Travels with Mikey, Day 1: Lima to Arequipa

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March 25, 2013 by jiejie768

Our first day and night with Mikey would take us from the oceanside views of Lima to the towering volcanoes that surround Arequipa. Here you can see Pikchu Pikchu and Chachani from the cushy confines of a Cruz Del Sur Cruzero Suite bus.

Our first day and night with Mikey would take us from the oceanside views of Lima to the towering volcanoes that surround Arequipa. Here you can see Pikchu Pikchu and Chachani from the cushy confines of a Cruz Del Sur Cruzero Suite bus.

Exactly two weeks ago, Mikey arrived in Peru. He was scheduled to arrive in Lima at 8:30 a.m. on March 11, after a rather lengthy series of flights that started in Portland and found him in both San Francisco and Los Angeles for a stretch of time before his overnight jaunt from LAX to Lima. Nonetheless, he reported getting six hours of sleep on the plane, which beat the four that Meg and I got before waking up at 4:30 in Ayacucho to catch the 6:50 a.m. flight to meet him in Lima.

We beat him to the capital by about an hour, which gave us time to grab a breakfast sandwich from Subway and some much needed coffee from Starbucks at the Lima airport; I’ll say it again, the Lima airport has arguably the best food court in all of Peru (Meg will argue. Any food court with an Hermanos Pascuale is giving it a run for its money). As we were getting caffeinated, we received a nice surprise as Mikey rounded the corner, bags in hand; his flight had landed an hour early. So it was that at roughly 8 a.m., we grabbed a cab and headed into Lima.

Our first stop was at Ramon and Loty’s house — the parents of our good friend and Tusuy Peru leader, Fabiola Serra — where we dropped off our bags. As if Mikey’s red-eye and our own early morning weren’t a daunting enough way to start a nine-day trip, we had scheduled an overnight bus from Lima to Arequipa that evening. As the bus didn’t leave until 5:30 p.m., we had few hours to show Mikey a bit of Lima. So after about an hour chatting with Ramon and Loty — Ramon even got to show Mikey, a Cougar alum, the WSU hat his son-in-law, Seth had given him — we said “See ya later alligator” and headed off to Miraflores and Barranco, our favorite Lima neighborhoods.

Sadly, though Mikey did bring Meg’s dad’s spectacular camera to us, this first day was one of the rare times during the trip that I didn’t have it on me, so photographic evidence of our day in Lima is non-existent. You’ll have to trust me, then, when I tell you we had a pretty good afternoon walking to and through the Malecón waterfront park, down to Larcomar for a bite at Bembo’s (the Peruvian McDonald’s … but better) before cabbing it to Barranco where we drank Pisco sours and ate tequeños at a bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After our happy hour snacks, we returned to Casa Serra a bit sticky after an afternoon in the Lima heat and humidity. There, we grabbed a quick shower — only taking one apiece despite Ramon assuring us we could take 20 if we wished — got our bags together and piled into Ramon’s car for the short ride to the bus station.

The bus ride from Lima to Arequipa is advertised as being 15 hours, but fellow travelers and our own experience with long Peruvian bus trips told us to expect something closer to 18 hours. Even so, following a night of little sleep and a day of enjoyable but, physically-taxing wandering, we were more than ready to take a load off in the Cruz Del Sur Cruzero Suite.

Often, people from the States will grimace when they hear about our lengthy bus trips in Peru; adding to this is the fact that Meg’s family got the short end of the stick when they came, as the 18-hour trip we took in December was the only time Meg and I haven’t been on Cruz Del Sur, our preferred company. The truth, however, is that the seats are by far the most comfortable way to travel I have ever experienced. Every seat on the bus is basically the equivalent of being in a first-class seat on an airplane. There are disadvantages, such as windy roads and treacherous trips to the (respectably-clean) bathroom at the back of the bus, but, all-in-all, it’s not a bad way to go. Certainly sleeping in a bed is preferable to the seats, but if you’ve got to get somewhere far away, it’s arguably more enjoyable to get 7-8 hours sleep on the bus rather than the 4 hours of sleep we average on the night before one of Peru’s disgustingly-early flights.

