Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Desert, The Beach and Stomach Flu (but not necessarily in that order)

I feel like after the last post about Machu Picchu, every post from now on is going to be a let down. I mean, one look at the title of this post shows you that it doesn’t hold a candle to a five-day trek. I’ll try to spice it up as much as I can, but sorry in advance for the disappointment…

From Cusco, we headed south in an overnight bus that was the nicest we’ve been on so far. It was similar to business class in an airplane, minus the unlimited booze. The seats were comfortable, the movies weren’t maddingly terrible and we were even served a little dinner meal, although I didn’t eat anything because my stomach was once again being crazy. To top it all off, there was a working toilet, which said “Solo Urinario,” but it’s not as if they checked…

The bus took us to Arequipa, Peru, which is a relatively large city in the middle of the Peruvian desert. It’s a modern oasis, with white-washed buildings and a pretty main plaza. Unfortunately, we barely got to enjoy it as the stomach craziness I mentioned earlier turned to a full on stomach flu (or food poisoning, but I’d hate to point fingers) that kept both V and I bed/ bathroom-ridden for three days. 
The main plaza in Arequipa (and thankfully, not a picture of our stomach flu...)
When we were finally able to go explore, we found that Arequipa was a nice-enough city, but it didn’t have anything that really captivated us. The main tourist attraction is the surrounding Colca Canyon for trekking, but after Machu Picchu, we were a little trekked-out, so we decided instead to head to the beach.

A two hour bus ride through the desert from Arequipa took us to the pleasant little beach resort town of Mollendo. We were first impressed by Mollendo on the bus ride there. As soon as you leave Arequipa, there is just nothing until the coast. The entire ride was through a vast nothingness that was the desert. On both sides of the bus, for as far as we could see, was a far-reaching, rolling sea of sand, rock and empty, pale mountains. It was impressive how little life there was. We saw a few brave (or incredibly na├»ve) cacti trying to battle through the dryness, but that was it until Mollendo. 
Even when we reached the coast, there was nothing other than the town. The desert stretches straight to the Pacific Ocean; there was no greenery to be seen along the coast. Mollendo itself was packed with people from Arequipa on their summer holidays; in fact, we did not see any other backpackers the entire time we were there! While the beach was wide and stretched to the horizon, I’ve never in my life seen so many people packed on one beach. It was a sea of brightly colored umbrellas and brown bodies. 

Now, normally I hate crowded beaches, but this one didn’t bother me at all because it was so lively! The beach was packed with families, some lounging in filled kiddie pools eating ice cream; some playing volleyball or soccer, a heated competition between two or three generations; some holding hands as they waded in the cold Pacific water. Between the groups of people were individuals walking through the crowds, selling everything from churros to cigarettes to fresh-squeezed orange juice to whole fried fish dinners. Up-beat music pulsed from hundreds of different radios, competing to be heard with the laughter and screams from the hordes. It was wonderful.

In Mollendo, we spent our days alternating between relaxing under an umbrella on the beach, reading and dozing, and walking along the “boardwalk,” eating the street food and enjoying cold beers while people watching. Among the things we ate, the most noteworthy was the screamingly fresh ceviche: raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with fish stock, red onion, cilantro, hot peppers and onions, served cold with the big, starchy Peruvian corn known as choclo. It was amazing. We ate it from a little street cart while sitting on plastic stools on the sidewalk- honestly, the best way to enjoy a really good meal- and washed it down with chicha morado, a sweet and spicy drink made from corn.

After relaxing in Mollendo for a few days, we headed back to Arequipa, where we splurged a little (ok, a lot…) and went out for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant. The restaurant had a white table cloth, a real wine list and artisanal bread, and we felt woefully underdressed in our backpacker clothes. The meal was incredible though. To start, we shared an appetizer of glazed guinea pig (yes, guinea pig.) in purple corn crepes. Before we flex our foodie muscles too much, I must admit it was a tiny portion of the beast, and so spiced and flavorful that we aren’t really sure what guinea pig actually tastes like by itself. After that, I had an upscale version of a typical Arequipeno (I don’t know how to make that little squiggly over my N…) dish of meat and cheese-stuffed chili pepper, while Vincent had a delicious, spicy Adobo beef stew. We washed it all down with an Argentinian red wine from Patagonia. All in all, a really good meal and worth the pricy bill (although the same meal in Europe would have cost twice as much…)
I'm taking looking like a dude to terrifying new levels...
The next day, we resigned ourselves to a full day of travelling to go back to La Paz, Bolivia, before we head south through Bolivia to Argentina. Sixteen hours and three buses later and here we are in La Paz. Tonight, we’ll take an over-night bus to Sucre, Bolivia. Fingers crossed for a working bathroom on board!


  1. LOL : "raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with fish stock" I am not surprise you have some stomach issues.
    I would love to try to the giant corn.
    I heard guinea pig is very very good for health!

    Gros bisous

  2. Hermoso el viaje!! espero que sigan bien!! me fue imposible contactarte por facebook, te doy mi mail... fijate si vos podes. Sergio