Cyprus: an introduction

For the past month, I’ve been working as a lecturer and field supervisor for the Odyssey Field School in Limassol, Cyprus. It’s been rather exciting to be in charge of my own field site, although there were many times the first two weeks when I didn’t know what to do and looked around for a grown-up before realizing that I am the grown-up. There’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s also been a good test of whether I’m capable of running a site — surprise, I am!

I arrived four weeks ago at 1am. For no obvious reason, flights into and out of Cyprus are scheduled at bizarre hours. I either had to leave London at 6 am or arrive here at midnight, and my flight home (on August 3) arrives at Stansted at 2:40am. (No, it doesn’t make them cheaper.) Our city doesn’t have an airport, and the customs queue was so long that I missed a shuttle. After taking the next intercity bus, which dropped me on the side of a highway at 12:45, I saw an off-duty taxi who took me the rest of the way. I knew the address of the apartment but not the name, which is apparently the important thing here as Google maps has all the numbers wrong. I was informed upon arrival that we’d be waking up at 6am to be at the cafe at 7:30 to meet our director, Xenia. I was to start lecturing at 8. This was definitely the longest lecture I’ve given on such short notice, as I talked all that day and all the following day, giving a crash course in bioarchaeology. My students were mostly American (one British), undergraduate and masters level, and it was a challenge to engage everyone at appropriate levels and keep them awake from 8-4 while jetlagged. I pulled through, and could see by the time they had analysed a few skeletons that they were able to apply theoretical knowledge to actual cases.


Me, travel edition

The skeletons: as a bioarchaeologist, I’ve primarily looked at individuals from a few thousand years ago to the middle ages. The majority of the individuals I’ve examined – for my thesis, hundreds; for my career, thousands – died before they were 50 (although people in the past did live to old age, it was not very common at the sites I’ve studied). Their bones also suffered from being in the soil so long, making many of them fragmentary and crumbly. This site’s collection houses individuals who died in the 20th century and were disinterred for various reasons over the last 20 years. Most of them are named, and we can look up their dates of birth and death – apparently the oldest one is over 100! Looking at the names of the boxes, I can assess the gender of the individual, which useful when the students are learning assessment of skeletal sex. (The pelvis and skull have traits that differ between males and females, but as with these things — it’s a spectrum rather than a strict line.) In a population where most people are cisgender, it’s useful to be able to say “this skeleton has mostly female characteristics” and then check the box to see if they have a woman’s name. Many of the skeletons here have had medical interventions – dentures, hip replacements, metal screws to fix fractures – that I’ve never seen before, since surgery didn’t exist when the people from my other assemblages were alive! Having complete skeletons is very useful, as it makes diagnosis easier. Many diagnostic criteria for joint diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis) ask whether the joints are affected symmetrically or asymmetrically. If you only have one hand preserved, it’s impossible to tell. I’m learning a lot, and feel like I’m really able to solidify my knowledge of pathology by finally seeing the complete picture.

I should also clarify that while Cyprus has many human remains from the war in 1974, the ones we are working on are not war dead. We can’t talk in great detail about the cases we work on as some of them are forensic, so when we tell local people (like the bus driver, who keeps asking why a horde of Americans get on the bus to the cemetery every day) we are purposefully vague. But everyone is still curious, and assume that if we can’t talk about it, they must be from the war. Nope!

We work in a historic cemetery in central Limassol, using its central ossuary (repository for bones) as a lab and lecture room. It’s underground, which one would expect to be cooler than above, but it actually boiling. Everywhere is boiling. It has ben 40°C and humid all day everyday. At night the temperature drops a bit but the humidity increases. The only way to cool down is to jump in the sea. I wish I could spend all day in the sea.


The cemetery is home to many cats.

