I believe the initial glamor of the blog has worn off but to those of you who are still reading this, thank you. Down the road I hope this becomes more relevant to the readers and not just a “me me me me me me” blog like it is now.
All roads lead to Arequipa, maybe, because I will start teaching in May at the same school I received my certification! And one of my coworkers back home said he may visit Peru in August, including Arequipa! AREQUIPA IS THE NEW NYC.
Anyway. The job is part time (6 hours/day) but it is comforting to know I will not be a traveling hobo and also will be going back to a place with people I know.
At the same time it feels like the biggest cop-out of the century. I left Arequipa with the intention of continuing to travel north and I did not intend to go back to Arequipa. I have not talked about my feelings on Arequipa much until now. I wanted to explore new cities, see which one would be a good fit, and settle there. I left Arequipa because after a month, I felt like it was not a place where I wanted to stay. But at the end of the day I accepted the job because hey, job security and the comfort of being somewhere you already know, right?
I’m a bit disappointed in myself that I took the easy way out when the whole purpose of this trip has been to face new challenges and fears. The consolation is that the minimum contract is for 6 months but many teachers flake out early without repercussion. I don’t know if I will do that but at least I will have the option of not renewing the contract and maybe try on to a new city.
But you know how things like that go – once you start living somewhere, you just kind of keep the status quo….
Anyhow. I am very excited to finally start teaching.
It’s funny, Arequipa feels like my “de facto home” because it was the first place I went to in Peru.
Here are 5 Best and Not Best things about Arequipa based on my first month there. I feel a little “deserving” to say this now that I have Cusco as comparison.
5 Best Things
1. Weather: Basically sunny and beautiful every. single. day. Daytime can get hot – the sun is strong, sunscreen is definitely a good idea – but it’s all dry heat, zero humidity. In the mornings and evenings you can just pop on a light cardigan or sweatshirt and you’re fine. I love the weather.
2. Food: Hello, empanada shops on every corner. In addition to traditional/popular Peruvian dishes (ceviche, adobo, anticuchos, lomo saltado, queso helado, cuy chactado, salchipapas) there are Arequipeño cuisine as well. These include rocoto relleno (spicy stuffed peppers), caldo blanco (soup with chicken broth and potatoes), soltero de queso (salad with beans, tomatoes, queso fresco, onions, potatoes), etc. I ate at both local and touristy places but I didn’t see any real differences (I try to eat at cheap places). The food was good 90% of the time. It’s not special to Arequipa but since we’re talking about food, the vegetables and fruits here are awesome and cheaper compared to US prices. You can also buy fresh bread, oatmeal, tea, juice, and (yes) empanadas from street vendors. I pity the gluten-allergic soul that walks by a panadería.
3. Walkability: Kind of a cheat bullet because Peruvian cities (right, because I’m an expert on that) are very walkable. Most of the time there are clearly-defined sidewalks and the distance to pretty much anywhere is walkable. Taxis are cheap by US standards but with a Peruvian salary it can add up; most people opt for the economic colectivo, the sometimes scary local buses.
4. Colors/Architecture: I posted pictures of those things here before. Arequipa residential areas can be a photographer’s heaven. I’m not an architecture person so I will probably butcher whatever I will say, but it’s a mix of European and native styles. These things are hard to explain. Anyhow, thanks to all the colors and gorgeous architecture, there is less likelihood you will get depressed in Arequipa.
P.S. The colors also include the vintage VW Beetles that come in a rainbow of colors. They are apparently not expensive at all. HMMM.
5. Non-Tourist Destination: It’s all relative but I didn’t see a lot of tourists in Arequipa. The Colca Canyon is one of the major attractions but that is a few hours away. Most of the tourists are concentrated in the main square area where you can see monasteries (like Monasterio de Santa Catalina I posted about before), museums, visit shops, restaurants, and just generally enjoy walking around.
It’s nice to blend in with the locals. Or at least try to.
Arequipa has about one million people and it’s a big city, so of course there is the super busy city center and more peaceful rural areas. I was in the city center. I never got a good picture of the traffic or the more non-picturesque parts of Arequipa life because whenever I walked along a major road I just wanted to get to the destination. The fumes from the car exhaust make your eyes hurt. There is constant honking – oh my god, the honking. Honking in Arequipa is equivalent to trying to resist freshly baked bread with butter: it’s useless. Divers honk even if they are in gridlock and it is obvious that the traffic is not moving. They honk if they are (insert any emotions here). They honk if they see an attractive girl. They honk to let people know they are available. They honk because…they…can.
So I have mixed feelings about Arequipa. That being said, I was only there for a month, the majority of which was spent at school, so what the hell do I know. Hopefully I will get to know the city better.
If someone asked me if they should visit Arequipa, I would probably say “sure?” with that exact intonation. Cusco has more of a “wow” factor as far as the stereotypical prettiness and wow-ness are concerned. Arequipa has its own charm but I think it takes longer to find it.
Now to await responses for my Couchsurfing requests. Ay caramba.
Now that I am deathly and irrevocably behind The 4 Weeks Series – hola from Cusco, home of Machu Picchu, Inca history, and the city flag that is mistaken for the gay pride flag 200% of the time.
