Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Peru: Arequipa, Monasteries and More

Arequipa's cathedral takes up one entire side
of the city's main square.

    It's fair to say that Arequipa was not the best part of our fall 2014 month in Peru. At different times during our stay there, each of us was ill.  Jane skipped dinner entirely one night when I wasn't up to going out, and I ordered for myself what may be the world's worst delivery pizza another night when she wasn't feeling well. We had hard-to-get reservations at Zig Zag, one of this food-minded city's hottest eateries, that we had to cancel. Nonetheless, we did get to see a good bit of the city and were both well enough to venture out of town for an overnight visit to the Colca Valley (click HERE to see earlier post).
Arequipa is set amid volcanos, some said
to be overdue for eruption. 
    Wth 860,000 people, Arequipa is the second-largest city in Peru. Today it is perhaps best known for the story of Juanita, a story almost as incomprehensible as it is sad. Juanita is the name given to an 11- to 15-year-old girl who was sacrificed about 550 years ago to the god of Ampato, a 6,380-meter volcano. Her mummy was discovered in 1995 after ash from a nearby volcano settled on the snow atop Ampato, caused its snow cap to melt and the melting snow dislodged her tomb. The name Juanita is a tribute to one of the men who found her, Johan Reinhard, a high-altitude archaeologist from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The mummy, on display in a refrigerated case, is said to be the only totally intact (all internal organs) mummy ever found.  The mummy is sometimes taken away for study; if you're planning a trip and want to see it, you should check whether it will be on display.
       The mummy can be seen only as part of a guided tour at the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos (click HERE for its Spanish-language website). Our English-speaking guide said that it's thought that the girl was chosen at birth to be sacrificed and was trained by priests not only for her death but for her role after death -- as a go-between for her people and the apu (mountain god), or perhaps as a guide to the afterlife.  It probably took almost two weeks for the girl and a group of priests to reach the top of Ampato, where she was likely given some sort of narcotic before being killed by a single blow to the head. She was then placed in a fetal position and carefully wrapped in ornate textiles adorned with gold and feathers before being sealed in a tomb made of carved stones.
      Photography is not allowed in the museum, which is quite dark, but photos of Juanita are not hard to find online.
      Photography is allowed, however, at Arequipa's two important monasteries: the Monasterio de Santa Catalina (click HERE for its website) and the Monasterio de San Jose y Santa Teresa (click HERE for Spanish-language website). Santa Catalina is the larger and only one we visited. Each is still home to its own community of nuns who are supported by the entrance fees charged visitors.
The entrance to Santa Catalina encourages
tourists to keep the chatter to a minimum. 

One of many tiny courtyards inside Santa Catalina. The 
monastery was built in 1579 entirely of 
Arequipa's signature white sillar stone. It consists of a 100
houses that sheltered as many as 175 nuns at a time, some
of whom came with servants. Once confirmed, the 
nuns lived in strict isolation from contact with the 
outside world. Just as the Pre-Columbians
had sacrificed their children to the gods, the good Catholics
of Arequipa would donate a daughter -- and the money to
support the monastery -- as proof of their piety (and
perhaps as payment for a ticket to heaven). 
A walkway in one of Santa Catalina's three cloisters.
To see a map of the monastery, click HERE
Streets such as this criss-cross Santa Catalina. Doors
lead into former living quarters, some simple, some not.

A kitchen hearth in the former home of a nun
is set up as if it were still in use. Today's nuns
live in a part of the monastery that is not open

to visitors. Bet they have more modern kitchens.

Zocodober Square occupies one of the
 monastery's small courtyards.

