Tag Archives: museum

Cuenca

After splitting ways in Manta I (Mark) made my way to Cuenca in the south via Guayaquil. The latter is a modern city that is surging forward. Many people visit as a stop off to the Galapogas Islands and it is worth a day to go down to the city centre (people were very friendly – I got a lot of 'hello' from people who genuinely just wanted to say hi).

Cuenca is a short trip from Guayaquil through some nice hill country. It was fairly rugged and foggy, reminded me of photos I had seen of Scotland. Apparently there are a few hiking trails in them thar hills.

The view from my hotel rooftop.

Cuenca is a great little city built on an old Inca site. It sits in a valley with the old town separated from the modern city centre by a river. I discovered some nice restaurants and bars, an ugly museum, a nice aviary and a merry Belgian selling waffles.

The central square features a lot of wonderful colonial architecture.

The cathedral borders the central plaza. It is very nice but impossible to photograph from a good angle.


Short video of Cuenca and the aviary.

It was almost a year ago that I was in Cuenca and I still have fond memories of it. I could easily have stayed longer. The weather was beautiful the whole time I was there and I really enjoyed just walking around the city. A nice place to rest before exploring the region.

The rest of my trip was spent making my way to Santiago, via stop offs in Máncora and Lima to break the trip up. The goal by that point was to make it home without having anything stolen (we had been very lucky to date) and I must admit it felt like a minor victory to arrive in Santiago with all my possessions – although the adrenaline was already pumping through my veins after my alarm didn't work, necessitating an emergency dash to the airport!

 


Lima: The City of Kings

The best thing about this city is the food. We finally found something worth eating – ceviche, the delicious dish that is the star of Peru’s culinary repertoire.

A sample of ceviche.

Wandering along the coast line, stopping to drink wine and eat seafood is a pretty awesome introduction to any new place. We decided to stay in Miraflores, the seaside suburb of Lima, and stopped for lunch at ‘La Mar’, one of Lima’s best cevicherias. Here we were treated to a selection of different ceviche dishes (variations of raw fish, chili and onions marinated in lime juice). Ceviche, where have you been all my life!?

Lima is also the home of the Pisco Sour, a cocktail that is popular along the west coast, and the Lima Sigh, a wonderfully sweet desert. A stop at the Gran Hotel Bolivar, where the Pisco Sour was conceived, is mandatory, and any decent restaurant around the central squares will spoil you with a Lima Sigh.

We weren’t in Lima for long, but we did manage to catch up with old and new friends, as well as wander around the shops and city streets. A referral put us onto a city tour bus, which we thought was the easiest and cheapest way to get around and see the sights all in one afternoon.

We went through the old squares in the center of town and saw the glamorous buildings from the colonial era, which still look magnificent.

The tour finished at the Museo Larco, which has one of the most incredible collections of Inca art anywhere in the world. The museum is a beautiful building of white washed walls and red flowers. Established in 1926, the Museo Larco hosts a vast collection of around 45,000 artifacts excavated from northern, central and southern Peru.

Photo taken from the courtyard.

Peru is one of the six cradles of civilization and the museum exhibits cover the many tribes that rose and fell over the last 5,000 years. Over time it is possible to see how the art became more sophisticated and how the different cultures influenced each other. The apex of this art is represented by the Incas, who amalgamated all of these influences as the empire spread across Peru.

We learnt a lot from the visit, and as it happens many of the best pieces from Cusco’s Museo de Art Pre-Colombino are on loan from this museum. We were so impressed with the collection that we bought a photographic book published by Museo Larco (which Mark used to design a tattoo on his back).

Lima itself was rather grey due to a haze that hangs over the city from April to November. It would have been nice to stay longer, but we were getting travel weary and were keen for some sunny beach time. So we boarded a dreadful overnight bus and escaped to the surfer’s paradise of Mancora!

The hazy shades of Lima.

 


Machu Picchu

Llama photo bomb!

Machu Picchu. You have seen it all before. But don’t be put off by the touristy cliché, it is amazing, and it is one of the world’s top tourist destinations for a reason!

