Monday, March 8, 2010

Holiday Week

As soon as Michael left last week, I was off on my next adventure, traveling around southern Peru with Henry, Christine and Sara. The week went so quickly -- a blur of overnight buses, sand and sun.

Our first stop: Nazca. We did the usual tourist thing, boarding a tiny plane for a short flight over the Nazca Lines. The real thrill, however, was sandboarding in the Peruvian desert. We rode a dune buggy to the peaks, where our guide, Eduardo, taught us the basics of sandboarding. Standing up required more coordination than I possess, but I rocked at sliding down on my belly! I can´t even describe the thrill of shooting headfirst down a mountain of sand.

Next on the agenda: a few days at the beach. We chose Camana, a small beach town on the road between Nazca and Arequipa, and crossed our fingers that the tsunami warnings would come to nothing. We spent two lazy days on the beach -- delighted to be the only gringos in sight -- before catching a bus to our final stop, Arequipa.

Arequipa is one of the largest and wealthiest towns in Peru. Constructed of white volcanic stone, it also has some of the nation´s prettiest architecture. (That´s the Plaza de Armas at left.) It was a great place to wander.

We also visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos, a museum focused on the Incas´ritual sacrifices in the nearby mountains. In addition to numerous burial artifacts, the museum has the bodies of several sacrificed children, whose deaths were meant to ensure good harvests, fertility and other blessings.

Our final stop in Arequipa was the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, formerly a cloistered convent for well-to-do nuns. Rather than living in simple, dormitory-style rooms, the nuns here lived in their own little houses, complete with servants and kitchens. The convent, which takes up a full city block and has its own streets and courtyards, feels more like a Spanish village than a religious community. The colors, such as cobalt blue and brick red, were especially striking. We spent several hours just wandering here, choosing the set of rooms we each liked best.

In all, it was an incredible week. We had some delicious meals (and a few really bad ones), we saw more than a few breath-taking landscapes, and at one point I even drank a screwdriver while wearing a sombrero ... in public. Yep, it was that kind of week.

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