This is a page linking to all the blog entries from my trip to Peru in August 2010. There’s a quick link to each of the twelve entries; a potted first paragraph (or two) version of each entry with a “more” link to the rest of it.

Quick Links

  1. Peru Trip #1 – Arrival and Larco Museum
  2. Peru Trip #2 – The Lambayeque and the Moche Lords of Sipan
  3. Peru Trip #3 – Trujillo and the Cassinelli Museum
  4. Peru Trip #4 – El Brujo, Huaca de La Luna, Chan Chan
  5. Peru Trip #5 – Underwhelmed by the Nazca Lines
  6. Peru Trip #6 – Arrival at Lake Titicaca
  7. Peru Trip #7 – Uros Isles and Chucuito, Lake Titicaca
  8. Peru Trip #8 – The Inka Express from Puno to Cuzco, stopping at Pukara, La Raya, and Raqchi
  9. Peru Trip #9 – Saqsaywaman, Cuzco
  10. Peru Trip #10 – Cuzco to Ollantaytambo
  11. Peru Trip #11 – Machu Picchu
  12. Peru Trip #12 – Final Thoughts

Peru Trip #1 – Arrival and Larco Museum

Chimu gold funerary ornaments Impressions of Peru so far? So many! As the KLM flight came in to land at Lima International Airport, the first impression was of a brown, low-rise, half-built town, with a glittering glass crown in the centre. My week in that centre, at an international conference, served to underline this. The ‘middle classes’ of Lima, if I can use such a term, are the wealthy, with, it seems, far, far below them, the very poor, and little if anything in between. The gap is evident in the gated business sector I have spent the last week in, like a Baghdad Green Zone, characterised by the profusion of security guards, high steel fences, the railings, broken-glass-topped walls, spikes and grilled up doors and windows that are ubiquitous here.

Peru Trip #2 – The Lambayeque and the Moche Lords of Sipan

Map of Peru showing Moche civilisationWhat an epic day. Lying in bed late yesterday evening, reading myself to sleep, I noticed the bed suddenly wobbling strangely, I thought maybe it was a tremor – nothing as alarming as an earthquake – then maybe just a couple in the room next door having a rather good time. Then it was over before I could really work it out, and I forgot about it. Today, however, it was the small talk of the day amongst the Chiclayo guides and drivers who took me around to the tourist sites in my itinerary today. It was a mini-earthquake; the first in quite some time, especially noticeable for someone, like me, on the sixth floor of my hotel. The joys of being so close to a continental plate subduction zone!

Anyway – up early to get breakfast in before meeting my guide for the day at 8.45am, we headed straight off to the Tucume complex, a Lambayeque (also known as Sican) site to the north of Chiclayo. Following the Cupisnique culture 800-200BCE on the far north coast, the Piera-based Vicus culture 1000BCE-300CE and the Moche civilisation 1-800CE over the whole of northern Peru, the Lambayeque/Sican culture 750-1375CE, contemporary with the Chimu in the southern half of northern Peru, covered the northern half of what had been the Moche civilisation. Facial reconstruction from royal skulls, along with distinctive ceramic and architectural styles, set them apart from both their Moche forebears, and their Chimu 900-1470CE neighbours, whose culture represented more of a development from the earlier Moche. Both were later taken over by the pan-Andean Inca’s, shortly before the arrival of the Spanish. The only surviving written records of any pre-Columbian cultures are of course, like Roman accounts of the Celts, written by the Spanish conquerors, but include a monk’s retelling of the Lambayeque origin myth, which claims that their first God-King arrived from the sea, with a fleet. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition proved the practical possibility of the Lambayeque having originated from a Polynesian invasion. Contemporary with the third stage of the Lambayeque culture another group of Polynesians of course arrived in New Zealand, establishing the Maori, and populating the islands for the first time. Even if, after the manner of Francis Pryor’s anti-invasion historical stance, this Polynesian invasion of northern Peru was little more than a Norman-style invasion by a new ruling elite, it is still a compelling theory. Mochica, the language of the Moche, was spoken all over the north right up until the last Mochica speaker died 25 years ago, and there is no record of any specific Lambayeque language.

