Sunday, June 21, 2015

Epilogue - Peru

June 21, 2015
Summer solstice -- but winter solstice if I were still in Peru.
It's been over two weeks since I returned from that amazing country, and I keep thinking about what an incredible journey I had.
I am glad I write a blog along the way, because it would be hard now to put all these experiences into perspective.
I have to say that this trip was everything I wanted and more. The highlight, of course, was seeing Machu Picchu.  I will never forget walking through the park entrance and along a short walk until the entire vista of the ruins opened up, with Wayna Picchu towering over the site. I felt particularly blessed that some of us were able to hike both the Inka Trail to the Sun Gate and the trail to the Inka Bridge on our second day.
Besides Machu Picchu, my favorite day was "A Day in the Life." This is one of the reasons many people like to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). Although we experienced daily life many times on our trip -- from drinking chicha beer at an impromptu kitchen bar to eating lunch in a local home where we were served guinea pig, we had one very special day. I loved every minute. It began in the village of Izcuchaca. What was particularly memorable was becoming acquainted with everyday people who make a living selling food and drink in the town square and produce and meat in the city market. We continued to an elementary school where we interacted with the children, stopped in a small village to see a beautiful mountain lake, participated in a healing man's ritual, and ended the day with demonstrations at a weaving co-op.
All of the ruins we visited were interesting for the historical perspective they provide to the Inkan culture.  After all, most people visit Peru just to see the ruins. 
But the life of today is well worth the visit.  I fell in love with Cusco and feel there there was much left to see.  Shopping in the markets and small shops provided an opportunity for cultural exchange as well as some great purchases. I was overwhelmed by the volume of handcrafted items available for reasonable prices throughout the area.  Pepe told me that Peruvians have resisted the intrusion of manufactured items from other countries, and the manufactured items for sale are made in Peruvian factories by locals. I have to believe that this is true because everything I saw was unique.  I could have filled a second suitcase, but I had to show restraint. Maybe it was best to leave something behind for the next time -- and there may be a next time. The Inka Trail still calls.
After returning home, Pepe sent these photos of our group at several locations which I want to share:
Machu Picchu 
Rafting the Urubamba 
The Cruzpata School
The perfectly fitted stones at Sacsayhuaman 
A beautiful mountain lake surrounded by farmland. That's quinoa in the foreground.

I also can't resist posting my fabulous finds (in x-small - like the Peruvians)
(Anyone who knows me knows I love red and black - and with Inkan designs)
And multi- colors, both hand knit alpaca
And an assortment of my treasures:
(Top left) mantas for my daughter to wrap baby Lorelei
(Lower left) 4 scarves for myself and friends
(Right top) a hand woven scarf from the weavers at Chinchero
(Right bottom) woven yardage
2 pair hand-knit mittens (with fingers!)
A silver souvenir spoon to add to my collection
A silver pendant with the Inkan cross and calendar
Dolls, baby mittens, a painting of a village  and for my daily treat - coffee mugs
Top right are holders for water bottles, which were extremely useful on the trip.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cusco - Day 11

Tuesday, June 2, 2015
My last day in Peru!  I was so thrilled to have the morning to myself to explore more of this beautiful city on my own. Even if I had a week, I still could not do all the activities available here. I only sampled the museums, churches, craft markets and walks in the area.
Today I focused my attention on the San Pedro market. This is where the citizens of Cusco conduct their business -- it's where they shop for food, clothing, services, etc. I found some incredible bargains here and wished I had discovered it sooner. But it's just as well, since my suitcase can only hold so much - and I packed it in.
The following is just a photo collage of colorful scenes from the market:
Very clean and well organized.
Here is a woman selling pan chuta, a special bread made in loaves as big as a wheel and often given as a gift to a hostess when visiting a home in Cusco. 
Loved the little boy and the others hidden in this photo.
Lots and lots of fresh flowers.
Interesting watching a woman wielding a hack saw on a carcass while another woman sells dried lamb meat in large sheets.
My friend Donna would appreciate the brigade of old sewing machines "at the ready" for mending, making uniforms or creating new garments. I know how old these sewing machines are because I have one in my basement -- circa 1950. They still make the best straight stitch
ever, especially on heavy fabric.
Also for Donna, fabric stores around the square. This store sold this beautiful fabric for 13 sols a meter - or about $4 a yard. I can't buy cotton from China for that. Bought two meters but why didn't I bring an empty extra suitcase for more!
And people who make a living with the simplest bounty from nature - fried quail eggs prepared on the street.
And wheelbarrows full of fruit.  These are the cactus pears (from beaver tail cactus) like we have in California) with the Church of San Pedro in the background.
And a wheelbarrow full of pomegranates.
Much too soon, it was time to meet my group to have lunch at Yuraq restaurant, check out of the hotel and head for the airport. As we sat around the hotel lobby waiting to leave, we realized we would be in transit for the next 22 hours.  First the plane from Cusco to Lima. Then our flight did not leave Lima until 2 am. Seems all the flights to the states from Lima leave around this time and the airport was quite lively. Arrived in Atlanta at 9:30 am and finally in Louisville at 1:30 pm. A long journey but well worth the effort. A great trip!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Cusco - Day 10

