GETTING TO AREQUIPA / LEAVING AREQUIPA
Most of the day I walked around Arequipa, which was probably the most attractive city I’d been to in South America. It abounds with stocky colonial buildings built with walls thick enough to withstand an invasion, and colourful doorways that lead into courtyards or passageways that disappear into the shadows beyond. It most reminded me of San Cristobal de las Casas, a colonial town in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, an impression which was echoed, without prompting, by a Mexican-American guy in my dorm at the hostel. It is a pleasure to walk along the cobbled streets, picking a church spire as a destination, or the next plaza. Sometimes, when walking up the hill from the plaza I would suddenly realise that looming large in the distance was Misti, the indescribably beautiful volcano which stands, solitary, watching over the city.
The taxi driver who’d first driven me into the city told me that below the Plaza de Armas everything was cheaper, so for dinner I head to the bottom end of the Plaza and keep on going, finding a place with suitably cheap prices (no more than 8 soles) and sufficiently violent naked light bulbs to be considered ‘local’. During a rush of blood to the head (probably induced by the astonishing whiteness of the place) I order lomo saltado. It’s accompanied by a spicy green sauce that vaguely resembles vomit, and when my plate is half eaten I realise that I’m bored of lomo saltado – this will be my third lomo saltado variation in as many dinners.
Earlier I walked through the main market, Mercado San Camilo, five blocks from the Plaza de Armas. All the areas are demarcated by hanging signs: seccion pollo; seccion res; seccion papas; seccion aceitunas (there’s a separate section for olives!!!). There must be hundreds and hundreds of stalls here, all in regimented lines packed into a space a bit bigger than a football pitch. If you think you know potatoes it’s worth lingering in the potato section, where there are hundreds of varieties including one that is yellow and gnarled and grooved like an old man’s thumb. And it’s always fun to walk through the meat section, where heads and eyeballs and other types of balls hang from hooks above blood-drenched counters.