23 May 2012

On the road from Puno to Chivay

I had no idea how impressive the scenery would be as we drove out of Puno in the chilly early morning, heading for the little town of Chivay in the Colca Valley.

Our first stop was at Lagunillas Lake, where the blues of the lake and the sky competed for our attention – which was more blue? The sky was sprinkled with the whispiest of clouds and the lake surface peppered with flamingos – so pretty.

Soon after Lagunillas, we had our first sight of Misti, the active volcano that looms menacingly over Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa. Its shape echoes the cone-like perfection of Japan’s Mt Fuji, and Mt Egmont, in my native New Zealand.

At Pampa Cañahuas, in the Aguada Blanca National Park, we turned off the main Puno-Arequipa highway and made a short stop for a mid-morning snack. On the other side of the highway, there was a huge rocky outcrop, with ancient rock formations that reminded me of Cappadocia, in Turkey.

As we rode on, the skies were breathtakingly huge, the llamas and vicuña dwarfed by the grandeur of the big country that surrounded them. One herd of llamas played follow the leader down a steep hillside.

We stopped again at Patapampa, at 4800 metres, the highest point on our journey. As well as the ubiquitous roadside souvenir sellers, the ground was littered with artificial piles of small rocks. The bus company’s pamphlet said these were placed ‘by travellers and local residents, who place them as part of a ritual related to resting, strength to continue with the trip, protection, health and permission to enter somewhere new.’ I added a small rock to one pile.

At Chivay, we joined Luis the guide and a small group of travellers who would be our companions for the next day and a half. At our charming hotel in the nearby village of Choraque, we ate a delicious lunch and met the local guard 'dog', a llama/alpaca-cross, a critter with attitude. I got spat at quite early on, as did one of the men when he tried to persuade the beast to move away from the entrance gate. ‘My, what big teeth you have!’

In Chivay, after lunch, we explored the town, enjoying the beautiful paintings in its lovely old church, the bartering and banter of the sellers in the local market, the delicately embroidered and very colourful traditional dress of the local women. My friend Marianne and several of our group also enjoyed a warming soak in the local hot pools and, returning to the hotel, we ate a delicious meal and retired quite early to a heated room and comfy beds. What a superb day!

22 May 2012

Magnificent Titicaca

I’ve blogged about the magnificent Lake Titicaca before (http://sconzani.blogspot.com/2011/08/border-run-to-bolivia-day-two.html) so this time I’m just going to share some photos that show what a superb day I had with my friend Marianne out on the water.

Boatloads of tourists follow us out through the reed beds on the 30-minute ride to the Uros Islands, while some islanders go in the opposite direction in their little dinghy.

Four generations of one family of Uros islanders greeted us at our first stop - such friendly, welcoming people and such colourful clothes! The hat of the girl at left indicates she is single, while the bowler hats of the other women show they are all married.

A beautiful young Uros islander.

The matriarch and one of her daughters.

Not only do the islanders use the reeds to make their island, their homes and boats, they also eat it. So, I gave it a try … it was chewy and juicy but rather bland.

The islanders keep birds for their eggs and meat, and they were pretty, but it was the reflections I liked best in this image.

After visiting the first island, we took advantage of the opportunity to ride to a second island in a reed boat. This man was one of the rowers.

From Uros it was a 2-hour ride to the island of Taquile. It was cool but the sky was clear and incredibly blue, so Marianne and I spent much of the time out on the back of the boat, enjoying the breeze and the scenery and the fresh, clean air.

I couldn’t resist the reflections in the boat windows.

On Taquile, by sheer coincidence, there was a celebration going on. For two weeks, from 5 to 17 May, they hold the Pentecostalcelebration of San Isidro Labrador. Apparently, at this time the upper and lower parts of the island compete in a sowing competition. They start by sowing potatoes, then beans, corn, barley, and quinoa, and the islanders predict how the sowing and harvest will go that year depending on which part of the island wins the competition. We didn’t see the actual sowing competition but rather a subsequent performance by islanders dressed in bizarre costumes which seemed to relate to ploughing, the harvest and drunkenness. It was fun.

One of the performers.

The performers in the sombreros were acting like drunkards, staggering around and exchanging drinks.

One of the archways into the town. I couldn’t capture it with my camera, but there was a multi-coloured halo around the sun that day, something I’ve heard about before but never seen myself.

An island where women weave and men knit, fine, very complicated hats. 

The loo with the best view in town … and this was also the view from the restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of freshly caught trout. Yum!
On the return journey, the wake of our boat created pretty patterns as we passed the reed beds.
The sun was setting by the time we returned to Puno, creating even more good photo opportunities
The restaurant where we ate dinner had this huge collection of old-fashioned irons decorating one wall.
And this was the charming old man who beckoned us in to the restaurant.

21 May 2012

The best birthday ever!

The celebrations started 3 days before my actual birthday when we held a birthday party at Picaflor House, our Peru Kids Project, for me and volunteer Jordan and those kids with birthdays in May. Sometimes we have a piñata filled with lollies, this time we had birthday cake – and not just one cake, but FIVE! Work bought two, then three of the volunteers turned up with one each. And what delectable-looking cakes they were – Peruvians are very good at cake decoration, as you can see. It almost seemed like cruelty to slice through those cute bears and sweet swans … almost.

