Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exploring Peru, pt. 1

Traveling to Pisac

From my base of operations in Cuzco I traveled to Pisac for the day, with a small group of like minded tourists.  We had a mini-van, a guide and a day to travel through farms, terraced gardens and finally this little village.  Terraced gardens are all over Peru as the ancient civilizations took advantage of any space that could be used to plant crops.

The terraces would be rock walls or in some places timbered walls were soil was transported to the terraces, then planted.  To this day the farms don't use mechanical equipment to increase the capability of land that is marginal at best.

Peru grows over 3000 types of potatoes, as well as beans, corn, and wheat.  Rivers rushing down the mountain sides provide hydro-electric power.

The banner around my neck contains samples of the seeds planted and harvested.  Tractors, trailers, harvesters, 4-wheelers, etc. are no where to be seen.  Everything is done by hand, with oxen pulling the plows.  I asked a lot of questions about why, because the land is fertile and Peru could be exporting crops all over the world.  The answers I got were rather surprising, at least to me.  The unemployment rate in a lot of Peru is almost nil.  By not using equipment, everyone who wants to work, can work, from planting to harvesting.  The cost of food, milk, meat is all low because the farmers aren't paying for fuel, equipment, etc.  There is an active barter system between families and communities: labor for crops, vice versa.

The native people still follow many of the ancient traditions, from using alpacas for food and wool, and herding them from one field to another.  Again everything is done on foot, with dogs and children. Alpacas can't do things like plowing a field or even providing a ride for someone.  Some of them are trained to carry small packs.

The families always posed with their animals, expecting a small payment of course.  I didn't feel comfortable with this; I felt like I was exploiting not only the children but the traditions that the families follow.  The families would gather with their animals and traditional costumes whenever a tour bus would pull into an overlook or area containing native crafts.
I asked about the hats.  I noticed a large percentage of the older native women wore hats, some even looking like top hats.  Why?

Turns out it's a hold-over from 'colonial' times.  A native person, working in a household or descended from the Spanish conquerors would show their status by wearing the clothing of the conquerors.  The hat tradition still remains.  A native wearing a 'colonial' hat can trace their ancestry to the Spanish conquerors in some fashion.  The generation growing up now doesn't seem to be following that part of their traditions.

I asked my guide about their financial situations.  Were they as poverty stricken as some of the literature would lead you to believe?   I was really uncomfortable with having small children gather around me, hands out for coins and then smiling for the camera. 

 If so, was it by choice as they struggled to keep their cultures alive?  Was having tourists handing over small change for photos absolutely necessary for their livelihood?

The answer was 'not really'.  Turns out in this family's case they have a contract with North Korea (N. Korea?!) for clay!  The clay is harvested from a local stream/hillside and shipped to N. Korea where it is turned into roof shingles.  The terra cotta roof tiles seen around the area on homes is actually a sign of wealth.  Many native families not only 'harvest' clay for N. Korean contracts, they also ship wool around the world.

A local tradition for a new family starting out is for the family and friends to buy roofing tiles for the newlyweds. The more friends you have, the more tiles you get, maybe enough to cover an entire roof.  Some young men won't marry until they have bought or been promised enough tiles for a roof.  Think of it as a dowry.   Then the groom can go to the bride's family and show that he is a 'wealthy man' because he can tile his roof.

My guide chuckled with us and wanted to know if we could adopt him.  He was trying to get enough tiles to do his roof so his girlfriend would marry him!

The government of Peru is very pro-active in helping the native peoples in their efforts.   The invention of the Internet has really helped them to move into the 21st century at a level that works for the tribes.

The natives make beautiful wool tapestries. They are hand loomed, hand died and expensive!  I would have loved to bring home several of them but I didn't have room in luggage or my pocketbook.

Notice the thatch roof.  These merchant stalls are designed to be put up or taken down, depending on where the tourists are going to be.  While this one looked more permanent than some, it's still all held toward with twine and nails.  Nothing permanent.  You don't put expensive terra cotta tiles on a temporary roof.

One of the strangest things I saw, and at the same time it makes so much sense I had to stop and look at it.  You can actually buy them already modified.

Someone takes a old motorcycle (like WWII old), takes off the back-end and replaces it with 2 wheels, turning it into a trike.  Then a bench seat is added, or cargo and a smaller bench.  PVC piping is used to make a frame cover, then a cover is built over, complete with windows and doors.  The driver sits on the motorcycle seat, his passengers and/or cargo sits behind him and away they go.  No tags, no driver's license, nothing.  I saw a lot of these completely filled with family and dogs.  The back cargo area was full of groceries or whatever supplies they were moving.  They were on the sidewalks, on the streets, anywhere a car would go, they would be there.  Some of the professional designed and built ones had beautiful canopies, advertising all over them, fancy headlights.  I saw what would be a 'biker's bar' with a sidewalk completely lined with these, all colors and designs.

