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.
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.”
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.”
Lima, Peru, Sunday, September 23, 2018 — Francisco Pizarro probably never worried about whether he had a right to conquest Peru or how the Catholic religion would fit into what he did there. But before he garroted Atahualpa, the Inca leader, in 1533, the debate had been waged for 20 years in Spain.
According to John Hemming’s book, “The Conquest of the Incas,”Pope Alexander had divided the lands new to the Europeans by giving Spain most of South America and Portugal got Africa and Brazil. Some interpreted that as where the Europeans could spread their faith. Others argued that invasion for wealth was just fine. So proselytizing and profits entered these lands together along with something called the Requirement, the result of the decades-old debate.
This document was to be read to those about to die unless they agreed to acknowledge the Catholic church and the Pope, accept the king of Spain as their ruler and allow the Christian faith to be preached there. If not, the Spaniards could “‘do all the harm and damage that we can,’ including the enslavement of wives and children, and robbery of possessions.” And, get this, “And we protest that the deaths and losses which shall result from this are your fault.”
“These numbers are dropping all over the world,” she said.
Probably true given some of the problems facing the church today, but this forced-down religion took hold here with 80 percent of the population identifying themselves as Catholic.
Sheila says that the Catholic church succeeds in Peru by mixing itself with nature (later evidence of that in a later blog post). Yakelin, who will be our A + R guide in Cusco and Machu Picchu, high in the Andean region, says that about 50 percent of the people there practice both some Inca religion along with their Catholicism. Given that the Inca empire mostly occupied the highland area, it’s probably not surprising that the native religion remains in some part.
The Convent of Santo Domingo has a library I want, mosaics for my walls and a courtyard to match. If not, I will do all the harm and damage that I can. Losses which shall result from this are your fault.
Lima, Peru, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 — No use trying to walk by a newspaper stand without buying a paper, even if it is in a language I barely understand and it will take me a week to ready a daily. So in the Lima, Peru, airport, I bought a copy of Peru 21, hoping it would help with my Spanish.
And I can’t go past a story about politics, even if it’s about the Oct. 7 mayoral race in Lima. The debate was the night before I picked up the paper, and the coverage was excellent. Ten candidates for the office, but one of them, Renzo Reggiardo, from the Peni Patria Segura party refused to join in, saying he would not “sentar en el mismo lugar con personas que me han agraviado.” (sit in the same place with persons that have aggrieved me). Think of his honor, he said, and refused “to play.”
The paper quoted the other candidates’ statements on their vision for Lima in 2022, security and transportation. Politicians here sounded a lot like those in the USSA, promising life with “segura, para vivir sin miedo,” order, work on transportation projects (“El transito es caotico”) without much detail on how to accomplish security to live without fear, transportation or a vision in 2022 or any other time.
Did Reggiardo’s protest work? Especially since a poll by the paper said 83 percent would not pay attention to the debate, another similarity to the USSA. You remember the midterm elections are coming soon, right? Pay attention.
The election was Tuesday, and Reggiardo got beat by Jorge Munoz from the Accion Popular, with Peru 21’s sister paper, Trome, saying Reggiardo’s biggest mistake was “quizá el error más evidente de todos fue no presentarse en el primer debate electoral” (perhaps the error most obvious of all was not being present at the first electoral debate).
Back in the USSA, you dunno how lucky you are, boy, a friend told me, to miss the news of the past two weeks when the Greedy Old Peckers took over the last branch of USSA government to give them the economic security to hang on to their riches in a nation headed for moral bankruptcy. Sort of like what they said about the path that guy in Europe took to keep the trains running on time -– even though they didn’t always go where the riders wanted them to go.
But let’s get back to where we’ve been visiting the past two weeks. That’s where the Really Greedy Old Peckers showed what a combination of religion, horses, armor and avarice could do to people who stood between them and the gold. Let’s start with Lima, Peru. Back in 1535, Francisco Pizarro founded the city where he would be murdered by folks even more greedy than he was.
Today, it’s a city that houses 10 million of the 30 million in Peru, mostly in apartments. Our excellent Alexander & Roberts guide, Sheila, explained that Pizarro came from Andalusia in Spain and styled his city after what was built there – walled houses with courtyards. After independence in 1821 and a flush of railroad money, the buildings took on the look of French architecture. Today, many of the older, bigger homes have been taken over to be used for businesses and embassies.
Lima is divided into 43 neighborhoods, six with ocean views. Each neighborhood has its own mayor, and there is one for the entire city. With 25 political parties in Peru, getting signs up for all 43 mayoral candidates plus the Big Enchilada took over most of the billboard and empty wall space in the city for the elections on October 7. There is a $30 fine for those who don’t vote, applicable to anyone between the ages of 18 and 70. After that Golden Age, citizens can “volunteer” to vote.
The rate of illiteracy in Peru, says Sheila, is 8 to 13 percent of the population; the government clings to the 8 percent figure. There are 143 universities in Peru, and Sheila graduated from one of them with a degree in tourism. All guides are required to have a degree, which was very apparent in the breadth and depth of knowledge our guides had in Peru and Ecuador in everything from how people lived to archeology, architecture and politics.
The security in the city was not terribly noticeable, but it was there, as Sheila pointed out. The increased security was the Peruvian answer to the Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist group that made this a dangerous place to visit – or live – in the 1980s and ’90s.
“The Sendero Luminoso took advantage of the poor people,” she said, “forcing them to join or be killed.”
She seemed quite proud that the country did not compromise with the terrorists or accept any of their reforms (as Colombia did with FARC, she pointed out). Peru captured the groups’ leaders, threw them in jail on life sentences and installed heavy security. She pointed to the lighted cross erected to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985 and 1988 (81 percent Catholic, says the CIA Factbook, the best thing that organization ever did. And more on religion in a later post). The cross shines out over the city from a hill in the harbor, which Pizarro chose to ship gold he stole from the Incas. The cross was built from electrical transformer parts blown up by the Sendero Luminoso. So this cross has become a sign of peace rather than the banner under which the Spaniards slaughtered and conquered the Incas.
Sheila told us the main industry of the country is still mining and then agriculture. The minimum wage is $300 a month, with $500 a month being the average. Food is still affordable (and quite good), but transportation costs are expensive – and roads are hugely congested with people taking two to three hours each way to get from homes to work (sounds like Seattle). On the way to the airport, we hit the road around 6 in the morning to escape from buses, trucks and thousands of cars. Not entirely successful, but we did make it on time for our flight to Cusco.