Among the Ruins of Christianity

A Room in the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima, Peru

I started my travels in 1975 with an interest in ancient civilizations. Then, I found myself also visiting the ruins of a much more recent civilization—our own. It reached its apogee in Peru. I was definitely interested in the Inca, but I found the remnants of Christianity in Peru to be even more interesting. Lima in particular was a treasure house of ecclesiastical art, not only in the cathedral and the main churches, but also in the archbishop’s palace, which is just as interesting.

For some reason, I was particularly interested in the depiction of angels in the New World. These were not the hermaphroditic or epicene angels of the mother country, but images of masculine strength that obviously owed something to the images of supernatural beings among the Incas.

Image of Angel in Lima’s Cathedral

The angel in the above picture appears to be driving a spear into some unformed material, like clay. There is a look of determination on the angel’s face as well as a feeling of strength. Most of the statuary and art in the churches were actually done by Peruvians, and not transshipped from Europe.

Statue of Angel in the Museo de Las Conceptas in Cuenca, Ecuador

I saw the above statue in the Museo de Las Conceptas in a former convent in Cuenca. He is another one of those militant angels of South America, and one who is in the middle of overcoming a demon. Cuenca has two religious museums. One is the former cathedral on the main square, and the other is in the former convent.

If you find yourself visiting Latin America, you will find some interesting bits of our own history as it has been adapted and modified by the converted natives. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is among the highland Mayans of Chiapas. I don’t have any pictures for you, because I was warned against even taking my camera to Chamula. Some European tourists were killed by the Chamulas by taking photos in the church. My brother and I did see the church. There were statues of Christ, the Virgin, and various saints, but they were covered with stalks of corn. In place of pews, there was a large open space, where the Chamulas lie face down on the floor with arms outstretched, surrounded by lit candles.

As you can see, going to church is a part of my visits to Latin America.

 

Flying in the Andes

Actually, It’s Anything But Tame

I have flown over the Andes on several airlines: LAN, Avianca, Star Peru, Copa, and TAME. Because we don’t often think about South America, we don’t realize that the Andes are every bit as high, in general, as the Himalayas. I say “in general” because our method of measuring altitude is in flux, largely because the ocean level is in flux due to global warming. If we measure a mountain’s altitude from a point at the center of the earth, the highest mountain on the planet is Chimborazo in Ecuador. That is due primarily to a bulge in the earth around the equator which in effect elevates mountains atop that bulge.

In the past, I used to be disturbed by air turbulence. Now, with all the vacations in South America, I see turbulence as a sign that I am nearing my destination. Virtually all flights from Los Angeles to Lima, Quito, Santiago, or Buenos Aires involve a diagonal path over a chunk of the Andes. This usually takes place in the middle of the night, so I don’t get a chance to see the snowcapped peaks over which we are flying.

That plane in the picture was the plane I flew from Cuenca in the south of Ecuador to Quito. My brother had left a week or so earlier (also on a TAME prop plane), so we had returned the rental car to the Cuenca office of the rental company. I explored a bit on my own, taking a bus to Alausi to take a fascinating train ride; and I also visited a whole lot of museums in Cuenca. There are a zillion museums in Latin America, and most of them are fun even when there are no signs in English.

For my next trip to South America, I hope to fly to Bolivia and return via Buenos Aires. There’s a lot to see in between, even if I have to take a connecting flight part of the way.

 

Dealing with Uncertainty

La Estación Near Alausi

La Estación Near Alausi

If you are unable to deal with uncertainty when traveling in other countries, it is possible that South America is not for you. One of my main destinations this trip was the Nariz Del Diablo railroad journey between Alausi and Sibambe. When I went to the bus terminal in Cuenca, I could not find a bus company that would sell me a ticket to Alausi; so I ponied up a few extra dollars for a ticket to Riobamba from the Patria bus company.

Alas, my Spanish is not good enough to understand what the ticket-sellers were trying to tell me. So I showed up the next morning and boarded my Patria bus, after telling the conductor I wanted to be let off on the Pan-American Highway near Alausi, which was a few kilometers away. I was met with another torrent of Spanish which I did not understand. (In this situation, it never helps to be flustered: I just played stupid and found my seat.)

Five hours later, the bus pulled up for a lunch stop at La Estación (shown above), from which Alausi was visible in the valley below. Not only could I get off there, but the conductor called a cab for me, for which I thanked him. I suspect what everyone was trying to tell me was that the bus did not actually go into the town, but I knew that to begin with.

My Bus Back to Cuenca

My Bus Back to Cuenca

Getting back was even more complicated. I took a cab from my hostería back to La Estación, where I waited two and a half hours for a bus back to Cuenca. I was going under the mistaken assumption that all buses stopped there. Apparently, they didn’t. (You can see my two blue bags in the first photo above.)

Just when I gave up hope, I walked to the edge of the highway prepared to flag down any bus. No sooner did I do that than—from a side street a couple hundred feet ahead of me—a second class bus from Alausi’s own line pulled onto the highway and stopped for me. I saw the Cuenca sign in the window and boarded.

We drove like a bat out of hell and covered the distance to Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre in an hour less than the Patria bus took. The driver hit speed bumps and rumble strips at high speed, and my head bounced off the ceiling a couple of times. But I made it to Cuenca in good time and was happy.

 

 

South of Quito

Street Scene, Cuenca, Ecuador

Street Scene, Cuenca, Ecuador

Today my brother and I talked about our upcoming trip to Ecuador. It seems we will be together for only the first two weeks or so of the trip, leaving me to return to Los Angeles separately a week or so later. That would suit me, as well as suiting Dan’s construction schedule in his business. We will probably leave from LAX right after the October 15 tax deadline.

Even though we will rent a car for part of the time, we will likely not have a chance to see four major clusters of destinations in two weeks. First we’ll have to get acclimated to the 9,000 foot altitude of Quito (about three days), then spend several days at and around Otavalo, and then head to the cloud forests around Minto or the Intag Valley to spend some time at a lodge, and finally head south to Cuenca, around which there is a whole large cluster of sites, including the Nariz del Diablo railroad, Mount Cotopaxi, Vilcabamba, and several national parks. Then, of course, one or both of us would return to Quito for Dan’s departure.

Possibly, I will do the southern stretch of the Ecuadorean Andes by myself, traveling by bus. Plans are still in flux around this time. The key thing is that we are in basic agreement about destinations, transport, and accommodations. The main thing I want to avoid is getting stuck in a backpacker hostel. Not that I dislike backpackers; but I do dislike bunk beds and late night loud discussions that disrupt my reading and sleep.