Under the weather in Arequipa

During the early hours of the morning, I woke up to see Trevor standing at the window, which was open wide.  I asked him what he was doing.  His reply was that the room was full of fumes, the type given off by an oil-burning boiler.  Trevor is a mechanical fitter, so this is something he would know.  From my bed at the side of the room opposite the window I couldn’t smell anything, so I went back to sleep until my alarm went off at 7.00am.

I went to have a long, hot shower and wash my hair.  I felt a little dizzy and thought it might have been because I had the water too hot.  When I was drying myself off, I felt a bit sluggish and could feel the beginnings of a headache.   😦

Once we were dressed and down in the dining room for breakfast, I found I had no appetite and picked at my food.  I just had a cup of coffee and a glass of water before we gathered in the hotel foyer and awaited our tour bus.

Today we had a new local guide (in addition to Rosario) whose name was Lizzie.  Our group had been split into two as we boarded two smaller buses; the other group’s guide was Jorge.  As the coach set off, Lizzie introduced herself – in fact she didn’t shut up after that at all.  She gave a running commentary on anything and everything, and all with an almost-comical over-the-top enthusiasm.

As the bus made its way into town, we stopped at a small refreshment place which allowed us to get fantastic views of the mountain peaks of the Andes, in particular the volcano El Misti.  With its seasonally snow-capped, symmetrical cone, Misti stands at 19,101 feet above sea level and lies between the mountain Chachani (19,931 ft) and the volcano Pikchu Pikchu (18,599 ft).  Misti’s last eruption was in 1985, but you could still see wisps of smoke coming from the crater and mingling with the clouds.

I still had a bit of a headache and felt under the weather, so I bought a bottle of mineral water to drink with a couple of paracetamol and some packets of Peruvian sweets to take back to work.

Back on the bus we only half-listened to Lizzie’s incessant chatter on the way to our next stop, the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos, which was part of the Catholic university of Santa Maria.  One of the museum’s lecturers came to tell us about some of the finds and artefacts from the Inca times, in particular some human mummies that had been found who were believed to be the victims of human sacrifice.

One of these mummies was the extremely well-preserved frozen remains of a young girl who was nicknamed “Juanita”, also known as the Inca “ice maiden” or the “girl from Ampato”.  The remains were discovered in 1995 by anthropologist Dr Johan Reinhard, and were believed to have been a young girl, aged from 11-15, who was killed as an offering to the Inca gods sometime between 1450 and 1480.

The mummy “Juanita” had to be kept in a specially refrigerated glass container in almost complete darkness, in order to prevent any decomposition of the naturally-mummified tissues. But it was fascinating to see how well preserved the body was, even down to her fingernails which had become white from the conversion of body-fat into adipocere.

Studies of the corpse had shown that Juanita had been given a strong sedative on an empty stomach, in order to put her to sleep before she was killed by a sharp blow to the head, just above the right eyebrow. The body was fully clothed and the material was also well preserved.

We also saw displayed various other items of clothing, jewellery, bowls and other items found on the mountainsides and believed to have belonged to other sacrificial victims. It was all very interesting.

Once we were back outside in the Arequipa sunshine, we had about a 10 minute walk until we came to the main city square.  By this time I was almost having to drag my feet and I felt quite sick and lethargic, and was hardly taking an interest in my surroundings. Our next stop was to the Santa Catalina Convent, but once we went inside the courtyard I spotted a few benches arranged around the outside and I thankfully took a seat, where I was quite happy to stay as I felt unable to take another step.

Rosario asked if I was OK and if I needed a taxi back to the hotel, but I said I’d wait and just go back on the bus when everyone else was ready.  I felt as if I was going to be sick, so I went into the nearby lavatory and tried unsuccessfully to make myself vomit.

Eventually the bus took us back to the hotel.  Inside, I got talking to another woman who wasn’t very well; she had the same symptoms that I did – headache, lethargy, nausea, shortness of breath etc.  It turned out she was in the room next door to us (318) and she had also been woken up in the early hours of the morning with her room full of fumes!  When we looked outside our rooms, there was a long outlet pipe climbing up the wall opposite our windows; its top was clotted with soot.  It looked as if we might have been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning!  Two rooms next to each other, both filled with fumes, both occupants displaying the same symptoms.  That wasn’t a coincidence!   😦

We were quite alarmed at this and decided we would go back to our room, pack up our things and ask at reception if we could move to another room.  On the way up to the third floor I suddenly broke into a cold sweat and vomited; luckily into a plastic bag we had and so avoided a mess.  Trevor went to reception while I went to bed.  I did feel better after being sick though.

Trevor eventually returned and said we had been re-allocated room 125 on the ground floor.  We packed up our cases and moved to the room, which was quite small and dingy but would do for just one night.  At least it wasn’t near any heating pipes!  When I drew back the curtains I saw that building work was going on immediately outside our window; in fact a little guy in overalls and a hard-hat popped up, waved cheerfully and called ¡Buenos dias! 

After drinking some more water and having a sleep, I felt a lot better and perked up considerably.  The guy on the reception, when we’d asked to move rooms and explained why, had said that the symptoms were those of altitude sickness, but it’s funny how I didn’t have the symptoms once we’d moved!

After the previous evening’s fiasco in the dining room, we decided to have a walk into town and eat elsewhere.  We took a slow wander in, and came to a sort of fast-food emporium which housed a Starbucks, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut all under one roof, with communal eating areas.  We ordered a BK Whopper each and I had mine washed down with a good hot coffee.  After we came out, we saw that a lot of the shops were still open, and we had a good browse around.  I spotted a shoe shop (!!) which had a sale on, so I went in and bought myself some pink mules with a high rope wedge heel; they were only 65 soles which is about 16 pounds.

We went back to room 125 and had a fairly early night, as once again we would have to be up at 5.30am, to leave Arequipa and continue our Peruvian adventure.  This time we slept well, without any noxious fumes in our room.


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