November 25, 2004 - Arequipa 161k, 100m***

Steve’s comments at the bottom of this update!
(Riders note: Arequipa is not exactly “en route”. See end of update for details.)

This was a day of dramatic scenery, challenging riding and then the first big city we have been in since Curitiba. Riding out of Moquegua you cross the river that is the only reason this community exists and head immediately back into lifeless desert. In the first 18 miles from town there are two big ridges that must be crossed. Here are a few pictures of the early ride. Steve or I are in each of them?

After this there is a 25 miles stretch of Zona Neblina – cloudy, low visibility area, not above you but all around you. This part was mostly, slightly downhill high desert riding.

Then we got to the most dramatic of the many large canyons we have ridden down and up. We will not get to the best of them, but this is Peruvian “Canyon Country”. A couple of their canyons (Colca and Cotahusa) are more than twice as deep as our own Grand Canyon. This one, which headed into the Ro Tambo Valley, had steeper downhills, bigger cliffs and more dramatic scenery on the way down.

At the bottom of this canyon the Pan American Highway was still many miles from the ocean. We bypassed the turnoff to the the coastal road to Meja and Mollendo, and also we skipped the usual cooler lunch. We had lunch at an open air café and all the food we had (according to the server) was from this Rio Tambo valley. Then it was through a shoddy town and up 3,000 feet over the next 12 miles, continuing on the Pan American Highway.

This whole ride up was on switchbacks, only comparable to the ride out of Pumamarca, Argentina. This was also only the second time in 4 continents I gave up on the bike helmet. Riding for 2+ hours uphill at 6-8 mph just does not feel that unsafe. And, it was very hot.

At the top we were back on the usual altiplano. Flat and lifeless, except for a Peruvian air force base that had statues (fake people) in its guard towers. Around here we also passed a mileage sign which defined much of the rest of the trip.

At La Joya you have a choice of continuing north up the PanAm Highway or taking a side road up into the Andes to Arequipa. We wanted to see the “White City”, and I wanted some internet access, so we loaded up the bikes on the Fiat and drove into town. This maybe 60km ride through a couple of valleys would have been amongst our most dangerous riding of the trip, if we were on the bikes. Instead it was an interesting drive.

We checked into the hotel, had dinner there and crashed. The comfort of the hotel motivated us to declare the next day as our first full break day of RASAM 2004 pII. We slept late and explored the next day.

NEXT DAY: Arequipa, with 750,000+ people (Lima has 9,000,000) is Peru’s second largest cities. In the Andes, next to the El Misti volcano, it has been periodically devastated by earthquakes or eruptions, most recently in 1958, 1960 and 2001. The last earthquake produced tidal waves which wiped out many coastal cities, too. It is chaotic and colonial. We picked the best hotel there – the Libertador Arequipa. It is about a mile from the Plaza de Armas, and a tranquil setting amidst the bustle of Arequipa.

There is a lot of history here. Steve wanted to see the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. It is a nunnery founded in 1580 by the Spaniards – but within its high walls is really a complex city within a city. Architecturally splendid and one of the most fascinating religious places I have ever seen, Santa Catalina is a destination unto itself. There is too much to go into here (one of the Mother Superiors was named a saint… the nuns periodically wore barbed underware for penance) – but leaving aside the art and museum aspects, here are 5 picture of this place that was closed to the public until 1970 and still houses 30 cloistered nuns.

I wanted to go to the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which displays Inca culture from 500 years+ ago and features Juanita. Juanta is an extremely well preserved Inca young woman who was sacrificed on the summit of Amputo (local mountain). She (and other mummies) were discovered with a trove of artifacts in the early 1990’s. Like the convent, there is too much detail to go into here, and they checked my camera at the door, but the Inca textiles and rituals displayed here are simply astonishing.

We then walked back to our hotel through the Plaza de Armas (main town square), which is flanked by a block-long cathedral which we never went in, and two story Spanish colonial building on the other three sides.

The parting photograph – evening clouds as seen from the courtyard of the Hotel Libertador.

THOUGHTS FROM STEVE

I am Steve del Vecchio, 52 years old. I’ve been employed as a gardener in Charlotte, NC, USA for 35 years. Always fascinated by the world of nature and continually learning more. Traveling across South America has been an eye and mind opening experience. Partly, it is a physical and mental challenge that I’m never sure will be met, but it is the experience of sharing with the other members of our team that comes to mean so much. It might be harmony we share or it might be a problem that must be worked out. Riding down a desert road forces me to realize how much I need my companions.

The people we see each day are living lives most of us in the US don’t understand. Each day we see wood being carried, food grown and harvested and simple homes being built or repaired. Life moves at a slower pace, as do we, cycling across this huge land. It is a very gratifying experience after crossing such large expanses of dry desert and rocky mountains to ride down a canyon to a green, sweet smelling valley. Each piece of land that can be irrigated is carefully cultivated for food and beauty. These people always seem glad to help us strangers as they must help each other day to day.

Today we are in Arequipa, Peru. The next stages will be long and I know each day will hold surprising sights. When I get home everything will seem a little different.

Riders Note: Arequipa is about 60km off the Pan American Highway in the Andes at about 7,500 feet. The distance above is to the turnoff. The road to Arequipa is only 2 lanes, very busy, very curvy and very hilly. Not recommended for children.

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