On: Last Few Weeks in Peru

It’s that time—the time where I only have just over one week left in this country. Six weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to get home, but now that it’s actually coming up so soon, I am getting hit with bouts of weepy nostalgia. I will be happy to be home to be with my family, friends, and doggies, but I know I will still look back on Peru as an amazing experience and one I feel so blessed to have been able to do. That being said, let me catch you up on what we have been doing these last few weeks:

Kyle and I went as tourists, a costume most people didn’t get.

First off, we celebrated an arequipeño  Halloween. We decided not to spend any of our extremely limited funds on costumes, so we dug into our pile of souvenirs and things that had been gifted to us by our students and dressed as the ultimate tourists for Halloween. We even wore our hiking boots. We quickly realized the joke did not land since all the Peruvians just thought we were normal tourists. Because European tourists actually dress like that on the streets, every single day.

The group that we went out with (sort of).

In order from L to R: some woman I have never met before in my life, Kyle, our boss Christian (as a nun), our co-worker and fellow American Jeremy, our boss’ wife and secretary at the school Pilar, and two other people I don’t know. We were supposed to go with this group to some exclusive night club, which they told us they were leaving for in fifteen minutes. We sat down at a table and Christian ordered us a round, during which the other group immediately left. The five of us were happy to do our own thing for the evening, so it worked out. We decided to just meander to a different club in downtown and watch the Peruvians get silly.

Calle San Francisco, packed to the brim.

We wound our way up the street from La Catedral, and smacked straight into a wall of people that only got thicker as we tried to push our way up Calle San Francisco where most of the discotecas are. It was crazy! It was more packed than a summer’s day at Disneyland! People seemed to have resigned themselves to not getting into the already overflowing discotecas and just started drinking in the streets. We managed to eek into a nice discoteca where I snapped this pic of the streets below.

So how do Peruvians spend Halloween? They take their kids out trick-or-treating for an hour or so, then spend it like they do every other holiday: getting heavily sozzled. We did not partake in the revelry too heavily since we were waking up early the next morning to see another aspect of arequipeña culture, las peleas de toros, the bull fights.

Bulls literally head-to-head.

Now, as anyone who knows me knows, I am not okay with any form of animal cruelty: dog fights, cock fights, matador matches, etc. However, I read about Arequipan bull-fighting and thought it sounded like the fairest of matches when it comes to animal fights. How it works is that they parade a fertile cow around, and then put two bulls in a ring who lock horns and wrestle for the right to get with the lady. The fight is over once one bull runs away; there is no bloodshed and no cattle prods, only calming pats on the head for the loser and hugs for the victor. If the two bulls don’t want to fight, then the owners lead them out of the ring and the match ends in a tie. I was happy to see such decent treatment of the animals, but I know my Spaniard friends who had gone to a match a few weeks earlier were a little disappointed not to see any deaths. What very different cultures!

None of the photos are zoomed in, that is really as close as we were sitting and really as shoddy security as the wooden walls held up by branches provided the crowd. The most exciting moment is when a bull got loose from its owners and ran bellowing through the crowd standing right in front of us. No one got hurt, and now I know if you have an angry bull running straight for you, just wave a hat, sweatshirt, or even your arms in its face and odds are it will just run on and leave you alone. Click on the video below to see a bit of what the fights look like…

Kyle and I had been wanting to go see the fights since the first time we came to Arequipa, but they are not well-advertised and since they are generally held in the rural outskirts of the city, most people don’t know when they are. I had to go to three tourist information desks to finally find someone willing to look it up for me.

Quequeña home with Jesus watching over the town.

 

To get to where the bullfights were held (in the tiny little town of Quequeña) was an adventure in and of itself. Kyle, Jeremy, and I hopped on a oh-so-hellish combi where we were lucky to get seats, but unlucky to be at rear-end level when one of the large mass of people standing in front of us farted in a windowless, hour-long journey (which cost S1). Ugh. We got dropped off where we were supposed to wait for another combi to take us onward, but after waiting half an hour, we managed to hail a solitary taxi and just split the cost of that (S20 total for another forty minute ride). He took us straight to the ring (S15 admission) exactly when the fights were scheduled to start at 1pm. They didn’t start until 2:30pm, which is late even for Peruvian time.

