Monday, December 14, 2009

Peru Journal part 6: Corn Beer, Coin Toss and River Rafting

Day two in the Sacred Valley began with a trip to a local Chicha (corn beer) brewery, but there was more there than just beer. We got a glimpse into Quechua culture. The name of the brewery was Descanso, which means "rest" in Spanish, and the name fit it well. It was a quiet place right off the main road through the valley, where once behind it's walls you felt a sense of peace from the rest of the world. The walkways and patio had flowers growing up them. Tall trees reached high over the back patio and the mountains of the valley hung above the rooftops like sentinels. Descanso is not just a brewery but a social place to go to drink the corn beer they make there, called Chicha by the Spanish and Aha in the Quechua language, have some food, meet friends, and play a coin toss game called Sapo.

Descanso: the Aha Wasi
Click to enlarge

We arrived early in the morning and were greeted by Mercedes, the Chicha maker and owner of Descanso. Like many of the Quechua we met she was shy and quiet, but very friendly too.

While things were getting set up for us to see how the beer was made and then taste some we wandered around the grounds. From the patio was a beautiful view of the Sacred Valley.

The Sacred Valley from the Descanso patio
Click to enlarge

One of the more interesting, and for some, controversial parts of Quechua culture is the eating of Guinea Pigs or as they are called in Quecha Cuy: "koo-ee". The consumption of guinea pigs dates back to pre Inca times. During the reign of the Incas it was reserved as a royal food for the upper class. Today it is eaten on special occasions, like birthdays, holiday and any other celebration. Some of the people in our group found this really upsetting. Every culture eats something that people from outside of that culture find strange or uncomfortable. While exploring the Pacific Northwest Lewis and Clark preferred eating dogs to salmon, something I think most people from the U.S. would find bizarre and upsetting today. The fact that the Peruvians eat guinea pigs was all the more surreal since there were billboards in Lima promoting the film G-Force, a cartoon about secret agent guinea pigs.

At Descanso, as a small business, they raised guinea pigs for sale. They lived in their own room which opened off the patio and we were invited to look in and take photos.

Guinea Pigs
Click to play

The guinea pigs squeaked and nibbled on their food while we poked our heads through the door. Our guide Fredy tried to explain the unexplainable. They eat them, they always have, they don't think of them as pets or name them. By the end of the day those of us that wanted to would be able to taste guinea pig. But the day had just started and that was many hours from now.

After checking out the guinea pigs we were introduced to another part of Quechua culture. The coin toss game of Sapo. The word Sapo is Quechau for Frog. The point of the game was pretty simple. There is a table on which a matrix of eight holes is cut. Like a tic-tac-toe grid. In the middle of the grid sits a brass frog, it's mouth facing front toward the player. Coins are tossed from a distance of about six feet at the table. The goal is to get as many coins into one of the holes, each of which has it's own ranking of points. The ultimate goal is to get a coin into the frog's mouth, which has the highest number of points.

Our guide Fredy gave us a demonstration and got a coin into the frog's mouth! He seemed as surprised as the rest of us. Then it was our turn. We grouped into three teams: The Condors, The Pumas and The Guinea Pigs...

Playing Sapo
Click to play

After our game we gathered in the dinning room of Descanso where Mercedes, the lady of the house/business and brewmeister showed us how Chicha is made. Like all beer a grain, in this case corn, is malted (partially germinated) by soaking in water. For Chicha the corn is soaked for 15 days. The partially germinated corn is then dried in the sun for two days and then ground up. Traditionally this was done by hand using a mano and matate, but today is done by a professional miller. This is then boiled to a wort for three hours, the brewer constantly stirring with a stick. The wort is poured through a grass filter into a giant pot to which yeast is added for fermentation. For Chicha the yeast is part of a starter, like sourdough bread, taken from the bottom of the pot of the last batch of Chicha. It ferments for three days. Unlike beer made from barley, the alcohol is very low, around 3 percent or less, so the beer is traditionally served in a large glasses. Each glass cost about $1 sol, or about 33¢. (In Peru the Sol is like our dollar, even if the dollar is worth three times as much. So for the average Peruvian, especially from the highlands, $1 Sol is a fair amount of money. Nevertheless I sometimes wish a pint of beer here in the U.S. only cost a dollar!) Mercedes told us that she usually drinks a couple glasses a day, her husband having 5 to 6 glasses.

