January, 2013 Archive

Peru Day 9

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

This is the last day of our trip and the beginning of a 36-hour time warp that will transition us back home. Those of the group who’ve been afflicted with colds, altitude sickness and knee injuries are on the road to recovery. Half the members are preparing for an extension tour with Alvaro to Lake Titicaca.

Before leaving Qosco he leads us back to the Korikancha”Convent of San Lorenzo. The oval sanctuary, originally its most prominent feature, recalls Machu Picchu.


Inside the complex, sections of austere Inka masonry originally covered with silver and gold and later painted over by the conquerors are interspersed with ornate baroque architecture.





Unearthed stones show the sophistication of indoor rock plumbing. Did this waste water system allow for disposal of paper?



A modern mural reproduces pre-European visions of star configurations in the Milky Way.


A short walk brings us to Plaza des Armas, originally the main Inka square where hundreds of thousands assembled for calendrical festivals.



The Spanish appropriated it as a focal point for church buildings, but in recent years, it’s been partially reclaimed with a golden statue of the Inka king at the top of the central fountain,



Its gardens are animated by a vibrant mix of old and young, locals and foreigners.



As we depart for the airport, the skies open with a downpour, just as they did upon our arrival in Qosqo.


Back in Lima we transfer back to the Miraflores hotel we’d stayed in earlier and are provided rooms to rest in before a scheduled midnight departure.

Our Lima guide, Dante, returns to lead us on a bus ride through traffic congested by the next day’s Dakar international auto race to a viewpoint above the city dominated by another hilltop statue of Christ.



From there I get a last obscured picture of life in the new towns directly from above.


After farewell dinner at a seaside restaurant we return to the airport.  The flight to Miami is delayed three hours, but we still catch the connecting flight to L.A., where we arrive in late afternoon, find our Prius, Reddy, in the vast parking lot, stop for dinner in Santa Monica, and drive the last four hour stint to San Luis Obispo.

Jan lays out our treasured souvenirs and gifts for children, grandchildren and nieces that will always recall this life-enriching trip, before we sink into a long and happy sleep.


Slideshow of these and more full-size photos

Link to Day 1

Peru Day 8

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Today’s itinerary takes us back into the mountains surrounding Qosqo, but this time by a road paralleling the railroad line that runs to Machu Picchu heading westward up through a new town topped by a forest of cell towers.


Once over the pass and heading north toward Urumbamba we’re back in the countryside, on a high plateau covered with larger fields of potatoes and corn also tended with hand tools.


Breaks in the cloud cover reveal the summits of Cordillera Blanca towering above the pastoral landscape.


We stop for a photo-op at a turnout and a woman in traditional garb arrives and opens her blanket full of textiles and gourds to offer for quick sale.


Our destination is the village where OAT, our tour company, has established another relationship with a local community, here in support of a one-room elementary school. The children are on winter vacation but have assembled from distant villages to greet us. They surround the bus and lead us by the hand into the classroom, where we’re welcomed by their teacher, a beautiful and dignified resident of Qosqo who comes with her young daughter three days a week.



The homemade posters on the wall exhibit a curriculum emphasizing the modern as well as the traditional. Nutrition, reproduction, and environmental health


Math and self respect



Reading and writing Spanish and the indigenous language of Quechua that Spanish conquerors and missionaries tried unsuccessfully for centuries to eradicate.


The children show us their notebooks, as impressive in the work produced and the care with which they’ve been graded as my grandsons’ in their California Catholic schools.





Alvaro translates as the children come to the front of the class and tell us about themselves. Their their career aspirations include doctor, lawyer, tourguide, pilot, nurse. None of them mentions farmer.




Then we hear their recitations of poems in Quechua celebrating Peru’s traditions, people and natural environment


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Finally a chorus of farewell for sixth graders who will be graduating this year and moving on to middle school.



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After presenting our gifts of school supplies and toys we reluctantly say goodbye.


Just behind our bus a villager parades down the street with his charges.


On the way further into the hinterland, there’s more to see than can possibly be absorbed through the moving bus windows.





