Peru | Alapaca in Arequipa = Divine

A few days in Arequipa has been just the ticket for a bit of relaxation and exploration. I have found that time here has flown by, whether we were perusing the enormous market or wandering the city’s pleasant streets. In addition to the cheery ambiance, our hotel, the Colonial House Inn, is the most enjoyable place we’ve stayed at in South America so far, making for a lovely few days. Here are some things we’ve enjoyed:

  1. Town Plaza: Our guidebook says that Arequipa boasts one of the most amazing squares in South America, and while we may not wholly agree, it is definitely not an unimpressive sight. The main cathedral is the most imposing and noticeable structure, a fine piece of colonial work that gleams in any light. It’s pastel colors, however, soften even more in the late afternoon, when its silhouette is just beginning to dominate its facade. Unfortunately, the main cathedral’s exterior is much more interesting than its inside, which is rather new and therefore by and large uninteresting. The nearby La Compania cathedral does a better job of providing inner beauty, and there are a number of additional churches around town. In the center of the plaza is a fountain adorned with a metal statue -a common enough image of a person atop a horse, sword thrust in the air in victory. I haven’t any idea who this figure is, but he seems to be home to a multitude of plump pigeons. It is here that children run and play, couples enjoy a stroll, or visitors sample the refreshing South American gelato. Across from the cathedral, there’s a grocery store stuffed with fruits so obscure that even the most avid produce lovers will be delighted with the collection of new finds. The area is crammed full of interesting restaurants, though we work hard to avoid the severely touristy ones in the square. Just a couple blocks out, there is a Turkish place called Paladar that serves up enjoyable, Peruvian-inspired kebabs, hummus, and wine.
  2. The Market: Of course, the market is one of the top sights in any city. For Arequipa, this is especially true if you are on the hunt for an authentic meal. There are several stalls on the outside of the market specializing in delicious double-baked-fried-potato-balls, for lack of a better term, filled with onions or meats. In addition to gorging on these, we ended up eating upstairs next to the florals where no white people roam. Soon, the culinary genius of a cook was spoon-feeding me homemade gelato and bringing us heaps of perfectly crisp chicken and rice. Not a half bad treat. Of course, you have your usual Peruvian goods: aisles and aisles of fruit shake makers, butchers, cheese/produce vendors, and other various stalls.
  3. Santa Catalina Convent: This is certainly Arequipa’s finest and most famous site, essentially a miniature city full of labyrinth-like hallways and endless rooms. Indeed, we have breakfast overlooking the convent’s tallest church every morning, making for a lovely rooftop view. The complex, which was founded in 1579, is so very colorful and extensive that it took us hours to explore, though we cannot claim to have done it properly; there is simply too much to see. It’s a bizarre place to really think about – it was once full of cloistered nuns that vowed to never leave, bidding a permanent farewell to their loved ones, who they could only see through obstructive contact chambers. Today, you can wander old homes and view enormous oil paintings, the best of which are arranged in an art gallery shaped as an enormous cross. Nearby, a tiny chapel is under restoration – a hidden gem due to its completely frescoed interior. In addition to the art, the courtyards are of particular note for their serene beauty and stunning color, but it is within the maze of hallways that the white Sillar (local volcanic stone) can really be appreciated.
  4. Colca Canyon: One day tours to the canyon begin horrifically early, but we decided to go forth anyway, and soon found ourselves aboard a large van plunging through darkness along dark desert roads at 3 in the morning. Our tour drove us into the Colca Canyon Park before stopping for breakfast in Chivay and then a number of viewing points along the way, the final destination being a spot overlooking a large canyon opening where condors like to soar. The view was pretty, but probably didn’t merit the extreme fatigue in the days following. Perhaps not a top experience on my list, but I have generally heard that people like it (and, honestly, you might as well go see it if you’re already there). Plus, the Colca Canyon really doesn’t hold a candle to our very own Grand Canyon, which is incomparably more impressive.
  5. Zig Zag: This wonderful, if slightly touristy wine bar serves up fancy renditions of local cuisine with mouth-watering flair. For Josh’s birthday, we celebrated with a bottle of South American red wine and several dishes, including a prime piece of alpaca and pesto-covered gnocchi made from quinoa. The alpaca was perfection, a tender piece of juicy meat the likes of which we have never experienced. On first glance, it appears to be no different from a superb cut of beef, but the flavors of alpaca are surely in first place. The meat came on a piping hot stone that was continuously heating the dish. This naturally resulted in scalding bits of liquid flying in every which direction, though this did little to deter the attack of cutlery. The quinoa was also superb. A highly recommended experience.

P.S. I’ve become gradually more and more obsessed with alpaca knitwear, which I discovered in Cusco. One company in particular, Kuna, is the ultimate in fine, 100% baby alpaca garments. The boutiques are scattered throughout Peru and the bigger cities in Chile and Argentina, but U.S. shoppers can purchase from their online store. The clothing is just the right amount of funky – I couldn’t resist sharing my fabulous find.

P.P.S. To find out why this blog is not comprehensive in the picture department, read about what happened on the way to Bolivia.

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