29th June – 4th July – Arequipa is Peru’s second biggest city and is known as ‘Ciudad Blanca’ (White City) because of its beautiful churches, monastery and mansions built from sillar, a white, volcanic rock. The city has suffered earthquakes over the centuries, but today its historic centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Brazilian couple leave and we take their place on clean, short grass next to the South African family. After camping in so many dirty and dusty places this is heaven, it is like camping on somebody’s well-kept lawn! The sun is out, gradually reaching 30 degrees and from where we are parked, we have an amazing view of the top of El Misti. There are huge, snow-capped mountains in front of us as we walk the 5 mins. to a very well-stocked supermarket. Las Mercedes is an attractive, old building with a very interesting interior. The owners are very helpful and do everything possible to make sure we have a relaxing and comfortable stay.
We find Arequipa to be an interesting city to explore. The large and attractive Plaza de Armas is surrounded by grand, colonial architecture and dominated by the 17th century Cathedral that stretches the entire length of one side of the plaza.
There are other imposing and beautifully sculptured churches nearby.
The highlight however, is our visit to one of Peru’s most important religious buildings, the very beautiful Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Founded in 1580, a number of nuns once lived in complete seclusion behind its vast walls. Today, a much smaller number of nuns still live there but are no longer completely shut off from the outside world. Like almost all of the buildings in the historical city centre, the Convent of Santa Catalina is built almost entirely of sillar, a product of volcanic eruptions. At one time, the sillar found in the Arequipa valley, was produced by eruptions from Mount Chachani, today however, most sillar is obtained through quarrying.
The monastery was opened to the public in 1970 and is a fascinating place to explore, having a maze of interesting rooms, peaceful courtyards, small squares with trees and fountains, arched cloisters and narrow streets lined with pots of scarlet geraniums.
Many of the brightly painted cloisters have beautiful vaulted ceilings with murals and also paintings on the walls.
The Moorish style of architecture is a striking feature. A dramatic effect of contrasting light and shade is produced from the many curves and straight edges, the strong sunlight and the rich and brilliant colours against white.
Views across to distant mountains and Volcan Misti, can be admired by climbing steps up to viewing points. By the time we are leaving, the narrow streets lined with buildings painted a deep rose-red, are glowing orange in the late afternoon sun. This is not a place to be missed or hurried through.
The days here are sunny and warm and there are many jobs to be done……….
………the evenings are chilly and it’s time to share a braii with Graeme and Louisa, Keelan and Jessica and a pizza evening, kindly supplied by Veronique and Patrice ( Monsieur Gadget ) as he was fondly known!
When we can finally decide to leave this comfortable setting, we will be heading for the Colca Canyon where people say you are almost guaranteed to see condors flying!