The Land That The Moon Left Behind!!!

Trip Start Aug 12, 2010
Trip End Sep 23, 2011

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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hi all,

After a very bumpy overnight coach journey from Huacachina we arrived in Arequipa. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and lies in the Andes mountains, at an altitude of 2,380 meters (7,800 feet) above sea level; the snow-capped volcano El Misit overlooks the city. On the way we saw some unbelievable scenery as we drove through desert and deep canyons with green oasis' below them, whilst in the background there were huge ice-capped mountains!!! Peru really has got the most diverse landscape we have ever seen.

The city itself has many colonial-era Spanish buildings built of sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock, from which it gets the nickname La Ciudad Blanca ("The White City"). Many Peruvians believe that when the Moon seperated from Earth it forgot to take Arequipa with it. This is because of its alien like landscape as it is surrounded by a series of three volcanic cones including "El Misti", "Chachani" and "Pichu Pichu". The city is also located close to the world´s deepest canyons, one being the Colca Canon which we would be trekking in 3 days time.

We opted to stay at Arequipays Backpackers House; a hostel located in a gated community 10 minutes away from the city centre. The area was really nice, clean and quiet with a good view of El Misti behind us. As soon as we stepped in the house we immediately felt at home. Arequipays Backpackers House is more like a home from home run by a really nice couple. It had a really nice kitchen, a living room with a pool table and table tennis, a garden and pool, a cinema room with a 55" TV, plus a Playstion 3 room with a 32" TV. It really was a dream of a place to stay. It felt so much like home that it actually made us home-sick. One morning Hollie even woke up, thought she was at home, as she could hear banging around in the kitchen downstairs. :-(

The house was also very social and the house slogan does justice: "Enter as strangers, leave as friends". Whilst here we met Jenny from Sidcup, Tom from Brighton, and a large group of Irish girls who had the same passion for X Factor as we did. We spent 3 days here watching movies on the huge screen TV, eating popcorn, and persuading Hollie to play table tennis with me.

On our second day in Arequipa we went into town and walked amongst the colonial streets and white buildings. Our guide book strongly advised us to visit Santa Catalina Monastery, a 17th Century cloistered convent. This 20,000+ square-meter monastery is predominantly of the Madejar style and is characterised by the vividly painted walls. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public. The convent is a city within a city as its walls are totally enclosed and seperated from the rest of Arequipa. The convent was very interesting and was a great insight into the life of the 17th Century Catholic nun.

The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter religious service, and the convent accepted only women from high-class Spanish families. The daily life of a nun included mass, chores and study. Their personal rooms were very basic with an alter, bed and a closet for personal items. At first we believed that these nuns secluded themselves to a destitute lifestyle. But as we strated to read information around the convent we were not so sure. For example, each nun at Santa Catalina had between one and four servants or slaves, had the opportunity invited musicians to perform in the convent, provided education for the Arequipa poverty-striken children and annually gave parties. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter's entrance to the convent. The dowry owed to gain the highest status in the convent (indicated by those individuals wearing a black veil) was 2,400 silver coins; equivalent to US$50,000 today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china, instruments, rugs and silk curtains. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the artifacts still remaining that some of the nuns were very wealthy.

In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, a strict Dominican nun, was sent by the Pope to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of remaining as nuns or leaving. In addition to the stories of outrageous wealth, there are tales of nuns becoming pregnant, and amazingly of the skeleton of a baby being discovered encased in a wall.

The convent once housed approximately 450 people (about a third were nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. In the 1960s, it was struck twice by earthquakes, severely damaging the structures, and forcing the nuns to build new accommodation next door. It was then restored and opened to the public. It was great to see the original furniture and even the dowry letters that were sent to the monastery by family's wishing for their daughter's entrance to the convent. There was also displays of the barbed wired garments that the nuns had to wear, as well as scourges which were used as a means of penitence. Other forms of virtue penance included fasting, and body modifications (see pictures for details on Barbed Wired Garments and Scourges).

The next day we prepared ourselves for the 3 day hike of Colca Canyon, and said a sad farewell to Ariquipays Backpackers House before leaving at 3.30am, only to return after the trek :-) .

All our love

Thomas and Hollie x x x
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