3 Ways to Die in Arequipa and How to Enjoy Them

Photo by Annie. That smoke is billowing from an active volcano.

1. Volcanic Eruption

What You Need to Know

Arequipa is surrounded by volcanos, but none is more intimidating than El Misti that looms and plumes at nearly 6,000 meters high. The Incas believed it a god and sacrificed its youngest, healthiest, and prettiest girls to keep it happy and quiet– In fact, El Misti contains the greatest known number of human sacrifices of Peru mountains. It recently awoke, and while no scientists believe it’s going to blow soon, there’s an unmistakable similarity between the provisions and pleasures enjoyed in Arequipa like the ancient city Pompei before it.

How To Enjoy It

Under the threat of landslides, lava, and sacrifice, Volcanophobia is Annie’s new flavor of the day. To prepare we watched Dante’s Peak, and took notes on how Pierce Brosnan responds to an imminent eruption. Realizing our chance of escape would be low in a city with 1.5 million people who drive as if they’re playing bumper cars on a good day, we drew our own emergency escape plan of sorts that ends 2 blocks off the city center at Chaqchao cafe. With over 50 local craft beers to choose from, and iced Piscao drinks (Bailey’s-like drink made from Peruvian Pisco), not to mention home made stone ground chocolate you’ll hardly notice the lava melting your feet with your taste buds in the stars.

Cold Companion

Maddock Volcano Red Ale– With the perfect combination of sweet amber notes and hops, pour a taste of Volcano Red Ale out for Pachamama and maybe she’ll reconsider the fireworks display.

Last Words

Us: “Yes, we would like bacon on our toasted avocado baguette with poached egg.”

This costs S/12 ($4), and makes for a fine last meal.

2. Falling Down the Colca Canyon

Photo by Annie

What You Need to Know

The Colca Canyon is the world’s 4th largest canyon, and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
 
 I wanted to build our own adventure, while Annie thought a tour company represented our best chance of survival. Like most debates we have, this one I was glad to lose. We ended up going with a tour company called Oasis Palmeras for S/170 (~$60) with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, overnight stays, and a guide included for the 3 days and 2 nights it would take to make it down and up . We had a 10 person group, and if I thought readers would make it this far into the post I’d go into detail about each as everybody followed the old cliche that the people you meet traveling are incredibly inspiring and interesting.
 
Other trekkers occasionally arrived to the bottom of the canyon dehydrated, hungry, and even crying.

Thanks Mark, Mark’s parents, Morgan, Capucine, Tom, Celez and his wife, and Hans for making the trek so enjoyable, interesting, and memorable.

How to Enjoy It

With countless switchbacks breaking up the devastating descent into the canyon, our knowledgable, humble, and easy going 25-year-old guide Hans, who grew up nearby (he could drink river water without puking), scampered down the canyon using local trails that cut through the switchbacks at an alarming angle. Anxious to fit in with the locals (average height 5’5) I handed my bottle of water to Annie and made my way down the local trail, descending almost 10 times faster than the tourist trail. The first local trail cut through about 6 switchbacks, and I landed sturdily on my feet.

Last picture before the fall.

Feeling a bit wilder and bit more confident, I began shuffling down a second local trail, this time elongating my strides to go even faster. But there was a slight turn in the trail and to avoid slamming into a rock, I skidded down on my right knee, colliding with a cactus resulting in broken prescription glasses and a large blister on my right ring finger that makes typing this post extra strenuous. Hans told me to use shorter steps in the future.
 
Later, enjoying the pool-laden Oasis at the bottom of Colca Canyon, Hans and I were drinking mojitos, and he told me that running down the local trails is his favorite way to break away from the constraints of city life. He also said he’s never seen someone fall before. There are worse ways to go than in the pursuit of freedom.

Cold Companion

Molle. Forgive me for cheating– it’s not beer, and it’s not cold. It’s a plant that the locals believe can heal muscle soreness, belly aches, and unwanted pregnancies. In fact, when the Spanish colonized, they planted many molle trees near monasteries so the nuns could stave off pregnancy after shacking up with the bishops. I stuck a branch in my pocket and chewed it down the trail hoping it would relieve the embarrassment of crashing into a cactus.

Last Words

Annie: “Now I have to carry the water all the way to the bottom.”

3. Earthquake

What To Know

Arequipa is in the Pacific Ring of Fire so earthquakes are part of the norm here. On the free walking tour you’ll learn that several towers of Plaza De Armas crumbled in 2001 during a massive quake and have since been rebuilt from the same volcanic rock the Spanish colonialists used. Just this past June, 12 people died in a quake. 
 
On Monday, we were laying in bed beginning to watch a movie when a rumble shook the hanging flourescent tube light in our hostel.

How to Enjoy It

The US Geological Society suggests to avoid lighting matches in case a gas line breaks. Luckily, La Casa de Mauricio’s ‘kitchen’ was merely a shed with stale lettuce on the shelf so the threat of a gas leak presented no immediate danger. However, the prospect of losing sleep to after shocks was enough to spur a trip to the supermercado for emergency supplies.

Earthquake Shopping List:
 1. Arequipeña Beers
 3. 55% cacao dark chocolate bars
 4. Coca gummies (for nausea)
 
 Upon returning, we consumed our delicacies, replied to Facebook messages, and fell asleep to the voice of Adam Driver singing lines about matches, hair, and lovers in the arthouse flick Patterson. Had the aftershocks caused the building to collapse, I’d like to think we’d go like we lived the past year: tipsy, in bed before 9, and surrounded by asbestos.

Cold Companion

Mass-produced Arequipeña beer. Impossible to predict or escape from, no natural disaster is more judicial in its equality than earthquakes and the same can be said for Arequipeña beer which is perhaps more widely available and affordable than quality drinking water in Arequipa.

Last Words

Annie: “Alex, are you going to brush your teeth?”

Bonus: Se ronger les ongles et prier sur les routes sinueuses du Pérou

Avec les années, j’ai la certitude d’avoir développé un trouble anxieux et une phobie spécifique envers les déplacements en transport. Paradoxalement, à Montréal, les transports en commun font partie de mon quotidien et j’arrive généralement à bien gérer mes élans d’émotions. Ceci dit, au Pérou, on entre dans une autre catégorie — neurótica. Merci à Alex pour sa patience et désolée pour les traces d’ongles sur tes avant-bras …! Dépassements inutiles et agressifs, coups de klaxon sans autre but que d’indiquer sa présence, petits temples (beaucoup trop nombreux) au bord de la route signifiant la perte de vie humaine, totale absence de signalisation; la conduite péruvienne est décidément beaucoup plus wild que de par chez nous.

En somme, à tous les grands anxieux de la route, voici mon conseil lors d’un futur voyage au Pérou : opter pour le luxe, évitez les autobus à deux étages et surtout, surtout…fermez les yeux lorsque vous sentez le danger approcher. Voilà! Que la route soit bonne avec nous jusqu’à Cuzco!

Photo by Annie.