Buenas tardes, ladies and gents. Today’s update comes to you in-between bouts of frustration over the fact that A) my internet connection keeps dropping like it’s hot and B) My reading list for the weekend seems to be growing in spite of my efforts to take it down. Le sigh.
So, naturally, my reaction was to take a pause from all of this and write an update…let’s just hope the internet doesn’t do something completely dodgy and delete everything mid-post, yes? So, here’s part one of last weekend’s adventures to La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), Arequipa.
As I mentioned in the No-Good, Very Bad Day post, I had a lot of issues reserving things for this trip…partially due to slow-response Peruvians and partially due to aforementioned terrible internet connection. As such, I ended up going to Arequipa by bus (as planned) leaving at 2:30 PM last Friday (not as planned). The trip is 15 hours by bus, so my friend and I were HOPING to make it by and large an overnight trip, leaving Thursday night…but those buses were suddenly filling up at the speed of light, so we had to take what we could get. We chose to travel with the very reputable Cruz Del Sur bus company, and were not disappointed. Services included dinner and beverages, 3 movies (although unfortunately there were no headphone jacks on the departure bus, meaning we had no choice but to listen to a few movies that weren’t particularly great), snacks that could be purchased at any time, and rather fancy blankets and pillows. (Sad news, they collect each from you personally at the end of the trip, so there’s no chance of making off with them like from airplane flights.) On our return trip from Arequipa using the same company we left later at night & therefore had a fancier bus-style, with nice squishy chairs, headphone jacks for the movies, and were served breakfast as well. I’ll note that the food is comparable to airline meals, so nothing gourmet, but it was hot and edible, so…that’ll do.
The upside of being on a 15 hour bus ride (did I mention Arequipa is pretty far south? Because it is.) is that you get to see quite a bit of the country. Our tour ended up driving past vast expanses of sandy plains or hills, often spotted with single-room, cement-brick huts in villages that couldn’t have seemed more deserted if they tried. The infamous poverty of the country was VASTLY more visible outside of the manicured parks of Miraflores where I live. A large part of the route was also going by the sea, as we simply followed it south–but then night fell and I was unable to see the terrain once we headed more inland until morning, when I woke up to mountains.
Arequipa is located in the southern Andes (er, southern PERUVIAN Andes, the chain of mountains itself goes on a ways) and is noted for having several active volcanoes surrounding the city. From what I was told by my mountain guide, about 50 years before the Spanish arrived volcanic eruptions and activity drove the locals out of the area, so that when the Spanish finally did enter the area, they found it empty and settled themselves right in. This pretty much means that there is little indigenous culture in the city, and most of the architecture that is not modern is of the Spanish Colonial period–making for a very, very scenic location. Arequipa is actually one of Peru’s largest cities, but, sadly, due to our time limitations my friend and I really didn’t have time to poke around much outside of the historic/touristy city center. Not that I’m complaining, it was beautiful and relaxing…I’m just prefacing the rest of the post by saying I probably didn’t get the most comprehensive feel for the city.
We stayed in a hostel called Posada El Misti House which I had found on tripadvisor.com and had pretty great reviews-and I have to say, they definitely lived up to it. We rented a private room but used the shared bathrooms, which cost about $16 ish total for the night (so, splitting that made it pretty economical) and though the room didn’t have a window and was pretty bare, it was clean and tidy and quite serviceable. Really, we didn’t need much more. Furthermore it’s quite well-known, so our taxi driver from the bus station knew right where to take us, and it’s located like 2 blocks from Arequipa’s main square-the Plaza de las Armas. So, we were centrally located for a great price with clean rooms and hot showers…the place also had a kitchen if you wanted to cook (or breakfast service if you wanted to pay) but we opted not to use that and pretty much spent our time in Arequipa stuffing our faces at various restaurants, as I shall elaborate more on later. Oh, and one more reason why this place is wonderful–after we got back from our 2-day volcano hike on Monday, we had about 5 hours to burn before catching our overnight bus home. We were dirty and tired, so when we went back to Posada El Misti House to collect our bags (they let you store them for free) we asked if we could just rent a room for a few hours and use the showers. They let us have the same room for that time for a total of 15 soles, which is about $5.73. We were able to clean ourselves up, re-pack for the trip home, and relax a little bit, as well as have somewhere safe to store our bags whilst going out for dinner. This was REALLY nice of them to do, and I know I could never expect that from a hotel…so a big recommendation to all of you to stay there if you ever happen to be in Arequipa!
