The amazing flight over the Nasca lines was a hard act to follow. We were therefore not prepared for the spectacular scenery that awaited us along the southern peruvian coast on the way to the country’s second largest city, Arequipa. It was absolutely breathtaking with enormous sand dunes practically falling into the vivid blue ocean with pounding white waves. In some places, Laurent and I experienced the same sensations that we had in Namibia, the trip that inspired our current voyage. Imagine driving for hours through the desert and dunes, being accustomed to a sandy yellow and beige background, and then suddenly taking a curve in the road and seeing a bright green oasis right in front of you! That is what the southern coast is like. In our 2 months on the road (indeed it has seemed much longer already), this was the scenery that we were waiting for!
We stopped for the night (and ended up staying for two) at a small port called Puerto Inka, an absolute paradise! The camping area is directly on the beach litterally meters from the ocean. The beach is a beautiful yellow sand beach with a black sand beach farther along one side of a secluded rocky cove. There are pre-inca and inca ruins along the sides of the cove, a hotel, and a restaurant with incredible food. There are relatively few tourists around and tranquility is more or less guaranteed.
We met a couple from Arequipa, Paul and Claudia, who were also camping on the beach. We had a lot in common including a passion for Toyota 4 x 4’s, road trips, and enjoying good food and good Pisco. Thanks for the Chilcano! Paul is a mechanic and will be changing the oil in Tommy when he gets back to Arequipa. We also met Carsten, a German motorcyclist, who is finishing his tour of South America and heading back to Europe on a sailboat as a member of the crew!
We arrived in Arequipa in the afternoon. As with all big cities, it was a challenge to find a big secure parking lot for Tommy, since most hotel parking lots have height restrictions. After spending considerable time calling around, we found a brand new hotel whose managing team went out of their way to find a secure place for Tommy to overnight. Arequipa is a beautiful city with a laid back easy-going feel to it. The historical center has interesting architecture around the central plaza (called Plaza de Armas, as in hundreds of cities in Peru and elsewhere in South America). The population is well over 1 million and the city sits at an elevation of over 2300 m with volcanos in the immediate surroundings, including the mighty Misti (5822 m) dominating the background on clear days. We visited the colorful central market, San Camilo, where we had a freshy prepared fruit cocktail at one of the 30 or so juice stands lining one side of the building. Surprise surprise, some of the cocktails include beer and eggs! Unlike other central markets that are a bit chaotic, this one is perfectly organized into aisles according to the wares for sale. There is even a sombrero aisle!
Of special mention is the Santa Catalina Convent which is beautifully restored. Constructed in the 1500s, it covered over 20,000 square meters, and was home to approximately 450 nuns who lived in silence and isolation from the outside world until the 1970’s. Due to it’s size, it was considered to be a city within the city. In the past, it was a sign of prestige for rich families to pay literally a fortune to send a daughter to the convent. There are still nuns living in part of the convent today.
Next stop, the Cañon del Colca, the second deepest canyon in the world, after the Cañon de Cotohuasi, also in Peru!