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Exploring in the Footsteps of Pachacutec, Pizarro, and Darwin

By | June 3, 2014

Arriving late, it wasn’t until the next morning that we saw our first glimpses of Peru and Lima.  We started at the regal Plaza de Armas, bordered by the presidential palace and the 500-year-old Cathedral which conqueror Francisco Pizarro built when founding Lima as the capital of the Spanish crown. Our next stop was the Museo Larco and its stunning collection of pre-Colombian art that spans 10,000 years and features gold headdresses and erotic ceramics.

Holiday celebrations at Plaza de Armas, Lima, PeruColorfully costumed revelers
Holiday celebrations at Plaza de Armas, Lima, Peru. Credit: R. Szaro.

Stained glass window of Pizarro in downtown Lima
Stained glass window of Pizarro in downtown Lima. Credit: R. Szaro.

Gold at the Museo LarcoCeramics at the Museo Larco
Gold and ceramics at the Museo Larco. Credit: R. Szaro.

Oh, and then there's the incredible food!  Lima's fusing of ingredients from the Peruvian Andes, Amazon and Pacific, allows  creative chefs to blend flavors and ingredients in their own unique dishes. For the rest of the world, guinea pigs may be perfectly cute pets. But in the Andes, from where the species come, they have a very different use — food. . Grilled or fried cuy has a taste similar to a cross between duck and pork.  No wonder cuys (as they are called in Peru) are woven into the fabric of Andean culture. In the cathedral in Cusco, the old Inca capital, a painting of the Last Supper shows Christ and the Apostles dining on guinea pig! But the idea of Peruvian fusion in my view is more than about the food.  In its broadest form it is an Andean fusion of peoples, foods, culture, ruins, and biodiversity.

Guinea pigs, a Peruvian delicacyCeviche, a Peruvian delicacy
Guinea pigs and ceviche, Peruvian delicacies. Credit: R. Szaro.

Walk through Machu Picchu and it becomes obvious that nature formed the basis of Incan  belief and engineering systems: temples were built with mathematical precision to capture the sun's rays; mountain peaks were used for worship; animals such as the condor and puma symbolized strength and greatness; and the water ways and drainage systems that moved water in and out of the city were more advanced than any European city at the time.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu. Credit: R. Szaro.

Cusco is a marvel of narrow hilly streets, where Incan aqueducts and stone foundations can still be seen. Its streets are filled with women in colorful, embroidered Quechua dress, oftentimes with a llama or baby lamb, all hoping to pose for photos in exchange for a Peruvian Sol (about 35 cents). At the center of the Plaza de Armas is a statue to Pachacutec, the greatest leader and founder of the Incan empire.

Colorful costumes on the streets of Cusco
Colorful costumes on the street of Cusco. Credit: R. Szaro.

Bob Szaro

Bob Szaro grew up fascinated by nature and started bird-watching while in grade school. His love of birds has led to travels and research around the world including many trips to Central and South America. His passion for different cultures, natural history and photography has led to his exploring the variety of landscapes found in Costa Rica starting in 1982 from the cloud forests of Monteverde to the dry forests of Guanacaste. Bob retired in 2008 as Chief Scientist for Biology for the US Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. Bob received a Dual Bachelors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology from Texas A&M University (1970), a Masters Degree in Zoology from the University of Florida (1972), and a Doctoral Degree in Ecology from Northern Arizona University (1976). He also completed the Senior Executive Fellows program at Harvard University (1993). Bob currently serves as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution on biodiversity, climate change, and tiger conservation.

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