Travels with John Smith
Chapter 59 year 9 (2019-2020)
Peru Part 2
Arequipa and Cusco
-Another Plaza de Armas
-Hotel with a view
-Zig Zag is delicious
-The Cathedral that kept coming back
-A room for a jewel thief
-white volcanic rock in a quarry
-under the charm of some alpacas
-a mummy named Juanita
-Altitude sickness is real
-Cathedral built on top of a temple
-starting to spread
-cheeky artists get into the paintings
-Sacsayhuaman big rocks
-Cusco views a photo op
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 59, year 9 (2020)
Peru Part 2
Arequipa and Cusco
The taxi stops and the driver points down a narrow, ancient looking road. He says he can’t get any closer to our hotel. We are grateful that we travel light and only have a small carry on and backpacks with us as we drag our bags down the cobblestone road.
We arrive at the end of the road and there is a magnificent square, with a fountain in the centre and several paths leading away from it to park benches under various green trees and lazy palm trees dotted around the square where people sit relaxing or visiting.
The square is called Plaza de Armas (what all main squares seem to be called in Spanish American cities) and this one is particularly beautiful and inviting. There is a huge cathedral covering one side of it and the other 3 sides have shops under walkways with archways all along it.
The entrance to our hotel, Casa Andina, is there. We go up to the 4th floor where our room is and step out of the elevator to a large terrace with sun-beds in a garden and a pool. We can see the spires and the bell tower of the cathedral. Down one floor is the hotel restaurant and it has a large terrace in front that looks over the square below. It is stunning!
We are in the Centro Historico (the Historic Centre) of Arequipa. Steve and Nancy lived in this city before they moved to the seaside and they suggested we come to see it. It is called the ‘White City’ because of the white volcanic stone, that was used to build the 17th century buildings in the centre. There are also 3 volcanoes surrounding the city which adds to it’s beauty.
We are not feeling great and since the highest point of this city is almost 3,000 metres above sea level (that’s over 9,000 feet), we are guessing it is the altitude sickness, since we came from Lima where it is sea level.
We talk to the front desk and they suggest we buy a medication from the pharmacy that will add oxygen into the blood. We decide to take advantage of the sun being out and sit around the lovely garden and pool relaxing while we wait for the pills to take effect.
Steve gave us a list of restaurants to try so we go to the 1st one on the list and are not disappointed. It is called Zig Zag and is walking distance from the hotel. It is in a 2nd story colonial house with an iron stairway that was apparently designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes the guy who designed the Eiffel tower!). They take us upstairs and we get a seat near the window, where there is a fantastic view of the History museum. The room looks like you are inside a catacomb or the side room of a castle, with walls that are made from large bricks made from the volcanic rock.
The menu is diverse but the specialty is a meat selection of lamb, alpaca and beef and they give us bibs to protect our clothing from the spitting hot volcano-stone grill it comes on. It comes with fries, salad and various sauces and we also order a quinoa salad that comes with prawns, figs, avocado and mango. Both dishes are mouth-wateringly delicious.
We sign up for a tour of the Cathedral Basilica of Arequipa and find out it has an interesting story and is considered to be one of the most unusual cathedrals in Peru. It was built with white volcanic rock (otherwise known as sillar), in the late 1500’s around the time the Spaniards came and was then destroyed in an earthquake.
It took about 7 years but they built it up again and when it was almost finished, one of the volcanoes erupted, along with several earthquakes which destroyed part of it.
Then a few years later another earthquake reduced the rest of it to rubble. It took a while to get the money to rebuild and almost 50 years later they rebuilt it.
10 year later, there was another Earthquake, then another one 2 years later, then another one 20 years later and then almost 100 years later, another one. With each earthquake, there was damage and reconstruction but the structure held up.
50 years later there was a massive fire that destroyed the insides; artwork and furniture as well as parts of the building. 20 years after that another earthquake destroyed many parts of the cathedral and once again it was built back up. Finally, about 150 years later, in 2001, there was another earthquake that destroyed parts of the cathedral.