Monday, June 1, 2015
Our focus today was "A Day in the Life" of a real Peruvian Village.  Cultural exchange is an important part of the OAT experience, and Pepe told us to be prepared to be "taken out of our comfort zone."
We started at 8 am and traveled out of Cusco, high into the nearby mountains. Along the way, we passed through the outskirts of Cusco where the "squatters " live.  Pepe has told us on several occasions about the people who come to the city from the mountains and squat on the hillsides.  Since it is public land, they are eventually able to claim it as their own. When enough people assemble in one of these enclaves, the government provides infrastructures such as sewers and water. It is an interesting system, but it encourages a lot of environmental degradation. Pepe said there is no zoning and even his neighborhood has been encroached by commercial businesses.
Our first stop was to Izcuchaca, a village in the Rio Mantaro Valley.  We disembarked at Plaza Civica or town square where the morning activities were already in full swing. Pepe introduced us to several of the people who make their living as small "entrepreneurs" at the square. The first was Maria, who starts her day at 3 am, boiling potatoes and eggs, to make a breakfast dish.
She then walks a long distance to the square and sells the combination in a small dish for 1 sol (33cents). She must sell 50 a day to make a living. And she rents her spot for .50 sol (15 cents) a day.
The next woman we met sells telephone calls. There are two cell phone services in Peru - Moviestar and Claro. She has purchased a phone for each company. People use one of her phones to make a call and then she charges them for the minutes.
While we were there, Pepe called his wife and the woman charged him a half a sol. She prefers being her own boss instead of working at a more laborious job in a laundry or cleaning and she can arrange time to be home with her children. 
Across the street from the square were people selling various drinks made from barley, corn or other grains. This woman is selling Chicha, the corn beer, while she is caring for her neice.  
Then we walked along some of the side streets and observed more of daily life. This photo shows the transportation in the city -- (from left) a "moto taxi" made out of a motorcycle with 3 wheels, a bench and a canvas cover; an old motorcycle; a 3-wheel bicycle with a platform and cover; and a simple truck.
All kinds of grains are sold in raw form to feed various livestock. This woman is actually selling some kind of plant door-to-door while carrying her inventory on her back.
Then we visited a bakery. Actually, it was a "contract" bakery. The man we met owns the wood-fired oven and the kitchen with a heavy duty mixer and other equipment. People can come there and make their own bread, either to sell or for a special occasion, and they pay him for the use of his facility. He said there are 20 bakeries in this village, which seemed like a lot but bread is an important staple in their diet.
 He demonstrated how he can make different breads from one batch of dough. Then he showed us his wood-fired oven, which heats to about 350 degrees. The oven is made from mud packed with human hair, which makes a good insulator.
Further down the street we came by an Internet cafe where people can use the computers for one hour for one sol. Pepe also pointed out a local radio station that he said people still use to communicate with each other. Every day between 12 and 2 pm, the radio broadcasts personal messages. For half a sol, you get your message aired 3 times a day for 4 days. It can be as simple as a mother telling her adult child to come by her house.
Then Pepe had an exercise for us. We divided into groups of 4 and had to go to the city market and negotiate prices. He gave each group a list of items -- we had to find the prices on each and then make a purchase of one of them. The market was stimulating, both in color and senses. The people in this village are so colorful that they seem to blend in with the market stalls around them.
One of the products we priced was a half kilo of quinoa. It was 4 sol or about $1.30. Because it is now a global commodity, it is becoming too expensive for many Peruvians to eat, which is a shame since they have subsisted on it for centuries. My group then took a moto taxi for 3 sols back to the main square.
We reboarded our bus and traveled about an hour to Chinchero Village, which, at an elevation of 12,500 ft - is the highest point we traveled in the Sacred Valley. Along the way, we stopped to observe a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by farmland.
We saw the quinoa growing, about ready for harvesting,
and we had a close encounter with a shepherd and his sheep.
Our first stop in the village was an elementary school that is supported in part by donations from Grand Circle Foundation (connected to OAT). They welcomed us with a musical play about "old people." Some had on their parents' jackets and wore masks of old faces.
We thought it was an appropriate play for our group. Then each one picked one of us (I was chosen by a precious little girl named Dayana)
and led to their classroom where we sat next to them on little chairs. Pepe facilitated the interaction. First the children introduced themselves and said where they are from. Then we introduced ourselves, our origin and occupations. Then we worked on a simple project together to share our languages.
Many of these children speak Quechua in the home and learn Spanish when they come to school. They also learn cursive writing. We discovered many of these 7-year-olds walk at least 30 minutes one way to get to school.
Our second stop was to the home of a mestizo medicine man, who performed a "curandero" ceremony, a healing ritual with Inka roots. Also known as "Pago a la Tierra" or "payment to the earth," it is a ritual offering to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Ingredients such as herbs, dried beans, spices, sugar, candy, part of an animal fetus, and a number of other items, each ore measured in tiny packets, were laid out in sequence on a large paper wrapper.  Then each of us stood and made a wish on 3 cocoa leaves and placed them in the packet.
At the end, the shaman wrapped the package and took us outside. He set the package on a little pyre, and we watched it burn next to a burial hole he had prepared.
I felt the sacredness of the experience.
From here it was a short distance to a weaving coop. Weaving had been an important tradition to every Inkan family and some of the designs go back 2,000 years. There are thousands of techniques, layouts, styles and practices associated with Peruvian weaving, and we had a chance to experience just a touch. What beautiful work!
First we had lunch with many of the artisans. Our meal was potato and lamb soup with a dish of mashed potatoes and a corn and bean mixture. Corn and potatoes are staples of the Andean diet and they have more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes. The meal was served by our hosts and they ate with us. This woman participated in every way while her baby was on her back.
Then the weavers gave us demonstrations of their traditional clothing, drop spindle spinning, the preparation of the natural dyes, the dyeing process and, finally, the weaving.  
We all had to participate in one of these activities and I chose to wear the traditional clothing.
I am still fascinated by the backstrap weaving and would like to understand it more.
We had an hour bus ride back to our hotel with a brief respite for dinner. Tonight we had our farewell dinner at Casa Qoricancha. We all talked about what an amazing trip we had and what a great guide Pepe was. Tomorrow 8 go on to Lake Titicaca while the other 7 of us head back to the states- but not before a last minute shopping spree in the morning!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cusco - Day 9

