animalia, natural wonder, Peru, South America, ye olde worlde

canyon deep, mountain high – condors and human sacrifices

Bec / 03/06/2013

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru in population terms at least, many of which live in shanty towns on the edge.

During the days we spent there we enjoyed fresh juice at the produce market in between being horrified by the whole boiled sheep’s heads and butchers throwing various kinds of offal from supply to display, threatening to send a cow’s liver sailing into the face of a day dreaming tourist.

Various disciplines of public servants staged a protest that was supported in other areas with burning cars and riots. All we got to see was banner waving and a lot of whistles making their way to the Plaza de Armas.

One of the main attractions is Juanita, the Inca ice princess discovered in 1995 on Ampato volcano. Just about totally preserved in ice for over 500 years, she was about 12-14 years old when sacrificed with a blow to the head so severe it pushed her brain to one side, wrapped up and left to please the gods on the volcano top. To see her up close is surprising, with her legs bent beneath her she is about the size of a carry on suitcase (legal size carry on that is, not the laughably oversized cases some people try shoving into overhead bins instead of paying for checked baggage).

Her shawls, metal pin clasps, deity figurines and other artifacts are on display in rooms before you reach her and the volunteer guide did a good job explaining each item and interesting facts about them.

Overall there’s been about 18 sacrifices discovered throughout the Inca territory, mostly young teens and a mix of boys and girls. A key attribute of being chosen as a sacrifice is to be perfect in looks. Imagine a time when it paid to be born ugly…hmmm. As such most royals weren’t chosen since they generally suffered deformities from in-breeding. This makes Juanita special as the theory goes she must have been royal to have been placed at the very top of the volcano, had grander adornments than usual…and still pretty enough to die young.

A brisk morning greeted us for the overnight trip to Chivay and the Colca Canyon, we can tell winter is drawing in and altitude makes it worse. The drive was broken up with stops at viewpoints of volcanos and across vast valleys and to try coca tea – mixed with hierbas andinas it’s mildly palatable. And more favorable that altitude sickness. Interesting how a plant from the jungle coast is useful in the highlands. And that’s where it happened. Yes, I bought a beanie with sides. A semi-stylish number in monochrome grey and a mix of alpaca and sheep wool. And it’s reversible! A 10 soles bargain.

Chivay is a mix of traditional and tourism – plenty of hostels, buffet lunches, traditionally dressed women and children toting baby alpacas around looking for money for photos, a big church and giant cross mowed into the hillside behind it and of course an Irish pub serving Guinness with the local tastes of quinoa and alpaca steaks. And then there’s the hot springs. We watched the sunset slowly drop down the mountainside while doing our best to stay in the warm water and avoid getting out into the frigid air before terribly necessary.

Dinner at a tourist trap restaurant provided a few laughs for us. A folk music band played while a young couple danced traditional dances in elaborate costumes. One of the dances was around the idea of having to revive people suffering malaria…the solution, hit them with wool baubles on a long string that you can use like a whip. Its fair though, the boy gets to beat the girl after she beats him. Very democratic. Ivy was volunteered to dance along with them and made a quick study, managing to do us all proud. She was very surprised to be hoisted onto the guy’s shoulders at the end though!

It got down to 3 degrees C overnight and they haven’t worked out how to build so as to keep heat in. The receptionists swanned around in blankets and drank hot tea all night. I shivered like a dog at the vet under three wool blankets and thick bed spread weighing down on top of my socks, leggings, long sleeved shirt and fleece vest. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so cold in my life. The 5am wake up was just plain rude after a mostly sleepless night – do you know how hard it is to turn over when you are pinned down by several sheep worth of fleece. I woke up 90mins after going to sleep feeling like I had been running. I think the thin air makes you drowsy but you have to work hard to breathe so it’s exhausting even just to sleep. I had to go to the bathroom three times and it was a mission each time – cold, breathless and easy to lose your way trying to escape from under the blankets.

The views were amazing as we made our way to the canyon while waiting for the sun to come up and warm the air. Pre-Inca terraces are still used for agriculture and carpet the valley floor and up the slopes stretching out in all directions into a green, gold and brown maze of stone walls and alpaca corrals. I loved the natural security measure – keep your livestock in and intruders out by planting cactus along the top of your rock wall fence. The walls are pretty low so I’m guessing it works.

Immersing ourselves in the world’s deepest canyon and catching some practice before Inca Trail we ambled along a path on the mountainside taking in vast views and noting medicinal plants pointed out by our local guide, Herbie. The uphill hurts the heartilage while the downhill crunches the cartilage…I’m owning up now that I’m probably going to cry on the trail. Especially since I’m sporting a brand new dark and lumpy bruise courtesy of a sudden and intense meeting of my knee and the kitchen floor of our hotel. I swear that floor is capable of hosting ice skating contests – mighty cold and slippery.

Back in the canyon we reached the base of Cruz del Condor or Condor Cross – essentially a spot the condors like to nest and someone has marked the spot with a cross – as you do in a strongly catholic country. The air was still taking its time to warm up so we hunched over the stone wall and caught glimpses of condors gliding between ridges below us. An hour and substantially more tourists later the air had warmed up enough to create the thermals the condors ride, rising high overhead, sometimes amazingly close to onlookers, barely brushing our heads with their claws and 3-4 metre wingspan. I’m sure they have as much interest in the tourist welcoming committee as we did in their wonderfully graceful flight. I spotted seven in the air at once, juveniles and adults, male and female, all effortlessly cruising ‘like a boss’. Magnificent.

As a member of the vulture family, they don’t hunt, just scavenge. If there isn’t any road kill going cheap though, their imposing size at 1.2 metres high plus that giant wingspan, can be used as a weapon – they can literally frighten animals to death, scaring them into heart attacks. Then bingo…lunch is served!

Speaking of lunch we enjoyed quinoa soup and alpaca steaks of looking the plaza back in Chivay, people watching from a distance safe enough to take photos unnoticed. Little old people, garishly decorated tuks-tuks going every which way, kids walking alpacas around, bemused tourists…they’re all there.

Returning to Arequipa took us over the highest point at 4910 metres for a very slow walk around to view the hundred of stone stacks assembled as totems dedicated to good luck in love. I built my own and sent a wish out for JP and I 🙂

Arequipa was sans protest when we got back, letting us shop in peace which let us run into Brendon, work buddy of my dad’s and Lorna at the deli counter. Honestly, go halfway around the world and meet a home local. Odds are shorter than you think. Perhaps not quite as short as the odds were that Ivy and I would end up crying while watching Forrest Gump on tv that evening as the only english language offering. Yeah, those odds were unbackable.











































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