Kenney Family Peru Trip
Inca entryway at Ollantaytambo.
Welcome to the Kenney’s Peru trip—August 21 – September 1, 2004. I’m going to intersperse Adam’s livejournal comments with my own narrative and with pictures taken by both of us and by Margot. I’ll start with Adam.
(from Adam’s livejournal on August 26th: Introduction):
Lifting off from
Boston, I saw the city bathed in violet light beneath an electric orange
horizon. We so rarely credit the wonders that we are heir to.
The hotel that we're staying at presently (the Libertador in Cuzco) has an Internet lounge, so I'm going to start posting here, being uncertain how much time I'll have to do so upon my return.
In brief: it's been an interesting trip so far, very different from the genteel destinations that my family has historically preferred. I have mixed feelings about the four-star hotels and guided tours: clearly, judging from London, it's not my personal style. But at the same time, I would feel very adrift in this place without some guidance, as I don't speak the language and share relatively few cultural anchors. And anyway, I don't know whether I'm here to experience Peru as it is now, or as it was two thousand years ago, or both, or what. So I'm just taking in as much as I can.
I’ll divide this Web site into three parts: general observations (this part); place descriptions; and tour guide.
Reflecting Adam’s impression that the ghosts here (albeit from five hundred years ago, not two thousand) are as real as the present time, I’ll start with the Incas.
Everyone loves to love the Incas. This includes their descendants and those of their close neighbors, the Quechua peoples. Quechua is one of the two official languages of Peru (along with Spanish). In the highlands, there is a certain look to the people. Quechua blood is strong here. But even our tour guide in Cuzco – gentle, erudite Marco with his necktie and umbrella, Spanish-looking and European educated (with a degree in anthropology) described an event as “good for the Spaniards, but bad for us.” Us. Although Marco and most of the people in Cuzco are of mixed blood (I asked), it’s very clear which side they identify with. I was fiercely glad about this.
Okay. So why do we all prefer the Incas to the Spaniards? On the surface of it, the answer is obvious. The Spaniards were illiterate, intolerant bullies who arrived with their superior weapons and their European diseases to decimate a civilized culture, and thought so little of it that they melted down the brilliant Inca artwork and crafted items in silver and gold for bullion to pay their armies. They enslaved the people. They not only forbade them to practice their religion, but also made them tear down their own temples (rather than which many of the Quechuas preferred to commit suicide). They obliterated the Inca culture and never even knew what they had destroyed. We value that which has disappeared, especially since the little we know of it has beauty and wisdom.
But on the other hand. The Inca empire was less than a hundred years old when the Spaniards destroyed it. All the evidence indicates that the Incas did to other, earlier civilizations exactly what the Spaniards did to theirs – obliterated religious practices; destroyed whole towns as well as temples, sometimes demolishing them stone from stone; transported entire peoples into slave labor in remote regions. The Incas destroyed a pre-Columbian and relatively advanced civilization in Equador so thoroughly, dismantling entire cities stone from stone and relocating entire populations, that had the events not happened within the living memory of some of the people met by the Spaniards, we would have no record of it at all. Like the Spaniards, the Incas ultimately extended their empire too far and, overextended, helped bring about their own downfall.
I think the main thing one can say about the Incas as opposed to the Spaniards is that they took from the peoples they conquered arts and culture, not just material wealth. They were willing to learn. Much of the art of stone-building at Ollantaytambo and other Inca sites (such as Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman, among others) clearly came from the Tiahuanacu people, whom they conquered. The Incas forceably relocated the Tiahuanacu stonebuilders and others to Ollantaytambo, thereby solving two problems at once. The Tiahuanacu had not voluntarily joined the Inca empire (as had many other groups); and because they had fought against the Incas, they had to be subdued and punished. The Ollantaytambans had also resisted, and since they were close to home, the Incas had to keep them under control. The Incas decided that a significant structure (Incas seemed to combine monument, fortress, and temple into one concept) was needed at Ollantaytambo, and the Tiahuanacu were the people to build it.
Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, and Machu Picchu were never finished. The Inca empire lasted less than a hundred years and had only four emperors before the Spanish came. Building projects involving thousands of people over fifty years ground to a sudden halt when the smallpox swept down, ahead of the Spaniards, followed shortly by civil war. By the time the Spaniards themselves arrived, it was already over.
The other factor that keeps the Incas so alive in our hearts and spirits is the interplay of light and heaviness. It’s hard to comprehend a culture that had such a love of stone and such a mastery of its workmanship, while at the same time worshipping the sun. Yet only the dominance of both of these factors can explain the magic of the structures we find. Machu Picchu is magnificent – but it is not unique (except in how well preserved and how [relatively] accessible it is). The Incas built on the shoulders of the mountains, where they could mark and celebrate the rising and setting of the sun. Watching the sun set or rise over Machu Picchu shows clearly how inconceivable it is the Incas would have built in the dark river valleys, or on the exposed peaks. At the same time they built of the material of the mountains, fitting and polishing each unique stone, rejoicing in the size and power of the rocks, and working their structures right into and around the natural stone formations.