Sunday, May 31
We continued our tour today with other Inkan sites in the Sacred Valley.
Our first stop was Tipon, east of Cusco. Although the Inkans created the landscape we see today, archaeologists have found petroglyphs proving humans were there 4,000 years ago.
What is unique is a constantly flowing spring that has been harnessed by inhabitants for centuries. But it was the Inkans who created an advanced system of controlling the water for irrigation and consumption -- and did it in harmony with nature.
The Inkans created 13 terraces for agricultural and ritual purposes.  
The terraces are bordered by rock walls. They are warmed by the sun during the day and then they emit enough heat to keep the crops from freezing at night.
About 1500 people were brought here from other parts of the empire to work the terraces and live in a village nearby. It took over 7 decades to complete.
There are several fountains around the area.
This is where the spring begins its journey through the system of small channels.
The water flowing through this area spits in two directions at the bottom. But this is a great photo to show the aesthetics of the Inkans and not just engineering skills.
Then we had lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking the city of Cusco.
Our next stop was to an alpaca shop which had a vast selection of sweaters and accessories made of baby alpaca. A woman gave us a brief talk about the differences in quality in Peruvian goods made of wool. I found a beautiful multi-colored sweater with Inkan designs that called out my name and fit perfectly. I know I will enjoy it forever.
Then off to nearby Sacsayhuaman, which is sometimes referred to as "sexy woman" as a way to remember it. This complex, built during the reign of Inka Pachacutec in the 15th century, is made of massive stones weighing up to 125 tons.  Notable is the double wall in a zig zag shape - which may have represented the teeth of the puma, a sacred animal, or may have been a strategic military consideration.
There is evidence the site had both military and religious importance. It is positioned on a hill facing southeast towards the winter solstice and towards Cusco. It is also believed that Pachacutec built it to honor the sun (his father) because it can best be seen from the sky.
It took over 7 decades to complete. At one time there were some buildings, but 80% of the structure has been destroyed to provide construction materials for Cusco. 
The most amazing aspect of this complex is the Inkan stone masonry.  They were famous for creating walls with angled stones that fit perfectly together with no mortar.
There are two mysteries involved - how did they cut them so perfectly to fit and how did they move them? Some research indicates they were primarily cut and shaped using hammer-stones of harder rock. Although they had not discovered iron, they did have bronze tools, but they are not useful for working stone. The stones here are all limestone (whereas Machu Picchu is granite) because the Cusco area was once an ancient riverbed.
These two mysteries have been explored by US architect Vincent Lee. He thinks the stones were maneuvered onto massive log sleds, which were then levered along wooden rails. The fitting might have been done using a plumb line and a pantograph device that projected the profile of a finished stone onto and uncut block.
Pepe is pointing out how that theory would work.
While we were there, we saw llama grazing in the back pasture and we had to follow them. Pepe said they get sheared in September.
I don't know if some of them can wait that long.
Then back to the hotel and free time the rest of the day. I walked back to several of the plazas where people were playing games, music and generally having a good time just being together. I was surprised how many of the shops were still open on Sunday evening but many people were on the streets so I guess it's good business. Turned in early for a big day tomorrow.