Now where were we? Oh yes. South America. Not scaling a garden wall in Salta. But exiting in a more decorous manner. Ha. And thankfully not missing our very, very early morning flight for Peru, after three and a half wonderful weeks in Argentina. Hubby actually sang “Don’t cry for me Argentina,” very softly, as we boarded the plane. He ain’t Evita, folks. But he ain’t bad either.
A couple of hours later, we saw the sun rise over Lima. Then after a short lay-over we boarded another flight for Arequipa. A city of almost a million people which locals call Peru’s “second city.” After Lima.
The heart of historic Arequipa is the Plaza de Armas. With the 17th century, neoclassical, Basilica Cathedral, below, on one end.
Colonial buildings constructed of white volcanic stone on the other three sides.
And overlooked by Arequipa’s famous, and elusive, volcano Misti. Hubby was disappointed that this was his only sight of Misti when she wasn’t shrouded in cloud… and mist.
We were in Arequipa for four days before the next stage of our trip. So we walked a lot. This was partly to help us acclimatize to the altitude. At 8,000 ft (give or take) it was the perfect place to make sure we could handle the higher altitude of Puno and Cusco down the road. I struggled a bit the first day or so. Breathing heavily after minimal exertion, feeling a bit head-achey, a bit spacey. But morning cups of coca tea and lots and lots of water put paid to that. I think that some of my breathing issues were due to the air quality. Arequipa isn’t an industrial town… but there sure was a ton of traffic on the narrow, cobbled streets, many old vehicles, cars and small buses all belching black smoke. Cough, cough.
One day we took a guided walking tour. Walking tours are a fabulous way to get a feel for a strange city. Milly, our guide, talked us through the city and its history. She led us down small alleyways and narrow lanes. And pointed out the Spanish colonial buildings many of which are still in use as homes or businesses.
Part of our tour included the Santa Catalina Monastery below. Founded in 1579, and apparently unique in the world, this cloistered Catholic convent allowed wealthy families who were “gifting” their daughters to the church to purchase a small house within the confines of the monastery. The family would furnish the house with their own goods, and pay for servants to care for the occupant, whom they would never see again. Eventually the cloistered community became a city within the city, hidden from the rest of Arequipa behind high stone walls. There are even street names for the various lanes and passageways.
One lane within Santa Carolina Monastery.
I have to be honest here, my friends. The whole idea gave me the creeps. I was, of course, respectful during our tour. Our guide was so obviously proud of the history of this remarkable place. But the thought of a rich family essentially giving their twelve year old daughter to the church in hopes of paving their own way to heaven repulsed me. Still. Our guide did say that the life expectancy of the nuns here was quite a bit longer than that of other Peruvian women of the day. “Probably due to them being spared the rigours of childbirth,” I thought… but didn’t say. While the historic parts of the community are open to the public, Santa Catalina is still home to around twenty cloistered nuns.
Santa Catalina Monastery view from the roof.
But let’s move on. Hubby was determined to sample that traditional Peruvian delicacy “cuy” or guinea pig while we were in Peru. Note the menu board below. I was… ah… less than enthusiastic.
Coincidentally, Milly pointed out the inclusion of typical Peruvian dishes in this historic rendering of the last supper on the walls of the beautiful Church of La Compania. Corn, and in the center of the table, guinea pig. How’s that for mixing your religious and cultural iconography?
Guinea pig aside, we enjoyed fabulous meals in Peru. Hubby is tucking into alpaca below, but I’ve settled for the more mainstream “lomo” or filet of beef with purée de papas, mashed potatoes. It was yummy. After many meals of heavy food in Argentina we were ready for lighter fare. And the meals we had in Arequipa were all lovely. Creative, beautifully presented, and delicious. And Hubby postponed his “cuy” for later in the trip.
Our dinners at Zigzag restaurant in Arequipa.
After four days in Arequipa we clambered onto a minibus with our guide Milly and one other couple, and made tracks for the Colca Canyon. Hubby was fascinated by the agricultural terraces right in Arequipa. The city is built on a series of hills along the Chili River, and it seems as if any and all unused land has been terraced and planted, or used for grazing.
This is a view, below, of the other side of town, so to speak. Small one-storey brick houses jumbled up hillsides, and along the river. Most have the metal rebar (steel reinforcing bars which strengthen a concrete or brick structure) still sticking up above the rooflines. Left there after construction so that when the next generation grows up and marries they can build up, and will be able to attach the next storey.
The small homes, below, located on the edge of the city, each within their own rock-fenced piece of land were, according to Milly, built on plots given by the government to victims of the last major flood a few years ago.
After we left Arequipa behind we saw lots of animals. These are wild vicuña.
Early one morning we passed this lady trudging along the road with her bundle. And shortly thereafter we encountered her again at a “lookout” where stalls were placed for local people to sell their wares to the tourists who stopped to take pictures. She greeted us with an amazingly cheery, “Buenos dias, ” considering the long uphill walk she had just finished, and proceeded to unpack her goods. Gad, I whispered to Hubby, “And we used to complain about our commute.”
This is another stop, below, with more local ladies, and more offerings for sale. We continually marvelled at the energy, and obvious work ethic of the Peruvian people. Outside our hotel in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley, one woman was still hoping for a sale long after dark. Her small child sound asleep beside her. These people live hard lives. Certainly harder than we have ever experienced. And that made us sad and grateful all at the same time.
The highlight of our first day on the road was the lively market in Chivay. I love the statue of the woman in traditional dress, below. Hubby and I were both surprised by how many women still wear traditional dress. Layers of bright full skirts, many with white blouses or sweaters underneath, the ubiquitous blanket called a k’eperina, for carrying babies, or goods for sale. And hats. So many different hats. Each one, according to Milly, signifying the woman’s home village, or region. The white hats are from the Chivay area. I’ll shut up for a bit and let you scroll down through a few shots of the market, shall I?
Statue outside the Chivay market.
One thing we noticed throughout Peru, is that wherever people are gathered, you’ll find small portable kitchens with women cooking and serving meals. From the woman in the shot above with her deep-fat fryer in a cardboard box, selling Peruvian doughnuts called picarones. To the numerous small kiosks throughout the market. To the “kitchens” built on handcarts that we saw serving early morning workers on a street corner in Arequipa, or late night revellers sitting on stools beside a “kitchen” cart in a parking spot on a street in Cusco. Presumably the cook packed up and went home at some point during the night because a car was parked there the next afternoon.

