Arequipa and Juanita the Ice Maiden

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February 6th 2006
Published: February 14th 2006
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Arequipa for us was something of an afterthought, as we already felt that we were behind schedule (if there ever was one!) and should be pushing further south. After hearing about the state of the road from Ica to Cusco though we decided that a stop in Arequipa wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

They call Arequipa "the White City" as it's largely made of a white volcanic stone that occurs locally, making the centre of the city absolutely stunning in bright sunlight. We walked around the city for the day that we were there, taking in the sights, and taking lots of photos. Since we were only there for the day, there were two things that we really wanted to see; the convent of Santa Catalina, and the Museo dela Universidad Catolica de Santa Catalina (not something I would like to try and say after a drink or two), home of Juanita. So who's Juanita??

Well, for a start she's about 500 years old and lives in a freezer. She's a mummy, apparently sacrified by the Incas on a nearby mountain, Ampato, as an offering to the Sun God. They didn't do this very often and
Main square of ArequipaMain square of ArequipaMain square of Arequipa

In this shot you can see what passes for a taxi around here - and how many there are!
apparently it was something of a special priveledge - the lucky girls (!!) would first be given a large quantity of coca and then be knocked unconscious before being given to the mountain. In Juanita's case, there was heavy snowfall almost immediately afterwards, and she was preserved for half a millenium, until 1996 when a volcanic erruption caused the glacier to recede. Unfortunately she wasn't on display when we visited the museum, she was in deep freeze to maintain her condition, but if you're interested here are a couple of links: first one and second one, about the expedition to retreive her from Ampato.... The museum was fascinating as it offered loads of information about the culture of her day as well as mummies and the like. Although Juanita wasn't home, they had another ice maiden on display, who wasn't in such good condition but fascinating nonetheless.

The other sight we were eager to see was the convent. The site of the convent is huge, it's like a town within the city, with it's own streets and chapels. Apparently in the past the place was something of a party house, the nuns not bothering with the usual vows of chastity and so on, choosing instead to enjoy themselves in a variety of unconventional ways.... the mind boggles!! At some later point the church restored order and the convent became very secluded, nobody really knowing what went on inside. This contiued until about 30 years ago the mayor of Arequipa forced them to open their doors to boost tourism, the nuns retreating to a corner of the huge complex, allowing hethens such as myself to explore the place and take *lots* of pictures. It really is a photographer's paradise in the convent as you can see from the pictures.

After all that walking we were pooped. We arranged our onward travel and gorged ourselves on tasty Italian grub before retiring to our quarters. We had arranged a day rather than sleeper bus to Cusco as we hoped we would be afforded some great views, Cusco being in the mountains and all. Day busses are a bit boring, all said, but there was some nice scenery on the way. By the evening we were in Cusco, City of the Incas, home to a huge array of ancient treasures for us to explore.

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