Horseback riding in the desert and farms outside Arequipa

This was taken after the ride and I’m not looking my very best. It was a nice morning, though Anibal, my guide, was way too forward for me.


This morning I went horseback riding. As a tour goes, I was not the best organized. Somehow I ended up paying for my own taxi home, after walking more than a mile to a place were we could even get a taxi. By that point, I was just ready to go.

But it was an “interesting” excursion, though not for the usual reasons. I was the only rider and Anibal was my guide. His family owns the farm and horses, though he is now living in Germany and only here on vacation. He was a funny guy, but a bit… “charming” ….for my tastes. When I asked the name of his horse, he said, “Nacho. Yo soy macho. El es Nacho.” (Nacho. I am macho. He is Nacho.) He also used the word “stallion” to describe himself, adding some very unambiguous body language, leaving nothing to the imagination. I did get a lot of Spanish practice today. Particularly, I got a lot of practice telling him NO. Fortunately the word is the same in English and Spanish and is recognized in most of the world as a negative response. Not so with Anibal! “Puedes venir a mi casa? Quieres venir a mi cama?” (Can you come to my house? Do you want to come to my bed?) While this is the best offer (of that sort) I’ve had in quite some time, I declined. Repeatedly. He’s a decade younger than I am, so my ego was slightly stroked. Though at the time I was far more wary that he wanted to stroke me!

I did get a free salsa lesson, Though if he stood any closer to me, he’d be behind me.  At my age, you’d think I’d not see this behavior anymore. I, sadly, look a bit matronly. Certainly, not sexy. It was somehow frightening, insulting and nice. Odd.

Honestly, the farm needed some attention. There was a lot of trash about and with all the animals, the smell was strong in places. These silos look like they’ve not been used in years.
The farm also has cows, but it must be a boring life for them in a dry pen. These are mostly steers, ready for market, so perhaps boring is better than what they are facing.

Nacho, saddled and ready to go.
Pedro gets saddled up. He isn’t tall, but I still needed a bench to help me get up. Guess my strength isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe it’s my girth, which is so much more than it used to be? Of course Anibal offered to help push me up from behind. No, thank you.
My horse, Pedro.
Dry. REALLY, really dry. Most of the 2 hour ride, I got to practice my Spanish with Anibal. I’d say a phrase first in English then try to repeat it in Spanish. Of course, I got a lot of correction, but it was a nice additional lesson. I was even serenaded in Spanish.
You can easily see which field is under irrigation and which is not. Anibal rides in front. My horse, Pedro, was 25 years old and only interested in following. He slipped MANY times. Possibly he didn’t enjoy carrying this fat American? While Anibal conceded that Pedro was old, he called his own horse “very young” at 6 years old and gave this as the reason he was so temperamental. Both horses are “castrado,” a new Spanish word for me.

A reservoir in the mid-ground and irrigation channel along the road.
We passed a group of bicyclists, too. The road looks like asphalt, but in this area it’s hard packed dirt and lots of dust. I was covered in it by the time I finished.
Dry. I have never lived anywhere that was so dry. Arid. Desert. Scrub land. D-R-Y
Here, you see one of the irrigation channels running between fields. In the distance are the Chachani mountains.
This is an old rock quarry. Arequipa is called “the white city” mostly because of sillar, the volcanic rock mined here. Most of the farms have stone walls, sometimes 10 feet high, surrounding their property, as well as short walls dividing fields.
Misti volcano, which hasn’t erupted in a few hundred years. Occasionally, you can see smoke from it, however.
The stone wall is made of sillar, a volcanic rock. (pronounced: see YAR)
The only reason that field on the left is green is because of the irrigation channel along the side of the road. I saw a little corn and sorghum (most volunteer), but mostly green peas and alfalfa growing. It’s spring here. I don’t know when they plant crops, nor what types.
Misti Volcano in the distance.
Did I mention it’s dry?
Anibal with Nacho, a 6yo who was very reluctant to go on the ride. Several times the horses were skiddish, but never over the things I thought would bother them. Cars, barking dogs, running children were no issue. Empty houses really bothered them, though, and it was difficult to keep them moving forward.
The horses got a much needed drink after the ride. There was a “problem” with my return transportation which was never quite explained. First we “waited” for my driver to come for about an hour. In the meantime, Anibal gave me a salsa lesson (man, does that guy dance CLOSE). Then he “let” me water and brush down the three horses for the next group of riders in the afternoon. I was covered in horse hair as these had not been properly brushed in a long time.
Pedro, my horse. You can just see to the left, Anibal walking away. He’s words to me were, “You stay. I pee.”
The farm has horses, cows and they grow alfalfa and a few other crops. There’s little pasture land here, because there’s no rain for grass to grow.

