Remember the one-hit-wonder “White Town”? I´m in the “White City”. Beat that.

I have been having notably vivid, intense dreams this past week. And it’s not from drugs. I guess I’m just glad that I am finally sleeping- I think it had been about two months of restless, anxious insomnia before my trip and finally I am settling into the routine of traveling now that I am on the road.

I´ve been in Arequipa for the past week, staying at a charming guesthouse run by Lucio, the Peruvian version of Don Corleone.

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I have been eating my fair share of alpaca (the local specialty), exploring cryptic monasteries, taking Spanish classes, and attempting to chat up the local artisans. On my first day, I was determined to try local cuisine at local prices. I scored a 3 course meal for $2, starting with “Chauque”, an alpaca sew.

Llamas are the name of the game here. They can be found on spools of yarn, made on sweaters, fried wtih a side of rice, or in my soup.

Llamas are the name of the game here. They can be found on spools of yarn, made into sweaters, fried with a side of rice, or in my soup.

Chopped-off pig heads at the Mercado. I am an experimental eater, but I did not try pig head.

This little piggy went to market: Chopped-off pig heads at the Mercado. I am an experimental eater, but I did not try pig head. I did eat heart last night, though.

Arequipa is dubbed ¨The White City¨ because of its largely Aryan population. Just kidding. “The White City” refers to its countless colonial edifices painted white and for the magnificent snow-capped peaks surrounding the city. Yesterday I shelled out a hefty USD 10 to visit the mysterious Monasterio Santa Catalina- a convent from 1580 that had been shrouded from the rest of the city by citadel-esque walls until 1970 (almost 400 years in case arithmetic is not your strong suit) when it became a World Heritage Site open to tourists. It´s low tourist season here and as the lone vistor, I was able to take advantage of traipsing the cobblestone mazes, discovering hidden chambers, and finding the secret passageways leading to orange groves within the monastery. It reminded me of Super Marioland; once inside the secret tunnels and pipes, a separate world-within-a-world unfolds. It also reminded me of the Strong City cult– the nuns inside the monastery closed off from the rest of the world for their entire lives, only knowing life as it was within the convent walls. Apparently the nuns had a grand old time, however, rocking a hedonistic lifestyle with fantastic luxuries exclusive to the rest of the city dwellers.

Staircase to ? You'll have to see for yourself

Staircase to ? You'll have to see for yourself

Inside the Monasterio Santa Catalina. This is not a painting. Or a photo of a painting. It´s a real, live photo.

Inside the Monasterio Santa Catalina. This is not a painting. Or a photo of a painting. It´s a real, live photo.

I´ve also been seizing the opportunity of low-tourist season to speak with the locals. I´ve started taking private Spanish classes here with a nutty Arequipan named Pepe (he also has some offbeat political ideologies but that´s another story), and practicing my broken speech with local artisans, who are encouraging and beyond patient with my attempts. Better hablar-it-up while I’m in Peru and before I get to Argentina, where egos rule.

Many women still dress traditionally in bright colors and wear a derby-looking hat.

A clandestine snapshot of a local Arequipan: Many women wear traditional dress topped off with a derby-style hat.

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Tonight, I am off to Cuzco, home of Machu Picchu and party capital of the Incan world, on another overnight bus (that hopefully won´t tip over a cliff, fingers crossed) where I will be for Christmas and New Year´s! Woooo!

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~ by ceciliabien on December 18, 2008.

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