Cyprus. I’d never been here before. I had very little time to research what I was getting into. I assumed it would be similar to Greece, so I refreshed my Greek and prepared to only eat Greek food for months. I was totally wrong. Cyprus is very international, with lots of shipping, business with Russia, and links to Southeast Asia. We live in a Russian neighborhood with shops that sell furs, and advertizing is in a confusing mix of Greek and Cyrillic characters. (Since I can read both, it sent my brain into a tailspin trying to figure it out.) I go to the Old Town market on Sundays, where one can buy fresh local vegetables, cheap Asian imports of bedsheets, curtains, rather horrifying fashion, and used electronics. I speak to the veg seller in a mix of Greek and Arabic. On the way back, I saw some Sri Lankan women threading each other’s faces in the street. I asked if I could get my face done and they were a little confused; I figured they were just doing it for friends and not as a business, and they only asked for 5 euros. The first meal I ate out was Nepalese. Most people speak enough English to get the message across, which is rather a shame as I wanted to practice Greek.

We finished the Human Remains Training Certificate two weeks ago and then started the field school. Four students left and a few more arrived from Canada and the UK. We were then able to split into two crowded apartments instead of one very, very crowded apartment (one room had three single beds, which was… weird #fieldlife). The site is quite small – it’s a part of the cemetery with commingled remains that need to be excavated and moved. It’s fenced in by concrete walls, with an open top – we can’t put up sunshades because, as mentioned above, people get curious and then suspicious. (At least a few times a week, someone walks by the ask what we’re doing and whether we have permission.) We leave the apartments at 5:50 for the (sometimes on time) 6:00 bus, getting to site at 6:25. We start with photos, measurements, then the plan for the day. After 6 days of bone fragments and dirt (we’ve excavated down over 40cm), we finally reached complete human bones, and I let out a whoop that definitely attracted the attention of a passerby. We were also able to open up an adjacent text pit that contained more bones, and we’ve now joined that onto the main trench. I’m particularly proud of the very very straight trench walls.


Some of my students in our PERFECT trench

This is our final week of digging; next week I’ll be teaching the Paleopathology course, so need to write all my lectures for that. More on the dig and travel later!


Museum Review: Cape Town

I recently visited Cape Town and, as is my responsibility as a museum enthusiast, tried to visit as many museums and historical sites as possible. This was slightly difficult as it was the December holiday period, and many museums were closed. They all listed dates of closure on their websites, but in actuality they were closed for more days than listed: the excuse given by locals was that because Christmas was on a Sunday, everybody took the next two days off instead of just one day. (OK, sure.)

First, Kirstenbosch Gardens. The last time I was there I was less than ten years old, barely as tall as the agapanthus. It’s a really wonderful botanic garden showing the extensive variety of plants from the Table Mountain fynbos region and further north – the Namibian desert plants were quite spectacular. The fynbos is a unique ecosystem of tremendous biodiversity adapted to an arid environment. I hiked up Table Mountain four times, and each route had remarkably different vegetation specifically adapted for local shade, wind, and rain runoff. Kirstenbosch has a “boomslang”, or canopy walk, for visitors to admire the treetop flora and fauna; if we’d actually seen some fauna it would have been awesome, but it was not to be.

Next I visited the South African Museum. Most of the museums in Cape Town are part of an organization called Iziko, which sets standard prices and presumably consolidates direction and curation. All the Iziko museums were 30 rand; student entry was 15, but only if one has an ISIC card. I decided the difference in price, which worked out to just over a dollar, was not enough to buy an international student card, and I’d rather the meager (for me) entry go to funding the museum. The SA Museum is your average natural history museum – not particularly impressive compared to the NHM or AMNH, but similar in scope, with halls of taxidermy and a multi-story gallery of whale skeletons. They really shone in the exhibit on rock art, though: it had some of the most culturally-aware interpretation I’ve seen, and really thoughtful placards featuring quotes from interviews about traditional San medicine and rock art meaning. Additionally, the introduction to the ethnographic gallery should be used in every museum that still has displays of (non-white) traditional practices, although they could have used more explanation on the collection of body casts (but perhaps I’m still on a rant from Museum of the Normal). Sadly, the museums suffer from a severe lack of funding. In many rooms, the lights were out, the walls had leaks and mold, and one case contained a dead lizard that was definitely not meant to be there.