Luίs, our Picaflor House manager, had organised a delightful programme of entertainment … children recited poems and sang ‘You are my sunshine’ and danced traditional dances, and then I was mobbed by little people wanting to hug me. 

I also received several hand-made birthday cards from the older kids – apparently I’m a “pretty teacher” – either they don’t understand the meaning of pretty or I need to arrange a visit to the optometrist for all of them! It was a very special day.

The next day my dear friend Marianne arrived from France for a 3-week holiday here in Peru – a birthday present in itself – and the following day, on my actual birthday, we caught the bus to Pisac for a wander and a shop and a lunchtime feast. It was almost 2½ years since I had seen Marianne the last time I volunteered in Cambodia but we picked up as if scarcely a day had passed. I really appreciate having good friends like her in my life and we had a lovely day together.

Glowing after a day in the sun and a couple of beers ...

My birthday brownie

And then the following day we set off on a week’s holiday, starting with Marianne’s birthday present to me, a wonderfully luxurious trip from Cusco to Puno on the Andean Explorer, a 10-hour train journey in the style of the Pullman trains of the 1920s. The carriages were well-appointed and our seats plush and comfortable. There was an open-air observation car at the rear of the train, where we spent quite a bit of the journey enjoying the fresh air and the scenery. And the refreshments were delicious, beginning with a Pisco Sour for morning tea, followed by a 3-course luncheon, and finishing with a Bellini (peach juice and champagne) and chocolates in the late afternoon. Such a civilised way to travel - it was divine, and those four days must surely count as the best birthday ever!

If you want read more about travelling on the Andean Explorer, click on the link to read my article for tour company Totally Latin America. 

Our carriage
Marianne enjoying the observation car

04 May 2012

Fiesta de las Cruces

Today is the cross’s birthday – at least that’s how my Peruvian co-worker described it to me yesterday.

I had noticed new cloths on the crosses outside one of Cusco’s inner city churches and fresh green paint being applied to the two wooden crosses at one side of Cusco’s cathedral, so I was fascinated to find out more.

The day, always the 3rd of May, is actually called the Fiesta de las Cruces or Cruz de Mayo, and it’s celebrated in much of Spain and Hispanic America. According to Wikipedia: ‘Religiously, the festival is rooted in the search by the Byzantine Empress Saint Helena for the cross on which Jesus died, but the popular traditions connected to the festival originate from pagan traditions brought to Spain by the Roman Empire.'

‘The legend is that Emperor Constantine I, in the sixth year of his reign, confronted the barbarians on the banks of the Danube, in a battle where victory was believed to be impossible because of the great size of the enemy army. One night, Constantine had a vision of a cross in the sky and, near it, the words "In hoc signo vincis" (With this sign, you shall be victorious). The emperor had a cross made and put at the front of his army, which won an easy victory over the enemy multitude. On returning to the city and learning the significance of the cross, Constantine was baptised as a Christian and gave orders to construct Christian churches. He sent his mother, Saint Helena, to Jerusalem in search of the True Cross, the cross on which Jesus died. Once there, Helena summoned the wisest priests to aid in her attempt to find the cross. On Calvary Hill, traditionally considered the site of Jesus's crucifixion, she found three bloody logs hidden. In order to discover which was the True Cross, she placed the logs one by one over sick people, and even dead people, who were cured or resuscitated at the touch of the True Cross. The veneration of the True Cross, and the use of pieces of the True Cross as relics, began at that time. Santa Helena died praying for all believers in Christ to celebrate the commemoration of the day the Cross was found.’

One of the crosses outside Cusco Cathedral

The second Cusco Cathedral cross

In Cusco, indigenous traditions have been assimilated into the Catholic practices and the Holy Cross has been transformed into a dressed figure that celebrates the Vigil of the Cross. Wealthy locals hold a three-night party for the Cross and its worshippers and loud fireworks are let off as part of the celebration.

On 2 May, the Day of the Descent, the smaller, portable crosses are taken down from their hills and sanctuaries to the houses of mayordomos, the people who are willing and able to pay for the festivities and new 'clothes' for the Cross. The people feast and enjoy live music until the following morning, when the Cross is dressed in new fineries and taken to a special mass.

One of the San Francisco Church crosses
A second cross at the Church
of San Francisco

The large, fixed crosses outside churches have their old fineries removed, are renovated and repainted, then they too are dressed in new cloths and adorned with flowers and ribbons.

The third day, 4 May, is called the kacharpari. On this day, a farewell mass is held, after which the cross is returned to its normal resting place and more feasting and partying takes place. 

The third cross at the Church
of San Francisco

A close-up of the beautiful embroidery

On the way home last night, I noticed one cross, lit up with coloured lights and adorned with lit candles and beautiful flowers. This morning I walked around inner city Cusco to look at all the crosses outside the main churches: the San Blas church, Cusco Catherdral, the Church of San Francisco and the Church of Santo Domingo.

All their crosses has been dressed in new fineries, some richer and more sumptuous than others, and some crosses had been decorated with streamers and paper lanterns. They all looked very beautiful, and I have finally discovered why the crosses are dressed, something I have been wondering about for many months (see my earlier blog on this subject: http://sconzani.blogspot.com/2011/10/cross-dressing.html)

The cross at the Church of Santo Domingo