Sunday, February 24, 2013

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, & Arequipa, Peru.

It is pretty freeing to find yourself alone on the moon!
I'm currently back in Peru after a long journey from San Pedro de Atacama which involved
the most uncomfortable overnight bus ride I've taken yet and an early morning border crossing. Funnily enough I arived in Arica, Chile at 6:30am, crossed the border, and took my bus from Tacna, Peru also at 6:30am. Time changes always have always been an interesting concept to me, especially when all they involve is an imaginary (yet ironically concrete) line. I've been in 3 different countries in 3 different days and have managed to go from 16,000 feet to 7,900ft to sea level back to 7,640ft all in those same 3 or 4 days. Was it really just 4 nights ago that I was sleeping in the Bolivian altiplano, where it was so cold I couldn't even sleep through the night and now I am here in Peru where it's hot enough to wear little more than flip flops and a dress during the day?

Pachamama offerings with volcanoes in background.
I wasn't trying to hurry my time in Chile, all 2 days and one night of it, but I was certainly ready to make it back to Peru as I was a bit underwhelmed by my time in San Pedro de Atacama (and my flight leaves from Lima in a week). It is a beautiful Chilean desert town indeed, and along with the Easter Islands and part of Chilean's Patagonia, is the most visited place in all of Chile. With reason. The nearby attractions are stunning- the Licancabur volcano in the background, some of the best star gazing to be found on the continent, geysers, hot springs, and lakes that are so salinated that you literally float when you are in them!

But I saw much of the same, if not better, during my time in Bolivia and another thing about Chile when you are travelling South America- it's expensive! My hostel, the food, and my flights were at least double what I paid in Peru if not triple what I paid in Bolivia. Also, the people running the hostel were some of the most unfriendly and unhelpful I have encountered in my travels. Oh, and my bathing suit was stolen. Could be way worse but still doesn't make you love a place, ya know? Some say Chile is like the US just with a Spanish speaking flair, I presume due to its modernity and amenities (might this also have to do with them having the strictest customs in South America?). San Pedro is also known as being particularly expensive, which doesn't help. Makes sense though when it's so full of tourists AND a desert that can't produce its own food. Some parts of San Pedro de Atacama haven't seen a single drop of rain in hundreds of years, making it known as the driest place on earth!

Is that why the water is so cold, to keep the showers so short?
Add to the high prices the hoards of Chileans hanging out there for their last hurrah before summer is over for them and it all felt a little bit too much like a 'scene' for me. Even though it was fun to watch- the girls walking around with shorts so short they barely covered their cheeks and hair so long it more or less covered their shorts, chilenos playing their music on the streets, the camaraderie amongst the debauchery. Amongst all this, though, I will admit that it was nice hanging out in a country with people who are actually from that country. Chileans and Argentines seem to travel more than the people of any other Latin American country I know. My personal belief is that the wealth disparities in many of the other Latin American countries are so great that most of the people hardly travel at all and the ones who do have enough money that they tend to go outside of Central or South America or hostelling (roughing it) just doesn't seem to be on their agenda. Just a musing.

With my lovely Chilean friends outside the San Pedro market.
I enjoyed immensely my last moments amongst the company of my Chilean friends from the Uyuni tour. They also expected a bit smaller, homelier of a town out of San Pedro without quite the intense crowds of tourist, but nonetheless we all reveled in our time together and I was pleased some yoga with them. I was also delighted to have the opportunity to squeeze in a bike ride to the nearby Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). It was spectacular! It is so similar to the surface of the moon and outer space that NASA tests its Mars vehicles there and some people think that the landing on the moon photos were actually just pictures taken on the Valley. Most of it is just volcanic rock amongst much weather erosion and hoards of minerals, primarily salt, with old mines scattered about. Perks of renting a bike and doing my own tour were feeling the freedom of biking in such bizarre landscapes, without a single soul around, so it really did feel like I was exploring and walking on the moon. Cons were leaving at high noon and biking through the driest desert in the world with the sun high in the sky and not a single ounce of shade. By the time I returned I felt like my lips were going to crack into pieces if I smiled and after downing a Gatorade I managed to pass out for 2 or 3 hours straight. Yikes!

Moon terrain.
So here I am in Arequipa, the second largest city (about 1 million people) and legal capital of Peru.  It is very nice and very colonial. Many of the buildings date back to the 16th century and it was often commended in its past for its loyalty and faithfulness to the Spanish Crown. Now it is a city full of a flair all its own, where the Arequipeños say they want to extricate themselves from Peru and become their very own statehood. Or so I've heard. It does feel a bit different. Volcanoes in the background, canyons in the surrounding area. And as a gentleman in my hostel put it when describing his fondness for this town, 'the streets are clean, there aren't homeless people helplessly scattered about, it's without the immense fog of Lima, people work, and the vibe just generally tends to be happy.' Lovely!

The beautiful homes of Arequipa.

I decided to skip the nearby Colca canyon, the 2nd deepest in the world, since it meant yet another day spent mainly in a car and my body just didn't want to be put through that! Especially because tonight I will take yet another overnight bus ride (hopefully my last) further along the coast to find myself in Ica, Peru, place of sand dunes, lagoons, and apparently laid back 'hippy' vibes. I hope to find a nice and relaxed place to practice my yoga, unwind, and just enjoy myself before I decide how to spend the last several days of my time here in Peru. I think I'm also more or less ready to just get the last of my long haul overnight bus travel under my belt. Can't believe I'm nearing the end! Expect another post or two about the other places I will visit, how in awe I am of the Andean women, and musings on this PERUsing adventure in general.

For all of you who have been missing my meditations, soon they will be in person once again! For any of you have who have any requests or topics to touch on for my next couple posts, by all means just let me know. I tend to write inspirations or proffer advice on what I am most feeling at the time, and after descending so much in altitude all I've been wanting to do lately is just walk around and get lots of sleep! Its like I'm drugged with all the oxygen now coursing through my veins. So if your being is calling out for less activity as well, embrace the time and space you need for allowing good rest and relaxation. Regardless just continue to Viva YOUR yoga (acting in whatever way brings you peace & true happiness) while I continue living out mine.

Plaza de Armas, the central plaza of Arequipa.
Thank you Daniela for your ever so wonderful and gracious hospitality throughout my time in Peru! From staying with your family in Lima to offering your parents' home here in Arequipa, I am forever grateful. Look forward to getting to know you better in the future. 
NAMASTE y'all!!!

Striking flowers found on the streets of Arequipa.

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