Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lords of Sipan

Today was a double header. Two museums. Four and a half hours. Tired feet. But these two museums were the reason we came to northern Peru, the land of the Lords of Sipan.

We visited the older museum first: Museo Arqueologico Nacional Bruning. Lots of pictures later . . .

Then we stopped for lunch. Were served a hot drink called "Tiger's milk" at El Pacifico, a heady concoction of salty seafood broth, spiced with lemon and chiles. It nearly burned the cold right out of my throat! Resting feet. Enjoying yogurt and fruit (a grape as large as two thumbs).

Then we walked over to the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan, which showcased Walter Alva's sumptuous find, an untouched tomb discovered in 1987, featuring the first clear picture of what life (or death) was like in the Moche Kingdom for one of its major rulers in a tomb that was unlooted. The treasure trove is truly amazing.

The museum is set up like a Moche temple. We entered at the top, and just as the archaeologists did, we worked our way down through the layers of burials, so carefully unearthed by Alva's team. For breathtaking images (not in public domain), go to this site of the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan

096 trujillo -il signore di sipanI coiuld say my favorite was the Decapitator God, but I'm also partial to the Crab God of the Sea and the ear plugs of turquoise, or the sun pectoral of tiny beads of coral and seashell.

We spent a long time in this museum and regretted nothing at all (except maybe tired feet). Then, back to our hotel, dodging these very fast three-wheeled "Moto-Taxis" which are quite picturesque when three of them are bearing down on you!

DSCF7841 Peru - Desaguadero - Bicycle taxi at the border between Peru and Bolivia

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chan Chan

We just got back from our first tour of Chimu ruins (thin 850-1470) near Trujillo. First we stopped at Huaca Arco Iris, a Chumu temple of the rainbow, so named for their love of the sea. Our visit started auspiciously with a sighting of two tiny yellow birds (almost canaries?) and two hairless dogs of Peru (later adopted by Frida Khalo). We walked into this high walled temple (adobe brick walls about 15-20 feet high and some 700 years older than Chan Chan) to find murals, not at all protected from rain, and partly restored.

Above the rainbow we could see stylized waves, reminding me of the early Greek and Minoan Mediterranean cultures. The arc of the seven-colored rainbow ended with twin snake heads over two sea otters, linked by their transformative tongues. At the base of the mural, two warriors stand guard with dome caps on either side, and a mythical feathered serpent holds the timu, a ceremonial knife shaped like an upside down half moon. Misnamed the Temple of the Dragon when it was discovered in 1960, today archaologists prefer the name Temple of the Rainbow as closer to Chimu beliefs. We climbed to the top of this pyramid via a steep ramp and were rewarded with a view of the valley, massive sand dunes, the nearby mountains, and, close to the ocean, the complex of Chan Chan itself, which once included about 60,000 people and 9 different sub-cities.

imagen 125
Mural at Huaca Arco Iris (photo courtesy of Webshots) See more photos here (including the dogs).

We then drove over to the portion of Chan Chan that is open to the public -- the Tschudi complex, which once contained about 60,000 people and is a veritable maze of buildings and plazas used for ritual, religion and burials. Here you can see the fishnet walls (note the bird friezes at the base of the walls). Archaeologists are busy excavating and reconstructing the many friezes throughout the complex -- pelicans, cormorants, the Incan cross, even the lowly squash are key decorative elements.

Trujillo - Chan Chan - Chimu 1300AD - massive adobe site

What's fascinating is the role of weather in the history and continued existence of these ruins at Chan Chan. Every 2 to 7 years, El Nino comes roaring ashore with massive rains and flooding. While protective roofs cover some of Chan Chan, many of these delicate applied mud adobe high relief murals are at risk. Tomorrow we'll trek to the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon), a Moche temple.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Goodbye to Lima . . . for now . . .

We're just a few blocks away from Vista del Mar, here in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. This is the view from our favorite restaurant, a bird's eye view of the graveled beach below, which prompted this week's poem. Last night we watched surfers riding the waves to shore, one after the other, seemingly unending, the breakers rising out of the fog. We then popped into our first movie in a long time, a very noisy "Angels and Demons", just right for Spanish subtitles, all action, noise to cover Allen's cough, and a peaceful afternoon.

Lima, Peru

Al came in safely from San Francisco last night, despite the fog, and today, in a little while, we climb aboard Cruz del Sur for a 10-hour ride to northern Peru, Trujillo and then Chiclayo, the land of the Lords of Sipan, near Lambayeque.

In fact, this whole South American trip started with an audio-book from the Corvallis Public Library called the Lords of Sipan: A True Story of Pre-Inca Tombs, Archaeology, and Crime. Sidney Kirkpatrick introduced us to Walter Alva's fabulous finds in Northern Peru (and his somewhat successful attempts to foil the grave robbers). Then, we said, will we ever go there? Now, we're more than ready to climb around this temple complex and admire the murals, still vivid with their original coloring.