We arrive at Moray, an Inca site of landscape sculpture, ritual worship, astronomical observation, and agronomic experimentation. The concentric terraces that suddenly yawn below us like a negative impression of Ollantaytambo create a wide range of micro-climates, growing warmer as one descends.  Although the absence of decipherable Inca records leaves uncertainty, it is likely that it was designed for testing and breeding some of the thousands of varieties of potatoes and corn and other crops precisely suited for diverse Andean environments.




Toward the north, the Cordillera’s glaciers loom, though shrinking and collapsing due to global warming.




Toward the east, following the course of the Urumbamba river down toward the Amazon, one can see the tall peaks surrounding Machu Picchu.


Alvaro approaches a huge aloe, puts his mouth around the devilishly sharp point of one of its leaves, bites, chews and pulls with an intensity that makes his whole body shake.


Finally he pulls back, leaving a bundle of fibers protruding from the stalk and removes the point which is attached to more of them.  “Inca needle and thread,” he says, “These are fibres they used to lash timbers and build suspension bridges.  They’re stronger than steel.”



Next we head to the town of Chinchero, home of numerous Andean weaving cooperatives catering to tourists and dedicated to preserving traditional materials and methods and to providing a source of income to poor rural families.


We’re greeted by Julio, an intense but reserved patriarch garbed in a gorgeous hat and poncho who speaks excellent English.  He is the owner of Wina Away.


He invites us to share a lunch of potato fritters, quinoa soup, rice and a mash of beans from Peruvian lupine prepared by his wife and served and shared by the resident weavers, women of several ages.




They come to his center from distant villages and stay with their children for weeks at a time, perfecting their skills and laboriously producing the gorgeous fabrics they wear and offer for sale here and in certified outlets in Qosqo.  The meticulous production goes slowly but they receive a large enough percentage of the retail price to make it worthwhile.

Once lunch is cleared with the assistance of our group, we move chairs and tables for a demonstration of the craft techniques.  A beguiling little boy watches.


His young mother suddenly picks him up and wraps him in a blanket she ties on her back.


Within a few minutes he falls asleep and she puts him down in a bedroom and returns to work.

First stage of the process is to wash the raw alpaca wool with a lather made from the grated root of a plant they spend hours foraging for in remote mountain locations.


The cleaned wool is spun on a drop spindle like those we have seen women using alongside the road and in the market.



They die the wool using various natural materials that produce vibrant and durable colors.


Colchinea squooshed out of the prickly pear beetle is mixed with lemon juice to produce a bright crimson.



We get our own chance to dip and color the wool.


The warp is strung by two weavers rolling balls of died yarn back and forth between wooden poles.


One end of the completed warp is strapped to the weaver who moves the shuttle with a bewildering flurry of gestures out which the intricate pattern slowly emerges.



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The final products are marketed by their creators.  Jan and I admire a table runner that takes a person several weeks to produce. It’s design includes the Inca princess’ eyes around the edge, a figure-eight shaped symbol of the seasons, and a line of snow covered mountains.


We buy it for eighty dollars. There is no bargaining.

Slideshow of these and more full-size photos

Link to Day 9






Peru Day 7

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Next morning Alvaro leads us in brilliant sunshine on a walking tour of the downtown. First, directly across the street from our hotel, the Koricancha or Temple of the Sun, the religious center of the Inca temple, on top of and around which the Spanish built the Convent of San Lorenzo.


Then, the city’s central market, which all this week in celebration of New Year’s is festooned with yellow balloons, streamers, confetti and underwear.



Inside is a riot of colors, sounds and smells and of merchandise, costumes and activity.






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We pass through packed streets to the bus and drive by another new community on the hillside to a 17th century church overlooking the city



and then a little higher to Sacsaywaman, an immense Inka temple fortress laid out in the shape of a bolt of lightning. It was the scene of a famous battle between Pizarro and the rebel Emperor Manco Inka, and still competes for prominence with the large statue of Christ on an adjoining hilltop.



Much of the temple was dismantled by the Spanish to build the cathedrals that were intended to replace it, but the megalithic foundation stones, perfectly fitted and exquisitely shaped–here like a puma’s paw–have withstood Qosqo’s earthquakes and provide a site for locals to enjoy holiday picnics.



Another stop brings us to Q’engo, an underground labyrinth carved out of a natural rock formation where Inkan royalty were mummified.



Two minutes down the road we get off the bus at the edge of a field overlooking the city. A shadowy figure appears in the distance sitting under a thatched pavilion.


