Days: 304 & 306 (25 April 2015 & 27 April 2015)
Total distance travelled: 57,862.8 kilometres (35,939.63 miles)
A hazy morning greeted our arrival into Arequipa, a city we actually knew little of other than it possessed a UNESCO World Heritage listed centre and it was apparently the place to go for excursions just a little further into Colca Canyon.
It was a few kilometres from the bus station into town, but it was early, the weather was decent and after spending the night somewhat cramped on a bus (by now we’re getting better with them, but they’re never ideal), the thought of a stroll was in no way unappealing.
The walk took us through a pretty run down, semi-industrial area, so we began to wonder when we might catch a glimpse of some of this charm that had been deemed worthy of a UNESCO listing…
Eventually it got a little more residential when Sarah asked how much further (by now our enthusiasm had waned and we were ready to dump our packs) to the hostel, I jokingly said it wasn’t much further and we should just follow the couple of gringos just ahead of us.
Turns out that I was correct, they were in fact headed there!
In fact one of the pair wandered back to open the gate for us, and we suddenly realised we knew them! It was an English/Belgian couple, Ewan and Laura who we’d met back in Huacachina.
We had a reservation, turns out they didn’t but no matter, we all ended up in the same place anyway.
With our bags now dropped and check-in not possible until later, we wandered to a nearby supermarket to grab some breakfast… only to discover it not yet open!
Like much of Latin America, little still seems to happen early in the day… or in the middle of the day…
Still, the need to wander further afield took us to the Plaza de Armas, and finally we were in the heart of the city, the area that earned and indeed probably deserves that aforementioned UNESCO tag.
The centrepiece was undoubtedly the main cathedral, which like all good South American cities, is front and centre on the plaza, but the plaza itself wasn’t hard on the eye at all.
We turned to the local Mercado for breakfast, which ultimately became a fried affair of Papas Rellenos which is essentially stuffed and fried mashed potato… but just to make sure that nothing was missed, this was washed down with a couple of fresh jugos (juices), each with its mandatory tablespoon or so of sugar, just to make sure that no unhealthy element was ignored.
It’s now I realise that an important piece of information from our recent travels has failed to thus far been recorded, but fear not, all good things come to those who wait.
I think it was back in Cusco, when an incident (chiefly relevant due to what was about to follow) occurred.
She may have been lifting (I can’t clearly recall), but at some point in time, preceded by an almighty tearing sound, we suddenly realised that Sarah had just ripped the arse out of her jeans!
Normally no big deal, but out here on the road here we only have one pair, this meant she was suddenly flashing to the world a lot of cheek indeed…
Now our new Arequipa hostel had suggested we might find a tailor here in the market, so we began to wander.
The second level was home to a ridiculous amount of fabric stalls, many selling the identical cloth to their neighbours (probably for the same price as well), but after asking around, not one of them was a tailor.
Eventually we got to a section where the stalls became smaller in both width and in depth (these were essentially holes in the walls, not table affairs) and it was looking doubtful that any of these could fit a person within, let alone a sewing machine!
We got to our very last option on the level, in more out of habit than anything else asked the same questions we’d asked to so many others.
Without showing any emotion, she simply pointed to a tin door beside her shop, and there within was our tailor… barely visible within his darkened, not yet open store.
Still, a mere $2.00 Soles and about ten minutes later, Sarah’s jeans would be flashing her derriere to the world no more.
With that important piece of business concluded, a little while later (I can’t recall specifics) we decided it was time enough to sample a flavour that Arequipa is apparently famous for, Queso Helado, or Cheese Ice-cream.
This is in fact something we have had in the past, back up in the Mexican city of Guanajuato if memory serves us correctly…
Still, it’s famous for it (apparently), so get into it we did.
It was pretty tasty, but did it taste of anything resembling cheese, no.
Was it better than our Mexican equivalent? The jury is still out on that one, however Guanajuato has delivered us the best gelato of the trip, so probably not…
Now one of the most famous tourist drawcards in Arequipa happens to be a former monastery of colossal proportions, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina.
Apparently mysterious and secretive until it was forced to open itself up to the public in 1970 (so who knows what kind of crazy shit they got up to in the past that they were so intent to hide their activities), they still had three hundred and ninety years of secrecy prior to that.
We went to investigate, noticed the exorbitant entrance fee, and simply walked away in disgust.
No religion deserves that much money from us… but then we Googled the place, and the pictures we found looked pretty nice.
Ashamed with ourselves (with the fact we’d be committing so much money to the church, not with our previous actions), we amble back and paid the set fee.
As soon as we walked through the entrance, we were assaulted by more people trying to coerce us into a guide for another ridiculous price (this time we held firm).
But we were in… and the place was quite something.
This place sprawled over what felt like an entire city block, and was essentially like a mini city or town itself.
Sure, there were places of worship, places of reflection, but far more of the monastery was seemingly more mundane, living quarters, kitchens and gardens.
True, it doesn’t sound that exciting, but it was filled with the trappings of hundreds of years, so was itself a (possibly not living and breathing) museum of both religion and everyday life over hundreds of years.
Of course there was also ancient friezes and murals, but what surprised us just as much, was the colour that was present in the various cloisters and mini plazas.
It felt each different area had its own distinct identity, and therefore a fresh colour scheme… okay, so terracotta is hardly fresh, but at least each was different!
We were ultimately happy that we took the time, but that does not mean we were at any point happy to have forked out that amount of money…
They call this place ‘The White City’, but away from the main plaza, it was a little more colourful than that.
* Our overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa cost us a ridiculously cheap $30.00 Soles per person (we met others who didn’t haggle and paid $75.00 Soles with a different company)!
* Entrance into the Monasterio de Santa Catalina was a ridiculously high $40.00 Soles per person (which we still paid despite our indignation). Extra if you want a guide (which after the entrance fee, we didn’t).