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Arequipa

May 16-17, Arequipa
Today’s 160km drive should have been a relatively quick one.

However, it turned into a rather long day when we ran into a road blockade – a protest about mining in the area. The traffic into Arequipe was at a standstill and we were about 15km away from our hotel.

After spending a couple of hours stationary, occupying ourselves with card games and beers on the side of the road, the traffic finally beings to move.

Arequipa stands at the foot of El Misti Volcano and oozes with Spanish colonial charm. It’s a close competition with Cuzco for the title of Peru’s most attractive city.

Built out of a pale volcanic rock called sillar, the old buildings dazzle in the sun, giving the city its nickname – the ‘White City’.

Arequipa is also home to one of the most significant historical discoveries in recent times.

In 1995 on the summit of Mt Ampato (6,300 meters), Anthropologist Johan Reinhard discovered the well preserved body of a young Inca girl.

Named Juanita, or the Ice Maiden, her sacrifice on the summit of the volcano is dated somewhere between 1450-1480 AD.  Her death at such a high altitude froze her body quickly, naturally mummifying her remains.

This natural mummification preserved her skin, organs, hair and even her stomach contents; providing scientists a rare opportunity to gain significant insights into the Inca civilisation.

Juanita’s home is now the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries where she is kept in a pressurized case that contains a special gas and maintains a temperature of -20C to prevent decay.

We also paid a visit to the Santa Catalina Convent.  Covering over 2 hectares in the centre of town; its like a city within a city. The brightly painted buildings and shady courtyards was started by a rich widow in 1579.

The monastery originally only accepted women from rich Spanish families who had to pay an admission dowry. Later the convent become a domicile for Dominican nuns. It has been home to nuns for over three centuries and about 20 nuns still live here today.

Our local tour guide who accompanied us to the Colac Valley lived in Arequipa and recommended a few restaurants, one of them being Zig Zag.

It’s signature dish is a trio of meats cooked on a volcanic stone grill; Don choose alpaca, pork and beef. I opted for the highly recommended quinoa gnocchi (I was sure Don would share – wouldn’t he?).

The meal was superb. The alpaca (sorry vegetarians) was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The gnocchi was also delicious, served with a fresh pesto sauce. We also couldn’t go past sharing a chocolate mousse for desert.

Our hotel in Arequipa is also worth mentioning if you are ever looking for a place to stay: La Casa de Melgar  is a gorgeous 18th century Spanish design with lovely gardens.