Thursday, May 27, 2004

I've got a little "stuck" in Arequipa, but I justify the ease, comfort and slightly higher spending involved in this by pointing out that it's been the best place so far for meeting people in social situations. Apart from actually settling down and working (which I'm not quite ready to do yet), this is the best way to improve one's Spanish.

The centre of Arequipa is a ten to twenty block gridded oasis of stone streets and buildings of elaborately carved white volcanic stone and wrought iron, amidst the sprawling wider city. Sort of the South Beach to greater Arequipa's Miami. The little hatchback taxis nudge and honk their way around the one-way system and there's a very European feel; to me it brings to mind somewhere almost Italian.

There's a lot of tourists, though it's not yet quite the high season. At first I thought that Arequipa was a tourist trap, cut off from reality and where people are either irritated by the presence of so many foreigners, or are madly seeking to take advantage of them. It still may not be the real world (what is?), but I was wrong about the people.

Apart from the people I've met in bars (principally the girl I danced with on Friday night and her four or five female "cousins"), in a few days I've made friends with the guy who works in the place that sells espresso coffee (vanishingly rare in S. America), the girls who work at the internet cafe and their friend who takes salsa classes and is desperate to migrate to Australia, the three waitresses at the Quebecois-owned Mexican restaurant/bar (including an Ecuadorian girl who is also travelling around S. America and working as she goes to get together money to move on), the waitress at the "Irish" pub near the cathedral (not really an Irish pub at all but a normal local bar with a pool table, silly Irish name and an Irish flag on the wall), and the people at the adventure travel agency where I arranged the Colca Canyon trip, and who've just offered me some kind of job (but I don't think it's going to work out).

I know that sounds like mostly girls, and it is, but really I've been happy to talk to anyone. It's true that "las arequipeñas" are probably the most beautiful women I've seen, ah, anywhere outside of Spain, and that it's not unknown for them to want to meet foreign guys. Apparently, some of these are "malas" who will flirt or more with foreign men and then drag them round expecting to be bought things. I haven't met any such people so far; rather, pretty much everyone I've met has warned me about this. Yes, as a gringo male you do get more attention than you could expect at home, not being a representative rugby player, in a month of Sundays. But most of it is just smiles, and wanting to talk and/or dance. Which I think is pretty nice.

Although people in Chile are pretty friendly once you break the ice, and I had a really good time going out especially in Arica, on the whole there's just a bit more reserve and insularity. Chilean people I've met, both here and in NZ, also see to have this weird thing where they want to be friends for a while, then suddenly can't be bothered with you anymore. Or maybe that's just with me..

Here, there's just a little bit more alegria, and affectionate mutual piss-taking is the norm. I've thought about it, and concluded that the whole vibe is quite Spanish. There's certainly plenty of people who *look* Spanish here. Or maybe it's something Argentinian without the inflated sense of self-importance.

The centre of Arequipa is certainly extremely middle-class; people are well-dressed and look relatively wealthy, it's very clean (though there are no rubbish bins), and relatively orderly. So in that sense it's not the "real" Peru. But I realised on my last trip that in order to make a real connection with people - to really make friends - you need to have something in common with them, some minimal sharing of histories, aspirations and values. As it turned out, I had a lot more in common with some of the students from Guatemala City than with most people in Christchurch. So it is in Arequipa.

With very poor people you can converse, and they may be extremely friendly and curious, but there's a certain point past which you just don't have, and haven't had, the same life. It helps if you are sharing work with them, but even then you don't inhabit the same reality.

Of course I've figured out, you don't always have to make friends with people. It can also be good just to listen to people's stories and have an objective appreciation of how their lives are. Yes, the "journalistic" approach. Something I need to work on more...

Coming soon, a report on my trip to the Colca Canyon.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

On the second day in Arequipa, we went to the musuem which houses the famous "Juanita", aka the "Ice Maiden" - the 13-year old Incan girl scarificed at the summit of the 6300m Ampato volcano and then preserved in ice for 500 years. In 1995 erupting smoke from a nearby volcano melted the ice cap and an archeological expedition found her and accompanying objects tipped out of their summit grave and sent a few hundred metres down the mountainside by the volcanic tremors. The visit to the museum was an hour long, involving a twenty-minute National Geographic video and a forty-minute guided tour through exhibits of various objects found with Juanita and other sacrificed children (to date eighteen have been discovered on mountaintops from Ecuador to Chile), then finally Juanita herself, housed in a glass case chilled to -20 degrees, hair, teeth and skin largely preserved, huddled in a sitting position and wrapped in a frozen blanket.

