Monday, May 5, 2014

Our Last Day :(

Friday was our last day in Peru! Everyone was happy to sleep in later than normal and eat a nice breakfast at the hotel Tambo. At 9am, our guide Franz met us with a large bus to begin the grand tour of Lima! All fourteen of us piled onto the bus and rode to the marketplace called el Mercado Surquillo, where we saw all types of stores from ones selling wooden spoons and electrical outlets, to others selling exoctic fruit or fresh cow heart meat. We stopped by a fruit stand near the entrance to try a bunch of different types of fruit native to Peru and other South American countries. They were all very colorful and tasty. A common favorite among the group was a large greeen fruit with a white pasty-looking edible center called Custard Apple. This fruit was very sweet and Franz told us that it has almost the same amount of caloris as bacon! Needless to say, it tasted great!

After a quick tour of the market, we hopped back on and drove through Miraflores, an upper middleclass district where our hotel was located--it was amazing to see how clean and well-kept this district of Lima was and the houses and architecture were beautiful. We also drove through part of San Isidros, a nice district where we saw a pyramid constructed before the city of Lima was "established" by Francisco Pizarro. Although we weren't able to stop at the pyramid, it was interesting to see how the native people of Lima attempted to construct a mountain-like figure to serve as a means of worship in an area of Peru that lacks mountains. 

After the pyramid, we stopped at a colorful park in Miraflores that overlooks the ocean shore. The park was quite beautiful with a large statute created by Víctor Delfín, colorful tiled walls, and various flower gardens. There was even a random piano in the middle of the park  and a few of us stopped to play! Near the park, we saw an underground mall--a very popular stop for tourists and businesspeople passing through Lima. Then, we entered a distrcit called Barranco. This district holds many large, beautifully constructed homes that served as "ranchos" for people looking to move to the coast for health or vacation reasons in the past. We were able to walk by many of these summer homes or "ranchos" in Spanish, but unfortunately, we were unable to see their interior. 

We passed through a few more districts before riding up a small mountain-like hill on the south side of Lima where we were able to view nearly the entire city of Lima and take some nice photos. Near this area, we also saw various areas of shanty  towns, poorer residential areas that are still in early stages of developing, largely belonging to the lower working class or people who had moved from the rural areas ot the city. Our guide Franz was quite knowledgable about these areas. He explained how the shanty towns go through three different stages of development and then expanded to give us some examples of how the Peruvian informal and formal economy works. He also gave us a bit of insight into the mining industry of Peru. We were all very thankful to have a knowledgable guide with experience in many different areas of Peru. Franz did a great job helping us understand the economics, politics, and history of many different places/concepts in Peru.

To conclude our tour, we stopped at a small restaurant to try Anticucho--a Peruvian delicacy consisting of the meat of the heart of a cow. Almost everyone tried the beef heart and enjoyed its rich flavor and tenderness. We also drank Chicha Morada, a purple-corn based juice-like drink that was very sweet and delicious. It was a perfect meal for our last lunch in Peru.

After lunch we were allowed a few hours of free time. Our portion of the group (along with Kathleen) decided to make the trek down to the beach (while others did some last minute shopping)! After taking quite a few stairs, we made it down to the shower where we dipped our feet in the water, skipped stones, and took photos. It was absolutely beautiful here. However, the beach conisted of small sleek stones instead of sand which both tickled and hurt our feet at the same time. We were tempted to take some surf lessons while at the beach, but the thought of sitting on a plane soon after without a shower was a turn off. Altogether, though, the beach was a beautiful area to spend our last few ours of our trip.

