Monday, December 2, 2013

Arequipa and the End of Peru

The White City, they call it, and the name really fits.  In addition from all the old buildings being built and carved out of white sandstone, everything seems to have a sort of bleached look about it.  It's warm and sunny every day, (another one of those "eternal spring" cities which South America seems to have so many of,) with cool breezes billowing in and out of the streets, and it smells like flowers.  On the hazy horizon loom three snow-capped volcanoes like gargantuan apparitions: El Mista, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu.

Two days ago Lisa, Darragh, and Charlotte caught up with me from Cusco and they were all just as thrilled as I was by the perpetual sunshine.  After the standard self-guided walking tour of the Plaza de Armas and grand, chaotic marketplace where we ate lomo saltado, (a traditional Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef, onions, and tomatoes served with the omnipresent pile of white rice and chips,) Charlotte and I went on a visit to the Monasterio Santa Catalina.  Founded in 1579, Santa Catalina is still a working convent where nuns live, but the historic part is sectioned off as a museum for tourists.

I've gotten pretty lazy when it comes to visiting tourist sites lately, but Santa Catalina was definitely one of the best things I've seen in the past six months, up there with Machu Picchu.  It was a labyrinth of courtyards and grottos and shadowy alcoves and secret orange tree cloisters, and you had could go exploring through all the rooms and sub-rooms and peek behind doors and climb stone stairs that lead to nothing to your heart's content.  Everything was so well-preserved you could very easily imagine nuns of the 16th century sweeping down the cobblestoned corridors with their wimples billowing in the wind (whenever I imagine nuns, they always have wimples that are billowing,) or sitting in the parlor embroidering or grinding corn into meal.  (Everywhere we went we saw smoke-stained kitchens with grinding stones.)

And the best news of all is that I finally did it - everywhere I'd read online told me it was impossible, but I found authentic, high-quality, INSANELY INEXPENSIVE alpaca wool and I bought it!  Ten balls of a lovely purplish-red color, each 110 yards, for 50 soles which comes to about $16.  I found it in an alpaca shop full of fancy designer knits, none of which I could afford, and I had to reign myself in from buying all the wool they had.

And now, in about four hours, I'm going to catch a bus to Tacna, on the border between Peru and Chile.  From there, if all goes according to plan (which in South America rarely happens, but I'm hopeful,) I will take a colectivo across the border and into Arica, and then a bus to San Pedro, a small tourist oasis in the Atacama desert.  Two days there and then across the border again into Argentina!  The final country, the one I've been most excited about since even before I planned this trip, and I'm almost there - it's starting to hit home that my trip is coming to an end and I'll be headed back to the States in two months.  I'm not dreading this as much as I might, as I'll be visiting a bunch of friends in California and then headed to a wedding in February.  And, best of all, I won't be in Baltimore long.  Besides, I'm beginning to get really sick of Andean cheese, which is all they have here.  It somehow manages to be both bland and stinky at the same time, and is pretty much the worst stuff ever.  I will NOT be sorry to see the end of it....


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