Recent Posts

February 17, 2013

Water

“Water is life” — these words are painted on a wall in one of the settlements far from downtown Lima.  The problem is, people living in the Chavin de Huantar neighborhood of Villa El Salvador still don’t have it.  There are no pipes bringing water to their homes. And there are no pipes taking water away,once it has been used, for treatment or disposal.  Instead, huge trucks deliver water each day, charging between 25 and 75 cents to fill containers of various sizes set outside the front door of each house.  On a per gallon basis, these prices are exorbitant,…

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February 14, 2013

City Life

Lima is a thriving metropolitan area situated along Peru’s central coast.  The population has swelled in recent years as families move here to find work or enroll their children in what are considered the best schools in the country.  Several decades ago people migrated here to escape the threat of violence during the bloody conflict between the Shining Path terrorists and the government soldiers.  Today more than 8 million people live in Peru’s capital city, leaving behind the customs and traditions of their birthplaces in exchange for new opportunities and a faster-paced life style. Lima, or more precisely Criolla, culture…

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February 12, 2013

Machu Picchu

In the Quechua language, Machu Picchu means “Old Peak”.  A bit understated, it would seem.  For on this majestic outcropping of white granite, the Incas constructed a magnificent citadel — complete with houses, temples, stairways and terraces — incomparable in its beauty and design.  Hiram Bingham, a Yale University professor, is credited with discovering the site in 1911.  Actually, the locals that led Bingham up the steep slope from the valley below knew full well that an ancient city was perched high above them.  But Bingham had something they did not:  a degree in archaeology, an early-model Eastman camera and,…

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February 10, 2013

Rocks and Flowers

The rocks were cut, polished and placed here centuries ago.  The flowers, on the other hand, were fresh, the product of mid-summer rains that water the hillsides each year.  Ollantaytambo is a mix of old and new.  The main draw is a huge fortress, fashioned by Inca leaders as a defense against invaders and a place for rest and refreshment in the center of what local people call the Sacred Valley.  On the other side of the valley, perched against steep hillsides, are seldom-visited colcas (storehouses), where provisions ranging from dried potatoes to leather sandals were stored away as a…

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February 9, 2013

Textiles and Tastes

Traditional woven cloth has made a comeback in the Cusco area in recent decades due, interestingly enough, to the strong demand for authentic materials and designs by international visitors.  Handmade textiles are time-consuming to produce.  However, if foreign tourists are willing to pay a fair price for the labor required, local weavers are more than willing to spend their time shearing alpacas, spinning and dying the wool, and using it to weave intricate designs handed down from their ancestors.  We visited a weavers’ cooperative in Chincheros for a demonstration and a chance to support this homegrown industry with our own…

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February 7, 2013

Gold

On our last day in Colquemarca we scheduled a workshop on the topic of informal, or artisan, mining.  We made our way to Jacinto’s house for a demonstration of how he produces small quantities of gold using fairly primitive technology — simple digging tools, an ore grinding stone and small quantities of mercury to concentrate the nearly invisible gold powder into small lumps large enough to sell.  We have heard many things about informal mining in Peru — how common it is, how lucrative it is (or isn’t) and how much the use of mercury, a natural but toxic substance,…

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February 6, 2013

Village Life

The Andes mountains are home to tens of thousands of small villages, where families live and work much as they have for centuries, even millenia.  Subsistence farming is the common profession.  Sometimes people grow enough potatoes, corn or habas beans to produce a surplus to sell in the market.  But often they simply grow what they eat and eat what they grow.  The food is natural and healthy — chemical fertilizers and pesticides are expensive and have not reached the remote areas.  Rural electrification projects have connected many of these places to the regional grid.  But the expense of electronic…

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February 3, 2013

Sacsayhuaman + 10k

In the Inca world, lightning connects three realms — the heavens (home of the condor), the earth (home of the puma) and the underworld (home of the serpent).  Seen from above, the archaeological site known as Sacsayhuaman takes the shape of a lightning bolt, in triplicate.  This was a religious site, a place where rituals and celebrations were conducted.  Soon after the Spanish marched on horseback into Cusco, it became a battleground littered by the bodies of Inca soldiers.  The corpses were far too numerous to bury before the vultures arrived — Sacsayhuaman means “stuffed falcon” in Quechua. Today, thousands…

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February 2, 2013

Transitions

Over the past week we have traveled far and wide through the Andes mountains, from a remote village called Colquemarca to the world-famous Inca citadel known as Machu Picchu.  With internet connections that were weak or non-existent, we were unable to upload photos to the blog until now.  Over the next several days we’ll post stories and pictures from our travels. In the meantime, we have returned to Lima, Peru’s capital, home to eight million people.  The students have met their new families and are spending the weekend getting acquainted with their host mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers and grandparents as…

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January 26, 2013

So Much to Learn

Each student came to South America with some understanding of Spanish.  They studied it in high school or college and some even grew up speaking Spanish in their homes.  But the Spanish spoken in Peru, called Castellano, is distinct from that spoken in other parts of Latin America.  The vocabulary is often different; for example, the word for avocado is palta.  And there is an emphasis on speaking correctly, even cunningly.  After all, Castellano is directly descended from the Spanish nobility.  The students are divided into three groups depending on their competency and each afternoon they learn, or re-learn, how…

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