Wandering through the brightly coloured alleyways in Santa Catalina convent I found myself transported to another time. A time when nuns would quietly walk through the courtyards filled with bountiful fruit trees and bright bougainvillea. Tenderly cared for geraniums and cacti were sitting in terracotta pots placed against vibrant orange and blue walls. Cavernous rooms featuring modest beds and hard stone floors could be explored; homely comforts were few and far between except for in one room where scatter cushions were provided on the floor for the nuns to take a seat and read. Now, the city within a city is a place for tourists to explore, though the magic of the quiet place still remains.
The convent was by far my favourite place in all of Peru's White City, Arequipa. We arrived on a wet evening after crossing the border from Bolivia. Awaking the next day and in recovery from a full week of altitude sickness in La Paz we explored slowly and thoughtfully. Breakfast at a cute café on a corner set us up for the day and after strolling the streets we visited Santa Catalina convent.
The following day we were awake for pick up at 4am; we had booked a tour to see Colca Canyon. The 100 mile drive was long and took us yet again to high altitude. Thankfully the stops involved very little walking. We stopped for breakfast which consisted of bread and jam; if you've travelled in South America for any length of time then you'll be familiar with this typical breakfast set up, a few months in and I'm frankly tired of it. We popped into a little church; outside ladies in traditional dress showed off their pompom wearing alpacas which for a few coins you can photograph.
We continued on to the canyon which was breathtaking. It is the second deepest in the world at approximately 3,400 metres at its deepest point, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U.S. The clouds gathered in the canyon below us and we were lucky to see majestic Andean condors soaring above our heads. The scale was vast and different to how I'd imagined. Growing up seeing photographs of the Grand Canyon meant I was expecting a dusty and barren landscape but the Colca Canyon is lush and green with crops and vegetation. Locals have preserved the Incan era terraces which lends a distinctly Peruvian feeling to the landscape.
We drove on to a little town where the guide seemed to know everyone; he took us through a bustling market where butchered animals hung from hooks surrounded by flies, fruits and vegetables were piled high on little tables and there were sacks overflowing with seeds and grain. We ate a buffet lunch on a long table with the rest of the group though we secretly bartered for a better price. There was spaghetti and tomato sauce, a Spanish style omelette with potato, salads and French fries. After gorging on as much food as we could manage we waddled back to the minibus to start the long journey back to Arequipa.
The next day we booked a coach to leave that evening so we visited the cathedral on the leafy Plaza de Armas and ate lunch at a Mexican hole-in-the-wall café which was delicious. Cusco was our next stop which to me meant only one thing; Machu Picchu was merely days away.
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