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Arequipa
Craig and Steph's First Adventure Life Trip: Peru

(Stephanie Smith)
I woke up around 2 a.m., and we were going around some very curvy cliffs, with a sheer rock wall on one side of the road and vast nothingness on the other. Craig said that at 1:57 we had gone off the road a little when another bus was coming in the opposite direction. There were remnants of rockslides in the road, and it was a little scary. I was up for another hour, but then fell asleep again. I woke up for real at 5:30, as it was getting light. We were arriving in Arequipa as the sun rose over the city. Luckily, none of our roads had been blocked by strikers, and we arrived at the bus station unimpeded at 6:30. We waited a few minutes (maybe 5?) at the bus station, and then our driver Señor Andreas arrived. He would have beaten us there except he was detoured by some striker roadblocks on his way to the bus station. He drove us to the El Sauce Hotel. Every street corner we passed had at least two police officers stationed there. We checked into room 102. Carlos went to his house to freshen up while we showered and I wrote in the journal. We met Carlos and Señor Andreas at 9-ish. The plan was for Señor Andreas to drive us to the center of town, and then to some other nearby destinations. Well, Señnor Andreas only managed to drive us around the block and dropped us right back off at the hotel. Strikers were on the move, and were marching and burning tires in the street. From several blocks away you could hear them chanting and clapping. They had blocked a street with a tree branch, and when a car tried to turn down that street, they mobilized. We hopped out of the van and decided to walk to the center of town. Carlos and Señor Andreas decided they would be in touch by cell phone. If the strikes ended by noon, Señor Andreas would pick us up and drive us around. If not, he would go home for the day.

Carlos wanted to take us to a local (not touristic) market, and we left all of our valuables with some travel agent friends of his so as not to be in harm's way. But because of the strikes, the market was closed. We walked to the Plaza de Armas and saw the cathedral whose steeple had been damaged by the earthquake which hit Arequipa last June. There is major restoration work being done on the church, and the steeples were surrounded by staging. There were police in riot gear lining the street parallel to the Plaza de Armas. But there were a lot of people in the plaza and the surronding streets, just carrying on their business. At this point most strikers seemed good natured and happy. Some were marching with their babies in their arms. Arequipa is known as the white city both because of the white stone of volcanic ash used in construction and the fact that Spaniards are considered "white". We went into the La Compañia Jesuit Church (some other people, no relation to the power/water strike, were on a hunger strike outside this church). This church was across the Plaza de Armas from the cathedral. It had beautiful stone work outside with large wooden Spanish doors. The church is beautiful, and people were inside praying. The altar is covered in gold. We went in back into the chapel where there were gorgeous religious paintings on the walls. The walls and ceilings themselves had gorgeous frescoes in deep jewel-tone colors. Carlos explained the process by which the natives were converted (in a way, tricked) into Christianity. Because natives worshipped the mountains, Christians would place a cross atop every mountain. So by worshipping the mountain they were automatically worshipping the cross. They would integrate condors, pumas, and snakes into art and architecture, as these are important symbols in the native traditions. The condor symbolizes a kind of heaven, pumas symbolize this world, and snakes symbolize the underworld. After our tour of the church, we were quite hungry. We were also hot, as we had worn too many layers of clothes. Sure, it had been chilly when we got to the bus station at dawn this morning, but the day had heated up just fine.

We went into a small restaurant/bakery. Craig and I got papas rellenas (potatoes stuffed with meat, hard boiled egg, onions, and olives).It was delicious. Carlos had the same thing, but in a pastry shell. There was also a salad of tomato and onion with lemon juice as a dressing. We drank Fanta (all soda pretty mch comes in glass bottles in Peru). Every once in a while you could hear various groups of strikers pass by the restaurant. We were on the second floor, which had no real windows. Right before we entered the restaurant, Carlos saw something that concerned him a little. One particular group of strikers (from a university) were very animated and marching with pro-communism signs. Carlos said that most strikes are peaceful, but when the pro-communist people get involved there could be trouble. As we ate we noticed (with our limited view of the ground floor) that someone was trying to close the metal grate over the door. We could hear strikers approaching. Then all of a sudden SMASH! Breaking glass. Carlos ran downstairs to help. Turns out they hadn't gotten the grate shut fast enough (it got stuck) and when the strikers saw that the proprietors were shutting down, they threw a glass bottle in the door. It smashed the bakery case, ruining many pieces of gorgeous pies and cakes. It was a little scary at that point. We finished our lunches (no cake or pie, it goes without saying) and walked downstairs. They were still cleaning up the glass and the front door was still closed. We walked through the kitchen to a side door that popped out in an alley.

We continued our tour of the city, and even crossed some streets where strikers were marching in the midst of us. But Carlos knew what he was doing and we felt very safe. We saw the cloisters of La Compañia. It was a very nice courtyard. There were some alpaca stores. Carlos took us to Alpaca 21. He said that in Arequipa you can get "baby alpaca", but it other cities you get "maybe alpaca". We felt vicuna wool, which is very soft. Scarves cost $900 U.S. We also felt baby alpaca (the next softest), alpaca, and llama (the most coarse). The women working in the store were quite helpful. I wanted to get a baby alpaca sweater with a Peruvian design. They didn't have the one I wanted in my size, so she called another Arequipa Alpaca 21 store from a few streets over and they delivered one. It costs $50 US. I also got a small bag with an embroidered picture of a Peruvian lady and a llama. The woman offered us a discount for paying cash, but we were concerned about our cash reserve and charged it to Visa (the preferred card down there), despite losing the discount and incurring an additional service charge. The lady gave us yapa...a pin with a llama made from embroidery thread, and a pin of a zampona (pan pipes). Carlos called Señnor Andreas at noon and found out the strikers had not relinquished their road blocks. He told Señor Andreas to go home; that we would walk the rest of the day.

