It’s been nearly a year and half since I left the States, since I last saw mom. We’re close, and as this trip drags on and I don’t know when I’ll eventually return for a visit, she’s agreed to schlep down here to see me. Nice! We decide to meet in Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city and one that I hadn’t seen yet. Unlike Peru’s other large cities, Arequipa is quite beautiful. The colonial architecture is built primarily of sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock, from which Arequipa gets it’s nickname “The White City”. They’ve done a nice job integrating the historical buildings into modern banks, cafes, and shops. Arequipa is also framed by three massive volcanoes normally shrouded in mist, but when they do make an appearance, it’s spectacular.
Sandra kindly arranged for us to stay in one of the hotels of her chain, a step up from the kind of place we would normally stay. Huge buffet breakfasts and higher thread count sheets than I’ve seen in ages. Oh, and our room has a view of El Misti, the largest of the three volcanoes at 19,800 ft. The city is walkable, the weather is warm and sunny, and we spend the next five days exploring, talking, relaxing. There’s not a whole lot to do in Arequipa – honestly, you can see most of the sights in just a couple of days. So we stretch things out.. it’s great having relaxed time to just sit over tea and idly chat about our lives. Arequipa is known for it’s cuisine, although neither of us are real “foodies”, so we didn’t really seek that out.
We begin our sightseeing by popping into the tourist office and asking where the market is, so mom can see indigenous culture first-hand. They give us directions to what turns out to be a modern American-style supermarket! “No, no, where is the real market – where everyday working-class people buy and sell?” “Oh you shouldn’t go there, it’s not safe.” Naturally we take that as an invitation and march directly there, and of course it turns out to be perfectly safe. In fact, it’s the cleanest and best organized market I’ve yet seen in Peru. The iron building itself was designed by a French architect named Gustave Eiffel.. I think he did some big tower in Paris. Despite being clean and organized, the market is still wonderfully funky and interesting. To whit – I see a sign advertising “FROG JUICE – FOR THE BRAIN”. That must be a metaphor, right? We wander over, and sure enough, there is a small aquarium containing live frogs, behind which sits a juicer. The manual kind with a big lever that you’d normally use for oranges. I’m still not believing this. Am I on Candid Camera? A customer walks up and orders a juice. The proprietor takes a frog out of the tank and begins to skin it in preparation to juice it. I turn away at this point because I’m going to wretch. Crazy tourist office – why would we travel 10,000 miles to see a supermarket like we have at home when we could see such a spectacle as frogs being juiced?