PHEW! What a week! The time in Arequipa has flown by. We arrived after just under 24 hours of travelling and were greeted by Maria and Alejandro: the project leads for Ecuador and Peru. After eating Papa John’s in Bogota airport, the first dinner was very welcome! We are staying in the bustling centre of the city, next to the cathedral square called the Plaza de Armas. Everything is within walking distance: today was the first time we got in a car since arriving!
Arequipa is dubbed the ‘White City’ because of the white porous volcanic rock through which the city is built. The buildings are rather low (which we think helps with earthquake survival,) and allow an almost uninterrupted view of the city from many viewpoints. The views are simply stunning- it’s nestled between three volcanoes. The largest, Misti, hulks over the whole city like a disapproving uncle. Most of the time, the peak is cloud free and you can see the seemingly impossible snow cap.
For our first day, Alejandro gave us a walking tour of the city. The centre of town is a weird mix of busy roads with people selling their wares to tourists, and quiet courtyards and churches. We were shown round the main cathedral and saw their display of gorgeous Catholic art- huge crosses and crowns set in gold with thousands of precious stones. The view from the top of the cathedral is spectacular, and Alejandro managed to ring one of the bells, which sounded out across the whole square. Our spanish lessons are going pretty well, with Ben, Izzy, and me in one group, and Katy and Robbie in another. None of us are very good right now, but we’re learning fast. Of course, simply being in the communities will be an even better teacher.
A highlight of the second day was our visit to the Recoleta Monastery (now disused.) It held an epic library as well as another set of bells, which we just HAD to ring… The cathedrals and monasteries are interesting to walk around- the architecture is very European in some ways, but the four meter plus columns that guard against earthquakes make them distinctly Arequipan.
The food is, in general, very good. The first night might be the best yet. Robbie and I enjoyed a massive pepper stuffed with mince and potatoes. Our lunch budget forces us to eat good local food, with the locals. This mainly comprises of soup, followed by spicey meat (usually chicken) and rice. We’ve even tried Alpaca steak (which tastes a little like duck.) Dinner’s a different story. We visited a French creperie two nights ago, which I am unashamed to say was one of my personal favorite moments of the week! Because we’re going to be eating lots of local food in the communities, we’re not too worried about eating authentically in the cities. We even had Turkish last night.
Today, we went white water rafting! Italo and the other guides were really cool and spoke perfect English. Even Izzy, who wasn’t a fan of boats, really enjoyed herself. Boat 1 was capsized, chucking Italo, Robbie, Ben, and Alejandro into the freezing waters of the Chilli river. Alejandro lost his sunglasses, and Robbie was the only one to stay with the boat. The river runs super-fast and is quite the ride. The fact we were all new to rafting didn’t really matter. We really enjoyed the opportunity to cool off after a hot couple of days in the city centre. A great morning out.
Tomorrow, we’re going to a Peruvian football game, and after that, on to the communities. I won’t be blogging from there, but will upload in two weeks time once we’ve finished our first fortnight of volunteering, which we’re all really looking forward to!