, I had to admit there’s a definite line between conquering fears and being stupid. So I started the (even scarier) journey back down to (relative) safety.
Thunder ricocheted off adjoining summits, and I scrambled back to Significant Other, who was quietly contemplating life next to a Hamlet-esque skull. We scurried down the mountain—stomachs full and curiosity satiated but a tad uneasy. I looked back. The skull wished us farewell with its vacant sockets. *shudder
Hopefully duendes like PB&J, too…
Transportation in Arequipa
- Before we get to the fun stuff, here are some tips on getting around Arequipa.
- There are two bus stations in Arequipa: Terminal Terrestre and Terrapuerto. Luckily they’re right next to each other!
- The bathrooms are pretty clean as far as terminal restrooms go. s./0.50 for bathroom + a little toilet paper
- The terminals themselves have LOTS of snack options, breads, candies and chocolates
- When you’re leaving the terminals, grab a taxi on the main road and avoid those parked in the parking lots—those ones will overcharge you. The cost of a taxi from each terminal to near the Plaza Mayor is s./7
Getting to Monasterio Santa Catalina in Arequipa
- Note: The opening times on the monastery’s website are INCORRECT. Here are the times listed on the building itself as of mid-April, 2015:
- Tues and Thurs nights 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Jan. – April
- Mon, Weds, Fri, Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Jan. – April
- The cost is s./40 pp (which is CRAZY expensive), and they take Visa, AmEx, MasterCard
- If you can avoid it, don’t bring your backpack because they’ll make you check it, and that’s never safe.
- We didn’t end up going in because the opening times on their website were incorrect (*sigh, oh Peru), but we’ve heard a guided tour is best rather than exploring yourself.
Getting to Toro Muerto From Arequipa
- Go to the bus station (either one) and book a ticket with Transporte Del Carpio to the town Corires s./12.
- The trip takes a little more than three hours because of stops along the way. Make sure to buy return ticket as soon as you arrive in Corire because posted times are unreliable and, in our case, the bus was almost full for the ride home! You don’t want to get stuck in this town.
- If Transporte Del Carpio is full, there’s another company across the street and half a block to the right of the Del Carpio office, which is off the main square. The proprietor of that company was on her phone for the whole time we waited (at least 5 mins), so we left. Because CUSTOMER SERVICE, JEEZE.
- Bathroom Break: The polleria off the main square let us use their bathroom for free (bring your own TP). If you’re standing in front of the giant lobster in the square it’s at your 9 o’clock.
- OK, so once you’ve had your bathroom break, you can head off to Toro Muerto. We got lucky and ran into Felix Pichuilla Condori. He’s lived in the area his whole life and has two kids, an 18-year-old daughter and much younger son ~10. He drove us to the site and offered to take us on a mini tour, leading us to the best hieroglyphs. Without his help (and unlimited patience!), it would’ve taken us forever to get around the whole park, and we would’ve missed a lot. Give him a call beforehand at 957864424 and have him pick you up from the main square. He charged us s./50 for the whole trip. Highly recommend getting in touch!
- Getting into Toro Muerto costs s./5 pp. Photograph the map on the wall for reference. There are three routes: 30 mins, 1 hr, 2 hrs
- We’d recommend wandering through. Sticking to the path won’t take you by the most interesting hieroglyphs. Plan to spend a maximum of 2 hours at Toro Muerto.
- When to go, Toro Muerto: If you can, go to Toro Muerto around sunrise for the best photos and most comfortable hike. It gets hot quickly ~9 a.m. because of dry desert conditions so make sure to have more than enough water and sun protection. Lonely Planet says to bring mosquito repellent, but there wasn’t enough water to breed mosquitos (again, desert) when we were there in mid-April.
Jurassic Park in Querulpa Chico
- If you have some extra time after visiting Toro Muerto, catch a combi directly in front of lobster (yup, lobster) in Corire plaza and ask them to let you off at “los dinosaurios”.
- The trip only takes ~15 mins and s./1.20 soles.
- The town is tiny, and the opening to the “park” is well marked. You’ll see a ginormous dinosaur from the road. The walk up the trail to the park’s viewpoint is about 45~ depending on your pace.
- There’s brontosaurus and T-Rex model as well as a “museum” (I’m using this word very loosely!) with ~6 nondescript fossils.
