Friday, 28 January 2011

Arequipa 3 (roof talk)

Roof Story of Arequipa
Local roofs overlooked by the snow covered volcano, el Chachani 
I have a love/hate relationship with the roof of my apartment here in Arequipa. It is a place to achieve great things but also the seat of one or two problems. With the current rainy season one can hear (very early in the morning) and also see owners of buildings sweeping the collected water from the roof. There is some urgency in this since although one would hope that the concrete is impervious to rain it is unfortunately porous and water gathers in the ceiling and escapes in drips via the light sockets, sizzling as the circuits short out. Not good.

Yet roofs here are working spaces. Mostly they contain water tanks, large bottle like constructions that pepper the skyline. Generally houses also have some form of solar convection panels that can work well when the sun has been shining but not when it is dull. I don't have solar so we rely on shower heaters one of which has been shorting out, but that's another story!
Typical water tank and solar panel set up
Roofs are also a place for hanging out the washing, which will generally dry by lunch time, and for storing all kinds of junk. Often they can be dangerous due to the steel reinforcing rods that are often left unmindfully exposed.
My washing drying in the morning sun

Many of the local roofs are the homes of a roof residing dog population. From here they can be invoked by passers by into a state of near hysteria and the ground dogs join the chorus which takes several minutes to subside. Although they appear to be pet dogs they do not live a great life sheltering from the hot sun or the seasonal rains.

Most of all the roofs offer great viewing platforms and with clear mornings one can see the volcanoes el Misti and el Chachani, snow capped in the distance.

el Misti

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Arequipa 2 (cycling)

Cycling with Team Inter here in Arequipa

Last Sunday I joined the first of the regular Sunday rides with my newly found group of friends. The posted time of meeting was 8.30 and arriving punctually I was only the third person to make the riverside rendezvous. Making use of the the time available before what was bound to be a delayed start Jesus aka Mono (Monkey) offered to show me round his sports club, Club International nearby. I am not sure what makes it International but it is a well appointed club with 2 pools, tennis, football, athletics, Gym, spinning, physio therapy and much more. I have subsequently bought a months's membership. Disgracefully, cycling around the club I got caught up with some plastic sheeting and fell onto the concrete floor emerging with slightly bloodied knee and elbow! Good start.

We set of, 26 of us around 9.00 am in a SE direction straggling out through fairly quiet streets eventually reaching the village of Puacarpata where there is a large church and Plaza. After this we headed for the hills, mostly on rocky single track skirting the edge of newly grown but illegally developed villages of box construction concrete dwellings. As were we, they were sitting precariously above a drop of some 200 feet. Actually most of the path wasn't ridable and we had to dismount and negotiate the loose dirt ledges carrying and wheeling bikes. It turned into more of a scramble than a ride. I found this curious since this route had been selected specially in my favour but it was at least a good upper body workout.
Rocky sometimes unridable path
Eventually we reached a rocky resting point where stood the remains of an Italian house built around the time of the War of the Pacific. It had once been a well constructed dwelling but was now dilapidated and isolated.
Italian abandoned house
We then headed on by foot to an oasis where stood a 100 year old palm tree which dominated the otherwise sparse vegetation. This seemed to be a point for reflection on how it could have grown here and we rested before heading on to an old abandoned gold mine constructed above a deep gorge. On returning most was down hill.

heading back

We eventually reached the restaurant, La Zambita. This belongs to Wilhelm a member of the cycling club and only opens Sundays serving food typical to Arequipa. I had Rocotto Rellena served on a pastel of potato and cheese.
Rocotto Rellena at La Zambita
It was spicy and good but too much to eat. Eventually and in spite of the onset of the afternoon rain we headed back to the centre.

It has to be said that the countryside around Arequipa is not the most wondrous that Peru has to offer but the points of interest we saw, including Andean terraces stand out in the otherwise somewhat bleak moonscape.

Team Inter, great people

All in all a great day out and an interesting and fun ride.


Friday, 21 January 2011

Arequipa 1

Pretty evening sky over Arequipa

have been in Arequipa, Southern Peru 10 days now. 

This is a great place. Generally quite clean and ordered and except for traffic fumes a pretty good environment. It offers a great deal for the passing traveller and more for its growing expat community. I seem to have had considerable luck and have been more or less fully occupied on some tasks and enjoying what is on offer for the last 10 days and have only just had time to start the usual city tourist trail having today visited the Santa Catalina Convent this afternoon. 

Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina

My interim stay hostal, La Casa de los Pinguinos really couldn’t be better. Run by a Dutch woman called Alex it is safe, clean and better than many hotels. Alex has a young son and has moved to Arequipa permanently. There is a steady flow of travellers enjoying all the mod cons that you need at a modest £12.50 a night for B&B.

With the help of new found friends at Team-Inter mountain cycling club, notably, Henry, Jaime and Hans  I have bought a new and quite good quality bike with the intention of selling it on at the end of my trip.

 Last weekend we cycled to la Playa at Mollendo, some 120km. Setting off at 6am we first had to climb some mountains but overall to the coast we dropped 2,200 metres in altitude. So much of it was downhill. Generally the landscape was either lunar mountains or lunar landscape desert. Most of the ride was by road which was generally OK but the buses passed fast and sometimes very close. The last 25km was downhill off-road which was good except in places the trail gave way to 15cm deep volcanic ash, like riding in talcum powder.

