Saturday, January 2, 2010

Volunteering and Touring in Peru

Annie’s Adventures in Peru 2008
Volunteering and touring in Peru
This was a last minute trip for me, the Great Organizer, as I decided to go in late September after the Global Volunteers trip to Poland was canceled due to lack of interest. I already had all my shots for last year’s trip to China, so I was ready to go.
I’m going to working with a Global Volunteers (GV) team in an orphanage in Lima. I decided to go four days early so I could tour Macchu Picchu. I think the tour was set, but I didn’t have any details. For a super-planned person like me, this was disconcerting. I arrived in Lima 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4 and had arranged for a hotel. Guillermo, a travel agent recommended to me by GV, has sent me a copy of the general itinerary but no specific times or hotels.
I went to the 99 cent store and Big Lots before leaving for Peru to get things on the list needed by the orphanage. So that suitcase was packed. That will leave me plenty of room to bring back souvenirs etc. I know that gold, silver, and copper jewelry is beautiful and a bargain in Peru, but doubt jewelry will fit into my budget. I hope to do holiday shopping there. Peruvians are famous for their weaving, especially sweaters and hats. We don’t need too much of that in Phoenix, even in the winter.
I’m reading a book about Peru by Peter Flindell Klaren entitled Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes. It’s told from the peoples’ point of view rather than the rulers.

Afternoon tour around Cusco

Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Cathedral in Cusco

Images of the Incan Temple of the Sun in Cusco

Annie at Tambay Machay

Bath of the elite in Tambay Machay

Altar in the natural cave at Sacsayhuaman

Native people acutally dresed like this but were happy to have their photos taken by tourists. We gave them money for their time.

Incan made wall at Sacsayhuaman

Arrival in Peru and day tour of Cusco
On the plane to Miami my seatmate was Patricia from Peru. That seemed auspicious. All went as planned. The hotel driver picked me up at the Lima airport and I did feel quite vulnerable as I waited on a sidewalk for him to get the car. My first night in Peru was spent at Hotel Torreblanca in a Spartan room with a huge bathroom with a Jacuzzi. I was able to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, trying to understand the English before it was translated into Spanish as there were no English stations on the TV.
The next morning a driver took me to the tour office. I was given some paperwork and taken to the airport for my hour flight to Cusco. I thought I would be on a tour with other people, but it looks like I’ll just be going with different groups every day. In Cusco a driver took me to my hotel, San Isidro Labrador. The location was excellent, just a few blocks from the main square. However it was more Spartan than the hotel the night before. There was no telephone, internet, or TV in the room.
I walked to Plaza de Armas. This was the center of the Incan Empire and it was divided into four parts, each leading from the center of the city. I ate a lunch of alpaca stroganoff. I have a headache, probably from the altitude, 10,900 feet up. A local contact for the travel agency met me at the hotel, handed me off to someone else, who delivered me to yet another person for my city tour.
There were 18 people in the group, with Sylvia serving as our tour guide. Very quickly we learned that she saw life from the Incan point of view. First we visited the Cathedral. It has 13 chapels but only one is open to the public. The other twelve belong to groups of families. Money cannot buy you into one of these chapels; you must marry into the family. This seems parallel to the society here. People of mixed blood (Incan and Spanish) control everything. The indigenous people have no power. Also inside the cathedral is a huca, a sacred Incan stone. The indigenous people come in to touch it, circling it with their hands three times one way, then three times the other. It is located in a corner near the door. There are many oil paintings that look like ones from the Renaissance. This is because the Spanish conquerors taught the Incans the Italian way of painting. One huge painting of the Last Supper had a roasted guinea pig on the table (a favorite food of Peruvians) and Judas had an uncanny resemblance to Pissarro. In the one public chapel there is a crucifix whose skin is very dark. The Incans crept in one night and put llama skin of it and it turned dark to match their skin. This is known as Our Lord of the Earthquakes because in 1650 the people took the statue into the square and paraded it around and the tremors stopped.
Next we visited the Temple of the Sun which is now part of Iglisia Santo Domingo. Those crafty Spaniards built churches on top of every Incan religious site. Archeologists found the Incan ruins below the church. The stones are all fitted together without the use of mortar. There are niches for mummies, which were put in the fetal position. Once this site was completely covered with silver and gold, with life-sized gold llamas and trees in the patio. Of course the Spaniards took all the precious metals. The patio does have some beautiful flowers. One part of the Incan temple would light up during the June solstice. The Incan engineers did this at all the sites I saw. They were excellent astronomers and architects. However they did not have a written language, or none has been found, so much of the information about the Incas comes from archeologists.
The last place we visited was a little outside of town, Sacsayhuaman (pronounced like “sexy woman”.) It was a fortress. There were many terraces which had different functions such as for growing crops, storage, or as retaining walls. Ninety percent of the site is still underground. The walls had huge stones (up to 250 tons) fitted together. How did they move the stones? They did not have the idea of wheels. Archeologists conjecture that they either used logs and rolled them move than a half a mile from the quarry, or sewed together animal skins and dragged them. Quite a feat. We also saw a natural cave with an altar. On the way in, a shaman (healer) was selling necklaces. Naturally I bought a few. I do know of some people who need healing. Our guide said that only animal sacrifices were made inside. Outside of the cave was a big rock that was supposed to look like a puma. Incans revered the condor, the puma, and the snake. Sylvia said this is where the human sacrifices took place. The young people were bathed and purified. Coca leaves were picked, dried, and put in small bags. These were put in the throat of the victims and they suffocated. (The tour guide at Macchu Picchu on Friday disputed that. He said there is no evidence the Incans did human sacrifice.)
The guide, Sylvia, offered to let us off at the alpaca wool factory just a few blocks from the square. Another couple and I opted for that. We got a lesson on the difference between baby alpaca wool (the first shearing and the softest,) other alpaca wool, and how to recognize synthetics. The sales woman thought I looked great in a wildly colored and patterned sweater. Great in Peru, but weird in Scottsdale. I bought very tame items as holiday and birthday presents.
The factory paid for a taxi to take us to our hotels, as it was past dark. I left my purchases in my room and consulted my guide book for a place to eat, as that was not included in the tour. I could see I was going to be spending some time alone, not like on the tour Las Chicas Locas took in Costa Rica. I ate at the Inka Grill on the square. I had the ayi del pollo, but it was a bit spicy for me. There was no heat in the hotel room so I wore two sweaters to bed.

