We arrived in Arequipa in what seemed to be the dead of night. It was actually 5am but the place had yet come to life. The hostel allowed us to stay in the television room where the comfy armchairs were certainly an upgrade from the cramped night bus. Fair play to them though as they let us check-in at 7am when the receptionist replaced the night security guard. As with most other places in Peru it’s a pay on check-out establishment which means that you have to remember to settle your bill before you leave.
This morning we said goodbye to Nilo who was continuing onto Cusco. He’s a great tour guide, up there with the best that I’ve seen. Despite working long hours, covering the same route up and down Peru and having to deal with people who would seriously test anyone’s patience, Nilo always seemed to be in a good mood and happy to help. He could easily switch from telling us dark details from Peru’s history in an informative manner, to being the life and soul of the party. Nilo appears to love Peru but will also acknowledge its limitations. He genuinely seems grateful for people visiting and has a genuine passion for showing people around his country.
The obvious introduction to Arequipa was the free walking tour. Looking back on the tour, the guide mostly took us on a tour of local businesses. This actually turned out fine as the tour was informative, we saw stuff that we wouldn’t have otherwise and nobody was pushy regarding selling their goods. The first stop was a place where they make fancy alpaca wool products. These aren’t just pricey by Peru standards, hence the high level of security present. We saw the whole process, from the live animals round back, the wool being cleaned, the weaving stage and the shop selling the finished wares. At various other locations were samples of chocolate, ice cream and wine which are almost obligatory of these sort of tours.
Perhaps the most interesting stop on the tour was at a restaurant in the Plaza de Armas, the main square. I’ve seen quite a few plazas in Latin America and Arequipa’s is right up there with the best. Three sides have balconies and terraces and at the end of the plaza is the cathedral with a breathtaking backdrop of three snow-capped volcanoes. We then walked through this restaurant and up some stairs at the rear. This took us into a room full of junk, where after climbing up a ladder were on the roof. The “roof terrace” probably hasn’t had a risk assessment done judging by the straight drop onto the square below but the views were fantastic. Walter, the chef in the restaurant we had just walked through then explained his culinary art. It’s Pre-Inka cuisine and was described to us in a very spiritual way. Some less enlightened people may describe this as mumbo-jumbo but I’m a bit more open-minded and would prefer to call Walter passionate about his craft. Walter’s not modest either. We were handed leaflets that listed where he’s been featured and his cooking accolades. Also on the leaflet is a portrait of the man himself, arms crossed and appearing like some sort of celebrity chef. Walter’s bit of a an eccentric character and this scared about half of the group off. This must have happened before as the tour guide was already standing on the back door awaiting his tip!
Arequipa is known as the White City, a name derived from the fact that many buildings are built from white volcanic stone. Its centre is really nice with plenty of narrow cobbled streets, colonial buildings and courtyards, with plenty of people buzzing around. As with Lima, the standard of driving here wasn’t great. The old town area is built on a grid with a lack of traffic lights and no obvious right of way at junctions and that includes pedestrians. This leads to plenty of indecisiveness and horns blowing. I saw a few near misses but no crashes.