26 September 2012

Andahuaylillas and Huacarpay

A couple of Sundays ago Sarah and I went on a little jaunt to Andahuaylillas and Huacarpay – try saying those names five times quickly! The pronunciations, for those who are interested, in my best New Zealand accent, are something like Arn-dar-war-li-yas and wa-ka-pai.

It’s about an hour by local bus from downtown Cusco to Andahuaylillas, a small town that sits alongside the main road to Puno and Lake Titicaca. The town was originally founded in 1572, as part of the Spanish plan to round up the native population and resettle them in more easily controllable villages. It was then, and still is an agricultural centre for the surrounding district. The men farm the Peruvian staples of maize, potatoes and barley, while the women, even more hard-working, run the household – which here probably means looking after cows and pigs and chickens, baking bread and making cheese, weaving textiles, washing clothes by hand, tending to a large, rowdy parcel of children – as well as helping their husbands on the farm.

But Sarah and I did not visit Andahuaylillas to see cows or pigs or peasants toiling in the fields, though it is always interesting to see how people lead their lives. The spotlight shines on this little town, for us and for several busloads of tourists every single day, because of the town’s church. It is, in a word, magnificent. So magnificent, in fact, that it has been described by such travel aficionados as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet and such knowledgeable institutions as the Smithsonian, as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the Americas’.

The front exterior of the church is currently obscured by scaffolding, as its multi-coloured frescoes are restored, but I still managed to squeeze between the poles to grab a couple of shots of its colourful adornment. The interior of this church is simply breathtaking – no photos are allowed, so you’ll just have to believe me and take these exterior shots as a miniscule indication of the awesomeness that lies within.

Built in the early sixteenth century, the church is Baroque in design and dedicated to St Peter the Apostle. Scenes from St Peter’s life are illustrated in a sequence of enormous paintings that decorate the walls, along with many stunning frescoes that date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and a huge altar, intricate wooden carvings and ornate pictures frames that are completely enveloped in lustrous gold leaf. With the support of the World Monuments Fund, the church is being conserved and its wonders protected from the ravages of time and bugs.

But the church is not Andahuaylillas’s only treasure. Very close to the church lies a quaint little museum, containing much more ancient riches. As well as some dusty displays with fascinating information about Inca customs, there are mummies and skulls excavated from a local Inca site. These exhibits are mesmerising – you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled on to the set of the Indiana Jones movie The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and perhaps this is where screenwriter David Koepp got his inspiration! The Inca tradition of skull manipulation, practised in the belief that enlarging certain parts of the skull would enhance motor function and creativity, has left us with craniums that look like they’ve come from alien beings.

We found Anduahuaylillas a quiet little town as we wandered its mostly empty streets. What people we encountered were friendly enough – a couple even spoke English and one, an old woman, demanded a fee for letting me take her photo – ah, but what a face! I may hate the wrinkles developing on my own visage but I love to photograph them on others. 

Many of the people we saw were accompanied by the ubiquitous donkey, the favoured beast of burden here, and were heading to the fields for a day’s labour. It was planting time so the paddocks needed to be ploughed, and the town’s one tractor was keeping very busy.

We also saw a lot of crosses on roof tops, some with bulls, some without - a traditional ornament in this region (see my previous blog: There’s a bull on my roof for more information on this phenomenon). And we had a delicious, though expensive lunch in the one restaurant that was open – tourist prices!

After a 10-minute bus ride back in the direction of Cusco, we alighted at the run-down little settlement of Huacarpay. Many of its buildings were damaged, some literally falling apart at the seams, others in a state of total collapse. I don’t know why this was – perhaps from an earthquake or maybe due to severe flooding from the nearby lake – which was the reason we stopped here. Huacarpay is most famous for its lake and surrounding wetlands, which, supposedly, have 60 resident species of birds and another 50 that visit in the right season. Obviously, this was not the right season as all – and I do mean ALL – the birds had gone on holiday! The autumnal colours of the reeds were still beautiful though and we had a pleasant stroll along the lake’s edge. We’ll go back in the rainy season to see if the birds are back.

