Friday, May 01, 2009

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).

1 comment:

Sandy Jensen said...

What a terrible shock to lose your computer! I will be reinspired to keep online versions of my drafts!
Your trip sounds remarkable, and I love your pictures!
Sandy Jensen