Other Shit I Learned In Peru

So we’ve covered politics, and we’ve covered Incas and the Quechua, what else did I manage to learn in Peru? Loads. That’s what I learned. So here is some more random shit I learned whilst travelling Peru.

1. There is a type of dog here that has no hair. At first I thought that dog had mange and all of his friends too. So I asked the owner and he was offended. Oops… Turns out ugly, hairless dogs are a thing here.

2. Beware women in traditional dress holding sheep. Yes they are sheep. They will tell you “baby alpaca” but this is a farce. Those babies are too busy getting shawn for their expensive threads to be sitting on the side of the road with a lady for one sol pictures. Also of note, they’re so cheeky that they will insert themselves into photos or videos you are taking of other things and demand money. Very very sneaky.

3. In the middle of Lake Titicaca, there are families there that descended from the Aymara, and these people created islands made from reeds that were not easily accessed by other tribes in the region. They would put down several blocks of reed roots compacted with sticks driven through the middle and tie these together to form the base, then anchor it down with rocks. After this, they would lay several layers of reeds down to form the land. These reeds are constantly having to be replaced and the whole island needs to be replaced every fifteen odd years.

A group of indigenous ladies that live on the reed islands known as Uros.

4. Peru’s most famous author, Mario Vargas Llosa was a sly dog. Not only did he run off with his cousin against family wishes, he then got sick of her and decided ditch her to marry his aunt instead. Talk about keeping it in the family. After that all went to shit though, he swiftly settled on Enrique Iglesias’ mum and if he’s anything to go by, she’d be a right hottie.  Possibly a good life choice.

5. Señor Sipan was one of the only kings of the time that didn’t have his tomb looted and all his shit taken. As such, his grave was in impeccable condition when found. They had fourteen layers of jewels and offerings buried with his body among them. He was also buried with guards, whose feet they cut off so they couldn’t go wandering in the afterlife and ditch him. This clearly worked given how well it was protected from thievery. And just for good measure, they threw some alpacas, women and kids in there with him too.

6. Even though ritual slaughters of humans were quite popular with the majority of cultures throughout the Americas for thousands of years, the Chachapoyas decided to be trend setters and go against the general killing of people to make rain and food grow. Clearly progressive.

The ancient Chachapoya civilisation at Kuelap

7. Peru is home to about four hundred different species of potatoes. It was the main crop, along with corn, for feeding the masses during the day. They even developed a method of dehydrating potatoes at altitude so that they can keep for twenty odd years.

8. The Incan’s used to grow their crops on terraces that they had established on the hillsides of their communities. It is suggested that they developed this system to develop different microclimates so that they could grow different crops at different levels. They also added different layers of sand, dirt and gravel to act as a water filtration system so that the water would feed downwards and not be wasted.

The Incan terraces at Moray.

9. The Nazca lines are only on average about ten centimetres deep. Given the amount of makeshift small canals from where the water has carved out the land it is a wonder that they managed to find them at all. There is a local lady that walks around and sweeps them every day so that they are maintained and can still be seen.

10. The food in Peru is insanely good. Compared to most other countries in the region, Peru’s food kicks some serious arse and is one of the top countries in the world to visit for gastronomy. I am particularly a fan of the ceviche and the estofados. You come here, cashed up, you will get fat. There is nothing more to say about it, it is just too good.

And there we have it! Three weeks of solid shit learning in Peru. On to the next country!

 

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Shit I Learned About Quechua and the Incas

After two months of travelling around Peru, one may say that I learned quite a bit of shit. I definitely learned a lot about the predominant indigenous culture, the Quechua, also known as the Incas. So here are a few fun things I learned about them.

Quechuan words 

Majority of the town names around Peru are butchered versions of Quechua, also the name of the language, because the Spanish lacked capacity to either listen, or pronounce words properly. As such we have the following.

Cusco – from the Quechuan word Qosco, meaning ‘navel’ or ‘belly button’ as it was considered to be the heart of the four Incan territories that divided up the region.

Inca – meaning ‘king’. “Who is they?” ask the Spanish pointing at the Quechuan king.

“Inca”, respond the Quechua.

“Excellent, they shall all be called Inca” decide the Spanish. The tribe of kings.

Lima – Named after terrible pronunciation of the river that runs through this area, the Rímac. Though the Spanish will tell you it has some fluffy and lovely meaning in Spanish and this was not the case.

Perú – We believe takes its origins from a local ruler called Birú, whose name the Spanish also couldn’t properly pronounce.

