The 4-Weeks Series: #3 – Arequipa

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.

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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.

My last night in Arequipa at a rooftop cafe in Plaza de Armas – new friend Milly on your left and my British host Melissa on the right. The cafe provides traditional ponchos because it gets pretty cold. We looked GOOD. LIKE SEXY BATS.

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.

Graduation lunch
Graduation lunch where we took pictures smack in the middle of a super busy restaurant

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.

Overlooking El Misti and Rio Chili from Puente Bolognesi. You can go whitewater rafting on this river.

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. 

Rocoto relleno at the local market
Buñuelos (donuts)
Anticucho, cow’s heart. I had a bite and only one bite. It’s good, but it’s very in-your-face.
Papa rellena with chicha

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.

Plaza de Armas
One of my favorite places to visit, the square at Mirador de Yanahuara
Weekly Sunday Parade at Plaza de Armas

5 Not Best Things

1 through 5: THINGS. Noise. People. Traffic. Malls. Traffic. Traffic. Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise. People.

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.

At Tiabaya visiting a new friend. About 25 minutes by local bus from the city center. Nice to get away from the noise for some fresh air.

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.

Readers, I would not disappoint you. Of COURSE I made a face in one of the pictures.
And try to not be this guy if you do visit

Now to await responses for my Couchsurfing requests. Ay caramba.

Cusco

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.

Peruvian and Cusco flag at Plaza de Armas

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.

Deceivingly “shallow” stairs that will kill you

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.

Looking at downstairs at the hostel – it has its own bar
Upstairs

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.

Quoricancha/Qorichancha/Coricancha/Quricancha or Temple of the Sun – the most important temple during the Inca Empire. I did not hire a guide but I should have as there were almost no plates describing what anything was. Beautiful place though.
The stonework inside
You can walk around the garden outside as well – those stone steps were scary to go down
The courtyard
Proof I was there – behold the picture quality

Neat details everywhere –

Many blue things here, no? I have not seen a lot of reds.

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.

Fountain at Plaza de Armas

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.

This dude was imitating the military people marching

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.

Some food stalls – mine was less flashy

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.

Chicha lady and customer

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.

This was about $2.85, which was not that cheap by Peruvian standards. I couldn’t finish it all though.
Scary

I know I know I know, I’m tired of pictures of the vintage Beetles too, but I couldn’t help it.

Phew. Okay. Hopefully a more meaningful and informative post next time.

The 4 Weeks Series: #2 – Weird Arequipa/Peru

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 don’t take coffee with milk.
  • Mayonnaise and mustard comes in a packet.
  • 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).

Photographic Exhibits:

Que
Rage face notebook. The thing that makes this weird is that it belonged to a SUPER shy and quiet Peruvian girl at the school and I just…people buy stuff here not knowing what it says on the item.
No
NBD just some unidentified meat drying on our laundry drying lines
Arequipa Fashion Week
Kill or Dead
I felt so bad for this guy. And then I took a picture.
An ingenious makeshift paper towel holder
Banana Lady

Below are some bookstore finds.

As I uploaded and wrote the caption for this picture, there were girls behind me who surely saw it. Readers, this is how much I am dedicated to you.
This was carefully wrapped in plastic

Yes

I used a bathroom at the big local market. I had to pay and they gave me a ticket and some tissue paper.
Stamps. Fried guinea pig at the bottom.

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.

The 4 Weeks Series: #1 – Homesickness & Loneliness

I graduated from the course today, will move out of the apartment tomorrow, and stay at a hostel for about a week. I plan to travel a bit before deciding on a city to teach in. It has not sunk in yet that I am moving “on”, what ever the “on” signifies.

Because so many things have happened in the past four weeks, I thought it would be best to do a short series of major experiences, realizations, and ponderings I encountered during that specific period of time. I know this first one is kind of a downer but it’s an important one. Some (tentative) upcoming posts in the series include the graduation itself, thoughts on teaching, weird stuff in Arequipa/Peru, social interactions/exploring, and Things I Have Learned. I hope I can get them out in a reasonable amount of time.

Without further adieu – thoughts on homesickness and loneliness. PARTY TIME!!

I think it’s important to separate homesickness and loneliness. The two are related but also vastly different. By my definition, when you are homesick you have a general idea about what you are missing – significant other, parents, friends, pets, family, neighborhood, general comfort and familiarity of home. Loneliness on the other hand is severely isolating because it is a vacuum of nothingness and uncertainty

Homesickness is out of my control but in a more controlled environment. There is something or someone at the end of the Homesickness Line (like a Metro line) which creates a sense of tangibility. You know what is back home. You know it’s there. You just can’t have it, but at least whatever you are missing exists.

There’s no such assurance with loneliness. You feel completely alone on this planet that has 7 billion people. There is no end in sight with loneliness – that’s why it’s so crippling. You don’t know why. You don’t know what. You don’t know how. You. Just. Don’t. Know. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it for some reason or other.

The last characteristic of loneliness is that it can hit you even if you live with a sense of purpose.

image
Memento from home

I have surprisingly not gotten homesick thanks largely due to technology. I email and Skype friends and family often and keep up with social media. That is not to say I haven’t had my moments but considering it was one of my biggest fears before leaving, it has not been bad at all.

Loneliness on the other hand has been extremely challenging to address. I am naturally not-so-outgoing and have a tendency to be sad more than happy (I’m working on that though!). It has been exacerbated by the fact that I lived with a British couple and a roommate who was in a relationship and had no issues whatsoever befriending people. When you are surrounded by people like that, the laws of human brain dictates that you are bound to feel left out (source: my vast background in neuroscience). They would be laughing and interacting while I…well, I wasn’t.

I can see how having a stable relationship with your significant other would help in these situations. You have a guarantee every single day that you will have someone to talk to, someone who cares about you. That is significant. Sure, I have great friends and family and I talk to them often but it’s different. That’s why we don’t marry our family or platonic friends. We need meaningful human interactions. Anyway, I digress.

I tried my best to tame the beast. You have to remember that the point of loneliness, as I mentioned above, is that it’s beyond writing or talking to your friends and family. That ship has long sailed. The best solutions were usually exercising, going for a walk, and/or taking pictures. Least appealing option was to just ride it out.

It also helped to talk to people. I don’t mean the obvious roommates or classmates but cashiers, janitors, security guards, taxi drivers, et cetera. Yeah, I realize I was pretty desperate when I did that, but it helped. It’s not the deep connection that drives and makes us thrive, but when you feel like there’s nobody in this world any bit of interaction was a lifesaver.

I also asked myself the “w” questions. Why am I feeling lonely? What happened or did not happen that lead to this feeling? How can it be resolved or alleviated? It’s important to identify the source of problems.

A picture I took from one of my walks when I felt especially alone
A picture I took from one of my walks when I felt especially alone

I am not sure which is worse: feeling alone when I’m with a group of people or feeling alone when I am alone. I think the former is worse for I have to pretend that I’m okay. It’s usually not their fault, though.

I don’t know how to wrap up this post. In the four weeks I have felt alone more times than I would care to count. As I explained, I developed some go-to techniques I perform when the loneliness hits. I think it’s also in my inherent personality that makes me feel so lonely. Anyway, the point is that it’s okay to feel lonely but you can’t wallow in it. Face it headfirst. Sorry it’s such a lame wrap-up – I wish I was Ian McEwan – he explains emotions so well.

I was unsure about keeping a blog but I am glad I have it because it helps with the “meaningful human interaction” aspect.

A more upbeat post next time.