Colonial city

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

In keeping with most bus journeys on our trip so far, we have a fairly horrible one from Puno to Arequipa. The Cruz Del Sur bus is delayed by one hour which means we donīt arrive in Arequipa until about 10pm. We pass through the town of Juliaca on the northern shores of Lake Titicaca which is notable for being one of the most ugly cities Iīve seen in our travels. It is an interminable stretch of drab unfinished concrete and a adobe houses. There is dust and rubbish everywhere and no-one is smiling.

Rachel is of course nervous about arriving in a desolate and dangerous part of Arequipa at night, so we take a taxi (3 soles or GBP0.50) to the hostel of our choice.

When we arrive at Hostel El Caminante Class the staff are friendly enough and show us to a small room on the second floor. The receptionistīs mother accompanies me to some shops at the end of the road to buy some snacks and then locks us in securely for the night.

In the morning it becomes apparent that we are not in the hostel we thought we were in. Just as in Vietnam, new businesses take a name that is almost identical to the name of a succesful place. In our case we see they have added the word īInnī on to the already lengthy name. Anyhow its passable (Rachel says it is pretty bad: not enough blankets, no toilet seat, and lots of noise from the street) and we decide to stay for a couple of days (40 Soles or GBP7.00 for the room per night).

We wander up to the main Plaza de Armas in the warming rays of the morning sun. Our mood starts to lift when we see beautiful colonial buildings lining the streets. They have gigantic impenetrable wooden front doors, extensive balconies, and are built from a whitish volcanic rock called sillar that makes them gleam in the sun. Behind the town several 6000m snow-capped peaks glisten silently.

The main plaza is a broad quadrangle of collonaded buildings and is one of the most beautiful town squares Iīve seen. It makes me think Peru certainly has an extreme mix of nasty and nice. Today there is a loud military parade taking place, and Rachel and I take a front rown seat in one of the many cafeīs overlooking the plaza.

During the parade a couple of finely dressed navy officers attach and raise the Peruvian flags. The particularly tall good-looking officer attaching the flag next to us seems nervous and makes a mess of his knots a few times, much to his embarrasment. The military big wigs glare impatiently at his ineptitude.

These military parades that we have now seen in both Peru and Bolivia seem to hark back to times past with their impractically but impeccably dressed soldiers, goose stepping, and spit and polish. I suppose the military havenīt thought of anything better to do with their spare time, and maybe people are still impressed by the show.

Rachel and I finish eating our breakfast and wander up a block to Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which occupies an entire block within the city. Indeed, it is more or less a city within a city as it used to house over 300 nuns who lived a priveliged life sheltered from the outside world. It even has street names inside, although apparently they are a fairly recent addition. The nuns originally came from only the wealthiest of Spanish families and had to pay a dowry of over 200 gold coins to enter. The nuns could have their own servants and received many luxurious gifts from their families. Since 1970īs the ostentatious convent has been open for the public to see for themselves.

We pay our 25 Soles (about GBP4.50 each) entrance fee and meet our English speaking guide, Patricia, who informs us that we have to tip her at the end of the tour. In our group there is also a South African man who is riding round South America by motorcycle promoting his new book which is an account of him flying round the world in a microlight aircraft.

The monastery is facinating though, and I particularly enjoy the play of light on the chunky orange and blue walls within the monastery. There are lots of opportunities to take arty photos. I remember to tip Patricia, who looks somewhat disappointed with the 10 Soles (GBP1.60) that I give her.

In the afternoon we go to Museo Santuarios Andinos (entry 20 soles or GBP3.40), which houses the remains of the Inca princess Juanita whose frozen mummy was found on top of one of the tall peaks behind Arequipa. We see a video that gives an account of the discovery, and then proceed through a series of displays where our guide, a very academic-looking tall young Peruvian gentleman sporting hornrimmed glasses, provides a detailed description of the artifacts such as dolls, shawls, and shoes that were found with the body. Indeed many other mummies were found at the top of 6000m peaks throughout the Inca region. They were sacrifices to appease the gods in times of hardship or trouble. We finally come to the last room where there is glass-walled freezer at -20 degC containing not Juanita but another 500 year-old mummified princess. Apparently there is only one Japanese-donated display freezer, and Juanita is archived in another location at -40degC for the time being. The diminutive 17 year old girl we see behind the glass appears to be sitting in the lotus-position, hair and colourful clothing in tact, but her eyes are hollow sockets.

We bale out of the museum and trawl alongside several travel agents who offer trips to Colca caņon, Chivas, and the touristy towns surrounding Arequipa. After listening to the patter we are entirely put off the possibility of a two-day tour, and decide to leave for Cusco the next day. What really swings it for me is when one Peruvian travel agent describes īhot springsī by showing a typical swimming pool packed with tourist bodies. Is that supposed to be nice? I wonder.

In the evening we buy our bus ticket for Cusco (35 Soles or GBP6.00) and eat in the recommended restaurant La Viņeda on Calle San Francisco. We both choose Lomo Saltadas which is a mixture of thinly sliced beef, onions, tomatoes, and fried potatoes served with rice. Its one of those dishes you have to force yourself not to eat too quickly and is a bargain at 18 Soles (GBP3.00) each.
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