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Travels: Past, Present and Future

Archive for September, 2010

A Political Puppet

Posted by Leanne on September 30, 2010

Having spent most of my evenings this week holed up in my room, I happily accepted Pepe´s invitation to go out and do something to to with the election.  Obviously the invitation was all in Spanish, so my understanding of the event was limited, but from what I could tell, tonight was the last night of the political campaigns in Arequipa before the election on Sunday and as a result there were campaign wrap parties going on all over the city:

Sales of all kind of alcoholic drinks and beverages are banned in Peru since yesterday at midnight (Thursday 30th September) until noon on Monday, Oct. 4, due to the mayoral elections on Sunday, Oct. 3.

The law also bans any political public rallies and campaign activities.

Also, the police cannot arrest anyone, unless caught in the act of a crime, and citizens cannot carry guns until Oct. 5

All public shows to be performed on Oct. 3 are also suspended, including cinema, theater, sports, and any kind of public meeting, as well as religious services.

After the candidate for the area we were going to visit bought us all dinner, I expected that we would become observers as part of the massive crowd gathered in front of a brightly lit stage in the impoverished suburb of Ciudad de Dios.  As our minibus pulled up to the rabble, we could see hoards of people waving orange flags at the stage where traditional Peruvian dancers were strutting their stuff in an obvious intermission before the politics began.

Instead of jumping out to join the back of the crowd, security guards cleared a path for us through the gathered people, so that we could park next to the stage while people peered interestedly at us through the windows.  Once parked, we were escorted through the crowd and onto the stage while armed security guards guarded the van.

It was an odd experience to be stood at the back of the stage, observing a political rally which I had never seen the likes of before: In front of us, the traditional dancers still doing their bit in front of the hundreds of onlooking faces.

Once they had finished, they joined us at the back of the stage while about 15 different people, who all looked to work with the candidate, Ángel were introduced to the cheering crowd, and some of them did some speeches about their policies.  Our role as political puppets became apparent after about 30 minutes of this – Angel was serious about bringing tourism to Ciudad de Dios and to prove it his friends from Germany (“Woo hoooooo!” the crowd cheered as Karin from school walked out on to the stage and waved at them), England (“Yeaaaaaah, whoop whoop” they said as I made my way up to the front for my turn to wave) and the United States (“Hoooorrrrraaaayyyyy!” as Daniel did the same) were introduced to the cheering masses.

By the time all of the speeches had finished, I still wasn´t quite sure about what had happened but it seemed kind of cool to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.  I took a propaganda-filled campaign paper from the party away with me so that I could work out whether I had been a puppet for the good guys or the less than good guys, but it will probably remain a mystery forever…


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Spiderman and Friends

Posted by Leanne on September 29, 2010

Wandering around the streets of The White City (so called because of the white buildings made of sillar (volcano ash) stone) after class, it always brings a smile to my face to see Spiderman walking down the street with a handful of mini-Spiderman costumes to sell to passers-by, and to walk past the pizza place where there is person dressed as a slice of pizza waving cheerily at you.  Or past the mobile phone shops where a giant mobile phone is dancing in the doorway to a familiar salsa track.

Dreadful picture of dancing mobile phone (complete with children´s fingerprints on the camera lens)

Dreadful picture of dancing mobile phone (complete with children´s fingerprints on the camera lens)

I buy a queso helado (mmmm cheese ice-cream) from a lady in traditional Peruvian dress and turn a corner to walk past the lady selling olives out of her car boot, and head home.

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Day Two

Posted by Leanne on September 28, 2010

Despite walking back from school the previous day, and even with the aid of my map, I got a tiny bit lost on my way to the school this morning and arrived 2 minutes late rather than 10 minutes early.  At 8am, when I set off, the streets were quiet and gently warming in the early sunshine.  My route, when I go the correct way, takes me past the Yanahuara Police station and a cosmetic surgery clinic – which I think means that it´s quite a posh area…

On arrival at my desk this morning, Claudia presented me with an atlas so that I could show her where I lived in England (here, if the place doesn´t have a premier league football team, noone will know where it is) and made me talk about England for a while. The hardest part wasn´t so much saying anything in Spanish, but rather trying to come up with an opinion about politics or the Queen, things I don´t really pay much attention to in real life, and a sure sign that I have led an easy life.

Then, after reading a childrens book, we took a walk to a book fair at the local University and I had the chance to mangle some more Spanish during the walk and pick up some more tips on things to eat in Arequipa.

In grammar, we moved onto the second book, Pepe abruptly instructing me to read out loud and fill in the blanks as I went, as he disinterestedly flicked through a magazine, or browsed through his emails, but occasionally muttering “correcto”, “perfecto” or “again” if it wasn´t quite right the first time.

