Posts Tagged ‘South America’

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!

Video: Diving Inside a Glacier

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

There are so many things we can learn from the Patagonia region whether from its culture or natural history. Here are a few little facts we uncovered.

  1. Patagonia is one of the least polluted places in the world, due to its remote location, sparse population and the low-impact lifestyle of its residents.
  2. Indigenous to the Patagonia region is the Kawésqar Community of Chile, who arrived in the region around 6000-7000 B.C. and were masters at navigating the waterways of the region. Their community has never been particularly large and maximum population estimates are around 5000. Today, there are only 22 living Kawésqar people and they are fighting to keep their culture and language from extinction.
  3. Scientists noticed repeated blue whale sightings close to shore in Patagonia’s Golfo Corcovado in the late 1990s. The location was actually a breeding location which was relatively unknown until these sightings were recorded. A team of researchers later identified the area as a blue whale nursery, which now provides opportunities to study this endangered species up close.
  4. Glaciers at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can reach almost four miles high. The National Park is the 3rd largest ice field in world behind Antarctica and Greenland.

What does it look like inside one of these massive glaciers? Take a look with these people who study glaciospeleology:

Would you scuba dive inside a glacier?

Learn more fun facts about Patagonia on our value-priced journey—Patagonia and the Natural Wonders of Argentina and Chile.  

Photo: Pretty Frog, But Don’t Touch!

Thursday, November 5th, 2009
Jessie Cohen, NZP photographer

Jessie Cohen, NZP photographer

The poison dart frog, above, is found in the Amazon rain forests of Central and South America.

Sure, it’s pretty, but this little frog who measures between less than an inch and two inches can actually take down a small animal with its powerful toxin. That’s why it is a bright shade of blue, as to say to predators, “Don’t mess with me.” These frogs are also known as poison arrow frogs because some indigenous tribes in the Amazon have used their secretions to poison their darts for hunting for generations. It’s easy to confuse these frogs with the over 44 different species of harlequin frogs, which are actually toads, and have the same bright colors and poisonous secretions that are found in the region.

These frogs are a tiny group of amphibians who are part of a vast animal community that live in the Amazon rain forest, a region that spans 2,722,000 miles in South and Central America. Other residents of the region include Golden Lion Tamarins, the Dusty Titi Monkey, and our favorite, the Giant Anteaters . Check out little Baby Cyrano, who was born at the National Zoo on March 12, 2009.

What’s your favorite Amazonian animal?

Click for our The Mighty Amazon tour.