We arrived in Arequipa at about 6am, both very glad that Stef had kept his sleeping bag with him. Being taller than the average Perúvian neither of us had enough leg room and although the seats reclined we couldn't get comfy. I slept fitfully waking each time the bus stopped. No passengers seemed to get on or off, it was just people from the bus company who simply seemed to count how many people were on board.
Plaza de Armas, Arequipa
When we booked, Stef asked if there were seats available on the bottom of the bus. Luckily there were and only five out of the twelve of them were occupied. If we slept badly I dread to think what it would have been like upstairs with people getting up and down and young children too. If we have to do a night trip again at least we'll have a better idea of what to expect. Given a choice though I'd much rather travel by day.
Arriving in Arequipa was a bit of a surprise though - it was the first bus terminal we've seen in Perú. Everywhere else each company has its own depot, normally near each other, but here they are all consolidated into one place. Getting accurate and reliable information and which buses go where, when and for how much has been challenging!
We took a taxi to our hotel which is just outside of the centre of town, La Casa de mi Abuela (My Grandmother's House). You are dropped by a metal door in a high brick wall. This opens to reveal pretty gardens with steps up to the hotel's reception area. As it was so early our room wasn't ready but we went through to a different block, through a mini courtyard with a fountain with fish and into the main gardens. There were tables and chairs dotted around the lawn and a small pool with sun-beds around it. It was beautiful and had the homely feel we'd been talking about yesterday.
Shattered, and wanting a power nap and a shower, we had no choice but to sit out time in the gardens until our room was ready - about a 3 hour wait. We went to the local tour agency to get information on what to see and do. Affiliated to the hotel, Giardino Tours is in our Lonely Planet "bible". The lady there either had a cold or was suffering from an allergy, she didn't really seem interested in giving us information and was a bit offhand. We signed up for a 2 day tour of the Colca Canyon, another part of the typical tourist route. If we wanted we could have had an extra day of free time but as this doubled the cost we decided it was an expensive way to pay for a hotel for a night and declined.
When we finally finally got into our room (very nice with a view onto the main gardens) and freshened up the need for a power nap had gone. We set off in search of a bank and a hairdresser for Stef. The cash machines in Perú limit the amount you can withdraw to 500 soles a day - about £80. They also charge you for the privilege of using them. We wanted to get into a bank to withdraw higher amounts over the counter.
The security guard at the bank told us to by pass the normal system and go to window 2. We explained what we wanted and the young girl called over a supervisor who then told us to go to window 16. Here they would do what we wanted if we had a Visa credit card. We have Visa, we have credit cards but not both combined! We were too late to try another bank so will have to leave it until next week.
Our next quest was a haircut for Stef. The miserable lady at the tour office told us where to find her hairdresser Mirabel. She politely checked that we would not be offended by Mirabel as some of her customers are - Mirabel is a he and is a transvestite. We explained how we are used to it in Brighton and London and got a "Perú is not yet that free" type of response.
The next half hour or so was really entertaining. Mirabel's was a tiny shop with 4 women in varying stages of having their hair done. No hair washing seems to happen. People come in, get their hair squirted with water, cut and then they're off. You only seem to get your hair washed if you're having your hair coloured. Mirabel was busy so another lady looked after Stef. He explained what he wanted and, for a ladies hairdressers I was surprised to see the clippers and cut-throat razor all to hand.
No matter how surprised I was it didn't match the hairdresser's surprise when he said he wanted short all over not just short back and sides. A shocked "really" was followed by giggles from her and the other customers in the shop. I do not think many tourists go there, and certainly not men. They all went home with a tale to tell!
After a very successful haircut we headed onto the main Plaza de Armas. This has to be one of the best we've seen. One side is flanked by a cathedral, the other three by double storey colonnaded buildings. The square itself has the obligatory fountain and palm trees and it was full of people whiling away the lunchtime hours. It will be interesting to see if its still this busy during the week.
We are going to spend a day seeing the "sights" of Arequipa when we come back from the Colca Canyon so just whiled away some time with a spot of lunch and people watching in the Plaza. Kids everywhere were feeding the pigeons and then having great fun chasing them away. A man turned up, Bible in hand, and promptly started preaching - no one seemed to be paying him any attention but he carried on regardless.
The rest of the afternoon was spent mooching around and hunting for a hat to keep the sun off my head (unsuccessful) and sunglasses for Stef as he's already lost his (successful). Up until about five o'clock the centre of town was quiet and many shops were shut. By six, it was like rush hour. The streets were thronged with people and cars blocked all the roads. There was a real buzz about the place. Arequipa seems affluent and quietly at ease with itself. Everything here seems orderly, clean and in working order.
Heading back up to the hotel, Stef noticed that all of the taxis seemed to be from a different company. They are all small cars (but still manage to squeeze 6 passengers in) with a lighted sign on the top. They almost look like toy cars out of a cartoon.
Here. more than in Lima and in a different way to Paracas, it is clear that we are on a tourist circuit. Everywhere you look you see people in the travelers "uniform" of quick drying, non ironing clothes, walking boots and day packs. There are entire streets just wall to wall with tourist shops selling the usual tacky stuff as well as jumpers, scarves and other woolens made from Alpaca wool.