This is a testimony on willing something to survive against all odds! I might be thinking someone was trying to tell me something but I applaud the tenacity of the Catholic church and the people of Arequipa for getting back up and trying again.
Inside the huge carved wooden doors is a bright pale yellow and white high ceilinged room with arches and carved wooden pulpits. There is stained glass and cloistered windows and a huge pipe organ. There is a choir practising right now which adds to the majestic feeling of being here. There are columns and statues of angels and saints, rooms with lots of religious objects made from precious metals and jewels, some that have been here for 400 years. They are under glass and lock and key.
The guide tells us we aren’t allowed to use our phones in these rooms and a guard accompanies us, watching to make sure. I hang mine around my neck and I am not using it, but I don’t notice that the screen is facing outwards. Someone sends me a message and the screen lights up. The guard sees it and starts scolding me, furiously pointing at me and he and all the other people on this tour look at me accusingly, as if I am breaking the rules and might be a jewel thief. I fumble trying to turn it off and the guide is now joining in telling me I can’t use my phone. I know!
We walk up the narrow passageway to the bell tower and the roof where we have a wonderful view of the city. There are several bells and the main one is the size of a room so that the tongue or the clapper of the bell, the thing you strike against it to make the sound, is the size of a large beach ball.
We go for a day trip to a rock quarry called the ‘Sillar route’ to see the white volcanic rock they use to make the building blocks for most of the city of Arequipa. The huge slabs of rock scattered everywhere here was formed from 2 erupting volcanoes. The rock cutters who do this job have been doing it for hundreds of years the same way, by hand. One man allows us to watch him while he uses a heavy square hammer and chisels to find the natural cracks in the white rock that he cracks open so he can make it into a large rectangle block that will become part of a building in Arequipa. The blocks need to be about the same size and making them is hard work, especially here in the hot sun. We are told they only get 5 soles in Peruvian money (that’s about $1 American) per block and it takes them a long time to make one one block. Our guide says he might make about 10 blocks in a day. The guide says if we want to, we can tip him so we do as we have seen how hard he works. A $5 dollar tip is what he’d make in half a day.
There are also some lovely carvings of animals and figures dotted around the quarry and a huge one on the side of a cliff that is the size of a 6 story building. The carved pillars in the white rock look like an ancient city against the bright blue sky. It is spectacular!
Even though there are signs that say not to feed them, our guide has picked some long grass and is holding it through the fence. He did ask one of the guys who work here so we are guessing he knows them. Maybe they say that so no tourists feed them any bad food.
The tall white fuzzy haired alpaca with pale blue eyes and long white lashes is the 1st one to come over and start nibbling on it and then the long haired copper brown coloured ones come over. They all have the short spear-shaped ears that move back while come forward to eat, most have the large brown eyes with long, dark eyelashes and are all incredibly cute. We are at Mundo Alpaca where there are altogether 10 different kinds of Alpacas and Lamas spread out in these pens. This is basically a petting zoo so people can get up close with these lovely animals and it is also a kind of museum where we learn about the process of everything from feeding the alpacas to separating the wool, milling it and weaving it. The alpaca that produces the most expensive, soft wool is called Vicuna, and in the times of the Incas only the kings were allowed to wear it. At one point they were on the endangered species list but are now back to large numbers of them in the wild. They are protected though and apparently they can only be be shorn every couple of years or so and should be let go into the wild afterwards (although there are now some that are farmed).
This place has got a shop too and even though I do want to buy an alpaca sweater while we are here, I don’t really see anything I like in this shop. There is one near our hotel that has some things we are interested in so we’ll probably go there later.
It is late in the evening and a little chilly. Good excuse to go to the alpaca shop near the hotel. I buy a baby alpaca black wool cape and John a multi coloured sweater. They are both so soft!
