XXXXXVII – Visiting the nun sisters and Petting Alpacas in Arequipa.

After Iquique, I went up North to Arica and from there, took a cab with a French couple to cross the Chilean-Peruvian border. After hours of traveling we finally arrived in Arequipa, the second most populous city in Peru!

I kept confusing the name of the city with Arica (Chile) until I heard the story (legend?!?) about how was named the city: The Inca Mayta Cápac was the fourth Inca ruler of the kingdom of Cuzco, and apparently a great warrior who liked to conquer new territories! One day, as he was traveling and exploring new unknown regions with some of his subjects, he stumbled across the amazing scenery of volcanoes and mountains. His men asked him permission to stay in the region, because they were so amazed by the landscape and they enjoyed the mild climate so much. The Inca responded “Ari qhipay”, which in Quechua language means “Yes, stay”. And, that’s how the city of Arequipa was born… according to the legend…

Beautiful Plaza de Armas in Arequipa.

Nowadays, Arequipa is nicknamed “La Ciudad Blanca” (“The White City”) due to the white volcanic rock used in almost all constructions in the city!

It is famous for Alpaca textiles considered as one of the world’s finest wool (and in my opinion, as one of world’s most freaking expensive $$$), for all kind of outdoor activities (rafting, trekking, horseback riding, climbing,…), for the three volcanoes that surround itEl Misti (the Gentleman, 5821 m/19,097 ft.) located between two small volcanoes, Chachani (the Beloved, 6075 m/19,931 ft) and Picchu Picchu (the Top Top, 5425 m/17.799 ft.)-, for being located close to 2 of the world’s most spectacular and deepest canyons -the Cotahuasi Cañon and the Colca Cañon.

But since the last time I woke up at 3am and went on an excursion, I ended fainting in the middle of a geysers field, I wasn’t really in the mood for it! I was more interested in visiting the Monasterio de Santa Catalina and petting Alpacas!

Living the Alpaca experience!!

Thus, along with 2 Californian girls, we went to “Mundo Alpaca”, the first eco-tourist center located in Arequipa downtown. They explain everything about the different phases of production, from the beginning  (traditional Alpaca sorting process and natural dying work) till the end (selling beautiful Alpaca clothes).

The first phase is called ‘ESCOJO’ (SORTING).

……….The “Escojo” (“Sorting”) is the first phase where they manually separate the fibre by origin, quality, colour and length of the fibre. This task is undertaken by expert women! Not everyone can do it! These specific classing techniques are banded down from one generation to the next since the pre-Hispanic era! Thus, the “Escojo” can’t be mechanized; it can be assessed only by experienced human hands and eyes.

Manual separation of the fibre by origin, quality, colour, and length of the fibre.

Then, the second phase, the “Dying”process begins, meaning they apply a permanent color to the fibre. On one of the explanatory board sign, it was written: “We mastered the use of all kinds of pigments and every textile technique, and with each one of them we were able to reach levels of expertise and beauty never surpassed by any culture“. They are really proud of their work!!!

Traditional way to create clothes.

After this colorful phase, they put their creative minds in use. Peruvians believe that through textile art, they can express themselves in a way no other culture would ever equal. They create unique and innovative patterns for clothes.

They showed how clothes were hand-made.

I, of course, had to look around the shop… just to verify that these clothes were indeed unique 😉 They had really nice and soft sweaters, scarves, mittens, hats, and thick, warm socks. But unfortunately the price also matched with the grandeur (or uniqueness) of the product.

But the highlight of the visit is to feed and pet several Alpacas!! It feels so soft and silky when you touch them, and they are definitely not afraid of humans. As for baby Alpacas, they are the cutest thing you want to hug and cuddle. There was one black baby Alpaca who I really wanted to sneak in my bag (but I didn’t do it)! He would have been the perfect companion in my travels. He was way too cute!!

…………………………..After the Alpaca visit, I went to see the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, founded in 1579 by the Domenican Order. The two Californian girls were only 19 years old, and their concept of fun & interesting didn’t involve visiting a historic religious site! I do understand them. When I was 19, I was definitely more interested in going to the beach, partying and hanging out with my friends…

Anyway, I did this visit alone, and I was glad I did it. The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is “the only convent in the world composed of a city within a city”. Located on more than 5 acres, the convent includes 3 cloisters, several streets, a square, a church, an art gallery, 80 houses where nuns lived, a fountain, a cemetery, etc.

Entrance to “El Monasterio de Santa Catalina”.

Once inside the convent…

SILENCIO… SILENCE…

Nowadays, there are still 30 sisters, of ages ranging between 18 and 90. Their day starts at 5 am (ugh, just because of that I will never be a sister!), and consist of long hours of silence listening to God, praying, studying, and doing manual work in order to win their daily bread. Since I was alone, I did a 2-hour tour of the site in complete silence! Can you imagine being completely isolated from the world and spending most of your day in total silence? I can’t. I read in an article that the average person doesn’t spend even 30 minutes a month in total silence and tranquility! But for these sisters, silence indeed is golden! Very impressive!

The parlour – From here the nuns communicated with the outside world.

The parlour – Communication was made from behind double wooden bars. The revolving windows served to exchange diverse products.

The work room – In this area the nuns received important visitors, with previous authorization from the archbishop.

The Novice Cloister – Here the novices made contact with religious life before professing their vows.

The Novice Cloister – Here the novices made contact with religious life before professing their vows.

……………………………..At the founding of the convent, it was written that a prospective nun “should be Spanish”, should provide a dowry and bring a trousseau. They had several ‘strict’ rules to follow, such as they were allowed to bring with them up to 2 servants or cut their hair only 7 times a year!?! Traditionally, the oldest daughter was sent to the convent to become a nun. I am so glad I wasn’t born in the XVI century!!

However, the distinguished Bishop, Pedro José Chaves de la Rosa visited the convent and thought that a series of reforms was called for with regard to religious life, the administration of income and some of the convent’s buildings. He thought these nuns had a too luxurious life! To show his discontent, he refused on several occasions to acknowledge the election of the convent’s authorities. These interventions weren’t accepted by the nuns, who insisted on exercising their electoral rights! He encountered thus a fierce resistance among the nuns. In the end, the Bishop was unable to achieve his objective of reform and was obliged to resign in 1804. (Way to go, sisters!!).

In the end, I visited a nun sisters’ convent and pet several Alpacas on the same day! I don’t think there are many places in this world where you can do both spiritual and fun activities! Lucky me 😉

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