While Cusco was cold, rainy and surrounded by Incan temples and sites, Arequipa is warmer and hella Eurpoean-ish. Colonial-style buildings, new department stores, and giant churches dominate the area around the Plaza de las Armas. The main thing that tourists do around Arequipa is get tours of the churches to check out the art and the lives of the nuns that lived there. Half-interesting, half-cray-cray.
I spent my first day just wandering around town – in shorts and sandals (despite being covered in mosquito bites, my legs really missed the sunshine). Even when it gets a lil bit rainy in Arequipa, it is still not that cold. I found a few amazing local places that offered almuerzos/comidas (soup and a second course). This one was right by the Plaza de las Armas:
…and went to the main church (Cathedral) at the Plaza de la Armas to get a tour. In Spanish, of course. It was good for my Spanish (listening and speaking) skills, and I learned a lot more about the Catholic history in Arequipa, which goes hella DEEP. Yes, colonization lives quite well here and is very much a part of the culture (and tourist) attractions of the city today.
Despite those issues however, the history of the Cathedral was interesting – and highly decorative. One of the main things that I noticed was the fact that there’s a Black Jesus (El Jesus Moreno) in one of the side rooms made by some Spanish Moor artists, and that one of the three wise men is also depicted as African (I forget which one, but he’s consistently African in other churches around South America too).
Like many of these churches, gigantic displays (from floor to ceiling) of various Saints and the Virgin Mary, incredibly ornate decorations, fake flowers, and towering pulpits carved in wood and gold decorate these churches. Visitors can also see the robes and jewels that they wore back in the day, oftentimes made of gold and silver threads, and HELLA jewels. Despite Jesus being a very humble man, the elaborate and expensive decoration on these items I guess showed how important religion and these religious leaders were to people at the time…
I also got to take a picture next to the big bell on top of the Cathedral. Oh yeah.
One big thing I’ve learned about Peru is that you have to speak and understand Spanish to have a good time here. I have no idea how non-Spanish speaking people deal. EVERYONE talks in Spanish! You think that folks around here would have learned more English to cater to tourists, but nope. I used to be shy about speaking, until I heard over and over again,
Puedes hablar Espanol?
After a while you can’t be that shy, which is good for me – I need to practice speaking Spanish more often!
Lonely Planet recommends visiting a few of the churches in the area, so in addition to the giant Cathedral, I also visited the Museo de Arte Virreinal de Santa Teresa. In Spanish, my guide talked to me about the life and times of Santa Teresa (who was a major influence on the convent as well as the ways in which the artists painted the walls and the murals of the church (lots of pan de oro, and other painting styles). Again, very ornate sculptures and paintings with stones and precious metals. Some of it was like the Cathedral’s tour, so while I also wanted to go to the Monasterio Santa Catalina, I decided to save that for another day.
Back at the hostel, I met another solo traveler from Argentina named Cristina who only spoke Spanish but was really friendly and down to talk (I have found other travelers in South America to not be that out-going – a story for another time). We had a long conversation (in Spanish) about relationships, dating, traveling solo, and being in our 30’s. It was nice having someone else to relate to who was going through similar circumstances. We later went out for dinner (sandwiches, which were actually pretty good) by the department stores.
Besides taking a multi-day trek to Colca Canyon, people keep saying that the most fun thing to do in Arequipa is enjoy the night life, but I was too tired (both nights I was there) to try and venture outside. Besides, as a solo traveler, it’s hard going out at night if you have no one else to accompany you.
I didn’t do anything the next day except go over to the suburb of Yanahuara to check out the town and the view of El Misti (one of Arequipa’s main but dormant volcanoes) from the town’s square. On my way there, I decided to check out the Peruvian Chinese food. It was very Peruvian/fake Chinese-y. I talked to the owner, who’s from Hong Kong but has lived in Peru for 16 years
I was surprised at how touristy the square was when I got up there. The view was ok…
But the view from my hostel rooftop patio was actually way better!
That night, I met another solo traveler named Hadar, who had been volunteering at different economic institutions to do small-business loans. She was really sweet. I learned a lot about the challenges of volunteering in other countries, however (choose your organization wisely – sometimes the money goes to staff salaries instead of the people its intended to serve).
The next day, I met up with Rachel, one of Darrel’s friends from climbing, and hung out with her for the day. It was really nice to hang out with a familiar face for a bit. We went to the Monasterio Santa Catalina (where we learned about the lives and living conditions of the nuns that lived there)…
…and ate a really bizarre “vegetarian” lunch. The service was so slow, Rachel would joke – saying stuff like, “They must be growing the soy and harvesting it in the back as we speak”.
It was pretty mediocre food. But we can’t complain.After a nap, I met Rachel up again for dinner – which turned out to be really good for a change. On la calle San Francisco, we found a spot that had a decent vegetarian option (for Rachel) and a traditional dish of lomo saltada for me. Whenever I meet up with people my age while traveling, I tend to learn a lot from others. Through conversations (and tarot card readings), I realized that as women in our 30’s, many of us go through the same shit. Challenges in love, issues with old history and baggage affecting us today, etc. Finding ways to keep our goals and dreams alive despite the external issues that we cannot control. I’ve definitely learned to be very grateful each time I meet other people. Not to belittle my concerns (or anyone else’s – this ain’t a “whose life sucks worse” competition), but to put things in perspective – I’m very lucky. And thankful. That’s always been the themes of these trips.