There are so many things to do here! We decide to check out the Museo Santuarios Andinos. There is a mummy here that is a 12 year old Inca girl named Juanita, who they believe was sacrificed to appease the Gods in the 15th century. She was discovered when a glacier melted and her body was found, almost intact because of being frozen.
Buried with her were personal things, like clothing, shoes and dolls. She is now kept in a dark, cold room and we visit her small body, bent into an almost fetal position. It is amazing how well-preserved she is and we try to imagine her last moments, what she might of felt.
We are on a roll with visiting the must see places so next on the list is the Hatunpa potato restaurant. As the name suggests, every dish comes with different kinds and colours of potatoes and you can choose what goes on top. We decide to go all out and have 7 different types of Peruvian potatoes under a cheese sauce. There are blue, purple, yellow, orange, pink and white variations of potatoes on our plate which looks great and we try to eat each one separately to see if there is a difference in the taste. There’s not a huge difference or if there is it’s pretty subtle. It’s good but we think there isn’t quite enough sauce so by the time we get to the end of the dish there is no sauce left and the potatoes are a little dry. Since potatoes do come from South America, it is a great idea for a restaurant though.
Next on the list of must sees is The Santa Catalina monastery. This place is like a village inside the city, and is set over 5 acres, with winding streets, walls and arches painted red or blue. We are allowed to go into many of the living quarters and gardens used long ago by the nuns. The nuns that came here were usually from rich families and the monastery received their dowries in exchange for them staying there.
The monastery is still operational but no longer runs in the same way as it did. There is a religious community that live in one part of it today, but it is cut off from visitors.
It takes a long time to walk through the rooms, courtyards and up and down stairs. We get lost a couple of times, finding ourselves back at the same places. I try to imagine living there and it seems like a cheery place which is completely self contained, with it’s kitchens, it’s own graveyard, private and communal gardens and small fountains in clearings. The rooms are simple, but quite large with heavy furniture and heavy big crosses or religious paintings on plain walls. We come to one room however, that is tiny and painted inside with intricate designs that cover every inch of the room. It is so different from the other rooms, that they have information about the nun who stayed here and did all of this painting.
If I understand what they say about her, she was very poor so had no dowry but was allowed to come stay here because she had a beautiful singing voice and a gift for painting. I guess her spirit needed to be heard.
We have done most of the things on Steve’s list including some that I haven’t talked about and we agree that Arequipa is a very pretty city indeed. The meds we have been taking for altitude sickness seem to be working so we will keep taking them because the next stop the altitude will be even higher. We are going to Cusco.
We have arrived at our hotel, and there is a huge market right in front of it and a small square in front of that. Against the wall there are 3 women of different ages crouching down on their haunches against the wall of the market, with huge plastic tubs full of apples, grapes and bananas respectively. All 3 have the same brown hat with a large brim, shading them from the sun. They all have long black braids, thick blue aprons over their brightly coloured sweaters and the picture looks almost clique, it is so beautiful.
There is a party atmosphere happening because the annual Carnival, which happens at the same time as the one in Rio is beginning. There are people in traditional fiesta costumes dancing around in the square, complete with a marching band. Skirts are twirling, flutes are in unison, an accordion and a drum beat announces the latin American rhythm.
We step into the Hotel Monasterio, which is a converted 16th century monastery, which is attached to a beautiful big church. It has a colonial feel to it, with a large courtyard in the middle, the church and it’s stonework wall on one side of it and rooms on the other sides, looking on to it.
The 1st thing I notice is a large bowl of cocoa leaves beside an urn with hot water. The leaves, we are told, help with the altitude sickness and can either be chewed or made into a tea with the hot water.
In the corner of the lounge attached to the front desk, there is a huge oxygen tank which gives a clue that quite a few people do get altitude sickness.
This city is about 3, 400 metres which is 11, 200 feet so it’s the highest we’ve been so far.