- Bathroom break: Bathrooms are available at museum. Bring your own TP.
Brilliant Views of Arequipa
- Climb to the top of Iglesia de San Miguel for a panoramic view of Arequipa. Then grab dinner in Cayma, a neighborhood with brilliant views of the valley.
My elementary school bus driver didn’t speak Spanish, but the few phrases she’d memorized were scary as mierda.
¡Cállate! ¡Silencio! ¡Sentarse sin hablando! She’d sweep the back of the bus with her omnipotent glare and scowl into the rearview mirror. If she made eye contact, you were as good as muerto.
I grew up in a farming community where half of us rooted for Mexico and rest backed Italy. The gringos jóvenes had no clue what she was saying, but her threat—however foreign—scared the bejeezus out of us all. If you didn’t shuttheHwordupRIGHTNOW then you’d have to sit at the front of the bus with *gasp* the nerds.
Sitting up front was worse than getting a yellow card. It meant you’d miss out on everything. Maybe Suzette would finally kiss Jose. Maybe you’d barter your chips for a Lunchable. Maybe Antonio would stick his hand out the window again, and it’d get knocked off by a tree branch. He was a brave, but dumb, boy (weren’t they all?), and we were easily entertained.
To sit up front meant you’d lose your front-row seat to all the action and, thus, your social standing for days, if not weeks. The horror.
I was a regular at the front of the bus (shocker). With horrible motion sickness, my hour in that yellow tank was hell. I passed the time talking to the bad kids (re: cool kids) who really didn’t want to sit next to the chick in penny loafers with her eye on the vomit bucket.
But I won them over with my charm. Or they were bored. Either way, I spent a great deal of time chatting. They didn’t adopt my sense of style, but I was quick to mimic their behavior. From first grade all the way into middle school I never, ever ¡Cierras la boca!
That poor bus driver.
(The Significant Other killin’ it on the sand slopes!)
Apparently I haven’t changed much since third grade because my bus driver’s warnings still fall on deaf ears. A few weeks ago, I found myself standing at the top of a HUGE sand dune in the Peruvian desert, clutching a sandboard in shaky hands.
Sandboarding is kind of like snowboarding but not. The Huacachina desert is far more gorgeous than a snowy mountain. However, face-planting in sand is a lot less thrilling than belly-flopping into a snow drift.
While our tour guide mechanically waxed my sandboard, he waxed poetic about the many ways white people have screwed up this sport—enough to land themselves en el hospital. Muy peligroso. He laid out his list of do’s and don’ts in perfect Spanglish: Don’t lean forward. Never hold your hands out in front of you. Always keep your torso curved upward.
But his main advice? ¡Cierras la boca!
*sigh* I never listen.
This cactus was grand
Bright green, blushing red
It burst forth from the sand
Prickles spewed from its head
So out popped my camera, a DSLR
I’d photograph this cactus, I’d make it a star
I was soon enthralled
This plant was so pretty
Then nature called
So I had to get busy
But when I squatted down to pee
My friend, the cactus, wasn’t nice to me…
Walking home in a sports bra probably wasn’t a good idea.
If it had been night and if I had been walking alone, it would’ve been a very bad idea. But it was noon on a highly trafficked thoroughfare so I figured *shrug.
In this order, the men of Lima bestowed upon me: 1 proposition, 2 whistles, 1 kissy noise, 3 honks. All in the timespan of about 10 minutes.
When I stepped out of the shower at the gym, I realized I’d forgotten my shirt. En serio? Ugh. And though I’ve squatted in forests and taken weekend hikes without bathing, the thought of getting back into that grimy shirt made my skin crawl.
Growing up, my aunt used to quip, “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glisten.” My sudoriferous glands beg to differ. After getting off a treadmill, I could wring out my T-shirt and provide water for the entire drought-stricken West Coast. I sweat like a Coke bottle at an August barbecue. Like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Like Chuck Norris on his way… wait a second, Chuck Norris has never sweated a day in his life. #nevermind
In other words, I’m a beast.
So no way in hell was I getting back into my dirty clothes. Thus, the probablywasntagood idea was born. I guess I should’ve expected the unwanted attention. I guess I’ve learned my lesson?
Or, here’s a thought, all the jerks out there could stop being such big pendejos and leave a dama alone. She forgot her shirt and just wants to walk home in a sports bra.