Holding my "Senor y Senora Schwitz" sign at Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport, I was quickly spotted by the two gringos I was waiting for. Welcomed with hugs, kisses, and exclamations of "You look like you have grown!", my cover had been blown to the entire airport community. Mom and Dad had finally arrived for their long anticipated trip to Peru! Our adventurous trio would soon be headed off for a fun-filled weekend to Arequipa, Peru's second-largest city, and Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world. Directly upon their arrival, I made sure to remind Mom and Dad that they should avoid drinking any tap-water in Peru. Duly noted. Just before we nodded off to sleep, I figured it would not be a bad idea to remind them again. It was already too late, as they had both already taken down a couple glasses of agua just minutes before. With this ominous beginning, it looked like we were in for a long weekend touring the restroom facilities of Peru.
Mom and Dad's first taste of mate de coca!
Arequipa, located in Southern Peru, is not as oft-visited by tourists as some more famous parts of the country, but it is incredible nonetheless. Surrounded by the volcanoes of El Misti (pictured below), Chachani, and PichuPichu, it has held the nickname "La Ciudad Blanca (The White City)" because many of the buildings were constructed with sillar, the white volcanic stone.
In our first day in Arequipa, Mom was showing off her newly acquired thief-proof pocketbook. Unfortunately, this impenetrable defense system did not come with a fool-proof guarantee, as Mom quickly found her pocketbook wrapped around her hair, requiring the steady hands of an orthodontist to untangle.
After recovering the pocketbook with no loss of Mom's beautiful curly red hair, we went to see the mummy of Juanita, an Inca girl who was sacrificed at the top of nearby Mount Ampato. At the time of its discovery in 1996, Juanita (or the "Ice Maiden") was championed as one of the world's greatest archaeological discoveries because of the nearly perfect condition the body was kept in after being frozen for 500 years. As if it were on cue, we were quickly informed upon entry into the museum that Juanita was not currently on display because the mummy was being refurbished for a couple weeks. Nonetheless, the museum had an impressive display of other artifacts from the archeological find, including another mummy discovered at the peak of Ampato. Topping out at 20,630 feet, the Inca's ascent of Mount Ampato solidified their spot in my weekly rankings of the most hardcore indigenous South American civilizations. Good luck next week Nazca.
Our first night in Arequipa also turned out to be pretty interesting. The atmosphere was great as hundreds of people were walking the streets and street vendors covered the roads. We knew this had to be some sort of celebration, as it was the Thursday of Semana Santa (Holy Week), but we were not quite sure what it was. However, wherever we walked it seemed as though huge crowds of hundreds of people were walking in the exact opposite direction of us, constantly impeding our progress. We later figured out that on this night it was a tradition for the citizens of Arequipa to visit every one of the 12 or so churches in the city. Apparently we had chosen to walk in the opposite direction of this enormous rotation of people the entire night.
After our day in Arequipa, we were off to Colca Canyon. Accompanied by our knowledgeable guide, Carlos, who is a native of Arequipa, we drove high into the mountains on a rocky road, precariously overlooking a drop of thousands of feet. On the way up, we took our time spotting out wild vicunas (a relative to the llama) and other wildlife, while taking in the gorgeous views.
At its highest point, the road is nearly 16,000-feet above sea level! Momma Schwitz, who has notoriously felt ill at high altitude, was doing well until she felt a little sickness coming on. Though my brother and Dad still believe my Mom's altitude problems are fake, the vomit in the van was definitely not. Still, Mom fought through it and did not have any problems for the rest of the trip, once again retaining her title as the toughest member of the Schwitz family.
Carlos told us that a group of scientists from Poland were actually the first to conclude that Colca Canyon was the deepest in the world, and they even went further saying that the Pollish "discovered" the canyon, although people have been living there for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, if a Polish person comes to you bragging about this "discovery" just shake your head and smile, they usually don't have too much to celebrate about. The canyon supposedly has an average depth of approximately 11,000 feet, so it is not the ideal place to take a tumble. Though it is significantly deeper than the Grand Canyon, its wall are not as steep so pictures do not do it justice.
In our second day at the canyon, we took some short hikes around the rim. Mom and Dad showed their tremendous flexibility while struggling to get around an incredibly tiny aqueduct:
We also had the chance to see the Andean Condor, with the largest wing area of any bird in the world. After waiting on the rim for a few minutes, condors swooped by just yards away, and we we were able to take some sweet photos of the massive bird.
Beyond seeing the unbelievable nature and wildlife in Colca, we also were able to visit some villages there, including Chivay and Yanque. The isolation of these towns is incredible, but it was nothing compared to some villages we could see from the rim of the canyon, where you would need to hike several miles, often over mountains, to get there.
On our way back to Arequipa, Mirador de los Andes, the highest point on the road, actually had a fresh layer of snow! Just hours after an epic snowball fight, we returned to Lima from Arequipa, instantly coming back to the warm and tropical weather on the coast.
With no serious injuries and no major fights, our trip to Arequipa and Colca was a tremendous success for a Schwitz family vacation. Though I spent a large portion of my time as my parent's personal translator (I never knew that someone could pronounce "gracias" incorrectly), I had a great time introducing Mom and Dad into the Peruvian culture that I had already assimilated myself to.
After spending one afternoon in Lima together, they were headed off to the Sacred Valley to see Cusco and Machu Picchu, while I would continue my rigorous studies. Left behind with delicious baked good from Mom (yes, mandel bread, if you were wondering), we said goodbye until our next adventurous encounter in the Garden State!