Cuy

BBQ Guinea Pig (Cuy)

In the Andes, one of the main sources of meat are guinea pigs. They are easy to raise, particularly if you don’t give them names or regard them as pets. The above picture was taken in Otavalo, Ecuador, famous for its Saturday tianguis, or market.

I have eaten many local foods, but never bothered to sample cuy, mostly because it is regarded as being full of tiny bones. According to one website:

All over Peru, towns honor the importance of cuy to their cuisine. Pachamanca, a traditional cooking method involving earthen ovens, often features guinea pig meat. A mural in the main cathedral of Cusco depicts Jesus and his disciples eating guinea pig at the Last Supper. During an annual festival in the town of Churin, residents celebrate cuy by dressing the animals up in colorful costumes. And across the country, townspeople gather and eat guinea pigs in honor of folk saints as part of a celebration known as jaca tsariy.

Guinea Pig Served at the Last Supper

In Chivay, Peru, I ate alpaca, which wasn’t half bad. I had the opportunity to eat edible clay at Sillustani, Peru; but I passed on it. That didn’t protect me from getting a horrible case of travelers’ diarrhea aboard a boat on Lake Titicaca.

In general, I took to the local cuisines of the Andean countries I visited. Perhaps one of the most interesting phenomena was the prevalence of chifas, Chinese restaurants, in all but the smallest towns. Even at Machu Picchu, I had a tasty wonton soup in the cool of the evening before my trip up the mountain.

How Did They Know That?

The Inca Ruins at Something Something Picchu

I was surprised to find out that, according to a professor of anthropology, Machu Picchu should be called Huayna Picchu instead. The reason I was surprised is that the Incas never had a written language like the Maya and the Aztecs. They were great engineers and stonemasons, but left no writings or even hieroglyphs. The only “communication” of any sorts we have from the Incas are in the form of quipu, knotted cords that were used to quantify taxes or inventories.

Quipu at the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru

You can read the story here at CNN Travel. It doesn’t much matter what the “official” name of the Inca ruins was. After all, most Meso-American ruins are probably misnamed. Either the Conquistadores or the archeologists just assigned a name for convenience. And, for good or ill, it stuck.

Museo Larco

This is the scanned image of my ticket to the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru. It was the first tourist sight I visited in Lima back in 2015—and it was an eye-opener. Founded in 1926, it was dedicated to the northern coastal cultures of Peru, of which there were many. We tend to think, “Peru … Yeah, that’s the Incas.” Except that the Incas were 15th century latecomers, and some of the earlier cultures were more advanced than they were.

Besides the Incas, there were the Moche, the Wari, the Chimu, the Chavin, the Paracas, the Nazca, the Chachapoyas, and many others.

There were scores of these Moche heads at the museum. Like the famous terra cotta warriors at Xian in China, all had distinctive facial features as if they were based on particular individuals.

In addition there were elaborate textiles dating back centuries and still in excellent condition. There were even a few quipus, collections of knotted cords that were used for accounting purposes. None of these peoples appear to have had a written language like the Maya or Aztecs.

In common with many of the early Mexican cultures, the Moche had cute pottery fashioned in the shape of animals, such as the above dog.

One great thing about many museums in Latin America is that they frequently had adjoining cafés with excellent meals. The Museo Larco was no exception.

If you should find your way to Peru after they horrible Covid infestation, remember that there are a whole lot more to see than just the ruins of Machu Picchu. I could have spent several weeks in Lima without exhausting the list of places I wanted to see, such as the Police Museum in Callao.

Chullpas

Funerary Tower (Chullpa) on the Shores of Peru’s Lake Umayo

In the lands around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, the native cultures believed in building funerary towers called chullpas to house their dead. Even under Incan rule, the Aymara-speaking Colla people continued this practice.

In 2015, I visited Sillustani, which contained the most impressive collections of chullpas situated on a nearby hill. Unfortunately, one cannot always guarantee good weather on a vacation outing, and the weather at Sillustani was vile that day. Consequently, I not only took no pictures but decided not to climb the hill in the rain (and at 12,000 feet or 3,700 meters altitude). So I took none of the pictures shown on this page.

Funerary Towers at Sillustani

I paid dearly for my trip to Sillustani, which included sampling some quinoa soup at a local resident’s kitchen. The next day, I was struck with a horrible need to go to the bathroom while on a lancha plying Lake Titicaca. I must have looked green in the face as I soldiered on in search of some toilet somewhere. Finally, on Isla Taquile, I found one; though I can’t say I got much from that day’s journey other than incredible discomfort.

Some days just are like that.

