The last couple of days have been spent walking around Arequipa. I have been taking things slowly as the long day on Friday, followed by a dodgy stomach, seem to have made me a little weary.
On Sunday, the city was relatively quiet on the traffic front, which seems to be quite normal (and, to me, very welcome) for Peru. A lot of people were out and about in the Plaza and, as it was Mother’s Day, which is taken quite seriously here, there were families celebrating in the restaurants and gardens.
I managed to see the Cathedral, which takes up one entire side of the Plaza de Armas, whilst it was open. The churches are often closed, except when there is a Mass, so it has been quite by chance if I do manage to find one open. (Not being sufficiently organised, I rarely check beforehand.) I also had a quick look (because a Mass was starting) at the Jesuit Church on the opposite side of the Plaza. This has a very ornate, Baroque style frontage with some Andean carvings mixed in with the Catholic ones. It also accommodates a painting of a South American version of The Last Supper, complete with guinea pig as part of the meal!
A large part of my time today, however, was spent in the Convent of Santa Catalina, which is a beautiful building established in the 16th Century. I had intended to do a tour but there seemed to be a problem finding an English speaking guide so, after waiting for quite some time, I decided to wander around on my own. (Interestingly, there did not appear to be a problem with Spanish, French or German guides, which I found quite odd.)
Originally, the second daughters of wealthy people were sent to become nuns. They arrived with 3 servants each, the equivalent of a dowry and were locked away without any contact with the outside world. When it was decreed a couple of centuries later that they should only have 1 servant, there was an immediate decline in residents and, today, there are only 14. Within the walls, there are 3 main cloisters, 6 streets and a lot of cells (as they are referred to). The latter varied in degree of lavishness, according to the wealth of the girls’ parents and many had extra rooms, such as kitchens, attached. Sister Ana, who performed various miracles and was later beatified by Pope John Paul II, lived here in the 17th Century.
On Sunday afternoon, I joined the Free Walking Tour, which is run by the Hospitality students of the city. This was quite entertaining and included a visit to the oldest part of the city, as well as a chocolate and coca de mate tea tasting. It was supposed to conclude with a view of the sunset over the volcanoes but the guide obviously talked too much and we were a bit late! As I was returning to the hotel in the dark, I suddenly heard the Last Post being played and was consequently able to witness the lowering of the flags in the Plaza. These were carefully folded up by the military and handed over for safe keeping for the night. I hadn’t realised this ceremony occurred so wonder if there is a similar ceremony in the morning for raising them.
Monday was spent in a similar vein with the addition of lunch at one of the local (as opposed to tourist) restaurants, so I was able to sample a couple of the local dishes. It was even a 4 course meal but, alas, the dessert was like a gelatinous, sweet juice and I decided not to finish it. The rest of the meal, however, was excellent.
Afterwards, I visited the cloisters of the Jesuit Church, from the top of which we were supposed to view the sunset on Sunday, thought about going to the Museum that contains the frozen girl (more of that when I actually visit) but decided I needed coffee instead so I went back to the cafe where we had had the chocolate and tea tasting on Sunday. I sat here for a while over an expensive drink and indulged in my latest past time, which is reading an ebook on my phone. Yes, really! I have always dismissed the idea of this as being totally impossible but, in the last week, I have discovered that it is easier to read on my phone than my ipad. And the only reason I tried it was because I don’t like getting my ipad out when I am waiting in dubious bus terminals.
The hotel I am currently staying in appears to attract principally French and German visitors for some reason so there has been a sad lack of conversation over the last few days. Thank goodness for Skype! The staff are excellent and it is run/owned by a young family, who are very helpful. Tonight I was asked by their little girl, who must be 3 or 4, if I had the Peruvian equivalent of M&Ms. Apparently the last English speaking guest supplied them every day so I am seriously lacking in my duties! I am off to the Colca Canyon for the next 3 days but will return for a couple of nights afterwards.