Chapter 7 – Arequipa

El Misti - image: AV

El Misti – image: AV

Dawn saw us leave the coast and turn inland. Well, those of us were awake saw dawn, the rest blythely slept on. The scenery changed, still desert, but now we were among canyons and in the distance mountains, one of which was El Misti the volcano that is symbolic of Arequipa.

Our arrival was uneventful, we were met at the bus station by our guide, loaded into a van and taken to “Casa de mi abuela” (My Grandmother’s House), shown to our rooms through quaint passages for Our Grandmother’s House was truly a warren. After a freshen up we met in the garden for breakfast. Pleasant surroundings, cut grass, fruit trees and white wooden tables dotted about. Breakfast was served, yes, once again, we were faced with our bread rolls, strawberry jam and coffee, but this time we also had white cheese and fruit juice. We ate, and listened to the frogs croaking in the garden. Strange, we couldn’t see any frogs, only a specie of dove, it turned out that it was this dove that sounded like the mysterious frogs.

The yard at Casa de mi abuela - image: AV

The yard at Casa de mi abuela – image: AV

We discussed the absurdity of a bird that croaked. We talked about our plans for the day. For today was free, we had a tour to the Colca Canyon the following day, but today was for Arequipa. I had plans to visit the two famous sites in the city: Juanita and the Santa Catalina Convent.

Juanita is also known as the ice-maiden. She was discovered in 1996 when Mt Sabancayo erupted and melted the ice on a nearby mountain. Juanita was an Inca maiden who, 800 years earlier, had been sacrificed at the age of 14. She had been drugged on coca, then ceremoniously clubbed to death. Her discovery turned the history of the Inca, because until Juanita, there was no evidence that the Inca made human sacrifices like the Maya and Aztec.

The Ice Maiden - image: karikuy

The Ice Maiden – image: karikuy

There she was, in her frozen glass case, sitting hunched up, just as she had done for the past centuries, mummified by man and the cold. Juanita was not alone, she was accompanied through the centuries by five boys about 12 years old, but it was Juanita who was the attraction, she was the principle character. We listened to her story in our language and saw a video reenactment of her fateful life.

After we had met the ice-maiden, we had pizza for lunch in the main square and marvelled at the white buildings. Much of Arequipa is made of a white stone from the area, and had given it the name of the White City.

Inside the convent - image: AV

Inside the convent – image: AV

Our group found the Santa Catalina Convent after lunch. Once inside we marvelled at the story of our guide who told us of the totally cloistered lives of the nuns, once inside they never left again and never spoke, only a yearly visit from relatives through a small mesh grille did they communicate with the outside world. The convent was truly a city within a city, fully self-sustained; gardens, bakeries and farm, all within its walls. There was even a cafe for the tourists, where we could buy and sample the fare still made by the nuns as they had done for centuries in the part of the convent still used.

The main plaza in Arequipa

The main plaza in Arequipa

Shocked at the austerity of the convent, the barren lives that had passed barbarically within the sacred walls, one left the tour in a sombre mood, reflective on life as we know it.

Dinner was at a restaurant near the hotel, and an early night for tomorrow we faced our next adventure.