Charky – the process of taking alpaca meat and drying it with a boat load of salt from one of the many natural salt resources here. This was obviously butchered to become ‘jerky’…. Mmm…. Beef jerky…..

Other Quechuan Words

Solpayki – Thank you. Stock standard manners.

Hakunchis – Let’s go. Clearly my favourite word in every language and one that I need to learn every time.

Callpa – meaning strong. It was the name of my first trekking group through the Salkantay but it should have been called team moan instead because that was all they did.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu means old mountain. Machu meaning old, Picchu meaning mountain. There is actually a mountain out of Arequipa called Pichu Pichu which literally translates to mountain mountain…. Not exactly sure why this is.

The great civilisation of Machu Picchu

Anyway, whilst trekking the Salkantay a local guide told us of the dangers of pronouncing things wrong. You see there is picchu, and then there is pinchu, and pinchu means, you guessed it, dick. So if you don’t pronounce your Quechuan properly you could wind up going to old dick instead of old mountain and that would just be embarrassingly.

What is fascinating is that this wasn’t the original name for the city. The original name was lost when the city was abandoned upon the arrival of the Spanish. Majority of the people living there were professionals, architects, priests, royalty. Parts of the city indicate that is was also used as a part training facility and an old school research lab for architecture with the structure of the terraces. However the food for the people was supplied by Cusco as their terraces were not large enough to support the population, which mostly only stayed during the summer months anyway. When the Spanish invaded Cusco, food supply was cut off and they were forced to leave and as such, the Spanish never found the city.

Quechuan Textiles

There are four different types of camelid in the Andes that were used by the Quechua, llamas, alpacas, vicuña and guanaco. Mostly they used the llamas for the heavy lifting and the others for wool and tasty snack.

These guys! Alpacas for the record as they have long necks and hair on their faces

Once the wool has been taken from the alpaca, they wash it in water with a plant or a root that contains saponin to make it all foamy. After drying it, the women then spin the wool onto a thing that looks like a spinning top to make the thread. From here they dye it using loads of natural dyes, the most interesting to me being the blood of a parasite they find on the cactus. The colour of this blood changes depending on what you add to it. It is a darker end in its normal state,  a very vibrant  and orange-red with the addition of acid in limes, and purple when you add soap and try to wash it off your hands. They also use other plant-derived dyes.

All of the different natural dyes they use to colour the wool

After the dying process, they use looms to weave blankets, clothing, back braces for those working the fields to protect their backs and a number of other different fabrics they need for daily or ritual purposes.

Quechuan Rituals

The Incans/Quechuans were big on ritual sacrifices. Some of these were things, some were animals, and others of course we’re humans. We will start at the soft end and make our way up.

Chicha

Chicha was considered a drink of the gods. It is a fermented alcoholic drink made out of corn, that is still very popular across South America to this day. The tradition is that the first cup of each batch of chicha is donated to Pachamama, or Mother Nature, to say thank you for the offerings from the earth that keep them alive. As such, the first cup is poured on the ground. This was a problem when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived. The Incas offered them a cup of chicha, thinking it could be poison, the spanish throw it on the ground, the Incas are happy because they offered to Pachamama. Then the Spanish give the Incas a bible and the Incas donate it to Pachamama and all hell breaks loose. It is fair to say that for such ‘disrespect’ of the bible, the whole lot of them were slaughtered.

Baby Llama

If you would like to build a house, you need to ask Pachamama for permission. To do this, you must make some ritual sacrifices in which a shaman comes over, but not just any shaman, it has to be a specific one that is high up,  and he makes the ritual. One of the things offered up is the foetus of a baby llama. None of these foetuses are killed for the purpose of this exercise, they are usually taken from mothers that have died from the cold or been struck by lightning. Baby llama, coca leaves and a few other tidbits are burned and construction of your house can begin because Pachamama is now happy.

A plate consisting of ritual offerings including coca leaves, a variety of plants and a llama foetus

Small Children

Nothing but the best for the gods, and of course there is nothing more pure than a child. As such, child sacrifice was a thing back in the days of the Incas. Often, in times of famine or great duress, families would have to put forward a child for sacrifice. These children were often taken to high mountain tops for the sacrifice and many have been discovered as ice mummies that you can go and visit in museums.