Huaca Luna- : Moche site

Pop over to this "unique travel" site to see more pics of the Lord of Sipan (dubbed Tutankhamen of the Americas, along with a YouTube video. Photos here courtesy of Webshots (until I can get my pics safely home and processed).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Larco Museum, Lima . . .

Yesterday we visited the Museo de la Nacion here in Lima. First, our guide took us through the third floor's bewilderingly exhibition, organized not around cultures but around the common themes that cross all Andean indigenous peoples. No dates. No neat little cards naming the artifact, where it was found, or which culture it came from. But we did gain an understanding of the main themes that underlie these cultures from prehistory (about 2,000 BC) to the time of the Spanish Conquest (1432).

Downstairs, we could wander through a more traditional chronological ordering of artifacts, each case highlighted a different Andean culture. And despite what Lonely Planet said, yes, you can take photographs. I will return with camera.

Today we traveled across Lima, a small town of 13 million souls, in a gas-belching, heart-stopping, lurching co-operativa bus, the kind that keeps moving when you leap on and off and that stops inches behind the car in front. But we traveled to the Larco Museum, properly called the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, famous for its thousands of artifacts, not the least being some of the most beautiful pots I've ever seen -- and textiles. This private museum combined equisitely selected artifacts with careful notations. Larco was a thoughtful expert, classifying Andean cultures into a timeline. Even the Moche pottery was subdivided into 5 distinct categories. The museum notes explained how sacred beliefs developed over time, what elements stayed consistent between different cultures, and how this relates to our understandings of these people.

Characteristics of birds, serpents and felines (physical and supernatural) appear repeatedly to combine the sky (heaven, the source of rain), the land (this world), and the underworld (source of fruits of the earth and where the dead went). Notice the beautiful bird headdress of this Moche portrait sculpture (read more at Wikipedia). The Moche sculptures are beautifully realistic; most have an otherworldly look, almost trance-like. Interestingly, none of these Moche sculptures are of women, but nobles, priests and acclaimed artisans. These remind me of the painfully realistic portrait sculptures of the Romans, who borrowed and copied from the Greeks. We may return again, for the gardens, for the tasty lunch in the museum restaurant, but most certainly for more time with these beautiful pieces, from the earliest times to the Conquest. Even two more quippus -- and an exquisite Incan mantle made entirely of tiny blue and yellow feathers.

And if you are interested in am ancient sea god with the golden tentacles of an octopus returned to Peru in 2006, read more here.

One of the continuing controversies is over the looting of many Peruvian antiquities, which are slowly being returned from museums around the world. And of course I didn't buy an antique textile from a street vendor. Truly.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ollantaytambo . . .

Most of us are two or three generations from farming (if not more). As Nicko, our taxi driver took us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, past jagged mountains, snow at the vry top, past steep hillsides, several small towns, kids racing to school in navy blue sweaters, the road curving up and down into deep valleys, we saw farming country. The people, descendants of Incans, worked to dry corn or clear the fields of corn stalks, binding them into impossibly large bundles to be carried on the back to the roadside. We passed hand carts pushed by young men and old women, and so we came to Ollantaytambo, on our way to Macchu Picchu. Nicknamed Ollan, this fortress town was established to protect Cusco from tribes in the Amazon. Our taxi hit those narrow cobblestoned streets with a jolt, taking us down to the train station, where our next hotel, the El Alburgue, fronted the railroad tracks to Aguas Caliente and Macchu Picchu.

Surprisingly, we stepped in the door of our hotel and found a tranquil garden full of cannas, lilies, roses, and hummingbirds. Our room invited us in with cozy comforters, a mountain view, and lots of hot water for showers.

In the morning we planned to go climb about on the Ollantaytombo ruins, site of Manco Inca's defeat of the Spanish, when we were told to go up to the main plaza for the Festival of the Bulls. May 15 marked the first time the bulls were put into yokes for the next season's planting. The small plaza was crowded with pairs of bulls, their horns twined with fruits of the season, oranges and bananas and ribbons, each pair pulling a plow, the farmers coming behind to drive them around the plaza. The farmers scattered dried corn which children and old women dashed to pick up. Later we learned the corn was considered "plata," good fortune.

But the procession was dazzling. Three statues were carried on the backs of key community leaders, all heavily decorated with calla lillies and corn stalks. The largest, I learned, was St. Ysidro (Isadore, the patron saint of farmers), but the other two smaller statues shall remain mysterious and nameless. The procession, with those closest to the statues, masked young men dancing an energetic up and down dance, were followed by the young ladies with horned masks with snakes on the backs of their heads, who were followed by little children in fancifull dress, beautifully costumed in gold and velvet, dancing in baby steps, mothers hovering nearby. Drummers kept the procession moving to the church where they were met by elders with ceremonial candles. Each of the statues was carried forward to bow to the other and each then made a circular dance in front of the church. Then, the entire procession, bulls and all, went to the ruins of Ollantaytombo and then throughout the town, firecrackers and music sounding throughout the afternoon, as we climbed to the top of the ruins.

