I’ve officially been in Arequipa for three whole days, and it has been something. I can say with a lot of confidence that I am going to love living here.
People travel for all sorts of reasons. My motivation for coming here was to really challenge myself and step outside my comfortable box, learning to live and thrive in a culture vastly different from my own. In the United States, we are spoiled rotten. In my two days here I am realizing how much we have and take for granted that other places do not. That’s not to say it’s better–just possibly more convenient.
What am I talking about? For starters, being able to drink tap water. Though I’m not a fan of the things that are in the water in our taps (like chlorine and fluoride), at least we can drink it without getting the runs for days. I have not experienced this yet, thankfully, as I’ve been really careful, but unfortunately it happens to everyone who isn’t used to the water here, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s my turn. TMI? Sorry. It’s something that the teachers here joke and laugh about openly, as it’s pretty much unavoidable and there is very little privacy in the residences.
Also, we can’t flush our toilet paper. It has to be thrown in the trash after use. Which sounds gross, and is if you let yourself think about it, but in reality it’s really not a big deal. It’s just the way things are.
So now that that’s out of the way, here’s a breakdown of the last few days: I arrived Friday night after a delayed flight out of Lima had me landing in Arequipa about 45 minutes late. I was warned this would happen, as South Americans tend to keep their own schedules. It was rough to remain patient, having been up and moving since 4:30 am. I am not a nice person when I’m exhausted. Fortunately, I managed to keep it together because I knew it was something that was likely to happen, and I knew I would soon be home and sleeping. I was picked up from the airport by the same person who interviewed me, Christian, who is very nice and vibrant. It is almost impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re around Christian. He drove me to the residences through the city, which I sadly couldn’t see much of because it was dark.
I met my roommates (Doris, Laura, and Veronica, all of them very nice and a lot of fun) and chatted for a bit, but I was dead on my feet and needed to sleep. Laura warned me that there are roosters that like to begin their chorus very early in the morning and let me have some earplugs so I wouldn’t be disturbed. I am very glad she did because the roosters start crowing at about 4 am, which is much earlier than I expected.
Saturday was mostly spent adjusting to the altitude. Arequipa is situated at an altitude higher than almost anything in the United States, with the exception of mountain peaks, so I have never been this high up before, and it took its toll on me for the first day. That first night I woke up every two hours because I’d had to drink so much water to stay hydrated. I’d get up to pee, drink a bunch of water, then sleep for a couple of hours and wake up when I had to pee again. It didn’t make for very good sleep, but it was better than being on a plane or sitting around in an airport, waiting.
Fortunately, Saturday did not demand very much from me. Veronica took me to a market called Mercado San Camilo, where all sorts of vendors have stalls and sell their wares. Fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, cheeses, eggs, dairy, snacks both hot and cold, and souvenirs are all sold here. It is loud and busy and very difficult to get a Peruvian merchant to pay attention to your slow, clumsy Spanish when there are many brisk Peruvians waiting to buy their goods. Veronica helped me with the words for various vegetables and I managed to buy broccoli (brócoli), spinach (espinaca), and onion (cebolla). I also bought a kilo of eggs and some mantequilla (butter, and my favorite word in Spanish, so far as I know). We then did some less exciting shopping at another market that greatly resembles Wal-Mart, with electronics and clothes brushing up against the pantry and household items for sale. At this store, Plaza Vea, a man tried to push his grocery cart into line ahead of me, but I sure didn’t let him! I have noticed that people will try to cut in front of me, probably because I so obviously don’t belong and do not know how things work here. Many people try to take advantage of that. By the end of my time here I think I will be very good at asserting myself.
That said, I simply love it here. All of what I described possibly sounds like it’s a place that’s no fun whatsoever, but I am having the best time. It’s really hard to be in a place where you cannot just walk up to strangers and ask directions, or strike up a conversation with someone in a bar. But Arequipa has a vibrancy to it that makes it absolutely charming and beautiful. The streets are dry and dusty, cobbled in many places with shiny black stone. Dogs wander on their own, dodging cars with proficiency and crossing the streets during gaps in traffic. I swear they look both ways, just like we’re taught to do. The houses are often colorful, but even when not, they each possess unique angles and architecture, so that it never gets old to look at them. Above it all sit the three volcanoes, Misti, Chachani, and Picchu Picchu. I will never get used to seeing mountains in the distance, and they fill me with awe every time I catch a glimpse between the rows of colorful houses or over the rooftops of the city.
Saturday night I went with several people to a concert to see a Colombian band whose name I cannot for the life of me recall. I had the best time, dancing and shouting and sipping on a cold beer in the chilly mountain night. Earlier Saturday I had felt homesick and sad, wondering why I had decided to leave all the good things I had in Texas for a place that is so different from my life in the States. But standing out there in front of the stage with new friends, bathed in colored lights, my whole body vibrating with the pulse of the music, I was completely swept away by how fortunate I am to be here. When the concert ended I was completely drained and went to sleep shortly after.
Sunday I explored a bit of the historic streets that are located near where I live. I sat on a bench in Plaza de Armas and read my book, but an artist pestered me to allow him to draw me for more soles than I wanted to pay, so I decided to remain mobile for a while. I was curious about the cathedral at the northeast end of the square and took photos of the outside, but there appeared to be services happening inside, and a guard posted at the door that I couldn’t ask questions of, so I continued to explore.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but on a shopping street off the square, I found a Starbucks, and I went in both for the wifi and for a little creature comfort. It was nice to sit and write in my journal and chat with a friend from home out of the sun for a bit.
I returned home to find a bustle of activity in the kitchen as my roommates prepared for a barbecue to be held for teachers and friends on the rooftop patio. We sat for hours at ate course after course of delicious food grilled by the talented Miguel. I got to meet a lot of kind people and kissed a lot of new faces for the first time. One of the residents here is a French woman, and she made us crepes there were magnifique! It was a wonderful end to an amazing first weekend here in Arequipa and cemented my feelings of belonging.
There’s a fantastic feeling of togetherness here. Here it is not everyone for his or herself. We all help each other and support each other. It is an environment of camaraderie and friendship, surrounded by beauty both natural and man-made. My decision to move here is without a doubt the best one I’ve ever made.