Confusion, Convent and Chicken or our final two days in Arequipa

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April 26th 2013
Published: April 28th 2013
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Casa de Avila (1)Casa de Avila (1)Casa de Avila (1)

The secret garden, actually it is a lot bigger than it looks on here
26-27th April ’13 Arequipa

Our final couple of days in the lovely city of Arequipa, but before I go into that I have to add in a bit I missed about our Colca Canyon Trip. The whole of the time we were in the minibus Howard was opening and closing the window so he could stick his arm out and take pictures – infact he took well over 200 pictures on this trip! He was so attached to the camera I had to virtually prise it out of his fingers to take the few snaps I wanted. Anyway despite taking pictures on the journey there he had to then take pictures all the way back again to Arequipa – as ‘we were now on the opposite side of the road so the view would be different’, oh well it kept him entertained. However at one point he managed to drop the camera out of the minibus window and said in a slightly stunned voice, I’ve dropped the camera, as if he couldn’t quite believe it and then just sat there, instantly I shouted stop the minibus and the driver did. Howard and the guide then legged it back down the road (luckily there was no other traffic at this point) and found the camera, back on the bus we inspected it and apart from being a bit crumpled in one corner it still worked! Wow that was lucky!! He seemed to have learnt his lesson and took pictures through the window……for about 10 minutes and then he was back to sticking his arm out again.

Right back to our last 2 days….

I am really loathe to leave Arequipa or more correctly the lovely Casa de Avila with its gorgeous secret garden, it is so easy to feel at home here and would be so easy just to stay longer but we will have been here for a week when we leave on Sunday so I guess it really is time to move on.

Arequipa is such a nice place, despite the madness of the drivers who play chicken with each other at every road junction, pedestrians just don’t enter their field of vision so crossing roads is really dicey – the other day we were nearly mown down by an ambulance! It even speeded up when it saw us in the road – maybe business is slow?! It’s a shame that most people just rush through the place, there is lots to see and do it’s well worth spending a few days here.

Trying to book a bus onto Nazca was no mean feat, everyone wanted us to take a night bus (it saves on accommodation and give you more time in a place and the scenery is just desert, seemed to be the main reasons) but we stuck to our guns, we’ve got the time, we can’t sleep on the overnight buses and Howard in particular loves the scenery regardless. So we had to track down a kiosk somewhere in the streets of Arequipa which sold the only day bus tickets. A girl from our hotel gave us directions but we just couldn’t spot it, so bless her, she took Howard and apparently it was inside some sort of a parking area in a corner – no wonder we didn’t spot it. The computer system was down so he had to go back again today and this time success.

We decided to go and visit the Monasterio de Santa Catatlina or alternatively known as Santa Catalina de Siena Convent, I had read about it and it sounded fascinating. It was described as a city within a city and took up a full square block. It was founded back in 1579 and built of the white volcanic stone. The nuns lived cloistered behind the high stone walls and never left. Two earthquakes in the 1960s caused damage to the buildings and eventually the nuns were forced to build separate accommodation behind the main wall and running water and lighting were then installed! In 1970 after considerable restoration work the convent opened to the public and what a fascinating place it is!

There are still 30 nuns living in the convent aged between 18 and 90 separated from the tourists by the high stone walls. There was a real air of peace and calm throughout the convent and you wound your way through little rooms, along alleyways into courtyards and large open cloisters which were decorated with beautiful paintings.

The nuns cells were small rooms with wooden planks set into alcoves for beds and with a sitting room and small kitchen and sometimes tiny courtyards, often there were stairs leading up to a wall but before the earthquake damage these would have led to rooftop terraces. The wealthier the nun’s family the larger and better decorated the cells. The poorer nuns cells were pretty tiny and some cells were shared by two or more nuns.

There were revolving shelving units which goods were passed through by into the convent and there was a series of double screened openings in one wall where the families of the nuns could have visits with them.

From the rooftop of the chapel you could see across the roofs of the city to the huge volcanoes which dominate the city. Bringing it home to you just how vulnerable Arequipa would be if they were to erupt, not all of them are dormant and the giant cone shaped El Misti is indeed active.

One of the most curious things we saw was the cupboard (a glass fronted deep shelve set in the wall) where reliquaries of ancient bishops were kept who wanted to show their closeness to the convent, this included 3 hearts and 1 tongue kept in small glass jars!!

We also saw the cell of Sister Ana who lived in the convent until she died in 1686, apparently she made predictions and performed miracles and was beatified by Pope John Paul ll in 1985 and today has a cult following, stirring stuff.

By the end of our visit we were slightly cell’d out but it was really interesting, beautiful and fascinating though, never been in a convent before and reading more about the place showed it also had very colourful beginnings until 1871 when a very strict Dominican nun was sent in by the Pope to reform the place and stop the wild ways!!

We walked a few more city streets and discovered more of the white carved buildings, including a theatre and bank. Then headed back to chill out in the gorgeous garden.

So our last meal on our last night was chicken and chips (again) in another of the main fast food rotisserie shops dotted about the city. Well at £3 for ¼ chicken, chips, salad and a bottle of coke you’d be silly not too!

Now it’s finish the blog and pack the rucksack in readiness for the 10 hour bus journey tomorrow.

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8th May 2013
Casa de Avila (1)

I can so see myself here, with a lemonade or two! :D xx

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