July 25, 2009

Peru, Week 4: Cacafuego

To start with last weekend: everybody left for Colca Canyon except me, the boys,  and Sylvia and Itze. This turned out to be a good thing, as it was a four hour bus ride with an annoying tour guide and the hotel was far away from everything. They did, however, get to see condors. I spent Saturday morning at the market, drinking fresh orange juice and eating potato dumplings. I also got my pocket knife sharpened for 50 centimos – the guy looked at me quizzically at first as the knives he sharpens seem to be of the “kitchen” and “butcher” variety, but he did it anyway. On the way to El Super (the local supermarket chain), we wandered into a cloister of shops and were given a free tour. We continued on our way, did some grocery and light tourist shopping, and then I split off to go to the Santa Catalina convent. It was so beautiful, and definitely worth the 30 soles to get in. It was built in what I call the “ramblyshambles” style – sort of like Alhambra meets the Greek island towns; the walls were painted reddish-orange and blue, the brightest, most vivid blue you’ve ever seen, the kind of blue I want wrapped around me like a blanket. I took some amazing photos, to say the least. The nuns’ cells each had a little courtyard and kitchen, and it took me over an hour and a half to walk through (and you know I walk at a clip). Afterwards I went to the Santa Catalina Market (not incorporated with the convent) and bought some nice jewelry, a chainmail bracelet and a silver necklace for $25.  Saturday night I went out with the boys for crepes and once again had my alpaca au poivre crepe.

Sunday I finally managed to sleep in til 9, then sat around reading for a few hours before going out to the Museo Santury, which houses Juanita the Ice Princess, an Inca sacrificed ice-mummy. The whole thing was set up like a shrine, the room with Juanita kept dark and cold probably for more than just conservation reasons. They offered tours in English, French, Spanish, German, and Polish; the tour, although inclusive, offered a more Western bias than I thought was proper considering how they had the exhibit set up. Afterwards I took myself out for a nice lunch at Nina Yaku, a restaurant I found in Lonely Planet described as “modern Peruvian”. I had a steak in a sort of peppery sauce, then decided I was still hungry and ordered a fettucini with rocoto sauce. Both were delicious; I sat in the courtyard for two hours, slowly eating and reading on the Kindle. (Rocoto is a type of pepper that looks akin to a plum tomato. It’s sort of a mouthy spice with less burn and more flavor than a chili pepper. Every night Agusto makes rocoto sauce in a pico-de-gallo fashion, and I got him to show me how to make it. Perfect with meat, potatoes, vegetables, and pretty much everything.)

[Warning: this paragraph might disturb some readers with sensitive stomachs.] This week in archaeology was mostly uneventful. I continued to sift, as I now have a system for sifting and labeling the bags that nobody else bothered to learn. In the evenings I went down to the lab and relabeled and reorganized everything. Leila and Max closed their unit and came to join ours, so we had more help. On Tuesday we made the discovery: slowly, there began to be more large pieces of organic matter (generally camelid feces, feathers, and clumps of unidentifiable material). We thought it might be dog feces. Suddenly, in the afternoon, Leila dug in her trowel and accidentally but forcefully flung a piece of definiteively human poo towards Sylvia. (And let me tell you, you needn’t be an expert in coprolites to tell this was human. Just think about it.) We kept finding more and more. Nearby was another obsidian core and some maize, identifying it as a possible trash pit/latrine. We were very proud of our discovery, and photographed it from various angles, with and without shadow, on different color backgrounds, with the north arrow showing its location and size. We then carefully wrapped it up and put it in a Tupperware. I’m sure the workers thought we were insane. (For those unenlightened, coprolites are very informative for archaeology, as they can give us a good idea of paleodiet and health if there are no other human remains.) It is also becoming apparent that part of the site is from the Formative period, so this is 1500-year-old poo. Also, Nene asked if, since we hadn’t found any remains, I might write my BA on molle, known in the US as pink peppercorns. It was used in the Andes to make beer, but also seems to have been used in mortar and is in our trash pit. Apparently no one has done a comprehensive study of molle before, and I can communicate with Agusto and Ryan Williams of the Field Museum, who wrote about molle use in Moquegua (one valley south if Vitor).

Wednesday morning we awoke to the Mummy Poo’s Revenge: the sky was thickly fogged and it was absolutely freezing. It was not pleasant digging weather, so we decided to hike up the Red Mountain where Agusto’s team was doing their pottery survey. That was also believed to be a cemetery, but no luck; the stone-lined cists were storage chambers. Alice and I decided to keep hiking up to the Black Mountain, which is really more of a mesa that extends further up the valley. (We call them thus based on the color of their rocks.) From the top we could really see the extent of the desert – the valleys are a couple of kilometers across, nice lush green farmland, but the desert spreads hundreds of kilometers between each valley. We were also able to see the fog drifting downriver towards the ocean.We hiked down through the quebrada (Spanish for wadi), had lunch, and then continued to dig up poo.itze

Thursday was the same; dense fog kept us from digging, so we walked about two kilometers to see a Formative cemetery we’d been told about. On the way we stopped at a colonial bodega that is now a farmhouse. It was once big and fancy enough to have its own church (now inhabited by the farmer), a chumba-firing facility, and a large winery. These remind me of the paintings of 1830s Greece or medieval England, when people lived in ancient ruins, sort of admiring their historic value but really just valuing them as a good place to raise pigs. We also saw this man’s latrine, which was in a corner of one of the old buildings with no roof – just piles and piles of feces with no dirt to cover them. It was really very unsanitary, and exactly like what we found in our trench. (Yay ethnoarchaeology!) In the afternoon we closed the trench, and while shoveling I scraped my finger on rock, just clearing the way to my title of Most Injured.


Friday we packed up the lab and the artifacts and headed back to Arequipa. We had a farewell dinner at a really nice restaurant, also “modern Peruvian” and very good. The main dish was a stuffed pepper, and the appetizers included Andean yellow potatoes, lomo saltado, and Andean sushi (which I didn’t eat but looked like it could be delicious for devourers of raw fish). We all said goodbye and then went to (fitful) sleep, as Alice, Leila, Veena, and I had to leave at 4.45 for our 6.30 flight. The flight was actually nice; I was expecting a tiny prop plane, but instead it was a brand new Airbus and I was in 1A. The flight made a stop in Juliaca, so we got to see Lake Titicaca; I fell asleep between Juliaca and Cusco, but I woke up just as I feared we were about to run into a mountain in the Cusco Valley descent. (Descent being relative – the altitude is really high and I have a headache.) We slept, had a fight with the travel agency, then met Jenny for lunch. I had a delicious alpaca burger. Afterwards we went to two cathedrals and I bought a fuzzy hat. The architecture and environment here is so different from Arequipa – if the latter is like Barcelona, this is like Cordoba. The streets are narrow and windy, and the cathedrals are baroque and not neoclassical. Tired from our outings, we came back here and, after an hour of not being able to reach the travel agency, they finally told us to be ready at 6.30 tomorrow to be picked up for the train to Machu Picchu. It’s been a hassle, and we’re all tired and grumpy, but at least we have it sorted out, and I hear Machu Picchu is really worth it. Hoipefully there will be internet there to describe.


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