Friday, June 11, 2010

If You Don't Like Where You Are ... Just Go Somewhere Else

I like Arequipa very, very, very much better than Arica.  It was a long travel day yesterday, and my bus got here about two hours later than it was supposed to, but I was so happy to get here that it didn't really matter.  Arequipa, in southern Peru, is in the midst of mountains and canyons (including at least two deeper than the Grand Canyon), and is a lovely, lively city which is actually HOT during the day.  I could walk around in a T-shirt and Tevas quite comfortably.

I caught the train from Arica at 9 a.m. yesterday -- there are two a day that make the two-hour trip to Tacna, just over the border in Peru.  Border crossing is extremely easy this way -- you get "stamped out" of Chile at the station in Arica, and "stamped in" to Peru at the station in Tacna.  It's not a long distance -- only 60 km or so -- but the train is an antique wooden one-car variety that chugs along at a leisurely pace.  It's a charming way to go, though, as long as you're not in a hurry, and I doubt I would have enjoyed a collectivo ride to Tacna as much.

From Tacna train station, I caught a taxi to the bus station and, forgetting I was now in Peru and was supposed to bargain for my taxi fare, paid well over the odds for the ride.  I probably made the taxi driver's day when I just paid what he asked, instead of trying to bargain him down; Chile and Argentina both have metered taxis so I'll have to get used to a different way of operating.

Taxis aren't the only difference.  The bus was much more comfortable than I expected -- a double-decker semi-cama almost as nice as an Argentine or Chilean one, instead of a chicken bus -- but they don't serve you on Peruvian buses, it seems.  Instead, people bearing all manner of drinks and snacks swarm aboard the bus every time it stops; one guy was even selling hot chicken dinners, carefully packaged in tinfoil trays.  I had a tasty empanada con pollo for the princely sum of 1.5 soles (about 50 cents).  (I have to change my Spanish pronounciation, though; I said "po-zho" for "chicken" like an Argentine instead of "poy-yo" like the rest of the Spanish speaking world.  I'll have people thoroughly baffled as to where I'm from if I walk around talking with an Argentine accent.)

My hostel -- the charmingly named "Home Sweet Home" -- is great, but oddly bereft of Australians.  They are the most common backpacker species everywhere else I've been in the world, but the only one here is my San Pedro buddy John, who just got here tonight on the bus from Arica.  Lots of Canadians, which is also unusual -- either we as a nation haven't embraced the whole backpacker culture, or we mostly choose to go to different parts of the world, because there haven't been many in South America. 

Main square of Arequipa
I'm off to the Colca Canyon tomorrow for a two-day trip (the one-day option left at 3 a.m., so I nixed that idea), and spend today wandering around Arequipa.  The main square and cathedral are breathtakingly lovely, built mostly of sillar, a white-ish volcanic stone that glowed softly in the hot sun.  The interior of the cathedral is light and airy, unless most cathedrals here which are heavy, dark, and Gothic; Arequipa`s is cream with white molding, remindering me strongly of a wedding cake but appealing nonetheless.

Iglesia de la Compania (yet another Jesuit church) is also stunning -- the original sacristy is completely covered, all over its walls and dome, with vivid, multi-coloured painting in a jungle motif with flowers and gaudy tropical birds.  Apparently the Jesuits did this because the missionaries would head out into the jungle from here to convert the locals, so the decoration would prepare and remind them of where they were going.  Who knew that strict 17-century Catholic priests could be so whimsical?

There is a gorgeous 400-year-old convent nearby, too, which I spent a couple of hours wandering around.  It`s a maze of tiny but comfortable-looking cells, airy open patios and narrow cobblestone streets that meanders over a few city blocks.  It was founded in the early 17th century but not opened to the public until 1970; the Dominican nuns kept the building firmly for themselves for a few centuries.  About 30 nuns of the order still live in cloistered quarters in the convent.

Even older religious traditions are on display as well, in the Museo Santuario at the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria.  It`s devoted to the discovery of Incan child sacrifices unearthed at nearly 6,000 metres altitude on a nearby volcano, and has a wealth of detail about the Incan ritual and the objects obtained from the burial sites.  The Inca believed that the mountains were gods, and if their gods exhibited any signs of displeasure (such as an eruption) they would offer sacrifices as appeasement.  Children of noble blood were usually selected and carefully prepared for the ceremony; they were given sedative drinks before their death so (in theory) would not have suffered. 

Looking at the face of the mummy on display in the museum -- a 12-year-old girl sacrificed about 500 years ago and buried on top of the mountain -- I wasn`t so sure she died peacefully.  But is it any worse that the Inca did this in the name of their gods, than what the Spanish of the same time did in the name of theirs?  The Inquisition would have been happening in Europe at about the same time as this girl died, and it would be hard to make any argument that the Catholic Church was any more "civilized" in this endeavour.

I`m back in the hostel now, and I must go make dinner soon.  I only had coffee for an afternoon snack, at a place that looked suspiciously like Starbucks but was called the "Cuzco Coffee Company" (actually, I think it WAS Starbucks, cleverly disguised so no one will know they`re attempting to take over South America too.)  So I`m a little hungry -- but I have to remind myself how to cook quinoa first, though, since it`s been a while.  I was tired of rice and pasta, and it seemed appropriate to try the local grain, so I`ll give it a whirl.  I found broccoli again, too, so I`m jazzed.  (Funny, I never used to get excited about buying green vegetables in Toronto.)

Hope all`s well in your respective corners of the world.  I`ll let you know how the canyon is -- it`s supposed to be spectacular, and there`s one point called the Cruz del Condor where you can see the magnificent Andean birds in action.  Can`t wait!

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