Seeing the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu was something we had been looking forward to for years and we were really excited about it, despite aforementioned food poisoning. Everyone at our hostel seemed keen to get up at 5am to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. However, we had read that the mountains are usually covered in a morning mist that blocks out the sun, so we decided to sleep in to a more respectable time.

Arriving at the top of the mountain, looking down to the Urubumba River.

It is possible to hike to the entrance from Aguas Calientes but as we weren’t feeling well we decided to just catch a bus up. This was cheap and easy and got us to the entrance to Machu Picchu at around 9am.

When we arrived it felt like we were lining up to enter a theme park, but the lines moved quickly despite the hundreds of people pouring off buses all at the same time. After a quick bag check we had our passports stamped and we were on our way!

First glimpse of Inca Ruins at Machu Picchu.

This was actually a perfect time to arrive, as the mist was lifting and the ruins were starting to show us their full glory. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect. After having seen thousands of images of Machu Picchu over the years, we were worried that we might be underwhelmed. However, this was definitely not the case as the sheer scale and location of the ruins were breathtaking!

We wandered around for a while, took a few photos, and pinched ourselves. Hikers started to appear covered in mud from multi-day treks, and even though that would have been an incredible way to arrive, we were just stoked that we made it at all!

Machu Picchu: morning and afternoon.

Unfortunately we didn’t book our tickets in time to hike up Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind the ruins – numbers are limited to 400 people per day and they sell out quickly). We were however able to get tickets to hike up the higher peak, Mount Machu Picchu, which overlooks the postcard view. The mountain is ridiculously steep, and combined with altitude and remnants of food poisoning, pretty tough! The last part was more like rock climbing than hiking but the views over the valley were spectacular and gave us a good idea of the layout of the ruins as well.

The steep climb up Mount Machu Picchu.

Looking down over the ruins from Mount Machu Picchu.

Mount Machu Picchu.

We brought our own food and had lunch on a grassy terrace overlooking the ruins. The mist had slowly cleared and we had perfect views of the whole valley. We spent the afternoon wandering through the ruins with our guidebook in hand, feeling like explorers. Every now and then we latched on to a tour group to hear their explanation of certain sites, but it was pretty easy to get around and by 3pm most people had left. One of the best tips we had was to stay two nights in Aguas Calientes so that we didn’t have to rush off to catch a train back to Cusco. That was great because it meant that we had access to the ruins without being surrounded by hundreds of people, and it was easy to just catch a bus back down the hill when everything shut at 5pm.

Machu Picchu in the afternoon, minus hoards of tourists.

Just before we left we went on another walk to see the Inca Bridge, which is precariously placed on the side of a cliff. It is no longer possible to get too close (a tourist died trying) but it's still interesting to see how they would have controlled these access points as a security mechanism.

Inca Bridge at one of the entrances to Machu Picchu.

After a long day we headed back to the hostel, quickly got changed, and wandered up to the thermal springs to soak our tired bodies in warm pools. The complex was really nice and it was the perfect way to finish off the day!

 


The Pisco Museum

So we had heard about this pisco stuff when a mate of ours visited Chile some years ago. However our stint in Chile was pretty short so we were stoked to learn that pisco is also popular in Peru. In fact, the two countries have been arguing for a long time over who invented it first.

Fortunately a couple of entreprenuers have started up a Pisco Museum in Cusco. We were expecting something low key but the museum could be more accurately described as a cocktail bar.

That's a lot of pisco.

A Cholopolitan and an El Majeño.

There's all sorts of information on how pisco is made but we recommend having a go at the degustation. There were several options, we went with a tasting of four bottles. To our surprise this came with a talk from one of the staff (cheers Sergio!), who walked us through how the various varieties are made. The service was excellent and it was a lot of fun.

The bottles in the degustation have been hand picked by the museum owners. That must have been quite a task as there are many, many producers.

In brief, there's a bunch of different varieties, distinguished by whether the grapes are red or white. Production involves a staged distillation process that is periodically 'paused' to control fermentation of the grapes, resulting in a sharp, crisp product at the end. Would love to say more but pisco consumption got in the way of note taking…

Here's the low down on the tastings. The type of pisco is listed after the name of the producer.

