July 4, 2009

Peru, Week 2

SO we are back in Arequipa after a week in the field. We left Sunday and it was quite an interesting drive. We had to go over the mountains, which people use as signboards for political slogans, statements of love, advertisements for soda. Some of these are painted on rocks and some are written in huge letters by rearranging rocks, Nasca-style, on the side of the mountain. Also, 81% of the area is below the poverty line. This means that on the side of the road we saw huts every so often, made of woven reed mats balanced against sticks. Some of them were farming cactus, presumably for the cochineal. When we got closer to town, some of the huts were covered in layers of mud baked by the sun, making them less likely to fall down. Some of the nicer houses are made of cinder blocks and have the side facing the road painted.

We are staying in one of the cinder-block ones, built as a retreat and training center for interdenominational missionaries. According to Eric, the missionary from Jacksonville who runs the place, they come in, learn some things, and then do tons of community service, because bringing God into people’s lives makes them better. (As he explained, how can people who do not respect God know not to beat their children or steal? At this point we all looked at our shoes awkwardly.) (Nobody had the heart to bring up the conquistadores). They teach them farming skills, home management, give local children breakfast and schooling, and run summer camps for Arequipeño street children. They have a really great facility, including a farm – practice what you preach – with horses, sheep, and three crops, a little childrens’ village, lots of play areas, including a caged area for human foosball (to teach teamwork) and a whole gravity-operated water system that filters it with chlorine and runs it downhill to all the buildings. The pipes snake around the rooves so there’s even lukewarm to moderately warm water during the afternoons. (I make sure to be the first one there to take advantage of it.) The food has been edible, if not excellent; they put little cubes of ham in the first three meals, so I had to request vegetarian ones. Which were generally tomato-onion omelettes. Every day. Lunch was sandwiches that they brought out to the field, and if I couldn’t manage to pull the bread off cleanly, I’d trade them for someone else’s apple. I even ate a slice of orange one day, but was unsatisfied. For lunch I always brought my own additional meal of a granola bar, an apple, and a little packet of Oreos. (I guess I’m back to the OA style of eating three or four apples a day…)

Monday morning we had the shaman ceremony. Shamans here are either called yatiris or pacos depending on whether they speak Quechua or Aymara; for some reason everyone called this one a yatiri even though he introduced himself as a paco. (His actual name was Casimiro.) He is apparently the head paco of Cuzco and just has a side interest in archaeology. Augusto, the professor from Universidad Catolica (who is hilarious but only speaks Spanish), invited him here to give a ceremony that will hopefully aid the dig. That morning Nene appointed me official photographer, so I had to run ahead taking pictures of him in his red poncho  and his assistant with a Christmas-paper-wrapped box and the march to the site, feeling altogether like a National Geographic photographer with the fancy digital Nikon (I took 300 pictures that day). To get to the site, we have to drive for 30 minutes along a rocky dirt road (we take taxis – no idea how they agreed to do it or where they are from), walk through some cane fields (led by Nene with a machete about half as big as her), cross a shaky log bridge over a river, and crash through some more cane. And remember, the first day we had to do this with all our equipment. And I walked backwards taking photos.


While everyone set up and organized their gear, I chased after the paco while he attempted to find a ceremonial site. He picked one conveniently next to the ceremonial center of the ancient site with a view of the three volcanic mountains. He had two mesas, or arranged collections of items to dedicate; one was dried and contained dried llama fetus, candy and cigarettes (Pachamama wanted sweetness); the other was fresh, prepared at 4 am, with another piece of llama and lots of coca leaves (the mountains wanted bitterness). The dried one he buried. Then we all chewed coca leaves (which tasted sort of like eating tea leaves, rather unpleasant) and drank wine and chicha and poured some on the ground for Pachamama. We each had to line up and sniff the bundle, which he then burned while we finished the wine. If we need any help finding things, we must go up the hill and give some wine to Pachamama. Afterwards, while we waited for lunch, he told our fortunes individually (with the help of Itze to translate). After lunch we toured the entire site, which included sliding down a rather steep hill on nour bums, and then leving early.

Tuesday we lay out squares, which took a remarkably long time. Our unit is the biggest, 10 by 4m divided into two 5 by 4m squares. The other units are just 2 by 2m. Then we mapped rocks. (Oh, I{m in the cemetery part. However, at this point we are unsure whether it is, in fact, a cemetery.)

Wednesday we actually started digging. We removed probably 100 pounds of rocks and a good 10  centimeters of dirt, only to find more rocks. Thursday we dug down to the ash layer from the volcanic eruption of 1400 then mapped more rocks, although I could see no discernible pattern. Unfortunately, the things we want to find are below the ash layer, and the ash layer is about 20cm thick. Thursday afternoon we played with some human bones we found scattered around the nearby looters’ pits. There’s a femur, tibia, fibula, 1st metacarpal, and a phalanx. I also found a mandible with one tooth out in the middle of the desert and sketched it. (So far we have less than one body.)

Friday we learned how to sketch pottery and then left. Friday night we went back to the crepe place and I had an alpaca crepe au poivre. Today we have plans to go to the tourist things market and then to the department store/movie theatre later.


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