Massage at 7,500ft

Until we arrived here yesterday morning, all I knew about Arequipa was that it had a volcano, was built of white stone, and, at 7,500ft was a good place to start acclimatising the Andean altitudes.

From what little I´ve seen in our short stay here, it is a very different place to Lima. It feels more like a provincial town than Peru´s second largest city. The people of Lima had an alien beauty about them, being even featured, immaculately groomed and (for the rich at least) impeccably dressed. People here are more earthy, more rough looking, and they dress for practicality, not style. A lot of the women wear the typical Andean combination of knee-length skirt supported by acres of petticoats, knitted woollen tops and battered high-crowned felt hat. Whereas in Lima one might put one´s child in a buggy (or, more likely, get the maid to) and put ones possessions in a Gucci bag, here you just knot a brightly woven blanket round your shoulders and put everything on your back, baby and all.

Though the people might not look beautiful to my Western eyes, the architecture does.  The ´White City´really is white, at least in the centre, being built of the local volcanic stone, though how it remains white with this many pigeons about I’m not sure. The classic ‘post card’ view of Arequipa is taken from the central square and shows the Misti volcano behind the white provincial baroque towers of the cathedral. The buildings round the square have a dual level of portico arches, and the one just to the right of the cathedral is our hotel. From the small verandah outside our room we can look down through the top of one of the arches over the diners on the balcony below and down into the square. I’ve spent much of our stay here doing just that, watching the hawkers hawk, the tourists gawk and the pigeons shag. Oh, and the Hare Krishnas dance round the square chanting. Yes, even here. In fact, after a hard morning taking pictures of the volcanoes, staring at baroque churches and wandering round the huge and rambling Santa Catarina convent (less retreat, more self contained town), I went along to their cafe this afternoon. Not for food, though it´s good to know you can get curry up here, but to have a full body, top to toe massage. It´s hard work, this Big Trip lark.

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