The Eyes of the Inca

The Peru of a Hundred Years Ago Through Peruvian Eyes

Martín Chambi Jiménez (1891-1973) was a Peruvian photographer who was active until a 1950 earthquake destroyed much of his beloved Cuzco. In his studio, he took pictures like the above musical group with their traditional instruments. But he also traveled around, photographing the altiplano of Peru, the city of Cuzco, and such sites as the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Cuzco Street Scene

In 1979, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed an exhibition of Chambi’s photographs, which traveled to other cities and inspired other shows displaying his work. Chambi was a native-born speaker of Quechua, the language of the Incas, and he saw the people and the landscape as only a native could see them.

Quechuan Woman Chewing Coca Leaves

Below is one of the many images he shot at the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu As It Was 100 Years Ago

Photographers like Chambi are a rare link to the past in faraway places that were not in the mainstream of Western European Civilization.

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku: Gate of the Sun

I must think I’m going to live forever.Trapped in my apartment during the quarantine, I am thinking more and more about returning to Peru and including the altiplano of Bolivia. Here I am at age 76, thinking of a strenuous trip at high altitude to one of the most fascinating (albeit difficult) places on Earth.

In 2014, I spent some time on the western shore of Lake Titicaca, on the Peru side. I even took a tour on a launch to Isla Taquile and one of the Uros Isles, but as the boat left the dock, I discovered that I was beginning to suffer the effects of food poisoning. The former afternoon at Sillustani, I ate something in a farmer’s house that violently disagreed with me. What is more, I was hours away from a toilet. Under the circumstances, I was not able to appreciate the beauties of Lake Titicaca, and in fact I took no pictures that day.

Map of Lake Titicaca, Showing the Location of Tiwanaku at Lower Right

Just as I returned to Tierra Del Fuego after breaking my shoulder there in 2006, I plan on returning to the Peruvian side of the lake, and adding some parts of Bolivia to the mix. I find myself suddenly interested in the Aymara-speaking peoples of the Andes.

A funny thing happened to me in Puno during my last visit. It was a bitterly cold morning, as it frequently is at that altitude (12,000 feet or 3,700 meters). I had neglected to bring a scarf with me, and I badly needed one. Enter a poor Aymara woman laden down with hand-knitted handicrafts. I walked up to her and brought a beautiful scarf at a reasonable price. Apparently, I made that woman’s day. She broke into a big smile and was almost prepared to welcome me into her family.

Over a thousand years ago, there was an Aymara empire centered at Tiwanaku in modern-day Bolivia. It lasted until AD 1100 when a massive and persistent drought led to a drop in the level of Lake Titicaca, leaving the Aymara fields high and dry. Hundreds of years later, the Inca took over; but their empire was short-lived once the Spanish conquistadores began to move in.

Walls of the Kalasaya Complex at Tiwanaku

Since the eco-catastrophe that destroyed the Aymara empire a thousand years ago, the Aymara have become a scattered people indulging in subsistence agriculture and the herding of llamas and alpacas.

Cruz del Cóndor

They’re Not the Prettiest Birds, But They Are HUGE!

Along the south rim of Peru’s Colca Canyon, midway between Chivay and Cabanaconde is a place called Cruz del Cóndor. We stopped there late one morning waiting for the thermals that bring that condors up from the canyon below. I had a hard time focusing on the birds when they were against a dark background, so I was not able to take the above picture. Below is the best of the ones I shot, up against a blue sky:

Condor at Colca Canyon

To be a good wildlife photographer, you have to be patient … and you have to have the right equipment. Unfortunately, I have only a digital rangefinder camera, and I wasn’t able to stay put and wait for the right shot to happen. So it didn’t.

Condor on the Dining Room Wall in Chivay

Here’s one condor I was able to photograph—at the restaurant where we ate lunch after viewing the condors. Then it was on to the high point of the trip—Patopampas at 15,000 feet (4,600 meters)—enroute to Puno and Lake Titicaca.

Cañon de Colca

Coporaque, Peru with Volcán Sabancaya Erupting in Background

On my kitchen table, I have two guides to Peru which I consult from time to time. Even at my advanced age, I am thinking of going there once the coronavirus is but a dim memory (should that time ever come). I see in my mind a tour I took from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon area back in 2014.

We were in the Andes at between 12,000 and 15,000 feet (3,600-4,600 meters) altitude. I was chewing coca leaves with an alkaloid to keep me from suffering the effects of soroche, or altitude sickness. With meals, I would drink a tea of maté de coca, which had the same effect. Man was not made to live at that kind of elevation without some assistance. Please note that the difference between coca leaves and cocaine is like the difference between Lipton’s Tea and Bath Salts. At that level, it is simply not a narcotic.