Machu Picchu – construction detail
One more thing. Quechua (and perhaps even specifically Inca) culture is far from vanished in Peru. Our deeply Christian guide at the convent in Arequipa spoke not only of Christ as Love, but also of the power of the earth as manifested in certain root vegetables (long, phallic ones). The condor representing heaven, the puma representing the earth, and the serpent representing the world below the earth are all carved into the stone façade of a church on the main square in Arequipa. One of the chapels of the cathedral in Cuzco, beautifully carved of native wood, has deliciously fertile naked women carved into every armrest of every seat. Tour guides point out these features proudly. We are Catholic, they seem to be saying, but in our own way and on our own terms. The computer geek who copied my camera’s full flash card to CDROM in Cuzco paused to admire a photo of a condor in flight. Condors, we were told more than once, are the guides of the soul from this life to the next. Our guide in the Sacred Valley carried an Inca cross, the three-stepped cross representing the worlds below, on, and above the earth, and the four directions of the Inca roads out of Cuzco, the navel of the world, to all the world’s quarters. (I love this elegant symbol of the entire universe, and now have one of my own, with a jewel representing Cuzco, which means navel in Quechua, in the center.)
If you don’t eat meat, be prepared to eat a lot of trout and kingfish. But I mean, a lot of trout and kingfish. It’s very good. At first.
(from Adam’s livejournal on August 26th: Cuisine):
Some of the food
here is familiar (lots of sauteed river trout, for instance), but other edibles
are quite fascinating. Particularly tantalizing oddities:
- Coca tea is commonplace, foisted especially upon tourists and travelers as a remedy for fatigue stemming from altitude sickness. Yes, it's what you think it is. It tastes a bit like grass, but it's not unpleasant, especially sweetened. I'm half tempted to bring some back with me, but somehow I doubt that customs would be very enamoured of the idea.
- Tuber schnapps (exact name unavailable) is distilled from a sort of beet-like starchy root. It's very sweet, 20% alcohol, and its taste reminds me of Triaminic.
- Guinea pigs (known in Quechua as ‘cuy’) are raised in hutches for meat. A few touristy restaurants provide their own fanciful takes on this traditional standby. Llama steak is also a favorite.
- Purple passion potatoes (exact name unavailable), among more than 150 varieties of potato that were farmed by the Incas, are allegedly aphrodisiacal.
- Inca Kola is the local soft drink. It's about the color of Mountain Dew, though more yellow, and various billboards suggest that corn and tubers might play some role in its flavour. I sort of like it.
- Dried potatoes and quinoa are the favored starches of the indigenous cuisine. The dried potatoes have a mealy texture, but the quinoa is exceptional - I liked it before I came here, and now I'm an even more enthusiastic adherent to its quinoaic doctrines.
A last note on eating here. The guidebooks would have us very paranoid indeed about drinking the water, touching the water, touching anything that the water might have touched, eating unpeeled fruit, eating fruit that anyone else might have peeled, touching the water then peeling fruit, et cetera ad nauseam. We were quite cautious about this at first, but as no one has yet suffered mind-boggling intestinal ailments, we've chipped away at some of the excessiveness of it. After all, following those regulations, it becomes a choice to eat healthily or safely; and surely some compromise exists.
Let me add that when we reached a hotel that assured us all its water (including in the kitchen) was filtered, we practically dove into our large dinner salads with lettuce. As good as the food was in general, we were just starved for leafy greens.
Also, at a certain point (too early, no doubt, and at too high an altitude) we discovered the Peruvian National Alcoholic Beverage – the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a whiskey made from grapes. Pisco Sours contain pisco, sugar syrup, lime juice, and egg white, and therefore provide sustenance in a number of important food groups – alcohol, dessert, protein, and vitamin C.
(from Adam’s livejournal on August 30th: Churches):
The churches here have long had earthquake trouble,
from the great quake in 1690 that leveled all the early structures to
shatterings as recent as 1991. They are continually being rebuilt. The Incan
holy edifices, meanwhile, have survived essentially intact, the perfect
mortarless joining of their stones resisting natural eradication of any kind.
In Arequipa, the stone facade of a Jesuit cathedral was ornamented in the Spanish baroque style, but with figures from the native mythology of its builders more prevalent than imagery recognizably Christian. Syncretism at its finest.
Church of La Compania in Arequipa (from the Internet)
Also in Arequipa was a convent the size of a town, a city within the city, its houses built by aristocratic families who interred their second daughters there. The grounds were beautiful, and the tour guide fairly dogmatic. The visiting-room was particularly impressive, shrouded in darkness to keep the nuns from suffering unsanctified gazes, a double wood lattice standing between the sisters' benches and the world outside.
Later, we veered some distance from our route to visit a nearly-deserted town. Its cathedral, ruined by the aforementioned earthquake, had a roof of sheet steel that rattled and banged in the thin, wailing wind. Inside, the garish, almost dollhouse-worthy altars and ornaments were half-covered by dustcloths, or stood lopsided in the dusty dimness. In a narrow passage behind the brightly-colored rear wall lay an ancient Spanish altar, remnants of gold leaf still adorning its rusted edges.
The Camelid test
As every tour guide we had made a point of telling us (and often illustrated with pictures), the Andean camelids come in four varieties: your basic everyday llama; that staple of the tourist garment industry, the alpaca; the adorable, undomesticated deer-like vicuňa; and the mysterious guanaco, which is indistinguishable to the untrained eye from the other three. Actually, despite the efforts of our numerous tour guides, we were never very much good at telling them apart.
Oh yeah? You think you can tell them apart? Okay then, you are welcome to try this simple test (don’t peek at the picture names [if they exist] – which, since I am the one that named them, might be wrong in any case)…
No doubt I’ve missed some very telling general observations—but you’re probably already fretting at my verbosity and eager to see the pictures and descriptions of the places we visited.