The next stop on our trek south was the 2nd largest city in Peru, Arequipa. The city is famous for it´s distinct architectural style and also the use of volcanic stone, sillar, in almost all of the buildings. The stone is a beautiful white color and glimmers in the sun giving Arequipa it´s nickname, The White City. Arequipa lies at 7,661 ft above sea level and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and the famous volcano, Misti.
We arrived in Arequipa around 1:30am after a 13 hour bus ride from Ica. The next morning we woke up refreshed and ready to explore the city. It was a bit overcast so we didn´t see the mountains or Misti but the city scenery was pretty spectacular on its own! Over the course of a few days we toured several of Arequipa´s many attractions including museums, a convent, and the Catholic church.
While wandering around we stumbled upon a free museum set in a 15th century colonial house. A guide led us through several small but very interesting exhibits including a history of Peru´s coins and print bills, pottery exhibits from all of the major native groups spanning from 1000 BC – 1500 AD, and a tour of the house in general. David´s favorite part was the 500 year old original pine doors!
Another don´t miss attraction in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery. The monastery houses nuns and is known as the “city within a city” because it is a huge walled complex with little streets, plazas, and it´s own church. Santa Catalina was founded by a rich widow and built in 1580. At that time the custom was for the second son or daughter to enter a life of service to the Catholic church. Santa Catalina only accepted girls from upper class families and the girls were expected to bring a dowry of sorts equivalent to $150,000 USD in today´s currency! The part of the monastery open to the public consists mainly of the old living quarters of the early nuns. When you think of nuns you think of a sparse life but these ladies had beautiful tea sets, gold and silver articles, and other expensive belongings in their quarters as well as servants and slaves! It was for this reason that in 1871 the Pope called for a reformation and the dowries were sent to Europe (interesting) and the slaves were set free. The nuns also had to give up their individual quarters and embrace communal living. The living quarters were very interesting and almost all of them included a kitchen with large adobe ovens and even cage areas to raise guinea pigs (for food).
One clear morning David woke up early with hopes of viewing Misti and the surrounding mountains. He lucked out and ran all over town taking pictures before the clouds rolled in. After seeing the city only in clouds it was pretty surprising to see these monsters hovering in the distance!
Later that morning we decided to take a tour of the Catholic church hoping to get a better view of the mountains from the bell tower. The sanctuary was huge and very beautiful including a huge Belgian organ which is said to be the largest in South America. We also saw the ceremonial outfits and jewels that date back to the 16th century, some of which are still used today. The Cathedral has a disaster riddled past including a massively destructive fire in 1844 in addition to many earthquakes. An earthquake in 2001 caused one of the bell towers to topple and fall into the main sanctuary, barely missing the organ!
Finally, we debated visiting the Museo Santuarios Andinos mainly because the entrance seemed a bit steep at 20 soles (around $8) and we were a bit burnt out on guided tours. In the end we decided to go because it is highly recommended and I´m guessing we won´t be passing back through Arequipa anytime soon. There are tons of museums all over Peru (and the world) which display Inca pottery and artifacts but this one is unique because it is dedicated solely to Inca tombs found on nearby mountains, Ampato and Misti. A volcanic eruption in 1995 caused the glacier on Mount Ampato to melt and revealed the frozen body of an Inca girl to later be named “Juanita” for the anthropologist who found her, Johan Reinhard. Further investigation on the mountain uncovered several marked graves. The graves held the bodies of human sacrifices made by the Incas to their gods dating back to the 15th century.
The museum displays the contents of several tombs which in addition to the human sacrifice also included material offerings such as pottery filled with corn beer, or chicha, woven bags filled with coca leaves, small gold and silver figurines depicting llamas and Inca leaders, as well as the woven clothing that wrapped the bodies. One of the most fascinating and unbelievable aspects of Juanita´s story is that not only did she make the long trek from the Inca capital of Cusco to Ampato, but then also climbed 20,000 ft to the summit and her impending death. During our visit Juanita was in the laboratory for preservation and another frozen body, Sarita, was on display. The bodies are displayed in semi-dark, glass case which is kept at a specific temperature and humidity level to preserve the bodies. Considering all of the items on display are over 550 years old they were in remarkable condition! The quality and intricate designs on the hand-woven textiles were unbelievable and the tiny silver Inca figures were incredibly detailed and well made. We also thought it was very cool that the items remain in the region where they were found.
There are no pictures allowed in the museum and some of the artifacts haven´t even been photographed by National Geographic! Here is a photo of Juanita we found on the internet.
In addition to all of the set activities, we also thoroughly enjoyed Arequipa for it´s dining options – amazing empanadas at La Alemana, the first good coffee we´ve had in a while (besides Starbucks) at Cafe Olé, and the various lunch spots we visited. We would have been content to stay longer but the theme of this trip is go-go-go so we had to head out to our next stop, the second deepest gorge in the world – Colca Canyon!