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Arequipa, the White City

Sunset on the Amazon
Sunset on the Amazon
Our LAN flight from Lima to Arequipa takes just over an hour. Arequipa is around 600 miles south of Lima. Its heritage is Spanish, and it is nicknamed the White City because the prevalent building material is sillar, a white volcanic stone, and also apparently because the Spanish people were considered to be so 'white' compared to the indigenous people. We are met at the airport by our guide, Liliana, and a driver. The plan is that they will take us to our hotel and then leave us to explore the city for the rest of the day. Along the way Liliana tells us a bit about the city and the things we will likely want to do while here. At the hotel she circles several landmarks on a map, all within walking distance. After checking in we strike out immediately to get some lunch. Liliana had recommended a restaurant called Zigzag, which is also touted in our guidebooks, but we strangely cannot find it so continue walking. (The facades of stores and buildings in Peru are often non-descript, with little signage, and you sometimes have to peer into doorways and windows in order to ascertain what is happening inside). We come upon Chi Cha's, a restaurant owned by Gaston Acurio, who also owns the first restaurant we ate at on our last trip, Astrid y Gaston in Lima. Our meal there was fantastic, so we see this as a good sign and stop for lunch. We order two traditional dishes recommended to us by Liliana: Rocoto Relleno, a pepper filled with spicy beef and pork and cheese; and shrimp soup, or cauche camaron. We share both dishes and they are delicious. After lunch we walk to the Museo Santuarios Andinos, where Juanita, the Ice Maiden of Ampato, is kept. Juanita was an Inca maiden, approximately 13 years old, who made the trek from Cusco to the top of the Ampato volcano (20,600 feet) with priests over 500 years ago to be sacrificed to the gods. Her body, mummified in a glacier, was discovered in 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard. She was studied extensively when she was brought down from the volcano, as her body was so well-preserved that her stomach still contained the contents of her last meal! Today she is kept in a clear case in the museum, still frozen for all to see. When the neighboring volcano, Sabancaya, erupted centuries ago, the volcanic ash caused melting at the top of Ampato which exposed Juanita, causing her body to fall a short ways. The fall seriously bruised her face and eyes, giving her a particularly haunting look. While her story is fascinating and the museum well worth visiting, Andrea and I both now wish we had stopped short of viewing her actual body. It somehow seems disrespectful to view her like that. What an incomprehensible (to us) life she led: She was chosen as a young child for sacrifice due to her physical perfection. She was taken from her family to live with the other chosen children in Cusco. It was a tremendous honor to her family that she would be offered up to the gods. She knew her mission in life from a very early age, and yet willingly made the incredible trek to her death. Yet another reason I'm grateful to be a child of the 20th century! After our visit to see Juanita, we visit the Plaza de Armas, or city square. We walk around the square a bit with the many locals out enjoying this beautiful day. We stop to take pictures of an active 17th century Jesuit church, La Compania, and then walk to the nearby cloisters where there are several shops selling alpaca woolen goods. We continue our walk to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. It is a convent founded in 1579 which is its own stand-alone village where more than 200 nuns once lived and approximately 30 still do. It's a labyrinth of chapels, private quarters, kitchens and art galleries. We opt not to take the guided tour but instead wander through it at our own pace. I find it peaceful, serene and incredibly beautiful. The walls of the structures are painted bright blue and burnt orange, and there are pots of flowers everywhere. Because the nuns originally came from Spain, Santa Catalina looks very much like a Spanish village. And the brilliant blue, sunny sky lends itself to some gorgeous photographs. It's about 5:30 by the time we finish at the Monastery, and we are exhausted. We walk back to the hotel, freshen up, and decide to find Zigzag for dinner. This time we do, and have a meal of Peruvian beef (MUCH better than Argentinean beef, according to our waiter!). It's served with different dipping sauces and quinoa on the side. After dinner we walk back to the hotel and turn in early. It's been a busy day!
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