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Altitude, Adventures and Avocados

Four airports, three planes, two layovers, one destination: Arequipa, Peru. Stepping off the plane and realizing you’re well and truly in another country is always a slightly wild and exhilarating feeling. We made it! A brand new continent, a brand new country, and we were there ready to explore. Well, ok, we were ready to sleep like the dead, but exploring was the next thing on our list. Promise.

This week was all about acclimatizing to our new surrounds, beginning with Spanish lessons in the morning. You’d think that four hours a day would drag on and on, but I was surprised by how quickly the time passed in the classroom and how much our Spanish improved after such a short period of time. We’re finding it easier to talk with taxi drivers, waiters and waitresses, and merchants. It also helps traveling in a group so if you forget a word, someone else can pipe in and finish your sentence (thanks India!). We’ve explored as much of Arequipa as we can by foot, walking an average of 3.5 miles a day around the city. (I think we’d all like to pretend that walking up staircases doesn’t absolutely wind us, but for now at least we can blame the altitude).

We began by exploring the area closest to us, Plaza de Armas. This included the Basilica Cathedral (where Emma very gracefully slid - read: fell down - the stairs) and two smaller churches nearby (where Davina, Emma, and I accidentally walked into an ongoing evening service). This was followed by the Saint Catherine Monastery, where we got an in-depth look into what life would have been like for a nun in the 18th century (as it turns out, nuns got to learn to read, write, play instruments, and generally stick it to the man). We also got to go to Alpaca World and learn about the process of turning llama fur into usable material (it’s all sorted, combed, washed, and spun by hand without chemicals - I think I’ll stick with my washing machine). We also climbed a bit to the Yanahuara overlook, where we got breathtaking views of two volcanoes and the sprawling city of Arequipa at dusk.

We ventured a bit outside of Arequipa to the rural district of Sabandía, where we visited a flour mill built in 1621 (it has since been partially turned into an alpaca, duck, chicken, and guinea pig farm). However, I think our favorite adventure so far has been white water rafting down the Rio Chili. There’s nothing quite like paddling down a freezing river in a damp wetsuit that brings a group together. It was cold, but we were shrieking and grinning and laughing the entire way down the river. While Emma and I had rafted a few times before, it was a brand new experience for India, Davina, and Abi - and it was quite an experience. Our guide, Will, liked to spin the raft around so we went backwards or sideways down the rapids, meaning we got soaked more than a few times (always in good fun).

The good part about walking everywhere is that you’re hungry by the time lunch and dinner come around - but I think we have yet to eat an entire meal from start to finish. The meals here come in three parts: starter, entree, desert. Except that the starters are also the size of the entrees, so by the time you’ve gotten through the starter, you’re already full. We’ve had more avocado in the past week than I’ve had in the past year. We’re also pretty sure we were served alpaca meat at one point, though our guide swears it was beef. All in all, I think this week in Arequipa has been a good bit of time to get used to being away from home and get used to each other. We’ve had fun comparing England and America, swapping stories about friends, families, and ex-boyfriends, and we’ve only had two trips to the hospital so far, so I think we’re off to a pretty good start!

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