Arequipa Plaza de Armas
Travel Dates 23rd March - 2nd April 2010.
Please click on a picture to see the larger version.
While wandering in Peru I have stayed in Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, Yanque, Puno and Cusco. Each city, town or village has been different, but there are many similarities.
My guide on the visit to Colca Canyon explained that when the Spaniards arrived in Colca Valley most of the indigenous population lived in scattered family groups, not even big enough to be called villages. Each family tended their fields and animals and lived near or with them. In addition to force and terror the Spaniards used two primary methods to control the conquered population – urbanisation and religion. They forcibly moved the population to newly constructed towns. Each town was based around a central square which was bordered by the church, municipal administrative offices and the justice offices or prisons. See this interesting report for more details on that.
The system used in Colca Valley was not much different to that in other regions, although those had some major Inca villages and cities such as Cusco or, happily missed by the Conquistadores, Machu Picchu. Consequently there is a similarity in design in all of the towns and cities.
It is the differences that stood out to me. Lima was simply too big and too polluted and has grown beyond comfort levels. The coastal strip south of Lima, as seen from the bus, quickly became a successive collection of beach-side villages; some obviously meant for the affluent, some not. Those fairly soon disappeared to be replaced by seemingly endless miles of arid grey dunes, hills and desert.
The saviours of the dispersed coastal towns like Paracas, Ica and Nazca are the rivers that are fed many kilometres upstream by mountain rains and snow melts. This is the view from the bridge in Nazca; the water is there, but under the rocks.
Construction is similar to that in other arid communities around the world, with little attention paid to roofing as the chances of rain are minimal.
Nazca was much smaller and more pleasant than Lima, despite being a dusty desert town. The citizens seemed happy and friendly; I wandered by foot wherever I wished to and never felt threatened, day or night. However, the economy was obviously affected by the shortage of tourists as a consequence of the calamity at Machu Picchu, compounded by their local problems of air safety for flights over the famous lines. Hopefully both will be quickly resolved. At the moment the hotels, hostels and restaurants seem much less than half full. I stayed in the Walk On Inn. Cheap, with wonderful staff who were very helpful when I came down with a bad case of the traveller's curse (don't eat at the little local cafe just around the corner from the hostel on the way to town); it's a pity that the mattresses didn't match the comfort of the hosts.
In Nazca, as in Miraflores Lima, many families congregate in and around the main square in the evening for several hours. It appears to be the primary social centre of the town. Away from Lima the use of manual labour rather than machinery for many labouring tasks was common. These guys were really fit; that is a full bucket of concrete that worker has just hoisted onto his shoulder to take up a flight of stairs.
Arequipa was much more affluent and more Spanish in it's style. The city was much bigger than I had expected, so I was very pleased when I discovered that my hotel, Los Tambos, was in a perfect central location. The major buildings in the city are constructed from a whitish volcanic pumice-like rock called “sillar” which is light, strong and easily worked. That led to it becoming known as the White City; its location on the old silver trails led to it becoming the second city of Peru and the most “Spanish” of the cities outside Lima.
Unfortunately the volcanoes which produced it are not dead, just dormant. There are over 80 volcanoes around the city. The last eruption by the nearest and biggest, El Misti, was over five hundred years ago but there have also been earthquakes since. I don't think they will be building many skyscrapers here.
Possibly because of its position in the Centro Historico the central square is less of a social centre compared to Nazca, but it is still lively until well into the evening. Again, I felt safe wherever I went. My only concern when walking – in all the towns of Peru – is the multitude of wandering dogs with no apparent owners. I have not been attacked, but I was not comfortable with them at times.
Here is another example of hard - but very effective - labour in Arequipa. The second picture simply attracted me as a good photo.
Puno was a less friendly town. It was the only one where I noticed groups of teenage youths and girls appearing in the squares in the evening and an absence of families in those squares. It seemed a more industrial town, as did nearby Juliaca, and less welcoming to the traveller. As an aside, it was the only town where I noticed professional scribes using typewriters on the street.
I chose unwisely by booking the Hostal Helena Inn on the web. The price was great at US$25 but on arrival I found I was on the fourth floor with no lift. At 7:30 pm I took the risk of leaving and nervously wandering down the street looking for a place to stay. After rejecting a couple of seedy hostels I took a chance and walked into the 4-star Royal Inn. As I saw the displayed rack rate of $105 for a single I turned around to walk out again but the girl at the desk called out $40! I booked in for two nights. I was the only person at breakfast. There was a bigger crowd on the second night because a German tour group arrived. Just an example of the effect that the Machu Picchu mudslides has had on other towns.
I'll write a little more on Yanque, a tiny village in the Colca Valley, when I write more on that valley and the canyon.
Finally, Cusco. On first impressions it is very similar to Arequipa. But, as I spend a few more days here I am starting to realise Cusco's longer and more diverse history has made it more complex and its heavy tourist presence has made it more cosmopolitan. I find it the most interesting of the towns on my Peruvian trip so far and I'm looking forward to the Easter celebrations which have already started to a small degree.