Colca Canyon with Farming Terraces Created by the Inca

As it works its way down to the sea, Colca Canyon becomes even deeper than the Grand Canyon. At its deepest point, it is 10,730 feet (3,270 meters) deep. And the whole canyon is only 43 miles (70 km) long. (Just north is an even deeper canyon: Cotahuasi Canyon at 11,004 feet or 3,354 meters deep.)

There is a place west of Coporaque called Cruz del Cóndor where you can see giant Andean condors rising on thermals from far below. At a wingspread approaching 9 feet (3 meters), it is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. Later this week, I’ll show you some pictures I took there.

A Fiesta in Chivay, Largest Town Around Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon area is inhabited by the Cabana and Collagua peoples. It is only about three hours from Arequipa along a high, desolate, and unbelievably picturesque route.

I spent only a single night in Colca, and I would like to remedy that. There are scheduled intercity buses that go from Arequipa to Chivay along the same route I took, and I can probably find a tour guide in Chivay. He might not speak English, but my Spanish is tolerable—if the person I’m talking to is patient.

Christian Archeology

Interior of the Palace of the Archbishop, Lima, Peru

What shocked me more than anything during my 2014 visit to Peru was that the archeology of Spanish Catholicism in Peru was fully as interesting as the archeology of the Incas and other pre-Columbian peoples. The pictures here all come from my visit to the Palace of the Archbishop next to the Cathedral in Lima on November 9, 2014. I was guided through the Palace by a very cute young Peruvian nun who kept addressing me as “Gentleman.”

As I visited the Palace and the various churches and convents, I thought to myself that the Christian religion in Peru had passed its peak. What remained was partially syncretic, but in any case visually stunning.

Chalice Flanked by Two Monstrances

I have often thought that it was not the King of Spain who benefited from the wealth of gold and silver transshipped from South America, as much as Holy Mother the Church. The churches and monasteries in the historic center of Lima are glistening with gold, silver, and precious stones. At the Monastery of Santo Domingo are the remains of three 17th century Limeño saints: Rose of Lima, Martín de Porres, and Juan Macías—all of whom were affiliated with the Dominican Order.

Brought up as a Roman Catholic, I found myself spending a lot more time in the churches than at the Inca ruins. They were usually beautiful and peaceful, even if I wound up attending Mass a number of times. In fact, I felt myself more a Catholic in Peru than I do in Los Angeles.

Statue of the Blessed Virgin

Whatever their original colors, it seems as if the paintings and statues of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints are predominantly reddish brown. This is particularly true of the Cusco School of Painting which predominated at the time. At some point soon, I will repeat a past post on the iconography of archangels shown in Peruvian paintings of the Cusco School.

Atacama and Altiplano

Political Demonstration in La Paz, Bolivia

Still on lockdown from the quarantine, I am dreaming of a vacation that includes Peru, the northern tip of Chile, and the Altiplano region of Bolivia. I may be too old for this trip (at age 76), but I continue to collect information. In terms of transportation, it involves a round trip flight from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru.

There are three legs to this trip.

First I head south in two or three stages to Tacna, Peru, which is on the border with Chile and its Atacama Desert, and over the border to Arica. The stages might include Paracas, Huacachina, and (most definitely) Arequipa.

From Arica, I head northeast to the Bolivian border, possibly stopping at Putre and the Parque Nacional Lauca. From this point until the end of the trip, I am at high altitude, from twelve to fifteen thousand feet (between 3600 and 4600 meters). I will be subject to soroche, or altitude sickness. I will have to use coca leaves and an alkaloid to keep me from becoming seriously ill.

Chile’s Atacama Desert, Which Receives No Rain To Speak Of

From Arica to La Paz, Bolivia is only seven hours by bus, continuing on my northeasterly direction.

I will recover from my bus ride for a few days in La Paz, possibly seeing the ruins at Tiwanaku. Then I head northwest to Copacabana, where I will be on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I will spend a night on the Isla del Sol, and take a bus to Puno in Peru. From Puno, I will take either a bus or train to Cusco, where I will see several local Inca ruins (though not necessarily Macchu Pichu, which I saw in 2015). From Cusco, I fly to Lima and eventually back to Los Angeles.

The Whole Trip Is in the Extreme Southwest of This Map

What interests me in this area are, in addition to the mountains and deserts, the cultures of the mountain peoples living in the area. Originally, I was very interested in the Inca, but then I realized that they were not as advanced as I had thought. One exception: Their stonework is amazing. Also, this is the area from which the Spanish conquistadores extracted most of their wealth, leaving behind some incredible churches full of gold, silver, and incredible paintings.

If it turns out I am too old for this trip, I will reluctantly skip Bolivia and continue to head southward in Chile until I reach Santiago.