My long-winded accounts of my investigations into issues for the pueblos jovenes of Arequipa shouldn't lead anyone to think that I haven't been having fun as well.
Last Wednesday Lizbeth and Tessy talked me into acting as a guide and taking a Dutch couple to the waterfalls of Sogay. Those who read my blog when I was last in Peru may remember that I "discovered" this walk as a possible tourist attraction, and had made three trips there.
Lizbeth had already sold the trip to the couple, who said they wanted to do something"different", but couldn't get hold of a guide. I was reluctant to go; I wasn't entirely sure of the route (it was a year and a half since I'd been there), and thought the river might be a little high from melting snow.
However, Rafael, with whom I'd gone there twice previously, said that there were now arrows pointing the way to the falls (just what I had suggested in a blog post at the time) so you couldn't go astray. I also thought it would be a good chance for exercise, to burn off some of that comida arequipeña, as well as a favour to Lizbeth, who is giving me free room and board for the entire time I'm here.
It was quite a good trip in the end. The river wasn't any higher than it had been in September / October, but the rainy reason had left countryside awash with green. The normally arid areas beyond the township of Sogay were ablaze with red, orange and yellow wildflowers, and buzzing with birds and butterflies. The strategically positioned painted blue arrows were also a great help in ensuring we didn't get lost.
I took along Ayda, an apprentice from the Incaventura agency. She is the younger sister of Rivelino, who also worked for Incaventura. Their family is from San Juan de Chuccho, a little village at the bottom of the Colca Canyon, and examplify the new generation of rural mestizo migrants to the Peruvian cities. As an exhibition I saw at a gallery of the San Agustin university said, their parents or grandparents lived a near subsistence existence; while this generation "dances to salsa and reggaeton and is studying computing and English at an institute".
Ayda still posseses a healthy dose of country-girl ingenuity and is subject to restrictively close family ties, but is at the same time very into her clothes and makeup. When Tessy suggested she come on the trip to Sogay, I said that would be great but to make sure to wear some sensible clothes. "It's a trek over rough ground and you're likely to get wet crossing the river", I harrumphed. "Don't think you can just wear tight jeans and flat-soled trainers".
Ayda obeyed my instructions to the extent that she showed up the next morning in leather street shoes and slightly older jeans. But during the walk, although she played the high-maintenance girl ("are we nearly there yet, Simon?"), her country background came out. While I and the tourists struggled along the hot, dusty walk and scramble along the riverbanks, Ayda casually made her way over the rocky bits, across the river, and up the steep and somewhat risky climb to the falls, as if they weren't there.
On Sunday afternoon, we were invited to a "pollada" in the lower-middle class suburb of San Martin in northeastern Arequipa. This is kind of community fiesta, organised by a family or local group, usually held in the street. Fried chicken and beer are served, usually as part of a fund-raising effort.
This particular pollada was supposedly in honour of "la santísima virgen de Fatima", but there was no discernible religious tone to the proceedings - just chicken and beer, plus a performance by a group of mariachis in full costume.
On the way out there, through dusty, potholed streets past houses with peeling paint, I thought that this was one of the less attractive parts of the city, and had a rather depressing feel. But later, as we sat at a table in the middle of a street blocked off by a row of parked cars, enjoying the food and good cheer and laughing at Gerardo's attempts to join a game of football ("no, Gerardo, you have to stand in front of the goal to guard it!"), it occurred to me that these kind of casual, friendly, neighbourhood festivities no longer exist where I come from.
On Monday, which was a public holiday, I took Ayda to eat at La Cecilia, the best known of the typical restaurants to the south of the city at Arancota. These all have big interior and outside patios, and serve huge helpings of traditional Arequipan dishes. On weekends and holidays, they also often have live music.
One of my last trips to Arancota was on my birthday in 2004, and was something of a disaster. I'd picked up a case of food poisoning in Bolivia, and though I'd had a couple of relapses upon eating rich food, thought I was over it.
However, after a long afternoon of scoffing piles of artery-trashing chicharron de chancho (fried pork), litres of beer, and the excitment of the Copa America Peru-Argentina quarter final, I discovered later that night that the bugs in my stomach weren't yet entirely gone. The violent reaction of my metabolism lasted most of the night; it was close to the sickest I've ever been for a short period, as my afternoon's consumption was rejected in, shall we say, both directions. I was eventually cured the next day by a rather execrable "home remedy" cooked up by Hugo to supplement the powerful, unprescribed antibiotics supplied by his nurse technician cousin.
On Monday, though, I suffered no such problems. After being frustrated in my search for lighter items on the menu - arroz con pato and tamales were "weekends only"- I settled for a huge heap of fried chicken. Washed down with plenty of beer and burned off by marathon dancing efforts to the brassy salsa, merengue and cumbia pumped out by the house band, it was all part of a great afternoon.
There's also been several trips to discotheques, and I've rediscovered the joys of dancing salsa, as well as the possibility of going out and doing something other than just drinking.
Today (Saturday) is likely to be my penultimate in Arequipa, and I'm contributing the food and alcohol for another parrillada at Hugo and Lizbeth's place. It's with considerable reluctance that I'm moving on, but I'm just grateful that I've been able to pass such a happy couple of weeks. And I have to remember the original purpose of my trip - more adventure awaits in the jungle.