Yat's Big Trip travel blog

View of Arequipa from the roof of Hostel Regis...

...The conical volcanoe El Misti, guardian of the city...

...two blocks away, the Cathedral and the Plaza de Armas...

The well vegetated Plaza de Armas from ground level

...and peeping through the gate of the Cathedral

...and staring up at its bell tower

Entering the gates of the Santa Catalina Convent

Crossing the courtyard to begin the tour

Towards the novices' cloister, where they live for the first year...

where they pray and study all day, and allowed out of their...

Once professed the vow, they upgrade to nicer quarters...

...with steps leading to Heaven right outside their room...

...and more cheerfully painted courtyard and FREEDOM!

...well, not quite, they're not allowed to go outside...

...but there are three streets inside the convent...

...named after Spanish cities...

...this goes towards the modern nuns' quarters

...nowadays they pray hard for the world everyday, but are allowed to...

...View of the Church within the Convent - a real city within...

...smple, but ingenious washing tubs

...with more "steps to heaven"

...these figures pray all day!

"When the moon seperated from the earth, it forgot to take Arequipa", is apparently what the locals of Arequipa like to say about its city. The capital of the department of Arequipa, founded in 1540, its location is roughly halfway between Lima and Cusco, I

thought it would be a nice place to break down the journey. I liked the sound of the colonial city, and planned to spend about a week there to enjoy the city and to explore the volcanoes, hot springs and canyons nearby.

Admittedly I was expecting a glimmering white city, just as my university town Bath glowed golden in the sun, due to the colour of the "Bath Stone", its building material. Arequipa, much bigger than Bath, is not constructed totally of the light coloured volcanic rock found nearby, but that's restricted to its city centre.

I didn't get to enjoy the city for the first few days. The long overnight bus journey from Nazca (despite the more or less fully reclinable bed-seat), couldn't stop a cold from developing fully. By three in the afternoon, I was in bed, where I spent many more

hours over the next few days.

However, did find a very good vegetarian restaurant by the name of "Mandala", where I have repeatedly gone back to. They offer a very good cheap "Menu of the Day", with an apetiser, a soup, a main course, pudding and drink, for 5 soles (US$1.50). There were also a few Turkish places just below my hotel, where I could eat a falafel sandwich for the first time on this trip! A welcomed change indeed!! :)

When I felt I was well enough to venture out a little, went to visit the "Monasterio de Santa Catalina", built in 1580, just at the end of the block to my hostel, with my room-mates Hannah and Lenny (both from Gloucester, UK).

From the outside, the convent (which takes up a block width, and almost two blocks long) looked bland and uninviting in its dull monocolour. But the walk through it revealed many brightly painted quarters (comparable to the Greek island of Santorini), and many

detailed considerations, if sometimes somewhat humourous. For example, some stone steps leading - to what I thought were nowhere (obviously the pessimist), but designed to signify leading to Heaven. Some of the walls to the nun's quarters were painted a sky

blue, which more or less match the exact tone of the sky of that day - to bring the nun closer to Heaven.

At the beginning, was slightly skeptical about taking the guided tour - not only because the entrance fee (US$7) took out a large chunk of the day's budget. The lady who introduced herself as the guide spoke English, but with apparent difficulties with the

pronounciations, and a very tired expression on her face. Though of course, English would be a lot easier for me, have recently come to the opinion that Spanish tours would be better - for me to practice and also to appreciate the natural flow of the native speaker better. Halfway through the tour, our guide grew on me, as she discreetly added in a few jokes - especially about the chocolate eating habits of the nuns.

Also went to visit "Juanita", an ice maiden discovered recently at the "Museo Santuarios Andinos" (which has moved one block south of the Plaza de Armas, and not as listed in the Lonely Planet). Not usually one excited to poke around dead people's tombs and such, but the story of "Juanita" was intriguing enough to draw me there, and to even pay a $5 entrance fee (no student discount). Watched a video explaining her story, and looked at the objects found in her grave, as well as "Juanita" herself.

"Juanita" was an Inca girl selected as an offering to the god of the volcano Ampato, just outside Arequipa. She was probably from Cusco, aged 12 to 14, and walked across the Andean mountains with an elaborate court, fulfilling various religious rituals on the way, and all the way to the summit, where she was killed.

Although it sounds brutal, it was actually an honour in those days, as she was sacrifaced for the greater good of her people. They believed that they were appeasing the volcano god, who erupted, sneezed avalanche etc. if he's angry, so it's really important that some pure, innocent children were offered to him to keep him happy.

Think my specialist guide confirmed my question that the offerings did indeed bring peace to the Incas. As for Juanita herself, she was buried right on the summit (6288m), where, although a pretty lonely spot, she reached half divinity for being so close to the gods.

She was found by Inca historian Johann Reinhardt by accident. A neighbouring volcano had recently erupted, its ash and smoke melting the cold cold snowcap of the Ampato. "Juanita" - named after her discoverer rolled from her burial place, and laid exposed on the ice. But as the temperature was still very low, she was still in

very good condition, and still very well preserved. Only the side exposed to the sun was more damaged.

Her discovery was a great find for the scientific world, as they were able to perform many tests on this five hundred year old body. They even found out she was fed corn shortly before she died! Her body is displayed in a temperature-controlled glass cabinet in the museum, but scientists are still trying to understand her genetic codes.

Also ran into a few friends whilst in Arequipa. The first one was Seth (Oregon, USA), our neighbour in MontaƱita (Ecuador), on his way towards Buenos Aires. Again he's also staying at the same hotel as me this time in Arequipa! Just before meeting "Juanita", found that Jasmine and Florencia (both from Israel) were also in my group. We had a quick catching up session, from Huaraz (where we were in the same dorm) and Huacachina.

Later that afternoon, the four of us walked to the CinePlanet to warch a film. Unfortunately for Seth, all of us jumped at "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", for the chance of watching Brad on the big screen. We were enjoying it, and just as Mr. and Mrs. were working hard at killing each other, our chairs shook with the action. We looked at

each other as a reality check to the advanced technological chairs, but was confirmed to be an earthquake. Jasmine and Flo were scared and wanted to leave, but they were sandwiched by Seth and I, who wanted to finish the film. But as the locals begun to file out of the auditorium, we followed suit. The film promptly switched off.

This was my longest and strongest earthquake to date. Found out later that it measured 4.0 on the Richter Scale, but was 9.5 in Chile, where the epicentre was, and it killed 11 people. Arequipa was much luckier, we were refunded our ticket and we instantly spent it on dinner. Dinner took so long to come that we managed to train the girls how to play "Shithead" (I was taught by Seth in Ecuador), and they took a few turns being president! Then we hit the bars, where I finally enjoyed a bed time MUCH later than my usual 9pm! Wicked!

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