Before departing for another quick bus tour on our way to the airport, everyone in the group reuinted at Tanta (a quechua word for "potato") a fun restaurant where we all ate delicious food, drinks, and desserts! Afterwards, we saw various historic areas of Lima lit up at night including the plaza of San Martín and the Plaza de Armas which consisted of the presidentail palace, some municipal buildings, and an elegant cathedral. The night tour was beautiful, but we were sad we couldn't stay longer to explore the places up close. Finally, we arrived at the airport right outside of Lima, said our goodbyes to Franz and our bus driver, and headed inot the airport. We could not believe the trip had gone by so fast. After an 8 hour plane ride that went quite smoothly, we all went our separate ways in JFK. It was a bittersweet ending  to a trip full of experiences. I think I can speak for our whole group when I say that Peru exposed us to an entirely new world filled with distinct cultures, traditions, people, food, and geography. It was an amazing trip that we will never forget, with a group of great people whom we will always remember.

¡Adios Amigos!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Traveling Between Islands

We ate breakfast at the Conde de Lemos hotel at 7:30 before being picked up at 7:50 by bus. When it arrived, Percy, our guide, was on board and ready to go. We drove just a few minutes down to the dock and boarded a small boat filled with tourists from around the world. Although the tour boat we were on had its own tour guide, Miguel, we would be straying a little further away from everyone else's itinerary. 

Miguel started off the boat ride by telling us about the huge celebration that takes place in Puno every February. 

As we travelled out of the Puno bay, we began to see tall stalks of grass pointing out of the water. This meant, as Miguel told us, that the water was no more than two meters deep. Within this network of tall grass lay our first stop on the trip: Uros. Uros is a region of floating islands in lake Titicaca. When we landed at one of these islands, one of the women living there gave us a demonstration on how the islands are made and the many uses of the totora plant - the tall grass I mentioned earlier. 

The totora plants form dense networks of buoyant roots. The people then drive large wooden stakes into the different pieces and tie them together. After that, many layers of totora are added on. As the bottom layers of grass rot away from the moisture, more layers are added on. Typically new layers are added every two or three months. Wherever they put the oven, they also have to place a stone between it an the grass so that the risk of the island catching fire is lower. Dry grass and fire do not mix well. 

As for the totora grass itself, there are several other uses for it besides flooring. First of all, it's edible. You peel back the husk like a banana, break off the top and then eat the inside. It doesn't really taste like anything, and it's very spongey and light. Second, you can roll the plant between your hands to crush the inside, break off a piece, slice it open with just your fingernail, and then place it on your skin to cool off. This also helps with sunburns. As someone of, shall we say, "fair complexion," I was most intrigued by this use of the totora in particular. Apart from building the islands themselves out the grass, the boats and homes on the island are likewise made by the same plant. 

Then we took a ride on one of the boats made with the same grass to a public island. There, we saw several small restaurants and even a post office. There were a group of chickens feeding, and also a net holding a large school of fish. 

From there we took a three hour boat ride from Uros to Amantani, a large island in the lake. During the ride, Percy told us a legend about the origin of Lake Titicaca. 

Titicaca literally translates to Puma Rock in Quechua. The story goes like this: Lake Titicaca didn't always exist, it actually used to be a dry valley. The people living in the valley were prohibited from ascending the mountain peaks surrounding the valley by the demi-gods. When some people tried to climb a mountain anyway, the demi-gods sent pumas to kill them. This plan proved to be unsuccessful, as there were so many people with intentions of climbing the mountains that the pumas wouldn't be enough. Therefore, the demi-gods made it rain over the valley for many days and nights until the lake formed. After the rain stopped, there were the bodies of humans and pumas floating on the surface of the lake, so they named the lake  puma rock. 

At around 1:30, we arrived at Amantani. As the boat docked, we looked up to see women in traditional dress waving to us from the top of a small cliff. We met our host mother, Señora Justa, who runs a hostel just a ten minute walk from the dock. We walked up to her house, crossing plots of land where sheep were grazing, patches of farm land, and stone walkways. The island itself doesn't have any heat or electricity, except for a few solar panels to power some lights in a sparse few houses. The real magic of Amantani comes from the view and the warm, hospitable people who live there. Señora Justa was very kind and welcoming to all of us, and her son, Cristián, was unbearably adorable. 

