A Sack of Cuy, Anyone?

Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market, one of the most famous in Ecuador and possibly all of the Andes, but it was Otavalo’s lesser-known animal market that captured our fancy. The craft and textile market at the Plaza de Los Ponchos has a great reputation but in the past 20 years the textiles have gone from predominantly hand-woven goods made of natural fibers and dyes to goods that are mainly machine-loomed with synthetic colors and fabrics. We knew the animal market would be an interesting experience when, as we entered, there were several ladies in traditional costumes holding plastic sacks full of squirming cuy (guinea pigs).

As those of you who’ve been to the Andes know, we’re not talking about pets…we’re talking about food. Prior to the Spanish introduction of cattle, pigs and goats, the llama and the cuy were the primary sources of meat protein in the Andes. Even today, a cuy al horno is de riguer for special occasions in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The only time I’ve tried it was in Cusco and the little fella was brought to me on a plate, fresh out of the oven, with an aji (chili pepper) in his mouth and pepper shaped into a sombrero on his head (see photo). The taste was chicken-like, a little greasy with many small bones and way too little meat. In all, probably more calories were burned searching for edible scraps of meat than I gained from eating the meal.

We had arrived at the animal market as the rain started to pour. The market is a kilometer or so outside of town and the road was clogged with pick-up trucks transporting livestock. We carefully made our way across the slick pavement, along with a 500 pound pig being coaxed by a small boy twisting its tail. We crossed the street and climbed a small hill to get a good visual orientation. The market was about the size of a muddy football field, with different sections for each animal. The smaller animals – chickens, turkeys, cats, dogs, cuy -- were towards the front of the market and the larger animals – cows, horses, pigs, goats – were towards the back, where they could be loaded and unloaded from trucks. The cuy ladies were standing in the cuy section, scanning customers’ eyes for signs of interest. One lady held a particularly fat cuy by the neck and told me he could be mine for eight dollars. The chicken ladies were in a line, holding the larger chickens upside down by the feet. The smaller chickens were in makeshift pens and the chicks were crammed in crates, selling five for a dollar. Near the duck section, an indigenous woman bargained for a crate of ducklings while her daughter watched. Mom and daughter word traditional mantas – large, loomed blankets that hold just about anything, including babies on mother’s backs. On the daughter’s back, the manta incongruously held a blue-eyed, blond haired Barbie doll. We passed a well dressed couple selling turkeys; he wore a blue fedora, wool poncho, white pants and sandals and she was dressed in a white embroidered blouse with a blue skirt and wool scarf. The couple looked very self-possessed and whatever the man’s secret was for keeping his white trousers mud-free…it was definitely working. His immaculate wife held three turkeys on rope leashes. Two of the turkeys were very clean as well, but there was no secret to how they did it…they sat directly on top of the third turkey.

Our kids loved the market, but they didn’t like the sight of several kittens stuffed into a mesh crate. My son concocted a scheme whereby he would buy a crate of ten kittens (each kitten costing a dollar) and, after keeping one for himself, liberate the others. I had just finished explaining the impracticality of that scheme when we walked by the puppies. A year-old puppy, costing five dollars, stared into my son’s eyes and I knew we’d be having the same conversation all over again. It was time to leave.


An Ecuadorian Christmas Gift

While we have been on the road this year we have downplayed the role of Christmas with our kids. Instead of receiving MP3 players, skateboards and Nike basketball shoes, we have played up the things that they’re getting from our trip like a Galapagos cruise, scuba diving certification, and hiking the Inca Trail. Part of this is economic -- we’re spending a lot of money to travel for an extended period of time and we’re not getting paid for the work we're doing. Part of this is practical -- we are living out of our backpacks these days and it would not make sense to receive a handful of bulky presents that could not be brought on the trip. Our kids have been great. They got the message and they weren’t even expecting a visit from Santa Claus.