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Market near Pisaq

Incan ruins at the Valley of Urumba

Modern settlement, living in the ancient ways, at Urumba Valley

Terraces in Urumba Valley

The mountains that form Urumba Valley

Annie made the trek in Urumba Valley

Musician at our lunch stop

Ollantaytamba Annie at the Princess's Bath

The climb to the Incan religious site at Ollantaytamba

washing alpaca wool

dying alpaca wool with natural materials

spinning the wool into thread

weaving garments

Church that looked like gold

Our tour guide showing us an Incan wall

Streets of Chincera

Sunset in Chincera

Sacred Valley of the Incas
Saturday, November 8th, 2008
My tour group was fifteen people, most of whom were in their 20’s. I could not understand the tour guide’s English. I didn’t even catch his name!
First we went to a market way outside of the city. It must be just for tourist buses. I did manage to buy some jewelry and scarves.
We went to Urubamba Valley. Terraces abound. We walked down a trail with many steps and no railing. I do not have great depth perception and it was difficult. We saw the ruins of a village from about 1400 a.d. There were about 800 residents of this place, as the Incans lived eight to a room for each extended family.
My heart was pounding and my head was throbbing. I decided not to go up the mountain to see the religious site. The only other people my age, a couple from Switzerland, made the same decision, as did a young couple from Canada because the young woman was afraid of heights. It was quite a hike getting back. I’m so glad I bought hiking boots when I visited Linda in Massachusetts. I felt disappointed that I didn’t do the whole hike, but I know that the altitude was getting to me. I had met a man at breakfast at my hotel who said he almost died the day before because he pushed himself too hard.
We went to a buffet lunch in Culca. We were entertained by a trio of flute, guitar, and drum playing lively Peruvian melodies. The beets were terrific, as was the chocolate cake.
Next we went to the fortress of Ollantaytambo. There are 400 steps to get to the top to see the unfinished Temple of the Sun, again with no railings. I went up 91 and turned back as my heart and head were pounding like they were going to explode. I wasn’t really out of breath, just a bit scared of the physical sensations. I visited the ritual bath called the Princess’s Bath. The Incans were very clever at making aqueducts to get water. Again I did some shopping and bought a tee shirt and earrings.
My favorite part of the tour came next. It was Chinchero. Indigenous people live here in the traditional way. Llamas and alpacas roam the streets of the town. We had a demonstration of how the alpaca wool is cleaned, dyed with natural substances such as plants and insects, and how it is woven. The whole process reminded me of Navajo weaving, although the looms were not as sophisticated as the Navajos. During the presentation, we drank coca tea. I’m really not sure about these coca leaves. I know that’s where cocaine comes from but tea from its leaves is served everywhere. The sun was setting as we viewed the ruins and the Catholic Church built on top of the Incan religious site. The ceiling of the church was intricately carved wood.
On the tour bus I sat across from two scientists who were originally from Russia. They were quite interesting. Both are in genetics and need new jobs, so I’m going to send the information to my cousin Debby who runs an agency that places PhD scientists.
I ate at a chicken place that reminded me of El Pollo Loco. I’ve lost my journal, so I had to buy another one and rewrite the first few days of my adventure.
It was frustrating that since I was using an internet cafe, I couldn’t access my blog since the password is on my computer and I don’t remember it. I emailed the ASU help desk, but they wrote back that I had to call to get my password. That’s why I had to wait until I got back to Lima to log on to the blog. Tomorrow I go to Macchu Picchu on the 6 a.m. train.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Macchu Picchu