I am my own traitor to the blog name. MWHAHAHAH
I actually have a crap-ton of things to write as far as my current traveling, work, and “mental/psychological” (not in a dramatic way but things related to emotions and thoughts) situations go but I don’t want to make the posts too long so this will be focused on Cusco. The super short version is that after I completed my certification in Arequipa, I wanted to see more of Peru so I chose Cusco as my next destination.
Cusco is stunning – no wonder why 800 trillion tourists come here everyday. It is decidedly different from Arequipa due to the geography, history, and population.
I think most people fall in love with Cusco, at least at first sight. I did, mostly due to significant reduction in traffic noise and the number of people. Sure, there are troves of tourists everywhere, but the atmosphere and charm of the place make up for it.
I think being in Arequipa for a month helped a bit with altitude acclimatization but Cusco is something else. I’m fine when walking on flat terrain but any semi-significant to significant incline or stairs and I’m basically dead. That is one of the reasons why I have been holding off on the adventurous excursions like Machu Picchu.
To be frugal, I used Couchsurfing to find a place to stay for free for 3 days. Although the host was nice, the apartment was extremely dark and depressing so I left as soon as humanly possible on the third day. I will give Couchsurfing a try again though – my host was helpful and showed me around the town the first day. I can’t believe people are generous enough to let people live in their homes for free and some even take the Couchsurfers to sites, virtually acting as a free local guide. Couchsurfing also lists local events to help meet people.
I am currently at an awesome hostel called Dragonfly Hostel in a 6-bed female room. This was the first time I chose such an arrangement but so far it has been good. A bit cramped but people come and go and there are spacious common areas where you can hang out.
I have not wandered too much around Cusco, just in the central area. One of the things I love about Cusco is that there are small squares (parks) almost every block so you can almost always find a good spot to relax, people watch, people judge, read, zone out, etc.
There are so many tour agencies and tour options that they make you want to punch everyone and everything.
Sorry this post has not been too informative of Cusco. I’ve only been here a few days and for some reason it has been a difficult adjustment, mostly because I am still getting used to traveling alone. Below is the picture dump – I explain the pictures in the caption.
Neat details everywhere –
Just like in Arequipa, Cusco has a ceremonial parade every Sunday morning at the main square. I have videos of this as well but I couldn’t upload them.
This is probably one of my favorite photos. I was sitting on the bench and these girls came by. For a split second I thought they were selling something and my instinct of saying “no gracias” kicked in – although I didn’t say it – until I realized they were just normal girls with their new puppy, Machu. Yeah, I felt guilty, but stuff like that happens often enough that you develop a involuntary defense mechanism.
Anyway, they talked to me in Spanish and I responded as well as I can. They asked me to take their pictures. I also got to hold the puppy. They were great.
All this to say – as I stated on Facebook – kids remind you to not constantly have something stuck up your ass.
Some awkward pictures that could have turned out well in a parallel universe…but something is off in these…the framing, the quality, etc. Maybe some of you can see where I was going with these pictures. The common theme among these is that I had to capture these moments as fast as I could because in the next picosecond it wouldn’t be the same moment anymore.
I visited Mercado Central de San Pedro, the go-to place for locals to buy mostly fresh produce but this place has everything. It is quite overwhelming. It was too awkward to take pictures but you can do a Google image search. I had a cheap lunch at one of the food stalls. I enjoy those kinds of things because I get to see how the locals live and practice my awful Spanish. The napkin was a toilet paper.
I also got one of my favorite Peruvian drinks, chicha, a sweet drink made from maize. I got this from a street vendor. If you drink it on the spot they put it in a glass; if you want it to go, you get a plastic baggie.
Of course, because this is Peru, a lady selling a cartload of chicharron sat next to me.
Okay, now for real the pictures that don’t really belong anywhere.
Phew. Okay. Hopefully a more meaningful and informative post next time.
I am usually not prone to much cultural shock because I have been exposed to lots of different cultures. More specifically, Arequipa is quite similar to Cebu, Philippines in a way that everything is like a Lego – everything is crazy and they are not the most developed countries but somehow everything works together. However, the weird stuff in each country still cracks me up. It’s the stuff that makes you go “????????????” There are no appropriate words.
Below are some of the weird stuff I’ve encountered. I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.
People have soda (“gaseosa”) with every meal. The surely radioactive, fluorescent Inca Kola was born in Peru. Like France, if you order water at a restaurant they ask you want it with our without carbonation.
Tipping not required. Not “weird” per se or specific to Peru but it feels freakishly weird.
Most people here wear pants or jeans. Rarely do you see men wearing shorts unless they are teens or tourists. This is maddening only because Arequipa can get freakishly hot during the day. I asked some people about this and it seems like it’s because it’s a historically conservative place and the weather can change suddenly (goes from hot to chilly).
Non-stray dogs (aka dogs privately owned by people) are not trained. Drives me into near-apoplectic rage.
Some people do eat empanadas on the street – just like some French people eat baguette on the street.
Tuna cans are like diamonds (cheapest one I found today was US$2.11).
Below are some bookstore finds.
As I write this I am preparing to head off to Cusco, home to Machu Picchu, on Friday. I had some full-on panic mode this week because I had no idea what I was going to do but now I THINK I have SOME kind of a plan.
Eeesh…haven’t even gone through half of my 4 Weeks Series. Eups. So it goes.