Weekend post #2

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So if you’re one of the 3 people that actually read this, you’ll know that I haven’t really been blogging lately. This has been because of 2 main reasons: 1 been busy and 2 nothing really happened. One thing that is new is that we now have class from 3-5 every afternoon. An anthropologist flew in from Lima to teach us in the afternoon about Peruvian history and culture. We started with the Pre-pre-Inkas, moved through the Pre-Inkas and finally talked about the Inka Empire through the colonization of Peru. I don’t really want to bore you with all the details but essentially people moved into this region about 11,000,000 years ago. It’s speculated on how they arrived. One theory argues that people crossed the Bering Straits Land Bridge. This would have meant that people moved into the Americas at this time and it took about 11,000 years for them to migrate to South America. Another theory suggests that South America and Africa were closer (super continent theory) and since they were so close people were able bring boats across what we now call the Pacific Ocean. We don’t really too much about these first people because there was no real written history until the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century and even then their accounts are heavily biased and largely unreliable. Furthermore, since there were people living in this area before the Inka Empire the Spanish offer no insight to their lives.  Since there is a gap in knowledge we have to rely on archeological information. We know that these first groups were nomadic and believed in some form of the afterlife (based on the presence of mummies). These groups were also pre-ceramic groups. Ceramics show us a lot about the history of ethnic groups and the best pre-Inka pottery comes from the Moche who was considered the masters of pottery. Much like the ancient Greeks, the Moche pottery reflected political and social order and themes of Good and Evil. Many works are also depicted with a feline God with serpent characteristics. This shows a deep spiritual connection to the animals and nature.  But I think I’ve rambled enough about the history.

Weekend post #2

So we started Friday off well. We went to the Inka Museum instead of having a normal history/culture class. It was really interesting to see the history we had been talking about. No long was the Moche just a name in a book but they were real people that left things behind. We looked at textiles that were used to wrap mummies with offerings and the ancient pottery. The museum itself is part of history. It was a colonial building that used to house Inca nobility. I think the highlight for me was seeing actual mummies!, still perfectly preserved with offerings at their feet. There was one woman with a dog another with a small child. I asked the guide if the offerings were alive when they were placed in the tomb and he said that sometimes they were but they were anesthetized. However, he explained that they had a different idea of death and it was honor to go with the dead to the next world.  After the mummies we walked through the rest of the mansion looking at colonial portraits of Incas.

After the museum we went to kuricancha, the main Inca temple in Cuzco for a ceremony simply called pago a la tierra (tribute to the Earth). This was a ceremony done almost entirely in Quetchua but it was still fascinating. They had drawn 2 ovals on the ground in white flower petals. The outer was a boundary for regular people and the inner was just for the shamans. There was a lot of chanting and singing in quetchua and burning of incense. Essentially, this ceremony was asking the earth (mama quoche) for protection and blessing. The Quetchua people are still really connected to the earth and they still recognize the sun, moon, earth, thunder, water, and other natural elements as Gods. At the beginning of the ceremony the men blow the conch shells to the 4 regions of the Inca Empire; Chichaysuo (in the Northwest), Qontizuyo (Southwest), Qollasuyo (Southeast), and Antisuyo (Northeast). They then sounded the conches to the moon and the earth calling for the Gods to enter their presence. After the called the nations and Gods to them they chanted in the inner circle then lit a fire using a special wood called Paulasanto. It burns with a very strong and fragrant odor. They then gave Coca leaves to the shamans and they all took turns blessing the fire and placing the coca leaves in the fire. After that they distributed coca to everyone at the ceremony (including us). By this point on Will, Emily, Andi, and I were left from the MSU group. After the distributed the coca, they lit 3 more fires using the flames from the original fire. We all lined up and waited to put our leaves in the fire. We were told to hold the Coca with 2 hands and as I held it, the wax that held the three leaves together started to melt. When it was finally my turn to burn my coca leaves, I knelt down with a shaman and she asked my name.  She then asked me to hold the coca to my mente (this literally means forehead but can also mean my mind or the me). She then placed both hands on my head and her forehead on my hands and said a blessing in a very low voice. I think it was Spanish but it might have also been quetchua. After she blessed me and the coca she held the leave up to my mouth and told me to breathe on them. This symbolically and in a way literally puts part of yourself into the offering. After I breathed on the leaves I handed her them to her and she placed them in the fire. This is how they make offerings to the Earth. In a way I gave part of myself to the la Mamatierra (mother earth – literally). I then slid over on (still on my knees) to a woman next to the shaman who bathed me in smoke. I think the smoke was made from burning coca but I’m not sure. She waved it over me using a condor feather. The condor was and is a sacred animal to the Quetchuas. It was a very spiritual experience that I will never forget.

