Cities of Southern Peru: The Giardia Days

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*Disclaimer: This post contains a significant amount of whinging and self pitying caused by the wish-you-were-dead parasite, Giardia.*

If you're still reading and can handle another story where I complain about being sick, settle in for a few tales of city hopping through Southern Peru.

It had been three weeks since our arrival to Huaraz, and though we weren't desperate to leave the Andean paradise, we decided it was time to explore a little bit more of Peru. Plus we had just heard of a very intriguing place nearby called the Huayllay Stone Forest. Now when I say "nearby", I mean the rock forest was a mere 200 Kilometers away from Huaraz, but we were unable to find a single bus company that would take us there. Still convinced Huayllay was the place to be, we began our 2 day bus journey to get there. First it was back to the unpleasant urban chaos of Lima. This is when our little friend Giardia started to mess with us. At first it wasn't so bad, and we wrongly accused the cute (and somewhat sneaky) Andean cheese ladies for selling us suspicious cheese. Little did we know we had only ourselves to blame...

Flashback to the Huayhuash trek when I discovered that the range was populated by thousands of cows. You know what doesn't make a very nice concoction? Cow patties in your drinking water. Combine that with a water boiling temperature of around 86 degrees, and us being enthusiastic to the point of impatience when it came to our nightly pasta.. and boom bang we have ourselves Giardia!

Naive about what awaited us, we dragged our half healthy bodies onto the first available night bus to the city of Cerro de Pasco. The way there was smooth and rather restful, and soon enough we were pretty unsuccessfully trying to pronounce "Huayllay" to the various collectivo drivers. Eventually one gave us the iconic "what a stupid gringo" look as he deciphered where we were trying to get to. It was only about 45 minutes in a packed to the brim mini van before we were dropped on the side of the road in the collection of buildings known as Huayllay. I was immediately struck by the size of the Stone Forest, there was much to explore here. We made our way to the visitor information booth and tried to explain to the lady that we wanted to camp amongst the rocks for a few days. After a lot of confusion about where we could camp, we paid the bizzarely inexpensive fee of 2 soles (about 40 cents) for as many nights as we wanted. Feeling exhausted from a night on a bus and a not so friendly parasite in my body, we both decided the first order of business would be a nap.

This so called "nap" of ours actually ended up lasting about 36 hours. In the brief moments I was able to arise from our cove of sickness and glance around me, I could feel the incredible animal shaped rocks staring back at me. The Pachamama (Quechua Deity) was obviously on an imaginative 70s style acid trip when she created this place. It was surreal. I was pretty eager to regain some strength and go on a rock animal safari.

After resting for a whole day and then some, we were ready to take ourselves on a little walk. As with all of our walks in Peru, a random dog appeared and decided we were worthy walking companions. It didn't take long before we came across a massive herd of llamas, and our new dog friend was especially keen to show us how tough he was. The llamas were tougher though, and Doggo came within centimetres of death by llama leg. The real life llamas were a highlight and created a lovely juxtaposition with their stone counterparts. Like walking through a zoo, we found ourselves staring at the tortoise, python and elephants until the sun began to set.

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Another day of heavy rest and walking through the petrified zoo, and we headed back to Cerro de Pasco. After gratefully catching a ride back to town, it started piss pouring rain, we were feeling pretty off, and it was Canadian Thanksgiving. We also discovered the bus tickets we had purchased were for the day before and the company wasn't showing any sympathy. Reluctantly we bought another set of tickets and settled in one of the countless Pollo ala Brassa restaurants for a makeshift Thanksgiving feast. As if the rain, depressing Thanksgiving dinner, and ticket sham wasn't enough - the bus back to Lima would prove to be a taste of hell.

Some necessary background info, the streets and highways of Peru are littered with speed bumps. Our bus driver was under the delusion that if he accelerated to top speed and then slammed on the breaks before the speed bumps, we would get there faster. He may have been right, because our bus trip back took half the time of the one there. But this came at the cost of not a soul aboard getting a wink of sleep, and us being dropped off in the backstreets of Lima at 4 in the morning.

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What do you do at 4am, homeless, sick and desperate for sleep? In our case, we stared off into space for a solid 2 hours contemplating not much at all except the slow death of the bus driver. Eventually we gathered our wits and caught a taxi to the bus station where we were delighted to find a bus to Ica leaving within minutes!

Greeted by a blast of hot desert air, we were happy to be in Ica. It was a surprisingly big city and (no surprises here) we were tired. The search for a hotel was short, and in no time we were showered and in bed. The next day we were feeling fresh and symptom free, so we set off for the famed desert oasis of Huacachina. Only five minutes outside of Ica, Huacachina is more like a suburb than it is oasis. Solely populated by toursits and tourist swindlers, it is a bit like stepping into a resort. But I wasnt complaining, who doesn't need a little bit of pool time?

Feeling a million and ten bucks, we spent the extra 10 on a bottle of wine and hiked to the top of one of the nearby dunes to watch the sunset. It was our first bottle of Peruvian wine (I am ashamed), and as we excitedly poured the first plastic cup full we discovered that Peruvian wine is super, super sweet. It was like drinking melted grape popsicles, but hey the alcohol content was still there and we were on top of a sand dune watching the Sunset! The bliss peaked after the stars showed themselves and we got to tumble alllll the way back down the dune. Rip roaring fun.
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We decided to continue our whirlwind tour of southern Peruvian cities, so we caught a bus to Arequipa. Like a couple of typical cone-licking tourists, we walked, we ate, we walked, and we ate. Arequipa is a truly beautiful city and there is a lot to do in the area, but once again, our little parasites decided to make themselves known. Getting hit with sickness again in made us reluctantly realize that it was, indeed, Giardia. Unfortunately we had booked ourselves in to (much needed) Spanish school in Cusco, so my parasite and I boarded a bus to there. Another hellish night bus, but this time the blame went to my newest nemesis, Giardia.

Week One in Cusco left a very literal bad taste in my mouth (thanks to the med Flagyl). With giardia now on the defensive, my frustration turned to the meds for making me feel simply horrendous. Spanish school was a very helpful and long week, the days only being differentiated by what we ate for dinner. The last dreaded dosage of the Flagyl pills came along just in time for Miss Kristin and Carolyn to arrive for a visit all the way from the Great White North. Let's just say that day I finished giardia off by spewing on the side of a church, and welcomed alcohol back into my life by falling casually asleep at the pub.

Finally life was back to normal.

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