Adventure Travel in Peru - Welcome to the Big City, Country Boy
By Vic Hanson
When I first came to Peru, I lived in Arequipa for over four months while I was studying Spanish. Even though I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, I had lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles for about 20 years so was used to life in the big city. However after living here in Cotahuasi for over a year and a half, I have become a country boy again. When I go to Arequipa, I usually try to make it as brief as possible. Planning to make a short trip there, I left Cotahuasi at 7:00 on a Wednesday morning. I decided to check out the approach to Coropuna on the way, as I was driving right by there. We would be climbing it in a few weeks and I wanted to get a little more hands on information, especially as it had fresh snow since the last time I was near there. I was a little nervous about the climb as well because Coropuna is 21,079 feet high.
I looked around and found a different road and was able to drive closer to the base of the mountain than last time, finally stopping when boulders blocked the road at an elevation of about 16,000 feet. I then hiked up almost 3,000 feet, on what looked like the best approach route, to about 18,800 feet. This was only about 2,300 feet below the summit, so I was very pleased with that. It took me three hours and 35 minutes to get up there and two hours and 15 minutes to get back to the car. Of course where I turned around is where it really gets steep and I was already starting to really feel the effects of the altitude. I was still below the snow line as well, so that will slow things down considerably when we reach that point. Anyway, it got me thinking that it might even be possible to do as a day hike! Will have to see how it goes this time as a two day hike, and then decide if it is possible to do as a day hike or not.
I arrived in Arequipa that evening about 10:00 and was at Marcio's, where I stay, and in bed before 11:00, hoping to get a good night's sleep. Of course the dogs in the neighborhood had other ideas (they bark all night long), I always forget how much noisier it is in Arequipa than in Cotahuasi. And then the combis and taxis start very early in the morning, honking and hollering for passengers, and the room I sleep in is right on the street and is definitely not sound proof!
In the morning I went to the main post office to pick up a package that was being held at customs. After about an hour of waiting, filling out and signing forms, I finally got my package, surprisingly without having to pay anything. Why they couldn't have just sent it on to Cotahuasi, I don't know.
After that I started on my shopping, buying things that I can't get in Cotahuasi or that are more expensive there. I talked with a shopkeeper friend in the central market and she warned me that there were more pickpockets and thieves than ever and to be extra careful. I have learned to take warnings like that seriously. Unfortunately I was out of money so had to go to the bank before I could finish shopping. I got my money in dollars from the ATM machine and then went to the moneychangers to exchange it for soles. When I got my soles, I put most of them into a money belt that I wear around my waist, tucked into my pants. Of course I was trying not to be too obvious about this, not wanting people to see where I was putting the money. I carefully zipped up the pouch and then started back to the shopping area, crossing the street right in front of the moneychanger's office.
As I got to the other side, I noticed a couple of men running into the street and picking up money, I soon realized that it was mine! Here I was, trying to get the money back from them, trying to pick up some that is still in the street, and then realizing that more money was falling on the street as I moved around! I was totally bewildered, as I knew I had zipped up the pouch and was sure it hadn't developed a hole in it since I last used it. I went back into the moneychangers to get off the busy street and checked the pouch; there was no money in it and no hole. I finally realized that in my trying to put the money in there discreetly, I must not have put it into the pouch but in between the pouch and my pants!
Sure enough there was still more money falling down my pants legs so here I was trying to get that out and make sure I got it all, while standing in a corner of the open office! I'm sure I must have made quite a sight, the man behind the counter kept looking at me strangely. Finally sure that I had it all secure; I left the office. Then I realized that it was possible that a "ladron" (thief, pickpocket) might have seen me and was just waiting for me to come out. I went away from the shopping area, looking over my shoulder often and quickly ducked into an open courtyard of a museum and office complex to gather my wits and count the money. I was about 130 soles short (about $40) but was thankful I hadn't lost more.
I felt that it wasn't a good idea to head back to the shopping area on foot, so decided to go get my car and do my shopping with that, especially as I had to get some heavy things like sugar, powered milk, popcorn, a large case of cereal, as well as a large pack of toilet paper. I parked on the street in a busy wholesale shopping area and first went into a shop to get a dozen packages of my favorite cookies, kind of like a vanilla Oreo with strawberry filling. I had to wait a few minutes while she found 12 packs with all strawberry and just as she put them on the counter, a woman on the street hollered something about my car. I was afraid there was a policewoman coming to give me a ticket so ran out of the store to see my car hooked up to a tow truck and they were just starting to drive off with it! I ran to the truck and pleaded with the policeman to not tow it away but to no avail. He said I would have to go to the "deposito" to get it. Of course I had no idea where or what the deposito was so he said I could ride with them in the truck.
To shorten a long story, 142.50 soles and about an hour later I got my car out of the impound yard, after having to take the filled out forms around the corner to have copies made for them. Almost all government offices here require photocopies of all paper work but they don't have copy machines so you have to go to a store and have copies made. Fortunately, there are copy machines everywhere, in all kinds of stores, so it is not too difficult to find one. I had remembered to take a copy of my passport to the customs office at the post office in the morning and sure enough they wanted that as well.
Later in the afternoon I met my friend Morayma and she went with me to go back and get my cookies that I had left on the counter when my car was towed, as well as do the rest of my shopping. Then I met another friend Maribel in the Square and told her what had happened so she invited me out for roast chicken dinner. It was an expensive day but I learned a couple more lessons about life in the big city, as well as had an enjoyable time with two good friends. Hopefully tomorrow will be uneventful as I finish my shopping and then head back to Cotahuasi.
Vic Hanson is the founder of Adventure Cotahuasi Tours, which offers pre-planned and custom adventure travel tours in Cotahuasi Canyon and other areas of Peru.
If you are interested in your own adventure in Peru, check us out!
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