These make great since in the smaller towns and villages because except for tourists vehicles and the occasional commercial vehicle there are NO cars.  Considering that the roads are all one lane, made of cobblestones or planks worn smooth by traffic no wonder cars aren't around.

A typical street in Pisac.  Stone streets, small vendors in little alcoves, with just enough room for foot traffic or carts.
The native people wander the streets, pose for photos and then smile.  They speak Quechua, maybe a little Spanish.  The children are so cute and sweet and just know to smile and hold out their hands.

One of the mainstays of the people living in Pisac is silver mining.  There is a large mine in the mountains behind the village and you can watch the raw ore being made into beautiful jewelry and trinkets.  The mines are owned by the local people and the local people that have the talent make beautiful things.
The ones not involved in mining do a combination of farming, weaving and tourist industry.

The tiny children wear flowers from local gardens wove into their hats.  This particular family included a puppy and a lamb for photos.  I had 5 sol in my pocket (about 1.25 in US).  I watched at least a dozen people hand them a lot more.

I still don't like it.  But the family knew how to take advantage of every camera around everyone's neck.
The side streets contain an assortment of stores like any other small village.  The signs are in Spanish, Quechua and English.  There was even an Internet cafe. But there aren't any cars, just carts, motorcycles, etc.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Arriving in Lima, Peru, January 19th

The 7 Seas Marina pulled into Lima Peru on the 19th and that marked the end of my cruise ship adventure and started another one.  While I really enjoyed the 2 weeks on the ship I was more than ready to get off of it.  I'm sure in the future I'll do it again, but it might be a few years.  The next morning I left the ship early (4:30 am early) and took a bus to the airport.  From Lima I flew to Cuzco, (or Cusco, depending on who you listen to), which is high in the Andes. 

 From sea level to 11,200 feet in about an hour is quite an adjustment.  Landing at the Cuzco Airport is also an adventure worth noting.  The single runway is perched on top of a mountain and the plane makes a couple hard turns around other mountains to line up with the runway.  I'm flying on Star Peru, which is a local airline, on a plane that is definitely of Russian design.  It has short stubby wings, mounted on the top of the fuselage and 4 big engines hanging from them.  My first thought was that I was flying on a converted cargo aircraft and I'm still not sure that I wasn't right.  The big engines are needed to suck in the thin air and to give some power to the short wings.  When you hit the runway with a thud the pilots stomp on the brakes and the plane screams to a stop in a short distance.  Which is a good thing because at the end of the runway is the end of the mountain and a long drop.

I had a guide waiting for me with a sign so I'd know him. A porter and Jordan (my guide) hauled my luggage to his little car and we were on our way to the hotel.   While I had been told time and again that there were weight restrictions on luggage and I was seriously over it, I didn't have any problems.  It's really tough to go from cruise ship for two weeks and the clothes you need, to an environment where all you need is a good backpack and hiking stick.  My guides and porters earned their tips.

My home for this week was the Casa San Blas Boutique.  First of all, it's clean.  The floors are polished hardwood and flat stones.  There's about 20 rooms on various levels.  The manager speaks excellent English.  I was the first American they had as a guest in a long time.  I met several Canadian's, French and German guests sitting in the lobby with my laptop.  The rooms have wi-fi (yay and it's free).  The staff really bend over backwards to make you comfortable.  I was met with a cup of coca tea (good for altitude sickness), and every night when I returned after a day exploring my bed was turned down, there were chocolates on my pillow and hot water bottles under the blankets.  (After all it was the rainy season there and cold by their standards.) This little tiny hotel is in the old section of the city and is a charming place to visit.  This part of the city contains the ancient Inca stone construction and is home to lots of artists making this historical area home for their artwork, weaving, pottery, carving and stone masonry.

The entrance to the Casa San Blas Boutique.

 The hotel's lower walls are all Inca stonework, some of it restored after an earthquake many years ago.  There is a small continental breakfast every morning, which can be a challenge.  Coffee is tough to enjoy since they drink their coffee as thick as espresso.  Yak milk is pink!  I don't care for goat milk on my cereal either.   But there are lots of different fruits and breads, fresh butter and local jams.  After the 2nd morning there the cooks had figured it out and there was a tea kettle of hot water I could use to cut my coffee with.   You do not drink the local water and I spent several dollars on water both for my room, my coffee/tea and to take with me on my day trips.  Even brushing your teeth with local water is not recommended.

