Gray Skies In the White City

Trip Start Feb 26, 2013
Trip End Mar 15, 2013

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Where I stayed
Portal La Merced

Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, March 9, 2013

We awoke in our hostel in Arequipa this morning, and immediately marveled at having hot showers, using the bathroom without having to put on shoes and bug spray, or walk outside, and the utter lack of bugs. We're not in the jungle anymore, Toto!

Arequipa is Peru's second largest city (after Lima), and is quite frankly the OPPOSITE of the jungle. It is sophisticated and gorgeous and temperate (I needed my scarf and Miat-ens! I'm getting whiplash from the climate changes here!). Most of the old town buildings (from the 16th century) were built using a white volcanic stone called sillar. The entire town glitters white in the sunlight, hence its nickname "The White City"- though the torrential rainstorm today has prevented any sunlight. But Arequipa's central square is even more beautiful than Cuzco's, boasting a gorgeous, airy cathedral that stretches for an entire block. We're really charmed with this place.

Our guidebook advised us to visit the Saint Catalina Monastery in town, a "can't miss" site in Arequipa. We admit to being wary, not just because visiting a monastery does not remotely sound fun, but also because the entry fee was 35 soles per person (about $12 USD), a fortune for non-Machu Picchu Peruvian admissions. But once we entered, we were entranced. This monastery was a nunnery from the 16th century, built and run by a VERY rich widow. Despite vows of poverty, this monastery was designed and decked out like a cross between a palace and a Club Med for nuns. "Cloister" rooms (also called "cells"-for good reason!!) were two storeys for a single nun, and included sitting rooms and elaborate furniture. The monastery, still in use today for 30 nuns, managed to preserve and restore the 5-acre "city within a city" with artifacts, bright colors, and lovely flowers. The effect is a meandering set of courtyards and passageways and rooms that are a photographer's dream. Normally we'd begrudge a popular site's overpriced admission, but we were pleased to visit a site with so much care and pride in its presentation. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.

Arequipa is famous for its food- both ceviche and spicy "piccanteria" cooking. For lunch we hit a cevicheria whose octopus and whitefish ceviche did not disappoint. (mmm octopus) I did learn the hard way that Arequipa's spice pepper is cleverly disguised as a tomato, so when one puts said pepper into one's mouth, expecting a tomato, one will feel that burn for hours. Possibly longer.

After lunch we found a small travel agency that sold us an overnight trip to see Colca Canyon tomorrow. Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and is famous for its condors. We had planned to do more sightseeing later in the afternoon, but the rain drove us inside to pisco sour happy hour. Oh, and to add to the growing list of new creatures Matt has ingested: tonight he enjoyed his first grilled cuy, the national dish of Peru. Cuy is Spanish for guinea pig, which I am sure tastes like chicken (or termites).
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