Adios 2015, Bienvenido 2016!

Our thighs said ‘no more Incan steps!’ so in order to respect our bodies, of course we left the high hills and decided to head back to the warm, bright sunshine of flat Arequipa for New Year’s Eve.

We had started out in Arequipa before heading upwards to Lake Titicaca and The Sacred Valley. We liked it so much we went back…plus we couldn’t afford New Year’s Eve at the overpriced seaside destination of Paracas.

Arequipa had a great, relaxed, easy feel to it. Our hotel Los Tambos was superb and eating out was super cheap. We consumed mainly Chinese food and avoided the nutritional, baked Guinea Pig dish that was far too popular with the Peruvians !

There are a couple of meanings behind the name Arequipa. In Peru there are two Indigenous people’s – the Quechua and the Aymara, both have very different languages. In Quechua language ari quepay means ‘let’s stop here’ and the legend states that an Incan ruler said this after reaching here after their long journey from the north. However pre-Inca Aymara Indians are thought to have named the city, in their language ari stands for ‘summit’ and quipa for ‘laying behind’ which makes sense as the great Misti volcano is visible from all over the city.
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The Plaza de Armas is by far the prettiest we have seen in South America.  The volcanoes of El Misti – The Gentleman, Picchu Picchu – The Top Top and Chachani – The Beloved, provide a stunning backdrop to the beautiful Cathedral that fills the back of the square. Although those pesky Spaniard incomers ripped down a ton of Incan buildings to use the carved blocks to build their own colonial cities, the central historic area of Arequipa is really visually very stunning.
Jesuit priests incorporated their Catholic icons with Incan symbols so the indigenous people would be able to relate to and ultimately worship the foreign God. Incan food staple corn, features heavily in stone carvings along with Incan faces. The Inca’s worshipped the Sun and this symbol can be found in many Peruvian religious artefacts (the Incas didn’t need to know it symbolised the Eternal Lord…) Jesus though will always sit above the Sun in paintings to show he is more important.
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Leaving Mr E behind to watch his beloved Liverpool FC, I took a tranquil wander through the enclosed colonial ‘city within a city’ of The Convent of Santa Catalina.
So picture the scene if you will; you are the daughter of a wealthy patron in the 16th or 17th Century, maybe you are widowed or maybe you are just a tad too ugly to be married off. The best option for the family would be to have you whisked off to a nunnery! At the Arequipa closed convent you would become a Dominican Nun and would offer your remaining life to the love of Jesus.
These nuns would be supported by their wealthy families, nice of them really as they had banished you from causing more unmarried embarrassment!
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Each Nun would have their own ‘cell’  furnished with carpets, furniture, lace curtains, fine China and your own servants to wash your wimple! Life would consist of daily prayers, embroidery, baking bread in silence and solitude, cut off from the rest of the world. Maybe this life was better that being married off to some old unsuitable wrinkly? who knows!
There are still nuns living in the convent aged between 25 – 85 plus two 18-year-old novices and I’m sure the decision to enter is entirely their own nowadays.
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There were certain rooms in the convent that spooked me slightly, where holy feet have left their marks on the stone floors. Renaissance art with its inquisitive eyes has always put the fear of God into me, it’s far too scary.
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But the enclosed streets had a general feeling of peace. I loved the contrasting vibrant colours of the convent, the blue painted walls to me represented the heavens the nuns will reach at the end of their devoted lives. While the orange and ochre colours could be to remind the nuns of the solid earth they dedicate their life on until they finally take their joyful voyage to meet their Lord…

“Oh, my God, what has been said has been said:
You with me and I with you,
I with you and you with me”
Sister Ana de los Angeles

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So after my time in solitude, humming along to the baroque music that was played throughout the convent, it was time to re-enter the modern world for some New Year’s Eve festivities.

We opted for another delicious value Chinese dinner rather than spend a big chunk of our soles on a traditional Peruvian 12 course extravaganza. Then we headed to a hotel with a prime spot in the Plaza de Armas to meet a fun couple from Philadelphia, we had met on the Arequipa Walking Tour. We shared a couple of bottles of wine and saw the New Year in together. Just before Midnight the fireworks started and lasted for at least thirty minutes, the whole of the city was lit up. We had a 360-degree view of thousands of fireworks in the square and throughout the city to the outskirts, it was fabulous!
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2015 was quite simply incredible for the Evans, a year of travel memories and fun times.
This year, we’re looking forward to a few more months of travel and then our safe return to the UK. But let’s not think about working again just yet..

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016 in whatever you are doing!

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