The Homeless Guy

At first, upon hearing this, many people believed it to be a joke. Unfortunately it is not. If undertaking the construction of a very large building, Pachamama requires more of a sacrifice to ask permission to use the land than just a baby llama. Pachamama needs a human (apparently). Given that these days killing people is against the law and you can go to jail for it, finding a suitable sacrifice is a difficult one. People turn to the drug addict and alcoholics that live on the streets to find a suitable sacrifice. Such sacrifice is chosen by asking a range of questions to assess if there is anybody about that would miss them if they were gone. If not, full steam ahead. They invite said homeless person to a massive party with lots of booze and drugs, get them well high and plied, offer up a few prozzies just to make sure they really enjoy themselves and when they have eventually had excess to the point of passing out, they take them out back, roll them into an empty hole with some coca leaves and other offerings and pour the concrete on top to make the foundations.

While they believe that this is happening less, evidence has been found in some cases that this is still recently happening. So if anyone asks, loads of friends and family to miss me and mum expects a call in an hour….

Anyway, I’m sure that’s about enough for this week, but plenty more shit has been learned, so until the next.

 

 

 

Shit I Learned About Peruvian Elections

About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the county’s capital city for the recent elections. They weren’t for the big job, the president, but for all of the governors and regional representatives around the country. Without getting into the nitty gritty, there were a few very interesting things I learned while being in the country during this period.

1. Everybody seems to get involved.

And by everybody, I mean mostly the elderly representatives of the country. They are out, they have their signs, they are protesting until they are hoarse. Many of them have their houses painted with political propaganda to show their support for their candidates. Candidates also paint any free standing structure they can get their paintbrushes on including cliff faces, gutters, bridges, you name it. The thing is, these people remember a time when things were much worse than they are now, so they are heavily on it with protests and campaigns.

2. To vote you have to be in the jurisdiction of where you vote.

Unlike with other countries, if you’re registered in Cusco and currently in Lima for work, you cannot vote. To vote, you have to be in the actual region where you are registered and go into a specific office that they allocate you for voting. That means on voting weekend, transport and booking buses is a nightmare because if you don’t vote, you get fined. It is compulsory.

3. There are political parties, and then there are political parties.

You will see many symbols down the road for different political parties that people are representing in Peru, such as the Maicitos, Somos Peru etc. but of more interest to me as a foreignor were the actual parties. In the lead up to elections in an attempt to convince you of their awesomeness, candidates will have street parties. One blocked off our road in the middle of a tour to Chavin as they were handing out free chicken, rice and potatoes off the back of the truck to all who came and sat in the square to listen to the propaganda. This is mild campaigning.  Some take it to a whole new level.

Back in Huaraz, an entire hostel of very shitty people trying to sleep for trekking at five am, were enduring a party in the middle of the street attended by about twenty people with flags. Why was this a problem? Because they had a stage with a ten piece band that had been playing from 1pm until 11pm and at that stage still weren’t looking at stopping, despite a crazy English girl in the hostel hanging her head out the window and abusing them in Spanish for their lack of consideration of others.

I went briefly to investigate this fiasco while on the hunt for food and discovered that not only was there a band, but they had back up dancers in g-strings and I could see what they ate for breakfast. My sensitive western ways wanted to blindfold and cover the eyes of all small children everywhere to protect them from the sexually provocative images being promoted to urge people to vote for this clearly above board chap. But then, maybe I’m just a prude.

However you look at it, they aren’t campaigning with good values in mind, well most of them…. So what values are they campaigning for?

4. Politicians in Peru earn a shit ton of money.

I have it on authority from a local that many of these low level politicians can be earning as much as $8000 USD a month!?! Yep. That’s even more than most westerners earn and we’re talking about a country where the minimum income is a bit over $200 USD a month. So despite not knowing what you’re doing, you ain’t really got a whole lot to lose by running for parliament. As it was, in the area of central Lima alone, there were over 450 candidates running. No wonder people have no idea who to vote for and no wonder it winds up being a shit show.

5. Roadworks tend to increase when elections are called.

An insight from a friend’s Peruvian mum is thatroadworks always start happening when elections are on. For two reasons. Firstly it is the most blatantly obvious way to point out to people that something is getting done. Because hey have to deal with it every day.

Secondly, because based on a survey of the average cost of a kilometre of road around the world, the cost of road in Peru is approximately three times larger than that of road in Europe. One has to wonder where exactly that money is going, and one can also take a pretty good guesstimate that it is going straight into the coffers of those in fear of not being re-elected. You know, saving for a rainy day, when your opportunity to steal from the general population disappears….. Last minute panic.

About a month on and everything seems to have settled back to normal. The houses are still painted and there are still billboards and advertisements everywhere, but the hype has definitely settled and it is back to business as usual. Less roadworks, as they have now started to steadily cease. And backpackers everywhere rejoice because they can sleep without the noisiest of campaigns happening outside their windows.

