a southern yankee abroad



Keeping Up in Arequipa

Arequipa (pronounced air-a-keep-a) has been both Sarah’s and my favorite town in Peru so far! Known as the “ciudad blanca,” the town center is comprised of beautiful white stone buildings sitting beneath Misti, an active volcano. IMG_8968IMG_8969We arrived in Arequipa Thursday morning via overnight bus, and made 3 friends at the bus station to share a taxi with into the city center. One of these friends (a guy from Holland) told us about a fabulous local beer and chocolate shop, so we made plans to go here at noon together. After settling into the hostel, we met 2 girls from Germany for the second time (we had first met them back in Paracas!). They also knew our Dutch friend from a prior encounter (it’s so funny how small the world of Peru travelling is…you meet the same people over and over along the path!), so the 5 of us left for beer and chocolate at noon. The spot is called ChaqChao, and reminds me of a place I’d find in Brooklyn back home! It was just as good as its reputation. After enjoying some local brews and chocolates on the rooftop, we left to join a free walking tour of the city after grabbing a quick lunch. We soon decided to forego the walking tour and just relax and wander around the city together. It was nice to have such a laid back, unstructured day to soak in this new city with new friends. We also met the cutest baby alpacas ever!IMG_8974


As Sarah and I had to wake up at 2:30am to leave for Colca Canyon the next morning, we went to bed at 8pm! The next morning, our guide picked us up at 2:45am and we left for Colca Canyon. It is a 3 hour drive to the Colca valley, and we stopped for a traditional breakfast in a village called Chivay (I tried quinoa juice and it wasn’t bad!). I was getting very cold with the few warm items of clothing I had brought, so I bought alpaca gloves and a beanie from a lady in the marketplace here for only 15 soles (about 5 USD).

Chivay at 7am


A cute puppy stretching in the Chivay market

We then continued up the mountain, where we stopped to do some trekking and soak in the views. I found the terraces in the valley to be captivating. Farmers built these terraces 1,000 years to cultivate the land to grow quinoa, corn, and potatoes. This means the terraces are older than Incan civilization!13412103_10207720326418684_70914105280173378_o.jpg


Also, we were fortunate to see several Andean condors cruise overhead and through the valley. This is the reason our tour started so early–condors are most active around 8am as the heat rises, thus allowing them to glide and use less energy. Our guide told us that condors are a monogamous creature, and 2 condors in love always glide together. So, it was fun to watch these 2 literal lovebirds cruise overhead for several minutes! So adorable! Interestingly, if the female dies first, the male will not seek another partner. But if the male dies first, the female will find another partner. Fascinating!IMG_9131.JPG 


We then continued on to a natural hot spring, where I soaked for a bit (it was freezing to get out though!) After a traditional lunch in Chivay (more ceviche, yum!), we continued on to the highest accessible point in Colca Canyon–an inactive volcano at 4,910 meters high (or 16,000 feet!). Sarah and I were both feeling woozy from the altitude, which made us worried about the huge 10 hour trek we have coming in a few days (hopefully we are acclimated by then!) Afterward, we continued back to Arequipa, where we decompressed for a bit then went to dinner at a cute sidewalk restaurant, where we enjoyed some vino and a Peruvian version of Italian food!


This morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the hostel, where we befriended a U.S. Marine also traveling through South America for a few months. Interestingly enough, he is also starting law school this fall, so we had a lot to talk about! He joined us as we toured Arequipa’s famous Santa Catalina monastery later in the morning. The monastery is laid out as a mini version of the city of Arequipa, and it is quite easy to get lost in the “streets” of the monastery. There were several beautiful courtyards and a modern art gallery, and it was interesting to also see how the nuns lived in centuries past.IMG_9218


A creepy nun mannequin in the monastery! 