Peru: Colca Valley, Colca Canyon

      Our hotel in Arequipa, Casa Arequipa (click HERE for website), helped us arrange an overnight visit to the Colca Valley and the Colca Canyon, a four- or five-hour drive from Arequipa. We were picked up by a guide in a van that eventually picked up seven other people for the trip.  On the way out of town, we made a stop at a small grocery where our guide instructed us to buy coca leaves to chew to fight altitude sickness. Later that day we'd be more than three miles above sea level.
     On the way to the Colca region we passed Ampato, the mountain where a few years ago the more-than-500-year-old frozen mummy of a girl, 11 to 15 years old when killed as a human sacrifice, was found near the top of its 6,290-meter peak. We saw the mummy itself in Arequipa, where it is exhibited in a museum devoted to the girl's story. She is known as Juanita, named for Johan Reinhard, one of the men who discovered her. We also passed through a wildlife preserve dedicated to restoring the mountains' population of vicuna, a camelid related to alpaca and llamas. Vicunas, whose wool is said to be the world's finest, are being brought back from the brink of extinction.
 Stands selling sweaters, shawls and other
handicrafts are scattered along the Colca road. 
     The Colca Canyon is a largely agricultural area; it supposedly has more Inca-era (and earlier) farming terraces than any other part of Peru. Its indigenous population, the Collagua and Cabana peoples, were conquered by the Inca Mayta Capac in the 1400s.  A century later the Spanish drove the Collagua and Cabana into new settlements to work in mines or on plantations, and largely forgot about them, never building roads or establishing ways to communicate with the remote settlements.
     It wasn't until the late 1970s that work began on a road connecting the Colca region with Arequipa and the rest of Peru.  The new road connects a series of previously isolated (and thus preserved) Spanish colonial villages, the "new settlements" that the people were forced into. Each has a church, some more elaborate than others, and a central square. In the countryside there are signs of the communities that were abandoned when the Spanish came in. We spent the night at the Colca Lodge and Spa, which has hot-spring baths on the side of the river, as well as a llama and alpaca farm and an excellent restaurant. The next morning our van and guide reappeared and we were on the road again.

It's hard to read in my photo, but the writing on 
 the side of this stone says that the elevation
here is 4,910 meters. That's 16,109 feet or just
a little over three miles. The view from here
is shown below.
  The road eventually leads into the mountains where the Colca River has created a canyon more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U.S.  The depth of the canyon -- at least 3,400 meters -- wasn't verified until 1979.         Although the area  is being promoted as an adventure destination, every tourist we saw was like us -- coming in by bus or van or car to see what we could see and then being driven out. No one was attempting the river's Class V rapids the day we were there.
     The road (narrow, gravel-covered and busy with tourist vans and large buses) took us to a viewing station overlooking canyon walls where Andean condors -- one of the world's largest fliying birds -- nest.  These vultures are so big that they become airborne by jumping off cliffs and looking for uplifting thermal currents that they can ride up. When they do flap their wings, it seems to be in slow motion.
This is the view from the mirador shown above.
The snow-capped mountains in the distance are
the central Andes; some are volcanos. You can
 see that we're well above the tree line.
Every few years these wild vicuna are rounded up
and shorn of their valuable wool. The government
maintains strict control of the animals and their
extremely desirable wool. 

Vicunas are slimmer and more graceful than
alpacas and llamas. They also produce less wool,
which is why they are not shorn annually like
most other wool-producing animals.

A handicrafts market is set up outside a church in one
of the Colca Valley's many Spanish Colonial towns. Until
the late 1970s, towns such as this were largely cut off
from the rest of Peru because there were no decent
roads in the region.  Below: A shrine in the church.
The triangular shape of the Virgin's dress echos
the shape of the area's mountains and conflates her
with Pachamama, the Andean earth goddess, one
of the ways in which the Catholic faith was made
palatable to the indigenous people.

Another scene from a Colca Valley village. Note the
 traditional dress of the woman on the right. We were
told that in the 1500s the indigenous women copied
the petticoats of the few women who came with the Spanish
conquerers but used their own deeply colored dyes to
create a unique style that's still seen today.

A woman herds llamas and alpacas in the highlands
of the Colca region. Llamas and alpacas are raised for both
their wool and their meat. I didn't taste llama, but I had 
alpaca tenderloin and burgers. To me it tastes like goat.
The Quecha word for dried llama meat is charqui, 
the source of the word "jerky," used in English usually
to mean dried beef.

The Colca Lodge and Spa as seen from the road
approaching it. Some of the terraces, which date
back hundreds of years, are still used for farming.
The small round pools on the far bank of the Colca
River are filled with water from nearby hot springs
and are a great place to soak. The flat-roofed
building at the bottom of the terraces houses a bar.
The pastures on this side of the river are used for
raising llamas and alpaca, which guests can visit.
 Click HERE for the lodge's website.

Waters from natural hot springs are channeled into
these pools along the Colca River at the Colca Lodge.

Most of the Colca Canyon lacks a well-defined rim 
with views of the river and the bottom of the canyon.
This trail offers great views.

This mirador or viewing station is the No.1 destination
on the Colca River. Set high above the canyon, it looks
down at condor nesting sites on the canyon walls. Morning
is the best time for spotting condors, so visitors by the
busload  have to get up very early -- most of the
 tourist accommodations are a couple of hours away.

I hope those binoculars provided this birder with a
better view of the condor perched on a rock than
 my camera gave me.