One thing we are spoiled for in Austin is nature. Drive five minutes in any direction and you’ve got a park or a greenbelt on which to spend several hours of any given day, hiking, biking, walking the dog, having a picnic with friends, playing games, listening to music, you name it. Here, green is hard to come by. The climate is dry and dusty, with very little rain during about nine months of the year, so green areas must be irrigated and groomed as well as protected. In parks, you aren’t allowed to be on the grass. You sit on a bench or walk around.
My roommates, one of my students, and I decided to take a nature walk through the Chili River valley with a tourist group here in Arequipa. We thought the walk was for tourists, but actually it was locals who wanted to learn about local medicinal plants, which was even cooler than just a tourist walk.
It was so nice to be out in nature. It was still very dusty, but we walked for hours with the river on one side of us and a trickling stream on the other. We walked through farmland and saw fresh broccoli and cauliflower growing, as well as donkeys and cows grazing and a white horse staring at us from a distance.
We began by meeting at a place called Mirador in the Yanahuara district of the city. It is a lookout point where you can see over the rooftops of the city and have an unobstructed view of the volcanoes.
After a walk up one of the oldest streets in Arequipa, we turned off the main street and onto an alley which eventually became a dusty path in a very rural feeling part of the city. It eventually led us further and further from stone and concrete and closer and closer to greenery and fresh air untainted by the exhaust of cars and buses.
One of the most memorable parts of the day was when Veronica and I were about to take a picture on one of the rocks in the shallows of the river. A Peruvian woman rushed over and pushed her way onto our rock and asked if she could take a photo with us. I can’t really think of any reason why, other than that we are gringos and she doesn’t see many of us. I’ve never been a photo-op before. It was weird, and not as flattering as you might assume. I felt like a sideshow act.
The larger tour group ended up getting separated after we stopped at the river. My small group and I followed a narrow path set into the side of the hill for a while and found a place to rest and enjoy the day. Shade was difficult to find, so Andre and I rested our eyes lounging in a “natural sofa” made of half-dried hay. Veronica and Doris took their shoes off and dipped their toes in the icy river and then lay down in the grass as well. It’s amazing what simple pleasures can do for your attitude. There was something so energizing about lying in the springy grass under the blue sky on a beautiful day.
It was a fantastic morning. I enjoyed seeing a little bit of nature (because a month without it is way too long), and now I know about a place I can go, not very far away, where I can get my fill of trickling water, singing birds, and the color green.