It is late Saturday and this will be our last night in Arequipa. We arrived late in the evening on Thursday after two days on the highway from Nazca. The highway from Nazca to the coast traversed the most barren desert that I’ve ever seen. For about seventy miles there was no sign of life except for a reed shack every ten of fifteen miles where someone had attempted to made a living selling something. The rest was wind swept sand and rocks with out trees, brush, or even a cactus. When we got to the coast, it was still desert. But, we did see an occasional fishing village along with the beautiful coastal rocks and bright white sandy beaches. As we followed the road south along the coast, the wind was blowing off the ocean and sometimes the sand dunes covered half the highway like snow in a blizzard. There were huge trucks coming towards us and all we could do was wait for them to pass.
Wednesday night when nightfall hit we made are way to one of the few towns with commendations called Atica. This is little more than a wide spot in the road which has a small fishing fleet, feeds the truckers coming through, and supports the mines in the area. These are both formal and the “informal”. The meaning of that struck home when I saw a money exchange sign which also exchanged mercury and gold for cash. The informal mines have no government sanction or control so there is no regard for miners health and safety as well as the environment.
The next morning we pressed on to the thriving agricultural city of Arequipa. With a population of less than a million, it is the second largest city in Peru. The center of the city in alive with people, both locals and tourists, shopping and conducting their business with the many government offices. Esther said it is like was Lima 40 years ago before the decline of its downtown area. Here they preserved many of the colonial homes and buildings together with the churches. The most unique thing is the Santa Catalina Convent which is like a small walled city covering 5 acres with streets, plazas, homes, gardens, churches, and a cemetery just two blocks for the main square. During its history it was the home for up to 500 cloistered from aristocratic families and their servants. While the girls entered the convent at the young age of 12 years and remained there until they died, they did lead a comfortable lives with individual houses and up to three of their servants to attend to their needs. The facility, which is 400 years old, was just opened to the public in 1970 and still is home for 27 nuns in a non-public area.
Arequipa is city rich in history and beauty which we wanted to see, so we took a double decker bus tour on Saturday. While I’m not a great fan of tours, this 4 hour ride covered the whole city and some of the surrounding countryside and was really worth the time and money. The city is completely different from Lima. It’s the central place for a rich farming area in the valley and the mineral rich mountains in the hinterland. I didn’t see any shanty towns or poverty that seems to cast a shadow on Lima.
Esther flew back to Lima tonight since she has to work on Monday. Early tomorrow morning Ron and I will drive over the mountains for 200 miles to get to Puno. After that we head to Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas.