Arequipa: "La Ciudad Blanca"

 

Arequipa, Peru

November 24, 2003

Dear Family and Friends,

Let me describe The Perfect Lunch: shall we say, “a perfectly civilized lunch.”

I am ambling about the Plaza de Armas, the central square of Arequipa, the "altiplano"city in southern Peru.

A young and smiling and attractive Vanessa persuades me to enter The Terrace Restaurant.

I am led up the stairs to an open-air cafe beneath a long and narrow archway.

The Terrace overlooks the Plaza that is filled with tall palm trees, flowering shrubs, perfectly mowed grass and inviting walkways focused on the high shower of the central fountain. Children are feeding the plentitude of pigeons that make a living picking up the seeds the kids buy in little packets from the women who also keep the square perfectly clean.

There is little traffic since most of the businesses close between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon.

My table is covered with a bright Peruvian cloth - mostly gold with multi-colored stripes and designs of red, green, blue and green. The view is striking - the Cathedral of San Francisco, known as the most beautiful in Peru.

There are two large archways at either end of the Cathedral and two graceful bell towers above. The bell towers were recently rebuilt; an earthquake felled the originals a few years ago. The facade is decorated with Corinthian columns, cornices and carved leaves. The Cathedral and all the surrounding structures are gleaming bright white in the strong sunshine.

The buildings in Arequipa are constructed with a lovely white, porous stone called "sillar." The stone is quarried locally from active volcanic mountains.

All around the square are two-story buildings with Moorish style archways - portico is the word I am looking for. There are shops, restaurants and offices all set back beneath the arches. So, all I can see are the two levels of continuous white arches... just wonderful architecture in this public space.

And beyond the arches, above the rooftops, the distant outline of a large volcano looms in the misty background.

Now for lunch. Sopa Criolla - a light cream broth with fresh vegetables, bits of beef, spaghetti, and eggs, seasoned with paprika and other spices. In a word - delicious. Baked trout with rice and vegetables. Fresh fruit juice.

Music. A group of young men dressed in colorful ponchos, playing guitars, drums, wind instruments... the traditional touristy stuff. Naturally they selected "El Condor Pase" - the "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail" business. I bought the obligatory CD and took some photos.

The band invited me to join them and I got a lesson on one of those multi-level wooden flutes. Forgetaboutit. I ended up on the drums and we all had a good laugh.

Who could ask for anything more? Inspiring views, alfresco dining on a warm afternoon, tasty food and drink, delightful music and charming, smiling Peruvians... all in a two hour lunch.

Arequipa is my favorite. A clean, comfortable, bustling but not overcrowded, sophisticated city with air you can breathe - a place to linger, relax, and live for a while. "Hey, you never know."

Tomorrow - a two-day tour to the high plains desert and Colca Canyon; they claim it is deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Hasta mañana,

Jan

P.S. In Cusco the beer is called Cusqueña. In Arequipa the beer is called Arequipeña. Naturally, in these high altitudes, moderation is the key. Naturally.

I must admit I prefer the beer in Cusco, but Arequipa is definitely on my "To see again" list.

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