Arequipa, Peru

Trip Start Jul 06, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, December 14, 2003

We have had complaints from No.1 son that there is a distinct lack of photos on the Pods. He suspects that we are not travelling at all but lazing away the days on a sundrenched beach somewhere around Sydney. Hence, we going overboard on this Pod with 7 photots and a video.

The next stop was Arequipa. A beautiful Spanish Colonial Style Town surrounded by volcanoes. Misti Mountain looms over the town, and as we arrived late in the afternoon the heat haze over the plain made Misti look as if it was floating about the ground, very dramatic.

The main square in the town centre is colonnaded on three sides with the magnificent cathedral with its twin spires taking up the whole of the fourth side, very imposing. Kerry found us a great hotel in this old part of town. A beautiful old house, once owned by a Bishop with lots of rooms and a central tiled courtyard where we could chill, take breakfast or read in the afternoon away from the street noise surrounded by plants and flowers.

When I first saw the room I thought we were in a wine cellar. With vaulted ceiling and 2ft thick undecorated stone walls, like living in a castle. All the old stone buildings are from white Sillar, volcanic stone and ash, typical building materials of Arequipa when the Spanish built the town, giving it a more sophisticated look that Cusco for example with its more rustic adobe style.

The main tourist attraction is the Convent.. yes true. A city within a city built for the Dominican Nuns in the 1600s and opened to the public in 1968 when the suns, having dwindled in numbers from 600 down to 30, built themselves a more modest convent over the wall. Could the lack of vocation have anything to do with it, or the fact that good Spanish families put their 2nd daughter into a nunnery at the age of 12 when today 18 is the minimum age to enter.

The history of the convent is fascinating. The black veiled nuns, Spanish girls, sent by their parents at the age of 12, never to see the outside world again, built up a hierarchy whereby they owned private residences made up of several rooms, maid-nuns to wait on them, servant nuns and even slaves, which they sold off in the market periodically to raise cash!

The white veiled nuns, a lesser breed, who hadnt paid such a good dowry or were from a lower class reported to the black veiled nuns but they also had maid service from the lowly nuns.

In the early 1900s the Pope thought something was not very catholic in the convent and ordered that they all live as a community... all nuns were now created equal. There must have been a lot of tearing of veils but the orders were carried out.

This left most of the convent, built mainly in the Moorish style with pretty arched streets, covered in flowers, old kitchens and bath houses, laundry etc unchanged since the 1600s and used until 1968 amazingly well preserved. The Art gallery of considerable importance (paintings coming from the rich families as part of the dowry) forms part of this museum, although our guide told us that a few important works of art had probably slipped over the wall into the new convent.

One day we joined a small group tour to Colca canyon. Apparently twice as deep as the Grand canyon in places, also the nesting place of the Condor. It was a very dusty 3 hr ride over mostly dirt road through a moonscape of dust and rocks, climbing to 5000 mtrs (you can really feel it gasping for air) before descending to the village of Chivey. We happened to arrive the last evening of the annual 4 day village festival (see video) when all the villagers from the surrounding area come to town to celebrate, dressed in all their finery.

Traditionally, boys dress as girls to give them the opportunity to dance with the girl of their fancy under the jealous eyes of the girls father who thinks she is dancing with another girl!! Spot the boys on the video. Incidentally that same piece of music was repeated well into the night (until dawn), the people got very drunk. Even the women collapsed around the streets in their big dresses as we came back from dinner. Whatever that drink was that resembled iced-coffee it was very potent.

The next morning we were up at dawn to get to the Canyon to see the Condors gliding up from below on warm thermals. We did see a few, but although the canyon was interesting in its rock formation and valley, we were not so sure that the long journey and rough ride was really worth it.

On the other hand our next visit to see the petroglyphs the day after was fantastic. Hardly any tourists visit this region and we both though it was a great tour.

We took the Pan American highway on an asphalt road passing through pink mountains with not a tree or plant in sight. The colour of the mountains depends on what the volcano spewed out all those thousands of years ago. The colours change from pink to grey then yellow. Great rocky formations littered with massive boulders. On the pink plains between the mountain ranges, huge white crescent shaped dunes of shifting sand/ash looked fantastic in the morning light.

Toro Meurte is the area where the petroglyphs are located and what a surprise. No tourists, hardly mentioned at the Travel Operators offices but far more spectacular than the canyon. Enormous yellow and red boulders litter the mountainside. Trudging upwards, sinking into the sand on a boiling hot day we set off to see this Inca and pre-Inca artwork carved int the boulders.

There are so many scatterd on the mountainside that even our guide got lost and couldnt find the most important rock with multiple carvings of dancers, river, condors, mountains etc which are always depicted in Inca art.

Not much is known about this place, although some work must have started as many of the rocks had been numbered. The sad thing is that as in many sites undiscovered by tourism, a huge number of the rocks had been mutilated and many good carvings carried off. This was clearly a place for rituals amd ceremonies in a very isolated location.

The following day we flew from Arequipa to Juliaca. The plane was delayed because of bad weather in Cusco so I prepared this pod to send later in Puno. The whole Pod vanished so I am writing this part again from La Paz several days later!!

The flight across the volcanoes was incredible, we actually flew slightly to the right of Misti Mountain, it is so big it blocked the light from the windows of the plane. Looking down that huge black crater was scarey. As far as the eye could see there were reddish brown volcanoes, not a living thing in sight on the 30 minute flight.

From Puno we left early the next day by bus heading for Copacabana in Bolivia. The road runs around Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. We crossed the border from Peru with no problems arriving at our hotel around midday. Once again Kerry had found us a gem. We had a lovely room with a mezzanine where you could wake up to views across the lake.

Copacabana is a simple lakeside village where you can wander around unmolested. Yes there are all the usual souvenir shops, lots of little restaurants and tour operators selling boatrides across Lake Titicaca but this was basically a couple of R & R days lazing in a hammock in the garden, interspersed with a trip up the mountain on a pilgrimage doing "The staions of the cross" with the very religious locals (I needed a stop at every station to catch my breath - the altitude is hard on the lungs).This followed by a boatride to the Island of the Sun.

Actually, the boatride was basically that. For no sooner had we arrive at the Island, dragged ourselves up 1000 steps (supposedly Inca) taken the obligatory photo with the Alpacca and Llama(to follow so you can spot the difference) then it was time to descend and get back on the boat. Nevertheless, Lake Titicac is spectacular in that because you are already at 3700 mtrs, the snowcovered peaks at 6000 mts running along the edge of the lake look even more spectacular because they look almost at eye level. Our last night we had the lake trout for dinner....... the best ever.
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