Volcanic ash downhill

Arriving around lunchtime after a stop for breakfast and a few punctures we were greeted at the end of the trail by one of the club members who had taken the road and bought a 6 pack to welcome us. From then on the emphasis moved from cycling to drinking and the following day we hung out at the beach before loading our bikes under a bus to be taken back. Generally it was sunny around 28C with a fresh onshore breeze and a was a really unexpected and memorable excursion to the coast.

Beach at Mollendo

Me and Jaime, the club coordinator

Much of the rest of the time has been taken in locating an apartment. Short let furnished apartments in good areas are in short supply and prices seem high. After visiting 3, 1 located via an agency and the others through newspaper ads I have settled on a 2nd floor 3 bedroom apartment. This is really too large and will cost $540/month but it was the best of the bunch and in a very safe and quiet area – I aim to move tomorrow and maybe I can sub-let a bedroom.

Other than that I have joined some salsa classes which are offered by Christian in a smallish studio in the centre. These have been OK but the teaching is somewhat random at times and some of the moves are quite tricky. I have also been learning to play the Cajon with my music teacher Marta. She is doing her best with me but I feel she is unused to teaching cajon to adults – this is vacation time and many of the schools are dedicated to making money selling courses to occupy children.

I have been chatting to Chad and Johanna a young couple from Michigan aiming to work here for a year – they too have been preoccupied with finding accommodation and have been industrious in seeking apartments but as yet with no conclusion. Johanna is a break dancer (and other things) and has been encouraged into offering a workshop to locals. She has great skills and has opened my eyes to how formalised and athletic is as a style of dancing. They are both friendly and able young people in search of a moderately different and adventurous experience.

Chad and Johanna

Arequipa is probably overall the nicest city I have visited in Peru. I would wish slightly fewer tourists but the altitude and the weather is fine and people are very friendly. It has its dodgy side with stories of assaults, express kidnappings, some drunkenness and prostitution – I saw a man last evening walking along the street with his dick in his hand but I think he was habitually drunk and possibly disorientated rather than exhibitionist. I was also offered the services of an attractive and rather plump young man, but apart from this I haven't been hassled and generally felt safe. It is very beautiful and from some views is dominated by the presence of the Volcano, El Misti.

El Misti

Monday, 17 January 2011

Lima 2011

Generally I rely on this blog to achieve a number of ends: Partly I try and reflect in writing on some of the interesting aspects and differences culturally and geographically when living in another country, in this case principally Peru. It is also a diary of personal memories and a way of keeping in touch with those I know and love. Other audiences, the world, the blogosphere are welcome to read whatever is written but my idea of what is news or blog-worthy may not be to all tastes or even very interesting to you. I try to focus on on life as it passes normally in Peru rather than offer a catalogue of itinerant tourist experiences.

Arriving in Lima there was a little difficulty with my hotel booking but it was sorted out quickly, but I was tired after nearly 24 hours travelling. My first chore was to buy a mobile phone at a cost of around £20 and after that I spent the day chilling out and becoming accustomed to the sights and sounds of Lima. The next day I met up with Junior a young friend who has spent a year as a volunteer in London. He would now rather be back there with his Italian boyfriend but there really isn't a way to get residency as a student without a bucketful of money which he doesn't have. He has decided to try and work on a cruise ship with the aim of saving enough to buy a college admission in the UK and then see where it takes him. Firstly we went to a 'menu' cafe with a 3 course meal for about £3 and after that hopped a taxi to the centre where we visited the old station which has been beautifully converted into a cultural library narrating the story of Peruvian literature, poetry and theatre. After which we shared a beer nearby in what is described as the oldest wine bar in Lima.
Junior with Alan

Station/library roof

On 2 evenings I enjoyed shows in the atmospheric Jazzzone Club on La Paz in Miraflores. JazzZone The first of these was a really hot latin jazz/salsa band and I was able to watch but didn't participate in the excellent salsa dancing. The second evening I had wanted to see Magaly with a Jazz fusion band called. Magaly Solier is the Peruvian actress in the award winning film Teta Asustada, (Milk of Sorrow) and the combination of her Quechuan lyrics and percussion led fusions of Jayna made for a memorable event. Magaly Solier

The next day I met up with Liam and Jan, friends of Alice Onion and participants in Croydon-Spanish. They are in Peru for an extended stay and tour. Unfortunately Jan suffered a bout of irregular heart beats and they had to cancel their tour and do stuff below 2000 metres which was a real shame. Jan used to live in Lima and Spent 5 years teaching there so was meeting up with old friends. Liam even participated in a 10km run and won his age category. I think they had a good trip after the initial disappointment of losing the tour they had booked.
Liam, Jan and me in Bar Haiti in Miraflores

On my last day in Lima I decided to do a Spanish class at South American Explorers. The teacher was having a health insurance crisis and was too distracted by the need to sort out payment for special medicines so we ended up cancelling. Erik, the teacher, an anthropologist and linguistics specialist was met by a couple of New Yorker friends, Pilar and Bill. We later went to lunch at Punto Sal overlooking the sea and had a nice lunch. I had cerviche and unfortunately fell ill the following days. It turned out I had met Pilar before when she was a waitress in the Real McCoy and English restaurant in Cuzco and we actually recalled each other. Some coincidence! Where we eat is nearby to the hang gliders which are always entertaining to watch.

Bill, Pilar, me and Erik

Hang gliding near Larco Mar, Mirarflores (not me)