Sometimes I make mistakes.
It was a mistake to believe that Arequipa would be like Cochabamba just because it has the same perfect climate, spectacular mountain views and is of similar size. Maybe it’s not fair to compare anything with Cochabamba in Bolivia, which was the friendliest city and the city with the best quality of life I have ever lived in, but Arequipa in Peru is one of the noisiest, busiest, loudest cities I ever had to endure. Rush hour is so stressful here that I was happy not to have a gun, because I would have gone amok like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. And the ever-barking dogs would have been the first ones to die. Once I tried to film the traffic on Avenida Ejército, when a warning appeared on my phone: “The noise level around you suggests that you are in a war zone. Leave immediately!” But I found this video which closely resembles the traffic in Arequipa:
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the city dispatches cars with loudspeakers for extra noise. Another problem seems to be that the Peruvian Traffic Police consists exclusively of attractive women, so that many men drive recklessly on purpose because they want to get stopped.
It was a mistake to believe the many people who told me that Arequipa is a tranquil and cozy city. By now I know that all Peruvians work for the National Tourism Agency and at all times only say good things about their country. You hear the same list of places that “you have to see” from everyone, and everything in Peru is “the best” and “the most beautiful”. Like in North Korea. Even when I point out that I am actually more interested in politics or sociology, people respond: “You have to see Machu Picchu.” For a country that receives billions of tourists every year, it seems to be unthinkable that there is a foreigner who has different interests than taking a selfie in front of Inca ruins that are already depicted on 22% of all Facebook profiles worldwide. Oddly enough, the same people who advertised Arequipa as “the best city to live in” before I came now readily admit that it’s very chaotic, hectic, loud and that there are no parks or green spaces to go running.
It was a mistake to believe all the friendly messages along the lines of “Don’t worry. Once you are in Arequipa, I will help you find an apartment.” Miraculously, 90% of these people disappeared, died, were extremely busy or moved away as soon as I arrived in Arequipa. The rest didn’t try to help me but help themselves by offering apartments which were more expensive than in Tokyo. Well, you do also get regular earthquakes here. One of my readers offered a “cozy house in the countryside”. I had to ask for photos several times and it turned out to be a garage in a village. She wanted 350 US-$ per month for it. Most landlords in Peru even try to rent you places without any furniture. “You don’t have your own bed, table, bookshelf, fridge, oven, everything?” “Ehm, no. I mentioned that I am traveling around the world and that I am just here for a few months.” “Oh.” I thought only landlords in Germany were that silly.
Many landlords were also openly discriminatory. “I prefer renting to foreigners.” “Oh sorry, I prefer not to rent from racists.” Scaremongering is another tactic: “This is the safest part of town. Don’t move anywhere else! All the other neighborhoods are very dangerous,” as if Arequipa was between Baghdad and Caracas on the list of most criminal cities in the world. Well, regarding the noise it actually is like Baghdad on the evening of 21 March 2003.
It was a mistake to believe any non-writer who promised that “Arequipa is a perfectly peaceful place to write”. I should have listened only to Mario Vargas Llosa who was born in Arequipa and who moved away as soon as he could. Guess where to? To Cochabamba. I actually developed a theory about magical realism while here: it was never a deliberate art form, but the result of writers not being able to properly sort their thoughts amidst all the banging doors, beeping cars, fireworks, screaming neighbors and barking dogs. That’s why The Time of the Hero doesn’t make sense and why the sequence of chapters in Rayuela is completely muddled up. Now I understand why the literary output in Russia is higher and better. I too miss my cozy Soviet Krushchovka, particularly in a cold winter where you can’t do much else than sit at home and write. Actually, even the one time I was stranded on an island in the Pacific which was used for tests of nuclear bombs, it was more peaceful than in Arequipa.
Thinking about the Pacific, I got an idea. Luckily I am not only good at making mistakes, but also at analyzing them and correcting them quickly. Arequipa is only 100 km from the Pacific Ocean. Now it’s winter in the Southern hemisphere, so there should be plenty of empty holiday homes by the empty beach. Because it’s off-season and because I am a better negotiator than Donald Trump, I found a huge apartment in Mollendo for a good price. It’s spacious, cozy, light, furnished with bookshelves and writing desks and it overlooks the sea.
Perfect for writing. The beach seems great for running. And for watching sunsets. After all, this is the west coast. If I am lucky, I will even experience a tsunami.
But you won’t learn about that because there is of course no internet in old pirate palaces on top of steep rocks overlooking the ocean. So if you want to stay in contact, you have to write an old-fashioned letter or send a most welcome book package. Thank you!
By the way, Arequipa is really interesting to visit. The old part of town has beautiful architecture, an enormous monastery and many museums. But I discover more and more that there are cities which are good to visit and there are cities which are good to live in. The two groups rarely overlap.