"Holy s**t! Cruz Del Sur now has seat-back video screens for each passenger!" If you've never been on a Peruvian bus, you'll never understand how huge this innovation is.

“Holy s**t! Cruz Del Sur now has seat-back video screens for each passenger!” If you’ve never been on a Peruvian bus, you’ll never understand how huge this innovation is.

Adding to the “pleasure of traveling by bus” this time around was a new toy on the CDS Cruzero Suite: personal video screens. GeGe had told us that these had been installed in all the seat backs, but this was our first experience with them, and let me just say that they totally revolutionize Peruvian bus travel. The screens are touch-screen (powered by Android) tablets that are loaded with about 40 movies, a handful of addictive Internet-style games (think Snood and the like), about 100 e-books and an Internet browser. The only mild setback is, although all of the movies are American and fairly recent (“Hunger Games” “Dark Knight Rises” “The Watch” etc.), the vast majority of them are dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles.

There were, however a few to be found with the original English audio track, and so it was that I enjoyed “The Watch” starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill (a legitimately funny flick that had me laughing out loud late into the night, which I’m sure my fellow passengers appreciated) and “Trouble with the Curve” starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake (better than I thought it’d be as I’m not a huge Clint fan. I do, however, find Adams and Timberlake to be charming on screen and as big baseball fan, I liked the overall story as well). Meg watched “Snow White and the Hunstman” (dubbed with English subtitles) and “Rock of Ages” (dubbed but with songs in English) and Mikey enjoyed “Dark Knight Rises” and “Hunger Games” (both dubbed).

Outside of the new seat-back toys, perhaps my favorite quirk of this bus ride was the way in which they scheduled the meal service. As we departed at 5:30, the sun set within an hour of leaving Lima, and soon, the entire bus was dark and many of the passengers, the three of us included, began to nod off. Even by Peruvian standards, 7:30 p.m. is a pretty early bed time, especially when there are an additional 13 hours of bus time ahead of you. Nevertheless, most of us were on the verge of calling it a night when, suddenly, the lights came on, and our hostess announced dinner service would be starting soon. Dinner for Mikey and I was a chunk of beef covered in gravy with potatoes and rice, and Meg was pleasantly surprised to receive an actual vegetarian meal featuring real-life tofu (it may or may not have been covered in pork gravy, but, well, you pick your battles). Following dinner, our hostess handed out bingo cards, and we passed the next 20 minutes hoping we’d be the first to reach blackout and claim the mysterious prize. Alas, it was not to be, and I still wonder what was given to winner; guess I’ll never know.

It’s hard to say why this amused me so much, but there was just something inherently funny about the schedule. I imagine someone at Cruz Del Sur said, “First, we’ll lull everyone to sleep as the sun goes down, and, then, when they’re least expecting it, it’s lights on and ‘DINNER!’ and ‘GAMES!’ just to make sure they’re wide awake by 10 p.m. when they should be settling in to sleep for the night.”

Mikey and Meg drift back to sleep after an early-morning breakfast en route from Lima to Arequipa.

Mikey and Meg drift back to sleep after an early-morning breakfast en route from Lima to Arequipa.

After our stimulating meal and Bingo session, we settled in for the long haul, putting on our separate movies and then, one-by-one, drifting off to sleep. When we woke the next morning, we were greeted by winding turns and the stark, sandy vistas of the Peruvian desert. It was a stunning contrast to the oceanside views we’d witnessed the day before, and we enjoyed watching the scenery through the morning as desert eventually gave way to the greener, mountain-lined valley where Arequipa sits. About an hour from the city (Peru’s second largest) we caught our first glimpses of the Misti Volcano, Pikchu Pikchu and Chachani, the towering peaks that dominate the skyline in and around Arequipa. We were even blessed with a bit of good fortune, as our bus pulled into the Arequipa station at 9:10 a.m., a mere 40 minutes later than the promised 15-hour trip would have indicated. Our first (but certainly not last) bus ride of the trip was in the rearview mirror, and the three of us headed into Arequipa to check-in to our hotel and check out the town.

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