Posts Tagged ‘machu picchu’

Magical and Legendary Perú

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian journeys to Latin America since 1992, including 26 to Peru and 20 to Chile. He has also directed lecture series on South America for the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program in Washington. Read more about traveling with Jeffrey Cole.

Perú is a magical place. For most Smithsonian travelers the goal, the prize I should say, is to see Machu Picchu with one’s own eyes. My wife and I went to Machu Picchu in January 1980, when the means to get there, the accommodations, and other aspects of the infrastructure were far less than they are now. Machu Picchu was one of the first places we visited that turned out to be better than we had hoped it could be; it still is, though we must now contend with some 2,000-2,500 other visitors each day.

But there is a great deal more to Perú. Perú was the richest part of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was a very wealthy country in the 19th century. Perú is not a developing country, but one that has been at the apex in the past and will be again.

The cultures that eventuated in the Inca Empire of the 15th and 16th centuries stretch back 5,000 years and more, and feature the magnificent Moche of the north and the enigmatic Nasca of the south. The Andean peoples who faced the European invaders in the 16th century have not disappeared, but rather have successfully resisted efforts to alter their lives for a half-millennium.

For me, Perú is fabulous archaeology, a testament to the ability of human beings to adapt to diverse ecological challenges. It is also the opportunity to walk around the courtyard of the National History Museum and speak to the portraits of the viceroys whose correspondence I read for my dissertation. Perú is wonderful Chinese food, eaten in a “Chifa,” the legacy of the Chinese immigrants who came to Perú to build the railways in the 19th century and stayed to work on the cotton plantations in the north. It is also home to Peruvian Fusion Cuisine, which is taking the culinary world by storm. Perú is the myriad faces one sees along the way, reflecting the peoples of South America, Europe, and Asia. Perú is discovering that Google is available in Quichua, the language of the Inca Empire!

But most of all, Perú is a wonderful 15-year-old girl in Ollantaytambo, whose hair I cut for the first time in her life in September 2001, just days after 9/11, and who – through that ceremony – became my god-daughter. The Smithsonian Associates on that Peruvian trip joined in the festivities, as we were all in need of something to take our minds off of the events in NYC. Hilary (she was named after Mrs. Clinton) now corresponds with me by e-mail, but we try to see one another in person as often as possible, usually in the shadow of the ruins of Ollantaytambo, where her ancestors were building a fabulous temple to the sun when the Europeans arrived.

Enjoy Perú in all its aspects.

I’ll leave you with the Quichua admonition, repeated daily: “Don’t Lie, Don’t Steal, and Don’t be Lazy.”

Learn more about our Perú tour and our study leader, Jeffrey Cole.

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?

You can join our group tours or create your own experience.

 

What You Need to Know About Machu Picchu

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
A stone archway of Machu Picchu with the Andes in the background

A stone archway of Machu Picchu with the Andes in the background

Nobody wants to stand at a nice reception when an acquaintance announces she just got back from the absolutely fabulous Machu Picchu and have no idea what the fuss is all about. To make sure that never happens to you, here are the basics about Peru’s Machu Picchu so you can be as smart and cultured as the next guy.

  1. Machu Picchu is Quechua for ”Big Mountain.” The Quechua are the indigenous people of Peru, and the archaoelogical site of Machu Picchu is located south of the equator in the Andes Mountains and outside the city of Cuzco. But the location of the ruins is truly amazing as it sits in between the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountains, making it difficult to approach and easily defensible in an attack.
  2. The city was built in 1450 at the height of the Incan Empire. By 1572, the city was abandoned, but there is some confusion as to why. It doesn’t appear that the Spanish conquistadors defaced or damaged any part of Machu Picchu, so it is thought that smallpox, which the Spanish brought from Europe, may have been a major factor in the fall of the city.
  3. The buildings located at the site were very well built using a technique called ashlar. This involved cutting blocks of stone and stacking them without the use of mortar. The result is a long-lasting, earthquake-proof structure.
  4. Popular culture has cited Hiram Bingham as the person who “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1911. However, there is some evidence that he wasn’t the first non-Native to stumble upon the site. Simone Waisbard, a longtime researcher in Cuzco, believes three men named Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizárragal left their identities inscribed on a rock at the site on July 14, 1901. Others believe a German businessman named Augusto Berns looted the site – a common practice at the time—in 1867. Physical evidence has shown Machu Picchu to be listed on maps as early as 1874. While Bingham gets the most credit today, there may have been other visitors prior to his notable arrival in 1911.
  5. In 1983, Machu Picchu was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site and was described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

With these little tidbits in your back pocket, you can be the hit at the party too—or at least answer that Final Jeopardy question and impress your friends.

