Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hello Peru, Goodbye Stomach

I've been a bit quiet for the last few days - at least on this blog. In real life I've been making quite a variety of noises, most of which are associated with an infection of the digestive system. Yup - not twenty-four hours into Peru, I suffered the revenge of Atahualpa and two days later I'm starting to recover. The problem was made worse by a sequence of misdiagnoses. After a fantastic morning in Arequipa (more on that in a moment) I started to feel aching muscles and fatigue. Arequipa is at almost 2500m so I figured that this was the beginning of altitude sickness. I took one of the pills we had bought in Chile - the nuclear option of soroche remedies. It did absolutely nothing but demonstrate its most clearly posted side-effect as a diuretic. I then moved on to the sunstroke theory. We had spend much of the morning outdoors and I was wearing heavy clothes, a small rucksack, but no hat. It was only when the floodgates opened on all access points to my alimentary canal that I conceded that I must have eaten somthing rum. Quite possibly back in Chile, but I can't say for sure.

Thanks to the various wrong turns down the diagnostic decision tree I have taken more medicine in 2 days - both in terms of quantity and variety - than in the previous 2 years. I am not exaggerating. In fact all I have eaten over this period of time has been pills. I'm not a traveller, I'm a bleedin' astronaut. (The matter is made worse by the fact that according to Letizia the food here is excellent). The final insult was having to take a 6 hour bus trip from Arequipa to Puno, with a corresponding altitude increase of about 1300m. When all you want to do is sleep and return to the sensation of being human, being driven for 6 hours to a place that promises to starve you of oxygen is not high on the to-do list.

Like bungy-jumping, these things can be overcome simply by doing things one step at a time without overly morbid thought for what lies ahead. We are now in Puno, acclimatizing nicely to the altitude (though I still wheeze when I try to shave) and with a full day program laid out in front of us tomorrow: The floating Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca, and the nearby Temple of Fertility (which promises to make the Penis Forest of Waitomo Caves' stalacmites looks like a nunnery).

Medical bulletin concluded.

Arequipa is known as the White City because of the stone it is constructed from. Viewed from a landing plane it did not appear to live up to its name. On our approach, all we saw were shanty towns strewns across small canyons. Canyons can be very inspiring to look at, but when you're down that low, and all you really want to see is a runway, they lose some of their charm. The aircraft stormed over the ridge of one such canyon, swooped over the last few corrogated iron roofs, and landed with zero panache but considerable velocity. Welcome to Peru.

The Peruvian Paradox: Peru is a much poorer country than Chile, but if you are a tourist you'll find it easier to deal with. Tourism must be high on the national priority because everything seems geared to a much greater extent to visitors from abroad. So far we have found more english spoken in the hotels, airport pickups (which we normally consider to be options for octogenarians - that reminds me: Happy Birthdays Uncles Jerry and Micheal :-) are typically free, as is wifi (though the latter is also true of Chile). It's a lot cheaper here than Chile as well, and if you're not addicted to international hotel chains you will find many excellent hotels to choose from here, with excellent friendly service. These things matter a lot to the weary traveller.

Our pickup from Arequipa airport was well organized (and I could even fit my Zimmer frame into the boot), and after ten minutes in the car we understood where the city got its name. The historical centre of Arequipa is eye-wateringly beautiful. When we hit the steets after checking in, every turn of a corner commanded a new photograph from Letizia. I should remind readers that every picture you'll see on this blog is taken by my talented wife, and the only role I play is to hold her coat and handbag, and get the hell out of the shot. Nina, Sara and I know the drill by heart now. Tenetemi questi e spostatevi.

In my next post on Arequipa I will describe the fantastic morning we spent there before medical matters intervened. My memories of the place will be enduringly positive. In the meantime here are some of those photographs. Great credit must be given to the handbag holder.

From Arequipa

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