Posts Tagged ‘peru’

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.

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.

Treasures of Peru

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
A Peruvian woman weaving, Photo by Carmen-Julia Arze

A Peruvian woman weaving, Photo by Carmen-Julia Arze

If there were only five things we would do in Peru, here’s what we’d suggest:

  1. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Yes, there are easier ways to get to the sacred city in the Andes mountains, but it is a completely different experience when you have put the sweat equity into the journey and are witnessing a quiet sunrise over the ancient ruins.
  2. We all want to go shopping, but going shopping with a local on a Sunday at the Pisac Market in Cusco provides a cultural experience you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll learn which traditional and authentic art pieces are worth buying, and how to make a really great deal – in Quechua.
  3. Experience the Cajamarca Carnival held every February where events include the decoration of cars, the public mocking of public figures, and dance, music, and lots of food. Also keep in mind that to really attend the Cajamarca Carnival, you will likely be soaked with water by the time you leave.
  4. To be in South America, and not find yourself in a rich rainforest is simply a shame. Try a rafting trip and a hiking excursion where you’ll witness amazing wildlife you won’t see anywhere else.
  5. Eat at least one meal with a Peruvian family. You may be trying new foods (such as Roasted Cuy – also known as guinea pig- a delicacy in Peru), but you’ll also make new friends in the process.

To experience all that Peru has to offer, join us on one of our many tours to explore Peru.

What would you recommend a traveler do in Peru?

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!