14 September 2007

I have been spat upon

This morning I met an American woman from Seattle, and we got to chatting. It turns out she's quite the traveler herself, her most impressive feat, in my opinion, having been a visit to Soviet Russia back when Russia was Soviet. We took a walk to a distant neighborhood in search of the mysterious eating and drinking festival that seemed to change day and location every time we thought we'd tracked it down. I still haven´t managed to find it, but there seem to be other festivals, including a folk music one, happening this weekend, so I may stick around for those.

On our way back to the center of town, we stopped to check out a market. The fruit was piled so high! And we bought delicious drinking yogurt with a flavor I've never heard of before. As we were leaving, someone spit on my neck just below my left ear. Having read about this ruse before, I quickly reached for my (empty) pockets and swatted away a grasping hand. This is one of the stripes of travel I really could have done without, because being spat upon is really disgusting. But at least I wasn't robbed.

After the spitting incident, Sarah the American decided she wasn't feeling fell and went back to the hotel. I continued on my own to a pretty colonial neighborhood where I discovered another festival that was either just finishing up or hadn't started yet. My Spanish is not really good enough to discern these fine distinctions. Anyway, I looked at a few more churches and enjoyed a juice squeezed from another local fruit I've never heard of while gaping at El Misti, the volcano that looms above Arequipa and will one day destroy it. Later, I ate a vegetarian doner kebab. This country is surprisingly kind to people of my gustatory preferences, definitely more so than Japan (ah, but I miss Japan). On my way back to town, I stopped at a monastery and saw its wonderful 15th-16th century library, which included a nice Xenophon in Latin and a first edition of the second part of Don Quixote. The caretaker was a very nice man. I gave him my card, which he seemed genuinely pleased to receive.

Back in the downtown, I met up with Rafael, a Peruvian who contacted me on the Lonely Planet bulletin board, which I frequent, and kindly offered to meet me and give me advice about trekking independently in the Colca Canyon, the world's second deepest (and something like twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The deepest, Cotahuasi, is also nearby, but a bit too much of a trek for me in my present 70% condition). We chatted about a number of things, like Peruvian politics, the characteristic pessimism, racism, and disingenuous opportunism of Peruvian people, and the nocturnal activities of gringo hunters (naturally, the most interesting topic). We even passed a large gathering of Communists in the central plaza, and I mingled among them to see what was up, despite explicit warnings against doing this issued by the US State Department. Apparently, there is some kind of meeting regarding mining in Peru going on this week in Arequipa. Since most of the mining is conducted by foreign companies, the Commies were out to oppose the imperialist rapers of the land. Rafael told me that sometimes the Commie Nationalists voice their hatred of people like me by shouting things like "death to tourists!" Unfortunately, this did not happen to me, but I would have loved it. There were military police everywhere and despite the tension still a surprising number of festivities going on. This is sort of what I pictured Latin America to be like: tense political clashes occurring as the background to zesty song and dance and a dose of spectacular religious piety. All were in full effect tonight. And I enjoyed zestyness aplenty. A high school in one of the sillar colonial buildings was celebrating its 25th anniversary (Alexander Von Humboldt College, no less, and I also saw one elsewhere named for Max Uhle.. Germans of notoriety get their due in Peru). After the hot, hot singing, there was a fireworks display, which struck me as a tad dangerous, since they were basically shooting them right from the roof and sparkling fire rained precipitously down the facade of the building and all over the crowd of onlookers, including me. I think they're still partying now, which makes them immensely more exciting than any high school in the United States that I'm aware of. I found that more fun than poking my head into the gringo pick-up bar. These sorts of places always give me a bad feeling. I´ve finally decided I don't like that scene, and I'm ok with that, and I am also just not going to dance.

It´s been harder than I thought to condense all the various and quasi-interesting things that happen to me in the course of a typical day on the road into an easily consumable nugget of bloggery. To this end, I will redouble my efforts to be brief in the future. In the meantime, I hope y'all are enjoying my musings. Not much on the agenda tomorrow, except laundry, a nice coffee in a pretty cafe, and an attempt to figure out my next move, either Colca or Cuzco or Colca and then Cuzco.

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