Arequipa is based at the foot of El Misti, a snow-clad volcanic mountain at a height of 5822 meters. Nearby is also the deepest canyon in the world (Canyon del Colca) - we didn´t have the time to go to this canyon unfortunately. Arequipa has been known as the white city as most of its colonial buildings are made from sillar, a whitish-colored volcanic rock.
We visited the Monasterio Santa Catalina which is a old monastery with about 30 nuns living there. It´s as big as a city. In the colonial days, rich Spanish colonialists would send their 2nd oldest daughter here to be nuns. Each nun would come with a huge dowry which would be used to build a house within the walls of the monastery and also used to fund a servant, living expenses and any creature comforts that they required. In 1822, Peru became independent from Spain and in the late nineteenth century, a law was put into place that prevented the monastery from accepting only rich nuns. As a result, a there was a huge influx of poorer Indian nuns (upto 400) . The monastery thus stopped receiving funding - as a result, the active monastery has been scaled down and the rest has been opened up for tourists. The most interesting part of the monastery was the brilliant blue walls contrasting with the rich red walls.
In Arequipa, we also learned about the history of Inca sacrifices. We visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos which houses the bodies of humans sacrificed by the Incas to appease the gods. Juanita is the name of the most famous mummy. It´s quite fascinating how the bodies were found - a nearby volcano started erupting in 1995 - the ash from this volcano settled on Mt. Ampato, leading to the melting of the glacier on top of this mountain. The melting exposed several mummies which had been buried about 500 years ago. Apparently, about 25 such mummies have been recovered in western South America, all from Inca times. The story of Juanita is also interesting though somewhat morbid - she was chosen from birth as one whom would be sacrified - for the occasion, she was starved for a couple of weeks and then made to walk all the way from Cusco to Arequipa and then up the 5800 meter high mountain, clad in light woold and grass slippers. There, already near death, she was made to drink a glass of chicha (local alcohol) and then the chief priest hit her on the left temple with a cudgel which instantly led to her death. There´s a good National Geographic magazine article on this here.
On this round-the-world trip, we have seen many mummies! - at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, we saw mummies of various Pharoahs (over 4000 years old). In Goa, India, we saw the mummy of St. Xavier (about 500 years old). And now, we have seen Inca mummies (about 500 years old).
We also went to the Sol de Mayo restaurant, as we were told that it had good local live music (folklorica). Unfortunately, the local music ended just as we entered and the band started on really bad renditions of Frank Sinatra songs in a Spanish accent. Quite bad.
On to the Northern Highlands of Peru now!