Friday, August 12, 2005

Angelic Arequipa

After the horrors of Nazca and the night bus we had to catch afterwards - (9 hours in a tiny cramped chair in the dark with a homicidal driver and a smelly toilet) we arrived in the beautiful city of Arequipa. With colonial buildings made out of sparkling white volcanic stone, little alleyways and a lovely square my sanity and love for Peru was restored.

There are two major highlights in this town - one is the little "ice maiden" Juanita, a young Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods on a mountain top and survived almost intact in her icy tomb gfor 50o years until a mountain climber discovered her in the late 90's. Still wrapped in beautiful fine cloth and surrounded by little gold trinkets Juanita now lives in a little freezer / display case at a local museum.

The other highlight is the amazing Santa Catalina Monastery - over 400 years old and like a tiny city within a city. This monastery was actually built for Dominican Nuns who live in silence, solitude and can never be seen by the public, this is strange enough but the monastery was also home to a heap of very wealthy young ladies who chose to go and live there to avoid marriage or were put there by their parents at a young age to ensure that they remained guaranteed virgins until it was time to marry them off. These ladies built houses in the compound, had black slaves, entertained visitors, had parties all other kinds of very un Nun Like behaviour which was tolerated as long as they didnt leave the compound and kept giving lots of money to the Catholic Church. Today most of the place is now a museum but 21 die hard Nuns still live in one quarter of the compound, never speaking, never seeing outsiders and praying 8 hours a day. When I asked our very catholic guide who they are praying for she said "They are preying for those who have no religion, those who will go to purgatory" - guess that means me, thanks nuns!


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