A warning for the squeamish: contains pics of human mummified remains!
23.06.2014 - 28.06.2014 22 °C
It just goes to prove you have to make up your own mind about places rather than take too much notice of other people's opinions. As the crowd once said to Brian of Nazareth, "Yes! We're all individuals! Yes, we ARE all different!".
We'd briefly chatted to two Dutch girls in Nasca who were doing the 'Gringo trail' the opposite way to us. They were quick to say there wasn't much to do in Arequipa and that one day was plenty enough. We couldn't disagree more!
Arequipa was lovely, perhaps not as pretty as Cuenca overall, but we thought there was more to see - and what was on offer was either super interesting or very beautiful.
The guidebook describes Arequipa as having a relatively wealthy population of 750,000 and it "maintains a rather aloof attitude to the rest of Peru". It's also known as the "White City" due to the extensive use of white sillar stone (of pyroclastic origin) for its stunning colonial buildings.
Now, admittedly if you were up for full sightseeing days you probably could squeeze in all the main sights in two days, but this still (in our opinion) doesn't do the city justice. There are wonderful courtyard cafes, cute bars, a great choice of restaurants and plenty of souvenir shopping opportunities, which all deserve leisurely investigation.
Most of the city's taxis are like this
Coca leaves tea - good for altitude sickness!
Amazingly tasty food!
Our time in Arequipa ended up being dictated by me being floored with a bad case of traveller's tum, and our planned three days became five and a half. However, despite having to spend nearly half the time holed up in the hotel room, we still managed to see all we wanted to, we just had to take the sights one by one and slowly.
So, as well as the ubiquitous Catholic churches, a landmark Cathedral, a main plaza and a central market - all of which appear to grace South American cities, Arequipa also has some fascinating museums.
We only made it to two - Museo Santuarios Andinos and Museo Arqueológico UNSA.
The former explains the story of "Juanita" or "Ice Princess" - the immaculately preserved mummy of a young girl aged around 13, who was sacrificed atop a nearby mountain around 500 years ago. Her body was found in 1995.
A National Geographic video provides further insight into the sacrifices the Incas made, which were all children aged 16 or younger. A total of 18 graves have been uncovered. We then saw the various intricate offerings found within the graves, culminating with Juanita's tiny mummified body itself, displayed in a -20c perspex container in a darkened room.
It's very hard not to feel saddened and shocked by the practice of sacrificing children. It seems barbaric and cruel to us. But to the Incas this was a hugely important ceremonial offering to the Gods. The children to be sacrificed were chosen as young as one, and usually for their beauty, clear skin or health. They had to be as pure as possible, and their sacrifice would be made at a time of great need, for example, after a severe drought or a natural disaster.
They would sedate the child with a mix of chicha and a hallucenagenic plant extract, and a powerful blow to the head was delivered to make the sacrifice. It's not easy to understand, but they believed the child would become a deity in their own right, effectively Gods, and it was considered a great honour to be selected.
No photos were allowed inside the exhibition but the second museum, Museo Arqueológico UNSA, gave us the chance to photograph some of the gruesome displays. A number of gnarled mummies were on show, including some deformed skulls.
The Plaza de Armas is dominated on one side by the white facade of the Cathedral, and on the remaining sides by colonial architecture and a series of arches.
The beautifully ornate Iglesia de la Compañía
The central market was great for a wander, and although we've seen a few on our travels now, they never fail to fascinate. Just seeing the different produce available in different parts of the world (and generally how much nicer it is than our scrubbed and bleached supermarket fayre) is really interesting... and just a tad depressing. However, the meat stalls in developing countries, with the various 'bits' they sell, are ever so slightly less appealing...
Bet you didn't know there are 3,000 varieties of spuds in Peru!
An impressive line of fresh fruit juicers
Hanging meat products...
Mmmm, stomach linings
Those without stalls in the market spill out onto the street
The highlight, without question, was the Monastery of Santa Catalina. I had no idea a monastery could be so engaging. It was absolutely beautiful... a warren of cobbled 'streets', nooks and crannies, open kitchens, orange tree courtyards... it was a total surprise, and probably the most outstanding building we've seen in SA so far.
The monastery takes up a whole block on Arequipa's gridded street layout, and dates back to 1579. There are just 21 nuns here today, ranging from as young as 25 to 100!
Arequipa is also the main base for trips to Colca Canyon, however as we were delayed here we chose to press on to Lake Titicaca as our next stop.