Santa Claus had other plans, however.
We ate a lovely Christmas-Eve dinner last night, in a traditional restaurant frequented by locals and we walked back to our hotel past happy people rushing home with presents, trying to get all their last minute shopping done as the skies darkened. Even without a full-blown Christmas, we all felt content with our holiday experience. Back at our hotel, while we were all doing our separate things prior to bed, two red-and-white Santa caps were mysteriously tied to our hotel room door. The hats were the battery-operated ones with flashing Christmas lights and they were filled with chocolate candy. Attached to the caps with a long string of decorative tinsel was a note: “Merry Christmas! From Santa Claus in Norway” Our kids were of course delighted and a bit puzzled. Since they weren’t expecting a Santa visit and both are on the verge of becoming Santa-skeptics (if not already there), they wondered who had brought the wonderful surprise. They ran down the list of “usual suspects” – starting with us. We (truthfully) denied any and all knowledge. They ruled out the hotel staff – they wouldn’t have added the “Norway” part. Was it a hotel guest? We’d met a few guests, but none were from Norway. It must have been Santa.
It had escaped the kids’ attention, but I’d noticed two young Scandinavian women sitting on the terrace as we returned from dinner. They were playing Christmas tunes and were both wearing Santa caps with flashing Christmas lights. I think I’ll keep this bit of information to myself.

Feliz Navidad!

This post was part of a Lonely Planet Blogsherpa carnival Christmas Traditions Around the World, hosted by Abi at Inside the Travel Lab.


Islas Galapagos: Dances With Sea Lions

The four of us swam ahead of our group, slowly snorkeling along a reef of coral and volcanic rock, when two of them shot right past us, abruptly stopped and turned around to size us up. Size-wise, we were similar and we all had shiny black skin and fins, but our family probably looked a little odd with bulky glass masks and tubes protruding from our mouths. After checking us out, the smaller one dove down about 20 feet, did a barrel roll, a somersault and came back up and looked directly at us from 6 feet away: the challenging expression said, “Okay, what can you do?” We were snorkeling at Sombrero Chino in the Galapagos and some sea lions had decided that it was time to play.

After a few moments hesitation, I lamely tried the same maneuver and before I was able to finish, the other one impatiently whizzed by us, gliding through a series of seven or eight barrel rolls. The four of us spent the next couple minutes playing with our new friends until we were visited by two 6-foot, white-tipped sharks. My daughter edged closer to me and I heard my son yell “shark!” in a garbled underwater voice through his snorkel. Once the sharks passed by us, and we realized that they weren’t very interested in us, we followed them. Our sea lion friends followed for a moment and then decided it was time to shoo the intruders away. One of the sea lions burst forward and gave chase to the larger shark, close enough to nip his tail. He hounded him for a minute or two until both of the sharks swam away. It was as if the sea lions were saying, “Go find your own friends!”

By this time, the rest of our group – all on an eight-day tour of the Galapagos – had re-joined us, we resumed play with the sea lions. One of the hallmarks of the Galapagos experience is all of the animals’ complete lack of fear of humans. In “The Voyage of the Beagle,” Charles Darwin documented his 1835 visit to the islands, and remarked, “A gun here is almost superfluous; for with the muzzle I pushed a hawk off the branch of a tree.” This phenomenon made such an impression on Darwin that he concluded his 35 page section on the islands with his view that fear of humans, or any predator, is a learned characteristic, “We may infer from these facts, what havoc the introduction of any new beast of prey must cause in a country, before the instincts of the indigenous inhabitants have become adapted to the stranger’s craft or power.” Indeed, none of the animals seemed the least bit afraid of us. Sally Lightfoot crabs didn’t scurry when we walked past, giant sea turtles went about their business as we walked a few feet away or followed them underwater. All of the trails we took were littered with dozing sea lions and iguanas that didn’t budge an inch for us as we tried to walk the trail. Later, we walked through the nesting grounds of frigate birds and blue-footed and Nazca boobies, passing less than two feet from their nests. A few were sitting on eggs and several were feeding or caring for very young chicks, but they did not seem to notice us a bit.

Aside from the lack of natural fear of humans, Darwin was of course very impressed with the uniqueness and variation of life on the islands and the Galapagos’ role in informing Darwin’s ideas on evolution is well documented. In “Voyage of the Beagle,” Darwin sums it up, “The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in width.”

Darwin did a lot of great things, but he really should have snorkeled in the Galapagos. Our group played for about 15-20 minutes with the sea lions -- sea mammals dueling humans in underwater gymnastics. Towards the end of our session I heard my daughter scream underwater “penguins!” Two smaller ones raced by on their way somewhere, not interested in joining our sea lion play-date. It was another perfect day in the Galapagos – day two of eight. We’d already got our money’s worth.