Ollantaytambo Inca Fortress
Photo courtesy of Webshots

I have had a hard time finding any information about this festival for it was a local celebration, not publicized, and, we later learned, not exactly for tourists, though a few of us were there. I only know I saw the young men dance, the gaurdians of three saints, carried on the backs of their elders, a joyous celebratory, unforgettable dance, the whole community participating, and somehow, in the shared smiles, we, outsiders, were included.

Photo courtesy of Webshots
Additional reading on Peruvian crafts.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Macchu Picchu . . .

This iconic place is not overstated. We were up at 5 am to catch one of the first busses to Macchu Picchu and joined a crowd of some several hundred. A very efficient half hour later, we were on our way, up a single-lane road in a majestic tour bus, arriving just in time to stand in line to present our tickets. Luckily, Allen had purchased them the day before so we didn't have to stand in two lines.

We made it before sunrise. Everything anyone has ever said about this magical place is true. We wandered around for 3 and a half hours, not worrying about much of anything, just taking in the different views of this sncient temple and living complex. We found the temple to the condor and climbed through a cave, a spiritual journey for the Incans. Alltogether a lovely day. Now we're headed back to Agua Calientes and our hotel, perhaps a bathtub. Perhaps a very mundane ending to a lovely day. But it was magnificant.

Macchu Picchu despejado

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Incan Cusco . . .

We traveled from Puno to Cusco by Inka Express, a ten hour bus ride punctuated by stops at 6 different sites, each one adding to our understanding of Incan culture and Peru. We passed through snow-covered Andes mountains to the lush green fields and trees, sycamores, eucalyptus and cypress, a welcome change from the very dry desert of the south. We entered the Sacred Valley and stopped at Raqchi, our first Incan temple.

We only had 30 minutes to explore the temple grounds near a small lake, and into the temple complex with outer walls, a series of linked courtyards, connected by a perfectly symmetrical alley (perfectly aligned with the summer solstice and the rising sun), round stone storage graineries, and housing for about 1,000 priests and nobles, and the main temple walls still standing. Our guide said about 6,000-7,000 commoners lived outside in humble houses.

Along the hills surrounding Raqchi, the Incan ruler, Wirococha caused a 10 foot high defensive wall to be built, similar to the Great Wall of China in design, but not as expansive.

I am used to the monumental Mayan and Aztec pyramids and temples. This 15th Century temple at Raqchi was entirely different. Its walls stretch up nearly 90 feet and 300 feet long, a mix of Incan block stone of volcanic rock at the base, and adobe bricks made of mud, straw, wood, and cactus juice (a natural waterproof gum). The roof was supported by this monumental wall in the middle with two rows of columns on either side (you can see their remains in the foreground). The temple faces south, which I found interesting, as earlier burial towers we had seen at Sillhustani had faced east, the rising sun, the source of life.

Wirococha's temple at Raqchi (source Wikipedia)

And so we came to Cusco and yesterday visited Qorikancha (also Coricancha or "golden enclosure"), fabled temple complex located in the Incan capital of Cusco, the center or navel of the world. This complex is actually several connected room-sized temples to the rainbow, the moon, the thunder and lightning, the stars and moon, and one long entry to the Temple of the Sun. When the Spaniards arrived in 1532, they were awed by the gold-plated walls and floors, the life-sized sacred statues of animals, plants (including corn), and people made of gold. Apparently a magnificent solid gold Sun Disk was used in religious rituals. The Spaniards razed the temple, looted it, melted the gold, and used Incan stones to build a church and convent to Santo Domingo over the Temple of the Sun.

In 1650 and 1950, terrible earthquakes hit Cusco. The colonial buildings tumbled; Incan temples stood unshaken. You can read about the history of Qorikancha in Brian S. Bauer's Ancient Cuzco: Heartland of the Inca, available online through Google book; a wonderful series of photos and drawings traces the discovery and first impressions of this temple.

Qorikancha and Santo Domingo Church (source Wikipedia)

Note about photos: Ordinarily I post my own photos, but since my laptop is no longer with me, I can't download or upload my pics. So until June, I'm using Wikipedia and Webshots (with credit), and will update my photos on Webshots then.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca . . .

We're resting this afternoon in Puno, Peru, after spending a half day exploring the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake at the highest altitude, 12,628 feet. Our trip began on a boat to Jiska Chaulla, an island made entirely of reeds. Eight Aymara families live here, following a traditional life of fishing, sewing, and bartering in nearby towns on Market Days for such essentials as salt, soap, potatoes and meat. They prefer to barter rather than sell, by trading a handful of fish for a handful of potatoes.

