On the Pan-American Highway

After an excellent night’s sleep in Nazca, we were woken once again at the unearthly hour of 5.30am, to be packed up and on the bus for the longest leg of our journey en route to Arequipa, Peru’s second city.

We breakfasted well from the buffet selection of cereals, breads, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, washed down with the strong Peruvian coffee.  Then it was onto the Condor Travel bus once again.  Today was to be a long, long day, but Rosario advised us that there would be sufficient comfort stops and we would be able to have lunch along the way.

Off we went on the bus around 7.00am.  We passed through tiny villages with their mish-mash of dilapidated shops and buildings, and saw a great many stray dogs.  Not all of the roads in Peru are finished off, and several times the bus rattled and lurched along potholed dirt tracks.

After a couple of hours we stopped to stretch our legs at a small sandy beach, while several lively waves washed ashore.  As ever, I could not resist going for a ‘plodge’ and I kicked off my flip-flops and rolled my (already cropped) linen trousers above my knees.  There were several large shells in the sand and I examined them closely in case any of them were nice enough to use in my jewellery-making, but they’d all been buffeted about by the sea too much.

While enjoying the wavelets lapping over my feet, a sudden large and strong wave took me by surprise and soaked my trousers up to the crotch.  Another lady was caught completely unawares and was swept off her feet, becoming completely soaked.  She had to retrieve her suitcase from the coach and get out a change of clothing.  I, however, was wearing a long top to preserve my modesty, so I just took my trousers off, wrung them out and hung them up on the bus to dry, just sitting in my knickers!   🙂  I wasn’t the only one to do so…

After another hour or so it was time to stop for lunch, at a little place called Camaná.  There was a restaurant as well as the ubiquitous souvenir stalls.  We were advised that we could purchase a two-course buffet lunch for about 20 soles (5 quid) so we got into the queue (before it got too big!) to see what was on offer.  There was a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes as well as salads.  We piled our plates with whatever we thought looked quite appetising, as none of the dishes were labelled.  We didn’t dare to think what we might be eating (alpaca and guinea pig feature frequently on Peruvian menus!).

We soon discovered that some of the food didn’t taste as nice as it looked.  There was some sort of ‘mystery meat’ on the bone, and some black things that we thought were mushrooms but they turned out to be a type of seafood (might have been octopus) that none of us could identify.  We hoped we wouldn’t have dodgy guts as a result…

We enjoyed a cold beer each, then browsed the souvenir stalls before getting back on the bus to continue our journey.

After a while the landscape changed as we abandoned the coastline, turned east and started to climb steadily towards a plateau of ash-grey sand dunes.  The bus slowly wended its way along the zig-zagging mountain roads and it was very disconcerting as we climbed higher and higher, because the roads didn’t have any guard rails and the wheels of the bus were only about a metre away from the sheer drop down to the valleys.  😦

The scenery was pretty dreary as the mountainsides were completely barren, and the land was desert, only one or two small shanty towns breaking up the featureless landscape.  In the greener valleys we saw alpaca and vicuña grazing, or being herded by a lone shepherd.

Our winding (and hair-raising) journey up the mountains lasted about two hours, and we did get a nice view of the snow-capped volcano called El Misti, its distinctive conical head swathed in cloud.

Once the road levelled out we thought we could relax a bit, but it was an unfinished road and the rattling and lurching nearly jolted your teeth out of their sockets.  We had one or two photo stops to stretch our legs and relieve the boredom a bit, but I think everyone would be glad when we reached our destination.

We eventually arrived at our Casa Andina hotel in Arequipa, around 7.30pm – over 12 hours in total on the road.  We were all tired and dishevelled and looking forward to getting washed and having dinner.  We were staying two nights in this hotel, so we’d hopefully get a ‘lie-in’ in the morning.

The hotel was about 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre.  In the reception area was a hot drinks dispenser where you could get a free cup of maté (tea) made from coca leaf, which is supposed to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness, as Arequipa is situated just under 8,000 feet.  The coca leaf tea was palatable, but only just!

We were given room 319 which looked OK, but not as nice as the other rooms we’d stayed in.  Depending on how we felt later on, we thought we might take a slow stroll into town and check out the local bars.

At 9.00pm we went down to the hotel’s dining room with Stephen and Alison and ordered a meal from their à la carte menu.  I ordered a chef’s salad, as I only wanted something light.

Well!  The service was rubbish.  We waited over an hour for our meals to come and, when they brought mine, it bore no resemblance to chef’s salad (or any other kind of salad) at all.  It was trout fried in batter served with mayonnaise which I didn’t like the look of at all.  I told them it wasn’t what I’d ordered and, as it was now 10.15pm, I’d changed my mind about having something to eat so I went without.  We could see and hear other diners in our party complaining about their meals (or lack of meals) as well.  Not a good first impression of the hotel, but this was just the start!  😦

By this time, we were really tired after our early start and the long day, so we decided to go straight to bed.  We were overjoyed when Rosario told us our wake-up call wouldn’t be until 7.30am tomorrow, a luxury indeed.


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