We only had a few days in Arequipa and while those were not the most interesting ones on our trip I'll still cover them in this diary of a travel blog. I wrote all about how we got there from Puno in my last entry where the point was this: you get what you pay for and if you pay S/20 for a six hour bus trip you're asking for trouble. Our Sur Oriente bus broke a wheel on the way and we had to be rescued by another bus… It wasn't the most successful voyage we've been on but we made it through eventually.
Things didn't look to be improving once we arrived at our reservation, Hostal Lider Inn, where the receptionist gave us weird looks after we asked to be provided with a second towel to go with our double room. Apparently one should have been enough… In the end we were pretty happy with the place though, we had a private bathroom and more places to set things on than in any of the rooms we've had so far. The water in the shower was solar heated and as such not very warm for most of the time, but acceptable. Wifi connection was great and best of all, we only paid S/31.70 per night to stay there. This didn't include breakfast but otherwise it was a great deal, especially since the place was so close to Plaza de Armas.
Arequipa is supposedly the second largest city in Peru and visited by a lot of tourists, but it didn't feel like it at all. Some of the main sites we visited were completely deserted even though there really were things to see. The best example was La Recoleta Convent where we paid S/5 per person (student price) to walk around in the empty show rooms of the museum keeping in mind the advice we got at the entrance: "turn off the lights after you go". We were the only ones there even though it was a great little museum showcasing precolonial artefacts such as pottery and mummies in addition to a surprisingly large collection of stuffed Amazonian animals. We also liked the library upstairs where some of the nearly 20'000 volumes date as far back as the 16th century. Another great feature was that we were allowed to climb the bell tower of the church where we could gaze out to the city below and the mountains around us.
Speaking of mountains, at about 2300 meters above sea level Arequipa is much lower than Cusco and Puno where we had a little trouble with constant headaches. Those seemed to be history after arriving in the lower parts of the country, a thing we were very happy about. There are higher peaks surrounding the city, most notably the few snow topped volcanoes visible from almost anywhere. For some reason there is a "designated" viewing point in the part of town called Yanahuara, where you're supposed to be awed by the sight of the great Mt. Misti. However, from there the view is actually quite limited and the other volcanoes are completely obscured by the surrounding buildings. The best view we found was actually on the way there, on Bolognesi Bridge next to the Plaza Vea supermarket. From there we could see all of the mountains and at the same time get a good view of the Chili River flowing through the city. The viewpoint in Yanahuara wasn't completely without charm though, we liked the park there and went back one day to just sit down and read. Well actually we also celebrated Sini's 25th birthday for the third day in a row by taking a couple of huge pieces of cake with us from Plaza Vea…
Downtown Arequipa was a confusing array of streets packed full of vendors and taxis. Much of the area is protected as a UNESCO world heritage site so as you can imagine the architecture is quite splendid. Sadly Plaza de Armas was mostly covered in pigeons and tarps as they were renovating it. It took us three days to make it into the cathedral which was open only at 7-10 a.m. and 5-7 p.m., if you weren't willing to pay for a guided tour outside of these times. After having seen so many other Catholic cathedrals in South America this one wasn't that special but we're glad we saw it anyway. We peeked inside a couple of other churches as well and walked around the outer wall of the Santa Catalina Monastery which is supposedly a very important religious structure but they charged S/40 per person for entrance… A much more budget friendly place was the Archaeological Museum of San Agustin University where they charged us only S/2 per person to view the few artifacts gathered there. Among these were some more mummies which made me think that archaeology really isn't that much different from your usual grave robbing… That thought put aside the place was definitely worth the admission fee, though the small collection was clearly outmatched by the one housed at La Recoleta Convent.
Continuing to Lima
Having acquired some common sense on our tip there we decided to invest a little more into the trip out of Arequipa. Our next destination was going to be Lima, about 1000 kilometers away. Having suffered through just a few hundred kilometers with a cheap and unreliable bus company we decided to loosen our wallets for a change and go with the company with the best reputation: Cruz del Sur. We walked all the way to the Terrapuerto bus station to get the tickets from the counter even though one could buy them online or at a travel agency. Travel agencies always take a little money for their services of course and buying tickets online is a little problematic when you can't print them out on your own. In the end getting the tickets at the counter worked out pretty good, we paid the same amount as we would have online and got the seats we wanted. They cost us S/150 per person, which is quite a bit of money but still only about half of what the airplane tickets would have cost for the same trip. We got cama-seats in the front row of the second floor of their Cruzero Suite bus, the best in their fleet.
I wasn't extremely impressed by Cruz del Sur's services when we returned to the bus terminal to embark on the journey. They had a special lounge for their customers but one was only allowed in there half an hour prior to departure. Also, it seemed that the promised security of the company meant that they made a show of screening the "carry on" luggage of the passengers and searching us with metal detectors. To be perfectly honest this was mostly just a waste of time since even though the procedure looked like what they do at airports one could have easily gotten pretty much anything through the feeble security. And seriously, what is the point of doing such screenings prior to a bus ride? I'm guessing it's just a show to make people feel like they are being taken care of. For me it was just annoying, knowing that a part of the high price I paid for the ticket is going to the useless charade. It got better however, when we were directed to the bus after a third checking of our tickets at a counter not unlike those at airport gates. Our seats were as comfortable as had been promised and we had our own screens to watch movies from. To imitate air travel further they showed us a short safety video prior to departure and even had the flight attendant tell us something. Sadly this was all done in Spanish, so we didn't quite get everything. I felt that the most important thing we did understand was that they do change drivers every couple of hours to avoid fatigue. That I was very willing to pay for.
In the end the ride proved to be everything they promised us. We left Arequipa at 4.03 p.m. and arrived in Lima exactly sixteen hours later at 8.03 a.m., which is a little short of miraculous. The mean time we spent in our comfortable seats, at first enjoying the view to the most barren landscape either of us has ever seen and later reclining back and getting a decent night's sleep. They served us two meals during the trip, a dinner at about 6.45 p.m. and a breakfast at 7.30 a.m.. Both were similar to their counterparts in airplanes, meaning somewhat small portions but luckily we had our own snacks with us. As for the onboard entertainment, we didn't look into it too much but I did check that the third Hobbit movie they had was dubbed in Spanish but had English subtitles. They had quite a few movies in their selection and they handed out earphones to everyone without extra cost.
Lima apparently doesn't have a central bus station, which means that all bus companies have their own terminals somewhere around the city. After arriving in Cruz del Sur's terminal we were greeted by an ample amount of taxi touts, as one might expect. However, these guys were bound by the fixed prices supposedly set by Cruz del Sur and clearly visible on the wall, so we didn't need to haggle to get a ride to the center of town for S/15. We were very happy with the trip in general and this was another nice surprise. For anyone asking about good bus companies operating in South America we'll have to just go with the flow and recommend Cruz del Sur. It wasn't the cheapest, but it was very very good.