Across the Company’s Garden, originally planted by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to feed their merchants when Cape Town was a re-supply point on the route to the Far East, is the Slave Lodge, which was the original prison for slaves working for the VOC or the city. The temporary exhibit in the entry was about Tweede Nuwe Jaar, Cape Town’s carnival celebrated on January 2nd. The permanent exhibit about slavery, including a long video (most of the museums had a 15+ minute introductory video), a reproduction slave ship segment, and a hall of remembrance, were devastating. Interestingly, most of the slaves brought to Cape Town were Malay and Indonesian rather than West African, the latter being brought to the Americas rather than further south. Many of them were given names based on the month they arrived, and a photographic exhibit featured 12 interviewees whose surnames are months, making a calendar of sorts. Local Khoekhoe individuals were not enslaved, but were pressed into indentured servitude. The first half of the first floor of the museum was very informative. The second half was about the struggle to end apartheid, with another video and large placards. However, I felt that these seemed to be more evocative than informative, and the focus on oral history without artifacts (or with replica artifacts and a prison cell) was not very effective for me as basically a tourist with little knowledge of events like the Sharpeville massacre. The second floor was an odd mix of ancient Egyptian artifacts and 20th-century African and European domestic objects (silverware, pottery, jewellery) with little to link it to the history on the first floor. There was a marvellous temporary exhibit of ishishweshwe, an African fabric traditionally printed in blue. I realized that the first skirt I ever sewed was with ishishweshwe from Durban.

The Bo-Kaap Museum celebrates Cape Malay history in a house in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, where all the houses are painted different colors as a sign of independence. Once again, it began with a rather long video interviewing local residents about their relationship to the area, which – as an area close to the city center – is gentrifying. The museum is only four rooms, one of which had the video and one of which was a historic kitchen with no placards. There were also tours of the neighborhood, which we didn’t take as they felt a bit poverty-tourism.


The Bo-Kaap neighborhood

I really enjoyed the Maritime Centre. This museum doesn’t have very many objects, and despite being smack in the middle of the waterfront, it seems to not get much foot traffic; my mom and I were the only visitors then. It’s about Cape Town’s history as a port, first for trade and then for transport. My parents told me about riding passenger lines around the coast, and the museum even had a scale model of the ship they took! There’s also a maritime library, which seems like an invaluable resource. I’m rather obsessed with ships and trains, so I’m pleased I found out about this one.

Finally, we went to the Castle of Good Hope. Constructed in 1666, this was the second fort built to guard the harbor, and as far as I know it has never been attacked. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of information. I probably found out more about the castle’s history from the website than from the actual site visit. Many areas were closed for restoration, but we did go into the second-in-command’s house, stocked with original Dutch-imported furniture, and the prison, which had amazing historic graffiti. It was a nice day to walk along the castle walls and pretend to guard the city (though not the harbor, because there’s been significant land reclamation in the last 350 years), but it probably would have been more informative to take the tour.

Scattered around the Cape, particularly the shore and places of natural beauty, are placards with information about geology or history. I was pleased to learn about the stratigraphy of the rock beaches and the rock dassies and warnings about baboon behavior, but was left distressed after learning that Jan van Riebeeck parked his ships in the middle of a Khoekhoe grazing route, forever disrupting their herding strategies and forcing them into lives of servitude. Very much “we put a flag on it.


View from near Judas Peak

July 11, 2011

Greece: “I need to negotiate the stairs…”

I flew into Athens late Saturday and took the new metro line into the city. (Pretty awesome, as they only completed it eight years after the expected date.) My hostel was pretty great, air con and everything, and met up with some people from the dig. Sunday I visited the new Acropolis Museum (which opened pretty much the week after I left last time) and it was so amazing – really integrated modern design with historical artifacts, and underneath was the “Acropolis neighborhood” excavation, which they displayed through glass floors. At the end I saw someone who looked to be conducting surveys, and it turns out his name is Dionysus and he’s studying museology and giving a presentation on visitor’s suggestions and reactions to the Acropolis museum. Of course, I was happy to help. ALSO I read his nametag and his last name is Phlebotomos, which he told me is the profession name for bloodletters.  Sunday night I had drinks with the archaeo folks but left them for dinner as I wanted to go to Kostas and they wanted to go for Mexican. However, after the long walk to my old neighborhood, I was dismayed to find Kostas to be closed and my other two fallbacks full of catered parties for the Special Olympics.

