And then she slapped his bald head with a fish

Oh, She pulled over his combover! And then she slapped his bald head with a fish! And this is the news! -Colin (excitedly watching Peruvian television)

It may have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t feel very well when we arrived in Arequipa at 11:30 at night after a 10-hour bus ride during which they insisted on playing endless torture porn flicks, _MG_7173but I never really warmed up to Arequipa. Our hostel was labeled Home Sweet Home, but it was anything but. The bathrooms were all exposed with open space above the door, most of them were dirty, and when we paid for the hostel’s laundry service, we returned to find that they had completely shredded an item of my clothing, which they returned with the rest of the laundry acting nonchalantly as though nothing had happened. Nothing too dramatic, but demoralizing nonetheless.

We rallied the morning after our arrival to visit a museum that housed a mummy called Juanita, the ice princess. The tour includes a half-hour movie explaining the circumstances of her discovery, high on a frozen mountain, the fact that the team that discovered her had to go back down the mountain only to return for her and find that she was no longer there. They rather ingeniously gathered some rocks and rolled them down the mountain from the place they had discovered her, following the path directly to where the mummy now rested, in the fetal position, wrapped in ceremonial attire.

Juanita was sacrificed when she was 13 years old–willingly, according to our tour guide, who speak very highly of the Incas–to appease the mountain gods. In all likelihood, she had royal blood, and was separated from her family when she was very young and placed in a house with other young girls who were possible sacrifice victims. She would have been told that it was an honor and very great privilege, that her death would save and preserve her people. They marched her from Cusco to Arequipa, a 200-mile journey that would have taken about four months on foot. And the entire time she knew that when they arrived, the priests who accompanied her were going to kill her. Then, up a giant mountain covered in snow. As she climbed, the cold and altitude likely took their toll. The guardians of her resting place suspect that by the time she reached the summit, the cold and exhaustion left her in a state very near death. She was wearing the very finest garments and silver her people were capable of producing. And she ate her final meal–vegetables and coca leaves–about eight hours before she died. The priests gave her chicha–corn beer–that had been fermented for five years. The museum guide insisted Juanita likely didn’t even feel the death blow the priests delivered to her right temple.

And there Juanita lay for some 500-odd years until an archaeologist named Johann led a team up the mountain and discovered her remarkably well-preserved corpse. Hair. Teeth. All of her organs–brain, stomach, heart–still intact. She would have stood about four feet high–a little tall for a girl then.

They said she did it willingly, that it was the highest honor you could be accorded: a place with the gods. I wonder though. I wonder whether she found the gods after the priests finally smashed her head in after marching her, freezing her, intoxicating her, not to mention likely filling her head with propaganda her entire life. Such are the effects of religion, of zealous, unquestioning commitment to a belief system that affords zero factual evidence to support its claims. A child is sacrificed to the gods of the mountains–which are no better or worse than any other gods, I suppose. Perhaps I felt querulous because I felt ill during our tour of the museum. It really is a fascinating story. But I still feel ill imagining the months-long march to death, the frigid ascent, attended by priests–sacerdotes–who planned to kill you. Who told you they planned to kill you. Who had groomed you to die. Humans are funny creatures.

There were other Incan children buried on the mountain–one boy and one girl–but the sites of their death were lower, indicating that they were less important. Fragments of their clothing and shards of pottery identified at their burial locations are also located in the museum.

But on to Arequipa present. So much honking! Constant honking! Honking as ceaseless as the roosters in Nazca. But it was difficult for me to drum up the appropriate enthusiasm. We visited an upscale store that carried alpaca and llama-hair products and boasted a petting zoo adjacent to the shop. While I wouldn’t call the llamas overwhelmingly affectionate, they tolerated our attempts at petting their matted hair. All but the resident alpaca who took an instant dislike to Colin and flipped back his ears and made an expression of such intense distaste that Colin tried to hide from the alpaca’s view. I suspect the alpaca’s dislike stemmed from the fact that Colin was the only male in the pen, and the alpaca was worried Colin had romantic designs on the alpaca’s sexy llama ladies. It wasn’t a fluke, either, as the alpaca relaxed as soon as he could no longer see Colin and returned to his frosty scrunched-up glare when he caught sight of him again.

Other than that, I can say very little to recommend Arequipa. As I mentioned, I felt physically ill and at this point in the trip, with a little more than a week behind us, I was desperately homesick. At one point in my notes I wrote: Quiero mi casa y mi gatos. Not particularly elegant, but there it was.

Fortunately, we were not to remain in Arequipa for very long…

(PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY. I would also like to point out the presence of a pigeon on the statue’s head. Everywhere I travel, I search for statues with pigeons on their heads, and you’ll find a number of examples of my strange obsession in the Wanderlust section of my website.)



  1. I came for the fish slapping and sunk into the murky waters of ritual killings in the name of god.

    • Sorry about that! I had that quote from Colin (and it really did happen as part of a news program) but it wasn’t enough for a complete blog post, so I thought it might lighten up the whole human sacrifice thing.

      • it was great information regardless, but further on this idea of abuse and murder in the name of god… have you heard of the horrifying “Train Up Your Child” by a couple of christian authors? At least 3 kids have been murdered and beat to death at the behest of the authors in the name of making of obedient christian minions. This concept terrifies me, and your ancient example of Juanita’s road to ruin further illustrates that the human race has a long way to go towards “Civilization”. Thanks for your insights!

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