This city was the capital of Peru during the Inca Empire, until the Spanish got here and wanted it all for themselves. The Spanish built churches over top of Incan temples and mansions over Incan palaces but 1st looted them, taking most of the gold and silver treasures and disrespecting their burial grounds and customs. There are still some archaeological remains though and we are here to see that as well as the beautiful Spanish colonial architecture.
We join a tour of the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas (yes another square with that name!). This cathedral is an example of what I was saying earlier.
About a 100 years before the Spanish got here, it was a temple for the Incas and the Spanish built a church on top of the foundations. They even made the structure in the shape of a cross and chose this location with the idea that they would replace Inca’s religion with Catholic Christianity.
The Spaniards not only used the Incas to build the cathedral but also to paint the pictures of religious scenes that are spread throughout the church. They used the Indigenous-Quechua and Mestizo artists from the Cusco School of art, which was a school built by the Spanish to educate the Incas in European style artwork. The artists were not allowed to sign their own names so instead they would place little bits of their own culture in the paintings. Our guide shows us the different paintings and where to find the clues and soon we can see how they were able to put at least some of their own identity inside the paintings. For example, the picture of ‘The last supper’ a roasted guinea pig on a plate ready to be eaten (which as I mentioned before is a South American delicacy). The artists often painted themselves into pictures of white Europeans or placed items of jewelry and clothing that looked like theirs, somewhere inside the painting. They also used bright local colours, flowers and birds, important to their culture, that would not be found in Europe.
Most of the stones used to make the church were taken from a holy site called Sacsayhuaman in the hills above Cusco. Anything that was considered sacred to the Incas was removed and used for the church.
We are walking around with our tour group and I strike up a conversation with a girl who says she is from Hong Kong. She says she was in Japan when the lockdowns for Covid 19 started in Asia and she couldn’t get back to to Hong Kong, then had trouble getting out of Japan but finally did. We are getting nervous as it is stating to spread. We still have some of our holiday left but what if it begins to get harder to travel?
We are standing in Sacsayhuaman, which is 3,701 metres (or 12,142 feet) above sea level. It is the citadel above Cusco that was once, the capital of the Inca empire. What is left of the city is walls with stones of different sizes, some huge, the size of a truck or a van.
The stone workers that carefully cut and placed these boulders together did not use any mortar. They are so closely spaced that you couldn’t get a piece of paper between them. We walk around exploring what is left of the buildings trying to imagine life here.
The blocks are impressive. The biggest one is almost 200 tonnes and they are still not sure how they were able to move the blocks from one place to another. The fact that they are leaned together so tightly has helped them to survive the many earthquakes in this region.
There is a large central area here, big enough to hold thousands of people for any ritual that might have taken place (Personally, I am thinking it would be a great place for a rock concert). There are three huge walls surrounding the plaza, the longest of which is approximately 400 meters long and 6 meters high.
We look out from here and we can see the red rooftops of almost all of Cusco nestled in the valley below. It would be a good vantage point to see your enemies coming.
There are 5 women sitting off to the side, dressed the same in traditional clothing; flat red hats on dark hair pulled into a braid, short red jackets with embroidery and black wide skirts. They are 3 alpacas sitting with them. They are offering to take pictures with tourists for a price of course. They look very bored with the whole thing and have probably been doing it for a long time. I offer them money but say I don’t want a picture with them. I would rather take pictures of them. They look at me with suspicion but take the money. I snap a few pictures but one of them puts her hand in front of her face and 2 others look annoyed so I stop.
We walk around the site, including up and down a few steps and a little bit into the valley but it’s hard going. We are both feeling it. It’s hard to breath and we are feeling tired, a little dizzy and have a headache.
We wonder if this is practice for the next part of this journey. Machu Picchu is lower in altitude but to get there, we will be going down, then back up again. We aren’t that hungry so we have a snack and an early night. We leave tomorrow.