Peru Trip #3 – Trujillo and the Cassinelli Museum

Trujillo outskirtsCon-Air : Cameron Poe the honour-bound dominant dysfunctional male, somehow apposite here in Peru with its macho culture and all the crime and violence I have been warned about, where armed security men check bus passengers for weapons and video everyone’s face once all aboard, seated in our airline seats in this double-decker coach, watching the dubbed movie. I am grateful for the comfy seat on this 3hr drive, but listen to Anthony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, and Aqualung on shuffle on my iPhone – a much softer, more varied, more interesting selection of masculinities than those on Con-Air.

Seeing a bit more of northern Peru, from the bus, I take a few random photos to try to capture the state of (un)development here. One thing I will say, however, despite all the warnings, all the security, etc etc – everyone I have met here in northern Peru has been very friendly, very helpful, very warm. I know I’m in a bubble, chaperoned everywhere I go, but I haven’t sensed any threat at all.

Peru Trip #4 – El Brujo, Huaca de La Luna, Chan Chan

Huaca Prieta - 2500BCE Pyramid
Another long day with another punishing schedule, but SO worth it. Picked up from the hotel at 7am for a 90min journey to El Brujo, to visit the very celebrated Senora de Cao – the only Moche Queen discovered so far, clearly as powerful as the Lords of Sipan in her day (c250CE) with her own pyramid with all the usual Moche accompaniments. But El Brujo is more than just her pyramid – here, too, is Huaca Prieta, the as yet unexcavated 2500BCE pyramid of the pre-ceramic originators of the El Brujo complex, followed later by the Cupisnique, and later still by the Moche, and the Chimu, and even a Dominican Church built by the Spanish. To this day, the local ‘brujo’s, (shamen) still practice their folk magic at the Moche Huaca El Brujo (named after them) facing the Huaca de Cao, the only part of the site so far excavated, opened to the public with an impressive museum, in April 2010.

Peru Trip #5 – Underwhelmed by the Nazca Lines

One of the shapes of the Nazca linesWell here’s a turn-up for the books. For the first time in my life, I have suffered from air-sickness. I got up at 5.30am, grabbed some breakfast, got picked up at 6.15am and taken to the bus station for a 4hr 30m bus journey – again in one of the comfy airline style coaches – arriving in Ica at 11.30am, to find my Nazca trip delayed til 3pm. I could have got a later bus. Not particularly pleased, but acquiescent, I wandered about the gardens of the Las Dunas hotel, a sort of oasis in the desert here, where a big conference was taking place, and then ate a very light salad lunch in the restaurant. Finally taken to the airfield, I and four other passengers and the two pilots took off in the little Cessna at 3pm, for a 30min journey across the desert to the plain where the lines are carved into the ground, 30mins flying over them, and then the 30min return journey. The updrafts from the mountainous surroundings made conditions quite choppy on the journey out there, but nothing worse than my similar Cessna journey from Milford Sound to Queenstown in 2007. But once we got to the lines, the pilot very enthusiastically ensured both sides of the plane got a very good view of each and every one of the twelve big patterns amongst the lines, by turning steeply and sharply in both directions. By the fourth shape I was feeling very hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable, and spent the next 10mins vomiting my lunch into the plastic bag provided. Only by the last little group of shapes had I recovered sufficiently to doggedly point my camera at the ground. I closed my eyes and left my body for the trip home, feeling, as I told anyone who asked, “awful.”

So now I know: I can – and will – get air-sick, in a little Cessna doing wild manouvres. And now I am stuck in a small villa hotel in the middle of nowhere for the evening, where after a long nap recovering I am at last going to have a small dinner, and then a long sleep and lie-in, to get the bus back to Lima tomorrow lunchtime. All in all, I have to say, considering the huge discomfort incurred on the overflight itself, and the 9hrs of bus travel to get here and back, I am distinctly underwhelmed by my trip to the Nazca lines. What photos I did manage to take are not as good as the ones you see in books. One wouldn’t expect them to be. So why be here to take them for oneself? For the experience? You can keep it.

