Note: These beginning disclaimors are becoming a habit arent they? Anyway, I´m in a town with REALLY slow computers right now so this entry won´t be complete pictorially until I get better access... but I figured something is better than nothing for now!
After the islands, we returned (unfortunately) to our ¨beloved¨town of Puno, where I attempted to purchase some bread at a bakery but was informed that my 5 soles ($2) coin was counterfeit. Big surprise. I wondered which ¨friend¨in Puno had passed it to me. I could try to pass it on, but I didn´t feel right about that... especially not since 5 Soles is a good meal for a hardworking Peruvian. We had been fairly diligent in studying up on counterfeit money and how to recognize it, but had only considered the bills, not the coins. Who counterfeits coins???
We caught another night bus from Puno onwards towards Arequipa, a town that would bring us about seven hours closer to the Chilean border we´re heading for. Actually, Arequipa is Peru´s second biggest city although if you find me a single American that has ever heard of it, I would be very impressed.
Our bus was the worst one yet... rusted out, no tread on the tires, and baggage accessible from both sides of the bus (which meant we couldn´t keep a solid eye on our luggage at stops). But it was dirt cheap and, more importantly, our only option to get out of Puno as quickly as possible. JooYeon, quite affected by her brother´s stolen bag, became extremely frustrated when our bus continually made little pointless (to us) stops for the first hour (whenever the bus stopped, someone could potentially steal our bags). She eventually put her head out the window and screamed at the driver in Spanish. I backed her up, along with several other passengers, by starting to yell and stomp around where the driver was sitting (it was actually quite fun to have the cameraderie) and the driver must have been affected because he took off right away and didn´t stop again for the rest of the trip.
For me, it was our best bus ride so far... I chatted it up with some Columbians around me at first, getting loads of advice in case we eventually head that far North. After that, I sat by the cracked window which allowed a constant thin stream of air to pour over my face while I listened the Counting Crows on my MP3 player (which I haven´t done much on this trip). It was probably my most reflective time of the trip.
Upon arriving in Arequipa, JooYeon jumped out of the bus before it was stopped and yelled at the porter to give her a flashlight as she practically dove into the luggage hold. We were relieved that all our bags were still there safe and sound, and the Peruvians were impressed by JooYeon´s aggressive spirit in a society with machismo. We had to catch a taxi into town, which should cost only 4 Soles, but we conceded to pay 5 Soles since it was almost 1:00 am and we didn´t want to be around a Latin American bus station long at night. After a short ride, the driver pulled up to our hotel and said, ¨OK, 5 Soles... Cada uno (each)... 20 Soles.¨I glared at him and growled... we both knew he was trying to rip us off. He quickly lowered it down to 10 Soles, but looked like he was going to stubbornly stick to that amount. Girding up my loins for a good old-fashioned India-style showdown, I looked around at my weary companions, and then suddenly had an idea. I paid him the 5 Soles he rightfully deserved and then I slipped the 5 Sol coin from Puno underneath (I had no qualms about this since he was obviously a crook). The others looked at me in surprise since I seemed to be giving into him, but I explained in Korean (just in case the driver spoke English) and they turned their heads quickly so, in his greed, he luckily didn´t see their laughs (or notice the coin). Justice served!
We then walked into our mansion of a hotel (literally... it is a restored colonial style mansion with HUGE rooms (Gyu said that our room was the size of his family´s entire apartment back in Korea) and lots of extras - I had to laugh when I saw Kiwi examining the bidet inquisitively. Somehow, we got the penthouse room which allowed us the entire rooftop access, great for drying laundry and for views of Misty, the active volcano on the outskirts of Arequipa. JooYeon fell in love with the city right away as we woke up the next morning and walked the streets. She was further intrigued when we finally found the machine responsible for the secret of Peruvian cafe con leche...
Most of the buildings were constructed using white volcanic ash from Misty and her two now dormant siblings, earning it the title of ¨The White City.¨ Gyu, our resident shopping addict, followed suite when he made a tour of the market which has prices much cheaper than any other place we´ve been. I jumped on the bandwagon when I discovered that Arequipa was just about ready to have their biggest festival of the year (since we never did catch the one in Cuzco that occurred right before our bus pulled in).
In some Incan dialect, Arequipa means, ¨Yes, stay,¨and, although we had planned to move on right away, we´re all really glad we stayed here for the past four days as it has been a definite highlight of our trip. On the actual Independence Day, we jumped in a taxi and told him to take us to where the most people were at. This turned out to be some sort of festival which was decently fun. We entered an Inca Kola contest (Coca Cola´s fruity Peruvian cousin) and, even though it was all in Spanish, I somehow managed to win the first prize (thanks to 6 years of intense Bible Quizzing I´m sure!)
We also admired the hairstyles of some animals and wandered a tent full of free samples (mmm... more delicious fresh Peruvian olives and coffee!), before deciding that this wasn´t really what we were hoping for.
I had heard several people in the last few days talking about some festival on the Avenue of Pain, so we went there and to our delight found ourselves in the middle of a 12 hour parade. To be honest, we didn´t start out in the middle, but on the sidelines watching the hoardes of colorful dancers and musicians from every corner of Peru go by in their colorful regional outfits.
JooYeon then started things off by attracting a rather large friend...
Then Gyu used his drinking skills to make us some new friends on the sidelines (an infallible trick for guys while travelling)...
These friends in turn, encouraged us to run out in the street and join the parade by posing with various characters...
And finally, we just couldn´t hold back and so we started marching down the street, putting on people´s costumes (that´s me in the ape head) and dancing, talking, cheering (Viva Arequipa!) and clapping with whoever we came across!
We´ve been planning for some time to pull a little joke on my mother-in-law by convincing her that Kiwi found a new girlfriend and is thinking of moving to Peru (since she said when JooYeon married me that it was great, but only one child was allowed to marry a foreigner). And now we have a perfect picture to back up the joke... (although of course it would defeat the purpose if someone who speaks English in Korea reads this and tells her... shhhhh...)
We returned to our hotels laughing and dancing, feeling much more immersed in Peru than we have ever felt throughout the trip. Incidentally, we met another Korean girl today, Gi Sawn, who had a very different view of Arequipa. While we were doing some light shopping yesterday around 2 in the afternoon, she was strolling through a park only blocks from our hostel and was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint by two men. (Don´t worry mom, I have consistently read up on safety precautions for each town and happened to know NOT to walk in that particular park!) So, at least for us, Peru ended on a good note and we plan to cross into Chile tomorrow, but then again, backpacker´s ¨plans¨are about as trustworthy as a 5 Sol Peruvian coin :)