This is the first of our “In their own words” series, where we invite volunteers to pen some of their thoughts and share them with the readers of our website. Here are volunteer Kate’s first impressions of Arequipa…
“Hi there, I’ve been a week now in Arequipa and am settling in well.
The White City’s centre is just as the travel books describe it, regally elegant and stunningly bright. Constructed of ashlar, the remaining rock from volcanic foam-like material that spewed across the Cerro Colorado district first 13 million years ago and more recently 2.5 million years ago. Ashlar is used for it’s reflective qualities and keeps the interior of the buildings cool.
I live in the Cayma district (barrio or borough) which is the most modern of all the barrios of the city. It’s really useful for us westerners to allow adaptation. Along the little street where I live, called Las Arces, there are many many many little cake and coffee shops – the Arequipenans love their cake!
At the end of the street is a main road on which it’s possible to catch a ‘combi’ bus to just about anywhere you could want to go. 80 centimos (approx. 20p) will get you a bus ride to anywhere, any distance, within the city and it’s suburbs. The combi bus is a cultural experience in itself. The fare collector, man or woman continually calls out where the bus is, lets the travellers on and off, and tells the driver when to stop to pick someone up or to go on again. The variety of passengers is intriguing to watch. There are Peruvian ladies of indigenous backgrounds with their long plaited hair, their voluminous brightly coloured skirts, waistcoats and of course the essential bowler style hat perched on top of the raven black silken hair. Little black eyed children wrapped up in a variety of brightly coloured clothes and a wooly hat, just in case they catch a chill in the 18 degrees that is cooler than the usual 22! Youngsters in their tight jeans and sassy style tops going into the town centre to meet with friends as it’s the holiday season here from Christmas until the end of February and the end of the heavy rainy season. Old folk with bundles of laundry or shopping carried in baskets or crates or big brightly coloured bags. But no animals. I haven’t yet seen an animal on the combi buses, but there’s time yet.
Crossing the main road at the end of my street is by way of a large metal stairway structure. I haven’t attempted it in the rain yet and plan not to as the steps are somewhat shiny even when not wet – they are certainly well worn. Once crossed there is a taxi rank full of little yellow diddy size taxis that toot at you to catch your attention for trade. They are so small it’s hard to imagine that they would fit even two full sized westerners let alone the reported five or six that the girls in the flat tell me they’ve managed to squeeze in before the law of no more than four passengers at a time has been more strictly enforced. This takes us to the shopping centre where there is anything one could want or need, supermarket with recognisable brands and types of fruit, pharmacies, a full range of clothes shops and, at the back, a leisure area made up of a KFC, MacDonalds, Chinese food style foodcourt, a cinema complex with a great range of subtitled English/American films and a range of dubbed too and a gym. It’s pleasantly, undemandingly familiar and regular, where little if no language is required for the majority of transactions.
Outside on the street you can eat from many different restaurants, local, Chinese, burgers, eat corn from the street sellers, pop into the fruit and veg market and choose from the familiar varieties or the unpronounceable and unfamiliar exotic selection. Walk all the way into the city centre down the street taking in the hubble and bubble of Arequipan life, calling into shopping centres, markets, call centres, mobile phone shops, cake shop after cake shop until you cross the big white bridge with the fast flowing Rio Chili which splits the city. On one side of the river bank is a small shanty community, with it’s corrugated walls and roofs, it’s mud floors and it’s washing lines, with little dirty faced and clothed children running around playing with what they can find and pick up. On the other side is the start of the city centre with it’s beautiful architecture, it’s cobbled streets, shops selling alpaca wool items, postcards, business offices, churches and monasteries, restaurants and bars. It’s just a 20 minute walk to the city centre from my apartment but an experience of enormous proportions. All of which, I’d like to add, so far and in general are safe and pleasant and interesting. This is not a threatening city, neighbourhood, or people. They are kind, sweet and generally a little shy, quick to smile and make a little joke, happy to help and offer good service.
These are my first impressions of Arequipa and they are positive. It appears to be a promising place to spend a significant amount of time, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the city the people and the culture.
Ciao for now amigos, Kate”