Category Archives: Anthropology

Machu Picchu

Terraced farming

Terraced farming

The Incas built  Machu Picchu 8,000 ft above sea level in the dense woods of the Peruvian Andes Mountain. It’s a couple of hours (in present time) from Cusco by a colectivo bus to Olantatambo and then another bus or train to Aquas Calientes or a taxi to and from Portoy and  looong train ride from/ to Aquas Calientes.

Since the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, called the ‘Lost City’ by Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who ‘discovered it,’ it remains mostly intact. He was told about the ruins by a local farmer, to whom he gave a single coin, and the  youth who led Bingham’s party them to it, a few coins.

Machu Picchu, spreads  over a five-mile area, and  has more than 150 buildings consisting of homes, baths, temples, sanctuaries, and out buildings for livestock. The  steep, narrow stone agricultural terraces, and a sophisticated irrigation system around the city blend into the landscape’s natural settings, and if you think about how it must have been to farm them, are mind-blowing.  The Temple of the Sun and  the Intihuatana stone, a granite rock that is said to be have been a solar clock or calendar are examples of both  creativity and engineering.  It’s unclear what its purpose was, or why the city was  abandoned.

I climbed to Intipunku, which means Sun Door in Quecha. It took me  over an hour of slow climbing on a rocky, uneven path that curls around the mountainside. Intipunku is the last stop for those more intrepid folks who hike the five day Inca trail. However one gets there, the view is stupendous. Check out the photo of the terraced garden below the site. How small the large city of Machu Picchu looks! Hikers I met who were on their way down felt compelled to say, “only a few more minutes now, or just a bit more, or you’re half way or a quarter way.” One guy said, “it’s tough but you will be so proud of yourself when you reach the top.” I said, in a mocking way, “shut up!” He roared laughing.

No matter how many photos one sees, the first view of this organized, sprawling city, terraced fields, and more than 3000! steps (I didn’t count them) takes your breath away. It’s a must see, and not as expensive as one is led to believe. A couple at my hostel in Cusco hiked in from the electric plant on the Aquas Caliente River never paying a penny, except for the colectivo.

 

 

Foundations That Last.

In every country there are ruins; old stone walls, chimneys, foundations.  As a child, I remember climbing over a stone foundation on the East bank of the Allegheny River that was said to have been an old house that President Washington had slept in. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. What mattered to me then was it was off-limits because of snakes,  its close proximity to the river, and it was too far for me to hear my mom call if she wanted to check on me.

We, the other naughty children who explored with me, because it was pretty much off-limits to all of us, made up stories about the place. We were sure it was haunted, that it was inhabited by spirits of the dead indians the army had killed, and white people who went to the house and never were seen agaIn. Nevermind that the Allegheny Indians were peaceable folks, in our tales, the white men always got scalped, the indians were shot with new Winchester rifles. The women, well, unless they were Annie Oakley, which in my mind I was, they kept the home fires burning.

During my treimage image image

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

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ruins in Olantatambo (sacred valley)

ruins in Olantatambo (sacred valley)

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Inca Foundations the Spanish used to build their churches on.

Inca Foundations the Spanish used to build their churches on.

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12 sided stone-truky incredible

12 sided stone-truy incredible

k around Peru,  I’ve visited ruins of pre-Inca people such as the  Chachapoyas, Wari,  Moche, Nazca, ..and many more…than the  Inca. As I wandered through the impressive  foundations, I wondered  what games the children played, how the family structure was set up, if the girls coud be warriors? I know they had engineers, astronomers, shaman, warriors, builders, laborers, masons, farmers, and managers, but how did the community function exactly?

The foundation of anything depends on the people. Marriages, education, emotional stability and of course the physical stuff that  I, and many thousands of folks and academics have been exploring. Thanks to the Incas who built Machu Picchu where the greedy Spanish couldn’t find it we have a whole city of foundations to learn about the culture. The Inca empire was the largest empire in pre-Colombian America. It stretched through what are now five countries, from Ecuador to Chile, taking in Argentina, Bolivia, and Columbia.  Five major languages were spoken (Quechua the official ) and lots of other smaller ones because as the Incas subdued other tribes their languages and customs were incorporated. Quechua is still spoken by many people in Peru.

However, as grand, strong, and intelligent as they were,  the Inca empire only lasted from 1438 to 1533. 95 years! They were overthrown by, and yes I’ll say it again, greedy men who were motivated by Christian greed; men who believed that if you didn’t believe as they did, you didn’t deserve to live.