Lonely Planet describes the whole presentation as "somewhat reverential", which I would say is an understatement. The tour around the exhibits was ok, as the girl who took us was quite matter of fact, but the video, in reconstructing Juanita's last journey, made it sound as if it was the most wonderful privilege, as if someone had organised her a special birthday party. How do I convey the tone of it? Well for one thing, the word "sacrificio" was off limits - all the discussion was of an "ofrenda" (offering), anda woman at the front desk corrected me when I asked a question about the "sacrifice". As was pointed out both in the video and by the guide, the children "offered" on mountaintops were considered "chosen". Of aristocratic blood, they were brought up in Cuzco, lived with Incan priests from an early age, and grew up believing in their special calling. The Incan gods were belived to live in the mountains and volcanoes, and while offerings of artefacts were routinely made, live humans were reserved for times of difficulty and hardship, when it was thought that the gods needed to be placated.

From the artefacts found with Juanita, which included seashell necklaces, it is thought that she was sacrificed during a time of drought. Although remains have been found on mountaintops throughout the former Inca empie, the current theory is that all the sacrificed children were chosen acolytes from Cuzco, who were sent, often on very long and arduous journeys to the troubled spots. Sort of like a sacred and sacrifical SWAT team. Such chosen children would have believed, apparently, that upon their physical death they would pass to the other side and join the gods, themselves becoming gods.

The reality for Juanita is that she was a little girl who had to fast for a couple of weeks before the big day, then trekked hundreds of kilometres and up to the summit of a 6300-metre volcano (given the available clothing and equipment, an impressive physical feat for all involved), was given chicha and hallucinogens then, already half-dead from cold and exhaustion, was whacked over the head with a spiked mallet and bundled into a shallow grave along with some vases, blankets, dolls and bags of coca leaves. It had previously been imagined that she had been left there to let the cold usher her gently into the next realm. However, tests run at John Hopkins University established the rather cruder reality of the cause of death. With the benefit of this information, you can see the two notches in the side of her skull and note the partially collapsed eye socket where the blow fell.

The video interspersed comments from the archeologists with a reenactment of Juanita's last hours (accompanied by taciturn Inca nobles trudging up through the mist and silently performing ceremonies, leaving out the bit with the hammer). The female voice-over surged in tones of ecstatic awe as it reiterated how Juanita believed she was doing a great service to the nation and herself heading off to join the gods. Even on the face of the young actress in the reenactment, however, there were clear signs of suppressed terror. Maybe, like me, she couldn't help imagining what it would really have been like. I felt a few tears coming to my eyes as the voice-over waxed lyrical about the personal glory of becoming such an "offering". Quite an Orwellian moment.

Afterwards, Magdalena, a Swiss girl who had been on the tour with me, had a different thought. Why, she wondered, speaking about the eighteen bodies which have now been found, didn't they just leave them there? If the intention was that the dead children were gifts to the mountain, and we are so au fait with and understanding about that cultural practice, why do we insist on dragging them off the mountainside. The answer that occurred to me was that the Inca religon involved human sacrifice on mountaintops. Our religon is science, and museums are its temples, where other values tend to be sacrificed. Perhaps in the future people will find that quirkily barbaric as well.

Last Sunday in Arica people gathered in bars and living rooms to watch the "classico" of South American football - River Plate vs. Boca Juniors, the clash across the tracks and class lines of Buenos Aires. River won 1-0, with a goal in the first half, while Boca ended the game with 9 players and River with 10. Two of the sending offs were for double yellow cards, and one directly for a two-footed sliding tackle, while by the end of the game each side had three players with yellow cards. The referee has the reputation of being particularly officious, but I have to say that, apart from the second yellow card to one of the players sent off, it was all pretty richly deserved. For highly skilled players, the level of callous clumsiness wouldn't have been out of place indoors at the Queens Wharf Event Centre on a Monday night in Wellington.

Watch out for one Maxi Lopez, though. He was brought on by River as a replacement when Marcelo Salas limped off in the eighth minute, much to the disgust of watching Chileans. Bearing a striking resemblance to the bass player from Iron Maiden (like many of the players on both teams), he nevertheless seemed a class above anyone else on the field, and set up several goal scoring opportunities. If he isn't snapped up by a Spanish or Italian club soon, my name is Diego Maradona.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Well, I haven't really managed to keep up with the overwrought description of every day of my travels, have I. I just can't seem to keep up with a travel journal. Or perhaps the real problem is that I can't manage to be succint - the way it's been going is that I've been leaving out pretty much all the interesting bits, allowing me to maintain my standard level of verbosity regarding the boring bits. I have taken notes, though - and at some other time when I get off my weak-willed ass will try and write about the good bits. Meantime, the update is that, after two pretty lazy weeks in Arica I've made it to Arequipa, Peru. Man, what a beautiful place...snow-capped mountains hovering over stone monasteries and cobblestone streets. Not good prospects for catching up with any writing. There's volcanoes to climb and canyons to...ah, what's the opposite of climb? Plunge into? Condors to see too, apparently.

