To Peru’s White City in the black of night

The 10-hour Nazca to Arequipa overnight bus trip was not a pleasant experience. There were no stops and the bus ground slowly on with lots of sharp turns and — judging from the sound of the engine — big hills. Maybe it was better that we couldn’t see anything. The only alternative was to backtrack to Lima and fly to Arequipa. There don’t seem to be any places of interest along the way so this is the only viable plan. It was a relief to arrive at our hotel, stretch out and take a shower.

And it was worth the pain. Arequipa or the White City is Peru’s second largest with over 850,000 inhabitants. It’s a lovely place and I apologize for indulging myself by posting 57 photos. I couldn’t resist. Our visit to the 500-year-old Dominican Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena — now a museum — occupied an entire day and the place explodes with colour, shape, art and history. As with everywhere in Peru, Arequipa is prone to earthquakes and the monastery has been hit several times resulting in the few remaining nuns evacuating to more modern digs nearby.

The Posada Castillo Hotel, located in the mansion of the Englishman who oversaw construction of the Ferrocarril del Sur (now PeruRail), was an interesting place from its grumpy Dutch owner, his Peruvian wife, a pair of skis and assorted antiques to its stained glass window and remarkable breakfast room complete with an excavated burial pit and shelves loaded with genuine Inca pottery. The pool was grungy and the air was chilly so we weren’t even tempted.

Arequipa has great food including at the unfortunately named Tipika Tourist Restaurant which is, in fact, quite upscale with a great setting and authentic food. There seemed to be lots of upscale locals eating there, not just tourists. The crispy pork was wonderful and was, as is everything, accompanied by potatoes and onions.

It was a worthwhile two days but, if you go, learn from our mistake and be sure to visit the Ice Maiden at the Museo Santuarios Andinos. “Juanita” was a 12-15-year-old Inca girl sacrificed high in the Andes more than 500 years ago and frozen solid so was perfectly preserved. Glacial melting eventually ejected her and the find was labeled a Top Ten discovery of 1995 by Time Magazine. I’m tempted to go back just to see this!

We did visit the Arequipa Municipal Museum which had a great display of Inca skulls, deformed in infancy into a variety of fanciful shapes. Our guide assured that this is no longer practised but who knows? She said it was generally done to prospective priests, was extraordinarily painful and a reason why some Inca priests were said to have spent their days screaming. The practice also accounts for the strange skull shapes often attributed to extra-terrestrials. Interesting but a very modest museum and not worth the time. Also, they do not allow photographs. What’s with that? A trend that must be resisted and ignored by stealth when possible.

A few more photos

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