24 September 2012

Otuzco: a slice of rural life

On our last day in northern Peru, we decided to head out of the city into the countryside or, rather, into the highlands behind Trujillo. Our guide was 23-year-old Dilser, whom we had met during one of our outings with Henry. He was a pleasant and knowledgeable young man, and we had a good day with him and driver Leo. It took two hours of slow, careful driving to get there but we were glad of Leo’s caution as the roads were winding and hazardous. We passed two buses that had obviously been recovered after crashing off the road down to the river bed below, and the numerous roadside crosses were graphic reminders of how tragic the consequences of such crashes could be.

As we left Trujillo, we traversed field upon field of sugar cane, and saw another of the smoke-belching factories. This one only processed cane into sugar whereas the others we had seen process the syrup into rum and the cane fibres into a rough quality paper, for making bags and cardboard. We also saw a rather animal-like cane cutting machine, rather aptly named an air scorpion. Such machines are not very common as most cane is still cut by hand. 

As we climbed from sea level into the mountains, eventually to an altitude of around 2000 metres, the crops changed. The main highland crop is pineapple and we passed many plantations, stopping at one point to photograph this succulent fruit. There were also fields of orange and guava trees, as well as the ubiquitous maize, lettuce and cauliflower, beans and artichokes, and asparagus, a big export earner for this area.

At first, the skies were grey and overcast, with very low cloud blanketing the hills, but this cleared as we went climbed and, although we had been warned that it would be colder in Otuzco, the weather was actually bright, sunny and warm.

Though quite a small town, Otuzco is the hub for surrounding area. However, its main claim to fame is its local saint, the Virgen as la Puerta (Virgin of the Door), and people come from all parts of Peru to present her with offerings in the hope of getting favours in return.

The church that originally housed the statue of the Virgin proved too small to seat the crowds that flock to Otuzco for her special commemorations in December, so, when its roof collapsed during an earthquake, the locals took the opportunity to build a new, larger church next door and re-roofed the old church with corrugated iron. It is now a fascinating museum, housing the thousands of dollars worth of offerings donated by the faithful. Row upon row of glass cabinets contain the sumptuously embroidered robes that cloak the Virgin’s statue when she’s paraded through the streets, but there were also three cabinets of small shoes, offered by the shoemakers of Trujillo, tall cabinets of assorted whatnots donated by individual families, several cabinets of gold and silver jewellery of all types and sizes, even a cabinet of human hair, grown then cut off and offered as a personal treasure to the Virgin.

To me, there was a strong element of bargaining in these offerings, which seemed rather more profane than sacred and, in a country as poor as Peru, to leave such largesse in a museum seemed an unbelievable waste. Apparently, you can donate small items and money simply by depositing them in the capacious blue barrels in the new church but, if you want to offer something more significant like a robe for the Virgin to wear, you must first write to the church authorities for permission. They write back, approving and scheduling the date you may make your gift. For example, the wearing of the robes is reserved so far in advance that the Virgin may not wear a current donation until perhaps 2025.

The new church, adjacent to the old, is a solid grey concrete monstrosity – ugly in its utilitarianism. Visitors were having their photos taken in front of the altar and the statues of the various saints who occupy the walls. We went upstairs to see the ‘lesser’ Virgin – this statue is still considered sacred, just not as sacred as the larger, main statue inside. You had to pay for an appointment to see that one.

Leaving the Virgin to her followers, we walked up one of the steep streets that lead off the plaza and up the hill beyond, though, in fact, this was also part of the Otuzco religious experience. Climbing up the narrow pedestrian street, with beds of flowers running up it, small religious statues at various points as you ascended and a large cross at the top, also earns the faithful brownie points – so I made a couple of small non-verbal wishes – no harm in putting them out there! The view from the top was certainly worth the effort, as were the views from the surrounding streets which we also explored.

One interesting local tradition we noticed as we strolled around was the adorning of the roofs of new houses with bunches of flowers. And, when someone in the house is getting married, small figurines representing the bride and groom are also placed on the roof. I also noticed several roofs with small bull and matador statuettes – our guide was not sure of the significance of these.