I walked dejectedly down a small alley and my attention was caught by a large woman in a see-through nightdress lounging over two chairs. She said something in Greek that I didn’t catch and I asked her to repeat it in English; after a brief conversation about the situation in the main square I decided to ask her about nearby restaurants. She asked if I like meat or fish (I didn’t know there was such a choice) and when I replied meat, she said, “Oh! You can go to O Stavros!” (O is the direct article for masculine nouns, including male names.) “They have meat, and also fish, and it is close. Is just to the right, down the steps, and across the street.” I asked the name of the street, and she stood up, making everything under the nightdress jiggle and sag. “No street! To the right, down the steps, you there. Tell them Fat Katerina send you.” I said ok, and thanked her, and started to walk in the direction she had pointed. She leaned over her little porch and pointed again, “Down the steps! Tell them Fat Katerina send you, the one who make the jewellery, the bracelet, the earrings. The fat one.” I ordered fried zucchini and tzatziki and it was delicious, and only 8 euros.
Monday I took the once-per-day-every-other-day-not-Sundays flight to Astypalaia (1 hour at 10,000 feet) and it is SO cute. We are 2.5 km downhill from the main town, so we have to walk half an hour uphill to the lab every morning, but in exchange we get to be next to the beach. I am getting quite a tan – it’s so hot in the afternoons all one can do is jump in the sea. There are also little restaurants and a friendly supermarket and stray calico cats who love me. I made a huge pot of tzatziki too! We get fed every day except Sunday, nice Greek food – not the most delicious, but filling, and each room (for four) has a kitchenette. After two days of training, I got to excavate today. Pretty much, each burial is a baby in an amphora. What we have to do is remove the potsherds, which then leaves a giant dirt clod with a skeleton inside. We go in with scalpels, tweezers, and other specialized tiny equipment to excavate the skeleton – very different from pretty much all other excavations, as it’s half dig – but very small – and half immediate conservation. Anyway, the skeletons are adorable and tiny, and we still have to figure out why they’re here and how they got here. Lots of fun. And after excavating, we go to the beach.

June 20, 2011


Ok, yes, I was terrible at writing in Scandinavia. And I said I wouldn’t write in London, but I also didn’t write in Paris. But now, after almost a year’s absence, I am back – writing to you once again from the foreign lands that are Europe! [SH 2016 note: have now moved to London.]

Last Saturday I flew Stansted, “London’s Economy Airport,” to Pisa’s Galileo Galilei International. The two are worlds apart – Stansted is located an hour out of town (practically in the countryside – I saw cows), ridonkulous about security, has no rubbish bins bigger than a paper basket, and puts most of its restaurants outside the terminal for no apparent reason. Pisa’s airport is small and kind of dark and old and located in the center of town in what appears to be an outdoor mall with lots of grassy areas and people eating outside. In between was Ryanair, “Europe’s Economy Airline,” which is really cheap but makes up the extra money in the following ways:

-Not giving seat assignments, but allowing people to purchase “premier seating”

-Charging for checking bags

-Charging for extra hand luggage

-Charging for not printing one’s boarding pass

-Making people buy the little plastic bags for liquids

-Offering food and water onboard… for a steep price

Their airline colors are navy and yellow, which seem innocent at first, but on the plane you discover that the exact shade of yellow is “emergency yellow,” a frightening color used on caution signs, yellow caution tape, janitorial signs saying “SLIPPERY FLOOR,” and basically any time someone wants to say EMERGENCY with a color. In addition, each seat has the full emergency instructions stuck to every seat. Seriously, these people do not want to get sued.

Upon my arrival in Pisa, I was whisked off to Anna’s family’s house, where I was presented with an overwhelming amount of food. On the table were:

-a caprese salad that used at least two mozzarella balls

-bread of varying types

-no less than four types of hard cheese

-and after I was stuffed, her mother offered me veal. This started off the weekend as an eating extravaganza.

