Thursday, February 18, 2010

Entering Arequipa

Somewhere around three in the morning, I woke up.

It was far too hot on the bus to sleep comfortably. The air conditioning vent overhead did nothing. The windows were fogged up. It was a gross mess of terribleness. The only respite that I could find was throwing as much of myself as I could against the window, trying to such the cold from the window, and outside, into my body. Legs, arms, and feet all found purchase. While this was not a perfect solution, it was one that made it possible to close my eyes and return to some semblance of slumber.

In and out of sleep I would transition for the next few hours. Six aye em we rolled into the bus terminal, allowed outside, and comfort was returned. It was a wonderful thing, comfort.

There we were in Arequipa, the white city. Some folks will tell you that it's called the white city because of all the volcanic rock used in construction. There is just one problem with this assumption: when the city was dubbed the white city all the buildings were covered in multi-coloured paint. The city was named after the skin colour of those who lived here. Apparently Arequipa was predominantly settled by fair skinned Spaniards.

Still – none of that mattered at this point. What mattered was getting to the hotel, finding the shower, and spending the next twenty minutes there de-griming. Bus grime? Far worse than airplane grime, or train grime.

Well, with that taken care of, once more relishing my newly purchased 2in1 shampoo plus conditioner, I headed down to the lobby where our group would be led on a tour of the city by our guide Tad. Being a local boy, he knew the city quite well. And indicated where we should draw certain things on our maps – such as invisible barriers keeping us from danger zones, and “bad guys” who hand out between two impressive bridges. Most of the city was a safety zone, but after Lima, it was nice to know where one, perhaps, should not go.

We were also informed on what taxis were acceptable to take, and which ones should be avoided. The story goes that some taxis will take you to who knows where, pick up some more people who will then proceed to beat the snot out of you, and rob you. The taxi will then drive to the middle of nowhere, where you will be relieved of your clothes and sent on your way. Peru!

Our walking tour would take us by a number of sites that were of importance, but it wasn't until we made our way to the top of a church that I first found myself impressed. The location was mostly deserted, but it offered views of the mountains hanging over the city that I had somehow missed until this point. One of the mountains was an active volcano that, when it erupts, will wipe the city off the map completely. What a heart-warming thought that must be to those who live in the shadow of the beast.

Nevertheless, Arequipa is Peru's second most populous city, so it can't be that great of a fear.

When we hit the local market I felt as if I was in a place, not my home. Sure the fresh fish, and the beheaded chickens reminded me of China Town, and the creates of fresh vegetables and fruits didn't seem all that strange – but there are some notable differences. And these come to light as one approaches the live animal section.

In a small alley, after passing Jugo de Rana booths (we'll get to this in a moment – also slightly distressing) you come across boxes and boxes of small cuddly animals. There are boxes of kittens, puppies, and guinea pigs. Three different boxes of cute fluffy animals. And yet – one of these things are not like the other.

Pointing at the kitties we were told, “pet.” Pointing at the puppies we were told, “pet.” Pointing at the guinea pigs we were told, “dinner.”

Tad bought a hairless Peruvian puppy, thus saving it from a terrible fate, I'm sure. The price of said puppy? About fifty dollars. I can only guess at how much that breed would cost back home. It reminded me of a little elephant, and if I ever end up with a dog of my own, I would very much like it to be of this ridiculous looking breed. It's unique. While I'd known about the creepy hairless cats, I'd never seen a dog that looked that way. You'd save a fortune on haircuts.

Upstairs was like a pet store of doom. More cute animals such as small bunnies, and other such things, surrounded by chickens, and ducks, and less desirable creatures were all on sale. Also for the purpose, I'm sure, of dinner.

Jugo de Rana. So – what is Jugo de Rana? Well I will tell you this, Jugo means Juice and Rana? Well that's frogs.

Now wait – wait – if you're Canadian you've probably had clam juice – if you enjoy a ceaser then you've had that already. Clamato isn't trying to hide what it is. Now I've always wondered how you juice a clam – and now I think I just might know. I watched the process of making frog juice.

Step one? Grab four froggies from a tank of live frogs. Put them in a sack, smack said sack as hard as you can onto a wooden table, leading to their instant demise. Which is probably for the best, because the next step is putting said frogs straight into a blender (What's green and red, and travels at one hundred miles and hour? Clearly the person who wrote that joke had been to Peru.)

Once the frogs have been turned into slurry, a glass is prepared with powders, liquids, and who knows what else. Then a strainer is placed over the cup, allowing for the frog juice to sluice through while the chunky bits are left out of your delicious beverage. Well, I assume it's delicious – the people buying it seemed to like it. Tad told us he'd never had it, nor did he feel he would ever need to consume such a thing.

I couldn't bring myself around to try it. And I regret this.

Just outside a lady was selling purple corn juice for sixty cents a pint (sixty Peruvian cents – so what? A quarter?) but it wasn't regular purple corn juice. This was the fermented version. About 2% alcohol we were told. I would be surprised if it was even 1.5%, but still – cultural experience. You could buy it to take home in reused coke bottles.

Fun fact, coke comes in 500ml, 2250ml, and 3100ml sizes here. No two liter bottle for you.

After our tour around town I bought some food at the grocery store and retired to my hotel room where I would waste away the day until dinner.

Dinner was at a local restaurant, and was delicious. Nothing like some well cooked Alpaca. Whenever I heard of this animal, I think of a persona I knew in high school who had Alpaca catalogs, who seemed determined to start farming them. I wonder if that ever went anywhere. And if so, would he know of how wonderful they tasted? Sure most people farm them for the wool – but, you know, they have other used too.

On the way home the two British boys discovered a bottle of rum is about two quid. It was a defining moment in their Peru trip, I'm sure.

1 comment:

  1. Arequipa is an amazing city, I stayed a week and I could know a lot of places like Colca Canyon, Mollendo, Camana and other places. Also, the food is delicious and people great. During my time in this wonderful city I stayed in Libertador Hotel which I recommend because has an excellent service. They helped me to organize all my tours. Its website is if you want more information


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