We were the only white people in the crowd, and our risk of sunburn was increasing with every passing minute in the blazing heat. Once the first match began, we checked our brochures and saw there were 11 scheduled for that day’s games. We only made through like six before our skin couldn’t handle anymore, so we went out of the stadium to find a way home. As it turned out, all the taxi and combi drivers were inside watching the matches so odds were we would have several hours to kill before we could get home. We explored the town a little bit, and the surrounding fields, and then were lucked out and hailed a passing bus that took us all the way back to Arequipa for just S2.

Quequeña’s church in the main plaza.

On Saturday (November 3rd) we finally got to embark on a trip we had been hoping to do even before leaving for Peru, but assumed we couldn’t due to lack of money. We got to hike into the Colca Canyon, the world’s second deepest canyon, for three hot days and two sore nights. I’ll go into that more in my next post, since it is going to take me a little while to sort through 166 photos and three days worth of information. So stay tuned and I’ll be back with more experiences from Peru!

On: Buses

A common model of in-town bus.

Around Arequipa, my preferred method of transportation are my own two feet. My work is less than a ten minute walk away, downtown Arequipa is only twenty minutes away, and most of everyone we know lives somewhere in between. If we are going longer distances, or went grocery shopping and now can’t carry all the food back, then we take taxis. Yanahuara is such a safe neighborhood that we have never felt uncomfortable walking around, even at 4am (again, not recommended, but wholly possible). However, when we were in Cusco, we were living in the outskirts of town which was nowhere near walking-distance of downtown. Instead of taking an expensive taxi to and from downtown everyday, we got used to riding the buses.

It is a great idea to ask a local which bus is the right one to take to any given destination, because if you jump on the wrong one, you will end up really far away from where you meant to go and likely will have to flag down a taxi to take you to the right place. Some buses have where they are going painted on their sides, most just have a person standing in the doorway and shouting the street names at you. You have to learn which bus companies go to which districts via which paths.

As with the combis, the bus fee is usually not very clear. The posted prices are generally not the accepted ones, and be careful to give as exact change as possible since it’s common to not get any change back from the overworked doorman. You can flag down a bus at basically any point, but technically they are supposed to only stop at marked paraderos, or bus stops. You have to memorize your route and shout to the driver the stop before yours where exactly you need to get off, or else they might blow right past your stop. You either pay as you get off the bus, or if it’s really busy, the doorman will come to each person to take their fare and give you a little ticket to show you paid.

Sometimes you get in-route entertainment in the form of a person trying to sell the whole bus goods, magazines, or even their own CDs. We had one guy bring a portable amp onto the bus and play Christian pan-flute music for us, and then came around asking for money. You really don’t have to pay them seeing as how you didn’t ask them to try to sell you something.

Rush hour bus rides are miserable. There is generally only standing room available, and there are so many people stuffed into the buses that you are always getting elbowed in the face and people pressed against you and you have to breathe the same air someone else just exhaled since they don’t open up bus windows. It’s especially gross when people are coughing right in your face and there is nothing you can do about it. And then Peruvians like to blame illness on cold soda because drinking it warm is supposedly better for you.

Arequipa city tour bus.

Above we have another type of city bus which is much more favored by tourists. These tour buses are one way to explore the city and see the sights, if being removed from the local population or not having any adventures is your thing. There is one tourbus model that is even worse than this, at least tourists are forced to share the same air as the locals with the open-air buses. There are ones that are entirely enclosed, allowing the tourists to view the sights from above while enjoying being seated in an air-conditioned bus removed from all interaction with anyone who doesn’t speak your language. Honestly, the only reasons anyone should take these types of tours are if you have limited mobility, health issues, or unable to walk long distances. If you are in good health and have decent mobility in your legs and are seeking a guided tour of the city, at least take the walking tour.

The bus we took from Máncora back to Lima.

The third type of bus you will find in Peru are the long-distance buses, like the one above. They come in one- or two-level models, with the lower level having fewer seats and being more expensive. The bus company above (Etti) was terrible choice and not at all recommended. But there are many excellent bus companies that travel all over the country and into other countries as well that provide excellent service and security, and usually meals, too!

Like the country in general, the buses run on Peruvian time which means they will depart whenever and get to your destination whenever. There are always posted times for the bus schedules, but generally expect to leave anywhere between half an hour to two hours later and expect to arrive at the least an hour later (often 2-4 hours later). But definitely the most affordable way to travel about the country since planes are trains are incredibly expensive here!