Mercedes holding a glass of Chicha
Click to enlarge

As we would see again and again during our time in the highlands, the kitchens of most houses are very basic, yet the meals cooked in them were complex and tasty. Descanso's kitchen was no exception except yet beer was brewed here for sale and consumption. Not what you'd expect a commercial kitchen to look like.

A typical wood burning stove
Click to enlarge

Descanso did have a small gas stove (it said so right on the front) which was a luxery compared to the other private kitchens we saw.

The gas stove
Click to enlarge

Notice in the photo above on the far right center of the image there is a hand holding a mano used to grind food on a metate. A tradition that stretches back thousands of years and is found throughout the Americas.

The final product is Chicha, Aha in Quechuan, which we all got a small taste of. No big glasses for us...

Chicha and the corn it's made from
Click to enlarge

In the photo above are the different types of corn used to make Chicha along with a basket of the malted, partially germinated, corn kernels. The glass with the yellow liquid is regular Chicha. The purple Chicha gets it's color from the addition of strawberrys. It was very delious. There is also non-alcoholic Chicha made from a purple corn that is very common and can be found bottled.

Chicha has a milky taste. It's somewhat sweet with a hint of sour and goes down smooth. It does not taste like any beer you'd taste in the U.S. And that's a good thing. Something different.

The main road through the Sacred Valley
Click to enlarge

After our Chicha taste we all said "goodbye" to Mercedes and Descanso and headed up the only road through the Sacred Valley, north past the town of Urubamba towards Ollantaytambo, where the road ended and the valley dropped down into the jungle. We were headed to the ruins at Ollantaytambo but first were going river rafting on the Urubamba river. Before you get any images of raging white water let me say that even though the locals claimed the river was currently a class 3, to us it seemed like a wimpy 2. But the skies were clear, the day warm (in the sun), the snow covered mountains loomed in the distant, and that was the plan.

We met up with our guides who gave us a lesson on how to row...

Row, row, row your raft...
Click to enlarge

Did I mention we all looked like geeks in our river outfits?
Photo: Mas Yamaguchi
Wearing the latest Peruvian water gear
Click to enlarge

So off we went down the raging torrent of the Urubamba

Photo: Mas Yamaguchi
Rapids? We don't need no stinkin' rapids!
Click to enlarge

Okay, there were a few rapids...

Photo: Mas Yamaguchi
Oh yeah, that was a rapid...
Click to enlarge

We were in two boats. The guide in our boat was very nice but for some reason keep yelling "Pura Vida!" I hate to admit I've forgotten his name.

Photo: Mas Yamaguchi
Pura Vida!
Click to enlarge

Okay, enough snark. Truth be told it was a lot of fun and a beautiful day. No one fell in, heck, no one even got wet. But it was quiet on the water. The sun sparkled on the waves. There were birds in the sky and farm animals on the banks. It was very pastoral. A nice break from the rush of our trip so far.

Photo: Mas Yamaguchi
On the Urubamba
Click to enlarge

Soon enough we were back on the bus and headed to Ollantaytambo. Like Pisac in the southern end of the valley, Ollantaytambo (oh-yawn-tay-tambo) was both a living town and the old Inca fortress above. This is a major site, so I'll stop here and leave that for the next post.

Previous Peru Journals
Part 1: "Journey to Peru"
Part 2: "Lost in Translation"
Part 3: "Flight of the (Silver) Condor"
Part 4: Inca Pisac
Part 5: The Pisac Market

© 2009 Cedar Mesa Music
All Photos and video © Cedar Mesa Music except where noted.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Peru Journal part 5: The Pisac Market

After we visited the prehispanic ruins of Inca-Pisac we went back down the hill into the Sacred Valley to visit the market in Colonial-Pisac. At the time I was bummed to leave the ruins, as I wanted to spend more time exploring there. Also I was enjoying playing my new Quena flute, which I had just bought from a Peruvian man selling flutes and wind chimes. Another person in our group snapped this photo of me playing it while exploring the ruins.