The Last Days Of The Incas

It’s safe to say that if our family had not all read Kim MacQuarrie’s “The Last Days of the Incas” we might not have visited Cajamarca. The Peruvian mountain town was out of our way and many of the structures that existed on that fateful day of November 16, 1532, when Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards routed Emperor Atahualpa and the Incas, are no longer standing. MacQuarrie’s book was so good and so compelling that it brought the town to life for us and we just had to go there to experience it. It’s an example of how a good book can enhance the travel experience and influence an itinerary.

Our family is in the middle of a year-long reading contest and each month we give ourselves prizes for reading above a certain number of pages. Both our kids are being home-schooled this year so there are a lot of recognizable titles: “The Great Gatsby,” “1984,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” etc., but we also try to read good historical books set in the country that we’re visiting. We keep the results in a spreadsheet and update it immediately upon finishing a book. My son holds the record for most pages read in a month but my wife looks like she will beat that this month. My daughter has read the most total pages thus far and I have read the most books.

It is a good thing that we all read “Last Days,” because the Plaza de Armas at Cajamarca today looks nothing like it did in 1532. The battle of Cajamarca was a surprise attack by 160 Spaniards on the Incas that claimed 7,000 Inca lives and captured their leader Atahualpa (on the litter in the picture). The Spanish had some clear advantages in this battle. They relied on a surprise attack, soldiers on horseback with steel swords and cannon. It was a brutal half day of Spaniards slashing Incas from horseback…almost 44 Incas killed for every Spaniard. Over a thousand Incas dying every hour…almost 17 dying each minute. With the size of the great plaza much smaller and virtually none of the original buildings still standing, we had to use our imagination to visualize all that blood. The only original building still standing is the ransom chamber, the 20’x15’ adobe building that held Atahualpa while the ransom – a room full of gold and two rooms full of silver – was being collected. On our visit to the chamber, we tried to imagine Atahualpa pacing back and forth, wondering how it was that he found himself in this predicament. They eventually filled those rooms and then murdered the Inca Ruler.

The next day we went to the Royal Inca baths, the location where Atahualpa, upon learning that the Spaniards had arrived, decide to stay an extra day to relax, apparently not sufficiently worried about the funny looking visitors to interrupt his spa session. The original baths are still there but on this cold November day we bathed in the private, enclosed baths. The baths were extremely soothing and relaxing; perhaps Atahualpa and his generals were not sufficiently alert to fight properly against the Spaniards.

MacQuarrie does infinitely more justice to this story and there are lots of interesting anecdotes to flavor the tale. For example, just before the ambush started, the Friar Vincent de Valverde approached Atahualpa and asked him to accept Catholicism as his faith and Charles V as his sovereign. Atahualpa then asked to see a bible, which Valverde said “spoke to him,” but the Inca leader was unimpressed with it. (The Incas had neither books nor writing). He threw it down and that’s when the fighting began. Had we not read “Last Days,” Cajamarca would have been just another Peruvian mountain town to us.


Juanita: The Ice Princess

On our first day in Arequipa we had two goals: see Juanita, the 12-year old Inca ice princess recently found near a glacier and find a toasted bagel with cream cheese for our 12-year old daughter. Our daughter is keeping a list of the foods that she misses most from home and a toasted bagel with cream cheese is high on the list. Among other things, she has “drink tap water,” “eat real pancakes with real maple syrup,” “eat real cheese” (those of you from France, you can lower that supercilious eyebrow now) and “eat clean and big strawberries.” We went to a place that our guidebook described as a “Starbucks-style” coffee house searching for that elusive bagel, but had no luck. After eating a tasty lunch, we visited Juanita.

Juanita is the frozen body of an Inca girl who lived to be approximately 12-14 years old and she died sometime between 1440 and 1450. She was discovered on Mount Ampato (part of the Andes cordillera) in Southern Peru in 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner Miguel Zarate. Juanita was remarkably well-preserved after 500 years, due to being encased in a glacier for most of that time. In September 1995, during an ascent of Mt. Ampato (20,700 ft), Reinhard and Zárate found a bundle inside the crater that had fallen from an Inca site on the summit. Owing to melting caused by volcanic ash from the eruption of nearby volcano of Sabancaya, most of the Inca burial site had collapsed down a gully that led into the crater. To their astonishment, the bundle turned out to contain a remarkably well-preserved body of a young girl. In addition, they found—strewn about the mountain slope down which the body had fallen— many items that had been left as offerings to the Inca gods; these included statues and food items. A couple of days later, the body and the objects were taken to Arequipa. The body caused a sensation in the scientific world due to its well-preserved condition.

