The outside walls of the place are covered with murals depicting scenes from life, pictures of people in costumes at Cusco’s celebrations and godlike creatures emerging from an ear of corn.
Inside, the overall impression is a bit more sober, but a closer look is warranted. The rows and rows of crypts holding the bodies are stacked high. The outside coverings of the small outside doors display the wealth of the family with some in shiny metals and others in less expensive materials. The richest are stuck away in a mausoleum, off by themselves.
We stopped in front of one crypt with no door. It was for an 11-year-old boy who had died recently. It will take at least three to four months before a new door can be put on because the gas from chemicals and decomposing can break the glass.
Families can own crypts, or they can rent them in five-year periods. However, when the rent is unpaid, an “eviction notice” (as Ramsey the doctor who could be a reporter called it) is posted on the door of the enclosure. If not paid, the body is removed and buried in a public common grave.
Yakelin said people usually visit at least once a week to replace flowers inside the crypt doors. That’s where things liven up a bit with pictures from the deceased’s life, things that remind the family of them and other things that could be special to them.
Battery-operated figurines have become popular in many of the crypts with families believing animated figures put some life in a place of the dead.
See that frog in the video below? Right on top of my urn, please.
Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, Cusco, Peru — If you have a weak stomach, then the meat section of an open-air market is no place to visit. Most North Americans used to shopping where meat comes plastic-wrapped might not find these stalls all they’ve been cracked up to be. They might butt up against something they’re not accustomed to.
We put that part of Cusco’s market behind us in a hurry, but we had a great time finding all kinds of things to buy. Coca-leaf tea? You bet. Never know when we might get altitude sickness again. Our guide, Yakelin, assured us it would get through USSA customs.
Three thousand varieties of potatoes. Did I mention that before? We didn’t buy any spuds, but it was nice to see a couple dozens of those varieties.
Coffee, chocolate, table runners and other fabrics went into our bags as we strolled through the large market.
All 17 types of corn grown in Peru were represented. That included the one Yakelin considered the best, a white corn with big kernels, which actually looked a little overripe to me. Didn’t buy.
She also pointed out to me something hanging from the ceiling. Those, she said, are llama fetuses. They are used as offerings to the earth. If the grass dries up, nothing for the llamas and alpacas to eat, it’s time to get out the llama fetuses.
I thought about getting some to try to raise soybean prices up from their death by tariff. Tried my best, USSA soybean farmers, but they would not fit in my luggage or likely get through USSA customs. However, the coca-leaf tea was no problem.
Thursday, September 27, 2018, Cusco, Peru — How could the Incas build foundations that have outlasted the colonial buildings built on top of them? The Inca foundations were built with no mortar, just stones carved and placed on top of each other, surely not the most stable construction technique.
A visit to the Convent of Santo Domingo in Cusco answered those questions. The colonial church, started in 1534 on top of the Inca Temple of the Sun, fell down in the earthquake in 1950. That exposed the Inca foundation underneath. In a wise decision, the church opted for leaving the foundation open so the public could view them. Plus, they have a display that helps explain the Inca technique.
The stones look like they were just stacked on top of each other, but there is an “insert-tab-A-into-slot-B” going on. As our Alexander & Roberts guide, Yakelin, had already pointed out, the walls lean into one another to help support the entire structure during shaky times.
We also visited the Cathedral Basilica in Cusco’s main square. Mostly struck by a painting by Marcos Zapata in 1753 of the Last Supper. Right in the middle of the table is a prepared guinea pig ready for eating – an excellent demonstration of the Catholic’s church blending in with the native culture. Yakelin also pointed out that many people believe that Judas’ face is actually that of Francisco Pizarro. She also noted the halo over Christ. It’s not just a shining band perched over his head. It is a glow behind him, as if the sun were rising behind him. So what was Zapata worshiping?