  • Don Zacarias, Quebranta (no date). Made in Lima. Strong sharp taste. Fruity. Pronounced, lingering aftertaste.
  • Ferreyros Acholado, Cosecha (2011). A mix of red and white grapes. Smoother, more body to it, easier to drink. No pronounced aftertaste. Made in Ica.
  • Estirpe Peruana, Puro Moscatel (2008). A bit sharp but not as much as the Don Zacarias. A mid-step between the two; still an aftertaste but not as strong, still a bit smooth but not as smooth as the Ferrey. Tasted better on the second mouthful.
  • Don Amadeo, Torontel (2012). Tastes a bit like a muscat. Made in Lima. Fruity, not too sharp with a strong aroma. Added lime, became refreshing and easier to drink.

This experience kickstarted a whole lotta pisco concumption while we were in Peru. We mostly stuck to Pisco Sours, the national cocktail. It originated in Lima and Mark actually visited one of the hotels that helped make it popular, the Gran Bolivar Hotel. The drink uses quebranta pisco and is mixed with egg whites, limes and sugar syrup. As it settles the egg whites seperate from the mix resulting in a layered cocktail. Very refreshing on a hot day.

We've had a few goes at making them with mixed results. It is probably a good thing that they aren't easy to replicate, best to go straight to Peru!

Here's a picture of bacon with chocolate sauce. It was delicious. Get on to that. Now.

Tasty snack from the museum.

 


Cusco

Cusco (also spelt Cuzco and Qosqo) is essentially base camp for anyone looking to explore the heart of the Inca empire. A picturesque World Heritage Site, it hosts both impressive inca ruins and cobbled colonial suburbs. It is rich in history and one could spend a comfortable week exploring the town and it's immediate surroundings.

The Cathedral, Plaza de Armas.

The city centres around Plaza de Armas, an impressive square flanked by old colonial shop fronts and two impressive churches, the Cathedral and the Jesuit's Church. The former is a must visit. The Cathedral features a massive basilica with ornate wooden carvings, shrines and great stone pillars. The Cathedral hosts the remains of Gasilasco de la Vega, the Spanish chronicler of the Incas, and you will also see the famous Last Supper painting with a slight twist – roast guinea pig has been added to the table.

Top: The Cathedral at left and the Jesuit's Church on the right. Bottom: Shops overlooking Plaza de Armas.

Plaza de Armas at night.

The Jesuit's Church.

Plazoleta de San Blas.

Although the Spanish did their best to tear down most buildings of significance to the Incas, it is still possible to seethe remains of the Qorikancha, the Inca's principle Temple of the Sun. Garcilasco de la Vega reports that the Temple was an awesome site to behold, with the inner chambers lined wall to ceiling with plates of gold. Apparently each Inca emperor competed with his predecessor to make the Temple more impressive. At one point it featured a garden of silver and gold plant sculptures and hosted a wall size golden image of the sun.

Of course Pizarro and his thugs raided this with rabid glee, melting down the metals and using the gold to build their fortunes and that of the Spanish empire. To help further break the spirit of the Incas the Spanish built a church and convent on the site. Today only the foundations remain.

The site of the Qoricancha. There is a museum underneath the lawn in the foreground.

While we were there several parades popped up in Plaza de Armas. They wore elaborate costumes and played drums and wind instruments. We never fully understood why so many were staged or by whom, but they were fun to watch and proof of South America's love of festivals.

Of course any visit to Peru requires a tasting of guinea pig. This animal has been cherished as a food source since before the Conquistadores so Mark was keen to give it a go. Some friends of ours were also in town so we met up with them at a locally recommended restaurant.

Roast coy with stuffed pepper and spaghetti.

The meat was tasty, sort of a cross between mutton bird and lamb. Mark enjoyed it but of course Saskia abstained!

Cusco was good fun, the architecture is fantastic and there is a lot to see with many museums, restaurants and shops. This is a good place to buy alpaca textiles that would be considered fashionable back home, just be prepared to pay a higher price for it. There is also a lot of art for sale, we recommend stopping by at the Puna shop for music, graphic art and books (we bought several cds, including a fusion of electronica and cumbia by Dengue! Dengue! Dengue!).