Peru Trip #6 – Arrival at Lake Titicaca

Pool at Villa Jazmin at Nazca with Dune in background
Both an eventful and uneventful few days. After a morning reading Mercia Eliade’s classic text, The Sacred and the Profane, soaking up the sunshine at Nazca, I took the long bus journey back to Lima – the bus arrived late and made a number of unscheduled stops (including for the driver to buy some oranges from a roadside vendor) arriving in Lima 80minutes late. My restaurant of choice was fully booked by then, and arriving by taxi at the alternative I found it too was fully booked, despite the Hotel receptionist shrugging that I would not need to book there. They took pity on me though and put me on a bar stool at the bar, where I enjoyed a fabulous meal, generosity from the talkative barman, and a thoroughly good Saturday night out. I can thoroughly recommend the Brujas de Cachiche to any visitor to Lima.

Peru Trip #7 – Uros Isles and Chucuito, Lake Titicaca

Reeds at Lake Titicaca, with the mountains in the background Two fascinating trips today: to the floating Uros islands, and to the Aymara/Inca fertility temple at Chucuito. The Uros islanders, although their own language is lost now, and they have absorbed some of the physical characteristics of the Aymara as well as their language, are nonetheless still distinguishable by their short, squat bodies, their barrel chests with powerful hearts and lungs, and their ‘black blood’ – in truth just a little darker, but proven to have a higher haemoglobin content than sea-level dwelling people like me – and probably you. These people have been here a very long time, and have completely adapted to this environment. The Pukara people (more on them tomorrow) were the first recognisable ‘culture’ or ‘civilisation’ here, between 200 and 600CE, and they were gradually displaced by the Tihuanaco, who were then forcibly conquered by the Aymara, who were in their turn conquered by the Inca, and lastly, in the 1530s, by the Spanish. The Uros Islanders, therefore, have been there a long time.

Peru Trip #8 – The Inka Express from Puno to Cuzco, stopping at Pukara, La Raya, and Raqchi

Statue of a Pukara Priest c400BCE - click to see more on FlickrThe Inka Express is an extremely long bus ride – usually a 6hr drive – which takes over 9hrs, due to all the stops along the way. But time goes quickly, and it doesn’t seem to drag, as a journey, at all. Leaving Puno, barely having slept, with an altitude headache only partly dulled by 10minutes attached to the oxygen bottle before getting up, jacked up on matte de coca (coca-leaf tea) I half expected the journey to be awful. But I managed to dose during the first part of the journey, awaking to be delighted by the Pukara museum, sporting a whole collection of statuary from the ‘mother culture’ of southern Peru, who lived here around 400BCE. The catfish and the frog turned out to be particularly important animals for these people, but the puma and the snake made early appearances – they both figure heavily in later cultures – and the quality of the carving is really quite special.

Peru Trip #9 – Saqsaywaman, Cuzco

Me and one of the megaliths at Saqsaywaman, Cuzco - click to see more on Flickr
Well, the Incas were truly extraordinary masons. For all that this was – in European chronology – a medieval culture, in the 15th and 16th centuries CE, it was a megalithic culture. Not the megalithic culture of thousands of years BCE, on the Atlantic fringe of Europe and the Mediterranean, but a megalithic culture that had mastered building with stone in an extraordinary way. There are mortice and tendon joints, and metallic rings sunk into carved grooves between stones, inside these huge walls, and carefully graded horizontals that incorporate subtle ratchets at strategic points. The basic shape is trapezoidal: walls and doorways and niches that stand with legs apart. All this makes Inca buildings effectively earthquake proof – both supremely stable and protected from horizontal movement.

