Title: A delayed overnight bus journey... Location: Arequipa, Peru
Arrived in Arequipa in the morning - a little worse for wear after an overnight bus journey which had been delayed by three hours. Needless to say, we had a British grumble between ourselves and then carried on....
We expected high things of Arequipa - the Peruvians we've met so far have raved about this "white city" (the city's colonial buildings are built from a light-colored volcanic rock called sillar). Arequipans are proud people and even attempted to declare the town as a separate state with its own anthem, flag and passport! They apparently have a passion for intellectual debate so we thought we'd settle in quite nicely here! The town has a European feel to it - the Plaza de Armas is one of the more aesthetically pleasing we've seen so far with its grand white cathedral, mature palms and stone archways. The town is also surrounded by several active volcanoes, which provides a dramatic backdrop and has also survived a fair few earthquakes in its time - we really are living on the edge here!
There's international cuisine aplenty (at a price) as well as traditional dishes such as the Arequipan delicacy of hot peppers stuffed with spicy meat and vegetables known as Rocotto Relleno. We blew the budget for the first time in 4 weeks with a Peruvian cheese fondue and a bottle of Peruvian red (now we know why they don't export it!). Still it was a nice change from agua sin gas and pollo y fritas.
Although most travelers use Arequipa as a base for the two day trek into the world's two deepest canyons, (the famous one being the Colca Canyon) we decided to give hiking a rest and view it from a postcard instead. Our "culture time" has been spent wandering around the 17th century convent of Santa Catalina which used to house over 500 nuns in its hey day. The nuns took a vow of exclusion and spent isolated lives away from the hustle and bustle of Arequipas ordinary people. As a result, the convent has taken on a village feel with houses and cloisters, connected by pathways resembling the back streets of a small Spanish town.
We also paid a visit to "Juanita" - the ice-preserved body of a young Inca girl sacrificed on the summit of the Ampato Volcano and now housed in a museum in central Arequipa. Incans believed that volcanic eruptions were a sign of the gods displeasure and the high priests in Cusco believed that only the sacrifice of pure and beautiful children could quell their wrath. The children were taken on an arduous journey, over 500km to the volcano's summit at 6,380m. There they could look forward to a nice intoxicating drink and being bludgeoned to death with a large hammer-like instrument - a truly awful end to a wonderful trek! Still, they were willing participants believing that their death would elevate them to deity level and closer to the Gods. Due to the sub-zero conditions on the volcano-top, the bodies of these young victims were perfectly preserved and their bodies and burial sites provide further knowledge to the scientists and historians studying the ways of the powerful Incan Empire. We were astonished at how well preserved young "Juanita" was - the clothes looked almost new and finer details of her body such as hands and fingernails, were still visible. Although it sounds a bit freaky, it was really interesting glimpsing into the past.
We are of course still taking our Spanish immersion classes. They have been helping very nicely, and the other day I had a nice chat with one of the locals, proud of being able to communicate with him. He also commented on how good my Spanish is.