Over the last couple of weeks Oscar and I have been taking the pace down a gear, spending longer in just two places (Cusco and Arequipa) and generally adopting a slower and more relaxed approach to our travels. Part of this has been planned however, the reason it has gone on for over two weeks now is that Oscar had his passport stolen in Arequipa meaning we have to hang out here for a week whilst we got it replaced. It has been a great opportunity to read our books, Oscar to buy a drone and for me to watch endless episodes of Modern Family in the sun.
Our new approach started in Cusco after returning from the Salkantay Trek and being shattered and so spending a couple of days eating and lounging around the city – maybe fitting in a massage if we had time! We visited a few museums, mainly the chocolate and coffee museums, and decided to take part in an afternoon coffee making workshop. Over the course of the afternoon we got to learn about the history of coffee, how to grow the beans, select the best beans for roasting and how to spot those which are diseased. Next we got to roast our beans to perfection and then use them to brew coffee in three different ways before practicing our coffee art with lattes. It was so much fun with the best bit definitely being able to make coffee in a really different way. We chose to try out the Japanese Syphon, Chemex and AeroPress, each method came up with a really different tastes even though it was the same beans we were using. My favourite to use was definitely the Syphon as it felt like you were conducting an experiment in a lab, but for taste I think the Chemex won. Neither of us were keen on the bitter taste of the AeroPress! We also learnt about different flavours of coffee and how they change depending on temperature and how you let the gas release at the start of the brewing process.
Next we traveled to Arequipa, locally called the ‘White City’ because of the white rocks used to build it from the local volcanoes, our plan was to spend about five days here and then move onto Chile again as we start our journey back to Santiago and home. One of the highlights of Arequipa has been our White Water Rafting trip down the Chili River. We went down several sets of rapids ranging from class two to four for about an hour and a half. The guys who took us were so much fun – they have adopted four dogs and our boat was host to a big black Labrador puppy who was so excited. They had put a life jacket on him and he was still being trained to go down in the boats so he kept clambering all over us. He was adorable and made the trip even better! Luckily we didn’t flip our raft at all however, we hit one rock and tipped pretty badly, Oscar and the other two people we were with fell out but I was luckily sat furthest away from the tilt so managed to stay in. Sometimes half the fun is in falling and we both agreed we would have liked to have flipped but instead we got to jump out and float (pretty fast) down the river for a section which was great. We both would definitely like to try rafting out again, we loved the adrenaline, having to paddle pretty fast and the danger of flipping!
We also got a chance to explore the Santa Catalina Monastery in the centre of the city. The whole monastery was like a mini town, even having street names and individual houses within the outer walls. It was pretty crazy trying to imagine the life of the nuns who, once inside, were never allowed to see anyone or any part of the outside world again. These nuns were typically the second daughters of wealthy families in Arequipa and around – many of whom would have been Spanish. They would go into the convent at the age of twelve and then would never leave, we got to see how they were able to communicate with their families and it was through a mesh, meaning that you could not see the other person. Their families then paid a fee to the convent to look after the girl and she would become first a novice until she was sixteen and then later a fully fledged nun. As a novice she would be locked in her room for twenty hours a day so that she could dedicate herself to prayer, the other four hours were spent outside in prayer with the other novices. Every nun was required to use devices to cut their skin twice a week and to fast once a month to help with their connection to God. Possibly even more upsetting than this was the reason the nuns were asked to educate young girls. Girls from the age of six to around ten would be taken into the care of the nuns in term time in order to receive a good education. Upon leaving the monastery, at ten, that girl would then be married to a man who was around fifty years old. One of the nuns has been recognised as a saint by the Vatican as she was able to levitate, be in two places at once and she cured a person with cancer by telling them to eat some soil. Other remarkable nuns are those that lived to 98 years old (that is 86 years living in a tiny monastery!!!!) and the ones who are still there today. Now they are able to leave the grounds and live together rather than apart however, it is still very much a working monastery with around forty nuns still in residence.
The next day we had planned on leaving Arequipa and heading back over the boarder into Chile, we woke up at 5am ready to catch our bus but unfortunately the first of three things to go wrong happened. We were waiting at the bus station with all our bags piled onto a couple of chairs, I had gone to the gate to see if our bus had arrived and Oscar was watching our belongings. As I was walking back to Oscar I saw a Peruvian man tap him on the shoulder and start speaking to him. What neither of us saw was the mans friend who used the distraction to steal Oscars wallet. The Peruvian police were amazing, especially since it was 7am on a Sunday morning, and within an hour we had a police report and were back at our hostel! Unfortunately Chile wasn’t on the cards now for at least another week whilst we got in contact with the British embassy to arrange an emergency passport.
So, after oscar had filled out about one hundred forms, we decided to do some mountain biking down one of the Volcanos that surround Arequipa to fill our extra time. We got driven up past an endless chain of trucks coming down filled with rock from the quarry and then we got to bike down hill all the way to the bottom of the Volcano. We had to negotiate what we thought was really thick sand however, we soon learnt it was actually Volcanic ash which was now covering us head to toe. It was everywhere and turned our legs white – I don’t think it is ever coming out of my walking boots!
Unfortunately the second and third things to go wrong happened soon after the mountain biking – Oscar lost his down jacket and also got a parasite in his stomach. He hadn’t been well for days and so we went to the doctor to find out if he needed any medicine. The parasite, if untreated, would have entered into his liver and caused quite a lot of damage apparently. As it is, Oscar has been in bed for about five days but is now on the mend after some antibiotics! Whilst Oscar has been out of action I have been exploring the city, trying out the Mexican restaurants and attended a piano recital with the local foreign consuls which was quite interesting.
Today we are heading to the Peruvian desert to go sand boarding and hopefully find a swimming pool. We have all of our fingers crossed that nothing else goes wrong this trip and that we make it back to Santiago for our flight home on 30th November! Oscar is going to get over his fear of going back to the bus station tonight, but I think he will be acting like a ninja – totally on edge and seeing everyone as a suspect!