The Inca religion worshipped the sun, the stars, and Pachamama-mother earth. Their communities were built to last. The  buildings did; the culture didn’t. They were overpowered by might, (bigger, better weapons), the passion felt by people who were convinced they were right and everyone else was wrong, and the unquenchable thirst for money-(gold).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puno: The Living and the Dead

Founded in 1668  near a now defunct silver mine, and on the shore of Lake Titicaca, Puno sits at 12,500 feet. My faulty heart beat hard in my chest climbing up the hills to see the Chullpa Tombs of Sillustani-hell, it protested going up the stairs of the hostel.

The chullpas, huge stone towers cut into square, cylinder, and rectangular shapes that all fit snugly together, is where the Colla tribe buried their dead over 500 years ago.They have been plundered by grave robbers, tumbled by earthquakes, and defaced by tourists. However, they continue to stand as testament to their respect of the dead.  I get it. I take great pride in my family cemetery plot where the remains of  my beloved family lies in Foxburg, PA. although in comparison, our tomb stones are a bit understated.

Would you be interested in setting up house on a foundation of tortora reeds that rot continually, forcing you to move every 25 years or so? I didn’t think so. The small island, part of the Uros Floating Islands that  we visited was one of about 48 on Lake Titicaca. Three or four families, a  total of 26 people live there. I bought a hand-embroidered pillow case of Pachamama (mother earth), made by Maria, the matriarch of the clan. When I was paying her, the coin fell into the reeds causing us to dig among them to find it. Walking on the reeds, ones feet sink in am inch or two. I watched a toddler lurch and stumble, but he got to his destination without help.

The island was very small, less than a whole block in the US; the houses not much more than thatched roof huts. The tribe used to use reed boats exclusively , but out back, behind the houses were several motor boats that the kids were playing on when I was there. A puppy, that dared to poop in front of us tourists was isolated in one of them, looking longingly at the kids. Apparently most of the families only go the islands to meet the tourists, and live on solid land these days. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating history and gives one a clue to ‘back in the day.”

Taquile Island is a non-floating island, with an intricate pattern of terraced farming, fenced off by large rocks dug up on the land. It reminded me of Ireland and England.

The Aymara and Uros tribes have intermarried, causing the Uros language to fade out. We were given a demo of the hats the men wear. Similar to Christmas stockings complete with tassels, depending on if he is married or single, or needs a visor for the sun, it’s turned around on his head. Boy, it takes out the guessing for the girls, who wear long scarves around their hair but don’t cover their faces. They wear tons of petticoats under their skirts and intricately, handknit sweaters.

The guide books say Puno pales in comparison to the colonial beauty of Ariquipa and Cusco. Maybe so, but it beats them hands down for sheer friendliness. Saturday, I happened upon a festival in the plaza. It was not for tourists. The colors of the costumes dazzled under the bright blue sky and hot sun. Walking around taking photos, I was asked to danced, given a cup of beer, and asked questions about my country. Even the women who are usually shy and don’t want their photos taken, allowed me to take a few.

Hilda, the woman who owns Inka’s Rest Hostel could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. Within a day I felt a kinship with her. She suggested I move there, and teach English to her, he

Uros canoes

Uros canoes

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Taquile Island

Taquile Island

Huts: Uros Island

Huts: Uros Island

male heron

male heron

Uros Island

Uros Island

image imager 4 year old daughter, and the staff. It’s tempting. Having ceviche in a tiny restaurant, the owner came out to sit with me, to share lives.  That to me, is the point of travel.

 

Juanita

Juanita was a little girl, not a teenager yet, when she traveled on foot, for days into the mountains, to the highest peak, to be sacrificed to the Inca  God, Apu Ampato. She was one of several children who were chosen to apease the angry god, who caused the volcano to erupt. Of course you give God the best you have:  innocent, virginal children, some ostensibly were of royalty.

Juanita was found by an  anthropologist, Dr. Johan Reinhard, in l995. The most astonishing thing to me was that her umbilical cord was with her. In Inca tradition, all mothers kept her child’s cord for as long as he or she lived, because it could prove useful if it contacted any diseases. Because of this, we have the  DNA of the sacrificed children. I remember the political commotion caused by the religious right  during the Bush administration about using umbilical cords for stem cell research. Whew. We have a lot to learn.

Jaunita was scanned at john’s Hopkins.They found out she had been killed by a blow to the temple above her right eye. The DNA showed she had eaten, fasted, and been sedated  prior to her death.

Juanita, who spends much of her time in the lab being studied, is taking a break from all that probing , and is resting, fully clothed in the same robes she had on 5 centuries ago in the small museum in Arequipa.  Visitors marvel at her small body,  pulled up into a fetal position, looking quite serene.

I expected grisly. It was anything but. Nat. Geo made a video of Juanita. It’s worth looking up.