I’m so happy we made the effort to shorten our stay in Puno by one day and lengthen our stay in Arequipa. What a great place to have ended up after the stress (and wonderfulness! But also stress!) of our bus ride through the Colca. I have reached the point that comes during long vacations when you’ve seen so much stuff that you just can’t handle it anymore and you sort of wish you were home already. You start getting the sense that people at home have forgotten about you as you stop receiving the usual emails and text messages. At the same time, you don’t really want to go home…or possibly what I don’t want is to go back to Charlotte, the world epicenter of boredom and single most creatively uninspiring place on earth (small exaggeration). Arequipa made me so excited to get back to my novel! For reasons I’ll try to explain…
We got in on Friday, and took showers to get the Canyon dust off ourselves. Some of us (my mom) obsessively cleaned our sneakers and suitcases with an old toothbrush…this is what being on a bus tour does to people. OCD strikes! That done, we went out for a delicious dinner at Tanta, a place my plane-friend Ken had mentioned to me. I tried anticuchos (beef heart skewers), and they are my second favorite new food I’ve had in Arequipa. My no. 1 food is queso helado, which I plan to make at home.
Saturday, we toured the Monastery of Santa Catalina (actually a convent), a tiny city within a city that has been operating continuously since 1579. In those days, wealthy families would pay the equivalent of $10,000 dollars to send their young (12 or 13 years old) daughters into this cloistered convent, where they generally stayed, their only responsibilities prayer for their families and handicrafts, until they died. Even then they were buried on site…they literally never left. These little novices were not necessarily willing, but they were mostly very young and could not read or write, so bully for them. For the first three years, they lived in a private room off of a courtyard with 6 or 7 other novices. After that, they would move into a little house within the convent walls with 1 or 2 other nuns and sometimes a servant. It was considered a very exclusive situation, and the sorts of people who would send their daughters here were really the wealthiest…since we are talking about the colonial period, this also means they were often The Worst: encomenderos, mine owners (see: Potosi), and what not who felt the need to buy entry to heaven by essentially sacrificing a child to the task of continuous prayer. The other things these women did were: household chores when a maid was not provided, decorating little saints with their own hair and handmade clothes, and making vestments for various church officers. On the plus side, they lived to be like 80 years old…twice as long as the average woman outside a convent. More time to wish you were dead, is the grim way of looking at it. On Sunday, we went to see Juanita, the Inca human sacrifice found frozen up on Ampato. She was the same age as these girls who entered the convent. It’s hard to say which of these two uses was worse. To be corny and get back to what I said about the novel, I like the idea of trying to give a voice to girls and women from this period of history, when they had none.
On Saturday afternoon, we went to a local market (San Camilo) to buy some fabric for a little project I want to do when I get home. This was such a fun thing to do. We walked south through the impressive and stately Plaza de Armas, and into a neighborhood clearly less focused on tourists and much more on locals. The market itself sells everything from live chickens to fabric to art supplies to olives. It was huge, crowded, loud…I highly recommend it. I wish we had had the nerve to get some food here, but we’ve already had one case of digestive distress and aren’t willing to risk another like it. The fabric stalls were tiny and stuff was stacked floor to ceiling everywhere. There were all kinds of people buying; my favorites were the few incredibly dapper gentlemen looking for suiting material (I imagine).
A little later, we had the BEST dinner at this place called Zig Zag, where we also went on Sunday. Meat served on volcanic rock slabs and the best mashed potatoes. What else happened on Sunday? We went for a super-long walk across the river to Yanahuara, where we had lunch at a picanteria…they brought us an obscene amount of food. Obscene. Great day, all in all. Tomorrow we leave for Lima in the morning (last stop!)