Playing a Quena, Pisac.jpg
Playing a new Quena
Click image to view full size

As much as I wanted to stay at the ruins I had also read that the market at Pisac, which happens three times a week, was a "must see" and Peruvians were said to drive over the hill from Cuzco to shop there.

Colonial Pisac was built around 1572. This was during a time when the Spanish were trying to gather the Quechua people into villages in order to better control them. The town was laid out in a traditional Incan grid of narrow cobblestone streets with the gutters running down the middle, but there was also a Spanish Plaza de Arma and a Catholic church. In the plaza there is a tree that, according to legend, Francisco Pizarro, the conquer of Inca Peru is said to have hitched his horse to, which would make the tree over 500 years old.

pisac market 2.jpg
A food vendor
Click image to view full size

You may have noticed that all of the images in this post are not the best. That is because they are really lifts from the video I was trying to discreetly film. One of the many ways that the locals make money is to dress up in full traditional outfits and offer to pose for a photo, with or without you in the shot, for 1 Sol. The Sol is their version of our dollar and during our visit was worth about 33¢. Paying to take someone's photo was not a bad thing per se, but once you took a photo of one person you became known as an easy target and others would descend on you to take their photos and pay them too. For that reason I discreetly turned on the video camera and casually held it to my chest so as not to attract attention. This technique worked to keep most of the people from asking to pose for me, some just asked if they saw you with a camera, but the video turned out pretty bad. All shakey, out of focus and blurred.

Women in traditional hats
Click image to view full size

Traditionally the yarn for textiles is dyed with natural dyes. These dyes are made from vegetable and mineral sources among others. In the image below the woman is holding up strips of little packets full of dye. There were a lot of vendors selling these. Unfortunately traditional dyes are losing out to modern factory dyed yarn. This is compounded by western tourists that buy textiles with brighter colors but don't realize, or care, that's not not traditional.

Women selling natural dye packets
Click image to view full size

More traditional outfits and hats.
Click image to view full size

Toward the back of the food section things calmed down a bit and there was an entrance into the part that sells everything but food. There were textiles: blankets, rugs, panchos, scarves, sweaters, hats. There were musical tapes and CDs, instruments and toys. There was lots of jewelry. As to it's quality I can't say. There were gifts with everything from fine art items to mass-produced junk. There were less people in this area of the market and it was kind of quiet and slow. One woman, in the photo below, was sleeping on her wares.

A pathway in the non food part of the market.
Click image to view full size

"Looking for something to wear?"
Click image to view full size

This part of the market was a maze of stalls. Rows upon rows that disappeared in the distance. We wandered around, overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the goods for sale. I almost bought a Charango but settled for a Quenacho, a larger Quena, instead.

Finally we popped out of the far end of the market a few blocks from the main square. The streets were cobbled and there was a gutter running down the middle. We saw this in every colonial town. It was nice and quiet. Kids were playing with dogs chasing them as we walked back to the main plaza.

A traditional Inca street. Notice the terraces in the background.
Click image to view full size

We walked back to the bus where suddenly Claire announced she wanted me to take her picture with some girls that were hanging out, holidng baby goats, hoping that tourists would snap their picture. You could also hold one of the kids (baby goat) too. "Why not?", I thought and quickly the girls ran over to us, each hoping Claire would hold their goat.

At the time it seemed everyone was really enjoying this. The girls seemed happy and Claire was thrilled. Later, however, when we reviewed the photos I took, we noticed that the girl on the far right was not happy! Not at all! At first we thought that she was mad that her goat wasn't picked, but, after studying the photo closer, she doesn't have a goat. Did we do something we weren't aware of? Was she mad or upset with one of the other girls?