Moving on to the activities! When we actually arrived in Arequipa it was like 7 AM on Saturday, so we had two immediate needs. One was to shower after sleeping in our clothes on a bus all night. The second, was for my caffeine addicted friend (No, I really think she IS addicted) to get some coffee. So we headed over to a nameless cafe right next to the Plaza de las Armas to plan our day and have coffee…or rather, she had coffee, while I had a Mate de Coca, which I shall explain in the Arequipa eats post coming soon. We ended up just deciding to walk around after that for a while, so we began strolling the streets located off of the Plaza de las Armas. Our walk took us past several churches and one citadel-sized monastery that is rather famous, all of which you could tour for varying fees, but my friend wasn’t really interested in that so we kept on moving. (I admit I would’ve liked to see the Santa Catalina Monastery, which is highly recommended, and had hoped to do so during our last few hours on Monday, but after the whole hiking deal I was kind of a bit too tired to be walking around historical buildings for hours on end.) We did, however, enter one very nice store for alpaca & llama-wool clothing (these animals, along with vicuñas and some other camelids, are native to the region and their wool used to be the backbone of Arequipa’s economy) and upon our journey back into the city center, we stopped at Carlos Zarate Adventures, our tour company for the mountain trip to try and hammer out some details. I’ll save the rest of the fun story for another update, but suffice to say that the lady at the office was a little scatterbrained.
Our next stop was the Museo Santuarios Andinos, also located within a block of the Plaza de las Armas, to see the infamous ice-corpse, Juanita (AKA the Inca Ice Maiden or Lady of Ampato). Juanita is a 500-ish year old Inca girl who I hesitate to call a mummy because, scientifically speaking, she’s not–all of her organs are still “there” (so to speak) and she was not encased in toilet-paper-like wrappings. Juanita’s story is actually a bit unfortunate–as a 12-14 year old daughter of noble members of Incan society, she was chosen to become a sacrifice to please the gods. Archaeologists have discovered that she was actually from Cusco, so her discovery in the crater of one of Arequipa’s volcanoes is absolutely insane. This means that she and the Incan priests walked–WALKED I tell you–from Cusco to Arequipa, which according to the internet is about 195 miles, and not exactly through the world’s softest terrain nor kindest climates. They then hauled ass up Mount Ampato where they proceeded to get the little girl rip-roaring drunk so that she would feel nothing a few hours later when they conked her on the head with some large, blunt object, killing her.
Happy story, right? In any case, she was buried at the top of the mountain with many ceremonial objects, and thanks to the freezing altitude was amazingly preserved until a nearby volcano erupted in 1996 (I think) and the hot ash blowing over melted her icy tomb, exposing her at last. Luckily she was found fairly quickly by chance and archaeologists were able to recover her before the exposure did her too much damage. She’s in amazing condition, and so my friend and I (also an archaeology/anthropology student) went to go see her at aforementioned museum. The downside of this museum (aside from the 20 sole/ $7.63 entrance fee…ok, that’s not actually that bad) was that guided tours were required. AKA, one of my LEAST favorite things ever. Also, no photography was allowed whatsoever, and they took our bags at the entrance to be sure of that. How rude. In any case, the first part of the hour long tour was a 20 minute video/documentary special about Juanita’s journey and the history of her discovery. While it was actually quite interesting, being in a dark room after having slept very little and traveling by bus all night left me somewhat unable to focus at times. The next part of the tour was a walkthrough of 5 smallish rooms containing artifacts from the burial of Juanita and several other child sacrifices found in the area. The artifacts were in rather stellar condition, but I simply don’t see why the museum couldn’t simply put signs up rather than making you walk around with a guide–ours, though kind, was a bit like a machine recording and had some rather broken English. (She was not a Spanish speaker, from her accent, and occasionally it was a bit of an effort to understand.) Furthermore the entrance fee doesn’t include a “tip” for your guide, which your are politely hinted at to give when you first enter the museum and then blatantly asked for by your own guide right in your face when you leave. It might not have been so awkward if there had been more than 3 of us in the group, but she was standing right there reminding us to “tip the guide service”, aka her, so…meh.
