Arequipa is a really lovely city in South Peru, right by the Chilean border, where we based ourselves for about five days.The weather was nice and hot and sunny again, and the city was very pretty and relaxing, with lots of nice restaurants and bars to choose from.We've perfected the art of eating cheaply in Peru now though, which usually involves just going to the nearest local place and asking for the Menu del Dia.This is normally a buffet-type affair or a massive plate piled high with typical Peruvian food: a stuffed pepper here, some non-descript deep-fried objects there; some rice, salad, sautéed potatoes etc; normally accompanied by a drink resembling a mixture of cold tea, fruit juice and antiseptic, and a very suspicious-looking dessert.But, for less than $2 you can't really argue.
From Arequipa we did a two-day trekking trip into the 'nearby' (actually some 6 hours away) Cañon de Colca.Despite being sold as the second deepest canyon in the world, and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it's not really a canyon at all but just a very deep valley.It was definitely spectacular in places, but not really as jaw-dropping as the valleys in the more humble Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador.We stayed one night at the bottom of the canyon in a town known as the 'Oasis', where all the hostels had natural pools to relax in, which was quite pleasant, if a bit cold.Accommodation was basic, i.e. no electricity or hot water, and our bedroom was essentially a bamboo hut with a mud floor and a bed; getting dressed involved much hopping about trying to put clothes on without stepping in the mud.The trekking was good fun though, and we spend most of the time in the canyon and in Arequipa hanging around with a Slovenian couple we met called Gregor and Mojca, who were a good laugh.
Back in Arequipa, we had considered scaling the nearby 6080m mountain Chachani - one of the easiest 6000m+ mountains to climb in the world - which would have been a real experience.However, it was pretty expensive and there were no groups going up at the time, so the high peaks have been put on hold until Chile.
On our last day we visited the fascinating Monasterio Santa Catalina, a mini-citadel within the city that remained isolated and steeped in mystery for hundreds of years until it was finally opened up to the public in 1970.Inside the walls of the citadel is a maze of brightly coloured chapels, courtyards and streets from which lots of little hidden corridors and staircases sprout, each leading in turn to clusters of little rooms, and even more staircases, hidden deep in the buildings.Walking around was a unique experience; it must have been such a strange and wonderful place to live for the generations of nuns who grew up here in splendid isolation.