Cusco, Peru, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 — In 1536, there were 190 Spaniards in Cusco, eighty who had horses. Juan Pizarro, half brother to Francisco, had freed Manco Inca, made ruler by Francisco Pizarro after he executed Atapaulpa. The newest Inca leader made haste to the hills to raise as many as 200,000 troops to get rid of the Europeans.
The Inca force returned, burnt the city and holed up in Sacsayhuaman where they could sweep down on the besieged Spaniards.
“Thus ended the Inca capital: stripped for Atahualpa’s ransom, ransacked by Spanish looters, and now burned by its own people,” says John Hemming in “The Conquest of the Incas.”
Peter Frost’s book, “Exploring Cusco,” called the “bitter struggle for these heights became the decisive military action of the conquest. Manco’s failure to hold Sacsayhuaman cost him the war, and the empire.”
Spaniards, protected by steel helmets and bucklers, killed thousands of Manco’s forces by wielding steel swords and using their horses to charge into the Incas armed mostly with slings and stones. An example: The Spaniards wiped out about 1,500 Inca holdouts in the last battle for Sacsayhuaman. And not all 190 went up there. One who surely didn’t go was Juan Pizarro, killed previously by a stone dropped from one of the towers at Sacsayhuaman, the first of the Pizarros to go.
Frost tallies the rest of the Pizarro clan: Gonzalo executed in 1548 for rebelling against the Spanish crown; Francisco was assassinated in Lima in 1541 by rivals; Hernando spent 20 years in a Spanish prison for either provoking Manco’s rebellion, killing a Spanish nobleman or both. He died an old man whose wills and other efforts to control his vast fortune all ended in naught.
Our guide, Yakelin, said it probably took 20,000 people working for 60 years to complete the Sacsayhuaman. The stone quarry was three to four miles away from the site, and if you look at the size of the stones you can see what a struggle it must have been to drag them to Sacsayhuaman. They had no horses and did not know about the wheel. So they pulled the stones themselves by rolling them over logs. (It seems that someone might have thought, “These logs could be cut into segments, hitched behind a llama and we could open a John Llama dealership.”)
The three towers on top of Sacsayhuaman were torn down, and the Spaniards forced the Incas to drag the stones into the city to build cathedrals.
That tickled a question in my mind that I had had since finishing Hemming’s book: Why did anyone in Peru allow anyone to speak Spanish? After independence, why didn’t they put every European they could find on a boat and head them back home – or drown them?
My effort to get those questions answered never worked. But Ramsey, a doctor on our tour who would make a good reporter, got it right when he asked Yakelin about her heritage: Given that she is mestizo (mix of European and Indian blood), what side of the family do you lean toward?
“I don’t worry about Spaniards or Inca,” she said. “No one separates things that way.
“The Incas incorporated others into their Empire, some asked, some forced.”
She learned basic information about Incas in school — some of it wrong. She grew up in Cusco and said they were taught that the Incas only lasted 100 years. Actually, they had been around for at least 400 before the conquest. This short-lived story of the Incas was also used as a justification by the Spaniards for the conquest: The Incas had only ruled for a few generations, and the Europeans “supplanted other equally unwelcome conquerors.” Maybe.
Yakelin explained that Quechua, the native language, is being reintroduced with medical professions and educators required to learn it. The CIA Factbook notes that the Peruvian population is 60 percent mestizo, Amerindian 25 percent, white 6 percent, African descent 3.6 percent and others (Chinese, Japanese, etc.)
It’s a mixed bag in Peru, native religion mixed with Catholicism, Quechua and Aymara languages mixed with Spanish. And no one is being led down to the boats for a journey to somewhere that would no longer feel like home.
Tuesday and Wednesday, September 25 and 26, 2018 — Since returning from our trip to Machu Picchu, I have been comparing our visit there to one that my friend Jeff made in 1975. His experience there seems almost impossible for the Peruvian ruins now.
