Sunday, January 6, 2008

Peru Travelogue 2007

We got in just after the labor riots, and got out just before the monster earthquake and the meteorite strike. For once in my life, good timing.

Lima, truth be told, is not a prime tourist attraction. It has an attractive historic square, with perhaps the world’s only cathedral that is located on an Avenida de los Judeos. Lima's "colonial balconies" have been restored and are a point of architectural pride.

What made it great was being tied into the local network, courtesy of my students at the CENTRUM business school of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Peru. César Ferrada took me to the famous restaurant José Antonio, located in a house that used to be Ferrada's father-in-law's home. Another student's mother is head docent at the Museo Arquiológico y Antropológico. She gave us an expert guided tour. Here's a photo of Hyon at the museum gift shop; note the photographer's reflection at right. Three MBA graduates, Lillian, Claudia, and Marina, hosted us at Dama Juana, a dinner show at the Larcomar mall in the Miraflores district. And of course the aikikai folks in Lima were most hospitable. Hotel Picoaga in Cuzco is owned by the cousin of one of still another of my students in Lima; this netted us a fruit bowl, a bottle of wine, and a nice room in the historic part of the hotel rather than the cramped modern section.

It has never rained in Lima in recorded history. Frequently there’s a heavy mist, but that's it. Plants have learned to eat the mist. The air in Lima is heavily polluted.

In Cuzco, there wasn't much air at all; it's over 11,000 feet high, more than twice as high as Denver. Above Cuzco, at Inca ruins called Saqsaywaman (pronounced 'sexy woman'), we saw people playing volleyball and soccer at an elevation of more than 12,000 feet! I was out of breath after just bending over to tie my shoe.

The Spanish were so eager to eradicate Inca culture that they made Cuzco more Spanish than Spain. The Inca's stonework was better, though, than anything the Spanish could muster. You can see the perfect joining. You can't see the 3-D interlocks and metal cores that made the walls impervious to seismic shock. An engineering marvel. As for Inca science, the Milky Way is so bright at 11,500' altitude, the Inca astronomy/astrology was based not on the patterns of stars but on the light and dark patches in the Milky Way.

We toured the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This is the valley of the Urubamba River, which forms part of the headwaters of the Amazon. Terraced fields as we go over the mountains (sometimes up to 13,500') from Cuzco to the Sacred Valley. Though it's southern winter (and the dry season in Peru), the weather is pleasant because we're so close to the equator. There was definitely snow at higher altitudes - and there were definitely higher altitudes – but glad to say we didn't go up there. There are poppy fields in the valley. We're already drinking too much coca tea, to battle the altitude sickness. Now poppies? Ooh, this is dangerous...

I ate alpaca steak (tasty), but did not try the other local delicacy, guinea pig. In the Cuzco cathedral, there is an old painting that pandered to the locals by depicting the main dish at the Last Supper as... guinea pig, the food of the Inca kings. The locals didn't know rodents aren't kosher and that the painting thus could not be accurate.

In the stores, alpaca clothing is scattered on tables and shelves, but vicuña scarfs and sweaters are in locked cabinets. Much more expensive, and you can see the difference in the quality of the wool – vicuña wool seems to glow with its own light.

Amazing Inca constructions at Ollantaytambo. If I wanted to get away from it all and write a book, I'd go to Ollantaytambo. Cute modern (well, post-Inca) village with B&Bs. Internet access might be a problem though, and I can't write without my Internet...

Now to the most famous sight in Peru. We found it well worth the trip, but unless you're a hard-core climber, you'll see your fill in a half day. Machu Picchu was abandoned before the Spanish arrival, about 500 years ago, and we don't know why. These are not ruins; they are complete buildings, with only the thatch roofs missing. When M-P was "rediscovered" in 1911 (actually, there were a few families living here then), the terraces were overgrown. Now a small herd of llamas - "Inca lawn mowers" - keeps things neat.

No one could explain why it is the women in this country who wear top hats. Men wear wool caps with ear flaps.

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