Wednesday 8th August: Arrequipa.
After our crazy bus ride yesterday, we enjoyed a bit of a lie in the hostel before a late breakfast. At this point we decided to join a walking tour of Arrequipa which started in the Plaza de Armas at the sociable hour of 11am. Our tour guide was Carlos and he spoke really good English and was a very thorough tour guide. The tour took about 3 hours which was a little bit long but there was a lot to see in Arrequipa! The thing I loved most about this city was that from different places you got beautiful views of the Volcan El Misti – towering and covered in snow at the top. It was a really impressive sight! The town of Arrequipa is really nice too – it´s an old Spanish colonial town and has some lovely old buildings and a huge catholic church on the main square. We walked all through the old town and then up into the newer part of town where the indigenous people were forced to live by the Spaniards after the invasion. We finished the tour at a lovely viewpoint where we could see out over the town and river and the surrounding mountains.
After the tour we ate some typical peruvian food at local touristic restaurant. I had a potato thing with a cheese sauce which I didn´t really enjoy too much but it was a nice experience! We then took a tour of the Alpaca Factory where we could see the process used to create the amazing wool products that could be found throughout the town of Arrequipa. I learned a little bit about the differences between Alpacas (woollier, softer wool and not as big as llamas), llamas (really large and have thick coarse wool), Viñcunas (wild version of the alpaca with the most expensive wool)fand Guanacos (wild version of the Llama and very hard to spot. Vincuñas only produce 1 pound of wool a year and only live for 20 years which is why their wool is so exclusive. They were hunted down to numbers of only about 6000 at one point but now poaching is prohibited and their numbers have recovered. Wild Vincuñas are captured and shorn every year to prevent poaching.
In the afternoon we toured the Conventa Santa Catalina – a huge old convent where nuns have been living for hundreds of years. The buildings are extensive and beautiful and we toured at around sunset which gave it a magical aspect. Women from all aspects of life could become nuns in this convent and it seemed like a lovely place to live. The women had lots of space in apartments and communal cooking areas too. Nowadays there are still about 20 nuns living in the Convent but they have solar panels for power now and make money by allowing tourists to enter and visit the convent.