BootsnAll Travel Network


The night bus from Nazca to Arequipa was one of the more luxurious that I had been on. The seats reclined way back, and you had lots of leg and lumbar support. Despite this I still couldn’t sleep. As I have mentioned before, I have great trouble sleeping for more than a few minutes at a time in a sitting position. It could also have been that I was subconsciously troubled by being videotaped before getting on the bus. Apparently this bus company videotapes all the passengers as they get on the bus to make it easier to identify the remains later if the bus decides to go driving off a cliff and ending up in a flaming ruin. It was early morning when we arrived in Arequipa so I took a nap for a few hours at the hotel before heading out to tour the city with the group.

Arequipa, while it is the second largest city in Peru, is much smaller and has a more traditional feel than Lima. (Lima contains nearly 30% of the countries population.) The predominant color of the city is white as many of the buildings are either natural stone or concrete. There is a main central square which houses the city’s main cathedral. Snow capped volcanoes rise up around the edges of the city.

After being shown around the square by our guide we broke up into several smaller groups to go see what we wanted in the city. My first stop was the main cathedral. The main difference between cathedrals in Europe and Peru appear to be the veneration of the Mary. In Peru she is featured much more prominently in shrines, statues, and imagery. Every town seems to have a protective virgin. After leaving the cathedral, we visited the Santa Catalina Monastery which is actually still an active convent (so I am not sure why it is called a monastery. maybe someone can educate me). The convent is actually a small city unto itself. Until the 19th century, each nun had her own house where she lived with servants or slaves paid for by money donated by her family. The convent was reformed in the 19th century and the nuns began to practice more of what we today would consider a more traditional convent lifestyle. My final tour of the day was a visit to the ice mummy museum. The Incas would take young children up to the tops of the volcanoes surrounding the city. There they would drug the children, kill them by whacking them in the head with a stone, and then bury them as offerings to the gods. These children were prepared from birth for this practice and it was considered a great honor. Of course we can only guess what the children thought about all this. The mummy on display had been found after an eruption had caused the snow to melt and the mummy went sliding down the mountainside.

I ended the day by having a supper of guinea pig at a restaurant in town. In Peru guinea pig is a very common food and one can buy them at any market. The taste was somewhere between a chicken and squirrel but the adventure was in the visual presentation. I am not sure what the actual preparation is but here is what I surmise from what it looked liked.

1. Take one guinea pig and smack it with a fly swatter until it is dead and flat. (Like a dead roach with its legs sticking up in the air)

2. Scrape the hair off and drop the whole thing into a deep fryer.

3. Put on a plate. Enjoy.

The guinea pig comes with a flat body and its legs sticking up in the air. Its head is still attached so it’s snarling at you with barren eye-sockets. Seconds anyone?

The next day I woke up having spent the night digesting the guinea pig and headed out for my overnight climb of El Misti which is a 19,300ft (5833m) volcano outside of the city. One other guy (Charles) from my tour group came as well. We were joined by five other people and two guides. We were driven along a dirt road to the start of the climb which was at an elevation of 3400m. Charles and I paid extra to have the guides carry some of our things to our campsight so we had relatively light loads compared to the other people at the beginning of the climb. The landscape was very arid with lots of small shrubs and cacti. We kept being shadowed by these insects that looked like a cross between a hummingbird and a bee. They had a bee body with a very long beak(?) coming out of their faces. They liked to land on us but didn’t sting. The trail up the campsite was fairly mild but one could already feel the lack of oxygen by the time we reached the campsite at 14,850 ft (4500m). The campsite was on a wide ledge that gave great views of the surrounding countryside and Arequipa. It got cold very quickly when the sun went behind some nearby peaks. We ate a supper that night consisting of frozen prepackaged spaghetti. I always lose my appetite at such high altitudes so I had to force myself to eat. We went to bed around 7:00 pm as we had to get up at 1:00 am to get ready for our ascent. I may have slept one hour. I was sharing a tent with Charles who was a bit older than me. He swore he was having a heart attack in the middle of the night due to his racing heart. He had never been this high before and had been really suffering from the altitude. Fast heart beats at that altitude are normal though as the heart pumps faster to compensate for lower oxygen.

At 1:00 am we woke up and I managed to choke down a piece of bread and some cheese. We set off at 2:00 am up the mountain. Charles stayed at the camp as he was still suffering from the altitude. I was doing okay besides my usual symptoms of not being able to sleep and no appetite. We had both been taking medicine to try to speed up our acclimatization to the altitude as only two days before we had been at sea level. Now everyone was carrying about the same weight as we left most of our things behind at the campsite. We climbed in the darkness with the path becoming steeper as we went. It also grew colder and the air thinner. We occasionally had to climb up rocks to continue the path upward. Everytime we stopped to rest, my hands would freeze even though I was wearing gloves. The lights of Arequipa spread out below us. By daybreak we had managed to probably climb to around 18,000 ft or so. Several people is our group were starting to get very lightheaded and dizzy. I was still okay except that in the thin air one or two steps would send my heart racing. Eventually we could make out the summit. Several people who had considered turning back decided to press on despite being sick. One girl decided not to make an attempt for the summit as she was feeling too weak. The last push took us along the edge of the crater of the volcano. In spots steam was still rising up and there was a sulfur smell in the air. The last two hundred feet or so for me was a battle. I had to rest every ten feet just to catch my breath. I finally made it though and nearly collapsed when I stepped onto the top of the mountain. It had taken us six hours to reach the summit at 19300ft. (Please look at my pictures using the trip photos link for views from the mountain. They do it more justice than I can describe in words.)

It had taken nearly all my energy reserves to make it it the top. This is the new hardest thing I have ever done. The previous holder of this category had been my second to last day on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal when I had to climb about 1500 ft of steps while I was running a high fever and carrying my pack.

We rested for a while and then headed down the mountain. The path down was on a slope of loose rocks which we almost literally skied down. It took us only 40 minutes to undo six hours of climbing. After arriving at the campsite, we packed everything up and walked back to the truck.

When we got back to our hotel, Charles and I booked a room for a few hours so we could take showers and take a nap. After a shower, I fell on my bed totally spent and slept for four hours. As mentioned previously I had only gotten maybe one hour sleep in the previous 32 hours. I could have slept all night but we had to get up and catch another night bus to take us to Cusco. The capital of the ancient Incan Empire.

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