He took the train up the Sacred Valley to a very deserted place, as he remembers it, which today is probably the busy town of Aguas Calientes. There was only a miniature school bus run by the rather dilapidated hotel at the top of the mountain next to the ruins. So Jeff hiked the switchbacks up to the ruins, planning to camp up there.
He toured the ruins, remembers that there were a couple of Peruvian students there to hire as guides. There were not more than maybe 30 or 35 people in the entire site. The hotel held a few people, mostly older. But Jeff bedded down in one of the enclosed stone structures. The next day he hiked up to the Sun Gate and then headed down to the train to continue on his journey through South America.
Now the buses run from 6 a.m. until closing time when guards (attendants) chase everyone away. The max they allow at the ruins each day is 2,500, but word has it that anyone willing to buy a ticket is let in.
I’m glad Peru has developed a tourist industry, and Machu Picchu deserves to be the star of the show. Foreign cash welcomed there, and it’s better than visitors scared away by the Sendero Luminoso. But it does make me wish I would have continued on with Jeff from Central America in 1975, although grad school paid off in the end.
Not sure how good the student guides were, but the modern day ones are excellent – at least Yakelin was. Our two-day tour was filled with facts, observations and numbers.
It probably took 40,000 people to build Machu Picchu, most of them doing their “mita,” two years of labor as a tax to the Inca Empire. It was built there because of water sources, a quarry of stones to build with and perhaps some idea of defense because of the cliffs surrounding it. But with eight ancient trails leading into it, defense may not have been the highest priority. It may have been an advance post for the Incas move into the Amazon region to take over supply of coca leaves (a mild stimulant that helps with altitude sickness, not cocaine, which came later).
The terraces were used for agriculture with drainage built into them, and the place could support a population of 500 to 700 residents. The stone temples and houses, once covered with thatch roofs, were built between 10,000-foot Machu Picchu – the Old Mountain – and Wayna Picchu – the Young Mountain.
There are ruins and a Moon Temple up on Wayna Picchu, but we did not have time to climb it. You need a permit, and we had a schedule to keep. We were up at 5 a.m. on our second day to get to the front entrance before the buses started to arrive. My second cup of coffee put us behind two early-arriving buses. So we joined the crowd of about 200 people who all had the same idea we had: Hike to the Sun Gate, a thousand feet above the main ruins. Four-hour hike up and back for us, and too cloudy to get much of a sunrise. However, the view up there is worth the climb.
The best way to avoid the really big crowds is to stay late in the afternoon (maybe walk down to Aguas Calientes or dig deep into your wallet to stay at the post-1975 hotel next to the entrance) or go early, getting in line for the first buses climbing the switchbacks up to the site. Your best shot at getting off by yourself is to climb Wayna Picchu. A climb Jeff and guidebooks say can be tricky with the last 20 meters on steep rocks with a ladder and rope to help out. Only 400 are allowed up there each day – 200 at 7 a.m. and 200 at 10 a.m.
The authors who wrote the guidebooks we used have a longing for the past – fewer crowds, fewer people “reconstructed” the ruins. Peter Frost in “Exploring Cusco” says that when the anthropologists arrive, the gods depart. Too much work to get everything down to bare stones with no vegetation, no lichens, no wilderness to entrance the imagination into picturing what it once was. Too many government departments with some control over the site. Too much intervention “where entire walls and even buildings have been assembled upon little more than a vestige of the foundations. Visitors are presumed to be insufficiently intelligent to imagine how an unreconstructed site might have looked.” He says that having seen the ruins before and after reconstruction and he “immoderately begs to disagree.”
Yakelin pointed out that there some terraces that have not been dug up yet, but they are far down the mountain and not easy to see.
Ben Westwood in the Moon Handbook “Machu Picchu” notes that the millions visiting there each year has the site, built on a man-made mound of earth, actually sinking, “albeit very slowly.” So get there before it slips away. It’s right up there with my other favorite pre-Columbian archeological site, Tikal in Guatemala, which has unreconstructed temples that allow your imagination to run wild.