In the end, my driver never came. Anibal offered to take me into the house. I was fairly sure I didn’t want to do that. He walked me to the edge of town and offered to take me to lunch. No, really, I was done being asked to come to his bed. It was hilarious the first time, but really annoying by the 12th. So he helped me get a cab (which I paid for, though transportation was supposed to be part of my tour).

Santa Catalina Monastery

When my guide and I arrived, the line to get in was huge! This was the last Sunday of the month, the day when admission goes from 40 to 10 soles for Peruvians. Bad timing! But having a guide meant I could bypass the line. However, I had to wait half an hour for an English speaking tour guide to gather a group.

During my day tour last week of Arequipa, I also got the opportunity to visit this monastery–which is still a working home for about 20 nuns! The Monastery of Saint Catherine is a monastery of nuns of the Dominican Second Order, located just a couple blocks from the Plaza de Armas. It was built in 1579 and was enlarged in the 17th century. The over 20,000-square-meter monastery was built predominantly in the Mudéjar style (Moorish or Muslim style as seen in the Iberian peninsula) and is characterized by its vividly painted walls of red, blue and gold. The nuns who still live here are in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.

The foundress of the monastery was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the Church, and the monastery accepted only women from upper class Spanish families. During part of the monastery’s history, the higher level nuns were allowed their own private rooms with opulent sitting rooms, like this one. Other times it was more austere.
This was handmade by the nuns. Jesus’ hair is REAL–taken from one of the novices, when her hair was cut before taking her vows.
Silence! After passing under this arch, novice nuns were required to zip their lips in a vow of solemn silence and resolve to a life of work and prayer. Nuns lived as novices for four years, during which time their wealthy families were expected to pay a dowry of 100 gold coins per year. At the end of the four years they could choose between taking their vows and entering into religious service, or leaving the convent – the latter would most likely have brought shame upon their family.

At its height, the monastery housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. In the 1960s, it was struck twice by earthquakes, severely damaging the structures, and forcing the nuns to build new accommodation next door. It was then restored in stages by groups including Promociones Turisticas del Sur S.A. and World Monuments Fund and opened to the public. This also helped pay for the installation of electricity and running water, as required by law. Notice the bed. Though the ceiling is covered by a curtain, it is built as an arch, a safer place in an earthquake.
This is where the bodies of the nuns were displayed before burial. The walls are covered with portraits, taken after death, of a few of the nuns who lived and died here. Artists were allotted 24 hours to complete these posthumous paintings, since painting the nuns while alive was out of the question. It was considered too vain.
Graduated novices passed onto the Orange Cloister, named for the orange trees clustered at its center that represent renewal and eternal life. This cloister allows a peek into the Profundis Room, a mortuary where dead nuns were mourned. Paintings of the deceased line the walls. Artists were allotted 24 hours to complete these posthumous paintings, since painting the nuns while alive was out of the question.
In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, O.P., a strict Dominican nun, was sent by Pope Pius IX to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of either remaining as nuns or leaving. In addition to the stories of outrageous wealth, there are tales of nuns becoming pregnant, and amazingly of the skeleton of a baby being discovered encased in a wall. This, in fact, did not happen in Santa Catalina, and there are rumors of the same story in the nearby Santa Rosa monastery, as well.
This is the laundry. Broken pots that once held wine or oil were sawed in half to use for scrubbing clothing. Notice the water running down the middle. By placing a stone to stop the water’s flow, you could fill the pot. There’s a drain in each, usually stopped up by a carrot or piece of potato.
Diverting the water into your pot is easy!
This is the national flower of Peru. It is also, a sacred flower of the Incas. It is called cantuta, although in Cuzco people know it more by its Quechua name, qantu. It is native to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia between 1200 meters above sea level and 3800. It is said that the Incas found in it sacred essences that made water stay pure longer.

Each family paid a dowry at their daughter’s admission to the monastery. The dowry expected of a woman who wished to enter as a choir nun–indicated by wearing a black veil—and who thereby accepted the duty of the daily recitation of the Divine Office, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to about $150,000 (U.S.) today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy.

This was once the old chapel, but it was converted to a kitchen. Heading down Burgos Street toward the cathedral’s sparkling sillar tower, visitors may enter the musty darkness of the communal kitchen that was originally used as the church until the reformation of 1871. Just beyond, Zocodober Square (the name comes from the Arabic word for ‘barter’) was where nuns gathered on Sundays to exchange their handicrafts, such as soaps and baked goods. Continuing on, to the left you can enter the cell of the legendary Sor Ana, a nun renowned for her eerily accurate predictions about the future and the miracles she is said to have performed until her death in 1686.
The oven where bread was baked. The interior of the kitchen is black, from years of cooking fires, and it was difficult to take photos.

The Great Cloister is bordered by the chapel on one side and the art gallery, which used to serve as a communal dormitory, on the other. This building takes on the shape of a cross. Murals along the walls depict scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.