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.