A Travellerspoint blog

Peru

El Condor Pasa

The Condor passes by

sunny 22 °C

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As the rays of dawn eclipse the lip of the Colca Canyon in southern Peru it awakens the giant condors and, like prehistoric creatures, they rise from their craggy perches to soar in the warming air…
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Never needing to flap their enormous wings, these solar powered mammoths of the heavens soar higher and higher with the ascending sun until they meet us, eye to eye, on the rim of the canyon. The clock reverses as we become engrossed in a matchless aerobatic display that melds us and them into a dance with the firmament that has been witnessed by man for millennia…
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We stand in wonder, mesmerised by the aerial ballet that is being performed seemingly for our sole benefit. It is as if these mystical beings have awaited our arrival to swoop and soar time and again as the thermals lift them more than three kilometres from the canyon’s depths until they can survey all that lies beneath…
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Worshipped by the Incas as the embodiment of the gods, and demonised by the conquistadors for that same reason, these ancient beings were hunted to near extinction by the Christians who feared their demonic powers, And so it was with a sense of great gratitude, (and with a few tears of joy), that we were privileged to witness one of the most awe inspiring sights on earth – the dance of the Andean condors.
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Wherever we travel in South America we hear panpipes playing the haunting folk tune "El Condor Pasa", and this tune will forever remind us of the day we joined the condors in their celestial dance.

Posted by Hawkson 11:08 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

Arequipa’s Big Secret

sunny 21 °C

The ‘White City” of Arequipa was founded by the Spanish conquistadores in 1540 on the site of a defeated Inca settlement and it gets it nickname from the white rock that was used to build many of its magnificent buildings…
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Arequipa, at the southern end of the Peruvian Andes, lies in a valley hemmed in by three great volcanoes chief of which is El Misti which dominates the city’s skyline…
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The city has suffered numerous earthquakes in its history, but most of the buildings have survived thanks to their robust stone construction. These are the beautifully restored cloisters of the Church of the Candalaria…
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Arequipa is awash in ecclesiastical buildings – ancient and modern – and tucked away a few blocks behind the enormous cathedral and hidden by high walls is the monastery of Santa Catalina. The monastery was built in 1579 to house Fransiscan nuns only from upper class Spanish families and each family paid a dowry equivalent to $150,000 US in today’s currency. For that amount the nun got some fairly spacious digs…
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…together with a private loo and her own kitchen…
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In addition to the dowry the nuns were required to bring 25 specified items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthier ones had silk curtains sent from China and fine furniture, porcelain and pianos shipped from England…
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The monastery covers 2 hectares and is laid out as a small town, with many streets…
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…and with several elegant plazas surrounded by the ‘cells’ of the richest nuns who could, if they wished, sell them to newcomers for a sizeable profit…
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The nuns of Santa Catalina lived an opulent lifestyle in total secrecy. No outsiders were admitted and visitors could only glimpse their relatives in semi-darkness through a double row of thick wooden latticework. Unlike the nuns in others orders, the nuns here had their own servants and slaves and were only required to recite the Divine Office on a daily basis and make frequent confessions for their (undoubted) multitudinous sins.
This is where the servants did the laundry…
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In addition to tales of outrageous wealth and abuse, there were stories of nuns becoming pregnant and the good times couldn’t be ignored by the Vatican forever. In 1871 after 300 years of apparent naughtiness, Pope Pius IX sent Sister Cadena, a strict Dominican nun, to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of either remaining as nuns or leaving.

Posted by Hawkson 17:14 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

Peru's Other Face

sunny 23 °C

Peru has two faces: the pretty one of modern clean cities and world-class tourist attractions like Machu Picchu, and a much darker one where millions of people live in medieval conditions. The Peruvian countryside is littered with crumbling adobe hovels like these…
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The sight of a hunchbacked old woman in traditional costume struggling to carry home a load of firewood, or leading a few goats or llamas to pasture, may be picturesque, but it’s not a picture we choose to take or share. We are often asked, “But are they happy?”. It is a question that we cannot truthfully answer, but we can say with certainty that we take no pleasure in seeing people fighting for survival in a world where we, and so many others, have so much, and where our Canadian companies are doing so much damage to this majestic land.
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This is how the Andes should look, but in the north of the country, around the city of Huaraz, entire mountains have been dismantled by Barrick and other mining companies to extract metal ores, while mineshafts and slag heaps scar the faces of others, and the leachate pollutes the rivers. It is not a pretty picture, but neither is the sight of numerous young children with old shovels filling potholes in the rotten roads in order to beg a few cents from grateful motorists. We won’t photograph these unfortunate kids – but we can show the amazing pre-Inca funereal monuments at Wilcahuain and Ichic Wilcahuain which were built in the High Andes over a thousand years ago…
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There are many poor communities in the mountains of northern Peru made up of the most basic adobe houses with thatched roofs…
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But hidden in a secluded valley is a manicured upmarket development where hundreds of foreign miners live in luxurious isolation and earn more a week than their neighbours make in a year.