Hubby was entranced by the tiny taxis powered by motorbikes that we saw all over Arequipa and Puno. We passed one in Puno crammed to bursting with several people and their bags and bundles.


We spent the night in a lovely inn called La Casa de Mamayacchi in the small village of Corporaque. And next morning were up bright and verrry early for our trip to Colca Canyon. We stopped enroute at another market in Maca. I felt bad that I didn’t purchase anything from this very sweet lady. Laura, who was on our tour, bought a beautiful scarf.
These two ladies made for an interesting photo op, don’t you think?
I’ve been a bit obsessed with donkeys ever since we saw so many in France a couple of years ago. We saw wild donkeys in Patagonia, one running across the crest of a hill, braying like mad. I so wish I’d been able to get a video of him. This little guy, on the road up to the Colca Canyon, seemed to be out for his morning stroll. All alone.
We were amazed and humbled by our drive up to the top of Colca Canyon. Amazed by the beauty. And the view. The Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. And humbled by the astonishing number of agricultural terraces we saw. And the stunning amount of work it must have required to build them. The people here are descended from Incas. And according to Milly, the Incas considered laziness a sin.
Happily we saw condors as well that morning. Many condors. Circling right over our heads. Descending on the air currents down into the canyon below, and disappearing into the clouds. And then catching an up draft and crossing above us to the cliff behind where we stood. Then circling back to do it all over again. One flew so close over us that we could see through his wings. Amazed we stood open-mouthed and didn’t even get a picture. Unfortunately, these shots can’t replicate the feeling of seeing them in person. But there we have it… the reason why we travel. It’s always better to be there in person. Hubby in particular was quite satisfied with his condor experience. And if these pictures aren’t good enough for him, well, he still has that one earlier shot of a really big bird close up. Ha.
We ate lunch in Chivay and then had many more miles to go that day to get to Puno where our guide would leave us. It was a long day. And the last two hours I found very difficult. We drove through parts of the country where traditional farms compete with encroaching industry. We saw small enclosed fields, a man and a small boy sitting on a bank obviously minding two tethered cows. We saw women in skirts harvesting some crop in another field. And every few miles a woman trudging along the side of the highway with her bulging blanket pack tied around her. And in between, piles of garbage on the side of the highway, abandoned roadside buildings that had housed gas stations, or small factories. Many of them derelict. Some of them home to squatters with small children playing outside. I started to take pictures of some of these sights and then stopped. It seemed wrong to do so, too voyeuristic, somehow.
I won’t go on. Let’s just say that by the time we checked into our hotel in Puno I was in tears. Hubby said I was overreacting. Maybe I was. But I was tired and I’d found the last two hours of driving enormously depressing. Especially after the charm of Chivay, and the beauty of Colca.
I’m not sure what my point is here. Maybe that I have lived an incredibly sheltered life. Maybe that, although I know poverty exists, I’m not very often forced to confront it face to face. Maybe that I feel a bit guilty for my own privileged life. I don’t know.
I do know that despite that depressing drive, Hubby and I were both falling in love with Peru. And developing a deep admiration for the people who live there.
So that’s it folks. Peru. But only part of our adventure. We still have Puno, Lake Titicaka, Cusco, and Machu Picchu to come. I hope I’ve not been boring you. This post does go on…and on. I promise I’ll make the next one shorter. Hopefully.