We still don't know...

Peruvian girls with goats posing
Click image to view full size

After the market we headed to our hotel for the night. In the lobby they had some mate de coca or coca tea. Being about 5:00 PM it was tea time so I had some. Mate de coca is supposed to be good for fighting the affects of altitude. The presence of stimulant alkaloids give the tea an effect like caffeine. It tastes a little like green tea and has the same color. I didn't really notice anything out of the ordinary, compared to the boost that tea gives me. Others however complained the next morning that they didn't sleep well.

We all went to bed early that night as the next day was to be very busy. More Inca ruins, river rafting on the Urubamba river, a visit to a local Chicha (corn beer) brewery and a traditional Quechean dinner in a private home.

© 2009 Cedar Mesa Music

Previous Peru Journals
Part 1: "Journey to Peru"
Part 2: "Lost in Translation"
Part 3: "Flight of the (Silver) Condor"
Part 4: Inca Pisac

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Peru part 4: Inca Pisac

I'm going to backtrack a little. My last post left off with us descending into the Sacred Valley but I forgot to share the second half of our trip to the llama farm. It was a demonstration of weavers that had come from all the surrounding areas to show turistas like us how they weave and their traditional dress.

Click image to view full size

The weaver in the middle photo is a young 14 year old boy named "Jonathan". Our guide Fredy was a little surprised at this but went on to say that in some of the villages male weavers were more common and a man that knew how to weave was desirable as a mate. Traditionally women did the weaving though and textiles held as much value as gold in prehispanic Inca culture.

After visiting with the weavers with translations from our guide, we were herded into a gift shop full of weavings. This shop was different in that the sales went to benefit the local weavers we were told. But it was a gift shop nevertheless.

We continued on our way to the Sacred Valley. At one point our tour guide, Fredy, had the bus stop by the side of the road to watch and visit with a local farmer, named Vincente, who was threshing wheat using donkeys. This was a completely impromptu stop and a lot of fun.

The Sacred Valley
Click image to view full size

Soon we were back on the bus descended into the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba river and headed to the town of Pisac or Pisaq.

The Sacred Valley
Click image to view full size

Pisac is about 19 miles northwest of Cuzco and is a major archaeological park in the region. In truth there are really two Pisacs. The ancient Inca town (ruins in the archaeological park) and the modern colonial town, which is the living town today.

The ancient town of Pisac dates to pre-Inca times. The site today is dominated by curving terraces built into the hill sides allowing the Incas to take advantage of every bit of sun light. Another advantage to building on the hillsides was the views that allowed people to see any approaching attacks. There seemed to be a concern about attacks coming up from the Amazon river area, which was one of the four large sections of the Inca empire called Antisuyo, from which the name Andes was derived from.

Terraces of Pisac
Click image to view full size

If you view the image full size by clicking on it you can really see how steep the terraces are. Keep in mind this only about a fourth of the total site. There are terraces covering all the nearby hillsides wrapping around behind the hills on the right side of the photo. Also in this photo you can see the colonial town of Pisac, or part of it.

To make better use of our time there our bus drove up the back side of the site to the Qanchisraqay or Kanturaqay sector of the site. This area is outside of the fortified city. From here we could walk to an area which housed the soldiers and encounter a trapezoid door/gate of the city's wall.

Soldier Sector
Click image to view full size

The Mortar-less Gate
Click image to view full size

This gate is made of mortar-less stone, a sign of it's significance. Mortar-less walls required greater craftsmanship and precision in their construction and are found mostly in religious buildings, such as temples, and building for the Inca king, like his palaces.

More terraces at Pisac
Click image to view full size

The photo above shows the religious sector of the town situated above more terraces. This area had a Intiwatana, or Hitching Post of the Sun. Intiwatanas are very sacred and this area was most likely the most important part of the entire site where ceremonies were conducted.

If you click on the photo to view it full size you can barely make out V shaped dots in the walls. These are the so called "Flying Steps", stones that protruded from the walls like stairs for easy access up and down the terraces.

