Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Peru Part 2

Caral - 5000 Years Old
This is the 2nd dispatch in the Peru Chapter. It’s going to be a bit heavy on archeology and history. Just decide right now that you are going to learn something, go limp and absorb. Alternatively, you could just breeze through the pictures and then get back on Facebook.

At over 5,000 years old, Caral is 500 years older than the great Egyptian pyramid of Giza.
It is one of the oldest ruins in the new world.
Huaricanga - The only city older than Caral  @ 3500 BC. This is further contested by 2 other sites nearby: Sechin Bajo 3600 BC & Bandurria 4000 BC / Though they are nearly completely destroyed and may have only been a fishing village and not an urban center

5000 year old figurine with original paint

Caral was part of the Norte Chico civilization which covers 3 river valleys. It wasn’t just one building; it was 25 cities set within these valleys. You heard that correctly – not 25 buildings, 25 cities. And this all happened in 3000 BC!

Why Peru?
Why did people thrive here? This area has such a complex and long history due to its special geographical make-up. The Andes provide the water that flows to the sea, and the ancients positioned themselves in-between so that they could exploit the protein harvest from the ocean while irrigating the rivers that flowed into it for crops. The concentration of different food stocks allowed one source to protect them against a scarcity in the other. Then there were the high altitude animals that they could domesticate and relocate to serve as further food sources. Surplus leads to specialization and then to civilization. Hence – enormous urban centers with administrative governments that are capable of gigantic public works projects: municipalities and temples. Nowhere else in the Americas did the people who crossed the Bering land bridge about 20,000 years ago find such an ideal place to flourish.

I believe I have found the 10th circle of hell. I’m curious what Dante would assign to driving a big rig in Lima. Every city bus has a rainbow of other paints on it from the vehicles they have scraped. This is how people give themselves ulcers. Once we parked and that drama was over, we threw ourselves headlong into the epicurean delights of Peruvian Cuisine. We ate and drank ourselves fat with the fervor of a white collar criminal awaiting his surrender date, since we knew that in a week we would have the nightmare of driving out again.
Parts of Lima are beautiful. The drive in is a 3rd world cesspool

Peruvian Cuisine
You’ll find Peruvian restaurants all over the world and when you do - dig in!  It’s delicious for at least a couple reasons: It’s got that wonderful Asian fusion and a complex ingredient list that comes from creating delights for the ancient gods. The 2 best cuisines in the new world are Mexican and Peruvian. Try to decide who makes the better ceviche, I can’t. The pisco sour is every dentists best friend. We drank them until you could scratch your initials into our pearly whites. The double doses of jarabe syrup and pure raw lime juice destroy dental enamel faster than hydrofluoric acid.

God I'd love to see this alive and walking into an Applebee's
If you arrive midday, stroll the museum and see how many ancient people lived here over such a long period of time and you’ll no doubt ask yourself exactly one question: “Why would anyone live here?” It’s one giant sand dune and the wind blows fiercely from morning to sunset and is guaranteed to put an ounce of grit in everything you eat.
They purposely distorted their children's skulls.
Beauty is cultural
Of course, once the sun sets, and the wind stops, and the stars conspire against your cruel hardened heart, your posture might change. It was here that I realized I have to keep traveling until I find my own mummy bundle.
Mummy Bundle!
A hard place to make a living


There are places in the world where tourism is still a distant threat and genuine encounters with the locals are possible. This is not one of those places. This is a V8 5 point seatbelt experience with sandboarding thrown in to strengthen your Instagram account.
Quit literally an oasis in the dunes

Since I was a little boy and saw the Time/Life book offering of “Lost Civilizations of the Ancient world” – I had dreamed of the Nazca lines. It was over in a day. I couldn’t grasp it then and I still can’t get my head around it now.
Photo courtesy of Ashwin Coors Atre

The life: You wake up in a box on wheels. It’s cold. You can see your breath. It takes a while to remember where you are. You are midway between 2000 year old lines scratched into the Peruvian desert and the 600 year old seat of the Incan empire: Cuzco. This is the weirdest/greatest life I could have ever scripted.

The Incans
They still exist. Every native you see today in the countries of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and beyond has ancestors who were Incan. It was the largest empire in Pre-Colombian America, but only existed for about 100 years (1438 – 1533). They weren’t the good guys. They conquered, enslaved and killed. If the dominated refused to assimilate, their entire civilization was relocated to an outpost in the Incan Empire. If that didn’t break them, they were exterminated. The Sapa Inca (the grand leader) was exulted as a god. He had absolute power and children were sacrificed to him. They weren’t the good guys. However… They were astute governors and incredible builders.
The Inca: an indigenous people who worked incredibly hard to guarantee a tourist future for their descendants

It's so much easier to live in a valley but you get invaded. So the Incan built in hard to access mountain tops and then had to build agricultural terraces.

