Friday, 13 July 2007

Under the volcanoes

Arrived in historic colonial Arequipa, Peru's second city late on the Monday evening. Arequipa is labelled the "white city" by the tourist marketing men, and in parts it is accurate, particularly in the main square where the facade of the huge cathedral occupies one full side. The city's location is wonderful sitting below the volcanoes Misti and Chachani. Misti particularly is very close, and I do wonder that if it did a Mount St Helens lateral blast, most of Arequipa would land in the sea some 100's of kilometres away!

I many ways arriving here has been somewhat like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Wednesday and Thursday were designated as national strike days, so I was entertained by demonstrators and police in full riot gear. I did not see any trouble, but whilst having lunch the doors and shutters were quickly closed as a mob waving banners and sticks noisily walked past.

The city streets were quiet for these two days, the shops remained shuttered up and not much was happening. I did not mind, as I wanted to rest up and have got through two wonderful trashy novels.

The main sight in Arequipa is the convent of Santa Catarina. This was established as a city within a city very soon after the Spanish established the city. It is a riot of small lanes, plazas, and old domed rooms. For centuries the nuns lived in relative luxury, having slaves and enjoying the high life. This came to an end in the 1800´s when the Pope sent over an envoy to ensure the nuns lived like nuns should.