A young girl who made an epic journey, her story was frozen in time until a volcanic explosion uncovered her naturally mummified body 500 years later. Juanita is the one history lesson you must learn while in Arequipa. The story unfolds at the Museo Santuarios Andinos, it is told though video, artifacts, a tour (excellent and in English), and finally the unveiling of the ice maiden herself.
There are no pictures allowed inside the museum, but this made me pay attention more so I almost appreciate it. So who is this girl? A beautiful child hand picked at birth in Cusco to please the gods of Mount Ampato around the year 1440. An honor for her parents, but what did Juanita feel? She would be treated like a god until it was time for her to be offered to them, when she was approximately 12-15 years of age.
Then it was time to leave Cusco and make the voyage, over 150 miles long through the jungle and desert, up a 20,000+ mountain – in her finest clothes. The sandals are preserved, her feet were ruined from the tremendously difficult hike. I think to my own experience mountain hiking, pained feet from stomping on stone – even with the best hiking boots. I could weep for the child, though perhaps she thought it to be a privilege. One thing her remains cannot tell is what she was thinking.
She was accompanied by priests who carried heavy jugs of beer, coca leaves, and offerings, some died along the way. I don’t know if I can stress how demanding climbing up this mountain is, people even with the best modern gear have not made it to the summit over 20,000 ft. After her grueling climb she was given coca leaves and beer, she sat on a blanket. A priest bludgeoned her to death with the crack of a bat like object to the back of her head.
Fast forward to 1995, a nearby volcano Sabancaya erupted and caused the snowcapped Ampato to melt. American anthropologist Johan Reinhard made the strenuous hike up and discovered Juanita and multiple other children who were sacrificed. Thirteen mummies were discovered in total. Juanita was so well preserved her fine Cusco textile clothing was still in tact, her skin, hair, perfect teeth, even the meal of vegetables in her stomach, lend a magnified eye into the past.
After learning her story finally seeing tiny Juanita in the flesh was heartbreaking and amazing at the same time. There she was, a story suspended in time, her sacrifice part of the history of Peru.