Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America

Three Strikes and you´re out!

Saying goodbye to the maple leaf with its glorious red and white, boarded the plane from Toronto to Lima to begin the next chapter of my life in America del Sur. But before jumping into the adventure of working in Chile, thought I´d ease in by taking a brief sojourn in Peru. Did a fairly short hop of 8 hours and after a restless couple of hours of sleep, awoke to see the glorious Andes peaking forth through the scattered clouds. Had a 5 hour layover in Lima before flying to Arequipa which nearly killed me as I tried to stay awake in the middle of the night my time. Even filling myself full of sugar of the Dunkin´Donuts ilk with yellow icing that could not be called anything, but disgustingly artificial, failed to kick start me. I wanted sleep.

Finally arrived in Arequipa right on schedule as per Lan Airlines usual efficiencies. The hostal had sent a driver for the 9 km trip into the city. It was hot and sunny -blindingly so refracting off the harsh desert conditions - not a tree to be seen anywhere.

The drive started off uneventful enough, but then all of a sudden the road appeared to be a mess of scattered rocks as we bobbed and weaved to avoid them. And finally, rocks everywhere - huge boulders - and people out out on the road looking none too pleased, the smell of burning rubber in the air as I observed the smoke. It felt faintly sinister and all the taxis were stopped pleading with the people to move the rocks so that they could drive the gringos through.

Wasn´t looking so good, but arrived at the hostal without mishap and checked in to my neat little room with its window boxes full of bright red geraniums. Was excited to find 2 taps in the bathroom and even happier to find hot water coming out of one of them! And real hot water. Showered and then laid down and didn´t reemerge until the next day after sleeping for hours and hours.

Got up early to wander around Arequipa, the first of my 2 stops in this brief Peruvian visit. I had chosen to come here first to acclimitize before heading to Cuzco and Machu Pichu. Arequipa at 2325m was founded in 1540 by the Spaniards although colonized much before this by pre-Inca settlers. Its name is either a derivative of a native language from ari meaning peak and quipa meaning lying behind because it is flanked by the peaks of El Misti at 5822m as well as Chachani and Pichu Pichu at 6075 and 5571m respectively. The other story is that a famous Inca was travelling through this area and said, Ari quipay which means, yes stay.

The city is also known as Cuidad Blanco, the White City because many of its buildings, particularly the ones on the Plaza des Armas, its main square, are made from a light coloured volcanic rock, sillar, which gleans white in the sun and given the desert like climate, the sun shines here and transforms the city many days a year. Because of its predisposition to earthquakes, the buildings are all low giving the even present volcanos in the backdrop even more credence as they dwarf the city with their snow capped peaks.

And while the Plaza des Armas is the life blood of the city, in the morning it is relatively quiet with its palm trees swaying in the wind and pigeons waddling in search of food. The grandiose cathedral taking up an entire block flanks its one side, the others stretching forth with graceful arches curving to meet each other at the corners.

However, at noon, the whole place was transformed into protest central! Police in full riot gear wielding their shields stood on guard while the streets closed off and marchers of all ages appeared with banners, whistles and pots and pans. More like a holiday atmosphere, the entreprenerial types cashed in on the spectacle by selling popcorn, cotton candy and pop to the enthralled crowds. The restaurants marketed their views on the square to attract diners. The smell of burning grain, strangely like incense, looked more menacing than it was. The familiar red and black banners of the communists emblazed with Che Guevara were prevalent in this continent of his.

But after parading around the square for an hour or so, everyone started to wander home just as they´d come, down the narrow streets and once again, the square was quiet and home to the pigeons and street kids.

I couldn´t get a complete understanding of what was happening, but from my broken Spanish and various people´s broken English, discovered that it had something to do with high gas prices because Peruvian gas was exported and sold in other countries cheaper than at home and now it was having many repurcussions on all Peruvians from hiking the prices of the local bus fares and they were extremely angry.

Apparently the strike had been going on for some time, but it hadn´t reached my radar screen! However, quite a few other tourists had changed their plans and headed straight for Lake Titicaca and avoided Arequipa, centre of the action! Lucky me! Well, given the altitude, I wasn´t going anywhere. I would just have to wait it out, watch, listen and learn.

The first thing I learned was that the tour operators and tourist industry was really upset because July - August was their high season and it was killing their businesses. They are rolled their eyes whenever I asked about the strike. They just wanted the $$$$. There was no concern for tourists - just inconvenience. The tour companies told me to come back everyday to see if the strike would end and they could start their tours at the normal time of 8am instead of the ungodly hour of 3:30am designed to miss the marching protesters!

Went to sleep keeping my fingers and toes crossed that there would be a settlement and I would get to sleep in!

Monasteria Santa Catalina

Monasteria Santa Catalina

A happy way to start the trip - Dunkin Donuts in Lima Airport and the breakfast of champions

A happy way to start the trip - Dunkin Donuts in Lima Airport and the breakfast of champions

Protesting the Arequipa and Che Guevara way

Protesting the Arequipa and Che Guevara way

Sunset on the Plaza des Armas, Arequipa

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Peru Peru: Three Strikes and you´re out!
The trip
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.