After the ceremony, we went to get dinner. We ate at a place called the Mushroom Lounge in the Plaze de Armas. It was fantastic food and a very funky atmosphere and an amazing view of the plaza. Aubrey and Amber met us there but Amber left soon after. We then went in search of wine so we could sit in the plaza and have a little nip. We ended up wandering around Cuzco and San Pedro. While in San Pedro we found a group of kids dancing a typical dance in front of El colegio nacional de ciencias (the national college of science – College is more like high school thought). It was pretty cool and we took lots of pictures and videos. I’ll put them in here when I get them. We then ended up wandering back towards the Plaza but we found this awesome street painter who did amazing work with spray paint and sponges. We ended up finding a grocery store that sold boxed wine. When I say boxed wine, I mean wine that comes in what looks like a giant juice box. We ended up on the steps on the cathedral watching a bunch of young kids practice a typical dance for an upcoming festival. From there we took cabs home and went to bed.

Chincheros and Ollantayambo

We started today like every other weekend, waiting at La Academia for our bus. When it finally arrived we headed off to a small town called Chincheros (Chin-chair-ho’s) and then Ollantayambo (oye-on-tie-yam-bow). Outside of Chincheros we stopped at a small community to talk to some locals about textile production and how they lived. Out of the entire community only a handful spoke Spanish and one lady spoken English as well. Most of the people outside of the larger cities speak Quechua (Catch-wah), this includes this community. When we arrived we sat down and the woman showed us how they clean the fur from the llamas, alpacas, and vacuñas (va-cugn-ahs). They use this root that when shaved and agitated in water becomes a natural detergent. As we listened we were served Coca tea which is used from altitude sickness, nausea, and…well most things. It was a good thing they served it to us because most of us were feeling a little queasy. Some were hung over and some just weren’t feeling well (don’t worry mom, I was in the second group). But the tea helped us feel better. After showing us the natural detergent, this woman showed us how they spin the wool into yarn which can be used to make many textiles. She then showed us which plants they use and how they use them for dying the wool. Finally another woman demonstrated the weaving process. It’s a very taxing venture and they still use traditional tools, such as llama bone. We were then free to look at the textiles and the other products they had for sale. I bought a few things but was uncomfortable about bartering because I knew that the money went straight into supporting the community. So, I don’t think I got the greatest price but it’s ok because it’s for a good cause? It’s like buying $2 mints from the Lion’s Club when you know they are really only worth $0.75….right? Anyways, back on the bus we headed to Chincheros. This is kind of a strange name for a town. A Chinchero is someone that produces chincha…what’s chinch, Zac? Good question class. Chincha is fermented corn beer. In ancient times the indigenous would build giant pots, like 50-100 gal. sized pots. They would then chew corn all day long and spit the remains into this large pot. When the pot was full they would seal it and let it ferment.  When the Chincha was ready it was only drank by men (historically, you women can now enjoy the joys of fermented pre-chewed corn beer). So, it’s not surprising to learn that Chincheros was known for its…corn production. There are also non-alcoholic versions of chincha…but really, what’s the point? You need to be a little tipsy to enjoy pre-chewed corn chud, right? Now the corn is not pre-chewed but rather ground and allowed to ferment.

Anyways, we then headed into Chincheros and up to see the ruins. They town was an Inca city that converted to a colonial town and the palace there was converted to a church…well half was, the rest was torn down by the Spanish. The church was constructed on the orders of Viceroy Toledo (yes, Toledo is more than just a name for a city in Indiana and Spain). It was one of the first catholic churches built in the “new world.” You can see intricate gold-work on the altar and how the Spanish covered Inca architecture with colonial religious figures. It’s an amazingly beautiful church but before you can be baffled by its majesty you have to weigh it against the devastating destruction and systematic inhalation of a native culture. And in the face of such repression the people have so openly welcomed the religion of their oppressors…dichotomous, no?  Anywhoozle, this church/palace sits on a cliff with a majestic view of the valley below. I’ll let the photos attempt to do the view justice even though I know my words and images will never be able to.

