Friday, April 25, 2008

Toro Muerto Petroglyphs and the White City

The Toro Muerto petroglyphs in Peru are located in some of the driest desert I have seen. The landscape is all Grey rock and sand with hardly a sign of life-not even many insects or lizards. About the time these were carved several thousand years ago, this was a major trading route between the highlands and the coast. Many of the petroglyphs feature dancers with headdresses and masks and possibly represent ceremonies conducted here. Maybe the ceremonies where for a good trading profit, or to ask the gods for safe passage across this dry, dry, dry desert. Unlike Samali Tash in Kyrgyzstan, they were pretty easy to get to. The only thing we had to brave was the heat!

Toro Muerto petroglyphs in Peru

Tall man waving

The animals look pretty cheerful!

The cow jumping over the moon?

This was a major trading route between the highlands and the coast. Why were these petroglyphs carved on so many rocks here? I think it was to ask the gods for safe passage across this dry, dry, dry desert.

A ritual dance with masks and headdresses. Perhaps part of the ceremony for safe passage?

In the Santa Catalina nunnery in Arequipa

A girl feeding the pigeons in the town square of Arequipa

Arequipa is called The White City because of the white granite used in construction of many of its buildings. This church is alongside the main square.

A small demonstration in Arequipa about rising food prices- rice, corn, and other staples. Also about lack of jobs. One protester told us ¨people who have money eat. people who don´t have money don´t eat.¨ Seems pretty obvious to some people, but in the States we are used to having plenty jobs and opportunities as well as social programs like welfare, unemployment, and food stamps. Here, there is not a lot to fall back on but family.

Back in Time

Amantani Islands extensive terrace system

On Amantani Island in Lake Titicaca, life goes on much like it has for thousands of years. No roads, no vehicles, and in fact, I never saw a wheel of any type. A few buildings have lights running off car batteries, but mostly people use candle light. The island is covered with terraced garden plots, where people grow herbs, many kinds of potatoes and other root vegetables, peas, beans, and a variety of grains. They catch fish from the lake also, but only small ones now. The villagers told us that the big fish disappeared a while ago. They also grow small stands of Eucalyptus trees for firewood. There are a few animals on the island, some cows, sheep and guinea pigs. These are used for dairy, wool, and sale, respectively. The islanders do not have dogs, "except for four," as they made an agreement, followed by most of the villagers, that they didn't want dogs because they are loud and bother the children.

We stayed two nights on the island with Captain Gabriel, his wife, four daughters, and son. During the day, Gabriel worked in the fields, while his wife and children (after school) sorted through the harvest and wove textiles. Weaving is an integral part of the culture and it is common to see women spinning thread on a drop spindle when they walk, sit, or any time they have their hands free. Men knit wool hats with intricate designs and Gabriel used a sewing machine to make embroidered traditional head cloths for sale to the local women. The culture on the island seems more egalitarian than many places we have visited, especially in Asia. I saw both men and women working equally in the fields and in the home. Both carry heavy loads on their backs. Women inherit and seem to have more say in things than many women around the world.

Gabriel told us how his ancestors have lived on the island for 1000's of years, but it has more population now than ever before. People are having problems growing sufficient crops on their plots of land, which get smaller with each passing generation. Land is passed down equally to both sons and daughters, and Gabriel is worried about what will happen when his land must be split five ways between his children. It is now just enough to sustain them, he tells us. One of the consequences of having the land split equally between sons and daughters is that the land owned by a family becomes very fragmented as people from across the island marry. Gabriel and his family have many small plots of land spread out over the entire island. This same land has belonged to his ancestors and been passed down in his family for 1000's of years.

The family, and others on the island, combat this dilution of land by spreading out their economy to gain extra income. In addition to tourism, they sell guinea pigs for human consumption and small fish as trout food to the fisheries on the mainland. They sell woven, knitted, and embroidered textiles, locally and on the mainland, and even stone from the island quarries is carved into sinks and other objects to sell. Also, many people, especially the younger ones, are leaving the island to work in the cities. In addition to sending money home, this also results in land sometimes being available for purchase by other islanders.

