SOUTH AMERICA – THE JOURNEY PART 17
My twisted body lay on the floor surrounded by giggles from bystanders. As I wriggled around, trying to regain some composure, I caught glimpses of laughing faces as I desperately tried to escape what was fast becoming the Roll of Shame.
My capoeira teacher came to the rescue, holding my arched back into an obscure position that I was supposed to have mastered. Clearly I hadn’t. I was made to roll/scramble for the full length of the room, much to everyone’s amusement, including my own. Eventually I was freed from the humiliation and hid at the back of the class, wondering why I had decided to take up the Brazilian martial art.
I’d joined the class with Robyn, an Aussie chick who I’ve been staying with in Arequipa, Peru. The two of us, in a moment of wisdom, thought we’d work off the ten ton of potatoes and rice we’d eaten in Bolivia by taking up capoeira. It wasn’t going to plan.
We also signed up for Spanish lessons at EDEAQ. It seemed a good idea until my head nearly exploded with new linguistic input. Added to that was the uber-organised Swiss director whose unhealthy obsession with safety became the school joke. Insisting on a security briefing for every student, he would throw himself into the corner of the room and declare: “You must not be distracted whilst walking through the streets – you’ll become a target for muggers. If you want to clean your sunglasses you must find a safe corner in a doorway, place your back to the door and only then take out your glasses to wipe them.” This was accompanied by a demonstration during which people somehow managed to maintain a straight face.
During my three weeks in Arequipa I haven’t once needed to throw myself into a doorway or hide from oncoming locals. I’ve enjoyed the laid back vibe of the city, its white-washed buildings and the 6,000m volcanoes forming a film set backdrop. The cathedral, church and convent all in the centre of the city, add depth to the arched restaurants that flood the pristine plaza.
In between munching away on a guinea pig (yes, it’s a Peruvian dish that I will not be eating again), sampling too many roast chickens and chips (another bizarre dish that Peru and Bolivia seem to love) and drinking copious amounts of caffeine at Cuzco Coffee, I managed to fit in some cultural experiences.
The Ice Princess, a 500-year old mummy found on the summit of a nearby volcano, was a particular highlight. The child sacrifice was discovered in the 1990’s and she was believed to have hiked from Cuzco to Arequipa along an old Inca route to the ice-covered mountain. She was sacrificed to the gods to bring good luck to her people, receiving a blow to her head and buried in a grave. Now Juanita is housed in Museo Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria.
On top of this I took a visit to Santa Catalina, a convent which is so expansive that it has streets within it. The brightly painted walls and mosaics adorn the affluent sanctuary, made for rich woman who renounced life with the outside world in turn for praying and sewing. Some might say it’s akin to marriage.
I also found myself clasping my hands in prayer that the humiliation of the Roll of Shame would not happen again. And it hasn’t. I simply haven’t ventured back to the capoeira studio.
WHERE TO STAY IN AREQUIPA
www.hostalwayrariverperu.com 309 Calle Cruz Verde
You MUST stay at Wayra River Hostel during your time in Arequipa. Run by Alehandra, a super-friendly 30-year old, she’ll welcome into the place like a best friend. The hostel has a great outdoor area reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture, a sun roof, heaps of character and breakfast included. 24 soles per night with breakfast – discount for long-term stay.
WHERE ON EARTH?
- Has borders with Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Columbia
- Has a population of 29.5 million
- Over 36 percent of the population lives in poverty
- Peru’s second largest city after the capital, Lima
- Is a rich city with affluent buildings, department stores and gated communities
- Is also known as La Ciudad Blanca, the white city