Thursday, October 25, 2012

Traveling in Peru [Part 1]: Arequipa

We left Seattle on a Saturday morning in early October. We were nervous and excited. Mostly nervous about the 24 hours of travel that lay ahead of us. We flew to Los Angeles, then Miami, then Lima (Peru), and then yet another quick flight to Arequipa, in the southern part of the country. 

We went from the fog-shrouded, sea-side cosmopolitan city of Lima to a town in the middle of the driest desert in the world, and to an elevation of 7,600 feet. The hot air sucked my breath away as we walked across the tarmac and into the terminal. So different from Seattle. 

Called La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) after the creamy volcanic tuff of which most of the city’s historic buildings are constructed, Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru. 

Thanks to a mild climate and year-round run-off from the snow-capped mountains that surround the city, the area is an agricultural oasis that the Inca (and pre-Incan) peoples used to feed their growing populations. 

 While in Arequipa, we toured several historic churches, sampled local produce, and visited the museum that is the resting place of Juanita, the Inca girl that was sacrificed to stop the volcanic activity of the nearby Mount Ampato. We have no pictures of little Juanita, which is just as well, as she’s not looking her best. Understandable after six hundred years atop a frozen peak, and then a swift ride down the mountainside during a landslide. 

The word ‘picchu’ means peak so the mountain in back of us is called “Picchu Picchu’, meaning many peaks. 

One of my favorite destinations was the Santa Catalina Convent, which was opened to the world for tours in the 1970s after several hundred years of isolation. Built in the middle of the city near the Plaza de Armas, it is a tiny mini-city in which the women that entered the convent never again left its walls or saw their families. 
 Don’t feel too bad for them though, they might have been nuns but they still had servants to do all the cooking and cleaning. They even had their own homes within the convent. 
 Pretty, no?

Here was the ingenious clothes washing system. A small creek could be diverted to fill the large earthen pots. Clothes could be left to soak or rinsed, depending on the specific needs of the washerwoman. 

We spent our evenings moseying around the city, getting acclimated to the altitude, watching the comings and goings of the populace. 

 Shoe shining is a cutthroat business in Peru. The going rate is about $0.40 for a shoe shine. This guy might charge extra though because he provides a seat for his customers. 

You can see a lot of moorish influences in the architecture, such as the corbels (?)(pointy-things) on this church door:

While in Arequipa, we also tried out the local delicacy:  alpaca. The verdict? Not bad. A bit like beef, but a little tougher.