I think I can now say with certainty that their strategy was to purposely select the most undesirable godforsaken place to live because they knew that no one would ever come and throw them off the land. That, and their own belief in themselves that they could beautify anywhere (they were right). An Inca moral code: ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy).
From the bottom of Colombia to the middle of Chile,
and inland to include Bolivia and the northern
  part of Argentina. They were not lazy. Empire!

Theories abound. No one knows for sure and that’s the joy of wonderment.
The Stone of Sayhuite - Maybe it was an architect's blueprint?
Sayhuite - Park where ever you want. Enjoy ancient ruins 
It’s why I love the ruins of humans (good band name?). It’s the stories. Isn’t that what makes us human? No other animal tells stories. Dinosaur bones are cool but there isn’t a narrative of daily life. You can’t get personal. The stories that are left behind for the archeologists and anthropologists to tease forth are the real treasures of digging in our past. Maybe storytelling is the crux of the human experience.
Look closely. They also think it my have been a study of water flow

Google Maps screwed me. It navigated me straight into the center of a 600 year old city that was built for llama chariots.

It put me up a hill on a street so narrow that my tires squeaked as they rubbed on both curbs at once. I couldn’t possibly extricate myself from this. I had to stop, find a police officer who entered the local establishments to find the owners of the vehicles parked on the street so we could move them and clear a path. The size of my rig didn’t allow for these tight corners in less than an 8 point turn, and that’s with full use of whatever sidewalk there might be.  All the while the justified honking of the furious drivers behind me never stopped. Then the cop turned on his lights and drove in front of me as he escorted me out of town. It was a true driving nightmare of the highest caliber.
Access aside – Cuzco is one of the most visually stunning and historically interesting cities in the world. Go there. Nothing you will read can replace being there.
You can tell which part is from the Inca and which part the Spanish stole the stones to alter the edifice
The famous 12 sided stone. They're just showing off at this point, and that was the idea
Inca ruins everywhere. We spotted this one way out of town
Sometimes you want to steal a llama kiss while it's owner eats an ice cream
Majestic and one of my favorite cities

This perfect fit masonry style without mortar is called ashlar.
At the top you can see how it is unfinished. That's called "Pillow faced".
The nubs are used to lift. This is all granite. Can you imagine the hours?
Royal throne of Q'enqo outside of Cusco. Hand carved from solid stone

Puka Pukara - Look how they rounded the corner.
Admire that engineering. Do it now. Admire!

Tambomachay - I hope you aren't becoming bored with rocks yet. 

Sexy Woman

It’s actually spelled Sacsayhuaman, but it’s impossible not to pronounce it “Sexy Woman”.

How is it possible that I never heard about this place? I think it might be one of the most impressive ruins I’ve ever seen. And if you could have witnessed this before the Spanish stole the stones and the earthquakes pulled more down, it would probably be #1. I’ve been to Machu Picchu, Angor Wat, The Acropolis, The Parthenon, The Pyramids of Egypt, Borobudur, Tikal, Chichen Itza + a hundred more and I walked around with my jaw in the dirt for hours. Built at an altitude of over 12,000 feet (3,700 m) on the foundation of the preceding Kilke Culture (dating back to about 900 AD) the Incans began this ambitious endeavor in the 13th century.
Huge and perfectly fitted. How? How did they do it?

El Valle Sagrado
There is a museum in the Sacred Valley of Peru that celebrates every archeological site of note. Maybe you only need a museum if you don’t go to the actual location. We’d been to every site in which this museum reports. I can’t believe I turned down a museum but it felt like it was going to be a second hand retelling of a story that we had first hand experience with.  I think museums need to rebrand themselves. In order to draw in 12 year old kids all you need to say is “Look! Amazing treasures from a lost ancient civilization!” That’s what every 12 year wants. Hell – that’s all I want. I think I’m living every 12 year olds dream. Good thing I never matured.
The Spanish built their churches right on top of the Incan temples

Storage houses for surplus grain @ Ollantaytambo

These were discarded and off to the side. Think about how many hours went into working this stone to this level of finish

The slight inward lean of the walls resisted the earthquakes better than vertical walls 

Tipon - Respect the rock selection. They are mocking your masonry skills
Pikillacta. This is actually pre-Incan (Wari culture) and from 550 - 1100 AD.
The Incan found it deserted and moved in

Life at Elevation
As if you needed more proof of human evolution – the increased lung capacity, and improved blood circulation that the Andean people have over us lowland humans is impressive. It puts them at a great advantage for anything remotely strenuous.

It’s just another striking difference that makes one feel like the complete outsider we are when visiting here. All the faces are native, the language doesn’t have one recognizable word (except the word “jerky” as in “beef jerky”. We got that word from Quechua), the weather is hostile and food options are narrow and unique. There is no way to fit in. We chose to embrace it and leaned into being the ultimate voyeurs.