Pointing out the similarities in gender and age to our daughter, we learned about what her life could have been like as Juanita. We summarized the advantages: she would be buried with expensive artifacts and jewelry, could wear a very expensive vicuña wool garment and spend eternity with the gods. As for the disadvantages, well, there’s the death thing. During the height of the Inca Empire, sacrifices were common as way to appease the mountain gods who controlled nature. Children from all over the empire were gathered for selection in Cusco and only the most beautiful, innocent and perfect child would be chosen for the honor of going to live with the gods.

We visited Juanita at the Museo Santury on a beautiful spring day in Arequipa and she was in pretty good shape for a young girl over 500 years old. While her skin was a leathery brown, her hair was shiny and black and pulled into a tight pony-tail. The right side of her face is slightly marred due to a couple of weeks of sun exposure (the time between being jarred loose from the glacier and being discovered). For half the year she sits in the fetal position in a refrigerated glass case in Arequipa; the other half of the year she is on tour.

Anthropologists and historians have deduced that Juanita and the presiding priests walked 150 miles from Cusco and climbed the chilly Ampato volcano for the sacrificial rites. At the summit, she would have been extremely cold and was probably given a libation that put her to sleep. When the ceremony was over, she was struck with one precise blow just above the right eye that killed her instantly.

After learning all this, my daughter respectfully declined consideration for the role of sacrificial virgin. We decided to go hunt for the toasted bagel and cream cheese instead.


Peruvian Archeological Sites: The Tip of the Iceberg?

Our guidebook confidently listed the Sipán ruins in northern Peru as an archeological site not to be missed, mentioning it in the same breath as Machu Picchu. Sipán? I’d never heard of it. In my one-month whirlwind tour of Peru 23 years ago, I came to Chiclayo, the largest town near Sipán, and kept going. Reading further into the guidebook, I began to understand why. Apparently Sipán, the elaborate royal tombs of the Pre-Inca Moche culture, was discovered months after I passed through the region. The question my wife and I asked each other was: if Peru has been densely populated for the past few hundred years and Sipán was found just over 20 years ago, what else is out there?

Our bus arrived in Chiclayo around nine o’clock in the evening and I left my wife, kids and bags at the bus station and went searching for a hotel. It is always preferable to have a reservation when entering a strange city, but sometimes it’s just not possible. When we don’t, we’ve found the best course of action is to have either my wife or I head out and find a hotel fairly near the bus station, while the remaining three family members stand sentry over our belongings. I chose the first place I checked out, an inexpensive, clean, centrally-located hotel with a friendly manager. We freshened up, walked around the Plaza de Armas, changed money and ate a delicious meal of chicken brochettes on skewers. After dinner, we went to bed, ready for the next day’s assault on Sipán.

We woke early, intending to take the bus to the ruins. As we sat in the bus waiting for it to fill up, we got progressively longer answers every time we asked how long the bus would take, so we jumped out and got in a taxi instead. We drove on a dusty road through flat fields of sugar cane and I could see why Sipán had been undiscovered for so long...nothing on either side of the road remotely suggested an archaeological site. The ruins themselves weren’t discovered by any Bingham-esque explorer, but by looters from the Chiclayo area. It was only when a local archeologist began to see Moche culture artifacts flood the local markets that he realized that there had been a major discovery made nearby. Not long afterward, local authorities found the Sipán tombs and the windfall ended for the looters, who were not too happy about their gravy train derailing.

We arrived at the ruins after 50 minutes and were treated to the underwhelming site of about 3 or 4 large semi-eroded, earthen mounds. The mounds themselves looked like any other of the nearby mounds that we’d passed and we wondered how many more of them contain priceless artifacts. Perhaps there’s still hope for the Chiclayo looters, after all. We toured a small on-site museum and learned that the site was a series of burial tombs for the royal Moche family, filled with valuable ceramics, exquisite jewelry and Moche-era (200 BC to AD 850) skeletons. The pyramids were constructed with thousands of adobe bricks and burial chambers were laid over one over the other, but to grasp this you needed to see graphic reconstructions in the Lambeyeque museum we visited later that day. To the casual observer, Sipán looked like just another dirt mound rising out of the sugar cane fields.

