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Arequipa and Paracas

Lima, Peru

Where to start...I feel like many things have happened since Amy and I left Cusco last week. Many good things...it feels amazing to go out and create my own adventures again and see new, exciting things rather than sit in Cusco and be accosted by vendors and taxi drivers and Manchi, our host matriarch-type figure. I feel like an adult/backpacker again rather than a poor kid/student who is stuck in one place and at the mercy of the people around her. Anyhoo...firstly, Amy and I took a nightbus to Arequipa last Monday night and arrived around 5 am. Luckily, we were on the bus with Sarit, a fellow traveler we had met a week and a half prior in Pisac as we all stumbled down the mountain from the ruins we had been visiting...it was dark and all we had was my headlamp (I always keep it in my bag), so it was kind of a bonding experience. Anyway, Sarit had reserved a hostel in Arequipa called Amazing Home Hostal...it had a fun name and good reviews, so Amy and I decided to go with her. The very nice man who ran the hostel gave us all beds we could crash in without charging us an extra night for arriving super early in the morning. We slept, ate delicious banana pancakes for breakfast on the roof of the hostel, and soaked in a very nice view of Arequipa from above. Later we went to a really cool convent/monastary called Santa Catalina...it was established in 1580 (I think?) and was basically a party convent for women from rich families until the 1800s, at which point a new head nun was shipped over from Europe to straighten the convent out. Now only about 30 nuns still live there and the rest of the convent is open for tourists to peruse through. We decided to peruse at night, which was deliciously creepy and cool...we wandered through all the old bedrooms (eerily enough, called "cells") of the nuns...most of them were decorated with macabre crucifixes and statues of mourning women, and the entire convent was illuminated with candlelight and lanterns...between the statues and the shadows the candles cast, the creepiness factor was pretty high. Being me, I LOVED it. The architecture was beautiful so I´m sure it would have been neat to see it the daytime, but I just loved the eeriness of the night.

The next day, Wednesday, Sarit left to go on a tour of the nearby Colca Canyon, leaving Amy and I to wander about Arequipa by ourselves before catching our 7 pm bus to Paracas. We went to the Museo de la Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria, where we saw Juanita, the ice princess. Juanita is a 500 year old body (she´s more of a frozen body than a mummy) who, when she was alive, was sacrificed by the Incas to appease the gods of the nearby volcanos. She was around 13 years old, and according to the museum tour, she was led to the top of the volcano by Incan shamans, where she was given chicha (corn beer) as a sedative and then struck in the head, thereby ending her life. Apparently this happened more than once...I believe 14 similar bodies of child sacrifices have been found scattered throughout the Andes. The children were usually royalty from Cusco and being sacrificed was an honor reserved for the most beautiful of these royal children--the more beautiful they were, the more they would please the gods, and being chosen for such a task was a privilege because dying for the gods would in a way secure a position for these chilldren among the gods. The Incas would do this every El Nino season...the changes in the weather from El Nino would cause an influx of a certain type of orange shell to wash up on the beaches of Peru, and every time this influx occured, the shamans thought the volcano would erupt and kill their people unless a child was sacrificed. Therefore, 500 years ago in Peru, El Nino meant you had to kill a kid...makes El Nino years in the US seem less extreme, eh?

So that same night, Amy and I got on another 14 hour nightbus from Arequipa to Paracas...if anyone wants to know how that journey went, they should consult the entry before this one...I am still cringing from the experience, haha. We arrived in Paracas the next morning and were so relieved to find a quiet little beach town that smelled strongly of ocean and where the vendors did not attack us with offers as we walked by. We stayed in a new hostel for cheap because parts of it were still under construction...however, our room was very nice and had a private bathroom with HOT WATER...I almost died of glee. Amy and I went on a long aimless walk down the beachfront lined with newly constructed and still empty beachhouses that look like they were craned straight over from southern California...we collected bright orange and purple seashells and Amy pawed at the sand looking for the perfect conch shell...it was very pleasant. On Thursday, we took a morning tour of the Islas Ballestas, also known as the Poor Man´s Galapagos...these islands were COVERED with birds, including humboldt penguins, which were so cute! Amy and I took lots of pictures. Apparently the guano (aka shit) from these tens of thousands of birds is harvested every five years to sell as fertilizer...people take shovels out to the islands and scrape away at the guano for 2 months. Exciting job, eh? We also saw the mysterious figure carved into a sandy hillside on the way out to these islands...resembling a candleabra, the figure was carved into the sand and has never been erased because the wind does not hit that side of the hill. No one knows how old it is...the primary theory is that it is from the Paracas culture, a pre-Incan people who worshipped a cactus with hallucinogenic properties...this cactus could be mistaken for a candleabra, I suppose. Anyway, my hour is almost up, so that´s all for today...more later.

permalink written by  kfox on July 13, 2010 from Lima, Peru
from the travel blog: Peru Adventure!
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