Machu Picchu
The price tag is gigantic, the logistics are appalling and the crowds are a swarm of locusts. Yes, it's a marvel of the ancient world. Yes it is spectacular with that vista, the intricate stone work, and no, it does not disappoint. And yet, it’s a "marketing" wonder of the modern world. Trust me, there are so many other equally amazing and important archeological ruins that are almost free and with easy access that I would love to give a Clio award to Hiram Bingham and all the other ad wizards that have promoted this place for the last century.
Machu Pikachu. I searched for weeks to find this little guy
and then gave it to a German woman for her photo op (she didn't get the joke). 

Lake Titicaca
It’s the largest lake in South America and stares back at the night stars from an altitude of 12,500 feet. The border between Peru and Bolivia bisects the lake in almost equal portions. It’s cold and drab (except for the hats and boats), and the only reason we drove all this way on a road that runs for hours at over 15,000 feet of elevation was to see the floating islands.

It dips a couple inches when you step

The rumor was that they were created to escape paying land tax to the Incan’s – not true. These man-made islands of Totora reed are built by the Uro people who have been making them for centuries before the Inca were ever an entity. This ingenious custom wasn’t created for the tourist industry but I think today it’s the only reason they keep building and maintaining them. It’s a canned experience but worth an afternoon of allowing yourself to imagine an aquatic culture of long ago that lives on a lake at this altitude. Nature fills niches.

The bottom rots away so every 3 months they add another thick layer on top

Speed Bump Retailer
If you live next to a speed bump you have prime real estate for any commodity product. All traffic is going to come to a near stop and your viable business is now selling to that captive audience. I’ve witnessed this all over poverty stricken Latin America. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessitate a degree from Wharton.

The White City. Great restaurant options, Doctor said I don't have skin cancer. We celebrated. Our final city in Peru.
Good thing I stuck the multi-meter in the socket. 220 volts with a US socket. I would have fried everything.

Peruvian bathrooms: You’ll never find paper towels (maybe a typhoid Mary cloth towel) and rarely will you find soap.

The Conquering Of The Inca
Francisco Pizarro and his brothers had the blessing of the Spanish crown but it was a privately funded expedition with profit as its motive. He set out from Panama with multiple reconnoiters of South America, and when he discovered the gold riches of the Inca (the Inca never thought of gold as treasure, only useful as art), He built a plan for conquest. He had only 168 men, 1 cannon and 27 horses. Small pox (which arrived even before Pizarro due to the impressive Inca road system) did the heavy lifting. Capturing Atahualpa: their Sun-God leader of the empire was their devious death knell to the empire, but it was close. If the natives could have learned how to pick them off sooner, fight against horses, and had realized their true intentions of total conquest and slavery. . . . But it didn’t go that way. Pizarro found the Inca in a civil war and played the fractures in the enormous geographical expanse of the empire to his advantage and took it all.

The story of Pizarro, his 168 men, and how they defeated the Incan empire of 6,000,000 souls is maybe one of the greatest stories of victory against staggering odds. The audacity of this tiny number of isolated soldiers of fortune that crossed an ocean to attack an empire is mindboggling. But… wait a minute: Think how much more interesting South America would be today if the Inca would have defeated the Spanish. That’s something to chew on. You hear Quechua all over Peru. What if it was today’s default language instead of Spanish? And can you imagine what Cusco would be today? What if the Spanish hadn’t torn down all those incredibly perfect walls that the Inca had assembled? Can you imagine all the splendid architecture we could marvel at today? And they wouldn’t be ruins, but active municipal structures governed by leaders wearing robes of Macaw feathers. Talk about tourism.

But it was never going to happen. The Europeans weren’t going to stop. If it wasn’t Pizarro or Cortez or Columbus, it would have been someone else. If it wasn’t Spain or Portugal it would have been another foreign power. Just be grateful the Germans didn’t have a navy back then.

How important was pageantry to the conquest of the new world? How did so few conquer and control so many? As stated before, disease and following the Hernan Cortes playbook helped (look it up, I can’t be responsible for all your new world conquest history), but in part, a contributor must have been the outward regal appearance of the majestic robes, the suits of armor and the show of arms. The demonstration of weaponry probably helped as much as the fatal use of that weaponry. Pageantry counts, but imagine how terrified the Spanish must have been, knowing that they weren’t gods, just hungry tired filthy men whose only physical difference is that they could grow beards, and whose gigantic bluff could be blown at any minute. What a fascinating story in which to have been a witness. It’ll never happen again, unless the alien ships land, and then we will be on the losing side of history.
We call them Guinea Pigs. They call them Cuy.
And they eat them. Stringy salty meat and overpriced

Another mind bender to contemplate is this: Did they defeat the Inca, or was it a liberation of the many tribes that lived under Incan subjugation? There are some reports that show the Spanish were welcomed by the elite of the conquered.

For me, to travel without understanding the history behind what you are looking at, and in the context of the age in which it occurred, is robbing the story of its true grandeur, and everything about Peru is deserving of the superlative.

Your man on point,

Bobby The Conductor


When you drive around Europe, you begin to see a pattern: Hard scrabble peasants colonized by the civilized Romans. From England to Spain, F...