On December 21st 1975 I was in Arequipa in southern Peru. It was a brief visit, a one night stop-over. I had been delayed in Lima by bronchitis, brought on in that city of perpetual light mist and no rain to wash away the urine from the pavements. Like everyone else in Peru I was anxious to get to my Christmas place, Cuzco in my case, before the transport dried up completely.
I had arrived on the overnight bus from Lima and we were still by the sea when it got light. I had fresh figs for breakfast in the hot sleepy town of Camana. We began climbing not too long after, heading up through a real desert which gradually became strewn with rocks. It was barren all the way until the green of the Arequipa valley, with grey brown hills around. The valley was high and bright. The sunset was beautiful with haze and a rainbow and views of the mountains ringing the valley.
In the morning I visited the Santa Catalina Convent, which had been fairly recently restored and opened to the public, although a small area was still reserved for nuns. It was an unusual place, a miniature town rather than a building, a little world of streets and squares and houses, a town separated from the world outside but strangely similar to it. I remember one little plaza with orange trees and a huge kitchen and washing place.
Arequipa also had a large covered market, the best I'd seen in Latin America so far. There was one huge room and a lot of Indian activity. I recorded this in my notebook:
Arequipa Market, 2009: Picture by Walter Fuentes, CCI've come into the quiet middle class cafe Astoria to escape the hubbub of the market. Tremendous activity, the confirmation of my idea yesterday that the Indian life here is essentially different from Ecuador. The huge hall, full of fruit, eggs, meat, butter and everything else that makes up a market, great juices. Music from records. Outside street after street lined with ladies in large bright skirts and hats; one group with blue aprons and blue-banded straw hats making rubber sandals. Girls sitting with their mothers or aunts, babies behind in a colourful shawl, pulling on the black braid. People selling and chewing coca. Many herbal remedies. Some men already drunk, one man in complete rags, and a lot in very poor thin clothing.
I was down to the railway station by late afternoon for the night train to Cuzco where a friend had kept seats. With the train due to leave at 10pm, it was already crowded at 6pm. All the corridors and the floors in the compartments were full, mostly with Indian women whose huge skirts covered the floor. A flood of urine gradually rose to the level of the duck boards and I looked forward to a difficult night's journey. However when we got going the floor dried out; I tried to look out of the window through the darkness into very deserted barren scenery. It got light before the lakes and life was better when I found some coffee. There was a long stop at Juliaca, changing around the carriages, and we were less crowded afterwards. At first the scenery was very bleak with little adobe villages, cows and llamas, and barren hills behind. Then we climbed through fine hills with a snow covered backdrop and more llamas. After the summit the valley was richer, green and well cultivated, with winding villages of adobe often with red tiled roofs. The people on the train were friendly and a group of travelling musicians were playing huaynos, the wistful popular music of the highland Indians.
|Santa Catalina, 2007: Picture by dachalan, CC|
|Santa Catalina, 2005: Picture by Adam Jones, CC|
More information on the Santa Catalina Convent here.
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