Sunday, February 06, 2005

Dispatches - 22 Dec 2004 - 19 Jan 2005

I spent Christmas with Paola's family; as seems to be traditional here, Christmas Eve was reserved for present giving and a formal dinner, while the next day was dedicated to a bbq. It being Peru, this means a drinking marathon, no matter how respectable and reserved a family might appear on the surface.

I had brought a bottle of Sol de Ica pisco from my trip to the Ica vineyards as a present for the family, but first we had to work our way through a bottle of pisco from the valle de Majes, and later there were a series of wines from Majes, sweet but fresh and eminently drinkable.

The tradition here is for everyone to drink from the same bottle and glass, which are passed round from person (this would no doubt give infection control practitioners nightmares, but I think the alcohol tends to kill most germs). My introduction to this practice was another bbq at Paola's place, for Fathers Day. I wasn't aware of the rules, and on being handed a bottle and glass, assumed they where for my personal consumption; the others would have their own drinks too. I was sipping slowly from my glass and absorbed in a conversation with Paola's mother, when someone called out "Qué vieja tiene la botella!" ("What old lady's got the bottle!"). The old lady was me, and I learned my lesson. However, Paola's uncle delights in teasing me, and nowadays as soon as I'm passed the bottle and glass he shouts "Qué vieja tiene la botella!". Highly amusing.

Paola was fortunate enough to receive a phone call from her best friend Vanessa, which meant she could abstain for an hour. But in any case, the women of the family were quite within their rights to pull out, and wave "no thanks" when the bottle was passed. Not so the men. "You don't *have* to keep drinking" Paola told me when I confided to her my apprehension about the afternoon's bbq. Actually, I kind of do, I explained. When her father, grandfather, uncles, cousin and brother-in-law keep taking their turns, I can hardly wimp out. Masculinity has its subtleties too.

By 6pm I managed to convince Paola to head to HUgo and Lizbeth's, and we escaped. Of course, they were having a large bbq as well, and the drinking continued. The video camera was brought out, resulting in some hilarious footage, including Hugo dancing a huayno in his sandals and walk shorts. I hope to get some of the film onto CD and take it with me. We then made our second escape, and headed into the centre to meet Vanessa, dance some salsa, and polish off the last couple of beers of a dizzying Christmas.

New Year we spent in Arica, which was pretty blissful. At the crossroads of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, Arica is friendly and tranquil, avoiding the strident national identities of any of those three countries (though the Chilean army maintains a watchful presence). In addition, by January the climate is at its best, warm days and humid nghts with a refreshing breeze in the afternoon. If it hadn't been for the unusal quantities of jellyfish washing ashore, I might even have been persuaded to spend more than a couple of minutes in the water.

We stayed at the Sunny Days hostel run by Ross (NZ) and Beatriz, (Chile) where I had spent some time and worked briefly in May. From there it's a short walk to the beach, where we spent New Year's Eve drinking some beers and watching the fireworks explode over the Pacific ocean.

The two weeks post-New Year I spent trying to tidy things up, finishing off the websites I've been working on (didn't quite manage that, still more to do). Between times we spent a weekend at the beach in Camaná, three hours away on the Arequipan coast. Camaná used to be *the* place for Arequipeños to take their summer holidays; discoteques lined the beach and the parties were long and hedonistic.

In 2001 the huge earthquake which toppled one of the towers of Arequipa's cathedral triggered a localised tidal wave which descended on, and swept away, most of La Punta, the beachside part of Camaná (the town itself is on the Panamericana, a little inland). About thirty people were killed, and most of the buildings destroyed.

In a way it's a tragic story. Before the tidal wave, the sea fell back, leaving hundreds of fish stranded on the beach. Unaware of what was to happen next, local people rushed down to collect the fish, and many were drowned when the tidal wave hit.

On the other hand, it was probably lucky that it happened on a Saturday afternoon in June, when the place was more or less deserted. On a Saturday afternoon in January the beach would have been packed with half of Arequipa, and the tragedy would have reached epic proportions.

Camaná has never really recovered; summer vacationers now spread themselves out at different places along the coast, or go elsewhere. The restaurants, hostels and bars have returned or been repaired along the waterfront, but the residential areas remain in ruins, a grim reminder of the tidal wave. Paola's family had quite a substantial beach house at La Punta, which was completely swept away. We went to visit the site, the first time Paola had been back; not even a ruined wall remained.

That aside, it was a nice weekend on a not-too crowded beach, good seafood, cold beer and even colder water, which didn't tempt me to do more than briefly dip my toes. The waves at Sumner beach in December are balmy by comparison.

Sunday 16 I moved out of my apartment, which I've had since August 20 of last year, and stored a disturbing quantity of stuff with Paola - will have to do some rationalising when I get back. We were both a little irritable /tearful during the packing up process, but cheered up once it was over and the flat was delivered back to the landlord - it felt like one era had finished and a new (though uncertain) one begun.

Sunday 16 January at 8pm I was on the bus to Lima. I spent two days in a little hostel in Miraflores, which is one of the wealthy parts of the city. It's by the sea, with modern, American-style office towers and fast food joints, green parks, and an outdoor shopping mall, "Larcomar" hovering over the ocean.

The coast terminates in some dramatic cliffs dropping to the coastal highway, with an esplanade, or "malecón" along the top of the cliffs. I went for a run along the malecón the second night I was there, which was beautiful, the sunset fiery over the Pacific, the air warm and humid, and the perfectly groomed parks along the way full of modern public sculptures, most un-Peru-like. The most famous of these is the "Park of Love", featuring a giant sculpture of a man and a woman embracing, surroundede by pretty mosaics. I noticed that all the municipal signs, asking people to keep the place tidy and so on, referred to "Miraflores"; as a concept, "Lima" was not in evidence.

The morning of the 19th I took a taxi to the airport and hopped on the Lan Chile flight to Quito, bound for adventures further north.

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