So we left Tuhayo Lodge by 1:45 heading to Iquitos and my flight to Lima. I was sad to say good-bye to my trusty guide Nixon, but was really ready for a nice hot shower. I ended up travelling back to Iquitos with 11 other folks (including the California family) who were all winding up their trips. Because there were so many of us leaving at one time, we ended up riding in a high speed catamaran like boat that seated 18 passengers. The trip was incredibly quick not only because of the more powerful boat, but because we were travelling down river.
We ended up arriving in Iquitos just before 4:15, which meant we shaved an entire hour off the trip up river. Once back in Iquitos, I repacked my bags with all the clothing etc. I took with me to the lodge and road to the airport with a family from Texas. Our flight was not until 10:00 p.m. (thank LATAM for changing the departure time by 3 hours) so we ended up having dinner in the airport and trying to stay awake until boarding. Fortunately, the flight left and arrived as scheduled, but by the time I collected my checked bag and walked across the street to the hotel connected to the Lima airport, it was after midnight. Great! My flight was at 8:30, which meant I was going to get about 5 hours sleep if I was lucky. Lima’s domestics departure is notoriously bad and it was heading into a long weekend holiday (Fiestas Patrias) in Peru so I was warned to be at check in extra early.
And of course as luck would have it, as I tried to check in well after midnight, some women from China was checking in ahead of me and insisted on trying to bargain her rate. The Peruvian at the desk could not seem to convince the woman that the rate was not negotiable. Then she proceeded to want someone to put the WiFi code into her phone and finally she wanted to know if they would give her any drink coupons for the bar. I KID YOU NOT! I was exhausted and ready to go punch her, when another staff member finally came over and checked me in. Five minutes (literally) later, I was in my room and collapsing on my bed.
Next thing knew, the phone was ringing for my wake-up call at the lovely hour of 5:15. I got cleaned up, dressed and checked out all before 6:00 a.m. Once I crossed the street again, I entered the sh*t show that is the Lima domestic check-in. I proceeded to stand in line for almost a half hour before I finally reached the front of the line. As I was standing there some young LATAM staff member approached me, asked where I was headed and then asked if I would like to upgrade my seat for $10 USD. Uh yes please. The flight was only an hour and 10 minutes, but the idea of sitting in a better seat (no first class on short haul domestic LATAM flights, but they do have premium seating), was heaven.
Once checked in, upgraded and through security (surprisingly fast) I had about an hour to kill before boarding. I wandered around the stores killing time because I was afraid if I sat down, I would fall asleep. After I took my seat on the plane, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open through the safety instructions. Next thing I know, we are landing. Yay!
I could see it was a beautiful sunny day in Arequipa aka the White City as we landed. Why the White City? Well Arequipa sits at the foot of three volcanoes: city skyline: Misti, and the extinct volcanic groups Pichu Pichu and Chachani. Because of all the volcanoes, many of Arquipa’s historical buildings (its old quarter is a UNESCO heritage site) are built from volcanic material resulting in a many, many whitish buildings.
After picking up my bag, I exited to complete pandemonium in the arrivals area. Apparently the holiday had a lot of people travelling to see loved ones and there were hundreds of people waiting with balloons, signs etc. I was looking for the fellow who was to take me into the colonial party of the city where I would be staying at the Katari Plaza Hotel right on the Plaza de Armas. Unfortunately, I could not find the driver anywhere. I wandered around amid the “taxi lady” fellows and finally gave up and found the official cab stand and hired a driver to take to the hotel.
The drive was a slow stop and start drive amid absolute traffic gridlock and horns that sounded like someone’s car alarm had gone off. We finally reached the old quarter only to find out that a protest was going on in the Plaza de Armas so we would have to go around resulting in even further delay. I finally arrived at the hotel almost an hour after getting into the cab. The poor hotel staff was apparently beside themselves because the driver could not find me and they were worried I had missed my flight. They apologized profusely for the mix-up (still no idea what happened) and insisted on comping me a drink in the upstairs bar. The staff could not have been nicer.
I was given a beautiful room overlooking the plaza, which was framed by the 17th century Basillica Cathedral and the three volcanoes. The view was stunning. And even better, one floor up was a beautiful outdoor terrace and bar, which offered an even better view.