Craig and I went to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, while Carlos waited outside after telling us he's not really into convents, plus they don't allow external guides. The convent dates back to the 15th century and once held up to 500 nuns (now there are around 30). A young woman took us (along with an American, two New Zealanders, and a Swedish woman whom we all met on our Islas Ballestas boat ride) on a tour. Girls would apply to the convent at the age of 13 and only 8 were accepted each year. There was a caste system whereby first class nuns were of Creole (Spanish) descent and paid a large dowery to the convent to secure their spot. They led very good lives inside the convent, with many priveledges granted only to them (servants, the ability to play and listen to live music, etc). Second class nuns were mestizas (mixed Spanish and native) and did not lead as good a life as the first class nuns. The native girls were servants to the first class nuns. While first class nuns were able to have their own individual houses, third class nuns had to sleep dormitory-style and could only bathe once per month. All nuns could only bring 25 possesions with them to the convent. One of these could be a religious figure. Some of these figures were arranged in a life sized recreation of the last supper. Some of these figures were very elaborate, including one of Jesus with human teeth and a mirror in its mouth. The teeth and the echo made by the mirror gave it the illusion that it was alive and speaking to the native girls, which helped along their conversion to Catholicism. Nuns were only allowed to talk to their families once a month through a series of screens that resemble how prisoners are allowed to talk to visitors. They could receive letters and strictly regulated gifts, which were passed to them on a turn table. They were not allowed any physical contact with family. They were not allowed to discuss anything about convent life to their families. Their conversations were monitored. The nuns at this monastery were (and are) nuns who pray and try to get closer to God spiritually, rather than nuns who teach or tend to the sick and poor. One Mother Superior tried to reform the caste system of the convent, and the first class nuns (not wanting to give up their cushy lives) tried to poison her three times. In the 1870's the convent was successfully reformed, so that all nuns had the same rank and shared in all the daily chores. The third class nuns (since they were essentially slaves and had not taken vows) were free to stay or go. 50% chose to stay on as common nuns.

It was quite interesting. Afterwards, we saw an man with a gray beard wearing a red dress and stretched out panty hose lift up his skirt and take a pee in the middle of the road. The cops on the corner saw it and made eye contact and said hi to us, as we were all chuckling. It turns out that Señor Andreas was not able to go home because the strikers had blocked all of the roads, so he took a siesta in one of Arequipa's nice parks and got home around 3 p.m. We walked with Carlos to La Quinta, a gorgeous restaurant which was an oasis in the middle of town. They had a nice balcony, a lawn, and a couple of alpacas in a pen. We tried tostado (toasted corn kernels with lots of salt). Craig drank Arequipeña beer and Carlos and I had papaya juice. We tried cuy (guinea pig). It was just as Carlos has said...lying spreadeagle on its belly, head and all. It was very crispy and tasted like chicken. We had to rip it apart to eat it. We kept laughing, as did a table of French people seated nearby. The cuy was served with the onion/tomato/lemon juice salad that we had at lunchtime. We had a red pepper stuffed with onion, meat, and custard. There was also a cheese and potato pancake. Carlos posed the guinea pig so that it was holding its head (dolor de cabeza...guinea pig headache!). It was so funny! For dessert we had frozen queso. It was like ice milk, with a very crystalline texture and cut into cubes and sprinkled with cinnamon and cocoa.

After dinner we headed down to the lawn for a game of sapo. "Sapo" means "frog" in Spanish, and this game involves a wooden box with 12? holes in the top. Each hole is connected to a chute which leads down to one of the numbered chambers in the front of the box. In the middle of the game board is a brass frog with its mouth open. The holes in the front row have "mariposa" ("butterfly," in Spanish) brass paddlewheels above them. You stand about 15 feet from the box and lob a series of 10 brass coins at the box. Each chute is numbered from 100-5000 points. The sapo (frog) is 5000, the mariposas are 1000 or 2000, and the other holes are multiples of 100. Players take turns accruing points until someone reaches 5000. It was so much fun! So simple and yet addictive. The sapo was near the two alpacas (white and black). We petted the black one, and one of them started talking to Craig. They produce a much more soothing noise than the llamas do. They sort of hum. He went back and forth with Craig for a while...it was a riot. They were definitely communicating! The weather was gorgeous. We had crystal clear views of Misti and Chachani (two volcanoes). The sun started to set and it got cooler and darker and no one was around. We forgot we were in the middle of a city. We kept playing sapo until it was dark. At 5:30 we settled our tab and walked back to the hotel. Carlos went home. I wrote in the journal and we watched some TV. We saw news footage of the strikes in various cities across Peru. Arequipa's Plaze de Armas was on the news, but we didn't see ourselves. We watched the end of the movie "Mystery Men", in which Tom Waits appears. At 9:15 we fell asleep.

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