Posts Tagged ‘independentperu’

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

It’s been 100 years since Hiram Bingham came upon Machu Picchu in Peru, and there are still many mysteries to discover among the Andes. Study Leader Dr. Sabine Hyland recently led a group of Smithsonian travelers through Peru. An anthropologist, Dr. Hyland is co-director of a multi-disciplinary project studying the history of the indigenous Chanka people of the central Andes. Here are her impressions from a chance encounter with the local people in the Valley of the Incas.

Travel in the Andes is filled with the unexpected; it is common for travelers to Peru to enjoy chance encounters with local peoples in village fiestas and celebrations. In Smithsonian’s most recent journey to the Andes, one such encounter occurred in the high mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

A young Peruvian woman. Photo: Deborah Fryer.

A young Peruvian woman. Photo: Deborah Fryer.

The warm sun brightened the hilltops as our bus drove the circuitous route from Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, to the fertile mountain valley where the Inca emperors had built their pleasure palaces. When our driver pulled the bus into an overlook so we could view the adobe houses with red tile roofs and the green fields of corn below, we noticed a local Indian festival near us. Bright pink and purple skirts swirling, Peruvian women danced with male partners around a tree that had been placed in a hole in the ground. Tied to the branches were balloons, candies and gifts.

Before we knew what was happening, the male dancers came up to the women in our group, politely asking us if we wished to join the dance. Soon I found myself dancing rhythmically around the tree with a local Indian man. He then brought me over to the tree and indicated that I was to strike it with an ax, after which I was offered freshly brewed corn beer to drink. The tree toppled to the strokes of the next person to strike it, and after it fell, everyone ran over to partake in the gifts and sweets that were tied to the branches. My dancing partner explained to me that this was the traditional way for the village to celebrate its anniversary, and thanked me for being part of the festivities. As we climbed back into the bus, all of us felt that we had experienced something special, something that brought us closer to the world of the Andes.

Click here for more on exploring Peru with Smithsonian Journeys.

A Fantastic day at Machu Picchu

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Study Leader David Scott Palmer recently led a group of Smithsonian Travelers to Macchu Pichu, most of whom were exploring Peru for the first time on our Legendary Peru tour. Palmer was also among the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to work in Peru. Today, he shares his most recent trip with us.

Smithsonian travelers visit Machu Picchu, many for the first time. Photo: David Scott Palmer.

Smithsonian travelers visit Machu Picchu, many for the first time. Photo: David Scott Palmer.

Peru is a remarkable place in so many ways, with Machu Picchu, voted one of the seven wonders of the world, on just about everyone’s “bucket list.” “Awesome!” Fantastic!” “I can’t believe it!” “How could anyone ever have built this?” are just a sample of the impressions of my first-time visitor companions.

The hills of Machu Picchu. Photo: David Scott Palmer

Yet as extraordinary as that first sight of the 15th century ruins are to everyone, it is not long before we realize how much more there is to this beautiful and rugged country. Terraces line the hillsides of the Sacred Valley, with the Moray agricultural research station close by, both testaments to the ingenuity of the Incas in being able to meet the food needs of all of their subjects. Range after range of snowcapped mountains stretch to the horizon, leaving us in wonderment over how either indigenous cultures or Spanish conquerors could have overcome such daunting physical obstacles to leave their stamp.

Machu Picchu. Photo: David Scott Palmer

Photo: David Scott Palmer

And as impressive as the physical beauty and the six to sixteen centuries-old ruins are, we also see all around us the vibrant presence of living cultures and are able to experience a small part of their daily routines. We meet with a community of women in traditional garb who dye their alpaca wool with the same variety of local materials as their ancestors and weave an array of colorful goods.

Woman weaving alpaca wool.

Photo: David Scott Palmer

We watch a lively Sunday parade in Cuzco’s main square and lunch in homes of local families, who share their culinary gifts and their warm hospitality.

We also cross the waters of Lake Titicaca to share a morning with the Uru people on the islands they have made from the reeds of the lake for centuries, since fleeing to the water in the 1400s to avoid Inca domination.

The Uru people live on lake Titicaca

Photo: David Scott Palmer.

In Peru there is so much to see and appreciate, to savor, and to reflect. With such an interested and interesting group of travelers, we learn so much more together than we ever would separately. Amazing country, wonderful people, unforgettable experiences…What more could one ask?

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