As soon as I stepped off the KLM plane in 2011, the warm thick Lima air hit me and that was it – I knew I liked it.
I first came to Peru with a Christian organization called Grace Baptist Mission (from the UK). I arrived with three other people to help in a variety of projects such as church clubs and a children’s care home. Since then, I have spent a total of three years living in Arequipa (I love Arequipa) and four years of holidaying in Arequipa (due to an Arequipeño boyfriend). I volunteered for two years in a boys´ home, taught English in a language school and at the beginning of last year started working here at Volunteers Peru.
Transitioning from the UK to Peru was exciting, romantic and nerve racking (rose tinted glasses, perhaps) In Arequipa, everything is more chaotic but in a calm sort of way. You know it is chaotic, and it works – no one is expects anything else. The combis are quicker, the people walk slower and queues do not exist.
Fast-forward to last November when I arrived back at Heathrow and I found myself preparing to get into ‘London underground mode’, mentally tutting at people who were standing on the wrong side of the escalator or rolling my eyes at those who did not have their oyster card (travel card) ready to beep out of the barriers. (Funny story, a 6ft friend once leaned over a woman who was frantically searching for her card whilst blocking the barriers and whispered into her ear, “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail”). This is true, in the capital you always have to be prepared or you will fail. Walk quickly, do not get in anyone’s way and please no eye contact.
Arequipa is chilled (in a chaotic kind of way), London is not.
I think people change according to their surroundings. Not to generalize, but when I am in Arequipa, I am more relaxed with timings, plans and just the general pace–because everyone is relaxed. However in London, l had an itinerary on an excel spreadsheet.
Coming back to Arequipa was no where near as drastic of a change as going back to London because the UK moves at a ridiculously fast pace, and that is really cool if you like that. Arequipa, of course, has its own set off stresses like bad traffic, disorder and a lack of punctuality. However, what I love is that this doesn´t stop anything, the city still functions, and functions well.
Come to Arequipa – you will adjust, (just don´t eat lukewarm chicken). The relaxed culture and slow pace of life will convert you whether you are from a small town in Wisconsin or a city such as London. There will always be things you like and things you don´t like, and whenever you get back home, you will slot back in, just as I did.
I am in love with Arequipa; it sits, neatly tucked between a few volcanoes, and just is. Nothing to prove and happy and forever.