When you do visit Machu Picchu, do as Peter Frost asks: Don’t litter, don’t remove stones, plants or animals. “Remember, the Machu Picchu park is a sanctuary: for ruins, for wildlife, for trees and flowers – and for you. Please treat it that way.”
The news was not unexpected and neither was the reaction. But hearing that Glyn Meyrick was in hospice with his well-spent life about to end left me just as sad as I thought I would be when a huge influence on my life fades away.
Only spent two years with him as my coach and teammate at The Ohio State University rugby club, but that kept me playing the game for the next 37 years – and a dedicated follower still.
Glyn was an inspiration to live to the fullest – on or off the pitch, in work and play.
Back in 1969, Glyn seemed the slowest back on the field but always found a way around his would-be tackler, a bit of foot work, a kick or a lovely pass outside – or a faked one. He made me believe you could play this game forever, just like this old guy, who turned out to be in his early 30s at the time.
He let us play in practice while he refereed the scrimmages. Three times a week of tackling, scrummaging and beers afterwards. Glyn could party, and his singing in his thunderous Welsh voice made me see that singing wasn’t just confined to church. The lyrics never slipped his tongue – not appropriate for church – and he knew every rugby song ever composed.
How I even made it through school is a wonder, but I sensed that dropping out, failing, would be a disappointment to him. So I stuck around to keep playing, even after I graduated. Who would want to leave?
But a job took me to another city and I remembered him saying, “You can move anywhere in the world and immediately make good friends.” Happened in Portland, Atlanta, Seattle, in New Zealand on tour.
At the last reunion in 2016 marking 50 years since the founding of the Ohio State club (Glyn was there then), a teammate who played in the 1970s after I left (but still a teammate) made some remarks after visiting with today’s OSU players. Yes, the game is more regimented, there are national teams, professional leagues and contracts, somewhere to go up in the game if you behave. And the university keeps a closer watch on them.
“They’re not having as much fun as we had,” my teammate said.
Our guide in Quito identified this puppeteer as someone who had fled the bad conditions in Venezuela. He might have been a street vendor there until no one had money to give him. What if he played outside the White House all day long?
The United States should pay more attention to Central and South America – and not just as the source of people in caravans headed for the southern border. We need to pay attention in a way that will provide them a safe home in their own countries.
Stopping aid to Central American countries is no way to do that. The Greedy Old Peckers controlling our nation ought to take a good hard look at giving more aid to those countries or the few thousands in a caravan headed north will be a tiny village compared to what is on the move in South America.
I picked up a La Hora, a daily newspaper in Quito, for my weekly Spanish reading as we headed toward the Galapagos Islands. As one article said, the newspaper was “venezolanizaron,” completely taken over by talk about Venezuela and the millions of people fleeing the bad conditions there.
One article reported on how France had affirmed its support for investigating in international court “crimes committed in Venezuela,” saying they threatened the development of South American countries and areas outside the region because of “en particular el deterioro de la situacion economica que oblige a cientos de miles de cuidadanos venezolanos a exiliarse y buscar refugio” (in particular the deterioration of the economic situation that obliged hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens to go into exile and seek refuge).
France joined Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Canada (what happened to the United States and Mexico?)
What if the caravan started in Venezuela and headed this way? Wait, the Darien Gap might stop them.
An opinion in the paper noted that the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, had addressed the General Assembly of the United Nation the day before, speaking for 40 minutes before an almost empty hall and “no dijo nada” (said nothing). He talked of “la migracion” but mostly denied it, as he always does. Blamed it on the United States and other South American presidents and got support where it could be expected – Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
No need for humanitarian aid. Said the exodus of 2.3 million from his country was a “fabrication,” apparently the Spanish word for “fake news.”