We ate Quinoa soup and trout for lunch, and then rested for a little bit before going off to the highest point on the island. 

After the Lares trek, the hike up the small mountain on Amantani was a piece of cake. We got up to the top in about 40 minutes, passing by plenty of farms and a soccer stadium on the way. 

At the top, there is a large square stone temple without a roof. Upon reaching this temple, the tradition is to walk three times counterclockwise around the temple. When we asked Percy what would happen if we walked in the other direction, he simply stated, chuckling, "it would be better to walk the right way." 

The temple itself is pre-Incan, but is still in use today. Every January, the gates are opened and everyone on the island congregates for a special ceremony. They place a table in the middle of the temple, and all of the people bring coca leaves to put on the table and ask for wishes. Percy told us that every 3 coca leaves grants one wish, so eventually a mountain of leaves accumulates on the table, and it's almost impossible to keep them all from blowing off. 

As night fell, we looked around at the distant mountains surrounding parts of the lake. We could see parts of Bolivia, with whom Peru shares 40% of the lake. Then we descended the mountain, guided by some flashlights that Señora Justa leant us. 

We ate a dinner of rice and some delicious cooked vegetables after entertaining Cristián in the dinning room for about half an hour. After eating, we got ready for a special celebration that the people of Amantani prepared for us. Señora Justa dressed us all in traditional attire; the girls in floral blouses, skirts, belts, and shawls, and me in a poncho and hat. 

After getting dressed, we walked with Percy and Señora Justa in complete darkness to the community building, where we saw several other groups of tourists from our boat with their host mothers. We danced around in a big circle with everyone in the room, then danced right out the door to the small eucalyptus bonfire on the volleyball court. We danced to a few songs out there, provided by live music, until it began to rain a little bit and we decided to head back to Señora Justa's. 

We had had a long day, so we went to bed almost immediately after getting back from the dance at just around 10:00 at night. Without electricity, the hostel needed some warm blankets to make sure we didn't freeze in the chilly night (Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, so it gets quite cold at night). So how did they make the blankets warm? They made them very, very thick. Amantani definitely gets the award for the heaviest blankets in the world. I could barely push them back to get under the covers, but once there I was nice and cozy for the night. 

Taquile Island

     Today we woke up and ate a wonderful breakfast of pancakes and fried bread before leaving. We were very gracious of our caring host mother and enjoyed playing with her adorable baby.
     We then took an hour boat ride to the neighboring island of Taquile, which is known for its beautiful textiles made by men. Here, the clothing that one wears displays his or her marital status. For example, women who wear black shawls (one of which you can see below) are married, and single women wear brightly colored clothing.

     The men wear hats called chullos to display their marital status. Married men wear an all red chullo, and single men wear red and white chullos. Men also wear a wide belt-like piece of clothing called a faja. Fajas have very intricate designs (as you can see below) and tell a story about the life of the man who made it. Men of Taquile typically carry around a type of bag called a chuspi (which you can see below) to hold their coca leaves. Then, when they see another man they know, they exchange coca leaves with him as part of a salutation. 

Faja being made and a finished faja:


     The men who hold local government positions in Taquile wear a colorful hat underneath a black hat (as you can see below). These men are elected to their position for one year and do not receive payment for their services. The people of Taquile run their society based on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla. In Quechua, these words mean "do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy."

     Amidst a beautiful view, we ate wonderful lunch of quinoa soup, trout, potatoes, rice, and vegetables.

     Then a man gave us a demonstration of how they clean wool for the textiles.
1. Mash up this plant with rocks and add water to make it mushy.