The last half an hour is always better, as he moves onto some conversation to get me to practice what we have learned, but also worse in that my chosen lifestyle seems to be completely alien to him and I have no satisfactory answers for his questions – why am I not married if I have been with by boyfriend for 6 years? Why on earth wouldn´t I want to have any children? Why haven´t I called my parents yet? But they´re your family.  In Peru it seems to be an alien concept to go for more than a day without speaking to your family, let alone several weeks.  For me, it´s just normal to let them know how I am through Facebook and leave it at that…!

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Back to School

Posted by Leanne on September 27, 2010

Even in the heart of the second largest city in Peru, cock crows can be heard from 4 or 5am every morning and today was no exception. I have no idea where they are coming from, but hope one day to be able to sleep through my pre-alarm early morning call.

I had a surprisingly clear head as I showered an prepared for my first day at school, but Rosa seemed a little less perky and instead of walking with me to school as previously promised, she hailed a taxi in her pyjamas, got in and escorted me there that way instead. Later, during my 2 hour grammar-thon Pepe asked me (in Spanish) “Why did Rosi come in her pyjamas this morning?” to which, with my limited vocabulary I could only reply “There was a party last night.”

I arrived at the school at about the same time as my conversation teacher, Claudia and with only the briefest of introductions I was shown through to a desk and we started chatting, in Spanish. It was a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly spend two whole hours having a conversation in a language I had previously struggled to sort out some laundry with, and probably quite hard work for Claudia to tease the vocabulary I did have out from some dark corner of my brain, but somehow, with little regard for any grammar and the excessive use of infinitives (on my part) we managed to communicate.

After a short break in which I met the other three students at the school, Pepe, a tall unkempt character with an impressive handlebar moustache, called me back to my desk where we worked through a 40 page spiral-bound book of grammar.

Two hours later, I walked out into the midday sunshine, pleased to have survived my first day at school and looking forward to learning more the next day.

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My New Family

Posted by Leanne on September 26, 2010

I awoke at 6:30am so that I had time to pack everything up in preparation for moving to my new house in time for breakfast. For a while, I thought that I might have been stood up (again), until 45 minutes later than arranged, Rosa, my new mamá rang the door bell at the hostel and led me to an old white beetle (car) where Javier (papá) and Viviana (hermana) were waiting to drive me to my new place. None of them spoke much English, which was a bonus, but Rosa told me that her other daughter, Paola did speak very good English.

After a late breakfast and a sit around in the flat, where I wasn´t sure if I was allowed to move or not, I was invited to go with the rest of the family to watch Javier play football.

At the Sports complex, I was kissed on the cheek by about 20 Peruvians and invited for a tour around the club with Javier´s dad – a complete gentleman who always insisted on walking on the road-side of me all the way round.

Back at the football pitch, the game was over and I got kissed on the cheek by another 10 peruvians, one or two of whom spoke a little bit of English. As the afternoon progressed and the footballers started to join the merry group, a crate of beer and some food for a barbeque appeared. Between 27 people, there were only three glasses, and I quickly worked out that the tradition was to pour a little cerveza into a glass, drink it quickly and then pass it on.

Over time, the beer turned to Pisco and Sprite, and Javier declared me “¡Mi hija blanca!” when I consented to try “una piscita.”

I spent the afternoon not understanding much of what was going on, sometimes observing as an outsider at the bizarre situation I had put myself in, feeling that it was possibly the weirdest thing that I had ever done, sometimes just staring out at the towering volcanoes which framed the complex, sometimes feeling pleased that my new family seemed like a fun bunch, and other times trying to make some sense of the spanish babble which filled the air around me… but all the time, becoming a little bit more tipsy, so not really caring much.

As the sun started to set, the temperature dropped, and someone declared that we would be going to a karaoke bar… which we discovered was closed when we got there, so instead, everybody went back to my new pad to try their voices on karoke DVDs, drink more Pisco and break out their dance moves.

Javier & Rosa

Javier & Rosa

I managed a semi-successful conversation with a 7 year old who, along with her sister took it upon herself to “look after” my camera and take some photos for me.



I fell into bed earlyish (everyone left at about 10) feeling glad that I seemed to have landed in a friendly place, even if I was still a little bemused…

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Posted by Leanne on September 25, 2010

I spent the morning wandering about the streets of Arequipa, exploring new ones, and being whistled at and hola´d at by men passing me on the street.  I was amazed at what a difference the presence of a boy at my side must have made, because until now, I hadn´t really given a second thought to the comments in my guidebook about solo women being whistled at a lot.