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25 thoughts on “Loving Travel in Peru”

  1. Such a beautifully written post Sue, accompanied by pictures that make me feel I've travelled with you and wishing I had! What a journey … emotionally as well as physically. So much colour everywhere! I had moments like you experienced when my daughter and I visited Mauritius…I felt uncomfortable on so many occasions when out and about on the island and when talking to hotel staff. I realise that tourism ensures an income for so many people there but even so I felt they deserved a much better standard of living when they worked so hard.As for giving your daughter to the church in return for some guarantee of afterlife …why would they? It horrifies me!
    Getting back to your travels, I'm so glad that it seems everywhere surpassed your expectations and that you had such a wonderful trip.
    ps donkeys seem to have such a feisty personality don't they!?

    1. Thanks, Rosie. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between tourism and voyeurism. And I agree…we felt that people there work so hard they deserve better than they have.

  2. Meant to add, please don't worry about being boring or your posts being too long. They are so entertaining and "paint" a wonderful picture … as I said it's all so clear I feel as though I'd travelled with you!

  3. Your Europen readers are wide awake :-).
    Boring? Quite the contrary-it is a beautiful travel post,with fabulous photos,descriptions,adventures,life,laugh and tears,sensible thoughts…..and condors 🙂
    I love the way you write about SA
    I have never been to South America and this is definitely the best told emotional story about it
    Imagine parents choosing a daughter among all their children…..!

  4. Yes Dottoressa we are all awake here ! This is all fascinating Sue , some wonderful photos . Such colour, we must seem very dull in our black , grey & navy when they visit us . I've never even heard of that wonderful canyon & I bet it wasn't as crowded as the Grand Canyon rim last time I was there . Some of the little streets remind me of Spanish villages .
    The nunnery was really interesting & I see why you had some qualms .It is difficult for people like us to understand the honour of serving the church in those days & the vocation of the people involved. I have a close friend who spent five years in an enclosed order before she left due to illness . She married & had a son , now at uni , but tells me she still misses the life & she still attends retreats periodically .
    The little taxis are like the tuk tuks of India which zip around the traffic , very exhilarating to travel in , if rather dangerous . I think it is to your credit that poverty upsets you . Your emotions do take a battering in these places . I remember a day in India when we came upon a bus crash , an ancient vehicle with patched up tires had overturned . It was crammed with people on a pilgrimage to a religious site . Many were killed or injured & it was dreadful . We left there when help arrived & a few miles on came upon a place making saris . Fields were covered in the bright colours of saris drying in the sun , like jewels , so beautiful . It's all so extreme & exhausting & you never forget these memories . Oh & I want longer posts not shorter ones .
    Wendy in York

    1. Thanks, Wendy. One wonders what people from the mountains of Peru make of us North Americans and Western Europeans when they come here. If they come here. Certainly those from Lima wouldn't notice much difference; Lima and mountain villages like Chivay are worlds apart.
      Funny you should mention India. We travelled, on this small tour, with a couple from Seattle. She's American but he's originally from India. And she likened her feelings about Peru with the first time she visited India. "Extreme and exhausting" are good words to describe my feelings at times during this trip.

  5. Your post brought back many memories for me. I lived in Peru for two years (1979-81) and have been back several times for shorter visits. In spite of that long stay, I never made it to Colca Canyon. But I remember Arequipa and the nunnery of Sta. Catalina. At the time the place struck me as very peaceful and quiet. Of course it seems strange to us for a family to give their daughter away in exchange for spiritual credit points, but on the other hand for some girls this may also have meant protection from the violence and arbitrary decisions of their male relatives. Of couse the girls themselves did not have a say in the matter, and that is the key issue here.
    I absolutely understand your desperation at seeing so much poverty. It happened to me, too, again and again. I felt that poor living conditions were even worse in a cold climate. I still remember all those children runnung around barefoot, their little feet blue from the cold. There were many moments when I just could not stand it anymore. And when you start to think about it, you realize that even with your best attempts at treating people with respect (which they very often do not get in their own country) and paying them fair prices for their wares and services, you still do not really make a big difference.
    My experiences in Peru (and other Latin American countries) have changed my outlook on life – my political views as well as my decisions as to what I buy or where and how I travel. I am looking forward to your next posts.