A few months ago, I saw an article about the discovery of a scale model of a ancient Peruvian city that was never found and I emailed it to both of our kids. I thought that since they now spoke Spanish, were comfortable trudging around in the third-world, had an interest in Pre-Columbian cultures, and had visited dozens of Peruvian and Bolivian archeological sites, they were each well on their way to becoming the next Indiana Jones. After visting Sipán, we’re sure that there are plenty more sites out there waiting to be found.


New Pre-Columbian Culture Found In Peru: The Teletubbies

Last week we visited Nazca in coastal Peru and did the obligatory flyover of the Nazca Lines. Like many tourists before us we marched straight to the airport and organized our 35 minute flight over the lines. On that day of perfunctory sightseeing, however, I made the startling discovery of a totally-new Pre-Columbian culture: The Teletubbies.

Before I offer the details of my groundbreaking discovery, here's some background on the lines. The Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs located in the Nazca desert, a high arid plateau that stretches more than 50 miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana in Peru. These mysterious lines are largely believed to have been created by the Nazca culture between 200 BCE and 700 CE. There are hundreds of individual figures, ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks or orcas, llamas, and lizards. The lines are shallow designs in the ground where the brownish pebbles that cover the surrounding landscape have been removed, revealing the whitish earth underneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes, and more than seventy are natural or human figures. The largest are over 660 ft across. Scholars differ in interpreting what the lines were for but generally ascribe religious significance to them.

We arrived in Nazca after taking all all-night semi-cama bus from Arequipa. We’d heard that there was not much else to do in Nazca beyond flying over the lines, so we decided to arrive in the morning, see the lines and then keep heading north. We took a taxi to the airport, arranged our flights, ate an overpriced meal at the airport café and popped some motion sickness tablets. Most of the flights are in 5- or 7-seater Cessna planes which often make sharp banked turns in order to get closer looks at the lines. I remember the last time I flew over the lines, 23 years ago; our pilot pointed to a rectangular funnel shape and said, “UFO landing strip,” and dove the plane down towards it as if to land it there. It was at this point that Bernard, my French traveling companion, vomited into his air-sickness bag.

We met our pilot, got into our 7-seater, took off and began our aerial tour of the Nazca Lines. Not five minutes into our flight I made my startling discovery. There, on the side of a mountain was what our pilot called the “astronaut” or “owl man” figure. I’m not an archeologist or an historian, but it was pretty obvious to me that what we were looking at was a Teletubby. Round head, vacant eyes, puffy body, big feet and a friendly wave. Don’t take my word for it; judge for yourself with the two photos below.

Much is known about Nazca, Moche and Aymara Pre-Columbian cultures but very little is known about the Teletubbies presence in the early part of the first millennium here on the flat dry Nazca plain. My discovery was further supported by a visit to Las Ventanillas near Cajamarca in Northern Peru a few days later. Carved into the volcanic rock are what my guidebook described as funerary niches. Again, it was clearly obvious that these niches were perfectly carved to accommodate a television set (see photo below).

After making my startling discovery we continued with the flight, seeing the famous humingbird, monkey and whale figures, but my mind was on my breakthrough. I plan to publish my findings soon in the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian.


Peruvian Buses: Survival Tactics

Buses are a great way to get around in Peru, but there are definitely some things to keep in mind. Peru is a fairly large country (almost 500,000 square miles) and unless you can afford to fly everywhere, buses are your principal means of transport. Fortunately, we have no horror stories, but here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Peruvian buses can be divided into overnight buses and daytime buses, with varying degrees of service and quality within those categories. Overnight buses are for runs longer than 7-8 hours and the service can be either cama (fully-reclining seat) or semi-cama (partially reclining seat), with the luxury companies obviously more expensive. We took the luxury company Cruz Del Sur (see photo) from Cusco to Arequipa primarily because of safety reasons. A quick scan of Latin America Herald Tribune’s headlines for Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador reveals a disturbing number of bus crashes…almost always by budget companies and usually very early in the morning because the driver fell asleep. The mountain roads are notoriously bad and the budget companies have an obsolete fleet as well as drivers who obtain their licenses on the black market. As we settled into our lower-level cama seats, a Cruz Del Sur employee took a short video record of each passenger and we watched the “features” video talking about the bus having two drivers who work in shifts. To combat fatigue, the luxury companies have two drivers who take turns driving and the budget companies have one driver who chews coca leaves non-stop.

