Friday, January 15, 2010

Arequipa: Adventures in the White City

Lord of the Rings fans might be slightly upset that I am not referring to Gondor when I talk about the White City, but it's what they call Arequipa: the older buildings in the center of the city are made of sillar, a volcanic rock (made possible by a generous donation from the three active volcanoes nearby), and the result is that the central plaza's buildings are pleasantly whitish, but bearing the marks of age in such a way that I genuinely felt that I was in a city that had been around for quite some time.

It's a beautiful place. There's always sun during the day, it's always a bit chilly at night, it has sunsets to rival the Bahamas, has amazing vistas, and the downtown area is completely accessible to pedestrians. We took a taxi once, not including the trips to and from the bus terminal.

But let me begin with the bus ride: it was very long.

I think that's all that needs to be said. The owner of our Hostel ("Amazing Home," and it lived up to its name), Alex, greeted us as we left the bus. He runs the Amazing Home with his family, and they couldn't be more helpful, kind, nor hospitable. They made us breakfast in the morning, Alex helped us plan a bus tour and a trekking adventure in Colca Canyon, and they all have amazing smiles. If you ever go to Peru, go to Arequipa. And go to this hostel.

I got my fair share of sun on this trip, especially when we were on the open level of a double-decker tour bus. Yes, I did a touristy thing. Let's not dwell on it. Nor on the ridiculous visor they gave us. Especially not on how burned my nose got because I, in a rush, didn't put sunscreen on. That day, I literally saw the undersides of my arms change color: from a white color that would make nobility of the 16th century jealous, I saw little red specks appear. It was amazing to actually see my Northern European heritage in action.

On our third and fourth days, we went to Colca Canyon, which will be getting its own post.

We went to the museum where they keep Juanita, the mummified indigenous child sacrificed atop a mountain to please the gods. She's famous because of how well the ice of the mountain preserved her. I went away with a couple of observations: 1) That girl is TINY. I know that she was young, and that I am taller than many, many people in Peru, but goodness gracious. 2) I want the lung capacity and cardiovascular system of the Inca. They climbed that mountain without rock-climbing shoes, with minimum rope, without mules or llamas, and probably managed to maintain their religious procession the entire time. And it is a STEEP mountain.

I have a habit of emulating accents. In Peru, this is nice, because I quickly shifted from sounding like I had a Brazilian accent to having a Peruvian accent very quickly. In fact, I might have overdone it and emulated the way my kids talk too closely, which would make me sound like a mumbling adolescent Peruvian, which I'm not too keen to have, but whatever. So yeah, great when speaking other languages. Not so great when meeting other expatriates. When I talked with the Australians, I had to fight not to go Australian. When I talked with the English guy, I'll be darned if I didn't notice myself beginning to imitate him. Not much happened with the Scottish guy, because my instincts told me that I just couldn't imitate his accent without sounding like Willy the Scottish Janitor from the Simpsons, and if I were a native Scot, I'd be none to thrilled to hear that as feedback to my thoughts. I blame this habit of mine on my mother (love you, Mom) after hearing that when she and my dad picked up a hitchhiker from Dublin, Mom was droppin' her g's an' givin' a lilt to her words. So yeah, on Wednesday night when we met up with some folks we had met on our excursion to Colca, I had some issues.

All in all, the best thing about Arequipa was the fact that it was vacation. I needed some time to breathe and be in a new atmosphere.

Oh! Arequipa has great food. Rocoto Relleno is lovely, Ocopa is delightful, and they're a good shrimp/crawdad city.

As an afterthought, my only real complaint would probably be that the trash collectors have an obnoxiously loud noise to alert people that they're coming so that people can drop what they're doing, grab their bags, and toss them in the truck. The form the alert took? The beginning of "Fur Elise" by Beethoven. However, our friend Ben made up for that by waltzing with himself on the balcony of a restaurant for our restaurant and all of those restaurants sharing said balcony (and possibly passerby in the Central Plaza below) to see.

That's all I've got at the moment. Next post: Colca and/or Photos. And maybe emo musings if I can't muster enough interesting information and/or photos.

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