Arequipa and the Ice Princess

Arequipa church tower

Driving up to Arequipa was interresting. The road was very curvaceous and unfortunately full of big trucks. Then the town itself was full of traffic and wild taxis, not to mention the city is at the base of the Valley of the Volcanoes. Drivers here in Peru think absolutely nothing of driving in the oncoming lane for long periods of time whether they are over taking or not, they also don’t believe that the dividing line in the middle of the road means anything.

Once we finally made it to Arequipa we found a lovely little hotel (and were very pleasantly surprised by the prices… Peru is much more affordable than Chile or Argentina….. we managed to get cable TV, aqua caliente (hot water), internet and an en suite!!!). We found this hotel by accident. We were looking for a hostel (that was literally two houses down from the hotel) and thought the hotel might be the hostel. When we found out the price for the hotel and saw the rooms there was no way that Andrew was going to be able to move me. I pretty much glued myself to the room.

Juanita the Ice Maiden. Photograph from the National Geographic site taken by Stephen Alvarez

The next morning the Ice Princess was calling. She was discovered at the top Mt Ampato by accident. Two explorers were climbing to try to get a better view of the erupting volcano Sabancaya (which is very close to Mt Ampato). They were walking along the peak and saw a some feathers and then a bundle covered in brightly coloured cloth. This frozen bundle turned out to be Juanita the Ice Princess (I can’t imagine what they must have felt at this very high altitude coming across a frozen young girl). Due to the heat from the erupting volcano, her ice tomb at the top of the mountain melted and she had toppled about 5 meters down the mountain. They estimate that she had been exposed to the sun for only about 10 days so luckily she had not yet defrosted. The only part of her body that was exposed to the sun was her face. The rest of her body was in perfect condition. Juanita was an Inca maiden, aged somewhere between 11 and 14 years old and was most likely chosen from birth to be a sacrifice to the mountains due to her perfection. Even her umbilical cord was kept and left with her at the top of the mountain. It is thought that she was a sacrifice to the Inca gods so that the Inca people would be in their good favour. She was dressed in the most beautiful clothing and had pins and ornaments made of silver. Due to being frozen for about 500 years she was in an amazing condition and has been called one of the top scientific discoveries of this century.

Statue of Juanita

The explorers carried her down the mountain and she now rests in an iced incubator in a museum in Arequipa. Because she was in such good condition they were able to even determine what she ate before she was sacrificed (stewed vegetables and they think some strong alcoholic beverage). She even had a CT scan to determine how she died as it was uncertain whether it was the cold or some other traumatic event. It turns out she was hit on the front of her head with a ceremonial mace that caused her skull to fracture and gave her a massive subdural haemorrhage (bleed in the brain).

The explores went back to the mountain top on another expedition and found the graves of four more children on their next expedition. They were not in as good a condition as Jaunita as they were buried just below the summit and were not frozen as well as Jaunita had been.

We got to view Jaunita after watching a National Geographic video about her. She is now kept in a computerised freezer in the Andean Sanctuary museum. If you are ever in Arequipa…. this is a must see. I was not able to take photographs but I have downloaded a National Geographic photograph to give you some idea of what she looks like.. I did find a statue of her but this really does not do her justice.

Categories: Diary | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Arequipa and the Ice Princess

  1. Reading some of youyr previous mails , it is luck you did not become the “ice maiden” on the back of the bike at zero degrees .
    Cape Town is freezing , so we are all “frozen” at the moment ?
    Love Dad .

  2. Rosemary

    Such a sad story about the ice princess! Do love the info and pics of all the beautiful places you are seeing. Enjoy & take care
    Love Rose

  3. Deb

    Sad but fascinating story. Thanks Cathy – love reading about your adventures!
    Take care!
    Deb and Kevin

  4. will

    Love this story. Hope you both are great. Cheers Will Price

    • Cathy

      Thanks Will. Andy has just written a super post about our time in Nasca which I think you will really enjoy. I’m going to try to put it up later today. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your comments. Thank you so much!!! Sometimes when I’m writting I wonder if people actually read what I am typing…… so thank you x C

      • Trish

        I am reading every word and loving it:) You are having such fun and thanks for keeping us in the loop. When the bike got sick I ran out of words to say “sorry…sorry” as we do in good old SA! Love Trish

      • Doug Lawson

        We do. I love the detail. Keep ’em coming!

        • tracey

          Hectic story! I’m pleased we didn’t have to worry about being sacrificed when we were eleven years old! Take care!

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