We'll have nun of that here...
Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
45Trip End Jan 20, 2008
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Arequipa is a very pleasant city. Lots of white buildings, made from Silla - the local volcanic rock. A large central square with lots of colonial-style arched buildings and a cathedral surrounding a fountain in the middle. The cathedral reminds me, for some reason, of Buckingham Palace.
Prior to coming here, however, I visited Sillustani. A burial site. Dating back to pre-Inca times. Initially, it was built by the Collas. They were conquered by the Incas, who continued using the site, but with their architecture
Dead Incas. A neat link to Arequipa, where we can find the mumified remains of "Juanita" - the so-called Ice Princess. The Incas enjoyed a spot of child sacrifice, every now and again. When the weather changed. When there was an earthquake. When the volcano blew off. Probably when there was an "R" in the month, just to be sure. You can see her body in a museum. An interesting exhibition. It starts with a video of the expedition that discovered her remains. And provides interesting viewing, right up until the moment when the idiot narrator says "She believed that she was doing her duty for her people and going to live with her gods - and who could doubt her?" Well, me, for a start. Call me a hypermodernist, but I have yet to see evidence that child murder can bring about a change in the weather (and believe me, there are some children I think this could be profitably tested upon...) Gah. Cultural relativism gone mad. That's what it is. If the Incas really wanted to change the climate, they should have tried burning more fossil fuels
Also in Arequipa is the impressive Convent of Santa Catalina. Dubbed a "city within a city", it was built in the 16th century, and still houses around 30 nuns today. According to my lonely planet (but more or less skipped over in the historical section of the convent), for the first three centuries the nuns lived a fairly hedonistic lifestyle, reflecting their status as daughters of the wealthiest families of Arequipa. This only stopped when a strict Dominican came to take charge (backed, according to what information there was in the convent, by the bishop of the time). Debauched nuns. Marvellous. Very Ken Russell. Wasn't he on Celebrity Big Brother? So there goes another reputation. Still, Gothic was a good film. As was Lair Of The White Worm (another Bram Stoker sexually repressed Victorian fantasy). I believe I have it on video. Somewhere. Of particular interest in the convent was the glass case displaying the barbed wire clothing and whips that the nuns used to use on themselves. And then they tried to tell us they weren't mad. Apparently the convent was built because of a massive need for it. You can imagine the Arequipeñas: "What this city really needs is a building full of self-mutilating hysterical women". And I'm not even going to get onto Sister Aña de Los Angeles Monteguado, beatified by Pope John Paul II, owing to her predictive powers (I thought the bible outlawed that?) and ability to cure cancer. Sort of a cross between Mystic Meg and chemotherapy
Still, the convent is very impressive - built, as expected, from silla stone, it is a maze of twisting streets and courtyards, cloisters, fountains and chapels. Well worth a visit.
Also ubiquitous around town is Andean music. Last night, over a rather disappointing rocotto rellano (I'm not even sure it was a chilli, rather than a red pepper), I heard a CD of some of the most dull pipes imaginable. Boring Andean style covers of MOR "favourites" - Rod Stewart's "Sailing", The Scorpion's "Wind of Change" and, possibly with a hint of irony, given their popularisation of "El Condor Pasa", Simon And Garfunkle's "Sound Of Silence". Pah. Dull. The bland leading the bland. Compare and contrast. The night before, performing live, Andean music played with feeling and zest, culminating in a version of "My Way" that couldn't have been more in-your-face if Old Brown Eyes himself, Sid Vicious, had come back from the dead to spit it out.