IMG_9198.JPGIMG_9187After getting lost in the maze of the monastery, Sarah and I went on to do some shopping for some authentic baby alpaca goods. Baby alpaca fabric is the softest version of alpaca wool and is always from an alpaca’s first shave, meaning it is pricier and more rare but a higher quality than regular alpaca. Arequipa is known for its alpaca goods. I was excited to find a baby alpaca scarf/poncho that I can wear 8 different ways for only 120 soles! 🙂
On our last night in Arequipa, Sarah and I attended a Peruvian cooking class, where we learned how to make stuffed rocoto, pastel de papa, and soltero de queso (my favorite!). We really enjoyed getting to know the other students in the class from Germany and Brazil!


IMG_9227.JPGThis morning, we flew to Cusco and met our friend Rachele. Now, it’s time to prepare for some of the literal high points of our trip–Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu!

Wat’s up?! Monks, Cooking, and River Cruises in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has been a perfect start to the trip! After going to dinner and out with some very new friends on Thursday night, I woke up at 6am on Friday (thanks jetlag!) to plan my next 2 days in Chiang Mai. Fortunately, my hostel had a full-time travel agent on staff who was able to help me plan some fun things.

I spent Friday morning exploring the area. After shopping for a bit and trying to talk myself out of buying items to add to my already heavy backpack, I wandered past Wat Bupparam on Tha Pae Road (a wat is a temple!). I walked through the gates to check it out, and noticed a monk doing his chants in a small side temple on the complex. I took my shoes off and stood outside, not wanting to interrupt but curious all the same. He looked up from his pages, smiled, and waved me in. I sat with him as he finished his chants. I couldn’t help but feel very humbled as I sat with him–just the 2 of us in the temple. I was not planning to take a picture, as I assumed this would be disrespectful. However, after he finished his chant, he gestured for me to take a picture. I asked/gestured to see if he was sure this was ok, and he smiled and nodded his head. So here’s my monk friend…I am so grateful that he made me feel so welcome, even though I was clearly very awkward and lost!

My new friend 🙂

After more wandering around, I then spent the afternoon at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (you can read about that here).

Saturday morning, I headed to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep with one of my Canadian friends from Thursday. The trip to the wat took about 30 minutes in a songthaew (a taxi where you sit in the back of a pick-up truck!) and the ride was a very steep uphill climb. Once there, we trekked 300 steps to reach the wat, removed our shoes and explored the temple. It had an amazing view of Chiang Mai!

The sassy monk statue on the right is throwing shade!
View of Chiang Mai from Wat Doi Suthep

After visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, we took a cruise of the Ping River to a small farm down the river. The other two people in our boat happened to be Bible translators. I learned that over 1,500 of the 6,000 spoken languages in the world have no written form.Their work is to visit remote villages in areas of the world where there is no written alphabet and work with the people there to use an international phonetic alphabet to create a written language. They then translate the Bible, as well as information regarding best agricultural practices and healthcare that can be helpful to the community. At the farm, we visited the various crops and had a delicious lunch of lemongrass juice, longan juice, tamarind juice, and fruit before cruising back to Chiang Mai.IMG_7541

The cruise passed the summer home of the princess of Thailand!

Above: U.S embassy in Thailand, black chickens, and a man fishing

After relaxing back at the pool at the hostel for a bit, I went to a cooking class with Mam at We Cook. After visiting an open air market to buy ingredients, we headed back to Mam’s house, where she taught us all about Thai cooking. Mam is absolutely fabulous…I learned a lot about strong flavor groups and balancing sweet, salty, hot, and mild flavors. The class was full of several other solo travelers, and by the end of the 5 hour class, we were all good friends after laughing at each other for 5 hours. I made spring rolls, green curry, tom yam soup, pad thai, and sticky rice with mango. Yum yum!

Crushing spices for green curry. It’s hard work!
Mam checking our work. She demanded excellence!

Tomorrow, I say goodbye to Chiang Mai. It is such a special place, and I’m happy it was my very first stop for the summer!  

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