As we take seats, Alvaro introduces him as a curandero or shaman, a healer who has traveled here a long way from the highlands to conduct a ceremony for us. We agree to refrain from picture taking while the ritual proceeds. The curandero unfolds a blanket and covers it with a large white sheet of paper. He pours libations of beer on the ground and unfolds small packets containing corn, rice, sugar, candies, flowers, potatoes, alpaca jerky and other substances and arranges them in a mandala-like pattern surrounded by cotton for clouds and multicolored strings for Inka roads. He rocks and chants to himself like a davener in synagogue. All of this is meant as an expression of gratitude to the earth goddess, Pachamama.


He folds the loaded paper into a compact bundle, tucks coca leaves into the top and blows on them,  laying hands on each person in the group. To dispose of any illness or ill-feeling, Alvaro says we should exhale it onto the packet. When everyone has done so, the curandero places the bundle on a wood fire Alvaro has kindled outside. As it burns, he poses for more photos and accepts gratuities.



Though logically contradictory, it doesn’t seem inappropriate that we offer up both our goods and our evils to the goddess. And given the prevalence of coughs and swollen eyes at this stage in the trip, the promise of a purge of poisons adds immediacy to the exotic ritual.

We cross the road to an unobtrusive storefront and inside find a large showroom full of alpaca woolens of varying grades. Alvaro encourages us to buy here rather than on the street or in the markets for the best prices and quality. Jan and I comply, purchasing gifts for friends and relatives back home and for ourselves.


The day’s planned activities conclude at a hillside restaurant with panoramic views of the city where  luncheon is served by a woman in spectacular traditional garb.


On the way back to the bus after the meal, we’re serenaded by passing holiday celebrants.


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While Jan stays at the hotel, adding rest, antihistamine and more ibuprofen to the curandero’s cure, I explore the walled streets of the central downtown for an hour or so, but then join her, satiated with stimulation and grateful for the chance to read more in Mann’s 1491 about the historical background of what we’ve seen .

Slideshow of these and more full-sized photos

Linnk to Day 8


Peru Day 6

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Next morning we walk back to the bus stop along the tributary rushing through the middle of Aguas Calientes. The street is flanked by fountains inspired by the spring-fed watercourses in the city above, one simulating cascades, another the undulating body of a snake.



The sound of the rapids echoing between the high walls of the canyon roars through the town and adds excitement to our departure for the heights.


When we arrive, the site and surroundings are predictably obsured by fog.


Alvaro leads the group in a prayer at the edge


The clouds begin to lift. Yesterday’s amazing sights take on a living presence, mysterious and intimate.



IMG_3617.JPG It seems like the renting of a veil, the parting of a curtain, the revelation of divine nature, Pachamama’s gift.


This is a moment together Jan and I are supremely privileged to share and preserve.

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Our group leaves the confines of the city and is led slowly by our guides toward a viewpoint looking down on it from above.


Anyone who wishes to go on ahead has permission to hike to the Sun Gate, the high pass through which Machu Picchu first appears to those traveling by foot along the Inka Trail, the 500 year old original approach.


I welcome the chance for more exercise and a little solitude.  Half an hour later I encounter another member of our party. He accepts my assistance in climbing the rock wall below a small opening in the jungle that provides the only possible opportunity within miles to go to the bathroom. On the way out, he slips and falls on the stone path. He’s in great pain but refuses offers to call for help or accompany him back to the bus.  He will reach the Sun Gate!  With the assistance of four Ibuprofen and my spring-loaded trekking pole heroically he reaches his goal.


Meanwhile, despite her injured knee and with the help of her two trekking poles and more Ibuprofen, Jan mounts hundreds of stone steps to the lower viewpoint. Little Al calls her the lady on four legs.

On the way back to the train she bargains in the market for silver earrings decorated with an Andean cross and symbols of the months and for a table cloth woven in the rainbow colors of the Qosqo flag.



The bus trip back to Qosqo offers our first view of the snow-covered mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.


Jan too is coming down with the cold that’s hit most members of the group. Having landed in a comfortable hotel room, we both decline to join the late night New Year’s Eve festivities in the central plaza and fall asleep well before the end of 2012.

Slideshow of these and more  full-size photos

Linnk to Day 7