While standing in line at the Metro supermarket—something I have spent an aggravatingly lot of time doing—I saw, on the widescreen television, a muscular blond actress urging a crying redhead to presumably assault a tied-up man, whose face was purple and beaten. The redhead was literally shaking with terror as the blond one screamed, eventually pushing the redhead aside and pointing a gun at the man. A yellow bubble appeared in the middle of the screen with the name of some local cola, then red and white slides popped up, and a jingle began. I believe I was watching an advertisement for a soft drink.
Every five minutes, a car alarm sounds without fail.
Every 10 minutes, an explosion can be heard in the distance. It is still unclear whether these are from the surrounding mountain mines (southern Peru being rich in copper, gold, etc.) or whether Arequipa is, as a city, fascinated by non-stop celebratory fireworks.
Floors everywhere are incredibly, inexplicably slippery. In El Centro, the historic downtown, this was explained to us as the result of centuries of footwork, soles smoothing out the stone sidewalks. But the ground is just as smooth inside. Our kitchen, for example, is ridiculous. I nearly fall over every time I try and cook eggs. Banks, supermarkets, shopping centres—I’ve stopped lifting my feet entirely, instead having perfecting a sort of skate-stride that I use to shuffle around from store to store.
Traffic is lethally DIY. Upon approaching a tight intersection of one-way streets, etiquette is to honk several times, briskly, as much to announce your presence to potentially unseen on-comers as to warn the world, “I am not slowing down.” Pedestrians have no rights here, either: We simply wait until there’s enough of a break to jaywalk; this inevitably cumulates in a force-by-numbers attitude, wherein one will take a step forward, empowering another to take to, and before we know it we are a mob of legs marching forward, halting begrudging drivers with our sheer mass. It doesn’t always work, though. Yesterday, a traffic cop felt enough pedestrians had crossed on a green light—a green light!—and began waving through cars again, in defiance of the red bulbs hanging overhead.
While apartment hunting, we met a realtor, and gave her our parameters: Furnished, no more than 1,500 soles per month (about $500 USD) and located in Yanahuara or lower Cayma. She showed us seven places over three hours that did not fit any of our specifications. She was a frenzied woman with dark hair, purple eye shadow and unfortunate teeth. Before we saw the third apartment, she left us sitting in her car with her elderly mother for 10 minutes while she scoured her house for the right key. (It turned out to be in her purse the whole time.) When she opened the door, the car alarm blared—the second time that day that had happened. She continued to drive both slowly and aggressively, gradually pushing into lanes of oncoming cars that showed no hint of slowing down. She had some trouble getting into the second apartment of the day—she tried the key in the doors of the second, third and fourth floors of a building before a small child opened up and asked what she was doing. (It turned out to be the first floor she wanted.) In the last apartment, long after the sun had set, we waited 40 minutes for the guy with the key to show up to a condo that we knew was considerably above our price range anyway. When we tried to leave, she assured us it would be five minutes more and that the man was already on his way. She spoke to him on the phone loudly, with her phone on speaker and held inches from her face. When we parted, she asked us for 20 soles for the day. We gave it to her and never spoke to her again.
The travel blog of a Canadian journalist currently back in Toronto after a few stints abroad. "A Long Way Back" refers to a round-the-world trip I took from Korea to Canada back in 2013, which I turned into a book in 2016. The trip is over, but the name stuck.
Ways to Buy “A Long Way Back: Stories of Travelling Home”