Living in the Shadow of Mount Misti – Meandering Maddie

The month we spent in Cusco was jam-packed with explorations of Peruvian culture and history. It was a busy month, so our time in Arequipa was much more low-key and we planned to spend a lot of our time in the apartment. Carlos had his projects he wanted to get back to and I had mine as well. So, the first two weeks passed with us at home during the week and with excursions into the city planned for the weekends.

It turned out that August was a great month to visit Arequipa as there were a lot of interesting cultural events going on. Once such event took place the first weekend we were there and on Sunday, August 5 th we woke up early to go to the Adobo Festival. The event was happening in Plaza de Cayma, which is 15 minutes away from our apartment. Carlos and I were not sure exactly what adobo entailed but it looked delicious from the posters, and we were up for trying some authentic Arequipan cuisine.

Adobo and people watching in Plaza de Cayma

The walk over to the plaza was pleasant in the sunshine of the early morning; it would be very warm later in the day, but at 7:30am it was still cool. The plaza is a lovely open space with meticulously kept lawns, flower beds, and trees surrounding a water fountain and a statue of an important military figure in the founding of the city (which occurred in 1540).

A beautiful church called Igesia San Miguel Arcangel de Cayma sits across the street and it is one of the best carved ashlar buildings in Arequipa. Most of the oldest structures in the city are made of the white volcanic stone called sillar and this is the reason for Arequipa’s nickname as “the White City”. We decided explored the church after our adobo breakfast.

The north and south sides of the square had been taken over for the adobo stands and family-style tables, with a covered terrace constructed over them for shade. There were so many vendors selling their version of adobo, we didn’t know which one to choose from! We settled for one on the edge, near the church, and sat down a table with a couple of empty chairs. A lady came by to take our order, though there was only one thing to select: adobo!

Arequipan adobo is pork that has been stewed in a spicy liquid, usually with paprika and chili as the dominant spices. The lady brought us our bowls of stew and bread to eat it with. There was a sheen of fat at the top of the liquid in the bowl, so I knew this was going to be good. The pork meat was a bit tough, but it was on the bone, so there was a lot of flavor there as well as in the broth. We devoured it, despite it being 8 o’clock in the morning.

Once we were done eating, we got up and walked around the plaza to people-watch and see what else was being offered at this festival. There were a few ice cream vendors on the street outside the church that were selling queso helado. Now, this literally means “cheese ice cream”, which does not sound all that appealing, but we love food and trying new tastes, so we took the free samples that were offered to us. Damn, it was soooo good! I tasted not one hint of cheese, just vanilla, cinnamon, and coconut deliciousness. We ended up buying a regular scoop and a rum-flavored one for dessert. I learned later that queso helado is a specialty of Arequipa, so I’m glad we tried some. First church of many to explore

We walked with our ice cream to the front of the church to see the magnificent façade up close. It was beautiful and so intricately carved; there were even some Corinthian columns on either side of the massive door. As it was Sunday, there was a service going on and we stood with some other people on the threshold of the door to watch it for a time. We never went inside it, but apparently there are 12 paintings by Francisco Carbajal hanging in there that date back to 1790, as well as a sculpture of the Virgin of Candelaria that was gifted to the church by Charles V.

After we finished our queso helado, we walked around to a side entrance off to the right of the main church, to explore the grounds and gardens there. There were some beautiful rooms and stone niches, and the gardens were overflowing with orange and yellow lantanas, one of my favorite flowered plants. We also were able to see an outdoor kitchen and dining area that had been used by the priests since the church was consecrated in 1730. It was stocked with some old utensils and cookware, and it was overall fascinating to see it. We walked back to our apartment contented to have started the day so well. Scoping out Plaza de Armas and its environs

Once we crossed Puente Grau, we jumped off the bus and walked towards the plaza a few blocks away. We passed the outer walls of the Santa Catalina Monastery (to be explored later in the month) and loads of shops and restaurants. We reached the plaza and it was so grand, especially with La Catedral dominating it. The buildings surrounding the square were elegant and heavily influenced by Spanish architecture. Both the architecture and the people of Arequipa are very different from Cusco, where indigenous influence is still quite prominent. It’s not surprising as Arequipa is further from the Andes and it was the capital city of Peru from 1835 to 1883.

The gates to La Catedral were open so we wandered around the area outside the main doors, admiring the massive white stone structure that rose up before us. There are two magnificent bell towers that stretch high into the sky and chime the hour of every day. The architectural style is neo-classical with Gothic vaults; construction of the building began in 1621 but it was not finished until 1656. There was a fee to enter the cathedral for a tour, but we just did not want to pay it at the time, so we snapped some photos of the outside and then continued strolling around the plaza.

We did pop into La Iglesia y Complejo de al Compañía to scope out the interior. It was a beautiful on the inside, full of exquisite wooden carvings and paintings, with lots of gold touches and uses of color. We arrived in time for mass to start and we stayed for awhile to watch it for curiosity’s sake. Researching the church, I found out that it was one of the first ones to be constructed out of sillar in 1573 and that it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1584. Fortunately, Jesuits priests rebuilt the church and by 1698 it was back in business.

There was an archaeological museum with great artifacts and Incan mummies a few streets down from the plaza that I was interested in seeing, but unfortunately it was closed on the weekends, so we had to come back another time. The museum that housed the remains of Juanita was open but I had not heard good things about it. The entrance fee was steep ($20 per person) and the exhibits small, dimly lit, and not well curated. The only thing to see there was the 500-year old teenage Incan mummy girl, but there were mummies to see elsewhere.

Instead, we continued exploring the city center and made our way towards Mercado San Camilo, the oldest market in Arequipa. It was filled with loads of products and people, all crammed together in the one-square-block space. It was great, and we grabbed a couple delicious Peruvian tamales for a snack. There was a band playing up on the second floor that day, so it was even more lively than usual. We bought half a kilo of big, red strawberries before hitting the ol’ dusty trail for home.