In any case, seeing Juanita was actually pretty cool…although I must say, even for a child from a different time period, she was QUITE tiny! But the preservation was incredible, and I got my archaeology-nerd on for the day.
The rest of the day afterwards consisted of us walking the streets of Arequipa. It was actually hotter there than in Lima, as the altitude is much higher and the sun was shining (HALLELUJAH, I HAVE MISSED THAT ELEMENT OF NATURE!) but the city was just lovely. The areas that weren’t made of older buildings were still quite tidy (er, this is still located in the touristy/more affluent zone, let me point out) and honestly with the pine trees that were planted around, I kind of felt like I was in a Colorado mountain town. (I happen to love Colorado, so this made me quite happy.) We wandered aimlessly, both simply happy to be relaxing in such a tranquil atmosphere outside of busy Lima, even entering a local park that featured boat rides on a pond and a lovely overlook of the lower parts of the city. I should also mention that at MANY points in the day we stopped to drink more mates de coca to help us adjust to the altitude, and unfortunately this also led to a high consumption of desserts/food as all of the cafe’s we went in happened to have some mouth-watering display cases.
We also checked out one of the many markets (this one right in the Plaza de las Armas) for trinkets and souvenirs (there are also tons of private stores or alpaca/llama clothing stores, but we didn’t really visit those) but my friend, and admittedly even I almost, lost patience rather early on as the vendors were kind of pesky. It’s one thing to say “let me know if I can help you”, it’s another to attack customers with suggestions when they’re barely even glancing at your stall. So, even though I was hoping to buy some gifts there, we ended up shuffling out after a while without purchasing–and I never did end up buying souvenirs in the end…sad.
After a rather extravagant dinner, which I shall once again describe later, we were hoping to catch a Peña (performance of traditional Peruvian dancing) at one of the venues which my Lonely Planet Guide book told me were around. Unfortunately the book was written in something like 2009, and all of the places we tried have apparently closed down, so we ended up at a nice wine bar for a night cap, and then headed back to the hostel for some sleep before our early departure to climb El Misti the next day. (The sleep at the hostel was great when we got it, but some EXTREMELY loud drunken neighbors were banging on doors and yelling profanities for large portions of the night…thanks, guys.)
Monday, as I mentioned earlier, we returned to the hostel to clean up after our hike. Afterwards we had planned to do more of that shopping thing, but, frankly we were just too tired to function properly–almost too tired even to get dinner. We popped into one store, two restaurants, and a local version of “Starbucks” before heading back to the hostel to grab our things and get rolling back to the bus station. As I mentioned, our ride back was even an improvement over the first-we both slept very well, and this time around I had brought myself a little supply of chocolates to eat throughout the night…
Overall I think my biggest regret about Arequipa is simply not having ENOUGH time there. Although we were in the city for about 4 days, since two of them were spent hiking up a volcano there’s still so much we didn’t get to do or see. We walked past about a million restaurants that looked worth trying, and there are about 30 other tours of the area I’d like to take, along with seeing more of the sights like famous churches and whatnot. So, I can’t really guarantee this, but if I have some time later in the semester, I think it’s fair to say that the White City and I have some unfinished business to do. Until then, I will certainly treasure my relaxing weekend of good food and beautiful views.