Shit I Am Going To Have To Relearn Going Home

Travelling through developing countries is a whole other world compared to the cushiness that you experience living in a country like Australia. For the last year or so, I have developed habits that I daresay are going to follow me around for a while. Some of the things that I am going to have to relearn when going home are as follows:

  1. Toilet paper belongs in a toilet, not a rubbish bin

It is fair to say that plumbing here is fairly shit. So shit in fact that if you throw toilet paper in the toilet and clog it up, you’re facing more shit than you could ever dream of. After my very first trip to Asia, I came wandering into the kitchen of my flat with my toilet paper and my housemate asked me what the fuck I was doing. That is a superb question really. After a year and a couple of months of this, it is going to be a hard habit to break.

2. Taking toilet paper with you everywhere you go

Because they bloody well don’t provide it anywhere. And if you’re lucky to get charged for a toilet that actually has paper you can be sure that they will give you four squares and look at you strange because you ask for more. The truth is, if you’re a woman peeing, you need more, sometimes that shit sprays. If you’re a woman on your period, four squares is also definitely not cutting it. And if you are anyone taking a shit, especially diarrhoea, a measly four squares isn’t going to do the job. As such, you find yourself resorting to the following; stealing napkins from restaurants you eat lunch at, or sitting on a hostel toilet with a cardboard roll and rolling that thing full of paper for ten minutes and then trying to sneak it out of the bathroom down your pants so that nobody sees you.

3. Toilets with actual plastic seats

Long gone will be the days of sitting your arse directly on a cold porcelain bowl or trying to squat over it because someone has kindly pissed all over it and hasn’t cleaned it up due to their lack of access to sufficient toilet paper.

4. You can drink water from the tap without having to boil or purify it.

The days of pouring yourself a glass of water from the tap ended long ago. The constant need to think about where you are going to source your water from and how you are going to purify it is a constant thought process. As one that hates constantly buying plastic bottles from shops as it is bad for the environment, planning for water is a constant thought that I will not have to worry about.

5. I do not need to keep and do surgeries on things that are broken

Everything I own is somehow broken. But when you have no money and having new things isn’t a priority, makeshift fixing is high on the list, when in ordinary life you would just throw it away. Surgeries that have been conducted on this trip include:

  • Using a hot metal spoon over fire to melt the plastic back together of my neck pillow
  • Duct taping around the strap of my backpack to try and hold it together long enough to get me home
  • Sewing holes in the crotches of my pants with patches
  • Wearing a garbage bag as a poncho because your rain jacket is totalled and no longer waterproof
  • Sticky-taping the screen of my iPad together so that the glass doesn’t fall out
  • Using stickytape to hold your shoelaces together so that they don’t fall apart
My engineering mate helping out with neck pillow surgery.

6. Using a telephone.

Broke the awful thing that had no battery life on the kitchen floor of my flat in Colombia….. yeah I don’t need another one of those. These days I function with good old fashioned paper maps and email. WhatsApp? What’s that?

7. Having keys

The current check is passport, wallet, water purifier, lip gloss. Keys don’t register in this because I haven’t had to deal with keys for a very long time. Incorporating them into the daily check is going to be interesting.

8. Sleeping in a room alone

When constantly sharing a room with up to twelve people having privacy is kind of weird. When you finally find yourself in a room alone you start freaking out because, well, where is everyone?

9. Sleeping in a double bed

That and you’re always in a single bed with a shitty mattress and pillow. I don’t know how I am going to survive fluffy doona covers and decent pillows. Life is going to be hard.

10. Not packing your bag everyday

This is a reality. Every single day, you pull shit out of the bag, you put shit back into the bag. You are on constant alert as to where everything you own is and trying to make sure that it is in a safe area where it won’t get mixed up with everyone else’s stuff. Watch out Mum, I’m spreading throughout the house.

11. Wearing nice clothes and doing hair and make up

Enough said. Some weeks, I don’t even look in a mirror. I don’t brush my hair. I never put on make up. I don’t care. All of my clothes have holes in them, are faded, and look like shit. It is going to take a bit of adjustment to get used to normal people clothes and feeling like I belong in them.

12. Not constantly saying goodbye to people

Of the most exciting things on this list, is that I will be able to keep in touch with people I meet. Saying goodbye constantly takes its toll and is something that I do on a daily basis. It makes you somewhat closed to meeting new people because you know that everyone is transient.

Well, five more weeks of this and then life changes. Until then, I better get back to brushing my teeth from the bottle and going to bed in my holey socks! Cheers!