Arequipa: A Gringa’s Mirage – Part 1

So far during my stay in Perú, with the exception of Cusco, I haven’t been swept away by this country.  Lima wasn’t “my kind of city”.  Puno is cold, rainy and bland in character.  Ilo’s saving grace was that it was an escape from Puno.  But Arequipa was a rebirth for my traveling soul.  Immediately upon arriving, Stacey and I had perma-smiles as we stared out of our taxi with wide eyes looking at the colonial architecture of the city, the palm trees and other beacons of civilization in a warm climate.  Before we could even exit the taxi, we had both started rethinking itineraries and conjuring up scenarios wherein we would have to stay longer in Arequipa.  My first impressions of Arequipa were very promising and this was a sentiment that would not change throughout the brief weekend stay.

My stomach feels whole again

About a month ago I think I was suffering from a mild case of gastritis or what I thought was an ulcer.  The thought of having holes in my stomach and having to adjust my diet in order to heal was quite a depressing concept for me.  Because food is my one and only true love at the moment and I was feeling a little out of my head at the time, I started getting all philosophical about what the significance of potentially having a hole in my stomach could mean and it made me depressed.  I came to the conclusion that me and Peruvian food were not meant to be and I needed to get out of this toxic relationship as soon as possible.  The only drawback to that solution was that non-Peruvian food is somewhat hard to come by in Puno unless you’re willing to eat at the swanky Colors Restaurant every night.  I decided to wait patiently and my food dreams finally came to life that first night in Arequipa.

Right across the street from our hostel was the culinary love of my life…Mexican!  Tacos y Tequila was perfect, as though the city planning gods knew that someday I would arrive and this restaurant would be my saving grace.  I normally get overwhelmed with decisions when I’m at a Mexican restaurant, but this time I went for my tried and true favorite of chili con carne tacos and a margarita.  I have to admit, the margarita was underwhelming, but I could easily forgive that transgression because I was honestly more focused the savory slice of heaven that was my plate of tacos.  They did not disappoint and everything was perfect even down to the accoutrements.  A couple of my gauges for quality Mexican fare is the use of corn tortillas over flour and at what point the guacamole, pico de gallo and hot sauce make an appearance.  Here, all were freshly made and came immediately with the tacos.  After dinner I think I was the happiest I’ve been since coming to Perú and I slept really well that night knowing my stomach felt whole again.

If these shower curtains could talk…

The wonderful initial impressions of Arequipa and the excellent vibes from dinner last continued on into the morning with my first hot shower in about three weeks.  I know I mentioned in my post about Lake Titicaca that I have a slight obsession with rustic living conditions, but this was really an exaggeration of sorts.  I think I could handle living in a hut with no electricity and using a hole in the ground as a toilet, but hot water is my weakness and the absence of which is where I draw the line at “roughing it”.

I have been wanting to make a light-hearted rant about this subject ever since moving in to my new room in Puno about three weeks ago where the so-called hot water is somewhat a stretch of the definition.  I always figured at some point in my travels I would encounter the scenario of not having hot water, but I severely overestimated my coping abilities.  The first time I took the plunge and stepped under the stream of cold water, I screamed in a pitch of voice I hadn’t heard since I was five years old and flailed about the shower stall (think Chris Farley’s “I’m a maniac” dance in Tommy Boy while singing opera).  What made matters worse was that my room was cold too, so getting out of the shower did me no favors.

After that first cold shower, I developed a seriously unhealthy and tempestuous relationship with my shower stall, who we’ll call Ron.  At first I refused to confront him for his primitive behavior for two days and after finally giving in, we ended up having many one-way profanity laden discussions where I disparaged him, and he just laughed at me and continued to spit out cold water.  It wasn’t until around the fourth try that I figured out how to create a bearable temperature by lowering the water pressure.  By this point though, I accepted my fate of miserable shower experiences for the next month and started developing coping mechanisms, my favorites being the “hot potato dance” and the “standing fetal position hug”.  I swear, if anyone actually saw me in the shower, they would think I’m a heroin addict going through withdrawal with a high-pitched voice.  Not pleasant.

Anyway, this long winded recount of my shower stall struggles in Puno brings me back to my point of how Arequipa was in many ways, my saving grace.  When we made it to our hostel that night I never thought I’d be so excited to see those two little magical words, “agua caliente”.  When I took a shower that morning, it was like hitting the lottery.  I got immensely excited when I saw this white phantom cloud form in front of me and realized that it was not my own breath but actually steam from the shower!  I swear I thought Jesus was going to appear next, that’s how amazing it was!

My rejuvenating shower served to set me up for a spectacular St. Patrick’s Day.  It had actually been quite a while since I really cut loose and partied with friends and other fellow revelers so I was quite excited to begin the festivities.  I was finally feeling like I was having the experience I always imagined I would have while backpacking…

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6 thoughts on “Arequipa: A Gringa’s Mirage – Part 1

  1. You don’t realize what you take for granted until it’s gone. A hot shower is surely one of them. I give you credit for roughing it, but then again “when in Rome”.

  2. I left a comment but I don’t think it posted…

    anyway, I can’t Mexican food is the thing that brought your stomach back to working order, and after cold Chilean showers (and warm Indian ones), I totally understand the shower dance, or the sigh of disappointment.

  3. Oddly enough, I have a very fond memory of the time I found a great hot shower in Puno after weeks without one in Bolivia. I’d tell you where it is but that was almost ten years ago and I don’t remember.

    1. Isn’t a wonderful feeling? When I was living in Hotel Pukará for a month I actually had a great hot shower at my disposal, but in my current room not so much. Luckily I have only one more week until I head to Cusco!

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