We wandered around the local market and popped in to a small, but charming local chapel, where the Italian-born priest was delighted to have interested visitors and happily explained a little of the history of his building. We ate in a local restaurant, though declined the offer of guinea pig, settling instead for a big bowl of chunky chicken and vegetable soup. It was a refreshing change to be in a relaxed small town, away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, breathing the fresh mountain air, and exploring at a leisurely pace.

We were back in Trujillo by about 4pm, in plenty of time for a last piece of the local mouth-watering cakes, a last stroll around the streets for a few more photos, and a bite to eat before heading back to the Cruz del Sur bus station for the overnight bus back to Lima. It had been a laid-back kind of day, the ideal way to finish off a wonderful week’s holiday exploring northern Peru.

20 September 2012

Trujillo day three: prancing horses and faded puppets

Holidays can be times of blissful relaxation or of intense activity; mine in northern Peru was mostly the latter, as we tried to see as much as possible in the little time we had. But, on this one day, there was no annoying alarm to wake us up, no early morning bus to catch, no reason to scramble quickly out of bed and into the shower, which was heaven!

After a leisurely breakfast at the café next door and a wander to the plaza for Sarah to top up her money from an ATM, we popped in to the tour agency adjacent to our hotel to see what other tours were on offer around Trujillo. We’d already done the main touristy things – the archaeological tours – but there was one other short tour available, to see the world-famous-in-Peru pacing horses.

So, off we headed. Unfortunately, the whole thing was in Spanish and, as our vocabulary didn’t include anything remotely equine, it wasn’t easy to follow what exactly was going on, though one of the other tourists kindly helped out a little. It started with an explanation about the horses themselves: they are quite small in stature and their claim to fame is that they run/walk like pacers, with both legs on one side moving at the same time as opposed to right front and left back, followed by left front and right back like normal horses. This gait makes their movement look very elegant and means that the rider doesn’t bob up and down as much as on a normal horse. Horses are not native to Peru – they were originally introduced to South America by the Spanish – so I’m not sure why or how their special gait developed.

There followed an explanation of the equipment used: a blanket; a rather rigid-looking saddle; eye pieces to calm skittish horses; a piece that sits over the horse’s rump and tail, with long straps that hang at the back; two bridles – not sure why – that bit was lost in translation; and two big wooden-box-like stirrups. To be honest, it all seemed quite heavy for the poor horse to carry around as well as its rider.

The rider normally wears a poncho and a sombrero, and the other tourists who decided to mount and walk the horses around all donned the full kit for their photo shoots. Sarah and I refrained. Next, the rider presented a riding-around-to-music display, then out came two dancers in traditional costume. These were the renowned Marinera dancers, a Peruvian coastal speciality with a national contest held in Trujillo every January. The girl was wearing a beautifully embroidered blouse/shirt dress (white with many colours, including peacock designs) and an over-skirt of purple satin, which was very full for flouncing around when dancing. She had traditional earrings with Moche designs and wore her hair in two braids, decorated with flowers, She said something about the meaning of the hair – maybe one particular style design for married women, one for single, one for having a boyfriend? I think the stripes on the girl’s belt also had a meaning but, again, there was much I couldn’t understand.

The youth was more plainly dressed, in a white ruched shirt, plain trousers and wide sash-type belt. The pair danced together, and with the horse and man also prancing around. It appeared that the girl was making amorous advances towards both her partner and the rider; her gestures were certainly flirtatious. The whole performance was charming but I wish I could have understood more of the meaning behind what was happening.

After another hearty lunch back in Trujillo, we wandered the streets taking photos and then visited the local toy museum, El primero museo de jugete en Latinamerica – truth be told, probably the only toy museum in South America. It was small, but interesting, and a definite blast from the past for older visitors like me. I recognised a Singer sewing machine and a tin whistle that I had as a child. There were lots of dolls, some very old, dating from the sixteenth century, and a doll’s house furnished in the style of the 50s and 60s. There were also lots of metallic model cars and trains – I’m sure collectors on The Antiques Roadshow would give their eye teeth to get hold of those. I recognised an old Meccano set, like one my brother used to have, and enclosed in a large glass case was a huge display of toy soldiers from England and France, dating from 1920-25.

