As our taxi sped through the narrow cobbled streets of Arequipa, I immediately felt a surge of excitement as I witnessed a new and exotic side of Peru. The dozens of bustling cafes and nightclubs which lined the historic avenues spilled out into the streets. It was a warm Saturday evening, club-goers dressed to the nines, strong hints of cologne and perfume lingered in the air, and perspiring drinks adorned like jewelry. Throw in a beach and we could have been cruising the Miami strip.
Arequipa was unlike any other city we visited in Peru. With a population just shy of a million, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and serves as a commercial and industrial hub in Andean Highlands. While all of Peru has been rocked with dozens of devastating earthquakes, Arequipa is also plagued with volcanic eruptions every now and then. Needless to say, Arequipa has risen from the ashes and become a pulsating, metropolitan center.
Our primary focus in Arequipa was food. After living off saltines for five days Dan and I were ready to tantalize our taste buds and bulge our bellies. In Peru, the dollar goes a long way. This meant we spent nearly every meal dining on five star foods for mere dollars and cents. We’re talking four course, premier chef, and white table cloth service for under $25 for two people. I was in heaven. Of course my eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and having just recovered my stomach could only handle several bites before throwing in the towel. It didn’t matter, what we ate in Arequipa was delicious, filling, and divine.
Now I have failed to bring up a very sad fact about Peru, but since we’re on the subject, I suppose it’s time. Peruvians eat guinea pigs.
Yes, those furry little creatures kept as childhood pets. If you’re anything like me, you probably had one growing up. Although please tell me I’m not the only one who named my male guinea pig Bozo and then discovered one morning that Bozo had three babies and was really a girl. I can’t be the only one. Sad but true, guinea pig is sort of a specialty in Peru. While wandering about in Arequipa we came across a home with a cute little guinea pig hutch out front. There were probably a dozen or so furry critters frolicking about in their hay. I was so delighted at my find until I realized they were probably not pets.
But let’s change the subject, no reason to dwell.
Arequipa was so stunning that I feel even pictures do not do it justice. The highlight was easily the Santa Catalina Monastery where we spent a good portion of a day wandering through the quaint alleyways and terraces.
The Monastery has an interesting story. It was founded in 1580 and only women from very wealthy, high class Spanish families were permitted to serve. While I’m sure they had the best intentions, the nuns continued to live their lavish lifestyles within the convent walls. It wasn’t until 1871 when the Pope himself sent Sister Josefa Cadena to whip the place into shape. Today the 20 or so nuns are on much better behavior and live within a small section of the sprawling convent.
Towering over Arequipa, which already sits at an elevation of 7,800 feet, is the cone shaped volcanic El Misti at nearly 20,000 feet and her sidekicks Chachani and Pichu-Pichu. They are quite the sight and a force to be reckoned with. Nearly all of Arequipa has been rebuilt using Sillar, a volcanic rock from the eruptions which litter Arequipa’s history.
We didn’t want to leave Arequipa. Between the cobbled streets, plentiful gourmet food, and easy pace of life, it was the type of place that I like to call home. I could have easily settled into their lifestyle and never returned. However, looming El Misti and the frequent occurrence of earth trembles left me feeling a little anxious. Then again, Seattle is awfully similar, we’re not unused to earthquakes and we sit directly underfoot of Mt. Rainier. Maybe that’s what made Arequipa home to me. Mother Nature makes life unexpected and interesting, and perhaps that’s why Arequipa is home to so many.