Monday, April 30, 2007

Another flora picture from the Inca Trail...I can't help myself.

Our last day in Cuzco we hired a guide for some of the near by Inca Ruins. These massive blocks are from Sachsayhuaman, some of them weigh as much as 300 tonnes. Cuzco was designed in the shape of a puma, and these ruins make up the head of the puma. In this picture you can see a puma paw in the stone work.

Mike and I at Machaytambo, a sacred space once dedicated to the water cult in Inca religion.

From Cuzco we headed to Arequipa. I expected Arequipa to be less touristy than Cuzco but it was worse! People bugging us everywhere. That is the worst part about Peru in general, everyone seems to want to take advantage of tourists. Despite this, we really enjoyed Arequipa. We went to a really interesting museum about Inca sacrifices, such as the famous mummy "Juanita" found nearby in the mid 90s, Her discovery was made possible by an erupting volcanoe that melted the glacier on the mountain where she was sacrificed. She was only a child, 12 maybe, when she made the trek from Cuzco, fasted, was drugged and given a death blow on the side of the head in hopes of appeasing the gods and preventing natural disasters. Other child mummies met the same fate, although some were strangled rather than beaten to death. Juanita wasn't on display when we were there, but another mummy, known as "Sarita" was instead. She is less well preserved than Juanita (whose knuckle creases and fingernails can still be seen and whose organs are just frozen, but fully preserved) but is interesting because she is the only mummy who wasn't found in the fetal position (preparation for birth in the next life), she has crossed legs instead. Experts aren't sure what to make of that exactly


Also in Arequipa, we went to a convent which was absolutely fascinating. The Santa Catalina convent was sealed for almost 400 years until 1970 when the city demanded that all buildings have running water and electricity. The convent then opened it's doors to tourism to fund the upgrades. Prior to that, the only contact nuns had with the outside world was through double wooden grates which allowed them to see out but their visitors only to see their silhouettes. We toured the nuns' chambers, which varied from richly decorated to spartan depending on the era in history the chamber was from. In fact, we visited the cell of one nun from the 17th century who has since been beatified. They are awaiting two more miracles before she can be sanctified. A city within the city, the convent has kitchens (some for making the host to be sold to local churches), a garden, a laundry area, a cemetery, three separate cloisters...the place was once completely self sufficient. Upon first glance, the idea of isolating oneself from the world seems antiquated and even repulsive, but after seeing the convent I can understand why a woman might have preferred that option to marriage given only those two options in life.

From inside the convent.

After Arequipa, we headed to Nazca and immediately upon arriving headed to the airport to see the famous, mysterious, Nazca lines. The flight itself was horribly nauseating. The power of positive thinking alone kept me from woofing my cookies. The lines themselves are quite faint and sometimes hard to distinguish because there are lines everywhere. Barely any of the desert is free of shapes and tracks of some kind. Although the animal shapes are most interesting, there are trapezoids and just plain lines all over. Although experts aren't sure exactly why, the Nazcans created these shapes and lines using overturned stones whose undersides contrast with the sunscorched stones next to them. The most bizarre aspect of the lines is that their size on the flat desert floor makes it possible only to fully appreciate them from above. So why then, in a time before flying, did the Nazcans make the lines? A film we saw while we were recovering from the 30 minute flight suggeted that shamans used hallcinogenic drugs that made them think they could fly and therefore see the designs. It also suggested that the lines were walkways for ritual processions, a form of prayer. What is most interesting of all is that all the lines lead to sources to water or to mountains (representations of water sources). It seems that the lines were pleas to the gods for water, crucial in this area where there hasn't been significant rainfall since the last ice age.

We didn't look quite this spry after the flight...

The figure refered to as the "astronaut" (extra terrestrial theories about the lines abound by the way)

The monkey...can you see it? It is very faint. Strange, since monkeys aren't found anywhere near here. The Nazcans must have had contact with jungle peoples.

The hummingbird.


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