    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Eleonore. I worried when I was writing this post that I might be offending some readers. But felt that I wanted to say what I had to say, and what I felt, as best I could. I really admire people like you whose outlooks, and lives, have changed as a result of travel. I feel the same way….although I'm not sure what form the change will take yet.

  6. A marvellous post, in so many ways, and a reminder of what travel can (should?) do for us. We look at our world and at our humanity with a changed perspective, and this can be thrilling but also very upsetting, destabilising. We still have to come back home and figure out how to integrate our new knowledge in meaningful but sustainable ways, but at the very least, our consciousness is raised. Knowing your integrity, I suspect you'll find a way to respond to this sharpened awareness while having to admit nonetheless, as we do, our mostly unearned (luck of birth, really, both in genetics and in environment) privilege. I don't know if that's something you'll ever be able to write about here — I find I have to process that offline or it can feel forced or self-serving, but obviously you might process differently. Meanwhile, since your suffering or troubledness (the guilt you speak of, so recognisable to me) doesn't advance anyone's cause, you might be gentle with yourself as you do the thinking. Sometimes witness and testimony is the best we can offer, and you've done that eloquently, respectfully, thoughtfully, here.

    1. Thanks for this, Frances. I've been trying to process the trip since we came home. Chasing my tail at times. Saying to Stu that I should probably just shut up about it, because it's not as if I'm going to abandon our life and dedicate myself to a cause. And you're right…so much of our lives here is just "bullshit luck" (if you pardon the profanity.) And so many of us seem to think that we have what we have because we've worked hard and deserve it. Ha. Luck of birth…right place, right family, right decade… has so much to do with our success or lack thereof. What an American lady we met in Cusco called "winning the birth lottery."

  7. Maybe if I understand the context better the convent would not be so distressing, but at my current level its just awful. I think I better concentrate on the scenery and animals. Thank you for sharing so much about your travels – I totally get the processing time and attendant preoccupation, but please don't shut up about it!


    1. I don't think that the church did the people of Peru any favours. In particular the women. But I AM biased on that topic. Much simpler to focus on the scenery and animals. I try not to express too many political opinions here. But sometimes they just burble to the surface:) Thanks for the supportive comment, Ceci.

  8. We traveled to Peru as a last-minute decision two years ago and I fell in love with the country. Between only Lima and Cuzco/Sacred Valley, we stayed in the richest areas of the country, so I was not exposed to more poverty than I was expected to, but it is definitely humbling to be reminded of our luck. Thank you for bringing back all these wonderful memories.

    1. You are very welcome. Thanks for taking the time to say so. Humbling is exactly what it is to visit a country like Peru. And as one lady we encountered out it.. to realize that we have won "the birth lottery" and have not necessarily earned all the advantages we have.

  9. "although I know poverty exists, I'm not very often forced to confront it "

    Even when I encounter poverty in my own culture (white American privilege), because I (think) know the context for that homeless person under the bridge, I can tell myself a story about that person's circumstance that keeps the pain at a distance. Encountering it as you did – just a random allocation of life chances – brings home my fortune and reminds me again of shared humanity with those less fortunate. Thank you for feeling it so deeply and for sharing.

  10. A year or so ago I watched a film – Happy? or Happiness??- on Netflix. A cross cultural documentary about the joy people find despite material lack. I mention it not to assuage our distress ("Oh they're happy anyway. Lah lah…"). But it was an inspiring reminder that meaning is always possible and that lack of stuff isn't tragedy.

  11. I haven't been to Peru yet. Saving it until I am ready to do Machu Pichu, which I really should do soon. So what did your husband think of guinea pig. I had the opportunity to try it in Ecuador but just couldn't do it. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. My husband never did try guinea pig… after the first place where we saw in on the menu and he had alpaca, we never saw it again…except at a roadside stand where a barbecued guinea pig was on a long stick in front of the place to indicate that they sold it, I guess. We demurred. haha.

  12. I've heard so many wonderful things about Peru! Would love to go one day! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  13. Great post and photos – it's personal – especially about your thoughts and feelings when encountering poverty in Peru. I'm afraid such circumstances are prevalent in many societies around the world. I come from Asia and travel a lot within the Asian region, have seen many people live in hard circumstances. Interestingly, they are also cheerful – they make the best out of everything and are grateful for what they have, no matter how little. Folks like us probably complain too much about things that go wrong in our lives 🙂 Cheer up, maybe these are lessons for us. May you enjoy the rest of your adventure in Peru! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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