Nuns and Volcanoes

5 11 2012

I´ve posted more since being gone than I ever managed to while home with constant Internet…but there´s so much more to tell you about! After several mix-ups, we finally made it on our bus to Arequipa – a 12 hour ride through the craziest winding roads. I slept most of it, rocked by the constant curves of the road, but J ran into his first bit of tummy trouble. In the morning, the very nice woman next to us offered him some medicine, telling us she´s a pharmacist. J reluctantly took some pills from her, then we also accepted a ride to the Plaza in Arequipa. I´ve been struck time and again how genuinely kind strangers have been in this country!

I gawk yet again at the amazing Plaza, with the giant cathedral at one end, fountains, and today, a procession of bands in the surrounding streets. We find our hostal after zig-zagging down several streets lined with super old buildings and get checked in. Our hostal is simple and cheap, a place meant for socializing. Our room has two sets of bunk beds – it feels like I´m back at summer camp! Everything is panted in brialliant colors and I feel right at home.

We decide to explore our new city and head back towards the Plaza. Our new friend Roxanne from the hostal had given us directions to a few things to check out, so we headed back towards the Plaza. The amazingly old brick streets are narrow and seem a bit quiet today – but then it is Sunday. The Plaza and parks, however, are all over-flowing with families enjoying the gorgeous sunshine and plentiful pigeons. A few blocks past here we find a huge market – I´m talking giGANtic – and wander the open stalls. Fruits that looked like they belong in a Dr Suess book, meats of every nausiating type, toys and candy and housewares and, well, you get the idea. Everything.

On the way back to our hostal, we walked past the famous Monastario de Santa Catalina and were surprised to find them open. A sign from the heavens that we should go in! Paying the hefty entry fee, we looked for our tour guide only to discover the tour was extra. Taking instead the free map, we decided to guide ourselves. We very quickly discovered the place to be insanely huge – they call it a city within the city for a reason! – but every inch of was amazing. It was built for the first time in the 1500´s and has been partly rebuilt a few times in the 1700´s – Peru is one of the most active earthquake regions in the world. There are cells from the original nuns, courtyards, kitchens, gardens, fountains, chapels – the nuns who lived here never left, living mostly in isolation. But if you think back to that time period, and the way women were treated, a life of isolation with just your work and your God was possibly the best way to go. And after seeing this place, I think I would have been a nun! About 30 nuns still live in a closed off part of the convent, but they stay in isolation, being true nuns and not a tourist attraction. How I would have loved to meet one! I was sad to leave the enchanting place, feeling a calm peace fill me the whole time we were there. Amazingly, J even commented that this was his favorite thing we´ve seen so far. So you know it much be great!

Besides being old and super cool, Arequipa has something else of great interest to us both – mountains! Not just big mountains, but big volcanoes! Mt Misti is the big one that looms over the city, and it´s a landmark and point of reference. We´d thought about climbing the bad boy, but the time it takes and the money we would need were a bit beyond what we wanted to give up. So we watch each other from afar…and our room name is coincidentally named Misti!! I feel like the good luck we´ve had so far can all be attributed to the rooms we stay in. The first two were both my lucky number, now this one the name of the great volcano!

We had originally planned to set out the next day for an excursion in Colca Canyon, the 2nd deepest canyon in the world – twice as deep as the Grand! But with Larz giving J hell, we decided to take another day to rest. We made a few more friends in the hostal, hearing some awesome new accents. A few guys were from Austria and had just returned from the hike in the canyon – my dear sister would have passed out cold hearing them speak. Then to our great surprise, we saw some familiar faces – the couple we had shared a cab with from Ica to Huacachina! We talked a bit more with them, laughing at the coincidence. We ate a simple dinner (though mine was accompanied with vino tinto: red wine! I´m on vacation.) and hit the sack early. I´ll admit I don´t like this whole bunk bed situation, but I was too tired to care at the time.

Breakfast this morning was simple bread and jam – the last hostal had nothing! – and even made coffee. We booked our canyon trip and dropped off our laundry to be cleaned – we desperately needed it at this point. I might have attempted it old school with the rocks in the river…had the water been remotely clean. But it wasn´t, so I agreed to wait til today. After quick, frigid showers, we lounged a bit and jumped on a free city tour with our hostal. Our lovely friends, Olivia and Seth, from before were going as well. We walked all over, checking out the oldest cathedrals, the old part of Arequipa before the Spanish, the shopping district, the huge market. Our guide took us to a stall and told us to chip in for some juice that would heal anything. “Juice of the rana” it loosely translated to…rana being a frog. We thought the frog wasn´t killed, but receiving payment, the crazy old loon took the frog she was gently stroking and beat it violently against the counter 2, 3, 4 times!! We all gasped in horror! Then she somehow stripped the skin and tossed the poor thing into a boiling pot of water. She started dumping powders and some sort of goo into a blender. Then the boiled frog – the whole thing – went into the blender, too. As the mess whirled round and round, she added a bunch of other mysterious ingredients and I looked around for a sign saying “witch´s caldron”. Before I knew it, a cup was thrust in my face. “Tome” – drink! One of the other girls took the first brave sip, then J. No gagging, neither turned green or passed out, so I took my turn. Afterall, I did pay my s/1.  It tasted…gritty. And kind of like…dirt? The jury´s still out as to whether or not it cures anything. I have my doubts.

After a wonderful lunch at a kabob place with 3 new friends – girls from Germany studying abroad in Lima – we went shopping! I picked up a fantastic new alpaca sweater and some gifts for those at home. I love love love the shopping district. So exciting! So chaotic! Prices being argued, goods being weighed, transactions left and right! Just fantastic. I could have spent all day there! We finally wandered back and relaxed a bit at the hostal. It has a great roof-top terrace with spectacular views of both the city and the mountains. Now we´re here, squeezing in our Internet time, debating what to eat for dinner. We´ve yet to get a plate of grilled alpaca or cuy (guinea pig) mostly since J´s belly needs to chill out. But I plan on trying both, so I´ll let you know how that goes. I mean, I drank a frog today, I think it´s all uphill from there!!

Today´s comments from J:
Why is the toilet paper brand “Prestigo”? What´s so prestige about it?? K, don´t make me tell your mother you were hit by a car in Peru, get over here! You had to buy the brightest sweater you could find, didn´t you… 😀

As always, I hope you´re all well!

Much love,

J/K

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One response

5 11 2012
Lucille Glasgow

Don’t know whether you’ll get this or not but here’s trying. Sounds as if you are having a wonderful time and seeing things unimaginable. Take it all in. I enjoy your narratives. keep it up. Love, Grandma

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