Sylvia, a fellow traveler, who got a pisco sour dumped on her by accident

mountains surrounding Macchu Picchu

Rough wall



trapedoizal features make the Incan buildings less vulnerable to earthquakes

Macchu Picchu
I didn’t sleep much last night as I was excited about my trip to Macchu Picchu and worried I wouldn’t get up in time even though I arranged for a wakeup call and set my Suns alarm clock. The travel agency person was supposed to meet me at 5:20. By 5:30 I was getting nervous, but had no local contact numbers. Although the hotel receptionist called the tour agency in Lima, of course no one answered that early in the morning. Finally a new person arrived and took me to the train station. I met Aldo, the leader of the tour, who said he would meet me at the bus station in Aguas Calientes, the last stop. I don’t have tickets for the bus or an entrance ticket to Macchu Picchu, but Guillermo, the fellow who arranged everything for me, had always come through, and so I figured it would be fine.
The train was a Vistadome, which meant the top was glass so we could see the trees and snow covered mountains as we travelled. I sat at a table with a couple from Uruguay and Sylvia, a well traveled young woman from Colombia. She was with her sister and husband, but they were at another table. The table was set with a white tablecloth and blue runners. Formally dressed waiters and waitresses served us rolls, cheese, slices of meta, and coca tea. The ride was long, four hours.
At the last stop I followed the crowd to the bus station, where Aldo gave me my tickets for the bus and Macchu Picchu. It took 35 minutes on switchback roads to reach Macchu Picchu, which is about three thousand feet lower than Cusco so I no longer had a headache. I had been warned about sun block and mosquito repellent and took appropriate precautions.
Aldo handed me off the Wagner, the guide for English speakers. He was quite knowledgeable and easy to understand. He disputed several things that Sylvia, the tour guide from the city tour, said.
Macchu Picchu, built in the mountains in the 1400’s, is a very elaborate series of terraces and buildings. It was “discovered” in 1911 by American Hiram Bingham. The reason it’s in such great shape is that the Spanish never found it. The place was abandoned about 1530 but there is no explanation for this. This reminds me of the Anasazi in the four corners area of the American southwest. They built stone and adobe buildings along cliffs about 1000 A. D. and also abandoned them for no known reason about 1200 A.D.
Wagner thoroughly discussed Incan seismic architecture. The trapezoidal windows and the walls built at an angle were components of anti earthquake building ideas. The walls also extended underneath the building. They were connected by beams and the area was filled with pebbles. When earthquakes have stricken Peru, the Spanish colonial buildings crumpled but the Incan walls held. Seismologists from Japan have studied Incan architecture and used their ideas to avoid building collapse during earthquakes.
The Incans practiced a meritocracy, meaning that the nobles were chosen for their talents, not born into their positions. About 800 to 1,000 people lived in the Macchu Picchu community.
There was an intricate underground water system that delivered water from the top of the mountain. Some of the “pipes” have become clogged over the years so it doesn’t work in all areas of Macchu Picchu.
The Incans built rough walls for ordinary buildings that used mud in between stones, and more perfect walls, where the stones fit together perfectly for special buildings. They put gold clay over them so the buildings shone when hit by sunlight.
We saw the Temple of the Condor which had a stone sculpture of a condor, with its wings being the stone outcroppings.
The massive terraces were for farming and storage. There was no need to irrigate as this is a wet place, adjacent to the Amazon rain forest. Macchu Picchu was a trading center between the highland farmers and the denizens of the jungle.
The Incan astronomers figured out their calendar based on the June and December solstices. Their calendar only has to be adjusted every 1300 years, unlike ours which must be adjusted by a day every four years. The Temple of the Sun has a rounded edge and was constructed to allow the beams of the sunrise of the solstices to hit one spot.
After the tour, I went up some of the stairs (without rails) and sat down on a terrace and contemplated what life in this Eden-like setting was like six hundred years ago. When I finished my reverie, I noticed that an alpaca was grazing about three feet from me.
I walked around looking at the various buildings and terraces.
I took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes and had lunch, then shopped at the bazaar and did some shopping. I went to the train station and had a nice chat with a couple from Missouri.
For the train trip back, my seat was changed. I sat at a table for two with Sylvia, the young woman from Colombia. We ordered Pisco sours, a potent drink only made palatable by the sour mix. First the waiter shook it in rhythm. He passed the shaker to the waitress who shook it to another rhythm, and then spilled it all over Sylvia and me. What a sticky mess! We cleaned up and had a good laugh about it as well as free drinks. When we were toasting “salud” Sylvia spilled some of her drink on her sister. We laughed even more.
The entertainment on the train was a fashion show put on by the wait staff and a traditional Incan clown.
Sylvia and I shared our pictures of Macchu Picchu and talked in depth about our lives.
The trip back to Cusco took four and a half hours. My local guide was there to pick me up and drop me at my hotel. I wasn’t feeling well. I don’t know whether it was the tomato and lettuce on the cheese sandwich for lunch or the chicken salad sandwich on the train. I was nauseous all night.