We left Huacachina on a 12 hour overnight bus eager for the next leg of our Peruvian journey, as both Arequipa, which offers an exciting culinary scene, and Cusco, the base camp for our Machu Picchu excursion, were yet to come. We had a host agree to welcome us into her house, but she hadn’t given us any specific information by the time we arrived early in the morning, so we took a taxi to the center to look for a hostel. We planned to have a hostel hold our bags while we explored the city, since we expected our host to pick us up at some point. However, after having lunch at El Fez, a delicious Mediterranean restaurant, we still hadn’t heard from her so we checked into a nice hostel near to the famous Santa Catalina Monastery.
We spent the day wandering the charming historical center and found ourselves relaxing in the center square an hour or two before sunset. We struck up a conversation with a local who was about our age, who had recently broken up with his girlfriend, and enjoyed our company to the point that he offered to take us on a non-touristic tour of his city. We started by visiting a high-rise building he was familiar with for pictures of the skyline set against the mountains. He then took us to a few art cooperatives, before showing us the location of his favorite restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops.
The next day we woke up early to beat the crowds touring the monastery. Built in 1579 and expanded in the 17th century, Santa Catalina of Sienna Monastery is over 20,000 square meters and houses around 20 nuns in part of the complex, while the rest is open to the public. As tradition held, the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the church, but the monastery only accepted women from upper class Spanish, and required a dowry of 2,400 silver coins (equivalent to about $150,000 today) as admission. Without the dowry, women could only enter as a choir nun, indicated by wearing a black veil.
The nuns were required to bring 25 listed items, including a painting, a statue, a lamp, and clothes. Many of the wealthiest nuns brought fine English china, silk curtains, and rugs. They went to communion 15 times a year and washed and cut their hair only 7 times a year. From novice to nun it took 1 to 1.5 years, and the women lived based on principles of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Many nuns pursued the mystic path, marked by prolonged fasting, wearing harsh clothing such as barbed wire undergarments and scourges, forced themselves into uncomfortable posturing, and often avoided sleep. During 391 years the monastery managed to remain isolated from society, the nuns endured an earthquake in 1582, a volcanic eruption 1600, and more earthquakes in 1604, 1784, and 1868.
After thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the monastery and reveling at the simplicity and devotion exhibited by the nuns, we thought it was only natural to indulge in Mexican food in their honor at a popular restaurant called Tacos y Tequila. The following day, which was to be our last in Arequipa, we treated ourselves to a lunch at Picantería La Capitana, famous for its uniquely Arequipan dishes.
Picanterías offer combination plates known as doubles, triples, and Americanos. Typically the double has rocoto relleno (the pride of Arequipa, a de-seeded, de-stemmed, boiled red pepper (resembling a bell pepper), stuffed with finely cut steak, cheese, black olives, ground peanuts, various spices, sometimes raisins, and baked), soltero de queso (queso campesino, lima beans, tomato, onion, corn, rocoto, parsley, and beet salad served with pastel de papa), and baked or fried pork. The triple has those plus pig’s feet, and the Americano has basically everything in the kitchen that day, which could be estofado de res (beef stew), lentils, or a variety of spaghetti dishes.