Perú: Day 4 in Arequipa
Day Two of our Contiki trip started before the birds were up, too early to insert my seeing contraptions into my eyeballs. So I threw on my glasses and grabbed a quick bite downstairs before we loaded the bus to the airport.
If you thought guiding children through an airport was hard, imagine what our tour manager felt leading 25 adults through the checkpoint and gates. We scattered to find seats, wasted time learning about new gadgets the savvy ones in our group had to share, and after an hour in the air, we arrived in Arequipa at 10am. A new local guide, Gladys, awaited us, eager to show us her hometown.
First, we made a quick stop before a smoggy view of the three volcanos that surround the second largest city in Peru: Chachani, Misti, and Picchu Picchu.
Next, we headed to the nearby town of Yanahuara where I tried the first of four new foods during my tour: ceviche. It was a big deal because I don’t eat seafood and raw seafood even less so. I worried the fish would feel like chewing rubber or, you know, raw meat, but thankfully the lime juice had cooked it enough for my molars to chop and grind and swallow.
We headed to our hotel in the historical center of Arequipa after lunch. This city was the beginning of the climb in altitude for us, sitting 7,600 feet above sea level, on our way to the highlands in the upcoming days. Although Arequipa is second to Lima in terms of polulation, it felt more quaint due to its narrow, brick covered streets, and smaller plaza.
Jackie and I decided to pay a visit to Juanita, the mummy girl found in the Ampato volcano decades ago. We couldn’t take pictures, so I have to vaguely describe it all to you. Before we reached the last room hidden behind a curtain where Juanita was housed, we walked past maps of the Ampato volcano that illustrated exactly where Juanita and 17 others were found between 1989 and 1996. These mummies lived 500 years ago and cases exhibited some of the artifacts they were found with like hairpins, sarapes, toys, dolls, clothing, dishes and utensils. Juanita herself, though, was a sight to see. She seemed to be around six years old and was displayed in a possibly 3 x 2 foot glass box. The double encasement retained the freezing temperatures that were supposed to preserve Juanita’s body just like the ice and snow did before she was discovered. Juanita had a full head of hair and was fully clothed. It was difficult to make out her clothing or limbs because of the condensation between the two layers of glass but she appeared to have been wearing a long skirt. I don’t remember being able to see her feet although shoes were displayed in other parts of the museum. She seemed to have a blanket over her body yet her left arm appeared to be exposed. Her teeth were also intact.
It was said that the people sacrificed kids like Juanita to the Gods in return for a good crop season. Juanita was most likely poisoned after a day of fasting so she could die quickly.
Jackie had mentioned her displeasure with the Spanish and their take over of the Inca culture early on during the trip. She even went as far as blaming their actions for her dislike of the Catholic church. As a matter of fact, it became a joke to accuse the Spanish of the Inca demise throughout the tour. If anyone in our group asked, “Why?” the choral response was, “The Spanish!” But once Jackie learned of the sacrifices that the Incas made using their own people, she realized that no culture was perfect and she no longer held one culture above the other.
We concluded our historic center tour by walking through the shopping district and dodging cars on our way to the hotel. We prepared for dinner where we were excited to try the second new food of the day: alpaca.
The small steaks came on a hot black stone that continued to cook the meat beyond the grill. The paper bibs were supposed to protect us from the oil still splattering but they should’ve provided us with gloves too because I got burned every time I went in for a bite.
My plate came with about four ounces of alpaca, beef, and chicken. And let me tell you, they were set up in that order for a reason. The reason being that that was exactly how I rated each sample based on taste. The alpaca was the best, it was delicious. I can’t even describe it. I just remember it was moist and tasty and better than the beef. I tried the four sauces that came on the plate but didn’t care for them. The cheese risotto was the perfect pairing for such dish; I searched for cheese risotto the rest of the trip without success. That was the best meal I had during my entire visit to Peru. I did not order alpaca anywhere else fearing it would not live up to this first taste test and find it disgusting instead.
After such a delectable meal, it was time to party. Flor took us to a club that offered salsa lessons. But not before Pisco shots for all. The dance floor was small and packed so I hung back and had very pleasant conversations with members of our group before we called it a night.