The museum also had a separate display room for ancient, indigenous children’s toys and there was a skylight in the ceiling, from which hung many types of puppets, many old and dirty and in a sorry state of repair, not helped by their exposure to sunlight. Many of the exhibits were in poor condition and deserved to be restored and conserved but, as this is a private museum with a mere 5-soles-per-person entrance fee, the chances of the collection being properly cared for are probably quite slim.

Next came the afternoon’s cake treat, followed by more wandering to burn off all those calories! Trujillo has such a delightful and photogenic inner city that it was a pleasure to just walk and click the afternoon away.

Trujillo Cathedral at night

16 September 2012

Trujillo day two: mud pyramids, a mud city and boobies by the sea

This was another great day!

After breakfast, we moved our bags to the Colonial Hotel – cheaper and more cosy, then walked the 4½ blocks to the Cruz del Sur bus station to book the overnight Saturday bus back to Lima, and then had a brisk walk back to our original hotel ready to be picked up by our tour company. We were a bigger group of tourists this time but, HUGE luck, most of the other visitors were Spanish-speaking and had their own guide and we had the lovely Henry again, just for us – happy, knowledgeable, laughing Henry!

We headed out of town to Huaca de la Luna, another pyramid of the ancient Moche culture. We went first to the site museum where we had just 30 minutes to go round the exhibits, mostly ceramics here, rather than the gold and silver of other sites, but equally as rich in their decoration, their depiction of rituals, beliefs and everyday life. There were stunning anthropomorphic designs but also images of animals and people, and the museum contained some fascinating reconstructions and explanations of the deceased and their grave deposits, the local people and their professions.

The Huaca del Sol (not able to be visited) and Huaca de la Luna pyramids were centres of power for the local Moche people, El Sol a political and administrative centre and La Luna a centre for religious ceremonies. Between the two was a city, with wide avenues and narrow alleys, grand squares, houses and palaces. Our wander around Huaca de la Luna was fascinating. The various excavations have revealed layer upon layer of temples, a tomb containing over 40 sacrificed warriors, and a huge and remarkable wall of still colourful murals.

After a delicious lunch at the surprisingly good tourist restaurant El Sombrero, we headed off to more ruins, first to Huaca Arco Iris, a relatively small pyramid in amongst the city’s suburbs. There we met Tamay the potter, a charming old gentleman, a potter and painter, who creates replicas of the amazing finds from the various archaeological sites in and around Trujillo. His pots are made at his home but he has a little workshop/shop at Huaca Arco Iris, where he paints his pots and chats to the strangers he meets from all over the world. Of course, I bought one of his beautiful pots.

Next to Chan Chan, the largest pre-Hispanic city in South America and made entirely of mud bricks. It originally covered an area of more than 20 square kilometres and may have housed as many as one hundred thousand people. It was built by the Chimu people, the civilisation that followed the Moche, and archaeologists have discovered within its walls all the essentials for city life: workshops and warehouses, plazas and pyramid temples, hearths and homesteads.

Although centuries of wind and rain, and the devastating El niño, have seriously eroded the structures, you can still get a glimpse of the enormity of the metropolis. And, though most of decoration – sculptural reliefs of geometric figures, stylised zoomorphic creatures and mythological beasts – is recreated rather than original, it is still impressive and provides an excellent vision of just how magnificent this city must have been in its heyday. As a Classics major, I am very at home amongst ruins and, at Chan Chan, I could have wandered, content, for hours.

