Arequipa and the 513 year old girl

After spending a good amount of time in Cusco, and suddenly realising we had almost been in Peru for a month (how did that happen?) we decided to head south to Arequipa. I didn’t know much about Arequipa, the same is true for the majority of South America, it just felt right that I should go. I knew it was the gateway to the Colca Canyon and home to some of the most impressive mountains and volcanoes in Peru. Dean and I booked a bus, another overnight bus between Cusco and Arequipa. But we were smarter than last time, this time we would splash out and travel in (relative) comfort. We booked onto Cruz Del Sur (Southern Cross) for a casual $42, ouch. As we have discovered travel in South America can be on the priceyside. The journey would take between 10 and 11 hours and would travel overnight, so I hoped we would get a decent sleep.

The inside of the bus was like a spaceship, dark, with blue LED lighting. The seats were something akin to second class on a airplane, reclining, padded and wide. I smiled, tucking myself into the blanket and realised that it was about as wide as one of my legs but longer than my whole body.

Immediately the road was windy and bumpy and I was rocked back and forth in my seat. I managed to get some sleep and awoke to Dean trying to pry himself out of his seat as he had become lodged between his tray table and the reclined seat in front of him. In the end he had to wake the fella in front in order to get out. I decided to try my luck with some of the back of seat entertainment, drat, everything was in Spanish. I mean it was ‘Logan’ dubbed in Spanish, Hugh Jackman sounds like a rouge in Espagnol! Back to sleep. I woke up, ‘Are these seats heated?’ no I was just burning up with no A/C on the bus. At 7am we rolled into Arequipa, the white city, named so because of the white roofs of the buildings, and previously because of the white (Spanish) people who populated the area.

My first impressions, in my drowsy state, was the city was nice but lacked the charm of Cusco, I would prove that first impression wrong later. For now we needed sleep. I know that sounds ironic but I never really get a good night’s rest on a bus, so I have to play catch up for the next few hours. Alas we could not get into our room yet but the museum across the sleep was open. We were going to see Juanit * warning there are no pictures allowed inside so obviously I complied with the rules *. After watching an introductory video made by National Geographic about how and where she was found we were allowed into the museum. Before I continue I guess I should introduce Juanita. She is the 13 year old girl who was discovered on Mountain Ampata in the 90’s. She was sacrificed after the eruption of Chachani Volcano caused some serious devastation. After fasting and a long long journey to the top of the mountain she was given chicha (an alcoholic drink made from corn) and coca leaves before being struck on the head and buried in the earth. Fast forward 500 years and Chachani erupted again melting the ice on Mount Ampata catapulting Juanita from her grave and leaving her exposed to the elements for 2 weeks before her chance discovery by Johan Reinhart and his climbing party. She is preserved in a perspex box kept at -25 degrees celsius. She still has hair, skin, clothing. You can still clearly see her fine bone structure, button nose, she would have been beautiful when she was alive. It was truly moving to see such tangible evidence of Incan sacrifice. The rest of Arequipa was just as impressive. Clearly a colonial town, the marks of the Spanish are evident in the walls, balconies and doorways of the cohesive city.

Not too far away from where we stayed there was a cloistered monastery, Saint Catalina. Inside the imposing walls is a city, where wealthy Spanish women were forced to take the habit by their families and shipped off to the Peruvian outpost of the Spanish empire.

Inside the streets are named in the Spanish way, Granada, Mallorca, and other now famous locations in Spain. Their cells, they decorated with flowers, representations of God, and colourful walls. Walking around inside gave you a sense how these women could have forgotten about the world outside.

Arequipa is a charming city, despite my first impression, full of great food, beautiful buildings, and surrounded by stunning mountains some of which you can climb. We hiked around the Colca Canyon, and you can read more about that in our blog post 'conquering the Colca Canyon.