There are two old temples at the top of the island. Even though the islanders are now officially Catholic, like most of South America, they still retain some of their ancient religious beliefs. Gabriel told us that the two temples are dedicated to Father and Mother Earth. In January, a dance is conducted between the two temples and sacrifices offered for a good harvest. On our second night, the weather grew stormy, with thunder and lightning off in the distance. We heard explosions of some type and asked Gabriel about them. "The villagers are scaring away the hail," he answered. "Big hail sometimes comes and damages the crops. The harvest is not finished." We think it was fireworks being lit, as Gabriel told us that the villagers do not have guns. "We do not need them. It is peaceful here" he explained.

From an environmental standpoint, the visit to the island was very interesting. Life is much the same here as at has been for thousands of years, and it is a good example at how people in a small system have dealt with their environment and the problems that have come, especially now with a swelling population. The entire island is used for agriculture, raising animals, growing trees for firewood, and placing homes and other infrastructure. Not one inch is left wild. For the most part, use of the land has been sustainable, with exception of the fish, which has been over fished to depletion of all large fish species. The problem of deforestation has been solved by planting trees for firewood. Although there is some erosion, it is mostly kept under control by the terracing system that covers the whole island. It remains to be seen whether the problem of overpopulation here, like most of the world, can be dealt with in a sustainable way.

Gabriel's Wife

Gabriel's youngest children in their traditionally styled hats. The villagers no longer use natural dyes, instead preferring the bright colors of chemical dyes.

A woman spinning

Colorful skirts out to dry

Herding sheep

Villagers can often be found spending siesta in the village square

A village women helps untie our boat

Heading home from the fields

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Peru; on the Gringo Trail

After over a year of travel, Tim and I were both getting a little tired from being on the road, and ready to go home. But then we landed in Peru, with its snowcapped peaks, amazing ancient historical sites, interesting culture, and excellent food, and we both felt revived, happy to be on the road again.

We flew into Cuzco to start our tour along the famous gringo trail, which includes Macchu Picchu and other Incan sites, as well as many colorful local markets. Note that we actually flew this time-I have finally grown tired of all those local buses, although they made for some good stories, like this one: A ride on an Indian local bus. After several days acclimatizing and visiting smaller sites, we headed to Macchu Picchu by tourist train. We stayed all day, hiking up Waynu Picchu (the steep peak seen in most of the photos), and bringing books and towels to lay out in the nicely trimmed grass (mostly trimmed by llamas!). It was a perfect day, with changing light conditions throughout the day.

The Incas built with some amazing stonework, especially considering that they used stone tools and had no wheel! The rock work is intricately fitted together, and stones weighing many tons are placed perfectly on top of each other. They also built water systems and fountains that still flow with clean, clear water today, more than 700 years after being built. I wonder if our copper pipes and fittings will last that long!

A foggy morning at Macchu Picchu.
Wild Orchids grow throughout Macchu Picchu and the surrounding area.

As the day progressed, the sun began to come out, shining beautiful shafts of light into the ruins.

You can see the stone knobs that the thatch roof was connected to.

Lupins and many other beatiful flowers abound in the Andean highlands

Rabbit? Squirrel? Rodent of some kind?

Example of the fine rockwork done by the Incas using hard rocks as tools.

Ollantaytambo. These granite stones came from the quarry way up on the mountainside on the opposite side of the valley. To get the boulders across the river, the Incas brought them to the edge, and then diverted the river to the other side!

View from the stone quarry at Ollantaytambo. Stones were brought down the mountain, across the valley, and to a point about 150 meters up the slopes on the other side.

A fountain at Ollantaytambo. Some of the water systems built by the Incas nearly 700 years ago still flow today.

Niches in a Pisaq temple

Lifting a sheep onto the top of the bus!