For the less dangerous routes along the coast, we used budget companies for overnight runs and have seen the difference in the quality of the comfort, meals, entertainment and restrooms. For our 13-hour, Arequipa-Nazca semi-cama overnight run, our seats reclined partially but did not have head rests and no blankets were provided. There was no meal served and there were no restaurant stops. There was no video entertainment and after the first hour or so, the toilet was clogged and unusable. It should be noted that even when meals are provided they are not always good. One of our “breakfasts” consisted of Oreos with pink center icing and a small box of mango juice. Likewise for the on board video entertainment: our Lima-Cajamarca cama run showed a really bad World War II film of a psychotic Nazi commander psychologically torturing and then killing the members of a Jewish theater troupe.

Taking the budget overnight companies or for a long daytime service, we have our own bus survival kit. The first item, obviously, is toilet paper, but we never want to be caught without bottled water, snacks and earplugs. There have been a few occasions when I’ve forgotten my earplugs and -- with the driver’s favorite folk music turn up full blast -- I’ve been caught sitting directly below the speakers.

Lastly, don’t expect to get a great night’s sleep on these buses. Make sure you have nothing planned the morning of your arrival and if possible, secure a reservation at a hotel that will allow you to check in early.


Darwinism In The Monastery

Perhaps it’s because I’m slowly working my way through “The Origin of the Species,” but I can’t help but look at Arequipa’s Santa Catalina Monastery through Charles Darwin’s eyes. Darwin visited Peru in 1835 but never made it to Arequipa (he took one look at Lima, didn’t like what he saw and decided to head immediately for the Galapagos). I see the Monastery as an organism, one that has adapted over four hundred-plus years in its quest to survive. For the first 300 years of its life, the Monastery existed in a privileged vacuum, then it was forced to reform by the Pope and for the next 100 years it existed in a tightly religious vein until 1970 when another evolution caused it to open up its doors for tourism. As we toured the Monastery recently, I couldn’t help thinking that some commercial real estate developer would love to help it evolve into an upscale shopping mall.

The Monastery, located near Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas, is a cloistered convent that was built in 1580 and enlarged in the 17th century. We wandered throughout the 215,000-square-foot monastery, taking in its vividly–painted walls, its Mudejar-style architecture, its quiet courtyards with fruit trees and its austere cells for the nuns. The founder was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman, who only accepted nuns from wealthy Spanish families. Each family paid a dowry when their daughter entered the monastery, and the dowry that gained you the highest status was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to US$50,000 today. Traditionally, the second daughter of these families entered a nunnery, a fact that my wife playfully pointed out to my (second-born) daughter on several occasions. Theoretically, the nuns were supposed to live in poverty and renounce the material world. In fact, each nun at Santa Catalina had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns often had parties and invited musicians to perform in the Monastery. In addition to the stories of outrageous wealth, there are tales of nuns becoming pregnant and one story of a baby skeleton being discovered encased in a wall.

This cushy existence lasted until 1871 when the Monastery was forced to adapt to a stricter lifestyle; Sister Josefa Cadena, a 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 remaining as nuns or leaving. The Monastery made the adjustment to this new environment for the next 100 years, until it was forced to adapt once again.

In 1970 the Monastery finally opened to the public when the mayor of Arequipa forced the Monastery to comply with laws requiring it to install electricity and running water. The nuns, who were at this point too poor to do this, opened their doors to tourism to pay for the modernization. It was evident to us from the very Spartan accommodations – unadorned walls, a simple mattress, one escritorio (writing desk), an oil lamp, a chamber pot, a storage trunk and a cross on the wall – that these nuns were nothing like their wealthy forbears of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Monastery once housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. Today, there are approximately 20 nuns living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.

In addition to societal and religious pressures to evolve, Mother Nature did her part with major earthquakes in 1600, 1687, 1868, 1958, 1960 and in 2001, which caused the architecture to be rebuilt and retrofitted with an eye towards withstanding the frequent earthquakes in the Arequipa region. As is evident from our tour, the Santa Catalina Monastery is in great shape; it's a survivor.