Another “free” walking tour is available in Arequipa, undertaken by tourism students from the university and run out of the tourist informal office.
It felt much more like an option than the one in Valparaiso, for example we weren’t quoted a value for our tip. Here’s a link to the tour http://www.facebook.com/pages/Free-Tour-Downtown-Arequipa
A relatively large group, maybe 12 people, start the tour which due to the volume of Spanish speakers in done in the native tongue.
There are three of us that cannot speak Spanish but our partners can so we head off with the agreement that they will translate (in all cases it was the man that needed the assistance).
At the start we are warned about some of the dangers of walking round the town. Namely cars and holes.
These risks are not solely associated with Arequipa, or Peru for that matter. After two months in S.America we are accustomed to large unmarked holes in the pavements and that the paint used to mark out zebra crossings is a waste of resources as you could stand there all day and cars won’t stop for you. Even the animated green man at the traffic light controlled crossings starts to run with 10 seconds remaining. Presumably for his life.
The tour is excellent and we are take to see a few hidden gems that we might otherwise have missed and our guide organises so that we get a free taster of coffee (world coffee of the year in 2010), a chocolate flavoured tea and a cheese snack at various stops along the way.
We learn that the city is at risk from both volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The volcano is 17km away and from hearing it explode it takes 6 seconds for the city to be destroyed (it happened centuries ago) so the activity is monitored closely.
Earthquakes are more regular, in fact minor tremors are a daily occurrence (most too small to be felt), but they do suffer more violent ones too. The entire city was destroyed in 1878 by an 11+ Richter scale event, but as recently as 2001 one was strong enough to bring one the towers down on the Cathedral.
The defiance of the people of the city against these odds is remarkable, and in part will be responsible for the strong sense of independence they have. Like Catalans, they are Arequipans first and Peruvians second. In fact during the Pacific War Lima fell to Chile for a period of time, and as the second largest city in Peru, Arequipa created its own passport. They still exist today, but not for official purposes. It’s the kind of thing that Yorkshire would do given half a chance.
The biggest surprise of the tour was that it shared, albeit 20yards some of Niki’s scenic route from yesterday!