2. Put the mushed up plant into a piece of cloth that is above a bowl of water.

3. Mix the water until it is soapy and scrub the wool in the water.

     After this demonstration, we had to leave the island and take a three hour boat ride back to Puno. When we arrived back at the hotel, we had free time until dinner, so we showered then walked around Puno. We ate dinner at a restaurant with many food options. During dinner, we talked about our favorite island that we visited and our favorite part of the trip. We cannot believe that we have to leave on Friday! Time has gone by so fast. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reuniting At Last

Today, we had a fun-filled day of traveling and a long awaited reunion with our friends from the economics group. We started our adventurous day at Sillustani. This is a Pre-Incan cementery. The name Sillustani means fingernails because the shape of the lake next to the peninsula is in the shape of a fingernail.

This pre-Incan site has over 62 tombs inside a Qolla, which is the building where they are buried. Normally there is more than one person in each Qolla because they are for entire families. The difference between the pre-Ican tombs and the Incan tomb is that the Incan tombs have a circular shape with white clay. Surrounding the tombs, rocks are arranged into circles to worship those who are dead, along with the sun and the moon. 

They, like the Incas, worshiped the universe rather than the just the Earth. Another interesting fact is that they used Intihuatana (sundial) which is similar to those at Machu Picchu.

Also during our bus ride to the airport in Juliaca, we stopped at a traditional house to see how the local people live and work. The first thing we did was take pictures with their guanaco! We were then led inside to see how they live. We saw one lady spin the alpaca fur into thread for rugs and scarfs. They are so soft! 

When we arrived at the airport we had to wait in line for a while but we made the most of it by harmless betting on how long we would be in line. No one won, not that there was anything to win. For lunch we had empanadas, and then we boarded the plane to Lima where we were finally reunited with the other group. The entire bus ride to the hotel was full of the exchanging of stories in between our new guide, Franz' Lima fun-facts.

Speaking of fun-facts, I will go over a few that I found to be fascinating! Our hotel was located in one of the 43 different districts, Miraflores. This district is built on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which was full of surfers as we drove by. This district also has one of the lowest crime rates of Lima. When we finally arrived at our hotel, El Tambo, we instantly felt the humidity caused by the ocean air. 

After, we ate dinner at La Lucha, a very popular sandwich and milkshake place. And yes, their sandwiches and milkshakes were heavenly 😄.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Day of Travel

We woke up early this morning in order to catch the bus to Puno at 7:00 in the morning.  After breakfast (bread and hot chocolate), we had to say goodbye to our amazing host mother, Mery, before departing from Cusco.  Mery was so nice to all of us and we were really sad to say goodbye.

Us with Mery before our departure:

It was a bit bittersweet to leave Cusco.  We all really enjoyed our stay there.  However, we are excited to experience new things and visit new places in the next few days.

At 7:00, we boarded the bus for an all-day ride to Puno, which is right next to Lake Titicaca.  Luckily, there were several stops along the way.

Our first stop was at Andahuaylillas, a church originally built on top of an Inca temple by the Jesuits in the 17th century.

The church (unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside):

This church is often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of America because there are amazing murals all over the walls and ceiling. During the 18th century, the Jesuits gained too much power and the Spanish drove them out of Peru.  At this point, the Dominicans took over the church, covering up many of the original murals with canvas paintings.  In addition, the Dominicans built an altar over the original Jesuit altar.  During the 19th century, Peru gained its independence and the Jesuits returned and regained control of the church.  It remains a Jesuit church to this day.  Two different pulpits on opposite sides of the church further demonstrate the mix of Jesuit and Dominican influences on the church.  One, built by the Jesuits, is decorated with gold and colorful murals.  The other, built by the Dominicans, is wooden and elaborately carved.

Our tour guide explained several of the painting within the church.  One of the important doorways is decorated with the phrase "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen" in five different languages: Latin, Spanish, Quechua (the local language in the Cusco region), Aymara (spoken in the Puno region), and Pukina (a now extinct language).  The many paintings helped the Indigenous population learn the new religion brought with the Spaniards.  Most of the paintings were painted by Spanish-trained Andean painters, who often left hidden elements of the Andean culture in their paintings, such as Coca leaves and the Andean rose.