In a square somewhere (really should learn the names of these streets and plazas at some point) I perused a book fair, while a political rally went on behind me.  With elections coming up next weekend, it was difficult to avoid the active campaigning around the city.  Not only posters and billboards, but also theme tunes for each candidate being blasted out from their offices as you walk past.

Pan pipes and Politics

Pan pipes and Politics

I spent another afternoon at the hostel over lunch, testing Wilbur´s English and reading my Spanglish dictionary and generally chilling out in preparation for School on Monday.

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Posted by Leanne on September 24, 2010

In the morning I decided to go sit in the Plaza de Armas to sit and write in my diary and do a bit of people-watching, but it didn´t really work out that way…

First of all, I had barely opened my notebook when Alejandro started taking photos of me with his phone.  I couldn´t believe how easy it had been to find a replacement for Pau-ool!  Of course, I played up to it for a bit, sticking my tongue out, posing a bit before getting down to conversation.  “¿Cuántos años tienes?” I asked him.  “Siete.” was his reply.  A bit young,  maybe…

Once the Alejandro distraction had passed an adult man came over to sit on the same bench, so I shuffled over for him a little bit and started to write, but it wasn´t long before Alberto, 32 was explaining to me that since my boyfriend wasn´t in this country anymore, then I was single, so I should go out for a drink with him (a common perception, it seems for Peruvian men). After all, Pau-ool (who was still on a flight or in an airport somewhere at the time)  had probably already found a new girlfriend.

I moved over to another bench in the plaza to try my luck somewhere else, and it worked fine for about 2 minutes, until a lady with some bird food sat next to me, causing the whole bench to be surrounded by a flock of pigeons, pecking around my feet.

Plaza de Palomas

Plaza de Palomas

There was nothing else for it.  I took sanctury in a Church near the Claustros de la Compañía.  Inside, there was a huge group of tourists, being given a tour in French, in stark contrast to the individual locals who were obviously there to light a candle, or to sit quietly and pray.  It was an odd mix and one which I hadn´t seen before.  I chose to take a pew for 10 minutes just to sit and observe the two extremes, feeling that it would be wrong to get my camera out.

After that, I returned to the hostel for my surprise lunch – soltero de queso with Ricardo and Wilbur.  And lunch turned into an afternoon of reading my Spanish-English (Spanglish) dictionary with Wilbur and teaching him how to pronounce the words that caught his interest.  And Ricardo showed off his ´prowess´with card tricks.  All in all it was a pleasant afternoon, of stilted conversation (due to the language barrier) and they invited me back for the lunch the next day, Ricardo declaring that “Ahora, yo soy tu familia.”

I told Wilbur, “Mañana, tienes un examen,” pointing to the piece of paper where he had been making a note of the English he had learnt, and he happily agreed.

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Adiós a Pau-ool

Posted by Leanne on September 23, 2010

Since it was Paul´s last day before being sentenced to 2 days in one taxi, four planes, a train, and perhaps another taxi, followed by a lifetime of paid employment, it was up to him to decide what he wanted to do and the verdict was to visit the beautiful, if a little pricey Santa Catalina Monastery, and as a special treat, we even paid for a tour guide, since we knew that we were both too lazy to bother reading any of the signs on the walls.

A village unto itself, it looked like a perfectly pleasant place to live, and even the religious art wasn´t all that creepy. Until you found out that the hair and nails on the sculptures were made with real nun´s hair and nails…

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

Our guide, Ada asked if we spoke Spanish and I so I told her about my upcoming 3+ weeks of lessons.

“Two weeks,” she said, “is enough. In three weeks, you will be professional.” I enjoyed her faith even if I didn´t quite believe it!

Santa Catalina Monastery

Santa Catalina Monastery

For lunch we went posh, in a restaurant with amazingly attentive staff who didn´t automatically present us with an English menu without asking which we preferred first, and served us with delicious food which ended up costing about a tenner each. Including a tip.

In other news, we crossed the river to scope out my Spanish school and to find out what was going on with my accommodation for next week. In a quiet residential area, we wandered down the correct street, looking for building C4. A security guard who was stationed on the street came over to see what we were looking for, and before I had even managed to mutter “Dónde está…” he said “¿C4 – escuela de español?” and took us there. I like to think that it was his sole job – to spot lost-looking gringos and take them to the place they are looking for.

A view of El Misti (the volcano) from the River

A view of El Misti (the volcano) from the River

Inside the building, there was a bustling atmosphere and it was nice to hear lessons going on in the background as I established that I would be moving in with my new family on Sunday morning, in time for breakfast. It was a flying visit, but set my mind at rest amd sparked a little feeling of excitement at the prospect of the next few weeks.