Peru Trip #10 – Cuzco to Ollantaytambo

Condors at the Animal Rescue Centre, near Cuzco - click to see more on Flickr
So last night I decided to throw caution to the wind and try out one of the posh restaurants of Cusco – with my credit card. Bistrot was recommended by my Cusco tour guide so I got the hotel to book me a table, and went up for dinner there at 8pm. The food was excellent – clearly a properly trained, imaginative chef. The service was worse than amateur – embarrassing. Once I had got past the language difficulty of wanting a decent bottle from the reasonably good list, rather than just a glass of the local Peruvian Tacama white wine – not bad, but not appropriate for a posh dinner – I had to offer to take over opening the expensive bottle of wine, wincing as the waitress struggled with it, with all the promise of bits of cork ending up in the wine. A nice enough girl, friendly, willing, but with barely any English and barely any training as a waitress. My Jumbo River Prawns were cooked to perfection in a delicious sauce, but again I had quite a struggle (and an empty side plate delivered) before managing to get a small bowl of warm water to wash my fingers. Hopefully they’ll serve one with the prawns to future guests. I realised this was quite a new venture, only open a short time, with much to learn. The best thing about the dining experience, however, was the other two diners in the restaurant, a couple from London in their ‘gap year’ between work and retirement, touring the world. Had a really nice chat with them. Bolivia, they say, is even cheaper than Peru, Argentina about the same, but Brazil as expensive as Europe. Like me, they have found everyone they’ve met to be very friendly, and felt no threat at all, despite all the warnings. We conclude that it must be backpacking poor student travellers in cheap hostels that tend to experience the underside we have been warned of, and that we are cushioned by the reach of our wallets. Having to buy a bottle to get a nice wine with my delicious River and ShellFish ‘Parihuela,’ which came with the lovely Peruvian garlic rice I already enjoyed in the north, I of course was pretty happy by the end of the meal, chatting with the other diners. It was a shame that the service was so poor, and that, in the end, despite the signs, they seemed incapable of making their EFTPOS handheld work, either with MasterCard or VISA, and I had to part with half of my remaining cash for this lovely dinner – money well spent, but which I had wanted to put on the credit card to pay later, not pay for out of the rest of my holiday cash. I made no bones about ensuring they knew my displeasure. My fellow guests were equally put out by this, though perhaps less surprised than I that the signs turned out to be misleading, at best. I still made sure they complimented the chef though !

Peru Trip #11 – Machu Picchu

Classic view of Machu Picchu - click to see more on FlickrMachu Picchu. Superlatives fail me. Just the train journey (much better than the famous Inca Trail, which is a four-to-six-day walk) was fairly spectacular, bringing home how deep and winding the gorge is here. It is made by a river that almost completely encloses the mountain upon the top of which the sanctuary of Macchu Picchu was built. The town was constructed from the huge rocks that were already there, some of which are still scattered about the summit in the few areas that have not been built on. Here and there the huge stones have been left in place, and the houses and temples built around them, using them as platforms.
The Cave temple at Machu Picchu
The place was started probably around 1400CE, and was still ongoing and unfinished in parts, when it was mysteriously abandoned around 1500CE, abandoned to such an extent that later Incas – including the one overthrown by the Spanish, did not even know of its existence. Which of course means that neither did the Spanish. Of all the Inca ruins, this one is untouched, untainted by the Spanish. This site was not destroyed by them, there is no church built on top of it. It was lost to the jungle before Pisaro even set foot in South America, in 1533. The Quechua people, and their king, the Inca, the Son of the Sun, had abandoned this place long before.

Peru Trip #12 – Final Thoughts

Lords of Sipan museum
My Peruvian adventure has been both fascinating and – strangely enough – restful. A change is as good as a rest, so they say, and I have to say that have really done well in escorting me around the country – meeting me everywhere and ensuring I get the buses, trains and planes in my itinerary, picking me up from hotels to take me to train stations, bus stations, and airports, and collecting me from them to transfer me to my new hotel, each time. It has meant the entire holiday has been stress free, as far as making arrangements is concerned – all of that is taken care of. The fact that the vast majority of the time I have had ‘private service’ – a driver, a guide, and me, either in a small minivan or private car – has meant that I’ve had a more personal experience than the description ‘guided tour’ usually implies, able to have a one-to-one with each guide, getting the most out of each place I have visited. Worth every penny – and the exchange rate has really been in my favour: Peru is cheap. And, of course, as my conversations with fellow travellers in the Cusco restaurant and at Intipunku proved, this is the surest way to insulate oneself from the potential downsides of being in a very poor country.

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