The White City
Our transport to Arequipa was another bus ride with guided tours of sights along the way. Our first stop was Lagunillas lake, which, in the winter time, is home to Chillean pink flamingos. We could only observe them from afar, but the landscape was still beautiful. We made a couple of other stops to admire glaciers and volcanoes along the way. Before veering off to Arequipa, we drove by Pampa Canahuas, which is part of Aguada Blanca National park and is a protected reserve for the vicuna, which has been hunted almost to extinction due to its soft, fine wool.
Arequipa is the second most populous city in Peru, with a population of just over 800,000. At 2300 m above sea level (7600 ft) it was still considered high altitude, although after the elevations at Cuzco and Puno, we felt like we were at sea level. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Arequipa is situated next to the active volcano of El Misti, and the city gets its nickname, The White City, from the white volcanic rock sillar, which was used as the building block for most of the Spanish-era construction in town.
We arrived in Arequipa around noon and after a brief stop at our B&B. Posada Nueva Espana, we set off to see the sights. Our first stop was the neighborhood of Yanahuara, which featured a pretty church and a set of arches overlooking the city, with El Misti towering in the background. This location made for great pictures and we decided to stop for lunch at a little restaurant just across the church because its balcony provided great views of the volcano.
The service at our lunch spot was just like at most other places we’ve dined at in Peru – virtually non-existent. Since the place was completely empty, Nathalia approached an employee who was standing just outside the patio to ask if the restaurant was open. Barely glancing at her, he said “Claro” (“of course”). We sat down and someone took our drink order, but we had yet to see a menu. When we asked for one, we were told to go look at the one by the door where the hostess stand was. And this is at a white-tablecloth-kind of a restaurant. Nathalia and I giggled, imagining a line of people coming in for dinner and having to come up to the front to take a look at the menu! When our bill arrived, a generous tip had already been added, and they had charged us for some bread they’d brought out as an appy that we didn’t order – none of the other restaurants we ‘d been to had charged us for whatever little goody they brought out while you wait for your food to arrive. The general attitude of the staff was “how dare these people come interrupt my day”, and for some reason they thought that our arrival was the appropriate time to put Phil Collins on as background music. That’s ok, we got a decent meal overlooking a volcano. It was still amazing to us, though, that this was the state of affairs in cities where tourism was the main revenue generator.
After this experience, we were ready to explore the center of town. We pretty much figured that at the center of every Peruvian city is a Plaza de Armas, featuring a church built by the Spanish. Although we’ve already seen three other Plazas de Armas, Arequipa’s was one of the most beautiful. The Cathedral of Arequipa is its focal point and although the cathedral itself is gorgeous, having the active El Misti volcano in the background makes the view even more majestic.
We took a guided tour of the cathedral and even got to go to the rooftop, where we admired the cathedral’s towers and bells and got a great view of the Plaza de Armas below.
Afterwards, we continued walking around to check out the numerous other churches and convents surrounding the plaza.
Finally settled into a little restaurant on the plaza to enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the sun set. We spent a couple of hours there, enjoying the downtime and good conversation. I even got to order two mineral waters in Spanish. Nathalia made me laugh by insinuating that I should Americanize my Spanish accent a bit, as most people seemed to take my ability to say “good morning” and “good afternoon” in a decent accent as a sign that I am a fluent Spanish speaker. As the sun set, the cathedral lit up and we marveled and its beauty. El Misti, the volcano, kept peeking from behind as if standing watch.
It is hard to believe that this was our second to last day in Peru. We’ve seen and done so much, yet some of it seems like it didn’t really happen. I guess that’s what pictures and blogs are for.