After seeing Anna’s apartment, we went to a great piece of beach that used to be some sort of lighthouse-castle-thing. It had disused inlets for boats that created adorable tide pools. It was a rock beach rather than a sand beach, and we found pieces of rock that fit like lounge chairs with a view of the sea to the left and a view of some Italian boys to right. It is surprising how much more attractive than they are compared to a similar selection of Londoners: they go to the beach every day, play sports, exercise, wax their chests, and wear Speedos – and also, as my mom says, “well, they’re Italian!”

For dinner we went to a really local place in Livorno where we ordered a pasta gorgonzola and a typical meat dish. The pasta was so incredibly rich and the meat was like a brisket with Italian herbs – delicious. Afterwards we met up with some of Anna’s friends and went to a coffeeshop that is so off the tourist track as to be invisible to Americans. Since I don’t drink coffee, I had a typical warm red syrupy alcoholic drink. I have no idea what it was called, but I felt the ethanol in my eyes with every sip. Needless to say, I worked my way through one over the next two hours while the friends played cards. The highlight of the evening was a man nearby wearing a t-shirt that read “Manhattan: Upper West Side,” but I could not explain to a group of non-Americans how funny it was.

After that, we went to the biggest (only?) Saturday night venue in Livorno, where I discovered I was one of four English-speakers out of the three hundred or so people there. The club was half inside and half outside, the interior in some kind of former church reformed into a concert stage playing metal and rock and the exterior in a lovely courtyard playing pop and hip-hop. Everyone knew each other and kisses went all around (both cheeks), along with head-banging and riotous dancing. I discovered that the courtyard was bound on two sides by a derelict historic hospital building – the two were separated by a rather flimsy fence and I was quite confused as to why it had not yet burned down or been turned into an illegal rave cave. We were at this place til at least 5 in the morning, at which point dawn appeared over the horizon and we left to get breakfast.

Breakfast was in another coffee shop where we saw pretty much everyone who had been at the club. Anna and friends had espresso and I had a mini-pizza. After some sleep back at the apartment, we awoke to a beautiful day!

June 30, 2010

More Norway

After the busy day seeing Håkon’s Hall et cetera, we woke up very early to take a fjord tour. We took a train to a bus (which went down a road with an 18% grade) to a boat, which led us slowly around a fjord. The weather was terrible – rainy and chill the whole day. The fjord was beautiful though – they are steep glacial valleys (my favorite kind) and can be a mile deep. On the sides are small towns, some inaccessible by roads. They all apparently have medieval stave churches, a style of building unique to Norway, but unfrtunately they all seemed to be hiding behind other buildings. The boat dropped us off in Flåm, a tiny town pretty much used only by tourists. We had a surprisingly decent lunch despite the lack of options, and then took pictures with a large troll holding a Norwegian flag. The next leg of the journey was a historic train up the steep mountain, with a stop at a huge waterfall with a singing troll, sort of a Norwegian siren with long braids. That train took us to another train, which took us back to Bergen. There we had delicious Vietnamese for dinner, followed by the best carrot cake I’ve ever had.

Saturday we went to some shops and then the Bryggen tour, which gave us a guided tour through Bergen’s historic fishing town. It was an important trade center in the Hanseatic League, and life there was so terrible they had to give the apprentices tests of strength before they could join on. The current Bryggen was built immediately after the fire in 1702, with each building in exactly the same location as the ones that had been destroyed. They areconstantly being repaired, as the salt content of the bay has changed with the construction of something or other, and now the foundations (basically, boats filled with shoes and sunk) are rotting away. The buildings now sit at funny angles, leaning into each other and over the paths between them. It’s really adorable. On the tour we learned all about life then, the Hanseatic League (which I knew pretty much nothing about before), and the later fish trade. The Hanseatic Museum even has 150-year-old salt cod hanging from the ceiling for luck.

For lunch we went to a hot dog stand called Kong Oscar’s Pølsar, where they had the most impressive sausage menu I’ve ever seen. I had a reindeer dog, 150 grams, which stuck out from the bun on both sides. The meat was gamey and smokey, but it needed more toppings than just fried onions and ketchup. Afterwards, we left for Copenhagen.

