WHEN IN LATIN AMERICA, SALSA! And with salsa, I mean both the sauce and the saucy dance. Although Arequipa may not be your typical salsa city, its fantastic views and warm weather make every travelers’ feet happy dancing. Not wanting to waste any time, I sashayed my way to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which is one of the main attractions in the city.
This brick walled community was once inhabited by almost 500 nuns and their servants. I was told that to gain residence, the ladies have to be from wealthy families. Servants and many luxuries came with them when they entered the nunnery, and musicians were employed to entertain them back in the olden days. Because of the good life and lack of worldly stress, the nuns often live until the ripe age of 80, which is a rarity during the 16th to 17th century.
Now a museum, the monastery still holds various antiques the nuns left behind. While lingering in its green patios and lavish courtyards, I can understand how nice it would be for a lady to live here – away from her nagging husband, impatient children and gossipy neighbors. I bet most ladies ponder about this when they visit the monastery.
THE BARS IN AREQUIPA STARTS PLAYING HEAD-BANGING MUSIC LATE AROUND 11PM. Jess, a local couchsurfing friend, invited me to a bar for salsa lessons. Arriving at 9pm, the bar is still half empty. Half an hour later, someone spoke in Spanish, gathered everyone to the tiny small dance floor, and started teaching. The DJ played some salsa music while the teacher continued with explaining the dance moves of the day (again, in Spanish).
The crowd seemed like a fun mix of people. Some of them look like obvious tourists, while some seemed comfortable enough to be regulars. I picked my partner randomly and got paired with a young Peruvian girl in her 20s. This poor girl spoke little English and I am Spanish-deaf. It was a very interesting experience to mimic the dance moves without understanding verbal cues. Nonetheless, I figured out a way to “fake it until I make it”, and almost got into a violent face bump accident.
After 30 minutes of shimmying, the teacher said something in Spanish. I suspect that he meant “let’s dance” because everyone started looking for new partners. There were some really good dancers on the floor. I became dizzy watching them swirl and turn. Jess did not enjoy dancing so we brought our beers somewhere quiet so that I can get to know her friends.
JESS IS A FELLOW COUCHSURFER WHO STUDIED FOR 2 YEARS IN TAIWAN. She spoke little Chinese so was very empathetic with my situation here in Peru. Me and her friends got along so well (a little liquor goes a long way at high altitudes), we decided to go bar-hopping, experiencing different vibes of the city.
We were first rejected by a club pretending to be upscale and exclusive. There was another Irish pub where everyone had a stereotypical jug of beer in hand. It was too noisy and so we left. We found one playing nice EDM music. There was a foosball table, so I teamed up with my new found friend Mario, while Jess found a random guy as her partner.
Looks can be deceiving because we found out that Jess was unbelievably good! I knew I was weak in real football, but FAKE football too? We might have lost with a score of at least 50 to 5, but being good sportsmen, we hugged it out and called it a night.
JESS AND HER FRIENDS EVENTUALLY INVITED ME OUT THE FOLLOWING NIGHT but I had to let it pass because I was not feeling too well. I realized that although salsa (both the dance and the food) may be fun, foreigners should consider them in moderation to avoid having too much of a good thing.
The white walls of the monastery
Some of the walls were painted red to reduce glare
A typical room
The streets often have blooming flowers
Expensive art on display in the monastery