We are now in Arequipa, a beautiful colonial city a thousand miles south of Huaraz which is renowned for its fabulous cathedral…
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It is Palm Sunday so we weren’t surprised to see crowds in the plaza outside the cathedral. However, we were surprised to discover that these crowds with flags and banners were not there to worship…
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These crowds were protesting against foreign mining companies destroying their environment, polluting their lands and conspiring with a corrupt government.

Posted by Hawkson 15:56 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

Birthday Bouquets from Peru

sunny 24 °C

This weekend marks a significant birthday of our Canadian friend, Joyce, so we thought that we would use the occasion to send bouquets of many of the beautiful flowers that we’ve come across in Cuba and South America…
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To us northerners, orchids are delicate houseplants that demand our attention, but these fragrant, flambouyant, dendrobiums hang around in the trees of Havana without a care in the world…
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We came across this spectacularly exotic orchid, and many others, just lying around on the jungle floor in the Ecuadorian Amazon….
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When it comes to ‘spectacular’ it’s difficult to beat the vast numbers of heliconias that blossom in the world’s warmer climes. These fanciful blooms, and the many cultivars of ‘Bird of paradise flowers’, are distant cousins of the humble banana, but there is nothing modest about this vibrant blossom in Central Colombia… .
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Brilliantly hued hedges of Bougainvillea blossom endlessly and effortlessly in every tropical spot in the world, even here at Chavin in the shadow of the great peaks of the Cordilleras Blancas in Peru…
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Whereas roses prefer to play it cool. They flourish in the rarefied air of the Ecuadorian Andes around the Cotopaxi volcano…
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This market lady in Cuenca knows a thing or two about Ecuadorian roses…
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However, perhaps the nicest bouquet we can send is the one that flourishes on our terrace each summer on the beautiful island of Gabriola in British Columbia…
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From Huaraz in Peru we send birthday greetings to you, Joyce, (whom Sheila has known for almost 40 years), and also to our friend, Antony Holland, who celebrates his 95th birthday this weekend. Happy birthday y’all.

Posted by Hawkson 15:15 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

Chavin - Just a Pile of Old Rocks

sunny 23 °C

After two full days in Huaraz we can say with confidence that, following 45 years of reconstruction since the Great Earthquake, only two buildings have been properly finished. One is our boutique hotel and the other is an all-glass hostelry in the city centre which is closed for business. The rest of the city looks pretty much like this…
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However, we didn’t fly all the way over the Andes from Lima just to see Huaraz. And we didn’t drive for a further three hours on mountain roads through passes above 13,000 feet just to get some breathtaking views of the Cordilleras Blancas, (some of the world’s most spectacular and highest mountains)…
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In truth, we came all this way to Northern Peru to look at a pile of old rocks…
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But these are not just any old rocks. These rocks are in the same vein as the venerated stones at Stonehenge; or the sandstone blocks that formed the Pyramids; or the granite slabs used to build Borobudor and Angkor Wat. Because, beneath the grassy mounds that lie in an ancient valley in the foothills of the Cordilleras Blancas, an entire city was built more than three thousand years ago by the Chavin people – a pre-Columbian indigenous race who pre-dated the Incas by some two and half thousand years. This is the base of one of their pyramids…
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If the ruins at Chavin de Hauntar were more extensively excavated, and more easily accessed, we wouldn’t have been alone as we wandered from building to building marvelling at the ingenuity of the people who built this place more than a thousand years BCE…
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These are some of the many underground storage rooms…
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And this is Sheila squeezing through one of the many passages...
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This is the centrepiece of the archaeological site at Chavin…
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It is an enormous 3,000 year old carved stone stela that is concealed deep underground and only accessible through the narrow labyrinthine passages that were designed to keep all but the most privileged from viewing its magical symbols…
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Many of the carved stones and religious symbols have been stolen, defaced or destroyed, in the three millennia since Chavin was constructed, but this head with feline features survived and shows that the original occupants believed that they could become cats by taking certain hallucinogenic drugs, (a similar belief held by many hippies in the 60s).

Chavin de Hauntar is not the only significant pre-Inca site in the shadow of the great white mountains and next time on Blissful Adventures we will take you to visit some more piles of old rocks…sorry, we meant, amazing architectural ruins.

Posted by Hawkson 16:00 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

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