On our last full day in Arequipa, we decided to spend the morning exploring one of the city’s best known attractions, the Santa Catalina Monastery. Flanked by high walls and taking up the equivalent of several city blocks, the monastery appeared pretty unassuming from the outside, but upon setting foot inside, it was as if we were transported back in time. Founded in 1579 by the Spaniards, the monastery began with 7 nuns, grew to about 450 inhabitants during its heyday, and now still remains home to about 20 nuns. In order to even be considered for admittance into the monastery, a dowry had to be offered by the family, so many of the nuns came from rather wealthy backgrounds. While the monastery outwardly represented the sacrifice of material goods for this religious lifestyle, within monastery walls was a rather opulent, luxurious establishment. Each nun had her own “apartment” that in comparison to our NYC 1-bedroom was about the same size. Some of the nuns even tried charging a “rent” to profit from other nuns that wanted to upgrade to better rooms!
The complex was especially known for its vividly colored walls and impeccable architectural innovations, as many architecture programs would flock to the monastery to study the unique Mudejar architecture. It was also very popular amongst local art students as there were students strewn all over the monastery compound, drawing out sketches of clay pots, wood burning ovens, archways, and other neat shapes.
After our visit to the monastery, we actually elected to try the Arequipa version of Chi Cha. Yes, we technically went to a Peruvian chain for a second time but Chi Cha Cusco was so good, we had to try their localized menu in Arequipa. Plus, we were guaranteed to have ceviche on the menu, as there was no way I would leave Peru without having ceviche once. So while I munched on my lovely, light ceviche, Doug went on another rampage of his new favorite food – tequenos filled with adobo and peppers. I also tried an amazing pisco cocktail called “yiyina” with pineapple caramel (!!) and papaya. YUMMY.
The rest of our afternoon was dedicated to buying fun gifts and trinkets for loved ones back home – after considerable comparison shopping and negotiation, we walked out with bottles of pisco, various alpaca wool goods, and even a large knife – good luck to us getting this through customs!
There was a really cute dessert place next to Chi Cha that beckoned us to come back and enjoy the setting sun – here, we enjoyed a spread of sweets along with some delicious pisco drinks. We later learned that the cafe, T’anta, was actually another Gaston Acurio establishment just like Chi Cha was…I really like this guy! Too bad his restaurant in NYC, La Mar Cebicheria, had closed down before we could come back and try it…
By 5:30pm, it was time to start saying bye to Arequipa as our taxi driver came to pick us up at our hotel and take us to the airport. The airport, which I apparently didn’t pay any attention to on my way in (aside from the drug-sniffing dogs) was a disaster! There was construction everywhere…half of the lights were out, there was dry wall exposed everywhere, and drilling so loud we could hardly hear ourselves. One random observation I found particularly funny/puzzling was the box of items confiscated at security. Instead of the typical bottles of water and the occasional knives (not ours!!), there were about 8 irons. Didn’t realize these were illegal to carry on, but more randomly, didn’t realize so many people packed them on their carry-ons!
Saying goodbye to Peru was definitely bittersweet as we felt like we just scraped the tip of the iceberg in this amazing country. While it was much more financially wise to opt for the multi-layover route, and also cool to check out Colombia and El Salvador as side trips, it definitely cut our time in Peru to 9 days and 2 cities. While I would never trade the Inca Trail experience, I would love to come back to enjoy the surprisingly good cuisine (Doug claims as the best food we’ve had in our trips abroad) as well as check out Lake Titicaca and the Amazon in Iquitos. Good thing we’re Brazil-bound next year and will have plenty of time for the Amazon then!