He left the hall without answering uncomfortable questions from the press, including this one the editorial asked: “Why is his country’s economy on the edge of collapse, why is it that his nation with the largest oil reserves can’t provide food and medicine and pushes millions into exile?”
Another editorial ticked off the conditions of life in Venezuela: Basic services scare, health services “castrados,” insecurity equal to a state of war, corruption and crime institutionalized and public resources converted to the booty of pirates.
Maduro is a dictator, no doubt, with nothing to control his power, with judicial or financial means coopted. No free elections. The ability to confront his power abolished and guarantees of humanity and life annulled.
Yet the man responsible for all this can stand before the world stage and give an “outdated” talk on sovereignty, socialism, the equality of people, democracy, anti-imperialism and his state officials listen and applaud.
How can this happen? the editorial asks. And how can the diplomatic corps make space for him without degrading itself.
That’s a long way of saying that things could get a lot worse for the United States, if aid is cut to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Trying to keep out desperate people with a wall or anything else goes against the history of humankind. We’re a migratory beast that flees from places where we can’t survive. One way or another, the caravan will arrive someday.
Which should not be taken as an argument for open borders. What we should do is something that will make Central America and Mexico better places to live. That doesn’t mean making them into states, as a Seattle Times printer once suggested to me (we tried that in 1855 to no avail). But cutting off aid right now is going in the wrong direction. More trade, work permits here to fill open jobs, help to eliminate gangs. Something that keeps the caravan of a few thousands from turning into millions.
It sounded good to a lady on our tour: suckling pig. Perhaps the Segovia style with onions, potatoes (3,000 varieties in Peru!), carrots, white wine. Or maybe the Hawaiian version with banana leaves and all the fixings.
So she ordered it and waited for tender pork to spill onto her plate.
Imagine her surprise when a very small pig showed up whole perched over a layer of potatoes (3,000 varieties!). And what is this? she asked.
“Cuy,” the waiter said. “Guinea pig.”
Quite a surprise, but the woman ate it and found it satisfying. “Like white meat on chicken.”
I thought it tasted and looked more like dark meat, like the thigh of a chicken. We had our adventure with cuy the first night we were in Cuzco when we had dinner with a former colleague and her husband. We had found out through Facebook that they would be in Cuzco when we were there. This is the second time we have met Carol unexpectedly while traveling; the first one was in Avignon in France in 1982.
Carol and Kathy had alpaca steak, and the men decided to split a guinea pig. There is not much meat to pig out on, but we ate it down to its rib cage and left the head untouched.
Guinea pigs are raised like chickens by many families in the Andean highlands, our guide said.
An adventure in eating, but we are still no threat to those in the USSA who keep guinea pigs as pets.
Cuzco, Peru, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 – We arrived in Cuzco, Peru, today, a city of 500,000 in the Cuzco state of about one million residents. This was once the capital of the Inca Empire of about 12 million people that covered from present-day Ecuador down to about half of Chile.
In the center of the main square now is a statue of Pachacutec, the Inca ruler responsible for binding that empire together from the different groups of people who lived there in the mid-fifteenth century.
Opposite Pachacutec’s statue on the “Plaza de Armas” is, of course, a church, this one built on top of an Inca palace. When we arrived there, the Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús (built by Jesuits) was celebrating. My devout Catholic wife says one of those statues they were carting around was maybe Saint Francis.
However, on the day we were there, the saint calendar held out many saints, martyrs from the Spanish Civil Wars and numerous other people that could have been celebrated. There was a band, a procession and statues. Pachacutec did not participate.
The band above may not be The Best Damn Band in the Land, but I had to keep shooting to see how the sousaphone player was doing. Did not dot the i in Francis.
From there, we went to the Museo Machu Picchu, home to the largest collection of Machu Picchu artifacts in the world. Housed in a colonial home, the Casa Concha, the museum includes the artifacts dug up by Hiram Bingham, generally described as the man who discovered this ancient Inca ruin. Bingham sent what he found there in 1911, 1912 and 1915 back to Yale University with the promise that they would be returned to Peru when the research was done. About 100 years later, they found their way to Peru.