After Chincheros we went to lunch a functioning Hacienda. Even though these represent a very dark age in Latin-American History tourists seem to love them it was a very pretty place, with a great buffet. And after we ate we fed the llamas and other camelids. We were then back on the bus to Ollantayambo. Ollantayambo, is the city with the train to Machu Pichu (fun factoid: you can’t get to Machu Pichu by car, truck, or bus, only train). It is also known for its ruins and corn production. Ollantayambo, which is named for the 9th Inca’s general houses the water temple and acts as a wall to fend off invading forces. With the mountains on both side and the river to the north, it was a strategic location for the quechua. (Side note: you’ve probably noted that I differentiate between Inca and Quechua. The term Inca refers only the Inca king. It is a title but Quechua refers to ethnic group. The Inca is Quechua but the Quechua are not Incan). Among all of the ruins, I think the most impressive part is the running water. In all the ruins we have visited they all have had running water. Where does it come from? The mountains, is the simple answer but it is more complex than that. The Quechua constructed massive systems of aqueducts both above and below ground that harnesses natural springs and distributes water among the entire area. And since this was the water temple, what is a water temple without running water? A less than exciting place. So once again I think I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. This ruin did start with a heck of a challenge, about a million stairs straight up (yes, this is a hyperbole but you get the point).

When we got back to Cusco we went to the Peruvian black market called “El Molino.” Basically, this is the place you go to for good quality knock offs, CDs, and DVDs. This place was huge, about the size of 4 city blocks and just solid venders and people. We’re going to return before we leave just because we were so overwhelmed.

Awanakancha and Pisac (with Ruins)

So we started this day by going to an outdoor market. We had been there on the previous Sunday (I think this market is only open on Sunday). I didn’t buy anything but it was fun to look at everything and get called amigo a million and half time (-_-). But the next stop was worth it. We got to feed llamas and all those fun animals. They were all super friendly. And they would come right up to you and as long as you were feeding them they would let you pet you. So here’s a bunch of pictures of us feeding them.

After feeding the animals we went to the town of Pisac and hiked the ruins. Now, when I say hiked I really do mean hiked. There are some defined paths but just because they are well tred it does not mean that they are any safer. We started by taking the bus about half way up the mountain and then hiking around and up it. The views were amazing as you’ll see below. This was a really good example of terrace style agriculture. The Quechuas knew that they needed to acclimate the plants to different altitudes in order to domesticate and produce them in large enough quantities. At the bottom of the terrace it’s at least 5 degrees warmer, this was the genius of the Quechuas. The ruins were divided into two clearly defined regions. There was the lower agricultural area where the people worked the fields and above was the temple of the sun. Common people were not allowed up here, only spiritual nobility and the Inca and a few select others.  We passed through most kinds of mountain terrain you can imagine. We passed through low caves and climbed dilapidated stone stairs that seemed to be at an angle greater than 45 degrees. It literally felt like we were on top of the world. When we found a plateau, we laid down and it was almost like you could see the curve of the world. The ruin of Pisac was the location for the Temple of the sun and it’s clear to see why. It was very bright and very warm. I think the hardest part, physically was the descent. The stairs are very narrow and steep but then we came to the last quarter mile and it was all downhill until the last 100 feet which was almost straight up. I almost didn’t think I was going to make it. We then had to walk another ¼ of a mile to our bus along a road that was destroyed in a landslide. It was like walking in a dessert. We finally made it to the bus and had lunch. Again we ate way too much then went to the market of Pisac. Pisac is known for its market. It’s a very large flee market that caters to tourists. As soon as Andi and I stepped off the bus we smelled something very familiar. Paulosanto, the incents burned during the pago a la tierra. We followed our noses to the main square where I found something I haven’t seen or tasted since Costa Rica, Guanabana (Gwah.nah.bah.nah) or as they call it here chirimouia (cheery-moo-eey-ah). Best thing I have bought to date. We then wandered some more with the sole purpose to find the scented wood. We asked a few venders and they directed us to a small store and when we found we were so elated. Andi, Will, and I bought 2 bags each. Will bought a little more too…and by a little more I mean a battle axe and a large pipe. The venders were so excited they gave us some other incents for free. We then headed back to the bus to find that no one else had returned to we reentered the market. Each time we came back to the bus (about every 15 mins) we found more people had returned. As finally we were all together again and so ended the weekend.

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