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Arestin' Arequipa - News - bespk

Arestin' Arequipa

Posted on Monday, 11th March 2013 by Eunice

We arrived in Arequipa on 7th  February.  The plan; to celebrate Eunice's birthday and to enjoy a few days rest.  Guy had arranged this as a treat; booking a spacious room, flowers and champagne to be delivered as a surprise on the morning of her birthday.  Unfortunately, we had not planned on the effects of the altitude, exhaustion or may be some dreaded lurgy picked up prior to our arrival.
The next few days were spent feeling decidedly unwell; not daring to venture very far from the room.  The hotel staff were fantastic, providing endless cups of coca tea, plates of fruit, flasks of hot water and room service meals when we felt more like eating in the room.  We were so grateful to be in a comfortable place, as feeling this wretched in some of the places we had stopped would have been really awful.

Unfortunately the package of replacement spokes from the UK was nowhere to be found on our arrival and we were informed that the post from the UK could take up to three weeks, if it arrives at all. 
A real Victor Meldrew moment for Guy; resolved by contacting James Wheildon and requesting he sent the spokes via DHL on a three day delivery package..  As a backup he also requested 10 of each (long and short spokes) be sent to Charlie Murray (his brother-in-law) as they are planning a trip to Chile in the following week and could bring them out to us.  It will be just our luck to have all the spokes arrive at once!  And so we waited.

This was a good thing for it allowed us time to rest, relax, read and recover.  Initially even a short walk into the city was completely exhausting. But as the days went by we managed to do more.  As the city is built in a valley of the Andes it is subject to geological upheaval and severe flooding.  The last major earthquake was in 2002.
By February 12th we were able to explore more of this beautiful city, with its small cobbled streets, colonial buildings; many dating back to the time of the conquistadors.  It has large open squares, now frequented by artisans, keen to sell their wares to the many tourists.  There are numerous churches, museums, markets and of course the magnificent cathedral.

This building has been the scene of several disasters over history; the original 16th century building was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in a more simplistic style to many of the cathedrals we have visited in Central and South America.  It is said to be the most international of cathedrals: the organ comes from Belgium, the marble for the floors from Italy and the intricately carved pulpit from France.  This last said is most unusual as the base of it depicts the devil, (said to be the power of the church presiding over evil). When first installed it caused a deal of controversy. 
The most recent disaster to affect this building came during the 2002 earthquake causing the catacombs and the bell tower (over the organ) to collapse.   Amazingly it did not damage the organ. This is thought to be a miracle by the locals. 
It is no longer possible to visit the catacombs; but the bell tower has been restored to its former glory. 
An effigy of Jesus on the cross is most unusual too, for he is depicted as a "black Jesus", the skin coloration being that of the indigenous population. At the time of its making some of the Spaniards thought that this might aid the religious conversion of the natives

As in many Catholic Churches there is a museum full of treasures, given by the wealthy, over the centuries, to help ensure their place and that of their dead relatives in heaven.  Many of these were locally crafted;, using the mineral wealth of their land.  There are beautifully embroidered and brocaded robes worn by bishops and also artefacts of the Pope's visit in 2006 when he came to Arequipa; to beatify a nun (Blessed Sor Ana de los Angeles) who had lived in the Santa Catalina Monastery in the 19th century.
The visit culminated with a climb up onto the roof; a walk through the bell towers, where the heavy locally cast bells are suspended by ropes made from bulls hide.  Here there are spectacular views over the city and surrounding countryside.  Unfortunately we were visiting in the rainy season and clouds covered the surrounding mountains, but all the same, it was well worth the climb.

We visited a Museum of Artisan Culture; which houses many beautifully woven fabrics, made from fleeces of alpaca and llama. The ancient intricate patterns are still seen in the fabrics woven today.  There are also exhibits of jewellery over many centuries, some extremely fine. There were trophy skulls of victim’s worn by the victor, to demonstrate their power.

Our final visit of this day was to the museum housing the near perfectly preserved body of Juanita, a 11-15 year old girl chosen for a sacrificial death (1450-80) by the Inca priests, on the summit of the Ampato volcano.
She is one of several children's bodies that have been discovered on this mountain.  There are also other similar burial sites elsewhere in the Andes. 
Her body was discovered in 1995 by Dr Johan Reinhard, following an eruption of the volcano, which caused her to be thrown from her burial chamber down into the crater, where she became wedged.  The severe cold and dryness of the atmosphere is specifically important in her mummification. This has allowed further research and hence understanding of these very complex people.
How they survived the long trek to this religious place, wearing the simple clothes they had defies belief. 
Unfortunately when we visited; Juanita was in the laboratory for her annual preservation time. Another young girl’s sacrificial body, (not so well preserved) was acting as her understudy.

