|Rob Ennals > Travel > Around Peru in Seven Days|
Day 5 - Giant Ravenous Insects
Stumbling off the bus into Arequipa at 5am, having not slept for 48 hours, we definitely needed some coca tea. The only problem was finding some. It was, after all, 5am. Fortunately, the taxis were awake, and we got one to drive us to the Plaza des Amas, at which, all shops were of course closed.
I was probably the tiredest I have ever been in my life. I could barely walk, let alone think straight, and had an intense craving for sleep. The only thing stopping me from checking into a hotel and spending the whole day in bed was the fact that I knew that Simon would be able to stay awake, and the competitive streak in me didn't want to let him beat me. Of course, it later turned out that Simon had been having exactly the same thoughts, but masculine pride meant that both of us resolved to stay awake and have an intense day of action. This required coca tea.
Our initial walk around town failed to locate anywhere that sold coca-tea, but did locate a big scary nunnery. The nunnery was structured somewhat like a fortress, with big thick walls, huge wooden doors, and a statue at the front of what appeared to be a giant nun devouring the body of Jesus. At around 6am, a loud, piercing, bell rang out from the towers of the nunnery, presumably with the intention of rousing them from their slumber, to do whatever it is scary peruvian nuns do.
Having clearly failed to find an open cafe of our own accord, we approached a policeman, who helpfully directed us to what was seemingly the only cafe in Arequipa to be open at 6am. We sat there drinking coca tea, waiting for some tourist offices to open at which we could book ourselves a horse riding trip.
It eventually became apparent that none of the tourist offices were going to open until 9am, and, since our cafe, though pleasant, wasn't interesting enough for us to want to spend five hours there, we decided instead to take a taxi to the part of town where we thought that horse riding was likely to take place.
The taxi dropped us off at a rather foreboding location. The farm we were at had a nice friendly sign outside, advertising horse-riding adventures, but it looked somewhat decrepit, and there was what appeared to be a small river flowing through what should have been a field. A couple of fierce-looking dogs growled at us to stay away. There were however clearly horses inside, so we cautiously entered.
We were greeted by the owner of the horses, who assured as that the horses were obedient, docile, and understood English commands. He also assured us that the fact that neither of us had ever ridden a horse would not be a problem, as he would teach us.
Our guide's assurances turned out to be half-right. My horse was called Princessa and was lovely, gentle, and obedient. Simon, on the other hand, had rather less luck. His horse seemed quite determined to ignore all the commands he was attempting to give. I grew quite used to hearing the sound of Simon shrieking "stop stop stop stop stop" as his horse galloped off into the distance, or "left left left left left" as his horse disappeared to the right. On many occasions, I was left standing stationary while our guide raced off into the distance, in an attempt to retrieve Simon and his horse from wherever they had gone.
Eventually, Simon's horse threw him off, and Simon was moved to the guide's horse. This horse had a largely similar level of respect for Simon's authority, but seemed more keen to spend its time eating the shrubs, rather than going astray.
When we had set off, Simon had assured me that we were far too high up (2,380m, 7740ft) to need to worry about insects, and that I wouldn't need to apply any DEET. It soon became apparent that this was over-optimistic. I had made the mistake of wearing a short sleeved t-short, and I was being eaten alive, with huge swarms of inserts gathering round me to feast on my blood. A quick change of clothing saved my arms, leaving the insects to feast on my knuckles.
The ride was made more interesting by the fact that it was largely off-road. Our horses were clambering up and down rocky slopes, sometimes at speed. To add to the mix, our guide had brought along a young colt who we assumed was in the process of being broken in. The colt was full of energy and ran around at speed, occasionally startling one of the other horses, making it jump suddenly. The complete experience was rather like riding a mechanical bull at a western bar, except with sharp rocks, rather than foam padding, to land on if we fell.
By mid afternoon, we had been without sleep for 60 hours and desperately needed to sleep somewhere. Shunning the normal option of renting a hotel room, we decided that we would sleep in a shady park. Consulting a map revealed a pleasant-looking park on the outskirts of the city which looked like it should have suitable amounts of grass and shade.
On our arrival, the park was revealed to be closed, but we located another park nearby that seemed to be suitable. We then settled into a couple of hours of mild semi-sleep, disturbed only by a film crew who seemed to be filming intro sequences for a music program a few feet away from where we were sleeping.
By 9pm, it was coach time again, traveling this time to Nazca. We had by now grown numb to claims of bus luxury and had resigned ourself to another night of uncomfortable failed sleep. This time however we were in luck. Although the coach itself was no more luxurious than any of the previous ones, we had been assigned the front seats on the top deck. This provided us with a few centimeters more leg-room than on the previous busses, and allowed me to settle into a position which, while not comfortable, was not actively painful.
Just as I was settling into what looked set to be my first ever successful attempt to sleep on a Bus, Simon let out a yelp of excitement. He had found something in his shoe, and it seemed to be alive. Closer inspection revealed a mouse, which had set up home in warm soft sanctuary of Simon's footwear. The mouse seemed to be quite tame, not appearing to be afraid of us. We played with it for a while, allowing it to stick its head up above the side of the shoe and look around. This last part was particularly fun as it caused the female passengers around us to shriek and cower against the walls of the bus.
Eventually the stewardess appeared. She told us that the mouse needed to be taken off the coach, but she was not prepared to do this herself - we were going to have to do this. The bus came to a halt in a desolate andean plain near the top of a mountain pass, and we were directed to evict the mouse. As we did this, another gringo appeared, ran out of the bus, picked up the mouse (which seemed quite happy to be picked up), and attempted to bring the mouse back on board the bus. It wasn't clear if the woman was the owner of the mouse, or just a lone animal rights activist who didn't want to see us leave a cute little mouse to die. After a brief altercation, the mouse lover lady conceded defeat, and the mouse was left to die in the mountain wastelands.