Chinchero, at 3500 meters.

Hiking around Chinchero

Photos of colorful Andean markets

This video shows about 30 seconds of a traditional Andean hunting dance.


Another land border, from Argentina to Paraguay. This is the most porous border yet; God only knows what was smuggled across in those heavily taped boxes that went beneath the bus. We landed at the seedy border town of Ciudad del Este and headed into town after finding a dive hotel for 15 dollars a night. South America is not as cheap as it used to be! The downtown was absolutely deserted, at 5:00 in the evening, except for security guards at every corner with long sawed off shotguns. The shops where all closed with metal doors rolled shut over them. At one corner several men were trying to rattle their way in one. Eventually we found an ATM and a place to eat. A Chinese woman in a short skirt was twirling her keys and making suggestive comments to the diners as we walked in. As we ate I noticed a man standing by the window staring in at us. When I glanced at him he winked at me and continued staring for a moment before backing into the shadows and lurking there. After a bit he was back at the window staring as he twirled something in his hand. If I looked over in his direction he would wink or make other machismo facial expressions. I was completely unsettled and told Tim that he was waiting for us with bad intentions. But it turned out his motives not nearly as sinister as I had imagined. The man sitting next to us bought him some food and asked the waiter to bring it to him. The man grabbed his to-go bag and took off, mission apparently accomplished.

Day two in Paraguay was spent visiting Itaipu Dam, which produces 75% of Paraguay's power and 25% of Brazil´s. The Dam is an environmental nightmare to be sure, but if that 75% of power had to be supplied by another means it would probably be just as bad environmentally, and probably worse from a humanitarian standpoint; power would be more expensive in a country that is already quite poor, and Paraguay would not be as energy self-dependant. The tour of the dam started with a propaganda video showing all the animals that supposedly live around the newly created lake, but most of the photos came from inside a zoo. When the dam was finished in 1983, water flow was completely cut off and the lake was filled within a three week period. Tim and I couldn't help but crack up laughing when the movie showed people in small boats netting animals that where stuck in the trees as the water rose. This was supposed to prove environmental awareness, but I think filling the dam that fast was completely reckless! I guess the animals that couldn't climb trees were shit out of luck.

After our visit to the dam we spent six hours on a bus and a few more trudging around looking for a hotel in Asuncion. At one, we were told that a room would be available in a half hour. OK, now, it's 8:30 at night. Just what kind of hotel do you think that was? At some point during this odyssey, I remembered that it was my birthday. Tim remembered the next morning!

We spent three days in Asuncion (not in the questionable hotel) before heading to Ybycui National Park (your guess on pronunciation is as good as mine) to see one of the last stands of Brazilian subtropical rain forest. Unfortunately, it was now in the midst of Holy Week and both hotels in town were full. Buses were coming into Ybycui, but they were not leaving for two days. Sonya, The friendly lady running one of the hotels showed us a room full of extra furniture and said we could stay there. She brought us sheets and a foam mattress to sleep on. The lights did not work and neither did the fan, but the room had a nice balcony. As evening came around, bass thumping cars full of teenagers began cruising back and forth on the road out front. It soon became apparent that our room was a mosquito breeding ground, so we set up our tent in the middle of the floor. The next morning the room was full of bloody mosquitoes. Well, at least it wasn't our blood!

Sonya found us a ride to the park with a friendly couple staying at the hotel. It was jam packed with locals and tourists from Asuncion swimming and camping. There were two major highlights for the day. One was seeing a Praying Mantis staggering along in its weird, jerky gait and the other was an amazing, huge, electric blue and black patterned butterfly.

After this, we headed to another border town, and another border to cross.

Drinking Yerba de Mate, the national drink. Everywhere you see people carrying thermoses of this tea leaf brew.

How would you like to have a tooth pulled here?

An old cannon in a city square, piled with riot gear. I was a little nervous snapping this shot in the midst of the many groups police lingering around.

Praying mantis

An interesting mural in Asunction.