The White City
June 13th, 2019 Arequipa, Peru
I felt surprisingly good after a 24 hour bus journey from La Paz. The fact that I slept a solid 6 or 7 hours on the night bus made all the difference.
At about 10:00 am I ventured into town. I first found Plaza de Armas, the main square with the huge Cathedral at one end. It helped me get my bearings.
My first stop was to the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos, the home of the Ice Maiden “Juanita”. Juanita’s body was found high near the summit of Mount Ampato in 1995 by the anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian team of climbers. She was taken up there and offered in sacrifice in the 1400s by the Inca. Juanita is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a mummy, but there was no mummification – she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head and buried near the summit in Inca tradition along with belongings for the afterlife. It was a great honor to be sacrificed this way, but one wonders what was going the through the mind of a young teenager in this situation.
It is amazing that the Incas were able to climb up a glaciated mountain 20,000 ft high without the technical climbing equipment of today. Johan and his team relied on ice axes, climbing boots, crampons and ropes to get up – the Incas had nothing remotely close to this.
Juanita’s body had somehow moved from her burial place and was found in the ice and snow several feet below. This actually had allowed her to be preserved so well. In the museum she is in a refrigerated glass enclosure, to keep the preservation process going. It was fascinating to see her almost perfectly preserved head, although a bit morbid. However I felt fortunate that I was able to travel back in time and imagine what the scene of the sacrifice entailed – I had the body right in front of me!
The next stop was the Santa Catalina Monastery. It was a huge compound of beautifully painted courtyards, gardens and chapels.
In the afternoon I took a city tour of Arequipa on a double decker open air bus. The first stop was the Plaza de Yanahuara with it’s own magnificent monastery. It was a beautiful spot with such immense palm trees and some great views of Volcan Misti.
“Trata de dejar el Mundo en mejores condiciones que las que tenía cuando llegaste a él”. Translation “Try to leave the World in better conditions than when you arrived in it”.
The next stop was the Mirador de Carmen Alto with amazing views of Volcan Misti, Picha Picha and Chachani.
The next stop was La Mansion del Fundador – the home of the founder of Arequipa, Garcí Manuel de Carbajal. It has been restored and has original furnishings from the 17th century. The gardens are nice as well and there are some great views into the hills and towards the volcanos as well.
The last stop on the city tour was Molino Sabandia which is a restored water mill (molino). It has a nice setting and there are a few vicuñas, an alpaca and a few other animals on site. It was a nice place to be around sunset.
I had waited a long time to visit Arequipa. It often lies in the shadow of Cusco and Machu Pichu. I made a conscious decision to avoid the throngs of people at Machu Pichu this time (I had hiked the Inca trail in 2005). I wanted to devote this stay in Peru to Arequipa and surroundings and I did just that – I got to see the highlights and appreciate the beauty of the “White City”. And it was a plus that it wasn’t inundated by tourists. Another reason I wanted to visit Arequipa was that one of my dear friends Lucia Pozo hails from there and I wanted to see the city she grew up in. Lucia and I were colleagues together at Antelope Valley College. While I taught math, Lucia taught Spanish and I credit her for teaching me and motivating me to reach the level of Spanish proficiency that I have today.
The next day I would be picked up at 3:00 am from my hotel – the Casona Plaza Hotel – and be taken to Colca Canyon where an exciting and challenging three day trek into and out of the Canyon awaited me. I was psyched! But that meant I would have to go to bed early. I still only got about four or five hours of sleep after I got all my hiking gear sorted. The excitement was building. Colca Canyon awaits!