After a beer down Tourist Alley at the back of the Cathedral, I waved goodbye to Señor Pau-ool and returned to the hostel alone. While I was at the computer, Ricardo, who works at the hostel came to check that I was OK and we communicated in some form using my dreadful Spanish for a while. Knowing that I was now all alone, he offered to make me some traditional Arequipan food for lunch the next day.

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A Morning Stroll

Posted by Leanne on September 22, 2010

Times  I have set my alarm clock for since I have been in Peru:

  • 7:00am
  • 3:30am
  • 6:00am
  • 7:00am
  • 3:40am
  • 4:40am
  • 2:40am
  • 4:40am

Call this a holiday?

So anyway, this morning was the 4:40am start because at 5am we were due to meet the rest of our group for a 3.5hour stroll up the side of a canyon to work up an appetite before breakfast.

Spot the zig zag path to see the route of our morning stroll

Spot the zig zag path to see the route of our morning ´stroll´

It was about 7:30am before the golden ball of fire in the sky managed to rise itself far enough above to start casting some of its warmth of our side of the really steep cliff – which was a relief because our stroll might have turned into hard work under the strong sunlight.

Veronique, Phil, Salome, Paul and me at the top

Veronique, Phil, Salome, Paul and me at the top

We spent the rest of the day on the bus, stopping of at various points of interest on the way.

At Maca you could buy some peruvian crafts, or have your photo taken with an eagle on your head whilst standing next to a llama.  I have no idea why I passed that opportunity up and will obviously regret it for the rest of my life.

Eagles, llamas and peruvian ladies, what more could you ask for?

Eagles, llamas and peruvian ladies, what more could you ask for?

At Chivay, we paid a visit to some hot springs.  If you´re like me, you might imagine  a steaming pool of water set amongst rugged rocks against a dramatic mountainous backdrop, and maybe the smell of sulphur, but this one was a clean looking swimming pool surrounded by lockers and a bar, set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop.  The heat of the sun, coupled with the 39 degree water  wasn´t my favourite sensation, and after 5 minutes, I felt a bit sick so got out and lazed around on the edge of the pool before it was time for lunch.

The last stop before arriving back in Arequipa was at the highest point – 4900m.

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Flight of the Condors

Posted by Leanne on September 21, 2010

At 2:40am we stumbled out of bed and hastily checked that our daypacks contained all that we would need for an overnight stay in a canyon before creeping past the other rooms to wait for our ride in the reception area.

Once on our bus, we were provided with travel pillows and blankets, which almost made up for the uncomfortable seats on the bus and allowed us to snatch a last few precious hours of sleep before all of the walking.

The first stop was at Cruz del Condor where we saw our first condor (as the  place name might suggest)

Origami Crane at Colca Canyon

Origami Crane at Colca Canyon

Only joking, that´s an origami crane.  Here is a condor:

Flight of the Condors

Flight of the Condors

These massive creatures whose wing spans grow up to 3 metres wide during their 70 years of life, gather at Cruz del Condor most mornings at around 8:30am to entertain the tourists (probably) and they didn´t fail to impress.  Before this morning, I hadn´t realised that it is only possible to see condors in South America, and in celebration of this fact,  all other birds were referred to as ´mini condors´ for the rest of the day.

That done, we took a final short bus journey to the start of our walk where our guide, Salome, led us to a steep path right down into the canyon.  It took about 3 hours of endless walking on rocky terrain, steeply downhill past dehydrated, yet impressive cacti, until I started to lose the will to live.

A long way down

A long way down

The bridge we were aiming for at the bottom of the canyon never seemed to get closer and the sun was making it harder work still.  In spite of this, Salome did her best to distract us from the task in hand by chatting away to us about the scenery, plant life, people who lived in the canyon and ourselves.

After an age, we crossed the bridge and enjoyed a much more interesting walk to our lunch stop.  Across the river, the terrain seemed to be a lot greener, with thriving cacti and trees, animals grazing on the healthy greenery and huge boulders to break it all up.

Lunch was just around the corner

Lunch was just around the corner

At lunch, the group agreed that we would take a short cut, meaning that we wouldn´t pass through the local villages, but we would arrive at the Oasis, where we would be staying the night in time for a quick dip in the pool before sunset.

Señor Pau-ool, the cowboy

Señor Pau-ool, the cowboy

Our bamboo shack at the top of  a flintstone-esque  village was basic, but comfortable and the swimming pool was most welcome after a full day of hiking.

The Oasis, Sangalle Village

The Oasis, Sangalle Village

Over dinner, we enjoyed a bottle of Arequipeña in the company of the rest of our group over a candlelit dinner.  It was easy to forget that just outside our wall-less dinner shack were the looming sides of a massive canyon, a full moon lighting up the sky and stars scattered above.

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