Arequipa was our final stop in Peru, we’d decided to give it a go for a couple of reasons. It’s was meant to be a nice looking town with some interesting museums and spots to check out. It’s also the base from where tourists can visit the Colca Canyon – the worlds deepest canyon. Unfortunately the cold temperatures somewhere along the way had taken it’s toll on me, a serious bout of man-flu had set in. Nevertheless, being a proper man and standing up to the life changing flu, I joined Cel in some adventures about the town. One thing that was definitely on our side was the weather, Arequipa, it appears, does not know what clouds, wind or rain is – we had perfect weather everyday.
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru (850K little Peruvians call it home). The city is unique in that the people consider themselves different to the rest of Peru, they like to set themselves apart and above. With their own named cocktails, beers food and even some random currency. It doesn’t feel like it’s a big city when you’re based in the historical centre. A few main roads run the length of this district and it’s an easy walk to find anything you need. Pretty much no matter where you are in the city you can get a view of one of the volcanoes that sit proudly on the outskirts of town (El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu). There are plenty of good spots to eat, a couple of our favourites were Istanbul – a Turkish cafe with $5USD kofte wraps, and Crepisimo – a small cafe with outstanding coffee and crepe’s.
Sanctity in Arequipa
One of the bigger ‘things to do’ in Arequipa is to take a trip through Monastario Santa Catalina. It’s a huge monastery that until recently was closed to the public and was relatively secretive. It was forced to open up as a tourist attraction by the local authorities and from what we could see has benefited from the tourism dollars. It’s big enough to have it’s own small roads inside the big brick walls, creating pathways between the many buildings that acted as homes to the sisters of the past. While it was pricey at 70 soles ($25USD each) it was worth the spend and gave us a nice chilled out couple of hours exploring. The pictures probably best paint the picture of what it’s like.
Arequipa’s Ice Maiden
Now this one is probably going to go down as one of the most interesting, yet strange museums of our entire 4 months trip. The museum is the Catholic University’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, doesn’t sound too impressive until you find out what is inside. Juanita is the Ice Maiden. She was a human sacrifice made by the Incan people to the gods, on top of Mt Ampato (6000m) back in the 1400’s. During troubled times, the Inca’s would offer the greatest sacrifice to the gods, a human, in hope they would help to solve problems with health, the economy or weather. Juanita was one of these.
The amazing thing about Juanita is that she was found in 1995 by an American scientist who was on Ampato viewing volcanic activity of another nearby volcano. It was by luck that the other volcano, emitting ash and warm air, had melted snow on parts of Mt Ampato that are normally covered in snow. This had caused Juanita, who had been buried in the snow for 500 years, to dislodge and roll out of the hold she was in. She’d effectively been mummified and preserved in the snow all this time, so the scientist found her in remarkably good condition – skin and organs still intact. Wikipedia tells me that she was rated as one of the worlds top 10 discoveries, by Time magazine.
The museum has paid homage to Juanita and built a display to show her in her ice mummified state. You can get up close with the mummy as she sits in a temperature controlled compartment. There are other artefacts and an education piece on human sacrifice in the museum which offers some perspective on the Incan culture.
It really was a fascinating experience and gave us a deeper understanding of the Inca’s and their respect for the mountains. While we couldn’t take photo’s in the museum, there are a couple here on Wikipedia if you’re interested.
Finishing up and trekking out again
The three nights in Arequipa had given me enough rest to get back on the active bandwagon. We decided to take another trek, this time 3 days in the Colca Canyon. Trekking in a canyon certainly sounded unique and we were promised some condor action – the sacred bird of the Inca’s. Arequipa sent us off in style the night before we headed out, with clear skies and some great views of the surrounding volcanoes.
Next morning we were up at 2:45am ready for a long and cold trip over the mountains to try and catch the condors at first light before heading into the Colca Canyon.