Becoming local.

Becoming local.

“You don’t really get to know a place unless you stay there a while…”

A sentence we’ve heard so many times from so many travellers. And it’s probably true, but its not the way we’ve been travelling. In India we got a sleeper train into a city, had a look around and then left on another sleeper train the following night. In Thailand we were booking buses onwards as soon as we stepped off the last one and in Vietnam… Well we were only in the whole country for a few days.

We’ve got a taster of each place we’ve visited though. And besides, if we stayed anywhere longer, we’d miss the other places… That’s just maths! 

Occasionally we’ve had to stop. Working with slum children to prevent child trafficking for example, required us to stay in Phnom Pehn. Otherwise, in order to benefit at all, the children would have had to follow us into our next stop of Thailand. And that would be sort of trafficking in itself wouldn’t it?

Anyway, when we decided to take a week of Spanish lessons at the Edeaq language school adjoining our hostel in Arequipa, we knew we’d be staying there a while. A week to be precise. Once again, this is maths. I used to be a financial planner you know…

“What the hell was that?” I asked our morning Spanish teacher Pedro with a startled look on my face. The room had just moved and, being English and not used to moving rooms, I was alarmed. Pedro just looked annoyed. Probably because I’d asked the question in English.

“It’s just an earthquake” he replied “you can ignore it”.

Now I’m no geologist. In fact, all I know about Geology is one very average joke. But still I’m pretty sure earthquakes are a big deal. That’s why they’re on the news all the time.

Maybe Pedro should’ve explained the earthquake to us – he didn’t. Instead he just carried on teaching us the difference between masculino and feminino (apparently the main difference is NOT the first two syllables). But I will explain the earthquake to you.

The town of Arequipa is built on a fault line and is therefore prone to the occasional earthquake. For this reason it’s a flat, one story town, which makes sure that if a big earthquake does happen, everyone will be safer and hopefully, the buildings will stay up. Oh, and also it has a volcano looming over it.

Amazing really, that even with all these potential natural disasters, Arequipa has recently been in the news for torrential flooding…

Other than fluent Spanish, Arequipa provided us with a monasterio, a dead frozen girl in a museum and a trek into a canyon. The dead frozen girl museum was fascinating, tasteful and incredibly well put together. The monasterio was an old nunnery lit by candles which, although also quite tastefully done, was somewhat undermined by Gemma constantly jumping out at me from dark corners shouting “boo”.

Oh, and if you need proof of the fluent Spanish I mentioned, please see the word ‘monasterio’.

We had two more teachers other than Pedro – Susan and Fabricio. My favourite was Susan. Normally she teaches small children so whenever I got a sentence right she’d smile at me a draw a smiley face in my book. And a smiley face means the same in every language. Fabricio was an easily distracted man, but none the less a great teacher, of Spanish and of Arequipian life.

“You hear that sound?” He asked us as some rather pleasant classical music blasted uncharacteristically loudly outside “that’s the bin men. They play classical music so people know when to bring their bins out. That way the streets are clean and tourists don’t need to know when the bin men are coming.”

We were stunned. And honoured. In just one week we’d managed to penetrate Arequipa so deeply that we were learning how they keep secrets from tourists. But we’re tourists. These are secrets that should be kept from us! Truly, this was the day that we had become local citizens, albeit ones that were going to get on a bus in a day or two and leave the city forever. But still.

Even now though, after a week in Arequipa, I still think the best way to travel is to keep moving. It’s true that if we hadn’t stayed a while, we might never have experienced one of it’s earthquakes and we certainly wouldn’t have learnt about it’s bin man cover up but we still would have seen how quaint the town can be, how prone to natural disasters it is (because geology rocks…) and we’d probably still have seen a dead frozen girl in a museum. Because that’s what you do in Arequipa.

Most importantly though, after our one week of lessons, now if you asked me in Spanish – ‘hablo Espaniol?’ I’d reply ‘Si’.

Ill be honest though, if you said anything to me in Spanish, I’d probably reply Si.

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