Peru – Arequipa and LimaBack to Story

Arequipa & Lima - Peru's bridesmaids

Arequipa

Arequipa was a town recommended by a couple of my travel buddies, so this grand city was added to list for this trip.  It is a colonial town with the architecture to match.  It’s surrounded by towering volcanos and is the entry point to two of the world’s deepest canyons.  The building material used in the distinctive buildings is a stone known as sillar and as a result of this stone the city has a elegant feel to it.

The most interesting and certainly the most picturesque is the Santa Catalina Convent. As the story is told it was where a lot of the daughters of wealthy locals were sent.  Each girl had their own room’s servants and everything you could need.  A visit from Vatican officials put at end to such decadence from all accounts.  Today it’s an amazing walled city where nuns live in secured quarters away from prying tourists’ eyes.  The walls have been washed with vivid terracotta, sea blues and pristine whites.  The rooms have authentic relics making it easy to imagine life in days gone by.  One room, houses a water filter ingeniously created by filtering the water through a stone barrel.  The open air well is where the washing was done.  You can get lost in here for hours and when your feet tell you its time to have a break pull up at the little café which has a charming courtyard garden to rest yourself in.

For the history buffs the local museum,  Museo Santuarios Andinos de la Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria, is home to Juanita who is the Inca mummy.  Carbon dating has her dying between 1440 and 1450.  Inca priests were said to sacrifice the young virgin girl to appease the gods following an eruption of one of the volcanos in the area.  She was found high in 1995 by explorer Johan Reinhard and local guide Miguel Zarate, on Mount Ampato. Studies have since shown she was fed a special feast, sacrificed and buried in a ceremonial cloak with some sacred artifacts.

There are loads of excellent restaurants between here and the centre of the city so you’ll be spoilt for choice. We tried La Trattoria del Monasterio, Zig Zag and El Turko which were all very good and by the time we had reached Arequipa we were very pleased to see the variety of cuisines available. We stayed at the Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel which has great public areas and tidy clean rooms. I do remember the bar doing a particularly good Pisco Sour which went down very well.

Most of the hotels will offer a service to travel to the canyons but beware the tour probably won’t be operated by the hotel and you may end up touring around on a collection scheme around town.

Colca Canyon

The drive out to the Canyon area is very interesting in itself.  You can see the volcanos and maybe image being sacrificed to appease the gods.  Lucky for everyone no one has to be sacrificed and we see the most amazing vistas.  Along the way we stop off at a local farm where the boys of the family are obviously in charge of displaying the their flock of Llama’s.  Interesting to see the wool woven into their earlobes to mark which family they belong too.  Looks better than the plastic tag we use in New Zealand.  Its pretty harsh country out here so I would imagine it’s a lot of effort to feed these animals.

As high as the surrounding mountains the canyons are impressively deep.  Falling a heady 3400 meters in some places make the Colca Canyon one of the deepest in the world.  Not only will you come to see this geographic wonder but also the condors, which float on the air rifts above the canyon.  They can be as tall as 1.3 meters and have a wingspan of over 3 meters that aids is spotting them on the skyline.  You won’t be the only one here though as it’s a well-trodden path.  The local villages around the area have interesting churches and courtyards.

The local villages are a great spot for looking at how the locals are dressed.  Like the Bolivians, the Collagua people have layers of skirts .  The dress is similar to the Bolivian women but their fabrics are more elaborative, indicating the greater wealth of the people.  Instead of the bowler hats they wear embroidered hats, the patterns which tells a story of family and age of the wearer.

The major drawcard to the Colca Canyon is the giant condor birds. The main lookout is known as the Condor Cross and is jam packed with both tourists and their diesel buses. You are however guaranteed to see these majestic birds flying in the air rifts over the canyon. Due to the sheer size of the canyon and distance the birds are away it is easy to forget that their wingspan can be up to 3 metres. There are a couple of nice walks along the top of the canyon which take you away from the main, very crowded area and you can appreciate the peacefulness of the canyon.

We stayed in the Casa Andina Colca Hotel which was simple but charming and located in a small village in the canyon. The highlight was being able to walk around the village and explore their local markets. You can buy the embroidery that the local women so proudly wear and get a feel for local life.

Lima

It is difficult to write too much about Lima without warning visitors.  There is a lot to see in this city but the poverty and past conflicts, has born a city which is not always safe for travelers.  Forewarned before I entered the country, it seemed every hotel in Peru held a guest with stories of being mugged in Lima.

My advice is by all means go if you see points of interest such as the great museums that capture your imagination.  However follow the rules the locals advise and don’t wonder the streets at night, stay in the strictly tourist areas, travel around with nothing you’re prepared to lose and avoid carrying anything that attracts any sort of attention such as expensive handbags, cameras or watches.

So once you follow these simple rules there are amazing buildings of character in the centre of town.  One of the highlights is definitely the church complex, San Francisco which is a great example of the colonial architecture in the city. It has a church, convent, chapels and catacombs.  All but the later are amazing examples of architecture and also amazingly the Spanish have restrained during their reign and post their reign from removing the masterpieces that adorn the walls.

A little strange for me was the catacombs which is basically a serious of connecting tunnels where you can walk past of see the dignitaries of the past bones out on display.  To be honest it’s not personally my thing and I feel its not very respectful to the dead but there are many who disagree and find it interesting.

Unfortunately because of our timing many of the museums were closed.  However we did make it in to the Museo de Arte.  By coincidence we saw a very confronting and no censorship story of the Shining  Path.  As I was traveling through Peru I was amazed that Peru and Bolivia had not been on my radar was a potential destination for travel given the wealth of experience on offer.

The exhibition gave me more insight than Western media would ever allow into the violence that Peru experienced during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The Shining Path were fighting the cause of communism under an academic called Abimael Guzmán.  At its height armed forces are estimated to reach 10,000 causing approximately 70,000 people to lose their lives, but the most damaging aspect was the mistrust and fear created amongst villages and families.  Acts of terrorism claimed many lives but the effect was much wider.  Press photos were on display which no doubt were never released to the public at the time and certainly never hit the international media and explained a lot about how political and local instability can change these countries for decades, leaving a third wave of destruction of economic embargo.  Sometimes this is overt (such as Myanmar) and sometimes as Peru merely comes in the form of repelling visitors.

One of the areas of interest and relatively safe to visitors is Miraflores.  This wealthy suburb is close to the coast and includes some beach side shopping centers and restaurants through to boutique lined shopping.  If you’re stopping through it’s a great suburb to stay in.  Locals will still warn you against walking around at night and keeping journey’s a simple hotel to restaurant affair.

Travel Photography from Arequipa and the Colca Canyon & area surrounding. Images from Santa Catalina convent.

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