El Monasterio de St. Catalina
Within Santa Catalina, the rustle of the long habits of the nuns seems to be impregnated into the walls. The alleys that run through the monastery -a city within a city- reveal its past, trapped between the sillar stone blocks and colonial oil paintings, between the high vaults and granite plazas. Located in the center of Arequipa, Santa Catalina is the pride of its townspeople, covering an area of more than 29,426 square meters. It is a masterpiece of colonial architecture, and houses some of the finest examples of Spanish American religious art.
Founded in 1580 under the rule of Viceroy Toledo, the Private Monastery of Nuns of the Order of Santa Catalina of Sena was opened to the world nearly 400 years later, in 1970. Since then, visitors have been able to stroll through the streets and cloisters that during colonial times were the refuge of female nobility who had decided to shut themselves away from the world and dedicate themselves entirely to prayer. Possibly because of their aristocratic background and the wealth of their families, the convent was decorated with valuable works painted by the Quito and Cuzco Schools, including many others signed by grand masters from Italy and Spain, while special attention was paid to the finishings of the buildings.
The main square, whose gates still preserve the magic of their fine finishings and images carved from wood, features a fountain brought from Spain and crafted entirely from granite. The ochre and blue colors of its streets and patios -named after Spanish cities- are decorated with bright flowers such as scarlet geraniums.
Today, it takes around an hour to tour Santa Catalina, an hour to discover centuries of tradition.
Though I was a bit disappointed at how fancy this place was, it still is a locals' place. It's just a special occasions sort of place and, in fact, there was a wedding reception just finishing up as we got there! It has a lovely outdoor garden and many rooms, which makes it great for large functions. It's certainly one of the nicest places I've been to in South America. They have a wide range of local specialties but since we got there as it closed, the chef was only willing to make us something quick. I had the lechon or baby suckling pig. It was a bit pricey but it was perhaps the finest meat I have on the trip to Peru plus REAL vegetables, a rarity in low end places.
Company of Jesus Church (Iglesia de la Compañía)
In the principal provinces of Peru, very close to the Cathedral you will find a church of the Company of Jesus. It demonstrates the great influence of this order in Spain and its colonies during the S. XVI-XVIII. And Arequipa is no exception!
This jesuit church, located in one of the corners of Main Square, took almost the whole XVII century to be built (1610-1698). The outside was also made of ashlar with a plateresque architectonical style.
As for the interior, it's in the shape of a Latin cross, with a main aisle and two lateral ones, a high choir and a beautiful wooden pulpit from the XVII century. There's also two chapels: San Ignacio Chapel (with a gorgeous painted cupola) and the Royal Chapel. Really loved it!
This church is open Mon-Sun from 8:00-12:00 and 16:00-19:00.
Museo Santuarios Andinos
The famous mummy Juanita is housed in this museum, along with several others that are also being found on nearby volcano summits. Besides the mummies, there is also a collection of Inca metals, ceramics, and textiles.
Juanita is only on display from May to November. A duplicate will take its place during the other half of the year.
"The start of our Colca Canyon journey"
When I was in Arequipa I decided to take a tour to Colca Canyon. It started early on 21st December when we got up to have breakfast at our hostal before our guide arrived. We set off with 8 other people in a mini van along with Albert our guide and Jose the driver.
We were driving to a higher altitude so I had bought along some "coca" lollies and had drunk some "coca" tea that morning. The coca leaves are what is used in the production of cocaine but in its natural form it is used to alleviate the effects of altitude sickness. I was prepared to use any remedy possible as the last thing I wanted was a migraine like when I had gone snowboarding near Santiago, Chile.
"Vicuñas in the wild"
We passed an area of vicuñas which are protected animals and live in the wild. We also saw Alpacas and Llamas which are domesticated. Alpacas are shorter and are kept for their wool and meat whereas Llamas are quick and strong and used for transportation. The vicuña is a lot thinner in comparison and looks a bit like a cross between a llama and a deer.
"More Coca Tea"
Part way through our journey we stopped at a little village which had a shop and some souvenir stalls. I had another coca tea with an alpaca watching over me. I bought a little Inca doll from one of the vendors to add to my doll collection.
"Mirador de Los Andes"
We then continued up to the highest point of the journey (4,910m) at Mirador de Los Andes, which is part of the Andes mountain range.
At this point I didn't feel so good so I took a Nurofen and chewed another coca lolly. There were toilets here... well one long srop anyway in a little round hut. There were lots of rocks (the area is highly volcanic) in little piles. I asked Albert about these and he said that tourists made these particular ones but that the local people when they walk a great distance over a hill they always build these rock piles as a kind of offering... interesting.
We finally descended into the town of Chivay at 2pm. I remember because I was so tired I ended up sleeping for an hour at our hostal (Hostal Anita on the plaza) before we met again with the group to go for a short trek.
For our trek we went in the van to the next town called Ichuampa where we walked through the village and up the hills to see some pre-Inca ruins and burial sites on the hill. I found the short walk quite a challenge because of the altitude. My heart was thumping hard in my chest and it was difficult filling my lungs with enough oxygen to regulate my breathing. I am glad we had the walk though because it helped me see the effect the altitude has on my body and what it might be like on the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu.
On the walk down there was a 10 year old girl dressed in traditional attire waiting for our group to show us the seeds of the crops in the region. I spoke to the little girl and I asked her if she went to school and she said she did. I asked her what she studied and she said Spanish. She also said that she works int he field with her family. I gave her a sol and had my photograph taken with her. Her family probably made more moeny that day from the few soles that our group gave her for a picture than they would normally make in a week. So sad.
The land around Colca is irrigated terraced farmland. The people have divided the land using stone walls and they must apply to get the land irrigated using the concrete canals that the local government have built.
My Colca canyon memoirs are continued in the next travelogue....