The cathedral in Arequipa.


Bright walls and nicely contrasting elements.

Geraniums abound.

Looking through several arches.

View down another little street.

Smoke holes to the sky make for interesting lighting effects.

Main plaza fountain.


Bustle and fruit hustling.

Aleja Fernadez Lopez and her sundries stand.

John Wilson taught me some phrases in Aymara while tending his fruit stand.

An incredible variety of potatoes.

Spring is Turning Back to Winter
Yeah I am fine, in Arequipa. We are going to go on a mini-trek into the Colca Canyon area... the second deepest canyon in the world, right after its neighbor here. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and very steep. Dave and I are going with a tour company that will take us up into the Andes in a bus and stop along all the little towns to drink mate and see vicunyas (llama and alpaca relatives) in the camelid family. Then we stay at a hotel and visit some hot springs and the second day we drive out to a national park vista point to see the drop-off of the canyon with perhaps some condors flying overhead. No, it isnít very dangerous, at least not like hiking down the steep precipices.

It feels like I have been here for so long. It has only been about ten full days, but we have seen so much and traveled so far and whacked out our sleeping and eating schedules with long bus rides throughout the night, so we are staying two nights here in Arequipa to get back on track before heading into the Andes to see some canyon action. Then we will come back down to Arequipa on day two of the trip, and spend our fifth night around Arequipa, and then the day after that bright and early in the morning we will head to Tacna, with the goal of making it to Arica, Chile, by afternoon or early evening. We will most likely take the train the 36km between the two cities, as it is the cheapest way to do the border crossing.

Iíll fill in the details as I come across them. I am looking forward to getting off the beaten track a bit in northern Chile, hopefully stopping in a few of the small villages that boast hot springs hidden in the hills. Arequipa has a very beautiful plaza made out of a light-coloured volcanic rock that is see throughout town. The volcano Misti can be seen behind the cathedral, and the arched buildings surrounding the palm tree-lined landscaped gardens make for a great photo or three.

Dave and I splurged on an exorbitant entrance fee of s/.25 (about $8 (there are about s/.3.25 per $1)) on getting into the Santa Catalina convent which opened to the public in 1970. It was a worthwhile investment, we think. We hired a guide on top of that and spent about three hours wandering around this walled-in city of a museum/cloister/nunnery where in fact 30 nuns still occupy it to this day, still living in a corner of the walled-off city walled off yet again unto itself. The convent is a photographerís paradise, with sweet little corners brought alive with copious red geraniums and bright blue and terra cotta paints.

It was wild how these nuns lived; the novices spent two years being locked in their cells, with only two outings per day, once to pray in the chapel and the other to take half an hour of sun. The rest of the time they would spend praying at the altars in their rooms and meditating. Then when they took the oaths or what not, and their family paid the dowry to the church, they would take the black (rica) or white (pobre) veil and retire to the religious part of the convent. There they would live one, two or three to a little house, complete with a stove and kitchen area, a little bed in an arched niche in the wall (there has been a long history of earthquakes in this area, so that was a structural precaution) and nice furniture and tea sets.

They would bake their own cookies and cakes, and take tea in their 24k gold tea sets and somehow keep their vows of silence. They were not allowed to have mirrors and they always wore veils when they went outside, because it was a vanity to see the skin, so they never knew what they looked like. Only when a nun died were artists allowed to do a postmortem portrait. In later years they would in fact allow themselves to be photographed, but at the time we are talking 17th century. Before daguerreotypes, or whatnot. Before rocks, too, I might add. Definitely before womenís liberation!

Little girls came into the convent with 12 years to their name, and then spent the rest of their lives locked away from the world, praying, washing, eating, shitting, embroidering little baby Jesus swaddlings for the little baby Jesus dolls in the little baby Jesus altars, learning to be literate, and then teaching little orphans to be literate, after they were swallowed up by the convent and made into nuns. The boy orphans were sent off to a monastery when they were 12. But since the spoiled nuns who peopled this convent for so long came from such rich families, they were bought all the luxuries they wanted and also had slaves (black), all female, who maintained the lowest rung in the social class of the walled city.

The highest class was the black veiled ones who got together in secret circles and elected the mother superior from among them every three years. The white veiled ones were people whose families only could pay 1,000 soles, instead of 2,000 soles or more, and so were delegated the less savoury tasks imaginable and made to attend church in a different choir area. The people who came into the convent without any dowry at all were the ones who came in to work, build the houses, paint, clean the chamber pots, dust, and do the rest of the stuff the people in the white veils didnít deign to do.

But in the 19th century the pope cracked down on luxury in the convent and made the nuns sleep together in one big dormitory instead of having their private houses and little social distinctions. Then the convent had so many debts that they had to break a vow and do stuff for profit, so they made breads and sweets and chocolates to sell in the community, but eventually, in 1970, in fact, they were forced to take drastic measures to maintain the convent, and opened it up to the public. Hence the dramatic price of the entrance, wow, s/.25! it costs about s/.10 for a hotel, and s/.3 for a full meal, just for a comparison.

I have been good about spending money, I think, if you exclude the high cost of getting a new passport. Okay, well Iíll let you know as the story unfolds. Cheers, Molly