Arequipa, Peru

After a very stressful 6 hour toilet-less bus ride (that culminated in me trying to pee on a motorway whilst being stared at by about 60 Peruvian men!) we arrived in fancy, historical Arequipa.

Arequipa’s famed for its monasteries and churches, and was one of the most significant cities religiously, when the Spanish Conquistadors took over Peru. They built two huge monasteries here, along with countless beautiful churches and a massive imposing cathedral, to prove once and for all that the Spanish had landed and Catholicism was a-go-go.

Inside one of Arequipa´s many fancy churches

As a result, it’s a really beautiful city, of grandiose white stone buildings, arches, cobbled streets and pretty ornamental squares. It was clearly quite the show-piece in early doors Spanish reign! After so long in ramshackle Bolivia, it was quite a shock to the system to see a glossy marbled high street with a McDonald’s, KFC, and designer clothes shops on it. We felt like we’d been temporarily transported back to Europe!

Outside the fancy, HUGE cathedral

We found a fancy yet cheap hostel built around a central courtyard, and immediately decided to get our drink on. Half a bottle of rum later, we were drunkenly pounding the pavements in search of junkfood, and I’m ashamed to admit, we had a Burger King. Not any old Burger King at that, but a Burger King MEAL FOR 4. With 4 burgers and 4 lots of Inka Cola. We were so ashamed, we got a take-away and pretended we were taking it back to friends at our hostel. THE SHAME!!

The rest of Arequipa was, in contrast, a cultural affair of visiting churches, trying our first local Peruvian dishes in cray cheap 1 pound set menus, and the highlight – our visit to the Monastery of Santa Catolina.

Exploring the Monastery of Santa Catolina, inside the citadel walls

A pretty spenny visit, (about 8 quid, which is a LOT in Peru!) but totally worth it, Santa Catolina is basically a beautiful huge citadel built for the first nuns in Peru. Mainly taken as volunteers from aristocracy, or shipped in from Spain, the nuns here lived lives of sacrifice (naturally) but also in the creature comforts of confinement. We visited their little quarters where the slept, read by fires, sewed tapestries, baked cakes (apaz they were amazing at pastries), produced those little religious wafer things…. We saw their baths, their chapels, their outside laundry, and vast rooms now donated as art galleries since the building was open to the public. Reading about the nuns and their lives behind walls was surprisingly interesting, as was poking our noses round their homes and seeing weird things like their bed pans and cookie cutters! And even weirder things like chainmail gussets. No-one should ever have to see those.

The nuns´ old living quarters

Other than that, we tried yet ANOTHER curry house (we can’t resist!) which was surprisingly good, serving a hot veggie-filled curry, and even pomegranate seeds to garnish! It had a hilaire name – Indian India! – but I’m willing to forgo that for a curry-like meal.

After a few days of shmoozing around a fancy town, we finally got our shit together and caught the bus to Cabanaconde, which would be the starting point for our Colca Canyon trek…