It just might have been the most beautifully basic day of our Peru trip– after a delicious breakfast of fresh skinless-fruit salad, frothy pineapple juice, bread and eggs, that was made for us by our host’s helper (see below for that fascinating cultural interaction), we set out to explore Arequipa. We were told that it is Peru’s second largest city with a population of nearly 1 million, but it some how felt significantly smaller surrounded by looming volcanoes that every Arequipeno seemed to relate with on a personal basis.
Santa Catalina, our first tourist stop in the city, is a convent established in the early 17th century and was home to nuns throughout the 1960s. It contains an impressive collection of very well preserved buildings where the nuns lived and studied. They practiced a life of solitude and did not interact with the public, except to teach classes to girls of the town. Paintings lined the common spaces and the nuns were famous for their baking skills, although I found it difficult to imagine that they traded for all of their goods with the public via the giant lazy-susans that lined the outer complex walls.
I was fascinated with ducking into the old house where the nuns lived. They each had their own spaces, which usually consisted of three rooms- a kitchen, a bedroom and a sanctuary- all devoted to their worship. The nuns would buy the houses from each other, most of which were built by their families, and were largely financially independent. It was a gorgeous way to pass the afternoon, as we arrived just as the sun was bathing the blue and red walls with afternoon light.
Spending time with the memory of the women of Santa Catalina made me think about our host’s helper, a lady who was introduced to us as someone who would be ‘taking care’ of us for that day. Our host explained to me that Feli had been with the family since her children were babies and still came to help out a few days a week by cooking and keeping the house tidy.
Feli, was a quiet lady who was thrilled when I told her that our breakfast was the best we had in Peru. For both me and my boyfriend, having a helper to cook and clean was a brand new experience, one that is very common for the middle and upper class homes of Peru. As a woman who is used to having to cook and clean for herself it was interesting to think about hiring another person to lend a hand and I honestly still do not know how I feel about it.
We ended our day by watching the sunset on the fourth floor of a bar settled into the Plaza de Armas. I wrote a few postcards before the sun washed the sky in color and the lights of the city came alive. We had settled on an adventure for the next day that would start in the wee hours of the morning, so I think that mentally we were both trying to take it easy and enjoy the sights of Arequipa with patience of which I am sure the nuns would have been proud.