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12/05 - 13/05 2010 Plastic Peru

After breakfast and a quick look at some Inca ruins near the resort, we begin our 7 hour journey along the Pan American Highway to Arequipa. The highway goes along the coast for the most part and it’s quite stunning. It’s a barren desert to the one side and then a rugged coastline to the other. The beaches are littered with small fishermen’s huts and they make a living off the sea and drying seaweed.

Unfortunately, there are also a number of petroleum plants along the way and, of course, plastic which is thrown out of the windows of truckers as the average Peruvian does not own a car and does not travel. We also come across green irrigated valleys where rice is grown and we stop off in Camana for lunch.

We arrive at our hotel in Arequipa early evening and after having dinner in a restaurant that used to be a colonial home, we head to bed. Arequipa is the capital city of the Arequipa Region in southern Peru, with a population of 904,931 it is the second most populous city of the country. Arequipa lies in the Andes mountains, at an altitude of 2,380 meters (7,800 feet) above sea level; the snow-capped volcano El Misti overlooks the city.

The city has many colonial-era Spanish buildings built of sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock, from which it gets the nickname La Ciudad Blanca ("The White City"). Reportedly, it first acquired this nickname in the colonial era, because most of its inhabitants were Creole of peninsular (Spanish) descent. The historic centre of Arequipa was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, in recognition of its architecture and historic integrity.

The next day we have a walking tour of the city and this includes a trip to the local market. Peru grows an astonishing 3,000 varieties of potatoes and the market has some to prove it. The highlight is a visit to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. It is a cloistered convent located in Arequipa, Peru and was built in 1580 and was enlarged in the 17th century. The over 20,000-square-metre monastery is predominantly of the Mudéjar style, and is characterised by the vividly painted walls. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.

The founder of the monastery was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter religious service, and the convent accepted only women from high-class Spanish families. Each nun at Santa Catalina had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns invited musicians to perform in the convent, gave parties and generally lived a lavish lifestyle. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter's entrance to the convent, and the dowry owed to gain the highest status, indicated by wearing a black veil, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to US$50,000 today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy.

We also visit the museum and see an exhibition about the Ice Maiden, which is a frozen body of an Inca girl of about 12 years old and she was scarified to the gods sometime between 1450 and 1480. She was found in 1995 during an ascent of Mt. Ampato (20,700 ft) inside the crater a bundle that had fallen from an Inca site on the summit. Owing to melting caused by volcanic ash from the nearby erupting volcano of Sabancaya, most of the Inca burial site had collapsed down a gully that led into the crater.

Arequipa is a lovely town and I will be sad to leave it.

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