When You Get Sick in Peru – Or – Our First Week in Arequipa

Although we thought Alex had kicked his bug after a day in the hot, half-finished hostel in Paracas, we were oh so wrong.

We arrived in Arequipa, Peru’s “White City,” on Saturday morning after a 12-hour night bus from Ica. After seven weeks of travel, we were ready to settle down for a little while. It turns out this was the best decision we have made thus far.

The night we left Ica, Alex started to lose his voice but we figured his throat was just irritated by the dusty desert. By Saturday morning he could barely speak but physically, he still felt OK, so we spent the day exploring Arequipa’s city center, which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Arequipa is called the “White City” for the local white “sillar” stone used to build its historic buildings.

The city is beautiful, ringed by three mountains (Chachani, Pichu Pichu and Misti), all over 5,500 meters, and bifurcated by Rio Chili.

Although it is the second most populous city in Peru, it feels incredibly quaint. The city center is a visual feast, from the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets to the quaint courtyards and windows covered in bold iron work and, my favorite, all manner of massive wooden doors with gorgeous decoration and embellishments.

Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas is particularly lovely, surrounded by the twin-towered Cathedral and three colonial-arcaded buildings.

One of the main reasons we chose Arequipa for an extended stay was for the food. We had read great things about the Arequipena cuisine, but more importantly Alex was dying to do some cooking of his own.

So, on Sunday, we made our way to the city’s famous Mercado San Calimo, the biggest food market I have ever seen.

I absolutely love farmer’s markets and we seek them out in most cities we visit. San Calimo is definitely one of the best. It covers multiple city blocks and vendors are packed in and grouped according to the type of food they are selling.

There is a section devoted to fruit, another devoted to olives, one devoted to fish, another to juices and another to bread. There is even an entire section devoted to potatoes (potatoes are native to Peru and over 3,000 varieties are traced back here).

Alex spent the rest of the day in the kitchen, making us a delicious (and traditional) Potato Causa while I headed back to the city center to leisurely soak in the views, take photos, and visit the Museo Santuarios Andino, home to Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden.

The museum houses artifacts collected from the graves of four children, sacrificed by the Inca people to the gods, on Volcan Ampato near Arequipa in the 15th century. The children were only discovered in 1995 when eruptions from an adjacent volcano melted the glaciers atop Ampato. The compulsory tour is short and culminates with an opportunity to view Juanita in a lucite freezer. Frankly, I found the whole thing a bit creepy. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside, but the colonial courtyard around which the museum is situated is quite lovely.

On Monday, Alex’s lost voice turned into more cold-like symptoms while in the afternoon my stomach started to do flip flops. By Monday night, I was curled up under our down comforter, with chills, aches and a fever. Just like Alex a week earlier, my fever broke the same night but I would stay in bed for a few more days. By Thursday I felt much better but Alex was now four days into an incessant cough, so we headed to the local clinic.

Luckily, Clinica Arequipa is just a few blocks from our house. We arrived at 8am, took a number and waited. When our number was called, we approached the window and Alex explained that he speaks only a little Spanish and handed over his tablet where he had already typed out his problem and used his handy translation app to explain it in Spanish. We were told immediately to come back at 4pm. Huh? We repeated what we thought we heard in Spanish to make sure we understood and the nice woman behind the glass partition confirmed that we should return at 4pm.

So at 3:30 we returned to the clinic with our housemate Ana, an incredibly friendly woman from Guatemala who offered to come along to help translate. We paid the consultation fee of 177 soles ($58), were given a room number and told there were four patients ahead of us. Not bad, we thought, and set out to find the doctor’s office. We found seats in a crowded hallway and waited. And waited. And waited.

After two and a half hours, Alex’s name was finally called. In a lot of ways, the handsome “Dr. Mc-Suenos,” was what many American doctors aren’t: he took his time, provided thorough explanation and consistently confirmed that Alex understood. After a thorough examination, he sent Alex on his way with a prescription and instructions to return on “Martes, man.” Alex returned home at 7pm with a diagnosis of Laringotrequeitis aguda (an upper respiratory infection or “the crup”) and an aresenal of medication.

Now all that’s left to do is file a claim with our travelers insurance…which may warrant its own blog post down the road.

7 thoughts on “When You Get Sick in Peru – Or – Our First Week in Arequipa

  1. Great blog. We hope you both are finally feeling better. It looks like too nice a place to have to stay in bed feeling bad. Beautiful pictures as usual. Dad Madden


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