An Introduction to Arequipa

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Written by  July 20, 2017

Roberta interacts with locals and discovers curiosities as she starts her placement in Peru.

Here I am in Peru, waiting for a combi with an amazed expression on my face while staring at the snow on the top of El Misti, the towering volcano visible anywhere in Arequipa.

Love or hate them, combis are the incredibly cheap local buses that go around big cities in Peru. One Peruvian sol (about $0.30) gives you access to a ride between the districts of the Arequipa region. You need to have outstanding agility in order to get on the bus while the doorman shouts into the crowd "¡Sube sube!" ("Get on the bus quickly!") You need to be ready to say “Baja! Baja!” ("I need to get off!") if you want the bus to stop for you. "Fasten your belt" is not an expression, as belts do not come with the package. However, the ride includes a happy selection of music hits of the last five decades or some rock music, depending on the driver’s taste and mood.

After listening to one of Rihanna’s earliest songs and a bit of a walk, I am giving a kiss on the left cheek to one of the Peruvian friends that I just met. Such a friendly way to connect with them. But, be warned: Peruvian men do not like kissing each other, so a good tip would be to shake their hands if you are not close friends.

The audience in San Lazaro square sway to the rhythm of Laguna Pai, a local reggae band, with a bottle of Cusqueña or Arequipeña brand beer in hand. No better way to spend my first Friday night in the famed White City, Arequipa.

Later that night I feel warm under my duvet and ready to get a good sleep. Yes, I need the duvet. While Arequipa is sunny for 300 days a year with around 23-26°C during the day, at night the temperature drops to 5-8°C. Sounds perfect, right? Well there is no heating in a lot of the houses here. No worries; thick pyjamas and hot water bottle will do and they will also help to save the environment. Same with laundry; there is no washing machine in this guesthouse, which provides a job for people who will wash and dry your clothes in just one day for about three sols per kilo. It's perfect for for light-weight travellers.

Peru is so rich in history and food, art and music culture that each day feels like a discovery.

The next morning, I feel hungry and I am happy to stare at my empty fridge shelf because it means that I will be getting a tasty chicken, beef or cheese empanada (lovely flaky pastry) for three soles from the nearby bakery. Or, if my sweet tooth calls, a churro con manjar (fried dough filled with condensed milk) for one sol from the street vendor will do. There is a wide variety of food in Peru that also differs by region. I cannot wait to try each dish accompanied by a typical cocktail made with the Peruvian liquor pisco.

Peru is so rich in history and food, art and music culture that each day feels like a discovery. In Arequipa, for example, you can get lost in the biggest monastery in Peru and then go to a free salsa or bachata dance to burn off a heaping plate of rocoto relleno (stuffed chilli peppers) that you just gulped down. While dancing, you may wonder if you are running out of breath easily because you are out of shape or because of the altitude (Arequipa is located at 2,838 metres of elevation above the sea level). This will prompt you to take your tea with coca leaves the next morning to get a boost of energy before a new day starts. Then, you will be ready to walk further into this new adventure you are already in love with.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Roberta Fregolent

Roberta Fregolent is volunteering with the NGO Helping Overcome Obstacles in Peru, in the city of Arequipa. As a Programme Assistant she helps develop their Educational, Health and Social Development projects for disadvantaged children and women.

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