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A closer view of the entrance
A closer view of the entrance
Arequipa is located at 7661 feet above sea level and is surrounded by three snow-capped volcanoes all of which hover near 20,000 feet - Chachani, El Misti and Pichu Pichu. Possibly due to global warming and ozone deterioration, in 2009 the peaks were only snow covered during the winter months of June, July and August, instead of the usual twelve months of snow cover. Founded in 1540, Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru. Its historical city center is constructed almost entirely of silla that is a porous white volcanic stone. Arequipa enjoys more than 300 days a year of sunshine and low humidity. Unfortunately, the city has a history of natural disasters. The earthquake of 2001 registering 8.1 on the Richter scale destroyed the major portions of the city, including the towers of the Catedral located in the Plaza del Armas. The day after our visit, an earthquake measuring 5.2 was felt in the city. Pulitzer Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Arequipa.

We arrived in Arequipa at 6 am under bright blue skies. After checking in at the Casa Andina Hotel, located within a short walking distance of the historical center, our energetic guide Carlos started our walking tour of the city with our destination being the Plaza de Armas. A large elegant square with massive plantings of hydrangeas, pentas, and salvia under towering palm trees surrounding a central fountain, the plaza is the focus of urban life in Arequipa. On this early Sunday morning, the Plaza was filling with families and vendors as well as soccer fans that intended to watch the 4:30 semi-finals on the large screens being set up in the Plaza. The Plaza is surrounded by the Cathedral, small porticoed shops and restaurants.

The Cathedral is a 17th century neoclassical structure that is rather modest compared to other Cathedrals in South and Central America. The interior is peach and white with carved arches and a massive pipe organ. The Cathedral is now fully restored to its original grandeur after being devastated by earthquakes and natural disasters.

After sampling and purchasing several delicate cream filled cookies at a small pastry shop, we headed to the bustling indoor-outdoor Sunday market. Opening at 4 am, farmers and vendors from surrounding villages displayed their goods while villagers and local residents made their purchases. Typical of most markets, it was divided into sections featuring meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables, medicinal plants, juices, house wares, clothing etc. After enjoying a fresh juice beverage we left the smell-laden market and headed toward the Jesuit church of La Campania. Although we were unable to enter the main chapel due to Mass, we were able to view the small domed Capilla Real, or Royal Chapel. We then walked thru the Jesuit cloister which now house upscale boutiques where I purchased an alpaca/silk scarf.

The 17th century Jesuit Church with its elaborate facade carved of sillar stone took more than a century to be completed. The interior holds a carved-cedar main alter covered in gold leaf and two chapels: the Capilla de San Ignancio with an elaborate painted cupola, and the Capilla Real which features vivid painted murals of a jungle motif around its circular sacristy.

Hungary and fatigued, we now convinced Carlos that we were capable of navigating the city and encouraged him to return home to watch the soccer match with his family. (Our tour schedule indicated that Sunday was a free day without a guide, and we assumed Carlos felt responsible for his non-Spanish speaking tourists.) After brief resistance, Carlos bid us farewell. Dick and I then headed to a small restaurant overlooking the Plaza where we enjoyed a cold drink and delicious lunch.

'Juanita' is the ice-packed mummy of the 14-15 year old Inca female sacrificed at the 20,000 foot Ampato Volcano and now displayed at the Museo. It is believed that that the sacrifice was an appeasement to Ampato whose dominion was the water supply and harvest. Juanita was discovered at the summit of the Ampato volcano in 1915 by a team of anthropologists led by Johan Reinhard, the National Geographic explorer-in-residence. Packed in ice and thus not desiccated like most mummies, Juanita was the first frozen female found from the pre-Columbian era in the Andes. Her well-preserved corpse allowed scientists to examine her DNA, skin, hair, blood, internal organs and contents of her stomach. Controversy now clouds the discovery as locals claim a locally famous mountaineer named Carlos Zarate should be credited with the discovery.

First stop after lunch was the Museo Santuarios Andinos located a few blocks from the Plaza to view Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden. Now nearly 3:30 pm, we then walked the short distance to the Monasterio De Santa Catalina and spent an hour or more walking the streets and exploring the cells of the beautiful convent. Although exhausted we climbed a set a steep stairs to the rooftop for a panoramic view of the city.

Founded in 1579 under the Dominican order, the convent is a small labyrinthine village with narrow cobblestone streets, plant-lined passages, plazas, fountains, chapels and small cells where more than 200 sequestered nuns once lived. Although the nuns, all from wealthy Spanish families, entered the convent under the vows of poverty, they each paid a dowry to live the monastic life amid art collections, a well-equipped kitchen and servants. Behind tall and thick sillar fortifications, walls are painted sunburned orange, cobalt blue, and brick red. The convent contains three cloisters, six streets, 80 housing units, an art gallery and cemetery. Its mudejar (Moorish-Christian) architecture and Spanish named streets have the feel of a small village in southern Spain. In 1972 local authorities forced the sisters to install modern infrastructures, a requirement that led to the opening of the convent for tourism. Today only 19 cloistered nuns between the ages of 20 and 90 remain.

Returning to the hotel near 5:30 we showered and rested for a short time before heading out to dinner. We selected the Zig Zag restaurant located a short walking distance from our hotel. The house specialty was stone-grilled meats served on a sizzling stone with a trio of sauces. We both ordered the meat trio entree - alpaca, llama, and beef, served with fingerling potatoes, followed by coffee and dessert. Of course, pisco sours and cervaza contributed to a relaxing and enjoyable evening.

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