The relaxing time at Lake Titicaca was well needed and recharged our batteries, but it was time to set sail once again and tackle the Peruvian bus system. We caught a bus from Copacabana to Puno and then caught another 6 hour bus adventure from Puno to Arequipa. The buses in Peru are actually quite good as long as you select a tourism operator, and there are many to choose from at the bus terminals. We were/are not brave enough to tackle the local bus scene, nor are we recommended to for safety reasons. After an hour delay in Juliaca, which no tourist has any need to visit, we traveled about 5 minutes before a large pipe under our bus broke off and dragged along the road creating sparks. It turned out to only be the piece holding the spare tires and with only a minor 30 minute delay we were back on the road tackling some very impressive landscapes.
We would highly recommend traveling Peru by bus simply for the never ending, jaw dropping landscapes that creep up around every corner. At one point, because we were on the second floor of a double decker bus, it seemed as though we were inches away from dropping into a 1200 meter canyon that was a straight cliff. Scary, but thrilling at the same time!
When we finally arrived to Arequipa we were very impressed by the city square. It is called the ´white city´ because many of the older churches and buildings are made out of a white/grey concrete. The Plaza de Armas was by far the most remarkable out of all of the visited Peruvian cities and towns. Arequipa is also a very clean city with several coble stone roads and walkways. Very modern, yet the unique architechure takes you back in time.
Our hostel owner, Fernando, said that there are over 20,000 taxis in Arequipa, far more per capita than any where else in the world... and that includes NYC! Fact or not, it was incredible watching all of these taxis go by. Apparantly only about 5% of them are actually legal. It was dizzying trying to figure out who was who and what companies were familiar. As a tourist, always, always, always have a hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you because there are so many bogus taxi drivers that can be dangerous and lead you to a people that with rob you.
We spent a couple nights at the Misti Hostel, named after the volcano that towers over the city, and organized a tour to visit the infamous Colca Canyons. At its deepest point, the Colca Canyon is said to be the deepest in the world and bigger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This may be, but after visiting the Colca Canyon we´d still have to give the Grand Canyon the title for most impressive. The bus trip from Arequipa to Chivay, which is basically the entry point to the Colca Canyon, was about 4 hours. The drive itself was probably one of the highlights, passing through brown, dry, dusty and rocky landscapes with perfect volcanoes in the distance. There are cactus plants that stretch ten feet high with a dozen stems point in every direction, and llamas and alpacas grazing for miles in the distance. The region is very isolated with nomadic homes sparcely set up along the two lane road. Definitely a long trip but it allowed us the opportunity to see never before seen scenery and lifestyles, which is really what this whole trip is about.
Our small tourist bus crossed the final pass at its highest point, nearly 4,900 meters, the new highest point we´ve ever visited! Surprisingly, when we started the steep decent into the valley of Colca everything turned from the dusty, volcanic brown landscape to a very lush green, with agricultural terraces spread out along the river banks deep below. The decent was a little intense and the age of the bus started to show as we dropped from 4,900 meters to about 3,600 meters give or take.
We stayed in Chivay for the night and visited a hot springs nearby. The relaxing hot baths helped us ease the bus kinks and soak our muscles, a good end to a filled day. We woke up early the next morning and immediately headed for the great condor viewpoint. Not really knowing what a condor looked like we were fooled into thinking that a couple eagles were the condor that we were seeking. Thinking ´these are not that impressive´ we continued to look down into the deep canyon. And then we realized our error in judgement: the condors were massive! 2 meters from wing tip to tip! They swooped over the lookout points for all of the tourists to see them, sometimes only 10 meters above our heads. Seeing these sacred Peruvian birds was definitely all that it was hyped to be.
We spent the remainder of the morning stopping at viewpoints and learning about the history of the canyon before having our final lunch back in Chivay. And then it was back on the bus to Arequipa for another 4 hours before catching our 12 hour night bus to the desert oasis of Huacachina.
It seemed to be a simple evening: arrive back in Arequipa by 5pm, pack our bags and catch our 10pm overnight bus. Not the case! We initially bought tickets on Cial buslines, a company that is trying to compete with the first class, well known operators of Cruz del Sur and Oltursa. Our hostel owner apparently has a hook up with Cial and promotes them. He got us 2 first class tickets for s/50 when the other buses were charging s/130, which translates into a savings of about US$50. So we jumped at this offer! Fast forward to the night off and just before we left the hostel to get some dinner Fernando gets a call to the hostel. The 10pm bus is now cancelled but we can get on the 7pm bus. It is 6:45 right now and we are 15 minutes from the bus terminal and not ready to go, so this was a problem! We said no and immediately had to shuffle to catch a seat on ANY bus at this point, otherwise its another night in Arequipa at our expense.
We did manage to get a first class seat for the 10 hour journey on Oltursa bus company but it ended up costing us much more than if we had booked an economy seat on any other bus company. That said, Oltursa actually turned out to be a fantastic bus company and it was pretty cool being on the first class level, we´re allowed to splurge once in a while! It was like being first class on a plane and only paying US$40!
It all worked out in the end, but I guess when things are too good to be they usually are!