South American 2015, Part 1.

I made it through 4,000 photos. They are now sorted and ‘shopped and heeeeeeere we go!

Day 1: We went to a museum on the pre-Christian, pre-Spanish societies of Peru. I, sadly, knew pretty much nothing about any of the societies but the benefit of being woefully ignunt was I learned so much! Knowledge raining down like… rain! (I am not a poet.) Here’s a whole pile of cool things I learned:

The Inca and similar cultures did not have a written language (more on that later). Therefore there’s a lot of conjecture about what items symbolize. The guide said, “Well, we THINK they MAY have used this…” over and over because no one really knows. Luckily a great deal of pottery survived and because of that we have a clue on what they ate and what was important to them. For example, you will see in this picture that they grew corn and fished for crab.


And here are different squashes they ate. Off to the side is a guinea pig, they also ate those. Helpful clues, thank you Incas.


They had royalty and the way they distinguished the royalty was by skull elongation. Like foot-binding or neck-stretching but with a head. Babies’ heads are squishy. If you wrap wooden paddles around them, the head will adjust to that shape. At about six months it is done. You will be pointy-headed for the rest of your life.


And they performed brain surgery. Where people survived. See the second skull? That’s a plate of gold and the skull has healed around the plate. Good job, pre-Colombian people.

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Other things in the museum that tickled my fancy:

It’s very dry in the Andes so mummies can form. The people would place the deceased in the fetal position, wrap them in loads of fabric with snacks and treats for the afterlife and put them in a cave. I called them mumlettes. Like omelettes. Because they look like eggs when they’re entombed.


One of the sacred creatures is a the puma. The are three levels to the Inca world – The sky world, what we might call “heaven,” land of the condor, the earth world, the one we inhabit right now, home of the puma, and the underworld, where the snake lives. These three levels are used over and over again in the art and architecture as well as representations of those animals. Often it is dignified and majestic. Occasionally it is not. Like with this puma.


And what is this? A chihuahua? I’m thinking chihuahua.


This piece of pottery reminded me of Gru from Despicable Me in a vintage television set. Which seems like an odd thing for the pre-Incas to make but okay. I’m in no position to judge anyone’s artistic choices.


Finally, one of the coolest items in the museum was something that looked fairly innocuous, but is actually incredibly important. This splayed-out belt with strings hanging from it is thought to be a language. The placement of the knots, how many times they wind around and the direction that they are facing are all possibly different letters or nouns or verbs. No one knows. There was one man left who understood the language and the Spanish killed him so the non-Spanish heritage would die out, which it did. 🙁


After the museum we headed into the city of Lima. The Spanish influence in the main area, it is intense.

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Yeah. If ever there should be a hashtag “EuropeanInfluence”, it would be here. I got a cute picture of two young people in love in front of one of the buildings. We waved at each other a bunch. They were nice.


A distinctly Spanish architectural detail is an ornate wooden balcony. Because it’s overcast so much but it never rains the original wooden balconies are well-preserved.

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It really doesn’t rain there. I couldn’t believe it, but then our guide Sandra pointed out that there were no gutters or drains on the street and most of the roofs were flat. Then I looked it up online and sure enough they get about an inch a year maybe.

Some of the beautiful government buildings that are no longer suited for their original task have been re-purposed in wonderful ways. The library used to be a train station.


And the telegraph office is now a school of Peruvian Gastronomy. Peruvian cuisine has been voted one of the best in the world (They have the potatoes, people! All the potatoes!) and sometimes tourists come only to eat the food and learn how to prepare it.


My first meal there, oh my gosh. I had warm fried mashed potato balls topped with fresh avocado and shrimp in a sort of picante mayonnaise with fresh greens. Just about every meal was that good. I found myself getting really excited about quinoa soup. And corn. I got real excited about corn. My joy for potatoes has always been high, so that just maintained.

At my first meal I also sampled my very first cup of coca tea. Are you familiar with cocaine? This is the leaf that gives cocaine it’s “zip.” I’m not addicted to nose candy, don’t worry. Coca leaves contain 1.02% of the active ingredient. That means about 99% is just leaf. And then you dilute it in water which weakens the punch even more. No one is getting hooked on that. It tastes like a chamomile tea with a hint of spinach. Not unpleasant. Kind of plant-y. And you do feel slightly more awake after drinking it, so it’s not recommended at bedtime.


After lunch I got to see my first church in South America. If you know anything about me, you know I love me some CHARCH! So I was delighted. It was banana-colored and it had vultures nesting in it.

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I was not allowed to take pictures inside the church because it is a functioning monastery but that didn’t stop other people so I will use their pictures. I found all of these on the internet, I did not take any of these. The interior is clearly Moorish style with geometric patterns throughout. Lovely but not mind-altering (like the church I visited in Quito, get ready for that craziness later). In the basement was crypts and I was delighted by them. There are about 25,000 people’s remains either in boxes or laid out in patterns in a well.

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Remember, this was all on Day One. No one knew me and the weirdness that I bring so they all saw me getting excited about piles of dead people and church vultures and potatoes. They were all very nice normal American folk. Several of them looked concerned, both for me and for themselves. We were all friends by the end though. It just took a little time for them to see the joy in dead people/vultures/potatoes.

Next blog entry: Cusco and the countryside.

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