Arequipa has been a wonderful rest stop! I have deliberately been a bit lazy this week, because I think the state of my mental health was begging for it. That said, I still feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit, and I’ve really enjoyed my five days here in my home stay and language school situation.
I arrived on Sunday morning around 7:30 AM after a twelve hour bus ride from Ica, which really wasn’t that terrible. Maria, the owner of the language school, Llama Education, picked me up from the bus terminal and we went back to her house which serves as both the language school and has a few rooms for students (like me!). I met her two daughters, Diana and Sonja, ate breakfast, then settled into my room and took an accidental (but apparently necessary) nap. After my nap we ate lunch (delicious causa limeña!) and headed out for a walking tour of the city. Being Sunday it was not very busy out, and many stores were closed. It was nice to get a personal tour (with Maria and the girls) of the surrounding area so I could explore in the following days.
Monday through Thursday had the following schedule: breakfast at 8, classes from 9-11 and then 11:30 to 1:30, lunch at 2, and each afternoon was mine to do what I wanted. On Monday I really wanted to relax, so I took a nap, read my book (in Spanish!), and went for a run. A RUN!? Hallelujah – it was nice to run. I’m excited to go home where I feel better about running (the stares and catcalls here are really distracting from actually running) and plan to do a LOT of it. More than ever before. I have big plans, which I’m afraid to share here because then I’ll have to follow through with them. Back to Arequipa: Each evening was roughly the same – we’d all have dinner and chat for a bit, before doing our own thing (which for me usually meant reading or scouring the internet for various tidbits of information on my future).
Tuesday afternoon I decided to go see the town for realsies. I walked down to the shopping center near the house and got some ice cream, then hopped on the bus to the historic center of town. I went to the Monastario de Santa Catalina – the first time since losing my camera where I have seriously wanted to have one. All of the pictures in this post are stolen from the internet. The monastery was beautiful and reminded me of a Maybeck building in that no two rooms or apartments were the same – each had a unique shape and personality. I was most interested by the kitchens (no surprise there). The kitchens often had tall ceilings, or no ceilings, plenty of counter space (glorious!), and one or two wood burning ovens (I’m not sure if that is the right way to describe them, but look at the pictures for an idea).
I could easily imagine the nuns working in the kitchens making bread, etc. Unfortunately, my imagination was ruined when I learned that this was not a normal monastery – at least not as I think of monasteries. I think the nuns in monasteries as being peaceful, living a simple life without many frills, and helping the poor. These nuns were nothing of the sort. Apparently these nuns paid high amounts to be there (it was an honor and only rich families could send their daughters!), the nuns had up to 8 or 9 servants PER NUN, they did absolutely nothing to help the community around them, and there is evidence of there being many abortions performed on the nuns in the convent… curious. Of course they don’t tell you that information in the monastery itself, but if you ask anyone in Arequipa about it they’ll tell you the same facts.
The harsh facts aside, I loved the monastery. It was so peaceful, and I loved the colors contrasting against the white which is so prevalent in Arequipa. I also was amazed to learn that there are still some nuns living there today – but only 12 or so. I walked all over and explored each nook and cranny (which involved a lot of ducking – apparently these nuns were short and squat) before heading back out to the streets of Arequipa to see some more.
I walked around the Plaza de Armas (central plaza), in the Basilica, and in the Iglesia de las Campanas before finding a bakery for another snack of budin de chocolate, a dense almost gooey chocolatey cake, and hot chocolate. I have a serious overeating problem these days. After wandering the streets a bit more, and exploring a local grocery store (which has become one of my favorite things to do on this trip!), I headed back home on foot. It was definitely a bit of a trek, but I figured I could use the exercise and I wanted to see more of the town.
Wednesday afternoon I went out again but headed in the opposite direction – up hill towards the volcanoes. OH the volcanoes! They are GORGEOUS. I have never been in a place where the peaks nearby are SO tall. I look out my window in the morning and I can see these massive snow capped peaks which seem really close, but so much higher than where I am! It is seriously impressive. On my walk towards the mountains I encountered a totally different kind of area: way less populated. I would walk by a field of corn, then a few hardware stores, a field of llamas, then a few car dealerships, a field of crop X, then some lumber stores. It was really pretty interesting. After about an hour I came upon a more populated, but clearly more poor, area of a bunch of stores and vendors in the street. I walked around looking at stores (and getting a lot of weird looks – I’m sure this isn’t a place tourists often make it to), bought a churro – which surprised me when it turned out to be filled with a sweet goo like dulce de leche – then headed back down towards the house. I explored more around the house (and another grocery store) before heading home for dinner and calling it a night.
Taking Spanish classes has been fantastic, especially with Maria. I have loved living in her house with her, Sonja, and Diana. There are two other women here from Canada who are leaving tomorrow also, and having all six of us has been really kind of fun! My classes have been a great review for my grammar, and a boost for my vocabulary. I just need to keep studying on my own and hopefully continue getting better! A lot of my classes involved reading articles and then discussing them, or just having conversations – which is exactly what I need. I am very comfortable here, and my room is really nice! I would highly recommend studying here for anyone who wants comfortable and welcoming place to live and study Spanish. It is perfect because I can retreat to my room when I want to be alone, or I can hang out with the girls downstairs if I want company and more language practice! The girls are adorable and are very patient with my speaking – and more than willing to act out any word I ask for a definition of! Llama Education – seriously look at it if you want a nice place to study!
This week has been very thought-provoking, and I’ve spent much of it contemplating what I’ve learned in the last few months of this trip. I don’t think I’m ready to unleash the fury of my brain quite yet, but in the next few weeks I’ll hopefully be able to clarify what I’m thinking and share what I feel I have learned through these few months of traveling. More than anything, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my life – and feeling pretty guilty that I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do! I wish I had some specific career that I wanted to work towards, but I honestly don’t. It isn’t that I don’t have ambition, I just don’t have a specific thing I know I should be doing. I love managing people, problem solving, figuring out logistics, and researching… but I don’t know HOW to put those into action. I’m definitely open to ideas.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about people who visit the United States, like I’m visiting all of these countries, and only see part of it. I met a few girls from London last week who said they had only been to New York City, and it dawned on me that their perception of the US is COMPLETELY different than my life in the US! NYC is like a foreign country to me, as is Las Vegas or Miami – places that foreigners frequently visit. It makes me a bit sad that they don’t have any idea what it is like to live in Boulder, or the suburbs of Portland, because that is MY life as a normal American. Thinking about that then leads me to think about my experience here: what more am I missing!? What haven’t I seen? When I come home I anticipate getting a barrage of questions such as “how was Peru?” or “What was Ecuador like?” – but I don’t feel like I can adequately answer them. If I asked someone who had only ever seen NYC what the USA was like, their answer would be SO different from what I know the USA to be – I don’t think I can do any of these countries justice because I haven’t lived and experienced them as a local. And I probably never will. For some reason this makes me a bit sad, even though I know this is the way traveling is – and I’m glad I at least realize this difference rather than just making assumptions about a country as a whole.
Tomorrow I head for Puno to see the floating islands in Lake Titicaca, then to Cusco to meet up with the family! Woohoo!