Peru lll-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas

Saturday, November 18,  2017

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Part lll

While the Nazca Lines were an amazing phenomena, created by the ancient Nazca people between 500 BC and 500 AD, Peru offered more phenomenal discoveries as our expedition continued over the weeks ahead.   

In addition to the influences of all the ancient peoples' cultures who originally inhabited the continent, the arrival of the Spanish Conquistators around 1530 AD infused whole new aspects to the land with different traditions, structures, religion and more.

While the Inca peoples, and those who preceeded them, had developed an amazing culture that, while not always peaceful, relied on a society where everyone contributed to the survival and advancement of the whole. Interestingly, the Incas had no form of currency. Everything the people needed were provided by the simple aspect that everyone worked and contributed to the success and survival of the whole society. If a person worked, he ate, if not he suffered the consequences. 

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Whether it be Incan or Spanish influences, both are prevalent in Peru. To the left are shown some of the ancient Inca farming terraces near Arequipa, these still being cultivated today, while above is a portico on the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa. Such porticas are common in towns and cities throughout Peru.

Whether a person worked in construction, helping build the larger temples and buildings or helped with building the incredibly extensive farming terraces seen throughout Peru, farmers, weavers and other professions, all of the society worked to ensure everyones survival. Additionally, the leaders understood that difficult years were inevitable, perhaps with droughts or wars and that those disruptions would pose starvation and unrest upon the citizens. To offset possible catastrophe, the Inca knew to plan ahead by constructing extensive systems of storage buildings where supplies were kept for times of hardship. Their advanced society understood how to preserve both vegetable and meat products so that they were readily available when needed.                    

We learned that all of those construction methods improved upon by the Inca were well developed with precise mathmatical accuracy, designed to be seismic proof, that is, resistant to earthquake destruction. To imagine that over 1000 years ago, a civilization could so exactly cut and tightly fit stonework cut and shaped by primitive means is impressive and incredible. Those construction methods, unfortunately, were lost after the conquistadors arrived and brutal treatment of the native peoples eliminated those who held the knowledge of those building techniques. 

Initially, upon arrival of the Spanish, the Incas believed them to be gods and were submissive to their intrusion. And while the gold and silver that adorned much of the Incan buildings was beautiful, those precious materials held very little monetary value to the natives (as the Incas had no form of money). One can only imagine the reactions of the conquistadors when they began seeing all the gold and silver - probably with mouths dropping to the floor and eyes popping out of their heads. Following their initial surprise, greed soon followed with theft and destruction close behind. I will set this subject aside for now, but history is replete with how native populations have been (and still are) subjugated and inhumanely treated by invading foreigners.

Upon leaving Nazca, we were bound for Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, traveling by way of a double decker Cruz del Sur tour bus for the 10 hour ride. Although the bus ride was long, we traveled in comfort being served a meal and snack and with the added luxury of small screen monitors at each seat that allowed us to watch movies (in English). During the afternoon daylight I wrote notes of the trip and then during the evening hours I managed to watch 3 movies. Along the long drive, we passed through several small and moderately sized towns, a stop or two for the benefit of the driver,  but gaining elevation most of the way. At sunset we had descended down to the Pacific Ocean, but then we again were on a constant uphill climb. Switchbacks and curves, downshifting, slower speeds were nearly constant as we continued up to Arequipa. The projected 9 hour trip actually extended to 10 hours, with an arrival in Arequipa after midnight. At the door inside the station, most of the time, drivers were waiting with signs showing their passengers names. Unfortunately, at this stop, no driver with my name on his sign was waiting for us in the nearly vacant station. Such was not supposed to be the case, and, after such a long drive, being very late, it did cause us a bit of concern. As we were considering calling the tour company for their assistance, a driver appeared asking if I were Donald Kline. He told us we were an hour early and that he was waiting for us in his van in the parking lot. Both of us, however, believed that he had fallen asleep out there and lost track of the time. Nonetheless, we were soon on our way and he delivered us to our hotel in the city. Hitting the sack soon after entering our room put an end to a very long day.

Early morning at the Plaza de Armas, facing the Arequipa Cathedral.           As you can see, we were in the mountains, The Andes.

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Although we had a late arrival and late bedtime, I was up early the next morning, and wandered outside to experience the city awakening. The early morning light revealed that we were, indeed, in the Andes Mountains. As the shadowed streets brightened in the early morning sunlight, activity also awoke from slumber. People began appearing, more vehicles motoring along the narrow streets, shops opening and in the distance, snowcapped mountain peaks were bathed in the golden light of a bright and sunny morn. After a pleasant breakfast, both of us walked the short distance to the main square, The Plaza de Armas. The square, as in many other of these old colonial cities is surrounded by porticoed buildings and, here the Arequipa Cathedral. 