From there, we traveled on to our second stop at Raqchi, an Inca site.  This site was unlike all of the others we have visited so far.  There is a large temple there that was dedicated to the main Inca god, Wiraqocha.  Unlike other Inca temples, this temple had a large center wall built with both mud (combined with straw, llama and alpaca hair, and some human hair) and large stones.  On each side of this wall were eleven large columns that are believed to have held up the thatched roof.  This is the only Inca site where columns were used in the construction.  The large center wall included a large painting of Wiraqocha.  The temple was built because many of the people the Incas conquered had trouble believing in an invisible god like Wiraqocha.  Pachacutec, one of the most famous Inca kings, therefore decided to build this temple that included a visual of the god.

The temple:

The temple showing reconstructed column:

In addition to the temple, we were also able to view some of the buildings that housed the important Incas of the city.  The farmers and other lower-class workers lived outside of the city.  The houses of the important Incas resembled the temple of the town.  Raqchi was also the site where Incas came to "pay" their taxes with food, which were stored in large circular buildings for times of drought and famine.

Circular storage buildings:

Angie B. and Amy in one of the streets:

We stopped for 45 minutes for lunch at a nice restaurant with amazing views of the mountains and countryside.  The meal was buffet style and we all really enjoyed the food.

After an hour or so, we stopped again at "Abra la Raya", an artisan center with amazing views of the landscape.  This stop was short and we only had about 15 minutes to explore the goods the vendors were selling.

The welcome sign:

The alpaca yarn sold there:

The amazing view of the Andes Mountains:

Angie C., Beth, and Amy:

We then drove on to Pucara, known for its ceramics.  The Pucara civilization was a pre-Inca civilization that had advanced pottery-making skills.  We were able to view the kilns used both by the Pre-Incas and the Incas.  Originally, the Incas made ceramic llamas, which we were used to protect homes from harm.  When the Spanish conquered Peru, they replaced the idea with using bulls, which the townspeople still make today.  Also in Pucara, there is a small museum discussing the various historical cultures of the people who have lived in the area.  We were able to see three Inca mummies, which were placed in the fetal position because the Incas believed in the afterlife and just as we begin as fetuses, they believed we should return to the ground as fetuses.

Some of the bulls produced at Pucara:

A reproduction of an Inca-style kiln:

Reproduction of pre-Inca kiln:

Inca mummies:

On the drive from Pucara to our next stop, our guide told us about the economy and way of life in this part of the Andean mountain range.  Many years ago, the farmers leased the land from the wealthy land owners, but in the mid-twentieth century, the government returned much of the land to the farmers.  Unfortunately, most of the farmers don't have titles to prove that they own the land, which has caused many problems.  Our guide explained that most families in the countryside near Pucara have five or more kids, both because they lack access to birth control and because they need more kids in order to work the land. Because the kids are crucial to the success of the farms, the few schools that exist are only open for about six or seven months a year and attendance is sporadic.  There are only elementary schools.  In addition, many students have to walk many miles through the rough mountain terrain in bad weather in order to get to school.

From there, we headed to the city of Puno, passing through one of the larger cities in the Puno region.  When we arrived in Puno, our guide from the bus explained that most of the buildings are unfinished because residents aren't required to pay taxes on the extra square footage unless it is finished, so they often halt construction until they have more money.  Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru, and is particularly known for dance.  Each year during February, they celebrate the festival of the "Virgen de la Candelaria", a festival of dance.

After disembarking from the bus, we met our tour guide for the three days we are going to be in Puno and drove to our hotel.  Our guide, Percy, explained more about dance and explained what we are going to be doing in the next three days.  Tomorrow, we are visiting a couple of islands on Lake Titicaca, including the one on which our host family for tomorrow night lives.  It sounds like we are going to have a very packed full and fun three days in this area.

After unpacking and playing some cards, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant.  The food was delicious.

We have to get up pretty early tomorrow, so we're heading to bed early tonight.