But on we went to our last stop of the day … and it did not disappoint. Coming from land-locked Cusco, another highlight of this grand day was our short visit to the sleepy Pacific resort of Huanchaco, just 20 minutes’ drive from Trujillo. The beach ran for miles and would be perfect for long strolls, but we contented ourselves with a short walk to the end of the very Western-looking pier, where roosting boobies posed obligingly for photos. It was also interesting to watch the clash of ancient and modern in the water, keen surfers sharing the waves with the local fishermen who still use traditional reed boats for fishing.

The water glistened as the sun began to set, setting the scene for more striking photographs, the ideal end to another superb day.

14 September 2012

Trujillo day one: colour, cake and the Lady of Cao

What a fab day this was! We had to get up early for the 6.30am bus from Chiclayo to Trujillo, a 3-hour journey through rather boring landscape of sandy desert, piled with rubbish heaps much of the way, bordered on the landward side by rugged brown, mostly vegetation-less hills, and all covered by low, grey, smothering cloud, creating an atmosphere of overall gloom. I snoozed!

But everything changed when we arrived in central Trujillo. What a picturesque city it is … or, at least, the inner city, with its heritage of stunning Spanish colonial buildings. They are painted in the most striking colours: sunflower yellows, lipstick pinks, cornflower blues, barn reds and mint greens, with the elaborate door frames, ornate wrought-iron window screens and other sculptural features all picked out in a crisp clean contrasting white that makes them pop!

We were collected from the bus, had half an hour at our hotel for an uplifting cup of tea, then were met, with a huge smile and infectious laugh, by the charming Henry, our tour guide for the day. He led us off up the street for a wonderful 3-hour walking tour around the inner city. How entertaining it was, with Henry recounting story after story about the history of each place we visited.

Our first stop was the Plaza de Armas, an enormous square with a grand three-tiered sculpture at its centre. The Freedom Monument pays tribute to the heroes of Peru’s wars of independence, with sculptured figures representing trade and health, the arts and sciences, the journey from oppression to freedom, and a naked youth at the top representing liberation and the future. With a mischievous glint in his eye, Henry told us that the youth used to be quite well endowed, but his appendage offended the local nuns, who successfully campaigned to have it cut off!

Trujillo’s wedding cake of a cathedral was next. It has been much damaged and subsequently much rebuilt since its inauguration in the mid-seventeenth century, but is beautifully decorated with many fine old artworks. From there, we walked around the plaza to Urquiaga House, a colonial mansion that now houses the offices of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru, but has been charmingly restored and is lovingly maintained. I found the brightly painted walls dazzling and took so many photos. More superb examples of colonial architecture followed, as we continued our tour by walking along the pedestrian-only Avenida Jirόn Pizarro. We explored a community arts centre, and also poked our noses in the local rich men’s club – being women, only our noses were allowed!

When Henry departed to join his wife and young son for lunch, Sarah and I found a delightful restaurant on this avenue and enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch for a relatively trivial sum. And this was the beginning of our gastronomic exploration of the cakes of northern Peru. For more on that and some drool-inducing photos, see my earlier blog.

We met up with Henry again at 2 o’clock for the fast car trip out of Trujillo to El Brujo, the temple and museum of the Lady of Cao. Because of the splendour of her grave goods and the inclusion of massive weapons in her tomb, found inside yet another crumbling pyramid, archaeologists have surmised that the Lady was a ruler of the Moche civilisation some 1500 years ago, the first known female ruler in all of ancient Peru. Walking around the pyramid, we saw original and reconstructed painted sculptural reliefs and graves, but the highlight of our visit lay within the nearby museum – the mummy of the Lady herself, and the splendid items that accompanied her to the afterlife.

Amazingly, the Lady’s arms, legs and feet were tattooed, with presumably sacred creatures – spiders and mythical beasts – plus various geometric designs. And, as well as the war clubs and spear throwers, her grave goods included exquisite gold earrings, nose ornaments and necklaces. No photos were allowed within the museum but I took a photo of a magazine article about the Lady, so I could show you what she looks like.

From the top of her pyramid tomb, we could see and hear the Pacific Ocean, just a hop, skip and a jump away. It was the first time I had seen the sea, except through the windows of a plane, in months and, for me, it just topped off a wholly perfect day.