Despite the chill of early morning, activity in the plaza began buzzing. A bicycle event was beginning to develop, men mostly, representig many different countries, mostly Latin American, suited up in their racing attire. We were unsure of the significance of the event, but a school band were present to play music, speeches were given, a priest blessed the bicyclists and a ride around the square by the whole contingent of cyclists before we departed the plaza to await our guide and a day of touring this beautiful city.

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The Cathedral doors were open, so we strolled inside. This is a very large church, with an enormous pipe organ at one end and the alter at the other, far end. During our visit in the city, we learned that around 1870 a fire inside was so intense that that gold and silver that the conquistadors had “confiscated” from the native Incas and used for their own churches melted and was running out of the building. 

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Back at the hotel, our local guide, Marcelo and driver Gregory arrived in a van and we began our tour. Starting with outer communities of Arequipa, there were many terraces being cultivated, some with cattle or sheep grazing on the grasses. Marcelo explained that these terraces were actually PRE-Inca, which means they were probably constructed before Christ. Most of the farming terraces are still tilled in nearly the same way as they were originally. Most are too small to use tractors, but some of the larger ones did use modern equipment. In the distance mountains were visible, of which Marcelo named them including several volcanos. 

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We continued to a  beautiful private residence, Molina de Sabandia, where we had a private tour. This place has been around since the colonial days of the Spanish, and we witnessed equipment using water from springs to turn wheels that in turn ground grains. Here we were introduced to alpacas, llamas and vicuñas bring raised domestically. On the tour a young man was herding a massive bull near us, the bull bellowing some protest, but not in an agressive way (he may have been being exercised, out for a walk, and he was protesting - perhaps he was missing a nice meal of alfalfa or grain). The bull was not tethered or otherwise contained and appeared to be quite docile. But, as we learned, here they raise bulls and train them for bull fights. These bull fights, however, are not with matadors, red capes and a sword thrust into the animal. Rather the bulls fight each other. It supposedly is a real show of force, and once the weaker one retreats, the other is proclaimed the winner. Not having seen these fights myself, they might be a bit more humane than what most of us have come to understand as “bull fights”. We did get a chance to scratch the back of one of those huge bulls in his pen. Using a small hand rake used in gardening, the bull immediately came to the side of his pen and waited for our scratching to begin. Apparently the bulls love to have their backs scratched and react with enthusiasm when someone picks up the tool by coming over to get his “rubdown”. Despite their hugeness and the intent for which they are raised, they really were gentle giants. 

On the way, next to higher viewpoints, Marcelo explained more about the pre-Inca terraces and explained more about coca leaves, used extensively throughout the country. We had read and heard that these leaves, brewed as a tea or chewed, are excellent for avoiding altitude sickness. As we were already gaining altutude and would soon be traveling to the highest points on our trip, we both bought small bags of the leaves so that we could chew on them when the need arose. As it were, neither of us ever used our leaves. At breakfast we typically brewed our tea with coca leaves always present on the buffet tables. Also, as we were gradually ascending into the Andes, our bodies were adapting to the thinner air each day. 

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The highlight of our Arequipa tour was to the most important and impressive colonial structure in Arequipa, The Santa Catalina Convent. As is true of many structures in this city, these buidlings were built of a white volcanic stone called Sillar. This convent was founded (1579) less than 40 years after the Spanish arrived in the city and women of diverse social backgrounds entered the convent to serve as cloistered nuns, never to return to their homes and families back in Spain.. 

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However, as we learned on this tour, some of “well to do” nuns hardly lived a life of poverty while cloistered in this place. Some had rather sizable “cells” that, in reality were “apartments” accompanied by up to 7 servants. The courtyards of those more privileged nuns were more ornate while the other, poor nuns, were cloistered in much less opulent surroundings. The whole complex was very private with high walls, courtyards and quite beautiful grounds inside. Apparently, according to our guide Marcelo, the remains of many babies have also been unearthed on the property. As a reader of this story, you are welcome to ruminate on that bit of information…

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The convent, even with its’ colorful, if dubious history is a beautiful place where a mixture of native and colonial archetectural styles are being preserved.

Having had a nice, substantial lunch, we forewent dinner opting to watch a CNN English language TV station, where we learned of the shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. That disturbing news and Trump’s endless tweeting, and knee jerk reactions to North Korean taunts, were nearly enough for us to switch off the “news” and go to bed.

Typical trarffic in all the cities we visited. Bumper to bumper driving (literally) and yet, somehow, they manage to calming keep moving with no accidents.

The next day, October 5, would start another lengthy trip to Chivay leading us to our first “adventurous” hike - into the depths of Colca Canyon.                          

Along the way to Chivay we would reach the highest elevation of the whole trip and see many of the camelids of which we had been anticipating.

u © Donald E. Kline 2012