Friday, October 29, 2010

Bring the hat back

Cusco was horribly touristy and there's a limit to how many times you can politely say 'no gracias' to offers of 'massages sir massages?' or embarrassing bobble hats made from genuine llama (and definitely NOT cat) hair.

Arequipa however, seems a great place. A bit like Brighton or Bristol, lots of good places to eat, lively bars, markets and no offers whatsoever of genu-eeeen 'Ray bin' sunglasses. Yesterday we headed to Moleno Sabandia, a local ranch. We hired a couple of horses and for two hours I felt a bit like Clint Eastwood and cantered around the dusty paths and whistled western tunes in my head. Although I felt like Clint Eastwood, I looked very much like a gringo in flip flops, board shorts and a sombrero which despite being the largest they had, still sat on top of my head like a skull cap. Nonetheless my outward appearance won't affect the (completely false) memory of being a nearly genuine cowboy for an enjoyable, if chaffing, afternoon.

Before we came to Arequipa, we went out into the mountains around Ausangate ( link). It's a giant mountain at 6372metres and pretty remote. We hired a muleteer named Chino (so called due to his, well, chinos) and a mule named Pablo (he didn't have a name, but Chino pandered to his new gringo friends and their instant emotional attachment to his beast of burden). The trek itself is about 80km and is a circuit around Ausangate and takes about 4-6 days. The whole circuit is very high, all above 4000m and the Palomani pass at 5165m is the highest point, a couple of hundred meters higher than Mont Blanc. On the second day and as an aside to the trek, I climbed Qampa, at 5500m. The scenery is truly amazing in its variety and vastness and you felt like you were somewhere that people shouldn't really be. Chino was a great muleteer, and despite our initial reservations due to him looking about 14 years old, he proved competent. He was actually 18 and strong willed and a polite struggle over who would prepare dinner and more importantly what to cook, became more pronounced each passing day. He usually came out on top and refused me the four eggs I wanted for dinner on the third night, telling me that 2 was enough. The conversations usually went something like; Me - 'Si si si', him - 'no no no' repeated enough times until I got the huff and went off to pretend to do something more important. He is in training to be a mountain guide and at the end of the trip I gave him my binoculars and have rarely seen anyone so happy. Fay however didn't quite have the time of her life. The altitude effected her badly and although she had moments of appreciating how spectacular the whole adventure was, they were almost certainly outweighed by sheer, undiluted anger at me for persuading her to come along. Freezing temperatures, steep paths, a severe lack of oxygen, a couple of angry Alpaca shepherdesses at 5am one morning and 'green bean ready brek' (imagine) are all difficult to handle when you have a stinking cold and an annoying boyfriend who can't let 'Egg-gate' go. Often throughout the trip we were hassled by local dogs that would bark at us menacingly. They were all bark though, and would get confused, stop barking and look a little embarrassed when we didn't run away (which we probably would have if it weren't for Chino and Pablo). Then with two days to go the shaggiest, dirtiest of dogs approached as if we had just saved him from a burning house. We named him the borderline racist name 'rasta' as his hair was in what looked like dreadlocks and he was, well, black. He then followed us for two days, sleeping in the snow outside our tent, encouraging us up mountains, chasing his tail in happiness every time we stroked his pungent fur, until we got back to the tiny town of Tinqui. We had to say an emotional farewell from a taxi as we left him sitting in the middle of the street, silhouetted against the afternoon sky, feeling very much like we had just punched a puppy in the face, which wasn't that far from the truth.

That same night we got the overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa and arrived here on the morning of 27th and checked into a comfortable hostel to make up for the nights in my damp, cold tent. Today I've felt naked. The taste of a sombrero has left me wanting more, and I've been irate today that people everywhere only wear stupid American baseball caps. It's time to bring back the hat. Anyone know where the BFG sombrero hat shop in Peru is?

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