Inca Pisac video. Click to Play

Almost every time the bus stopped at a location there were people, adults and kids alike, hocking their wares. Some of it was nice textiles, some was cheap junk. At Inca Pisac we were greeted by several women with stuff, but there was a guy there selling Quenas, the rim blown flute of the Andes. I had planned to buy one (or two) during the trip and even though my Spanish was bad, his English was worse, but we managed to communicate somehow, and I tried them out and found one I liked. So I bought it right on the spot. It was great to be playing this flute, which has been a part of the Andean culture for over a thousand years at such an ancient site!

Holding my new Quena with the guy I bought it from
Click image to view full size

Since this purchase I've performed, or I should say "mangled", Cactus Dance a couple times on this flute during some of my performances, including at the most recent Yosemite Flute Festival.

Our time at Inca Pisac was very short, only about an hour. I did not realize how large and impressive the ruins would be and, as I love archaeological sites, wanted to spend a whole day exploring each section in detail. I was bummed when it came time to leave. However our next stop, the famous market down the hill in colonial Pisac turned out to be a lot of fun.

But that needs to wait until next time.

If you've missed the first three parts here are their links
Part 1: "Journey to Peru"
Part 2: "Lost in Translation"
Part 3: "Flight of the (Silver) Condor"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Peru part 3: Flight of the (Silver) Condor

After three full days in Lima, a large, bustling, urban city, we finally head into the heart of the Inca world and the Peruvian Quechua culture, Cuzco. To get there we got on a 737 operated by the Peruvian airline LAN. Actually LAN is a Chilean airline company but they are based in Lima.

The entire time we were in Lima the skies were overcast from the coastal fog produced by the Humboldt Current. As the jet climbed higher into the sky we soon broke through the cloud cover, riding above a solid desert of clouds, punctuated to the east by the peaks of the Andes mountains. The Andes are the longest exposed mountain range in the world, at 4,300 miles in length, extending from the southern end of Chile to the norther part of Peru. The average height is 13,000 feet!

At first from a distance they seemed unimpressive, but as our plane flew closer to them and deeper into their heart I could tell that even though we were flying at 30,000' many of the peak seemed to touch the plane as they were 20,000'. The scale was tremendous.

Luckily we had seats on the left side of the jet as it flew south, giving us a perfect view of the mountains and hints of the edge of the Amazon jungle beyond.

The Peruvian Andes

As we flew I got out my video camera and started filming, during which the pilot came on the intercom and announced what we were flying over in Spanish and then English. He mentioned several peaks whose name I didn't know, but then came those two magic words: Machu Pichu. Unfortunately Machu Picchu lay behind several mountains and even if it hadn't been hidden I now know that, compared to the giant mountains that surround it, it is a small dot on the land.

Just after passing by Machu Picchu we began our descent into Cuzco. Living in Los Angeles I'm used to flying over the outskirts of the city for an hour before you actually land. Cuzco looked like a small town by comparison with a population of about 350,000. The greater LA area by comparison has 14 million people... (Yuck.)

Below is a little video of the flight and landing in Cuzco.

Flying to Cuzco. Click to Play

Cuzco was the ancient heart of the Inca empire. The world Cuzco means "navel" or "center" in the Quechua language, the lingua franca of the Incan empire. From here the Inca conquered other cultures around them, then those in the Sacred Valley and eventually most of those of the Andes, creating an empire stretching from southern Chile north to Peru and on to southern Columbia. Cuzco remained the "capitol" of their empire and was the seat of their government. It was also where their major temples were and where the Inca kings built their palaces.

At 10,912' it's also very high in elevation. For that reason we didn't linger long there but took a motor-coach over a pass to the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba river. The Sacred Valley is a little lower in elevation and that would help us adjust to the thinner air.

As I've spent a fair amount of time in the southwest at elevations of 7,000 to 8,000', even as high as 10,000', I wasn't that concerned about the altitude. Even the mountains surrounding LA have towns built around man-made lakes where my family would vacation from time to time that are 7,000 feet high. But there were many people in our group that had come from areas where there were no mountains and they were not used to high altitudes. Even I had never spent the night above 8,000 feet, so acclimatizing seemed like a good idea. We would return to Cuzco in a few days.