Just so I hold myself to account, I've left out half of what I did in Santiago, everything in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, everything to do with San Pedro de Atacama and the trip to Uyuni in Bolivia, as well as my entire time in Arica. Plus other thematically organised entries I was planning on various topics. Qué flojo soy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

On the road to Bahìa Inglesa, I took a picture of a road sign where someone had scratched the leg off the 'r' on 'Ruta 5' so it read 'Puta 5'. Infantile, I know, but against the grey desert spreading off into the distance I thought it had some pathos. Later, walking back the other way, I saw a sign that had received the same treatment - only this time someone had come along and actually painted the leg back on the r.

Bahìa Inglesa is a curve of coarse white sand facing a big blunt headland, "El Morro", on the other side of the bay. The evidence of the summer rush only goes one block back from the beach, in the form of a couple of hotels and restaurants, and the little cabañas crowded together at each end of the bay - then the town disappears into the desert. On an overcast mid-April day, it was eerily quiet.

I couldn't have missed Connie's cousin's place, "Chango Chile" - it's constituted of a cluster of canvas domes right on the beachfront. One giant dome houses the restuarant/bar/reception area, while four smaller domes have beds for guests. I talked to Connie's cousin Alex and the three or four Chilean guys who work with him. They were friendly, if seeming a little anxious. The whole place has been there for only a couple of months, and I guess after some fairly major investmenmt they're keen to drum up some business.

The domes don't have anything to do with some kind of hippie ideal (I can see you snickering Dad). Rather, it was a design they liked after looking at a few different options. The frames were assembled by bolting together metre-long steel struts, which form a skeleton principally of hexagons, each dome ending up with five pentagons. They did this bit themselves according to the design, and cut out the specially-made fabric, which was put in place over the domes with professional help. The windows and skylights in the domes close with velcro.

The concept is quite daring. Granted, despite the suggestion of drizzle the first day I was there, as a rule it doesn't rain in Bahìa Inglesa. One thing they may not have counted on though is the level of chill that can creep in. When I was there some people came in for dinner, and they had to bring in the gas heater to warm the main dome, while Alex wandered round frowning, saying "It's actually colder inside than out...".

Alex has been in Chile for twelve years, and speaks the "huevòn, huevòn, huevòn" chileno patois with fluency. His best friend at school in San Diego was Chilean, and after school finished suggested they take off to explore Chile. Alex went along for the ride and never left.

I talked a bit to one of the guys, Marcelo, who brought out a pot of mate sweetened with cinammon sticks. He studied anthropology at university, and spent eight months living with fishermen on the coast south of Caldera for this thesis. Right now, he says, there's a vague possibility he could get involved in a community development/technology transfer project with some local organisation. But for the present he seemed content to cruise along working for Alex. Incidentally, his sister Gabriela finished her studies in agriculture at Lincoln University, currently worksin Christchurch and is living in Lyttelton...

While I was at Chango Chile, the big concern was to organise a photo shoot showing the domes and the bay with people enjoying themselves. The photos were to appear in a Californian magazine, and the deadline to supply them was about up. The only problem was that for the pictures they needed (a) sun (which came out the next day)and (b) some girls (who are not that abundant in Bahìa Inglesa in mid-April). There was some frenetic discussion following the appearance of "Mono", the proprietor of (the) restaurant down the street, to ascertain the availability of his (as it eventually turned out) stuningly beautiful French wife Sylvie and two of her friends to appear in the photo shoot.

After talking with everyone, Alex offered me a discount and I said I'd come and stay the next night there. I started walking back towards Caldera through the desert as the twilight started to fall. Though I was on the wrong side of the road to hitch, a truck driver pulled over and offered me a lift back to Caldera. He said he worked as a policeman in the area for twenty years and got sick of it. Now he is in the recycling business, which is what the truck was for. Dirty work, he said, but "buena moneda". I said something like, well, you're still doing something for the community too. He heartily agreed, and we talked some more about the development of tourism and eco-tourism in northern Chile.

I took a stroll in the plaza, cooked dinner and had a bottle of beer at the unfriendly residencia, and tried to catch up with my journal. I was starting to feel ok about being in a small town.