Have you been to Machu Picchu? Share below.

Want to go? Peru is truly amazing! We still have room on our 2010 tours, or you can plan for 2011!

Q&A with Study Leader Joan Gero

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Joan Gero is Professor Emerita of Anthropology from American University and a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology in the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. She has conducted archaeological excavations in the Andes (Peru and Argentina) since 1985 with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, Fulbright, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Heintz Foundation.

Peruvian woman carrying her child in traditional style. Photo by Aaron O'dea

Peruvian woman carrying her child in traditional style. Photo: Aaron O’dea

Smithsonian Journeys: Since Lima is a melting pot of European, Andean, and Asian cultures, how many variations in language, or perhaps dialects, can Smithsonian Journeys travelers expect to encounter here?

Joan Gero: Spanish is spoken as the dominant language today, imposed by the Conquistadors in the 16th century. Two centuries earlier, the Inca had imposed an imperial language (Quechua) of their own, replacing the multitude of local languages spoken by local indigenous groups. Today, some six million Quechua speakers remain (in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina combined).  Meanwhile, the southern native Andean language of Aymara is also alive and well, still spoken by an estimated three million people in Bolivia and Peru, so visitors will most likely hear Aymara in their travels as well.

Q. How did the Andeans come to develop such artistry—in colors, in design—in textiles?

A. Artistry INDEED! The fabulous Andean textiles are truly a treasure to behold. Possibly some designs evolved from earlier pyro-engraved decorations on gourds and calabashes, as well as adopting knotting techniques from producing fishing nets, twined baskets and reed mats, all of which we have recovered from very early sites on the north coast of Peru. But the textiles themselves also go far back in time and include an enormous diversity of techniques including double weaves, discontinuous warp weaves, embroidery and painting on textiles, laces and gauzes.  Colors were originally all derived from plant and animal products: onion skins make a lovely yellow, carbon produces a deep black, guano makes things white, and the red that comes from the cochineal bug is world-renown.

Q. The cuisine in Lima is cosmopolitan, influenced by its European (Spanish, Italian, German), Andean, and Asian (primarily Chinese) populations. How would you describe the cuisine in Cuzco? And are there really potato desserts?

A. Ah, sigh. Cuzco cooking is the real Andean experience, exotic but never straying far from comfort food with lots of satisfying carbohydrates: corn, rice and of course the indigenous potato! Generally there are delicious soups of rich broths and chunks of meat and roundels of corn to start a meal, followed by plates of carbs with delicious, delicate vegetable sauces, which the diner can make as spicy as they wish by adding in hot sauce. In the states, we have adopted two Andean-derived foods in our own diets: meat jerky (from the Quechua word “charqui”) and “corn nuts” as toasted corn kernels. Cuzco street foods are equally tempting, including roasted beef hearts and pork chitterlings, but also melons with spices on them and roasted corn on the cob. Expect simple, healthy, light and fresh home-made foods!

Have you been to Peru? What did you think of the food? Share below.

Shop for beautiful Andean textiles on Treasures of Peru, a Smithsonian Journeys Signature Tour—a great value with international airfare included!

Photo: Los Uros on Lake Titicaca

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
The hand-built island of Los Uros, floating on Lake Titicaca, in Peru.

One of many hand-built islets of Los Uros, floating on Lake Titicaca, in Peru.

One of the more interesting features of the Peruvian landscape are tiny islets floating on Lake Titicaca, fashioned from reeds, by Los Uros, people who lived in the area even before the Incas arrived. Most of the Los Uros people have moved off the islets, but a community of 200 remains today, still practicing their traditional methods of construction while adapting some aspects of modern technology; Uros use motorboats, watch TV, and have their own radio station.

Travel to see the Uros for yourself on our Treasures of Peru tour.

Have you ever built your own home, treehouse, lean-to or fort? Share below.