Saturday, 23 March 2013

Peru, Buy or Die; The Smiling Assassins of Chinchero

Craig Writes:
20/03/13, We spent a night at the The Dorado Plaza in Iquitos before an early morning flight back to Lima Airport, a quick transfer and onto Cuzco. Wow, what an amazing contrast to Lima. While our previous views were mountains of grey dirt towering over plains of grey dirt, the feast for our eyeballs was now towering snow capped mountains, lush green valleys and fields, small scattered lakes dotting the landscape and terraced hillsides stretching way up the mountain sides. 

The air may be thin up here but it's sweet and pure
We were met at the airport by Eduardo, a trainee guide who has forsaken a career as a lawyer to become a travel guide. Nice to see someone following their passion and not just the big bucks. Cuzco is high at around 3500 metres. Our plan was to go down to Urumbamba at 2800 metres to try and alleviate the dreaded altitude sickness that hits most tourists. Head aches, dizziness, vomiting and shortness of breath can hit you a little or a lot. We got a little of each, except the throwing up, but a couple of cups of Coca tea, made from the leaf of the local Coca tree, a couple of Coca lollies and some Nurafen and all was well.
On our way down the mountain, Eduardo made the customary drop into a weaving workshop in a small mountain side village called Chinchero that produced and sold a range of quality Alpaca products. Hats, gloves, scarfs, jackets, shawls, bags and much more. 
Just a fraction of the stunning things you can do with Alpaca
We're bringin' sexy back, oh yeah

They clean the wool, spin the wool then dye and weave it the way their ancestors have been doing for centuries. At the final stage the wool is threaded through the shuttle with a human forearm bone.  Apparently it belonged to the last tourist that came through and didn't buy anything from the shop. Our young stocky host fixed me with her deep black eyes and smiled when she said it and all the old girls around her gave a cackle.  We bought a heap of stuff anyway, just in case. 

Washing the freshly scalped "wool"
Beware the innocent looking nanna ninjas 
The finely honed bone of a tight tourist? We weren't taking chances.

On the drive to the hotel we passed cows grazing on the road verge, fields of corn, barley, oats and terraces full of potatoes stretching hundreds of metres up steep mountain sides. There are over 70 different varieties of spuds in this region and they cook them 70 different ways. An old man with a stock whip in one hand and a long switch in the other casually pushes a handful of scraggly old mules and a couple of large black bulls along the roadside. The housing is rustic and the roads a bit shambolic but the air is clear and there is a nice casual energy to the place. Things are a little different once you get into the township.
The prettiest thing about Yanahuara are the green slopes of the giant mountains surrounding it. Apart from that, The town is dusty and a little broken down.  The Casa Andina is an oasis of lushness amongst it all. Very modern restaurant, good well equipped gym and beautiful grounds. Our rooms were waayy up the back but no complaints. We had the Mountainous Andes surrounding us on three sides.

One of the views from our front balcony
While the hotel is great you are pretty isolated. Outside the gates of the hotel the roads  are dusty, bumpy and unfinished. It all looks a little dodgy. When the guide says, " it's probably best you stay in the hotel", it's probably best you do. If we were staying here again we would definitely investigate accommodation at Ollantaytambo. It's the little town those doing the four day Inca Trail Walk leave from and only 25 minutes from Yanahuarra. While bustling it's not been over cooked with tourists and oozes charm and affability. There's lots of restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

21/03/13. We weren't getting picked up 'til nine so we all took the chance of sleeping in before we met our new guide, Abdon. An older softly spoken fella with a vast amount of local knowledge and one of the few in Peru who still spoke Saskatchewan, the original Inca language. Our first stop this morning was the Ancient Inca Fortress of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is approximately 100km long and runs from Ollantaytambo to Pisac. We're going to both today.

Girls from the local netball team in Pisac
Ollantaytambo wasn't originally a fortress. It was one of many scattered villages of the Inca Empire where village life was more about growing crops, studying the night skies and holding religious ceremonies. The village was at the base of a set of massive terraces where crops were grown. On top of the terraces were the main priests quarters and the centre for the religious ceremonies. They worshiped the mountains, the rivers, the water, the trees, the sky and various other deities. Although they worked in gold, silver and bronze these were just as adornments and as religious symbols. They had no currency and held sea shells in higher regard as a trading or bartering item than anything gold or silver. They also had no written language which is why they are such a mystery today. The complex itself is an amazing feat of engineering. The massive Porphyry Pink Granite blocks were bought from a granite outcrop on a mountain some seven kms away. Some of these blocks weighed several tonnes. The Wall of the Six Monoliths and the massive Platform of the Carved Seat were made from single blocks of this beautiful stone. 
Our first taste of the world of the Inca
What could they have achieved if they'd just been left alone?

We climbed it once and were knackered, they did it every day, often.
It is estimated it took 20,000 to 25,000 people up to 35 years to build. But these were not slaves or enemies in bondage. They had a system called minas where people from surrounding villages would come and work for 6 - 8 months, leave and be replaced by others until the job was done. The village when complete only had about 500 residents.  The outstanding feat of engineering here was not just how they managed to transport such massive blocks down one side of a mountain and up another, but the construction itself. The joins between these huge blocks were perfect, you couldn't get a knife between them. The granite edges were rubbed smooth using a stick, sand and water. It is inconceivable to think how long it would have taken someone to sand the rough edge of a block of granite  to a smooth flowing curve...and hundreds and hundreds of metres of them. 

