After tumbling into the hostel at 5am and having our shoelaces attacked by one of its feline residents, Sasha and I were ecstatic to find it was warm!! We were staying in the Dragonfly Hostel once again and after our slightly chilly experience in Lima at low altitude, we were convinced we’d be turned to icicles in Arequipa which is the same altitude as Machu Picchu. Thankfully this wasn’t the case!
After a much-needed shower thanks to the 13-hour bus journey and a spot of breakfast, when the sun came up we decided to explore. Wow. Arequipa has one of the most stunning main squares (or plazas) I think I have ever seen. As an amateur photographer (and that’s probably putting it kindly) this place gave me photogasms (yes people that is a thing). We turned a corner onto the Plaza and were hit by the utterly breathtaking view; a flawless white cathedral stood in the centre surrounded by leaning palm trees and flowering plants. Behind it, peeking out from the turrets were the snow-capped peaks of the Andes mountain range. It was utterly astounding.
If you are feeling inspired by this post and want to learn more about Peru’s most beautiful city, check out my ‘Top Things To Do In Arequipa’ post here!
We had some time to kill before our walking tour so we decided to check out the cathedral. I mean, you have to hand it to them, the Roman Catholics know a thing or two about interior design! ….And acoustics for that matter. We tiptoed around the ornate interior past the people taking part in confessional (not sure I’d pick during tourist hours to air my dirty laundry to the priest, not that our Spanish was good enough to pick up anything juicy anyway). There was a service in session while we were wandering around and I have to say there’s something captivating about a good church choir, the man singing had one of those beautiful voices which hits you in the pit of your stomach. Regardless of what you believe I have always found big old churches quite peaceful and this definitely gave off that air.
Next, we joined the walking tour. An hour in, we then ditched said tour to take matters into our own hands. Now, I know this sounds harsh and the guide was very knowledgeable but to us, a walking tour should take you around the main sights of the city and help you get your bearings while throwing in a few facts and anecdotes along the way. This has largely been our experience of walking tours and I would always advise going on them if you’re in a new city, they are usually free (you just give a donation at the end) and are great for recommendations of things to do, see, eat and avoid. This guy, however, raced us from one shaded area to the other so he could stand and give us a lengthy history lesson at each spot. He was also a bit like one of those school teachers that make everyone shrink behind the desk due to insisting on “class participation.” I mean, call me a spoilsport but I just want to soak in the sights and maybe learn a few things, I don’t want to pretend to be a tree, mountain or any other geographic landmark to do so thanks! This was not what we’d ordered and after giving him the fair chance of an hour we clocked out.
The first stop on the ‘Jess and Sasha tour of Arequipa’ took us to the Museo Santuarious Andenos to see Juanita, a 12-year-old girl found perfectly preserved in the ice of the mountains who had been sacrificed by the Incas. The hour-long guided tour was incredibly interesting. We were lead around the various things found alongside Juanita as offerings to the gods and learnt that this staggering civilization trekked up the side of the Andean mountains to perform these rituals in the snow and ice … In sandals!?! To put this into perspective, the archaeologists who discovered her burial site trekked the same path in full modern-day hiking gear and they were struggling! It was said the Incas broke the psychological barrier to go up to these heights and perform these rituals and I can’t help but agree. I personally like my psychological barrier where it is thanks, I like to call it, self-preservation!
Next, we took a quick lunch stop at Ratatouille, where these guys had quite a literal take on a fruit salad. We were delivered a proper salad (lettuce and the like) which was then garnished with fruit, not quite what we were expecting but hey it tasted alright! Dinner that day was also interesting; back at the hostel, Sasha and I ordered some “noodle soup”. I watched in amusement as the hostel worker busied himself bulking out a packet of super noodles and adding a few flourishes of seasoning as if he was on Master Chef. Well, at least you can’t go wrong with super noodles!
What both inspired and put off hunger all in one place was the San Camino market. This was a large indoor market selling everything from fruit to calf testicles and was fascinating to observe. As we dodged bits of flying offal in the meat section while locals were merrily chopping heads off chickens and gutting fish the vet side of me could only think ‘well this is a city-wide outbreak of campylobacter waiting to happen’ It really puts the phrase “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” into context as this is likely where a lot of the food we’d been eating had come from (shudder). I’m just going to choose not to think about it…
Arequipa is famed for its alpaca wool products, so we couldn’t have left without paying a visit to the free museum ‘Mundo Alpaca’ to learn about the traditional and modern weaving techniques and get up close and personal with some of the fluffy natives!
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