11 September 2012

Chiclayo day three: the good, the bad and the beautiful

In some ways, day three of our gad about northern Peru was a little disappointing. We had booked ourselves on another archaeological tour, this time to see more ruins and artefacts of the Sican culture, dating from 800 to 1350 AD. Unfortunately, there were no English-speaking guides available and the substitute was 23-year-old Christian, only 6 months into his guide training, and he had only been learning English one month. He was enthusiastic but spoke rapid and slightly mumbled Spanish, which was almost impossible for us to follow. And, to top that off, our driver overused his power steering so much that the constant swaying back and forth made me feel a little nauseous.

The Pomac Forest, from a nearby hill

Also, we only got a 4½-hour tour, rather than the 5 hours we had paid for, and, with no lunch break, we were starving by the end of it. We also missed out on visiting the two pyramids we were supposed to see, Huaca las Ventanas and Huaca el Oro, supposedly because the river between them and us was too full, an excuse we found very hard to believe at the end of the dry season.

The 1000-year-old tree

But, to focus on the positive … We saw a fox as we drove through the Bosque del Pomac, the Pomac Forest, though it was too far away to photograph, and a couple of scurrying lizards that were too fast to capture. I hugged the Arbol Milenario, a 1000-year-old tree, and got some photos of egrets (I think), when we asked our driver to stop as we passed the copse of trees where a small colony was nesting.

We also stopped to photograph a bridge, which had collapsed due to torrential El niño rain causing a torrent that undermined its foundations. As the river bed is now dry, we crossed over that – I’m not sure what the locals will do when the rains come again.

Having fun with reflections in the museum's plate-glass facade
The best part of the morning was spent at yet another imposing museum, the Museo Sican

The finds contained in this museum came from the pyramids we had seen two days earlier at Túcume (see my previous blogand other such pyramid structures in the surrounding area, and they are magnificent. Judging by their grave goods, the elite of Sican society were obviously very wealthy, with death masks, representing the face of their Sican god, made of gold and tumbaga (an alloy of copper, silver and low carat gold). The museum’s well-presented exhibits provided a clear and vivid image of the daily life of the Sican people, who may have numbered as many as 1.5 million at the height of their civilisation. Their metalwork and ceramics were particularly impressive and, once again, there were many reconstructions to help the visitors visualise how graves were found and how the people may have lived.

This is not my photograph. Photographer: Rosemania, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sican_funerary_mask_in_the_Metropolitan_Museum.jpg

Once back in Chiclayo, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the Plaza de Armas, then visited our tour agency to organise our next excursion. Unfortunately, we ended up cancelling our visit to Kuelap, known as the Machu Picchu of the north, as it’s actually a 3-night/2-day tour, rather than the 1-night/2-day that was advertised – the extra 2 nights are 9-hour overnight bus journeys to get there and back, and we just didn’t have the time to do the trip. We also had to fight the travel agent to avoid paying a cancellation fee, eventually going with him to the bus company to help him get his refund, and then placated him by booking a 2-day/1-night tour to Trujillo instead.

In the late afternoon, we spent a fun hour exploring Chiclayo’s central market area. It is huge, and there was some great banter between the stallholders.

As few tourists come to northern Peru, gringas are a real novelty here, and many people were happy to greet us, answer our questions, share a laugh or simply stare at the strange white women walking around their market. 

In fact, people in general seemed happier in the north, more open and friendly than in Cusco, perhaps because they’re more prosperous, or maybe it's the warmer weather. They are also much more Westernised – there was almost no sign of any traditional culture, neither in the clothing they wore, nor anything in the market in the way of arts and crafts.

Meet Carmen Rosa Nancy, one of the lovely market stallholders

We returned to the Plaza, as the sun was going down. The dusk light and a glorious herringbone sky combined to produce some nice photographs of the beautiful cathedral and municipal buildings. These, plus a delicious dinner at the Mama Mia restaurant, provided a fine ending to our last day in Chiclayo.

Chiclayo Cathedral
The Municipal building, looking lovely in its night-lighting