The inner courtyard at the hotel.  That's me and my favorite guide.  She spoke English, Spanish and Quechua.  My last day there she took me way out into the country to spots most tourists can't see because tour buses won't fit on one lane gravel roads climbing up a mountain.

A typical street in the old city.  Notice the stonework
Walking the old city is a challenge.  The first couple days I had to deal with the altitude.  I never got sick but I kept a headache for several days and was thankful I'd packed a small medical kit, containing various remedies for head, stomach, even an elastic bandage for sprains.  The streets are one lane with raised stone sidewalks.  The rocks are round and flat, easy to slip on when it rains and the stone staircases are at an awkward height for easy walking.  When a car appears it's a scramble into doorways or flat against the building because the drivers here are crazy!

Lots of the shops are just little indents in the rock walls.  These big stone rocks from the Inca Empire each tell a story (or so the guides say) but nobody really knows what the story is, just that there is one.  Homes are built on top of or into the walls, using beams, tin, terra cotta shingles and in some areas palm thatch roofs.

 The back of the hotel contains a courtyard and church grounds.  The Casa San Blas means Church of San Blas.  San Blas is a Saint and the week I was there was his birthday.  The party started at dawn every morning and went to midnight every night.  There were fireworks every night and the first morning I was there the band started at 6 am.  The band consisted of lots of large tubas and big drums.  You didn't need an alarm.

The courtyard held lots of vendors selling local wares, food stalls, etc.  I wandered through the courtyard the first night and decided I didn't need to add to my overloaded luggage.  I was also reluctant to sample the food being offered because I'd already been warned off of it.  But the smells were interesting.  Roasted guinea pig is considered a staple.  Too greasy for me when I tried a leg.

Side streets of Cuzco

Side streets

The oldest church in the center of Cuczo.

 The middle of the historical section contains multiple churches, some dating back to the Inca Empire.  From the middle of the town square you can see 7 different churches that represent multiple faiths, from Catholic to Judaism.

Some of the churches are used for other things, like theaters or local schools

The stonework and the artwork was incredible inside.  NO cameras allowed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

January 18th, Salaverry Peru

 The 7 Seas Mariner pulled into Salaverry for an overnight and I took off to the Chan-Chan Ruins, both in the city and on the outskirts.  Most people have never heard of the Chan-Chan people, their ruins or their history.  That's because it's been buried and forgotten for thousands of years. From Wilkipedia:  Chan Chan is an archaeological site located in the Peruvian region of La Libertad, five km west of Trujillo.[1] Chan Chan covers an area of approximately 20 km² and had a dense urban center of about 6 km².[2] Chan Chan was constructed by the Chimor (the kingdom of the ChimĂș), a late intermediate period civilization which grew out of the remnants of the Moche civilization. The vast adobe city of Chan Chan was built by the Chimu around AD 850 and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. It was the imperial capital of the Chimor until it was conquered in the 15th century. It is estimated that around 30,000 people lived in the city of Chan Chan.
  Don't you love having an encyclopedia at your fingertips?  Anyway, the ruins are slowly melting into the sand because they are made of mud.  Now that the ruins are mostly uncovered rains are melting them into the sand from where they came.  Thousands of years ago this was more desert and rains were rare.  Climate change has changed that.

The ruins of the Rainbow Temple are within the city of Trujillo and efforts are being made to restore it to what archaeologists think it may have looked like.  Some of the walls still have bits of paint which gives the restorers a hint that the temple complex worshiped rain.  During the rainy season blue tarps drape the walls to keep them from dissolving into sand.

Restoration efforts vary, from restoring walls, to restoring carvings on the walls.

Some of the carvings uncovered carefully.

Unfortunately, all of the ruins are basically sand castles, preserved by  luck more than anything else.  Local historians tell the Moche history as best they can because there isn't a written language.
A wall that has been completely restored. 

 A couple hours away from Trujillo is the largest ruin site, stretching for miles in the desert and mostly uncovered for tourists to wander through.  Local citizens dress in Moche costumes for photos.
The walls of the ruins are composed of sand and mud 'x' that represent fishing nets.  The history of the Moche people all hinged on the anchovies runs up the coast.  All of the carvings along the walls show the small fish, large birds and fishnets.  When the climate changed and the fish runs disappeared, so did the Moche people.
 Because the ruins are so delicate roofs and gutters shield the ruins from the rain, trying to protect the sand walls.  Some of the walls are 60 feet tall, but they are slowly melting into the sand, taking the history of a culture with them.
The source of water for the city.

The only source of water for the ancient community was found to be contaminated by ancient sacrifices.  The history seems to point toward human sacrifices to bring rain, or to make the rain stop.  But contaminating the water led to illness and eventually death. 
Niches in the walls probably held some religion artifacts that are long gone.