When we returned to the hotel after our many visits; there was still no sign or word about packages. More frustration and disappointment!  Our stay was also proving to be very expensive, with the hotel’s help we downgraded to a smaller room to reduce the costs as we waited. 
Guy had also previously met a gentleman staying in the hotel with a keen interest in classic cars who had seen our car in the car park and wanted to know if we were going to Lima?  He was flying back there that morning.  We informed him that we had come from there. He mentioned there were several car enthusiasts in Arequipa and if we were interested in meeting them or needed help; to contact him.  So this we did.  It is worth perusing all avenues when you are off the road without a spoke.

The following day we walked back into town to visit the Alpaca factory and museum. Getting lost as we often do, we wandered along the many narrow streets, miraculously emerging onto the main road just opposite where we needed to be. 
Here we learnt the difference between alpaca, llama, vicuña and the angora variety of goats and rabbits; how the fleeces are prepared, spun and woven (over time). The machinery used in modern manufacture and of course, leave via the gift shop.  We did manage to resist this temptation until several days later.

We then visited the fascinating Santa Catalina Monastery; a 16th century Dominican Nunnery. Shielded behind its high walls in the centre of the city it is a time capsule. The whole area covers about 20,000 square metres. It is laid out as a city within a city; streets, courtyards and individual houses where the original founding nuns lived with their servants and personal trappings; once they had completed their noviciate. 
The original nuns were daughters of wealthy families from within the city and this is reflected by their lifestyle, and their possessions. There are examples of fine European china, porcelain and the Mother Superior even had an early wooden washing machine. This style of living continued until the Pope sent a nun from Rome insisting that in future the Nuns would live a communal life;  sharing large dormitories and a (near perfectly preserved) kitchen.  Today there are still 20 nuns living within the walls; in modern facilities.  We are told they have access to TV and the Internet (with some restrictions) although they are isolated from society in every other way.

On our way back to the hotel Guy spotted a child's Vespa scooter in one of the many antique shops. The following day Eunice was not at all surprised when he made the excuse of getting a haircut; to go into town alone.  Fortunately it had already been sold, so that removed the problem!  It was, however, Valentine's Day and the town being full of vendors with balloons and flowers to help celebrate the occasion.  However the beard trim was enough of a Valentine's gift for Eunice!  We had also heard that the package from DHL was on its way, but would not arrive in Arequipa for a further 6 days. 

‘Out of adversity find opportunity’ and sure enough we had a phone call from Ronaldo Roberts. He is a friend of the man from Lima and is the name behind the Nissan/ Subaru dealerships in Arequipa.  He sent his service manager; Rafael and personal assistant to meet with Guy and see if they could help.  The following morning it was arranged that Guy and the car would go to the workshop to give the car a thorough check over/overhaul.  Guy spent a very happy time, up to his elbows in grease assisted by Maestro Mario, a 78 year old mechanic, who was able to relive his youth and had a real understanding for the car.  He was even allowed to drive it back to the main workshop.

Guy was very intrigued to learn from Reynaldo/Rafael that the Roberts Garage had housed an Austin during the late 50’s early 60s when its owner left it in Arequipa whilst he took a side trip to Cusco and Machu Pichu.  Putting two and two together this may well have been John Coleman of Coleman’s Drive fame, but it cannot be verified.  There is a need for more research here. We hope to see if there are any photos in the local papers for this time

Meanwhile all we could do was wait.  Guy spent time reading Dickens, we sat by the pool, walked and talked and even watched some films on the television.  Fortunately Eunice's appetite was beginning to return and we enjoyed some very tasty traditional Peruvian cuisine, as well as both meats and fish cooked on volcanic rock slabs. 
It was whilst setting out one evening in search of dinner that we encountered Romi and Mati. They are a young Argentinian couple who live in Argentina and have set off in the opposite direction to us. They travel in a VW camper van to live their dream.  Like kindred spirits our eyes met; we walking one way as they set off in the opposite direction. Having passed each other, they reversed and we stopped to talk.  They were looking for a bath... We know the feeling.  We were able to point them in the direction of some hostels, but told them they could use ours if they were truly stuck!  Fortunately they found one as the hotel might not have been too pleased!  We met up for a drink the following evening and exchanged advice and stories.  Their inspiration is the story of the Zapp family, but Romi and Mati are already writing a fascinating story on their blog.