Little did I know how charming the center of Cuzco was as I filmed our drive through the city, up the mountains that surround it as we headed northeast to the Sacred Valley

Driving through Cuzco. Click to Play

On the way over the pass toward the Sacred Valley we stopped at a demonstration Llama and Alpacha farm to learn about these camelids. They had charts showing each variation and how they were traditionally used, be it for a beast of burden, food or wool. We also learned how to tell then apart. Llamas have plain, or flat, hair on the top of their heads, Alpachas have fuzzy hair on top of their heads. After that we went through a gate into a Llama "petting zoo" where we could see them up close up and even feed them. Some of them were surprisingly large and one person in our group got spit on by a llama. It was a lot of fun.

Feeding Llamas. Click to Play

From the farm we descended into the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley stretched out below us as it ran north following the Urubamba river, one of the main tributaries to the Amazon. In the distance loomed mountains over 20,000 feet high. We were headed to the Inca ruins and modern town of Pisac where we would spend the afternoon.

Review Part 2
Continue to Part 4

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Peru part 2 Lost in Translation

The second part of my Peru Journals.
Read part 1

Lima and it's neighboring cities is a very large place. So to speed things up we took a city tour of the old historic center of town. On the way we stopped at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología Antropología e Historia del Perú to look at some prehistoric artifacts. However, I wasn't feeling all that great that morning.

The Museo Nacional de Arqueología Antropología e Historia del Perú

I'm not sure why I was sick to my stomach. I was being careful with the water, drinking only bottled water, and hadn't eaten any raw fruit. I did have several Pisco Sours, a mixed drink made with lime juice which I learned later the lime juice can bother your stomach. Maybe it was the rich dinner of duck I had the night before. Either way my stomach was in no mood to be bounced around inside a bus with a bunch of other tourists. But I toughed up and away we went.

The museum was an old hacienda that was built around a courtyard. The displays were tucked into each of the rooms that opened up on to the walkway that bordered this yard.

The Museum walk ways

I was starting to feel queasy again when we came upon the Raimondi Stela


There were many time in Peru when I was brought face to face with something I read about in books, but never in my wildest dreams thought I'd ever see in person. The Raimondi Stela was the first of these encounters.

It was built by the Chavin culture. The Chavín were a civilization based in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900 BC to 200 BC


Stylistically, Chavín art makse extensive use of the technique of contour rivalry which allows the viewer to see different images depending upon how one looks at it. The art is supposed to be difficult to interpret, as it was intended only to be read by high priests of the Chavín cult who could understand the sacred designs. The Raimondi Stela is one of the most famous examples of this technique. At the bottom a fearsome deity stands holding two staffs and wearing a very tall headdress of snakes and other creatures. When the stela is flipped upside-down the headdress becomes a stack of fanged faces, the deity, now at the top, is now a fanged reptile, and the staffs also have faces. My photos don't do this effect justice.

The culture of the Chavin and their cultural motifs influenced many of the Peruvian prehistoric cultures that followed. At one time they where thought to be the oldest "culture" in Peru, but there is evidence of earlier cultures these days. The date for the oldest culture in Peru keeps getting pushed back, earlier in time.

There was also some great pottery from the Moche culture, who are know for their pot making skills.


The Moche were a coastal seafaring and fishing people. This was a strong motif in the pieces we saw that day. Some of the images from pots not on display were shown on the wall behind the pottery. The image below shows a Moche fisherman. The whiskered, Dr. Seuss creature leaping to the right of the boat is a seal of some sort.


The culture of the Moche is fascinating, but too complex to go into here.

At the end of the displays came the Inca culture. There was a Quipu on display.


