The Gap Year: Arequipa

My last full week in Peru, my cousin and her family took me on a trip to Arequipa, a mountain city in the south of the country.

The night before we flew out of Lima, I spent the night at my cousin’s apartment. I was struggling with travel anxiety at the thought of going somewhere so far away and that I knew absolutely nothing about. I tossed and turned until my cousin woke me up at 3 AM to leave for the airport.

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Fortunately, the flight was only a little over an hour, and when we landed I saw that in such a short amount of time we were in a terrain that was a stark contrast to Lima.

Almost all of the buildings in Arequipa are made out of sillar, a white volcanic stone harvested from the three volcanoes that frame the city, giving it the nickname “the White City.” It is a tiny, bustling town that looks like it was designed by an antique collector.

We visited a hotel that was managed by my cousin’s husband Ricky’s friend. Ricky, the same man who managed to get us into a swanky hotel in Paracas, seems to have friends in every town up and down the Pacific coast. His friend let us use the hotel’s pool and poolside restaurant service and let us visit with the hotel’s animals. Yes, animals. This was the second time during my trip to Peru that a resort had animals roaming the grounds. I don’t know why this is a thing, but I’m cool with it. I had the great fortune of meeting Juanita, the 120-year-old tortoise with more attitude than any human could ever display. The llamas were fine, but Juanita was the showstopper.

The following day, we explored the city, and it was so nice to simply be with my cousin and her family. I had only been in Peru for a little over three weeks, but it felt like we had always been together, like a comfortable bond that only family can share. I found myself thinking back to my first trip with them to Nazca and how nervous I felt; now, my cousin’s daughter wanted to hold my hand constantly and they had given me my own nickname.

Takeaway: Arequipa is a beautiful place, and I wouldn’t have wanted to close out my time in Peru anywhere else or with anyone else. This trip was simple; there isn’t any huge revelation here. Arequipa simply allowed me to appreciate how far I had come on my trip and how important someone can become to you when you allow yourself to be open, be vulnerable, and be present.

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