Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

Three Strikes and you´re out! - Continued

Woke up to another day of full on sunshine as perfect weather graced Arequipa. Cool in the am, warm and then hot in the middle of the day ´til the late afternoon and then cold in the evening for sleeping.

Went downstairs to check the strike status, but unfortunately for me and all the other gringos, no settlement yet - just lots of great front page photos of the action. Grabbed a typical South American breakfast of nescafe (despite seeing tons of coffee in the giftshops!), juice and bread with jam. Must´ve done something wrong the day before because there were no eggs for me today!

Left with my camera in hand to experience the true gem of Arequipa, the Santa Cataline Monastery. Founded in 1580 it is not your typical chaste convent. Covering 20,000 sq m, it is a city within a city with its own streets named on each corner. With the sunshine making the sierra and royal blue colours even brighter, the place was a magnficent site to behold. Classical music wafting through the air, I wandered through the maze of buildings, all constructed at different times, but in a coherent style, with several large courtyards linking to each other by walkways of residences and rooms like the kitchen and infirmary. The courtyards were composed of curving arches adorned by rich frescos of different religious scences. The paintings were magnificent and composed their own unique art collection.

The architecture was brilliant and maximized connection with the outside. Everyroom had a bed build into an arch and a small closet, carpets, windows and skylights to let in the natural sunlight for which Arequipa is known. It didn´t seem like the austere monasteries of which I had read much. I later I found out why.

Apparently the monastery was founded by a rich widow who was very selective in choosing her nuns. She only chose those from rich Spanish families who would contribute a handsome dowry to the operation. Traditionally the second daughter would often enter the monastery and live in chaste poverty, but not so in Santa Catalina, where nuns had between one and four servants -often black slaves. As well, it is rumoured that the nuns continued to live life as always inviting musicians from the outside and throwing parties enjoying the great acoustics of the convent!

In 1871, everything changed when the church sent a strict Dominican nun to straighten everything out sending the dowries back and freeing the slaves, many of whom decided to stay as nuns. From that time until 1970 most of its 450 residents had never ventured outside its walls. However, the Mayor of Arequipa decided that the convent should modernize and open its gates to the public so from 1970 onwards this gorgeous facility has been subject to tours and public viewing, with only 30 nuns still remaining on site in the northwest corner only. I know that I was appreciative of this gesture, but am not sure about the nuns! Fortunately despite tourism, the whole places remains meditative with visitors walking slowly and quietly admiring the artwork, taking the false stairways to nowhere looking for sunshine and walking down the narrow pathways chasing geraniums and orange trees the scent of the rose garden hanging in the air.

And with that visit, I feel just a little in love with Arequipa because before that it had felt a lot like many other Central American/South American cities that I had been in before, but with the Monastery Santa Catalina and its graceful presence amid the watchful eyes of El Misti, Arequipa took on its own unique character.

Later wandering the streets with their quaint restaurants and sitting at the outside tables in the sun, reflected on the Peruvians, who like the Bolivians, seem unphased by tourism. They go about their lives and seem to have little interest in gringos. No one comes out of their tourist offices to try to drag you inside, nor does anyone come running after you in stores when you enter. When you say No Gracias to those hawking their wares on the street they simply move on. It is disarming and unbelievable after the relentless of travelling which is Asia.

But while they might be laid back about tourists, they are passionate about their strikes, and once again today it was a full on spectacle in the Plaza while we all gawked at it much like you do at an accident - afraid to look, afraid not to look and to miss something. Finally left to have lunch the din of pots banging and people singing to keep me company throughout my meal.

And I was also forced to admit, that after 3 nights, I had struck out on sleeping in. I had no choice, but to book my trip to the Colca Canyon, leaving tomorrow at 3:30am! Ouch!

Inner courtyard, Santa Catalina Monastery

Inner courtyard, Santa Catalina Monastery

The famous Inka Kola - when in the land of the Inka, drink what the Inkas drank!

More protesting - the lunchtime entertainment

More protesting - the lunchtime entertainment

And dinnertime entertainment

And dinnertime entertainment

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Peru Three Strikes and you´re out! - Continued
The trip
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.