I need to get caught up here, because the first three days have been so packed that there has been absolutely no time (or energy) to write much of anything! So day 1 is below, as best as I can remember it 3 days later- so much to say!
On our first day we left Arica in Chile and rode about 10 minutes to the border with Peru. Much paperwork needed to be shown in order to get out of the country – our tourist cards received on entry were surrendered, plus the bikes needed to be documented as Chilean so that they would be allowed back into the country later. This required 3 separate stamps per person and about 45 minutes or so overall. We then proceeded to the Peruvian side, where it took an additional four stamps per motorcycle to be allowed in (no prohibited agricultural items, proper registration, which people were assigned to which motorcycle, and all the usual immigration stuff. This was another hour. The saving graces in all this were that all of the officials were fairly friendly, and that the clock went back two hours upon entering Peru, thus negating the time we had spent standing around. Our guide Klaus’ fluent Spanish was essential here. I cannot possibly imagine trying to negotiate this process on one’s own without being able to speak the language.
Now finally, the ride to Arequipa began. We buzzed through the desert for a little while to the closest town, Tacna, where you meet the Panamericana highway. This part was easy, straight, flat, and boring. No vegetation whatsoever for miles around. However, you would see lots of itty-bitty little brick and cinder block huts scattered around from time to time. Nobody was living there and there were no people around, so what was the deal? Klaus explained later that this is sort of like the Homesteader’s Act. People do this to stake a claim on a little piece of property, so that in case water or anything valuable is ever found there later, they can claim, “Hey, that’s my house there, I already own that piece of land.” Best of luck to them, whoever they are.
This sort of riding persisted for a few more hours, moving a bit more inland, until reaching the first piece of greenery we had seen in the entire trip, a small town called Moquegua, where we stopped for lunch. As we were parking the bikes, Klaus ran ahead to make sure our appetizer was ordered: Cui frito, or fried guinea pig:
As you can see, poor fluffy arrives with teeth and all four limbs still attached. All I have to say is, well, it really does taste like chicken.
After lunch, we continued on to Arequipa, which is at an altitude somewhere around 8000 feet. This is where we got our first real taste of urban traffic. It is exactly what you would expect from a small, crowded city where traffic laws are more like “suggestions.” We arrived right around rush hour, and so we formed up into a relatively tight pack and tried to keep together as Klaus led us through a twisty little maze of passages, all alike. We were still regularly cut off by taxis, buses, and trucks of various sorts, but we were usually able to pass them again within a block or so and get back together. However, it was still a mildly harrowing experience overall, and I would wager dollars to doughnuts that even the worst urban U.S. traffic has nothing on South America from a hazard standpoint. Eventually we reached our hotel, the Libertador, which is a truly classy place with a very authentic feel. They opened a gate to provide private protected parking for the bikes, and we gratefully piled into the hotel. They had a beautiful pool and a couple of pet alpacas wandering around the grounds – a real oasis after all of the dry dusty stuff and pervasive poverty we had seen on the way there.
Though everyone was pretty tired from the long day, Dinner was at a nice place nearby called Zigzag, in an old colonial house with a brass spiral staircase that was designed by Gustave Eiffel, probably before going onto larger towers. On the way in, the other tour guide, Axel, and I had a laugh at some other diners wearing some pretty silly looking lobster bibs. We thought it was very Tony Soprano. Well, the joke was on us, because soon our entire group would be following suit. Most of the menu arrives on your plate on a sizzling hot volcanic rock, where the food continues to spit grease at you, and would likely ruin your clothing. So, on with the bibs. The food was delicious, in fact. I personally had a trio of small filets, one beef, one lamb, and one alpaca. The alpaca was very tasty and extremely low in fat and cholesterol, even more so, evidently, than poultry, ostrich, and other lean meats. It was a great meal.