Family Life in Arequipa

Trip Start Sep 02, 2010
Trip End Jun 13, 2011

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Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, September 19, 2010

In the third week of traveling, we felt the need for a change of pace! After doing lots of touristy stuff in Cusco and Puno, we figured it could be fun to have a more "authentic" (there's that word again) experience in Arequipa. So we signed up to live with a host family while we'd take classes at a Spanish language school. 

It's been great to be in a relatively normal situation again: in a house. With a family. Still, "normal" is obviously a relative term. On our first night with the host family, the power went out. On the second night, the water went out. The city turned off the water...for a full 24 hours. Maybe this is normal for Arequipa? I guess it actually started to feel normal for me, too. After all, I'd just had such an experience while in Puno! This was, once again, a good opportunity to practice patience. 

But let me back up a step. When we first arrived in Arequipa, our bus pulled in an hour or so early, so as we waited in the bus terminal, we had fun imagining what our host family would be like. We only knew one thing about them: the mother's name, Martha. As we glanced around the terminal, we must've looked like naive little birds straight out of a kids' book: Are you my mother? Are you? Finally, we met Martha with her boyfriend Howard, and it was clear from the start that they were lovely people who'd show us an interesting way of life.

As we got to know them that week, they kindly offered to take us on little treks around town, and we accepted enthusiastically. One of the coolest things we did was walk around the oldest (and least touristy) part of town that is undergoing a renovation/gentrification project. Howard works for this project, so he gave us the insider's play-by-play. He showed us damage from a 1958 earthquake, the oldest "surviving" balcony in Arequipa, and an alpaca goods factory. And he helped us imagine how this area would soon come to life with restaurants, gas lamps, and hotels. For the most part, I was able to follow his Spanish, which was an experience in itself.

Another experience that was both familial/comforting AND culturally bewildering was our family trip to Howard's gym. We knew we were going to watch Howard compete in a national bocce competition (it's quite a serious pursuit here in Peru!), but we didn't know what else was in store for us. To start, both Dan and I were blown away by the sheer sight of this gym. It wasn't even really a gym; it was a huge athletic campus with everything from squash courts to several pools to various football fields (artificial turf, "regular" turf, full-sized, petite, inside, outside, etc.) to a bowling alley to various dance studios to a ping-pong gymnasium to a whole paintball course! And apparently the Americans are the gym-obsessed! Maybe it's just that the Americans like to cram their gym-time into their day (just like everything else), while here the Peruvians view athleticism as a way of life, a way to socialize. (P.S. there were about 5 or 6 ice cream shops around this campus.) 

As we wandered around the campus, we had fun watching a bowling competition and a rigorous dance practice. (See the attached clip of the impressive young 'uns practicing the national Peruvian dance.) But the highlight was watching the bocce match (in, of course, a whole gymnasium built JUST for bocce, with 4-5 courts). These guys were amazing. As the other spectators smoked their cigarettes, gossiped, and patted each other on the back, we soaked up the scene. Apparently, these guys play every night until 1:30-2:00 in the morning before heading back to work.

As for our own workouts, Dan and I have had fun heading out the door for 6 am runs with our oldest host brother, Enrique. He apparently used to play pro football for Arequipa's team, but he now has bad knees (ahh, meniscus damage!). In the early morning, it's relatively easy to wind our way through various Arequipa neighborhoods with our running shoes on. A perfect way to explore the city and practice our Spanish.

It's been so nice to feel something that I hope to experience frequently while on our trip: the paradox of being both part of something familiar, comfortable... and yet distanced enough to analyze it as a totally new and different cultural encounter.

(See below for more photos of Arequipa, including the cool video clip of the Peruvian dance.)
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