Quipu or khipu (Quechuan) were recording devices used in the Inca Empire and its predecessor societies in the Andean region. A quipu usually consisted of colored spun and plied thread from llama or alpaca hair or cotton cords, with numeric and other values encoded by a system of knots in a base 10 positional system. Some believe they were a binary system. They were not a writing system per se, but rather used to keep count or as a mnemonic device to refresh one's memory. The ability to read them was done by trained individuals called Quipucamayocs. The practice was lost during the Spanish invasion The art of the Quip[ucamayocs died out with them. Their meaning lost to the ages.

The museum also had a photo of two prehispanic Quenas. The rim blown flute of the Andes.


Photos are nice, but I would have rather seen the real instruments.

After the museum we continued to the Lima city center. We got off the bus at a big roundabout. The buildings were from the 19th century. It had been raining and everything was old and gray looking.


Of course my opinion of this part of town I'm sure was altered by how I felt, lousy, and the fact that there were tons of people around. We had been warned to be careful of pickpockets and it turns out that the day we showed up was Peruvian Independence days, so the streets were mobbed. The President of Peru was giving a speech from the Plaza de Armas, one of the main plazas, but it was not open to the public, only invited guests. Streets were closed and getting from where we were to where we wanted to be, the Plaza de Armas, was not going to happen. Even our tour guides looked nervous.

Nevertheless we walked as close as we could get to the plaza and to the restaurant where we were to have lunch, (something I was not in the mood for.) Our route took us down a street that was closed to cars for the day.

There were soldiers on horse back.

More old churches.

Next to the church was a cool Art Deco building that had been invaded by a fast food joint...

Then we came to a cross street that was completely blocked off for the motorcade of El Presidente and his guests.

We were stuck. As we waited I got my video camera out just in time to film a marching band come by on horse back. While I was filming some people in the crowd commented how much they love their El Presidente.

Click to Play

Being a guest in Peru I thought it best to not ask about these comments. Besides I was still not feeling well. Once the parade of dignitaries and soldiers passed they opened up the street and we went on our way. There were soldiers everywhere. Marching in columns, on horse back, in trucks and jeeps. Many of the uniforms of were colorful and gaudy. I began to feel like I was witnessing an 19th century coup.

We made it to the restaurant. I skipped lunch. Back at the hotel I drank chicken soup for dinner and took it easy. I began to feel better, almost normal. We watched Peruvian TV in the room, most of the programs were from the U.S. dubbed in Spanish.

The next day we visited a fish market. By then I was feeling great and looking at all the fish was making me hungry. The local fishermen were showing off their catch. One of the fish I did not recognize so I asked our guide what it was. She didn't know either so she asked him. I caught the exchange on film. There was some confusion to say the least...

Click to Play

I think it was eel, but I"m still not sure...

That wrapped up our visit to Lima. The next day we went to the airport and flew to Cuzco in the heart of the Andes. I was glad to leave Lima behind and get to the heart and soul of Peru.

Continue to Part 3

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Peru part 1

This past July I got a chance to travel to a place I've wanted to visit since I was young. Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca. Perched high in the cloud forest in the Andes it was abandoned before the Spanish arrived in 1532. They never found it. Except for the locals, it was unknown until 1911 when Hiram Bingham, with the help of local guides and farmers "discovered" the city for the western world. As a youngster I encountered images of Machu Picchu. To my young mind it seemed like an ancient castle in the sky. It has stayed on my list of places to visit during my lifetime since.

The chance to visit Peru happened quickly. The subject came up just eight weeks before the trip actually took place. We thought about it for another two weeks, made the decision to go and then six weeks later we arrived at LAX, tickets in hand, bound for Peru. Our destinations: Lima, Cuzco, the Sacred Valley of the Tambo and Machu Picchu.

Although I went to see Machu Picchu, what I found was a vibrant culture. Full of color, music, dramatic history, prehispanic ruins, cold foggy coastlines and clear mountain skies. For me, Peru was a land of extremes.