 


Isla del Sol

We ended our time on Bolivia with a visit to Isla del Sol, the Inca's mythical birth place of the sun and the god Varacocha. It is from here that the first Incas are said to have journeyed to Cusco to found the Inca empire.

The island can be found in Lake Titicaca, the largest high altitude lake in the world. To get there we took a boat from Copacobana, a small town on the eastern edge of the lake.

This was our first time getting up close with a significant Inca site so we were pretty excited. We opted to stay a night on the island to catch the sun set and sun rise, which as you can see above turned out to be a great idea.

Yumani Village, Isla del Sol.

Things got off to a comical start. We stayed at Yumani Village, one of two main drop off points on the island (the other is Cha'llapampa). Our hostel was on a ridge but we hadn't realised how steep the hike up would be…

Old Inca terraces used for agriculture.

At 3,808 metres altitude the hike, with all our bags, had zero appeal. We retreated to a nearby café and tried to work out what to do. Saskia in particular has a hard time with altitude and was a little distressed.

As we waited and took in the view we saw several herds of donkeys being shepherded down the slopes. We found out that the donkeys carry supplies up to the restaurants on the ridge…the answer to our problems! So, we paid six dollars for two donkeys and headed up the ridge with our pack animals in tow.

Isla del Sol features several sets of ruins and minor sites but the two main attractions are arguably the terracing and stairs at Yumani and the Chincana complex to the north. These sites are linked by a picturesque half day walk along the island's ridge line, which we tackled the next day.

The stairs, known as Escalera del Inca,.

We really enjoyed the walk, although the thin air made minor slopes feel like hills! The views are sensational. It actually looks remarkably similar to the Taupo region in New Zealand and Mark had to keep reminding himself that this was a serious Inca site.

A small village on the ridge line.

Looking south towards Copacobana.

Piles of stones. In the background you can see the Andes, which pass on the east.

The big draw for Chilcana is the sacred rock, the site where the sun is meant to have emerged. The site also contains a small ceremonial plaza and dramatic ruins that once housed the priests and caretakers of the rock.

To be completely honest we thought the rock itself was a disappointment. We walked straight past it several times and it was only through deduction that we worked out which one it was. They really need to put signs in there, but regardless we couldn't understand why that piece of the landscape was singled out.

What's the big deal?

Opposite the rock is a small patch of cleared ground with a ceremonial table. Not sure whether the area has been restored but that was slightly more interesting.

The ruins a few metres north were far more interesting. They are a small, labyrinthine complex that provided accommodation and food storage for the priests. Perched on the edge of the hill, they look down onto a tranquil beach and provide a good view of the lake.

Note the wall insets in the left. These are actually very common in Inca architecture and apparently are where religious artefacts would be placed, as well as mummies.

After a bit of a rest here we headed down to Cha'llapampa to catch a boat back to Yumani. It's a nice spot with am interesting museum. Apparently there's an underwater village just north of the island. Not sure how old it is but they've recovered pots etc and put them in the museum. Worth a visit while you wait for the boat.

Kids pretending to go fishing.

One thing we really loved were the boats made out of reeds. They look like old viking boats. The locals on the Peruvian side actually make islands out of the reeds as well as boats. We considered paying them a visit but heard the area has become heavily commercialised, so we skipped it and headed to Cusco instead.

And so ends our trip to Bolivia. We have one more dispatch on Death Road but it will take awhile to pull together (Mark has an hour of footage). All in all we really enjoyed our five weeks in Bolivia. The altitude got the best of us in the end but it was definitely worth the time. If pushed for time make beelines for Rurrenabaque and Sucre, they are great places to stay and offer plenty to do in the region. Don't linger in La Paz, it's not worth it!

The next posts will be a series on the Incas, including trips to ruins, museums and general stuff we learnt. Will mark them all with the 'Inca' tag so that they are easy to pull up for those interested. Looking forward to going back over the material.

As always thanks for reading. We've clocked up over 450 subscribers, which is both flattering and humbling. We get a real buzz looking at which countries our readers are based in, very cool! This blog has exceeded our expectations and we hope everyone else is enjoying this as much as we are.

Kind regards,

Mark and Saskia.

 


Regional Arts and Crafts

The area around Sucre is well know for its colourful, intricate, woven materials. Each region has a different style, usually depicting devils and animals. Mark went to Potolo village, where the red and black design below is traditionally from.

