I’m in full-blown honeymoon phase for my new life here. There are things I don’t like, greatly outweighed by what I do.
Things I Don’t Like
I don’t like the security precautions I have to take. I haven’t found a gym yet so I’ve been running and doing calisthenics. Sometimes I go to Selva Alegre park a half mile from my apartment. It has llamas. One day a coworker asked me what I did the previous night. I told him I went running around that park. He told me that’s dangerous and I could be robbed. My roommate confirmed this. Why did you let me go?, I asked him. He told me it wasn’t that late. That night, I decided to steer clear of Selva Alegre and ran the streets, which is difficult because they’re crowded with pedestrians. I found a tiny park a half-mile from my apartment in a different direction. I ran around this park four or five times and returned home. My roommates asked me where I went, so I described the park and how to get there. “¿El Parque Mayta Capac?” They told me that little park is much more dangerous than Selva Alegre and I should only go there in the daylight.
Taxis present another security concern. Every day I dart around the city with friends in taxis. I learned my third or fourth day I shouldn’t hail a taxi if I’m by myself. When alone I should call one of the established taxi companies to send a car. If I hail one, there’s a risk of robbery or assault. Obviously not all drivers are bad, but there’s a risk.
Another undesirable aspect is loosely related to gringo safety. I call it the “gringo tax.” Being a gringo, I could be ridiculously overcharged if I’m not prudent, especially in taxis. The taxis here don’t have meters. Instead, you hail the taxi and tell him where you are going. He quotes you a price and, if acceptable, you get in and go. If not, you negotiate a lower price to which the driver may or may not agree.
One day three friends picked me up for lunch, Guillermo and Diego from Argentina and Michelle from Peru.They already had the taxi before getting me, so I didn’t hear the pre-sale negotiation. I didn’t even think about it at the time, but the guys and I were speaking English during the whole ride. Being from Argentina, they’re technically not gringos but they are tourists and they are white. Michelle, the only Peruvian, is as white as Peruvians can be. And I’m obviously a white gringo.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the driver charged us fifteen soles. Michelle tried to argue and asked why it should cost so much, but we paid. We paid the gringo tax. This was a long trip with three stops, but Beto told me that it shouldn’t have costed more than ten soles. To understand why there exists a gringo tax, you can just look at the conversion to US dollars. We are talking about a difference between $5.58 and $3.72.
Things I Don’t Know If I Like or Not
You see gringos every day among the old Spanish architecture and tourist sites of downtown Arequipa. But I never see gringos in the rest of the city or residential areas. So every day I get stared at. I get stared at by all kinds – kids, teens, adults, elderly. Sometimes young children point at me and call their mom. The mom will look at me, smile, and I assume explain to the kid what I am.
I’ve never been a minority, but I don’t think being any minority in America or Europe would feel like this. Maybe being black in Russia. Sometimes I like it – when attractive girls stare at me in the street or in bars.
One night I was eating dinner in a cafeteria across the street from the university. There aren’t doors for this café, but two sides of the cafe are open air. A college-aged girl with her friends passed the cafe when she saw me. Before losing sight, she bent backwards at the waist while walking to see me for an extra moment!
This attention isn’t always cool. I don’t want it on my way to work walking past two dozen Peruvians waiting for the bus. Sometimes I just want to be anonymous.
Every day somebody makes a comment about my size. Every day. I like being big but, again, the attention I get here is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Good attention: I’m eating lunch with new friends and an attractive girls says that I can eat so much because I’m big and strong. Bad attention: I’m meeting a friend’s family and the aunt asks, in front of seven or eight people, “Why do you have such fat shoulders?” That was a literal translation: “hombros gordos.“
Things I Like
Arequipa’s climate is near perfect, a mix between Los Angeles and Denver. Like LA, it never rains or snows and the urban landscape features low buildings crammed between mountains. It’s a little colder. The size of the mountains and scenery is like Denver. The altitude is 7800 feet, 50% higher than Denver! The historic downtown area was built with sillar, a white volcanic rock which gives the city its nickname, La Ciudad Blanca (The White City).
I’ve been in love with the food since my first day. Every meal is oral orgasm for my taste buds. The food is natural and fresh. They use less insecticides, hormones, preservatives, or chemistry in general when it comes to food. It’s healthier and tasty. Lots of spicy dishes. My favorite plate so far, which I’ve had three times in less than two weeks, is ceviche.
Ceviche is a plate of raw fish (usually sea bass or sole) marinated in lemon juice, sweet potatoes, corn, onion, seaweed, and rocoto peppers. It’s sweet, sour, and spicy for a trifecta of flavor. I’ve pledged to eat this Omega-3 plate of protein and fiber at least once a week. Most Peruvian dishes are delicious and relatively natural. I’ve tried several fruits I’d never heard of including chirimoya, tuna, maracuya, and maybe more. They don’t sell juice here like in the States. If you want juice, you cut up the fruit, throw it in the blender with sugar and water and make your own.
In the States, dinner is more important. In Latin America, lunch is a big deal. Most restaurants close for dinner. Lunch is a social event. I may have had lunch alone once since arriving. It’s nice to eat with others. Sometimes I get all giddy in my honeymoon-phase while eating a spicy plate of goodness with three or four new friends at an outdoor restaurant with a view of snow-capped mountains.
I prefer Latin nightlife over the gringo variant. Dancing! Last night I danced so much my hip muscles and calves are sore. The only American dance floor that could compare is a wedding reception. Or when having virtual dance floor sex (grinding). On gringo dance floors, you mainly find: (1) groups of girls who only dance with each other, (2) sleazy chicks who try to get orgasms from grinding your leg, and (3) guys who stand around the dance floor watching. They only came out because it was Friday or Saturday night and they feel socially inferior if they don’t get drunk in a crowded bar (why do they bother?).
Down here, people get crunk. At one point last night I looked around the discoteca and realized everybody was dancing and drinking and laughing and having fun. The entire place. I’ve seen this in Brazil as well as Peru: a group of eight or nine Latinas – all gorgeous, dressed to kill and obviously best friends – standing in a circle, jumping and singing the song at the top of their lungs.
It’s like every girl in the place wants to dance and every guy wants you to get smashed. I ran into a girl I work with. I instantly made friends and did shots with all the guys in her crowd and danced with her homegirls.
I’m making friends fast. It seems like I’m exchanging emails or phone numbers with somebody every day. I’ve already had to tell people I can’t make some event because I’m busy. Moving to new cities in America is the opposite. Making new friends is hard. Not here.
It’s the cultura calida – warm culture. When you enter a room here, you shake every single guy’s hand and kiss every single girl’s cheek, regardless of age or whether you’ve met before. People like each other down here. It’s nice. I’m American but I feel like I never really fit in there. When I went to Brazil last year, I knew I was with my kind of people. I like to get excited and friendly with people.
This is a Peruvian song I heard performed live at Tradición. It’s one of those songs that I had to find out who sings it and listen to it dozens of times online over the next couple days.
“La Culebritica” by Grupo 5
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