Our newest Alexander + Roberts guide, Yakelin, explained that Bingham had no archeologists with him and no plan on how to go about the dig.
“He paid the people working for him one sol (Peru currency now worth three to a dollar) for every skeleton they could find,” she said. “so the farmers dug everywhere.”
The 174 skeletons they did find apparently came from important people in the Inca society – no broken bones, little evidence of hard work.
Some of the bodies discovered were probably mummies, important to the Incas. The mummies of rulers were brought out for festivals, had servants and were “sustained by offerings of food and drink,” according to John Hemming’s book, “The Conquest of the Incas.”
The Spaniards burned mummies, used them to lure Incas from the highlands to the new capital at Lima, where the mummies were never found, said Yakelin. The conquerors hoped the mummies could be replaced by images of the Virgin Mary.
Yakelin said that many of the bodies found at Machu Picchu were buried or in caves, opening to the underground world.
Which led to the subject of human sacrifice. Yes, Yakelin said, the Incas did sacrifice humans, mostly children in the worst of times – quakes, eruptions and natural disasters. The children were raised separately, fed only corn and families considered it an honor to have a child sacrificed. None of our group offered up any children.
The unfinished city was ordered to be built by Pachacutec about 100 years before it was abandoned. Five different groups of people were discovered to have lived there, representing the way Pachacutec brought together his empire, gathering knowledge from other districts and then incorporating them.
There was some metal work done at Machu Picchu, but no gold was found there. Was it a religious site without riches? Or, did the Incas take it with them when they abandoned the city in the face of the Spanish conquest?
No need for that as the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu.
Lima, Peru, Sunday, September 23, 2018 — “There are about 45,000 artifacts in the Museo Larco,” said Sheila, our Alexander + Roberts guide to Lima, Peru, “and you will see about 38,000 of them.”
The full name of the Museo Larco is the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. In 1926, at the age of 25, Rafael Larco Hoyle founded the museum. Today it is an overwhelming display of pre-Columbian artifacts. Actually, they are mostly pre-Incan because the Spaniards destroyed most of the Inca work in their search for riches. Golden art works were melted down and either shipped to Spain or stuck in the conquistadors’ pockets. Not gold? Those were discarded.
There were a few gold pieces, mostly mixed with copper for stability.
The museum offers row after row of clay faces, “the cultures’ form of writing,” Sheila said.
Examples of ancient textiles included a rug that was 3,000 years old.
Sheila did not accompany us into the “Salon exotica.” Not sure what she would have said in there. But she led us to the door and said, “That’s a part of life as well.”
It’s an interesting job she has. She works as a freelance guide to work all year. She studied tourism for a degree and then studied English for three years in a language school.
She will drop our group off at the airport tomorrow (5 a.m. wake-up call!) and then pick up a new group in the afternoon to tour Lima. Upcoming trips include a week in Cusco and then a cruise in the Amazon region. When she goes outside the Lima area she turns the guiding over to a local person (as they do for her in Lima) and serves more as a facilitator, coordinating transportation, hotels, boarding passes and all the other things one of our tour identified as “sure nice to be babysat for awhile.”
Sheila also provided a birthday celebration that night at the dinner at the museum to our oldest member who turned 83. Excellent meal of an appetizer of potatoes (3,000 varieties in Peru), chicken salad, olives and a quail egg on top. Entrée was rice with seafood (shrimp and scallops) with pasta in tomato sauce and creamed dessert of a fruit similar to avocado (lucuma?) that tasted like butterscotch.
Loved having Sheila as our guide with her amazing knowledge of the city and the museum, often stopping to point out some of the masks that had been restored. And my favorite quote from her concerned the obnoxious habit of Lima drivers to rely heavily on their horns: “Honking horns is like our national anthem.”