On Sunday afternoon Rafael very kindly came to the hotel to collect us. He wished to take us to his home to meet his wife and two young sons;. in spite of the fact that it had been the day of celebration of his younger son's birthday.  He has a collection of old cars in his garage. The earliest and the pride of the pack is a 1928 Packard.  After He and Guy had talked cars nonstop and he had shown us his amazing collection of model and pedal cars, as well as other memorabilia, we all went for a tour around the city, Rafael driving some streets he claims he had never driven before; stopping at miradors (vistas)  around the city.  We saw the bridge constructed by Gustav Eifel in the city and still being used today, although by cars, not trains.  Following this we went to a street vendor for some of the traditional food of Arequipa; grilled cow's heart and potatoes, served to you in the car on plastic plates.  Truly delicious it was too.

Until this time our film watching in the hotel had been in Spanish, but a comment made by Patricio (Rafael’s younger son and the birthday boy) changed this.  Frustrated and tired of hearing us trying to speak Spanish and his parents speaking English he asked where was the remote control so that he could change the language.  Very amusing!   It did mean that we watched more films in English after this; abandoning   the trying to improve our Spanish excuse..

On the following evening we enjoyed a very pleasant time  with Rafael and Sr. Roberts (Nissan/Subaru) who was back from his trip to Lima.  His family have owned several businesses in Arequipa over the years, including the Austin dealership in the 1950’s.  We heard of his fascinating life; working as an Honorary British Consulate, racing his cars (including turning his Mini Cooper over whilst racing), campaigning to save the fresh water shrimp of the region and many other tales.   His is a very interesting and diverse life story and we encouraged him to tell an autobiography. Shyly he suggested that there was not much to say; anyway his sister was more likely to write her story.

The saga of the spokes continued, with increasing levels of bureaucracy; they need a receipt (in Spanish), Guy's numerical ID (passport which because his UK address was not the same as the Hotels required checking through Surat the Peruvian Government Office)  and so it goes on with ever mounting frustration.  The package had arrived on Monday at 04.42 in customs in Lima, but they would not release it because of all and more of the reasons above..  Oh the joys of travelling!  The wonderful Rosa; at the reception desk of the Hotel does all she can to help, but by the third day Guy storms down to the DHL office, where eventually Noira allows the  use of her personal details to secure the package.  Meanwhile these spokes are costing us a fortune and should be made of gold. (Perhaps not a good idea, as they would never stand the weight)!   It has also disrupted our plans (meeting with the team of Austins travelling  from Buenos Aires to New York, as well as with Guy's sister and brother-in-law who have come to Chile for an adventure and to help the ‘Cause’)  whilst further delaying  our journey, which with winter starting in the south is not a good thing.

The spokes finally arrived on 24th February. Once we had collected them we walked around town looking for a new pair of shoes for Guy. The only pair of shoes had completely worn out with all the walking, pacing and stomping.  Worse than an expectant father.  Then it was time to pack, prepare for the following day’s journey and say sad farewells to all of the very kind people who have offered us such support over these difficult days.  Getting back on the road is always difficult after a break, but we are determined to complete this journey if possible.

Our route out of Arequipa was supposed to be easy - just keep straight, but somehow we managed to miss a turn and ended up in a delightfully rural area.  However it was not long before we were back on the main road and heading down hill all the way.
More desert, but then strangely a large lake in the middle of it.  We headed down towards the coast, down more steep hairpin bends to the town of Punta de Bonbon, taking more wrong turnings and driving along a beautiful coastal plain which is a nature reserve, then up a long increasingly steep valley to the plateau.  Our journey which should have been only 135 miles turned into 210 and so instead of getting to Tacna for the night we decided to stop in Moqueque, the avocado growing area of Peru. 

Fortunately the hotel was outside the bustle of the town and rather confusingly called the Hotel Mirador, which resulted in us following signs to the scenic view point on the opposite side of the town.  Saint Serendipity arrived in the form of a couple in a truck, who showed us the way across town all the way to the hotel.  There are so many wonderful people.  Another just about adequate room, food, bed and warm shower before facing the challenge of crossing into Chile and all that holds in store.

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