New Friend For New Year’s

DSC03152plantonbluewall.jpg

This blog entry about the events of Monday, December 29, 2003 was originally posted on January 01, 2004.

DAY 72:  Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, is nestled in the valley of three volcanoes.  The lava of these volcanoes have hardened over geological history to form the white-colored rock known as sillar, which many of the buildings were made of — hence, Arequipa’s nickname, “The White City.”

According to my Lonely Planet Shoestring guide, “Arequipa has long been overshadowed by the more illustrious and popular Cusco, but the city is fighting back.  Arequipa is a proud hip town with a good variety of nightlife, traveler facilities, accommodations and excursions.”  I had received mixed reviews about The White City.  Oscar, the Spaniard from the Sacred Valley tour, lived in Arequipa for a work contract and said it was poor and “nothing like Cusco.”  However, Debbie from the South American Explorers’ Cusco office said she liked it better than Cusco because “it’s a real city — not a city just for tourists.”  I also remembered a host of PBS’ The Travelers show say that he enjoyed Arequipa better than Cusco. 

The only thing for me to do was to go there and find out myself — and by myself, because all the traveling companions I had met so far had already gone their own ways. 


MY OVERNIGHT BUS ARRIVED by dawn and I got a taxi to the hostel I reserved over the phone in Cusco.  I took a nap after the uncomfortable journey but was up and out by 10 a.m.  The Plaza das Armas, the center point of the city — and every Peruvian city for that matter — was waking up to a new day, with its fountain, nearby cathedral and surrounding double-tier arch-filled buildings

In my wanderings of the city’s points of interest, I noticed that hidden in the seemingly modern streets were little antique courtyards that hosted galleries and boutiques.  One step into one of these white sillar plazas and it felt as if I had stepped into the Mediterranean or something.  Later I learned that this was due to the fact that the Spaniards that had founded Arequipa were those influenced by the Moors and their heavy use of arches.  The arches were coincidentally a beneficial architectural element because Arequipa lies in an earthquake zone — there are mild insignificant tremors every 10-15 minutes — with big quakes in history that have rendered many of buildings destroyed and eventually reconstructed.

The most impressive display of The White City’s distinct architecture was at the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a nun convent taking up an entire city block.  Inside the “city within a city,” white sillar — some painted red and blue to reduced the bright glare — was used to create picturesque colonial buildings, arches and alleys worthy of Arequipa’s listing as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.  It all looked like it might have been a Hollywood movie set, although no one has been granted permission to shoot there — except for the occasional still photographer hired to cover a wedding or fashion show in one of the courtyards.


I DECIDED TO GET A GUIDE to show me around the convent — the areas that were available to tourists anyway — and I was tagged onto an English speaking group with just one other tourist.

“Hey, you were in Cusco right?” the other one in my group asked me.

“Yeah,” I answered.  She looked vaguely familiar, and she reminded me that I had already met her and her boyfriend at Norton Rat’s on Christmas Day in Cusco.  She was at the table with Simion, Axel and Sue, whom I met in the Amazon — she had traveled with them on the Inca Trail.  Her name was Heidi, and she was a 19-year-old from Perth, Australia that had also traveled to Arequipa solo after all the people she met in Cusco — including her boyfriend Nick — had either gone home or moved onto another place.

As our guide Patricia led us all around the convent, Heidi and I snapped photos left and right — everywhere looked like it might have made a great postcard:  shots of the streets, the lanterns, the flowers, the stairs, the fountain, the plants on the wall (picture above).  Patricia explained the history of the convent, how young girls entered at the will of their family — who provided gifts to her to keep comfortable.  In the past, nuns moved up in status to the point that each one had her own servant so they could just concentrate on prayer — or the occasional self-inflicting torture in the event of bad thoughts.  Nowadays the convent isn’t so medieval — women come at their own will and servants have been replaced with microwaves — and many of them lived not too far away from where we were standing.

“The nuns are in there,” Patricia pointed out at one building.

“You mean there are actual nuns in there?” I asked.  I knocked on the wall but there was no answer.


HEIDI AND I HAD LUNCH in one of the balcony restaurants overlooking the Plaza das Armas.  Over lunch conversation we discovered we were both in the same boat; we had both left Cusco because everyone we had met there had moved on and were both caught in the dilemma of trying to find new people to hang out with for New Year’s.  We were glad to have each other’s company. 

We decided to book a trekking tour of nearby Colca Canyon, the main excursion out of Arequipa — what Machu Picchu is to Cusco — and went to a small tour agency that Heidi had inquired at before.  Most tour agencies I had checked out in the morning had the same exact tour — where you just stayed in a hostel in a touristy little town near the canyon and wouldn’t trek down the canyon unless you added an extra day — but this company, run by two women in the back of a souvenir shop, gave us the option of being at the bottom of the canyon to ring in the New Year.  The two women were shocked when Heidi brought me to the office — in their eyes she suddenly had a new American boyfriend — which was bad news for the brother they wanted to hook her up with.


AREQUIPA’S OTHER MAIN HIGHLIGHT is the Museo Santuarios Andinos, an archaelogical museum that forbade photography — and for good reason.  Photography might have deteriorated the dozens of fragile artifacts excavated from a nearby mountain.  After watching a video presentation produced by National Geographic, our guide led us passed the ceramics and textiles to “Juanita the Ice Princess,” the world’s best preserved mummy, discovered just in 1995.  Juanita was the human sacrifice of an Incan tribe that was taken to the top of a mountain to die — only be frozen and preserved over time like a microwave dinner.  She sat in a double glass box refrigerator unit that looked like something out of a cryogenics science fiction movie — there was freezer frost on some of her extremities — which kept her flesh moist.  I had seen mummies in museum before, but this was the first time I actually felt like the person might have been an actual person and not just some dead pile of bones in a coffin.


INSPIRED BY THE MUMMY IN A FREEZER, Heidi and I went out for ice cream, followed by beer.  We split up after performing our internet obligations, leaving me to wander Arequipa at night, through pub-filled alleys, passed the Plaza das Armas and near the lit up arches.  We called it an early night — our trek would leave The White City in the wee hours of the morning.






Next entry: Decisions

Previous entry: The Redemption Cookie




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Comments for “New Friend For New Year's”

  • pics are awesome…some great colors!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  07:16 PM


  • yeah, i’m enjoying the picts too, they ARE great colors smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  07:42 PM


  • It’s funny how 10000 year old frozen flesh makes you feel for an ice cream cone!

    That place does have seriously vibrant colours! Nice pics as usuall Erik, but these have a little something extra! I have a new background now! Thanks

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  09:24 PM


  • wow. awesome pics!

    Dood! u’re in Minas Tirith! the “white city”!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  09:48 PM


  • wow, those colors are amazing. but i love the archways more. especially that 2 story double archway building. that was incredible. why don’t we have nice architecture like that here? =(

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  12:46 AM


  • Erik this place looks great!  That monastery was beautiful.  Glad you ignored the advice that said not to go there.  Have a good trek!

    Posted by Liz  on  01/02  at  04:38 AM


  • Arequipa looks beautiful! Any signs of the earthquake from a few years ago that totaled the city? Or everything restored/rebuilt?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  06:30 AM


  • OOGY:  No, looks like everything has been rebuilt.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  03:11 PM


  • Thanks to DUAINE for providing a link for the frozen mummy!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/02  at  03:22 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Decisions

Previous entry:
The Redemption Cookie




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