From desert we turned into a low, broad, green valley with rice paddies. We hurtled over the river bridge at Camara and found ourselves immediately back in the desert, right down to the ocean. Again we turned inland, a sign reading 17X km to Arequipa zipping past so fast I didn’t get the last digit. Here the already arid desert sand turned white with patches of what I suppose must be salt or lime. Nothing at all grew here; the earth itself seemed crusted over. Over flat land went the bus, driving past many small crosses planted beside the roadway. People had died here, whether of accidents or thirst I know not. Some minutes later I could see fields of maize, lines of trees acting as barriers against the wind. Another sign whipped by, this time for or to a place called Apiao.
Now the sun was breaking through dawn’s early mist. All around were green fields of maize and sunflowers, irrigation canals, cattle. The bus began a steep descent into a valley, the Massibe gorge, another green valley with a respectable river running through it called the Siuhas.
Climbing back up the other side of the valley we were back in a spectral desert again, the sand dunes formed into regular crescents by the wind blowing up from the ocean. Another descent into a verdant valley, over the river Vitor, the bright green, flat fields surrounded by dry unbounded sand round looking for all the world like a smaller version of the Nile.
This time we clambered out of the flat lands into rocky hill country, the bus swerving abruptly each time we came to a curve in the road – and there were many. Over the top of the last escarpment and I could see, in the far distance, the sharp rise of volcanos. We were heading into Andes territory at last! The vegetation changed too – now, along with the ever present maize, were acacia and cactus.
Through a broad valley floor the bus carried on, through cultivated fields interspersed with barren patches. We passed a place called Pampa de Camarones (what are prawns doing here?) and ever so quickly we were obviously in the outskirts of Arequipa.