The Day of Bread and Ruins

We woke up a bit earlier than normal on Sunday to Mery's special bread and omlet breakfast--eggs filled with hot dogs and scallions. By 8:30, a bus pulled up outside our house to pick us up! Our new guide, Olmer was very enthusiastic on our bus ride to the southern region of Cusco to see Pikillacta and Tipon.

On the way, we made a pit stop at Huancarpay, an area containing a small town, a valley, and a lake. In Pre-Incan times, the small lake used to stretch across the entire valley, but today it is condensed to a small laguna that is is now considered a conservation. After taking a few photos, we hopped back into the bus to travel to Pikillacta! At Pikillacta, we saw an abundance of Pre-Incan architecture, mostly consisting of sections of walls. We also saw parts of a cemetary and a large enterway. Olmer told us that this place was most likely created by the Huwari group before the Incas or the Huarpas before them--although no one knows for sure. Unfortunately, the locals of the area have destroyed many parts of Pikillacta and only 5 percent of the total settlement can be seen today. We also learned a bit about the environment in Pikillacta. For example, it contains 35 species of humming birds and contains Maguay plants which are used to make paper. Olmer also pointed out the mountainous area nearby this area from which plaster is extracted. He also mentioned that the main problem in these mountains is the lack of water. It is very likely that within ten years, no water will be left in the areas near Pikillacta. It was sad to see how destroyed the ruins were and further, to learn about all of the environmental issues in this area. 

The view at Huacaray:

The entryway at Pikillacta:

Pikillacta Ruins:

Cemetary at Pikillacta:

After Pikillacta, we boarded the bus to Tipon. On the way, we made a pit stop at a bakery to buy break specially made in Cusco called Chuta. The bread not only smelled amazing, but had an elegant appearance as well, with different shapes imprinted in the center of he large round pieces. We were also able to see the large oven in wich bread is baked almost every morning. Before departing, our group bought some bread to give to our host families, and we also bought a bag of smaller pieces of break called mollete to snack on in the bus.

Chuta Bread:

The Bread Oven:

Just a few more zig-zags up the mountain side and our bus arrived at Tipon. Tipon literally means spring, since it contains a natural spring that is harnessed by a series of acueducts. The acueduct technology was quite advanced and the ruins show signs that it was part of the Incan Empire, as part of the Incan Trail is connected to it. Since Tipon is hidden up the mountains and cannot be viewed from, there are theories that is was built as a palace for the Incan King  to hide from enemies. Before the Incas, this site was most likely used by the Killky society, and Olmer surmises that during the Conquest of Peru, the Spanish most likely never arrived here. We walked around Tipon for a while, admiring the terraces and acueducts before returning to the bus for lunch. Our guide and driver provided us with a fressh box of meat and cheese empanadas, a delicacy that we were finally able to try for the first time. We also ate dellicious mandarins, cookies, and peace juice.

A view of Tipon:

The waterfalld and  acueducts at Tipon:


After Tipon, we returned to the city of Cusco and headed to the San Pedro Market. Here, there are various clothing and souvenir shops, as well as a large area dedicated to produce, meats and other food. We were amazed to see three aisle of freshly made fruit joice, aisles with giant boar heads, and an aisle dedicated solely to chocolate (which tastes amazing, by the way). While our group roamed the market and spent time in a café, Dr. Shaw attended a Ballet, where she watched various interesting performances of different types of dance. 

San Pedro Market:

Photos from the Ballet:

Closer to dinner time, some of the group went to the Chocolate Museum near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, while others relaxed in a small plaza nearby. Finally, we all reunited to eat dinner at an elegante restaurant called Incanto. The food here was delicious, including the bread appetizer and everyone was very satisfied. To conclude the night, we returned to our homestay where we made thank you cards for Mary and the Vera Family, ate some cake, and retired to our rooms to repack our bags for the next morning for a new adventure. Puno!

Dinner at Incanto (a plate of Quinotto):