Last time we found ourselves experiencing the highs and lows of long distance travel and how altitude sickness is no match for a mild cocaine bevvy. By now we were adjusted to the time difference from home but I was still to find out just how the altitude sickness gods had other plans for me. Part 1 can be found here.
We left for Arequipa the next morning. I thought I was past the worst of the altitude sickness though I did feel a little fragile. We had a few hours to kill – it is a 15 hour coach journey and I have no memory of that so I guess we flew. Sadly I cannot recall. It was during the day that my teeth began to ache. Just a background hum really, like an ear worm for toothache, catching me out when I thought I’d forgotten about it. By the time we landed my guns, in the back of my mouth felt tender and while I could open my mouth I really didn’t want to.
‘Classic altitude problem’ said one know-all companion. ‘It’s your wisdom teeth.’
I had recently turned 30 and was unaware of having wisdom teeth. I mean, I supposed I probably did but they hadn’t made any appearance as far as I knew and we had ignored each other, quite happily.
‘What do you mean?’ This is what I wanted to say but all I recall managing was a dribbly ‘wasssusezzz?’
I wrote down my question.
Mr Knowall explained. In his view the air pockets inside my wisdom teeth was at a sea level air pressure. Having shocked the little darlings with a sprint up to 14,000 we were now settling at 7,000 in Arequipa. Since there was no release valve, until the pressure adjusted of its own accord or I went back to sea level I was destined to feel like my back teeth wanted to explode. He even looked in my mouth and confirmed that, despite me feeling like my gums had swollen to twice their size they were in fact normal.
I don’t think he said ‘Grin and bear it’ because I would have killed him, and I know I would have remembered becoming homicidal, but that was the implication.
While I massaged my gums and pretended to be brave we went for a stroll with our new found friends looking for some food. I was beyond chewing but I could manage alcohol. That met with universal approval.
‘Let’s try Pisco Sours.’
Ok. Some of you may have not come face to face with this Peruvian speciality. This is an explanation. Two years after this trip I gave up alcohol for good; having drunk Pisco Sours may be part of the reason I fell out of love with booze. I might be elaborating fractionally but my memory tells me drinking a Pisco sour is much like swilling your mouth with the rinse cycle from a washing machine while intravenously having scotch bonnet chillies pumped into your colon. I had several during that holiday, each time I was promised the quality of the Pisco would make a difference to my opinion. Each time I became more and more convinced it was the ‘Pis’ in Pisco’ that was the clue.
We spent 48 hours in Arequipa, visiting some local sights and sampling amongst other local delights as Coy, a small roast turd that was once a guinea pig and the local corn beer, Chicha which was thick and beetroot red and as indigestible as pulverised car tyres; I later found they used saliva to help the fermentation process which, if true, did nothing for either flavour or texture.
So I had to fall back on beer, cerveza and wine. The beer was okay, a bit weak but potable. The wine, though…
Remember this was 30 years ago and the local wine making, like its British equivalent may now be top notch. Back in 1987 is lacked a certain flair. We asked the mine host what he recommended. We were given a bottle of red. That was the extent of the choice. Ok, what could go wrong? After all we had been students within the last decade. Surely drinking fermented bleach was nothing new?
Vino Tinto Don Cortez was a miracle of misplaced enthusiasm. Whoever decided that the grapes growing wherever they did on some sun dappled Andean hillside were ripe, literally and metaphorically to be converted into wine was on the extreme end of the optimist scale of human personality types.
Each of the six of us sipped our glass; I think it is fair to say that, that evening we explored a variety of expressions that could be collectively be grouped under the ‘astonished’ banner. As you do, if something is awful but hasn’t actually killed you, you take a second sip. Nope, it wasn’t going to improve with age. Someone surmised that it was following the introduction of a bottle of Don Cortez that wine tasters began to spit out their mouthful.
To the others, curtailing their drinking was a small price to pay. But I simply couldn’t handle solids. I had tried bread – the glass sharp crumbs were too painful; scrambled eggs – like grinding gravel into my gums; and had resorted to pressing fresh mango and papaya between my now almost completely closed teeth to try and ingest some nutriments. I was exceedingly brave but unappreciated. Dammit, I hadn’t come on holiday to lose weight.
The fact is our time in Arequipa was a delight; our hotel had a roof garden that looked over the main square. If Lima introduced me to bougainvillea then Arequipa went one better and I found the jacaranda tree with its stunning lilac blossom and delightfully soporific jangling seed pods. Slowly I recovered my ability to eat and enjoyed some pleasant downtime. Sometime I’d like to go back and experience Arequipa without discomfort. It seemed a town at ease with itself and certainly fit for purpose – as long as you stuck to the cervezas.
Next stop Puno and Lake Titicaca…