We were greeted with welcoming smiles and proceeded to learn how the islands are made. Ramon demonstrated how the roots of the reeds are cut to create a base, which is then covered by alternating layers of cut reeds, up to about 10 feet deep. Their reed houses rest on another reed bed. It took about 3 months to build the island we visited, which included houses for the 8 families and a guest house, where we could have slept for 10 soles (about $3 dollars. The island needs fresh layers of reeds about every 15 days in the dry season, but this island will last 25-30 years. If someone wants to build a new island, he can do so with another Uros simply by cutting a chunk of this island free and adding to it.

Allen and I both tried on a traditional hat -- to laughter all around. We took a short boat trip in a traditional reed boat (see pic from Webshots), and we ate not only the white part of a reed that Ramon pared for us (tastes like celery), but we also ate wonderful barley cakes cooked by our host. Everyone knows everyone else's name, and we sensed a wonderful sense of community as we were welcomed here.

Floating Reed Island of the Uros Indians,  Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru

Tomorrow we're back on the bus for a good 10 hours, but we shall be making 4 or 5 stops to visit other rural areas in Peru as we head to Cusco and a slightly lower altitude.

Friday, May 01, 2009

One of the most beautiful surprises was our visit to the small Chapel of San Ignacio at the Iglesia de la Campania here in Arequipa, Peru. The outside of the main church is stunning with its deeply carved ornamental facade completed in 1698. Dubbed the Vatican of South America, it's one of the richest in Peru with several altars decorated with gold. Walking inside and turning to the left, we found the San Ignacio side chapel -- one room with an arching ceiling leading up to a fantastically decorated cupola. Cameras are no longer allowed, but I found two images for you to enjoy (and for me to remember).

The facade of La Campania de Jesus (Wikipedia)

The cupola of the San Ignacio chapel, Arequipa, Peru
The cupola of San Ignacio Chapel (Webshots)

Tropical birds and exotic flowers mingle with angels and warriors on every available space, ceiling, all four walls, a work of art from indigenous artists of the time. The result is a paisley effect everywhere the eye looks, a mix of Baroque Spanish and Incan images. Unforgettable.

On the road in Peru . . .

We've landed for five days of rest in Arequipa, Peru, after a most amazing bus journey of 17 hours in which my laptop was taken by thieves in a restaurant. I wish I could say the laptop was recovered, but it's most likely somewhere in a border town black market. Daybook, poems, and some photos all lost. Until my writing was recovered, I was a little shakey, but thanks to advice from several writers I know via the Internet Writers Workshop, and various techie friends (Gordy, especially), I'm still writing.

Arequipa is a beautiful city surrounded by Andean mountains, with an interesting mix of Incan (and pre-Incan) cultures with Spanish Baroque. Today we visited the Sanctuario that houses the famous Ice Princess, or Juancita, the Lady of Ampato, sacrified to the Apu, the spirit of a sacred mountain, some 500 years ago. This museum showcases artifacts found with this 15-year-old girl, now a mummy, found at the top of Mt. Ampato in 1995.

In 1995, volcanic eruptions by nearby Sabancaya melted ice on Ampato (20,700 feet high). The mummy was dislodged, the protective textiles fell away from her face, and she lay exposed on the side of the mountain, scholars guess, for about 15 days before intrepid explorer, Johan Reinhard, found her. Today the museum holds a dazzling array of pottery, gold sculptures, feather bags, textiles (including highly decorated huipils or blouses), and perhaps what is called a "mountain quipu" by our museum guide. Most of the 600 quipus that remain in the world today are accountants' tools, but scholars suggest some carry religious and historical meaning. The mountain quipu found with Juancita (nicknamed for her discoverer), is like no other I've seen. Shaped like a mountain, its very thick woven cords are arranged in bands of black, white (purity), and red (power). A single black cord suggests a path up the "mountain" and a bundle of a small figure was tied to the "mountain" suggesting the sacrifice.

One other fact we learned is that when Incan children were born, their umbilical cords were preserved and through the child's life, ground up and fed to them at key times to protect them. Juancita's umbilical cord was found carefully placed by her body, suggesting she was selected as "The Chosen One" at birth. Weaving tools and small spoons used to mix dyes for textiles were also found with her. Only 18 such child sacrifices have been found throughout the former Incan Empire, so far. But only Juancita had such wealth with her, suggesting a time of great unrest, perhaps a series of volcanic eruptions, which the Inca believed meant the gods were talking to them and were displeased.

I learned that Macchu Picchu is also considered a sacred mountain (apu). We will go there within the week.

Books to definitely read: Johan Reinhard's The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society).