Monday, October 31, 2011

Peru part 2: Arequipa


I surprised myself when I took the VIP “bed” option on the trip from Cusco to arequipa for more than double the regular fare. If you ARE going to afford yourself luxuries though, this is the place to do it. 10 hour bus ride with entertainment, first class seat and a meal all for 25$. Not bad.

I had been expressedly forewarned about about taxis robbing people in Arequipa and I must admit, I was not very reassured, when the taxi driver took the “industrial park shortcut” to get downtown. Fueling my mounting suspicion, the driver kept stopping sporadically in the middle of the empty street and honking. At what? I do not know. This was followed by a lot of looking around and then off we went again at painstakingly slow speeds.
This particular part of downtown Arequipa, at 6am on a Sunday morning looked like many suburbs and fringes of town I had been to in different parts of south America. The combination of lack of sleep, lack of knowledge and paranoia came to its boiling point and I cracked…
“Get back on a fucking main street before I start beating the shit out of you!!!”  Is about a rough translation of the threat I vociferated.
“This IS your street…” the driver replied in resignation as he turned the corner and pointed at my hostel.
I had heard about a good place to stay from a german couple that had gotten along well with my dad at the hostel in Cusco, and in a spout of organizational laziness had decided to join them there.
Howbeit, as the long night of the soul rolled along on the bus, I replayed the girl’s body language in my head and came to the conclusion that she could have been more pleased with my general presence. I decided to act on the ever so off chance that the little tourist kiosk at the bus terminal might point me in the direction of a half decent place to rest my head. Could have been worse…

Arequipa, other than the three street wide “DTZ”(designated tourist zone) isn’t pretty by any means. Diesel gas chokes your lungs as you walk down the crowded streets, the architecture is nothing if not unextraordinary, the decibel level is at all times higher than can possibly be good for you and it is a veritable breeding ground for pickpockets, bottom of your purse cutters and such riffraff. I loved it right away.

Maybe my acumen had been whitewashed by the Cuzcodian circus that I had spent the better part of the last 3 days in but the reality of a city with crime and whores recomforted me like 20/20 vision after going cross eyed.
My “experiencia Arequipena” was quite limited, be that as it may, impressions are lasting. When the whore on the street taps you on the ass as you walk by and tells you she would do you for free, when a custom made suit costs 100$, when the roasted chicken gives you a hard-on, when you wake up at 10 a.m. to a parade marching into your inner ear drum only to be informed by the cleaning lady that it is the first day of carnival, well then there are very few conclusions left at your disposal my friend. You are in Arequipa.

When it comes to seafood, for me its always hit or miss, so when I realized I had yet to try Peru’s famed “ceviche” I decided to go high end . Chi Cha, one of Peru’s finer dining establishments, did not dissapoint. Tropical fruit cocktails, Fish ceviche, alpaca steak and mixed berry mousse. That was my Peruvian sendoff. Next stop chile.

Peru part 1: Cusco and the Machu Pichu

Cusco and the Machu pichu:

I have to start by saying that I was under enthused at the idea of going to the Machu Pichu. I could smell the “faux adventure traveler” a thousand kilometers away but it was a Father-son trip of epic proportions so I soldiered on. A night sleeping on the floor of the Lima airport; 3 days in cusco, a 2 hour taxi ride, some rotten guinea pig, an extremely overpriced train ride and a night in tourist jungle hell later, there we were, father and son in the ruins of machu pichu. In awe.

We were not impressed by the same things though, father thought of the people who managed to labour such amazing stone work while son contemplated how special this particular spot was, sitting on top of the world, clouds running up the side of the mountain and hopping over the peak like sheep over a fence in the mind of an insomniac.

Now I know what it feels like to be a parent on Christmas day. The cost, the lineups, the bullshit, it is all worth it for the look on his face. I have never seen my father so excited about something before. So much so that he talked about wanting to be a guide there most of the way back to Cusco.
Reality seemed to seep back into his brain through his ears when he was informed that a guide, on average, makes no more than 40$ a day.
I must concede however that, with or without a parental unit, it is definitely a trip worth taking.
Cuzco on the other hand is worth steering clear of.

Israel part 5: Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

“And the girl being interviewed said, - I don’t care if the rent is high, the apartments are run down and dirty and crime is rampant, I want to live in Tel Aviv”  he recites with the obnoxious and HIPSTER-like intonation of the young lady in question. My Friend is anything but; he lives in the north of the city in what most would call a suburb, he recites his list of annoyances with Tel-avivites as we walk down the main street. He is a tall, strong, idealistic type who grew up in a small town. Black curly hair , ie jew-fro. He makes me think of what the young Clark Kent from the horrendous tv show “smallville” would be like if he was stripped of his powers and moved to suburban LA.
We continued our condescending canter down a tourist street until he led me up a side street into a different neighbourhood, and for what it may have seemed, a different world. We stopped in a little restaurant which seemed as though it had been carved out of a broom closet, as we sat down and the elderly woman who was both cook and waitress came out from behind the counter and asked us what we would like to eat, my friends face uncringed and a smile spread across his lips as if to say “but then there is this side of the city :)
I had gone out the night before (my only night in Tel Aviv) with a group of El Al (Israeli airline) gate agents I had met in Hong Kong. In the group was a girl I had flirted with the whole night back in Asia but in this part of the world she had a boyfriend so the conversation was redirected to politics, food, and getting through airport security the next day…
My vaccine to the voracious disease that is Israeli airport security was Neta; A plump, smiley, mother of the group sort of lady. She had been weary of me when we first met or maybe I was too distracted by the blonde hair and cleavage sitting opposite her at the tacky Hong Kong cocktail lounge to notice her much. It was only in our second encounter that I realized the kind of human gem that was hiding in plain sight.
Being, at times, an incorrigibly shallow person, especially when it comes to women, I tend to do this- mainly, miss out on opportunities to exchange with amazing people in favor of distractions of the curvacious kind.
Neta drove me to the airport the next day, which happened to be Saturday, hence a day when nothing, including public transportation, is up and running in Israel.
She was friends with the young lady who performed the initial security categorization, where you get a number from 1 to 6 based on a couple of questions(Arr yu Jewish? Do you hrave family hrere? Did you visit east Jerusalem?) and this decides whether you will be getting on your flight or spending the next 6 hours being interrogated by an aging Israeli customs officer.
I got a 2(low threat) on this exam but was later informed that, had I been alone, I would have been a 5. I would have gotten to know, to a very intimate degree, the previously stated customs officer.
We flew through security and I got to the gate with lots of time to spare. Neta and I talked for a bit, then I thanked her for everything and we hugged out a goodbye.
It was a heart-warmingly clich├ęd end to a trip that was anything but.