The village was only transformed into a fortress when the Spanish arrived. Originally when the Spanish came to town the Incas greeted them with open arms because they had been further north wiping out other indigenous tribes who happened to be Inca enemies. It didn't take long though before they realized that the Spaniards lust for gold and conquest included them. Three years later they were in a war which was to last 38 years. A war they were to lose and that would eventually end Inca civilization and culture.

The Incas were a small ambitious nation who's roots stem from the tribes of Lake Titicaca in the 12th century. They came into their own in the 15th century when they started to win some key battles against larger neighbours. At the end of the 15th century the Inca civilization had conquered all before them becoming a great nation and at it's height had a population of between 12 and 15 million people. Many being members of conquered nations who rather than being slaughtered in a wholesale manner were assimilated into Inca culture. By the time the Spanish had finished their conquest, raping, pillaging and murdering their way across the country, 90% of the population had been wiped out. Many falling victim to introduced diseases. They must feel very proud. The Spanish Conquistador system to introducing Catholicism was to enter a country, steal the resources from that country, murder or enslave it's occupants, outlaw and demonize their religions and destroy their temples and houses of worship. When that's all done and their depleted and on their knees then start to evangelize them in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy F@#king Spirit. I wonder if at anytime during their Holy Crusade to enlighten the "savage" they stopped to pray for the souls of all the men, women and child slaughtered in the name of their rotten as a dead fish religion? It makes me mad just thinking about it but they weren't the first or sure as hell aren't the last to do despicable things to others in the name of religion. Short sermon over!

It was still an impressive place to be. I can't wait for Machu Picchu. From here we stopped for lunch at a very nice little place with Alpacas and Llamas, to see, not eat, and they had not one, not two, but five enormous beautiful Macaws. 
The most beautiful birds in the world
Ten bucks if you can spot Callum, twenty if you find Charlie too.
The food was great and I had to buy a couple of CD'S from the guy blowing his pan flutes in the lobby. Nothing says Peru like a  few pan flute tunes . From there we were in the car for an hour or so  to the other end of the Sacred Valley to Pisac to visit the markets there. Nice enough but just another set of markets. Highlight for me was I found a natural health foods store down a little alley that sold genuine Peruvian Macca powder, Camu Camu and Chia seeds. Three of mother natures greatest gifts and I've missed them since leaving on our journey.

Today we are off to the old Inca sites of Moray and Maras. We are back up to 3500metres and you notice the difference. Not only in the shortness of breath but also that your now looking across the fields to the clouds and in some cases down a valley into the clouds. Moray is another example of what these amazing people could have achieved in the long run if they had been left to develop the obvious talents they had and not been forced to spend their efforts and lives trying to protect what was theirs. In a large depression in the ground, which they excavated further, they build a multi-terraced experimental agricultural station. The temperature difference between the top and the bottom was 15 degrees C allowing them to experiment with crops that would not normal grow in the colder temperatures of the Highlands. Here they would propagate new seed varieties that if successful could be taken out to the fields and planted. It had it's own irrigation and drainage systems and showed remarkable foresight.

Yes, that's us in the middle
I hate to rant but really, how clever is this
These steps maybe not be up to code but they'll be here in another 1000 years
After Moray we headed back down the dusty narrow track to Maras. A dodgy bit of road if ever I've been on one, and with a several hundred foot drop of the edge if you're not too careful. Abdon said he has had clients in the past who have started down the road then told him to turn back rather than risk the full journey. We thought we would take our chances so on we ventured.
This place is incredible. Approximately 3000 small salt ponds, all about four metres square and no more than 30 centimetres deep. Since pre Inca times salt has been harvested from these salt ponds. They support the local village where every family is allocated it's own salt ponds to work and harvest. We were allowed to walk a small trail to the source of the warm salty water that has for many many centuries supplied countless tonnes of pure salt to those sturdy enough to harvest it. It is the most unassuming little hole in the ground with a slow regular flow forming a stream no wider than two hand spans and one span deep.

From this tiny hole...
And this tiny stream...
That's it, and the flow has not changed in centuries.  While many have tried to find it, and every one has a theory, the source is still unknown.

Comes this..
And this...and for over 1000 years.


Neil van Herk said...

The salt beds are amazing, i might use that in my class tomorrow :)

Anonymous said...

Django says: Hi Charlie, my best, best friend. I see you've been to Peru recently. How are you doing?

CVW said...

Well we have been to the amazon and we saw lots of really cool things like monkeys and tarantulas and lots of other awesome things. We also went to Machu Picchu and in the hotel there was a big giant bumpy river rushing past and you can see it through the window even at night. When your trying to get to sleep you can still hear it but it kinda fades into the background of your mind. I hope that is enough to give you an idea of what it was like. from your friend Charlie :)