Peru 1988

I am a tour guide so I look forward to tips. With British visitors I am never confident, but anyway I am so proud of my city that I sometimes get carried away with my enthusiasm. Today I am giving the bearded stranger and his father a tour of the famous and beautiful White City.

 Arequipa, the Old Mill

Arequipa, the Old Mill

Arequipa is known as the White City because, even though it is in an area dominated by the indigenous people, it has always been full of white people, Spanish blood. The Founder’s House, for example, dates back to the 16th century. There are families of pure Spanish blood, lots of mestizos (mixed race) - and now there’s very little traditional Andean dress visible on the streets. It is also known as the White City because of the stone, white porous volcanic rock called ‘sillar’, from which we built our houses. We use it to filter water, and when in bricks it transmits heat from brick to brick. The stone comes from the three magnificent volcanos which dominate the skyline: Misti, the only active one, Pichu Pichu and Chachani, the tallest at over 19,000 feet/6000 meters. We also have a river, after which a country is called. Our river is called the ‘Chilli’ and a long time ago some locals travelled to what is now Chile. When the newly-arrived Spanish asked them where they were from they said ‘Chilli’.

When the stranger’s eyes begin to glaze over I realise I have become carried away. We sit down for a Cola and I ask them about Britain.

We have always welcomed British visitors to Arequipa. Mr Michell arrived here from Britain in 1918, with his war demobilisation money and a bike: his company, Michell’s, is now the largest processor of alpaca fur. Brits can also recognise company names like Rickett’s and Gibson. The Cola is finished and I am getting carried away again - so I take them off to the cathedral. I show them the highlights. The town’s Belgian immigrants donated a fine organ. The French community gave the magnificent carved wooden pulpit.  In the darkness high on a wall is a very dull clock. Why did I not expect a big tip? That clock was the Brits’ contribution.