When we left Los Angeles in late July it was summer. Peru however, being in the southern hemisphere, was obviously having winter. The weather looked similar to LA's winters. Cool days but with colder nights than we get here in LA. So we boarded the plane dressed for cool weather. On our way we had to switch planes, with a one hour layover in San Salvador, El Salvador, where we were greeted by hot humide weather. It felt like 100˚ and the thick air hit you like a wall. As we were wearing long sleeves and fleece jackets it was very uncomfortable.


Lush tropical jungle surrounded the airport, like a rain forest. But despite a hard search we could not find water for sale anywhere in the terminal. The heat droned on.


I'm sure El Salvador is a wonderful country, I love Pupusas, so I know the food is great, but we were happy to be on our way and escape the humid heat of the tropics. As our plane climbed skyward the classic cone of the San Salvador volcano, or Quetzaltepec, hovered in the distance. We headed southeast. The sun slipped below the horizon.

when we landed in Lima at 8:30 local time it was dark, cold, and cloudy. Lima is a big city. Like all big cities there were people everywhere and cars zigging in and out of traffic. The taxi ride from the airport to the district of Mira Flores took about 40 minutes. The streets were busy and full of people. American business reared their heads in the form of McDonald, Starbucks, KFC, TGI Fridays and from the UK was there with Burger King. It's always somewhat of a disappointment to travel somewhere and find exactly what you left behind.

LIma lancomar starbucks.jpg
Peruvian Starbucks

We were surprised to find that gambling is legal in Lima and we drove past many gaudy casinos. As we got closer to our hotel in the Mira Flores district, the streets got quieter and quieter. A light drizzle began to fall. For Lima this is a major "rain" event. The city, although right on the Pacific coast, is in a desert and receives only 1/4" of rain on average each year.

We arrived at our hotel, checked in our room, and then checked out some local stores, an upscale market and had a nice quiet dinner nearby. The next day we explored further.

The first place we visited was Kennedy park in Miraflores. It was named after JFK, our 35th president. The "city" of Lima is made up of several towns, of which Lima is just one of the. Miraflores is another. It has it's own city government.

Kennedy Park

Next to the park was a church. My understanding is that Peru is 80% Catholic, but I get the sense that there is a strong practice of the older indigenous religions that predate the Spanish. Very much so in the highlands.

Church near Kennedy Park

Detail of church

As we left the area on Kennedy Park we spied one of the few cats we saw in Peru, sleeping on a grate next to the church.

lima gato.jpg

The next place we went to was the Artist's District of Miraflores. This was an area of several blocks that had little malls full of small shops, or stalls selling everything from textiles to jewelery, art, silver pieces and even musical instrument. We had been told that most of the stuff was not of the best quality, and it was recommended that we wait until we get to the highlands for better stuff. So I didn't buy the long belt shaker I saw hanging from the ceiling of one stall. I never saw another one the rest of the trip am and still bummed that I passed on getting that one.

The inside a mall in the Artist's District

Outside the Artist's District

The building in Miraflores were all painted in pale pastels, adding a bright counterpoint to the gray skies that constantly hung over the city. The clouds were dreary in general, but more so once we walked down to the coast. From Kennedy park it took about 20 minutes to walk to the coast. Lima sits on the Pacific Ocean, but is in the same time zone as New York City.

Lima-Miraflores sits on the Pacific Ocean

In Miraflores there is a new "American" style mall called Lancomar which over looks the ocean. While there were some local stores, many of them were U.S. chains. Nevertheless the view from the mall was very nice.

View from the Lancomar Mall

There were lots of locals at the mall and in the strip of parkland that extended along the top of the cliffs next to the ocean. For a price you could go Para-gliding in the constant breeze that swept the coast up the cliffs. Not a price I would pay...


Next to Lancomar was Lover's Park which was dominated by a huge statue of a couple wrapped in embrace.
"Get a room!"

For me the highlight of the park was the tile benches that snaked along the sides. Done in a style reminiscent of the work of Gaudi, there were quotes about love set in the tile mosaic.


In my next post about Peru we visit two local markets, including a fish market right on the coast. Things get lost in translation, but it's all good. Plus I break out the video camera...

Continue to Part 2