Vast Diversity in One Run in Arequipa
Arequipa, Peru is fantastic for many things. Cheap meals, great happy hour specials, sunshine pretty much every day, and an amazing nightlife. While running in a new city is always an adjustment, I was pretty confident that I’d be able to get into a rhythm of regular runs and would by now have established regular routes as well.
Oh, how bright and innocent I was.
First off, Arequipa is alive and growling with taxis and combis (public transport buses) beginning well before seven in the morning. This means that if you want to run at all, you’d best be setting off around six at the latest. I repeat: In. The. Morning. The first two times I tried to run alone, I was on the road a little after seven, and then at seven, and both times I returned home gritty with exhaust fumes after just a couple kilometers. I’d just about given up on running here at all, when I met someone who said that not only is running here possible, but that he does it regularly.
“Awesome! Can I run with you?”
“Sure! We have to go very early though, at like six in the morning.”
It was still dark out when my alarm blared into the silence that Tuesday morning at 5:35 AM, and I have to say I was one unhappy camper getting dressed. My roommate snoozed away next to me while I quiet-stomped around getting ready. This is why you made these plans, I reminded myself sternly. Because you won’t do it if it’s just you.
These are both true statements that I actually said to myself. I graduated in May and left a very open-ended relationship with running—the last race I’d planned to compete in at the collegiate level I ended up having to scratch from because an old Achilles injury flared up again. That abrupt end made it too easy to step back and say that I would run when I was ready to—but therein lies the problem. Too often, I think we find that the gap between “ready to” and “will” is quite far, and unexpectedly so, which makes it difficult to get back into something that was once habit. So, even if I did have early-morning grumps as I tied my running shoes, I do have to admit that it was a necessary thing to happen because once I got out the door and saw the nearly-empty streets and started running, wow did that endorphin rush hit me quickly.
I met my friend at a park about half a mile away from the apartment I’m staying in, and we went out of the city onto quieter roads with broad, expansive views of the city and rural areas.
Arequipa is funny because it has rural life and city life all in one panoramic view sometimes—farmers live and work on terraced plots of land even as cars rush by roads nearby, going to and from the city. I saw all of this and then some as we ran—the road changed from concrete to gravel beneath our feet several times, we hopped over a caution tape that was in our way (and got chastised by the construction workers working on a telephone pole for doing so), veered off-road and jogged amongst rocky paths that reminded me more of hiking trails more than roads around people’s homes, and once or twice had to stop and carefully evade a feral dog that wanted to make it clear we weren’t welcome.
Oh yes, Arequipa has tons of stray, semi-stray, and pet dogs that wander the city with the confidence of human city-dwellers. They’re everywhere, from the inner city to the most rural outside areas, and many of them move in packs. It’s very common to see a dog trotting purposefully down the sidewalk; you can practically see the intelligence in their faces, and it’s rather disconcerting. For the most part though, they’re either friendly or neutral and simply add another dimension to life in Arequipa.
We eventually made our back out to a main street, and suddenly I found myself running through a minor highway roundabout section and then into a side neighborhood with a giant Jesus devotional set up in a communal space.
Up some cool light, teal-blue stairs, dodge a questionable-looking dog, and then suddenly we were back out on the road we’d started out on, winding around a cute little park back towards our starting point.
We were gone for about an hour, and I have no idea how far we went or how to replicate the run on my own, but I discovered one thing for certain: Running is something I both missed and need, which is why I have plans to meet with my friend again tomorrow and go on another one, along a different route. Case in point: when you move to a new area, make friends with local runners. The standard of accountability is universal, and getting comfortable in a new running environment is made heaps easier with the help and companionship of another.