Seems like it has been a long time since we have checked in...we spent more time than expected in Arequipa, Peru but it was all in the name of good fun. We even managed to get ourselves out for a little bit of the Arequipan nightlife - first salsa, then reggaeton discoteque `till 3am. The men could most accurately be described as pirhanas surrounding their kill, as Heather (the girl we met in Machu Picchu) and I soon discovered!
We went white water rafting for the first time on the Rio Chile. Our guide, Roberto, was great so it made for an incredible time. Even though the rapids were a bit larger than usual due to the fact that it is currently rainy season, we still finished wanting more and bigger rapids!
The next day, Sunday, we left for a three-day trek into Colca Canyon with Heather. Three hours into the bus ride out to Cabanacode, we quickly realized that our bus was the free ride for ALL of the locals to get around. Within minutes, the seating capacity of the bus was exceeded by at least triple and Aaron was stuck with an armpit on his head and a local`s sack in his face.
The first day was hiking four hours down and two hours back up the other side to a local family`s home where we stayed the night. The hike itself was fairly easy...especially in comparison to hiking in higher elevations...the only problem was that my body decided that this would be a great time to get sick! Luckily, we had packed our antibiotics and I was semi-mobile again by nightfall. Although the views were beautiful, especially the verdant cliffs, we were a bit disappointed after seeing Grand Canyon. The locals all claim that it is deeper than the Grand Canyon, but that was difficult to believe since you can see the bottom of Colca from the rim and you don`t even glimpse the bottom of the Grand Canyon until four hours or so into the trek. Nevertheless, it was a valuable experience to stay with the local family. The children are so mature at such a young age...the girl helping with the cooking that we thought was at least 14 was only 10!
The next day we hiked to the Oasis, a spring-fed natural-esque swimming hole and resting spot, located at the base of the ascent. There we waited around for three and a half hours to start the hike up. By this time it was 3pm...with a quote of 4 hours to the top. Simple math would tell you that this was a bad idea...especially with it being rainy season. Apparently our guide was not privy to this, so for the final two hours we hiked in the cold rain on a trail that made the Machu Picchu waterfall seem like a small trickle. Needless to say, when our guide called us to walk out in the pouring rain to a local restaurant, we opted for mate de coca and a piece of bread!
After a couple of random days - one more in Arequipa seeing the amazing and enormous Santa Catalina Monastery and visiting the Uros floating (man-made reed) islands in Puno - we crossed very uneventfully into Bolivia. Despite overstaying my visa for five days, the Peruvian officials were unphased, saving us $40...that we then turned over to the Bolivian government times 4 (plus some) - per a brand new 2008 visa fee for US citizens only!
Our first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana and the Isla del Sol. Terraced hillsides with flowering potato plants cover the island. The water is deep blue in most places, and crystal clear aquamarine in others. It was a bit depressing though to see the toll that tourism has taken on the locals. Children of all ages learn that tourists equal money - we had one young girl who couldn´t have been older than 8 or 9 months teeter out of her doorway to say, foto? Had to have been her first word...
We will be hanging out here in La Paz for a bit figuring out some hiking...maybe Huayna Potosi (6088 m)...and definitely some more rafting! Prices are incredibly cheap here...just had dinner for 50 bolivianos and will be staying the night for 90 bolivianos (the exchange rate is $7.40)...so hopefully we will be able to afford to do a bit more here.
Touch base again soon...best wishes to all! Pictures to follow soon!