The Museo Textil Indígena in Sucre showcases various tapestries and highlights the different designs. It also includes different traditional dress and even has mummies with hair still attached, showing how the women braided their hair.

Each tapestry takes 5-6 months for the women to complete on a loom where they weave amazing patterns in great detail. The result is quite striking!

 


Cretaceous Park

Apparently Bolivia has one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world. Just outside Sucre you can find the Cretaceous Park, which is at the site of a cement quarry. Workers accidently uncovered an entire mountain wall of dinousaur footprints embedded into the ground after they exploded the side of the mountain. Part of the wall fell down recently (you can see a triangle shape in the photo below), and although a significant amount of the footprints were lost, interestingly enough, another layer below was exposed. These were even older still.

The footprints were once horizontal of course, but the collision of tectonic plates that lifted up the Andes also pushed up smaller mountains containing the fosillised footprints. The Cretaceous Park has replicated all the dinosaurs whose footprints have been found at the site. We weren't sure what to expect, but it was really interesting and the replicas were incredibly realistic!

Littlefoot!

While we were in Sucre Mark went on a three day hike through the local hills. The hike visited the villages of Maragua and Potolo and featured dramatic, buckled landscapes with near vertical tilts of old sedimentary layers.
The hike is notable for the dinosaur prints set in lava. The ground is currently used for agriculture and only partially uncovered, so who knows how many more are in the area.

The footprint of what is likely to be a large predator.

Mark tried to match the stride. The step almost split him in two.

Likely to be a type of titanosauros.

During the hike local kids would come running down to sell bracelets and fossils they had dug up. Mark bought a fossilised sea shell (below), which was found at around 3,500 metres above sea level. A good demonstration of the changes the land has gone through in South America!
Mark went hiking with Condor Trekkers, a non-profit organisation that helps to support village economies. The guides were great and the accommodation was surprisingly good. Highly recommended! Condor Trekkers also recently opened a café not far from the main plaza in Sucre. Its all non-profit and the money they make goes back into training local staff. The food is all really cheap, good quality vegetarian food, which is a nice change from the standard South American fare!

The large, four room huts (plus a bathroom) are run by the community.

 


Day Six: Sleeping Zombies

At the base of Thunupa Volcano is a cave that is home to a family of sacrificed mummies who have been there for over 1200 years. Due to the altitude, the air is dry and cold so the bodies have been well preserved and the cave still contains pottery with remnants of food (quinoa and llama) left with them for the afterlife.

There are six mummies: the mother, father, two teenage children and two small children. Apparently the ethnic group of Chiparas lived in Coquesa until they were killed and the village was taken over by Aymaras. The Aymaras sacrificed the family of Chiparas, leaving them all in the foetal position so that they could be reborn into the next wold.
Aymara people still live in the village today, and every year on the first of August there is a ceremony at the cave to honour the pachamama.

Two small children and the father in the walled off area; mother on the right.

After 1200 years, there is still colour in the pottery and cloth wrapped around the bodies.

One of the older children with offerings of food for the afterlife.

The other older child. If you look closely you can still see colours in the woven cloth.

 


Casa de Ché

While we were in Córdoba we decided to go on a day trip to Alta Gracia. Apart from being a cute little town with Jesuit ruins, Alta Gracia's claim to fame is that it is where Che Guevara lived when he was a child.

Che's old house is now a museum, which hosts many photographs, letters and stories about Che growing up, his family, travels and political ideas. The museum also holds a motorbike the same as the one Che used to travel around South America (aka The Motorcycle Diaries), as well as a gift shop where you can find magnets, mugs, t-shirts and cigars with Che's face on them (commodification of a communist?).

Amongst the folders of letters in Che's house, there is a letter he wrote to his children on 15 February 1966, which gives a touching insight into his beliefs about 'the revolution':
Grow to become good revolutionaries. Study a lot so as to be able to dominate the technique, which allows you to dominate nature. Remember that the revolution is the most important thing, and that each and every one of us, alone, is worth nothing. Above all, always be able to feel in the deepest part of yourselves, any injustice committed to anyone in any part of the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.