Get Off the Gringo Trail, Experience the Real Arequipa: A. I. Travel’s Reality Tour

July 1, 2013 at 8:11 am

Note: The Intrepid Monkeys were hosted on the Reality Tour by Miguel Fernandez from A.I. Travel Tours.

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Most tourists who visit Arequipa usually check out the Monastery of Santa Catalina, the spectacular volcanoes surrounding the city including Misti and Chachani, then make their way to the Colca Canyon (the second deepest canyon in the world) to see the infamous circling condors. Intrigued by the opportunity to see the other side of Arequipa, I wasn’t going to say no to the Reality Tour offered by A.I. Travel Tours.

The Reality Tour – A.I. Travel Tours, Arequipa

Miguel jumps straight into the tour once the final passengers are on board our mini-bus for the morning. Born to a lower middle class family, eight years running the Reality Tour and three years studying sociology part-time serve Miguel well on this tour. He begins by explaining that there are three levels of middle class people living in Arequipa; low, medium and high, resulting in five classes altogether including the upper and lower classes.

Life expectancy, average age to marry, average number of children per family, minimum wage (less than the minimum amount to survive, let alone live), and the average earnings per class are all covered before arriving at the first stop, the Central Market of Rio Seco.

Rio Seco Central Market

Relatively quiet at around 9.30am, Miguel says it will be completely transformed come 5pm when the day workers finish work. Those successful in obtaining work today will flock to this lower middle class market to buy food for their families for tomorrow. So desperate for work, these day workers often auction themselves resulting in payment even lower than the minimum wage just to guarantee money for that day over the person standing next to them.

“You can tell the fruit is fresh by the beautiful smells,” says Miguel wandering through the first section of the market. I stop to buy some exotic local fruit; pepinos (like mini watermelons) and pacay which look like green beens, but taste like nothing else I have ever come across before. Opening the long slender pods, I suck the sweet damp cotton wool like flesh off the big black seeds before discarding them. The amount of fresh produce is incredible, including the numerous varieties of fresh dried potatoes from the Andes.

Fresh whole chickens are lined up along benches waiting to be taken to a very grateful home. In the corner of the seafood section Miguel points out the offal and whole cow heads (and oversized hanging genitalia). “People who can not afford typical cuts of meat are ashamed to have to buy off cuts and offal, therefore these are hidden away so as to protect the customers integrity”.

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Volcanic Stone Quarry (Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco)

Next stop on the tour is the most confronting experience I have had so far during our time in South America. We arrive at the volcanic white valley where stones are mined for many of the iconic buildings that line the streets of Arequipa, particuarly in the famous suburb of Yanahurra.

Miguel informs the group that: “Most families living here in the stone mines have 4-5 children or more because they know that they will most likely lose at least one working in the quarry”. I think to myself, how can anyone carry a child for nine months knowing that there is a high chance that that child will die falling from a cliff face, or from falling rocks. The 78 year old man working in the mine today works with his only remaining son. “Three of his four sons have died working in this quarry,”  says Miguel.

As a fully non-profit tour, Miguel uses a third of the revenue (after expenses), to provide food for these stone workers. Confused I ask why he does not provide them with safety equipment. Surely that would help this devastating situation? “I thought the same thing, and in the early days of the Reality Tour, that’s what I did.” says Miguel. “Arriving back at the quarry to see the men were not using the safety equipment I had given them, I asked why. Their response: ‘We sold the things you gave us to buy food for our families, Miguel. We don’t need safety equipment, we need food.’”

These stone workers get paid two soles per brick and average 10 bricks per day. That works out as an average of US$6-8/day per person to mine the relatively soft volcanic stone into bricks. Dangerous work, but then I remember the crowds of ‘day workers’ standing on the corner of one of the streets we drove past earlier that morning and think US$6-8/day guaranteed income is probably better than the chance of nothing.

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Cemetery

Slightly more uplifting, the mini-van delivers us to the nearby cemetery where there are beautiful graves in neat row like colourful little houses. It is believed that although a person leaves their body physically in the location of their death, the soul needs a resting place. Hence the emphasis on the shrine like graves.

Again however, Miguel reminds the group that there is still a class system, even in the cemetery. This middle class cemetery is divided into sections for lower, medium and upper middle class people. Those families who can not afford a gravesite for their loved ones, rent a ‘storage’ like slot in a structure at the far end of the cemetery until they can afford to purchase a gravesite.

As I notice all the vibrant flowers bringing life to the gravesites, I remember Miguel telling us earlier in the market that flowers are only purchased for the dead.

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours  //  www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Common Dining Room (Comedor Popular Nuestra Sra. de La Asunta)

We pull up to a building with no apparent signage on it, along a dusty road. Miguel knocks on the door. No answer. Miguel knocks again, more persistently this time and finally a woman answers the door and lets us into a cosy dining room before returning to the kitchen out the back.

This common dining room, no bigger than a large living room feeds 200 people for lunch, then another 200 people for dinner. “These common dining rooms were set up by widows of the Shining Path,” Miguel informs the group. The Shining Path is a terrorist group that focused on recruiting peasants from the mountain regions in Peru to fight against the government. Initially providing a voice to the mountain people, forgotten by the government, the Shining Path were initially successful in infiltrating a number of communities in the Andes. However their brutal methods for dealing with anyone who opposed them led to the mountain people turning against them. Unfortunately a number of women a children were left without their husbands and fathers. Desperate, they moved to the cities in search of a better life.

In an effort to help themselves, these women started the common dining rooms to help cover the basic needs of feeding a family so more time could be spent looking for food. Each meal consisting of soup, a main meal and a drink costs 4 soles (approx. US$1.40). There is a roster system for the women who work in the kitchen. The women working in the kitchen receive five meals credit in return for their service. Elderly, disabled and pregnant women all receive up to 50% discount on meals.

Looking around the tiny kitchen and imagining the women serving 200 people in each sitting I was in awe. Being business minded I was particularly impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of these women. Neglected by the government, they have found a way to help each other and many others in their journey to make a better life for their children.

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Wawa Wasi – a Childcare Facility

The last stop, Ollie’s favourite part of the Reality Tour, is a Wawa Wasi. According to UNICEFWawa Wasi (derived from the Quechua words wawa meaning baby and wasi meaning house) began in 1993 as a collaboration between UNICEF and Peru’s Ministry of Education. Again, mothers from poor communities who search for work, or work long hours are able to use these services dropping off their children under the age of three at these Wawa Wasis.

Miguel informs the group that these Wawa Wasis have been successful in providing nutritional food alternatives for poor children, as well as stimulating creative learning and play environments. “A portion of the profits from the Reality Tour go towards buying learning materials like colouring pencils and notebooks, as well as educational toys for these children,” says Miguel.

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

Intrepid Monkeys on a top tour, the Reality Tour with Arequipa tour operator A.I. Travel Tours // www.intrepidmonkeys.com

 

Would you sign up for a Reality Tour on your next travel adventure?

We got a lot of value out of the Reality Tour offered by Miguel from A.I. Travel Tours. It truly is an enlightening experience and a great feeling knowing where the profits from the tour are spent: helping the people help themselves.

For more information on the Reality Tour or other tours on offer, contact:

Miguel Fernandez at A. I. Travel Tours

email: info@aitraveltours.com

website: www.aitraveltours.com/english

Or, click HERE for more information on the Reality Tour.

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