By the time I got settled, it was 11:30. I looked at the map the the front desk gave me and found the four sites I had planned to visit during my two days in Arequipa. First up would be the Santa Catalina Monastery. I wandered four blocks down the street past the Plaza de Armas to the monetary, paid my twenty soles ($6) admission and hired a guide for twenty soles to show me around since there was no English subtitles. The monetary, built in 1579, was fascinating.
The guide explained that tradition dictated that the second son or daughter of a family would become a priest or a nun. The monetary was for children of upper class Spanish families. The monestary only accepted girls 12 years of age and required that a dowry be paid to enter the convent.
Each entering novice was given a small room where she would stay for four years. Once a nun, each girl was given a large apartment and a number of servants to cook and clean for the nun. The rooms were very large and there was incredible china and other significant household items evidencing the wealth of the nuns. In 1871, the Pope decreed that nuns would no longer have separate quarters to began communal living. Today, there are 25 nuns still living at the monetary (although in a new section not the old historic building). The whole tour was fascinating.
I wondered down the street to a little sandwich shop recommended by the hotel: La Lucha. I ordered the special: a cheese, ham, avocado and spicy sauce on a crusty bread. It was delicoso!
Next up was a trip down the block to the Santurios Andinos Museum a museum dedicated to the 1995 discovery on Amparo Volcano of “Juanita”, an Incan child believed to have been sacrificed to appease the Incan gods, and the subsequent discovery in 1998 of six more children buried on Misti Volcano.
We sat through a 20 minute National Geographic movie about the discovery of the 1998 graves, which wove in the story of Incan child sacrifices, the Capacity Cocha. The ceremony involved years of preparation from scouring the empire for the healthiest “perfect” children, bringing them to the capital Cusco and grooming them for the sacrifice that was conducted every four to seven years when there were problems with the empire such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
The ceremony involved a walk from Cusco to one of the volcanoes that could last up to three months. The procession went through every village with the child to be sacrificed as the center piece of the procession. Once at the site of the sacrifice (which was usually near the top of the volcano), the child would be dressed in the finest clothing, sedated with a hallucinogenic drink and killed with a strike to the head. It was considered an honour to be chosen since the child would take his or her place with the gods.
After the film, we were guided through five exhibition halls divided according to the artifacts found at the sites: ceramics, clothing, statutes and of course the final room where the frozen body of Juanita is on display. The whole visit was incredibly fascinating albeit a little gruesome.
I decided to call it a day at this point and head back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. I ended up having a drink on the terrace and then calling it a day. I think I must have slept for about 12 hours thanks to earplugs that drown out another protest that was going on in Plaza de Armas.
On Saturday, I was expecting Plaza de Armas to be packed with party goers for the Peru Independence Day (Fiestas Patrias), but by 9:00 there wasn’t a sole around. I had breakfast on the terrace and then wandered down the street to the local open market.
The market ended up being a pretty nondescript standard market that was surprisingly small. I ended up wandering around for about 20 minutes and pretty much covered it all by then.
I then took a walk around the lovely narrow, cobblestoned colonial streets and found Munro Alpaca, a fair trade shop that produces lovely sweaters. The shop had a beautiful garden area where they kept some alpaca and guanacos. There was also a large display center which showed the various types of wool, the differences between the wool, how the wool is collected and various weaving techniques. There was even a weaver demonstrating ancient wearying techniques.
I wandered around the little store and I ended up buying a blue royal baby alpaca sweater, which is incredibly soft.
I started to walk back to the hotel, but instead stopped at the Basilica Cathedral and took the English tour of the ancient church. We walked into the main portion of the church and saw the massive organ as well as the highly decorated interior. From there we walked into a series of rooms where the guide explained the history of the artifacts we were seeing. There were incredible woven cloaks, crowns made of gold with massive jewels and silver chalices. The best part of the tour was that we climbed to the top of one of the towers to look at the massive bells and take in the view over the Plaza de Armas.
After the tour, I went back to the hotel and went up to the terrace where they were serving a special barbecue brunch to celebrate Independence Day. There was barbecued chicken and port and beef heart skewers as well as salads, ceviche, and a number of different tiny empanadas. I took a bit of everything and the best was the spicy beef heart skewers. Fantastic. Dessert was a magnificent chocolate mousse. I could not eat another thing and ended up having a nap.
I was heading off to the Colca Canyon on Sunday for two days of hiking in high altitude conditions so decided to just take it easy the rest of the day and simply sit not he balcony and read. Arequipa is a lovely city and I had really enjoyed my time here.