More Peru! But first, a few lone pics.
Llamas don’t poop all over the everything. They pick an area and go there every time. It’s kind of awesome, they toilet-train themselves. In fact, if you put them in a new enclosure and you want them to go in the far right corner, you put llama excrement and tinkle in that corner and they will think a previous llama deemed that the lavatory and make that their permanent spot.
In this photo there is pumpkin ice cream and in the background there is fava beans. Most meals had a small plate of beans as an appetizer. Lotta beans in Peru. Beans and potatoes and corn, oh my.
Okay, silver! It’s a chemical element we wear as shiny awesome decoration. And it is common in Peru. The pre-Inca and the Inca loved anything reflective because the sun god was extremely important to them, so gold and silver were big. Interestingly, when the Spaniards got there they had mirrors and the Incas traded gold and silver for the mirrors because they were far more reflective. We might think the Incas were duped but to them it was an excellent trade. Mirrors were more valuable to the Inca and the Spaniards coveted gold, so everyone won in that exchange. We went to a silver processing and jewelry making place so we could see the whole process.
The first thing I noticed when I got there was the insane-looking flower in the courtyard. I know it looks fake. It is not, I checked.
First Henry showed us what the rock that contains the silver looks like. Hint: pretty much like a rock.
What they used to do before they had fancy machinery was grind the rock into a powder in a bowl.
And then they would put it in a jar with water and shake the jar. The silver was heavier than the matrix so the silver would sink to the bottom and the other stuff would stay at the top. That’s how they would separate the silver from the unwanted dirt.
To make wire a slender bar of silver is put through a press with progressively smaller openings.
At this studio they do a great deal of inlay as well, so we were shown the different kinds of stone found in Peru. I also learned that the mother of pearl pieces you see don’t use the inside portion. They grind away the brown exterior and use that side. I don’t know why, maybe it’s more even-toned but I was fascinating to see.
We had the opportunity to meet a priest and watch him do a typical ceremony. Not a Christian priest. I imagine in Africa he would be called a witch doctor. Henry said that the old religion worked in harmony with the new religion and most people incorporated both in their lives. I had no idea what to expect but it was great to see a ceremony that had been performed for thousands of years.
First, the priest laid out a piece of fabric with a piece of wax paper like you would find at the butcher on top of it. He then sprinkled about twenty different things on this wax paper representing different aspects of life. I loved how he used modern items along with ancient ones. For example, he put in alphabet soup noodles to represent all our names and sequins to be the moon and the stars. Candy for sweetness, llama fat for energy and connection to the gods, seashells for the ocean. There were garbanzo beans and red kidney beans in there as well.
We were each given three coca leaves and told to wish on them and they were also added. The priest then wrapped up the whole package with string and each one of us stood in front of him while he briskly rubbed the package on us and chanted incantations. We then were told to puff three quick breaths on the package to lock in our identity and our wishes. When everyone had done it the priest took the package outside, removed his piece of cloth and burned the package, sending our messages up to the gods in the sky. It felt quite cathartic.
The llama hanging out nearby was underwhelmed.
Post-priest-experience we were driving and Henry told us we were going to pull over. There were groups of people hanging out in what appeared to be abandoned fields. Henry told us something most interesting – at the end of the planting season, the farmers till the soil and big clumps of natural brick are revealed. The city-dwellers come out and use this chunks to build ovens that they have cookouts in. The farmers encourage the people to do that, to hang out in their fields all day because they don’t hurt anything and often they leave ash from their bbqs which acts as a fertilizer. I couldn’t believe it, this mutual respect. I don’t see this flying in the U.S. There would be all kinds of trespassing drama. It was great to see all these families hanging out, playing soccer and talking. I know it’s hokey-sounding, but it seems like a simpler way of life in Peru.
On our last day in Peru we got to finally explore the cathedrals and churches of Cusco. I love me some CHARCH. And there were so many churches. Quick recap on the town square. On left: Cathedral. On right: another church. Little building on the far right: older church. Down the street: three more churches. I was thrilled.
I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in any of the places of worship and I decided to be tactful and respect their laws so no inside pics. But I can describe them. They is the main altar in the front, but along both sides there are private chapels devoted to one saint or another. They are, to be honest, garish. So much shiny gold and silver. Lots and lots of statues. Complex woven fabrics. Everything clashes. Some people might be overwhelmed but I liked it. The churches wanted all different looks so they went for it. Good for them.
Outside the cathedral were a group of boys performing a dance that represented their heritage as hunters. One kid’s dog didn’t want to leave so he stood by his little man throughout the performance.
Henry wanted us to visit a church with a cool history, the Church of St. Domingo right next to where he grew up. The Spaniards, when they arrived, asked where all the holy sites of the Incas were and promptly build Catholic buildings on top of them. It’s ruthless but an excellent way to eliminate any other religions from being practiced. You can see the ruins at the base in this exterior shot.
Until the 1950s if you went inside there was no inkling of what had been there. Everything was coated in plaster and painted with Baroque murals. But sometime in the 1950s there was an earthquake and much of the plaster cracked off. Lo and behold, a whole Inca structure was revealed.
(BTW, I wasn’t breaking any rules and being disrespectful by taking photos. This is all outside in the courtyard.)
It turns out this was a massive complex where the stars were studied. The archaeologists found stones with strange carvings, tubes and divots, and then they found one intact window. They deduced that at certain times of the year certain stars could be seen through the holes and lined up with the divots and that was how the Incas knew when the different seasons started and ended. Very cool. Here are the stones neatly lined up in a row.
Remember they didn’t have any metal tools, only other pieces of granite and hematite to rub against the stone and wear it down. It’s really impressive what they accomplished.
Here is the semi-intact window.
And here is the courtyard that surrounds all of this, clearly built by the Spanish.
At the same time as the earthquake hit, the massive backyard behind the church was revealed in full as well. There are all kinds of star-mapping paths on it as well. I got a few decent photos even though the sun was setting and it was getting dark.
Three things from Cusco before we head out to the Galapagos: I liked how the streetlights had little ornamental Inca designs on them.
And instead of pay phones, you look for women wearing green vests. They have cell phones and you can make calls on them and pay by the minute.
Here’s a great shot of Cusco from the place where I ate the pumpkin ice cream.
The next day we left for Equador to begin the next chapter of this neato journey. The part I was most excited about was coming up – the Galapagos. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about nature and beasties, so I was super-psyched.