Going home tomorrow – will try to update more before then.

June 27, 2010

Norway: “It was amazing when we rode dugout canoes and got to meet the Amazonian natives.”

(Actual quote from someone on a National Geographic tour. ACTUAL QUOTE.)

We are now in Copenhagen after a visit to Bergen, Norway. I will attempt to write about Bergen as quickly as I can on this shared computer which other guests are waiting to use.

Bergen’s airport is teeny-tiny. One would guess, then, that Bergen is similarly small, but it is bigger than one expects. It actually had a fair number of museums, which we didn’t get to see because they are only open from 10-4, and there are only so many you can do in that time. (We did four today from 10-5, heh heh.)

On Torsday we started out at the medieval king’s hall, Håkon’s Hall (built by Håkon Håkonsson, which sounds more like a cough than real words). It was buuilt in 1260, and has since burned down a few times and was blown up by a stray German ammunition ship in WWII. It was quite large insuide, and is currently used for local government functions. Afterwards we saw Rosencrantz Tower, which was remodeled over the last eight centuries but is still quite drafty with terribly steep stairs. Bergen was famously raining all day Thursday.

Friday we took a fjord tour, which I will write about later as these people are very patiently waiting.


June 19, 2010

Hej from Sverige!

Two days without internet=sad blog. But yes, we arrived, after my first connecting flight in who knows how long. We had to stop in Amsterdam, where the duty-free shops sold orange slipper clogs and orange slipper soccer cleats, and I learned how to speak Dutch. (When we asked a gate agent “How long is the flight?” she turned to her colleague and said, “Huw lung ist die flut?” So basically, turn any vowel into a long u.)

We arrived in Stockholm exhausted on Thursday afternoon, and Dad proceeded to take us in the wrong direction than the big shopping street. We wandered through various residential neighborhoods and, for the first time ever, I could not find where we were on the map — because I was looking in the wrong place. We ended up taking a taxi, and I successfully directed us home from dinner (mediocre Italian) despite swaying with tiredness. I fell asleep at 9, when it was (of course) still light.

Friday we walked around some more after a lovely crepe breakfast, attempting the find both an adapter plug for the blackberry and the Jewish Museum. The architecture is very interesting – everything is 5 stories tall, built in the 17/1800s, and in a unique style. Everything seems pseudo-something else, but more playful somehow. Lots of buildings have Russian-esque domes on top, and some have portions that stick out from the rest of the building. Some have huge Swedish modern additions. I like everything though – rarely do I walk past the window of a design or clothing store anywhere else and think “I would gladly own all of that” rather than “Huh, could be good.” The clothes here seem to be fashionable but not outrageous, and the furniture is all modern or modern reinterpretations of classical (King Gustav style). Anyway, we found the Jewish Museum, which was much smaller than expected, but staffed with friendly women, one of whom came here on a Kindertransport in 1939. They gave us more information (from the newspaper!) about the upcoming royal wedding and its associated parade.

The crown princess (they changed the laws of crown inheritance from first male to first child when she was three) Victoria is marrying her personal trainer, Daniel Westling – apparently a real Disney story. The wedding (today at 3.30) will be followed by a parade. This requires closure of the Royal Palace and most major streets, as well as the early closure of some museums. It’s really adorable, though – a sign with a countdown at the airport declares Stockholm to be the World’s Capital of Love, and the faces of the nearlyweds adorn postcards, commemorative teasets, chocolates, and billboards.

In the afternoon we also saw the Medelhavsmuseet, which I mistakenly believed to be the Medieval Museum but was instead a museum of Mediterranean antiquities. It had an amazing mummy collection, and for a while we sat in the upstairs Baghdad Cafe and watched people in ball gowns go to some A-list event. We walked around Gamla Stan, the historical district,  in the evening and had elk burgers for dinner.

July 27, 2009

Peru, Week 5: Finally!

mp1This morning we woke up at 6.25 and left at 7 for the Machu Picchu bus. The sky was clear, and it was evident that we didn’t need our jackets. We got to the top at 7.30 and wandered around for a bit before our tour started. 8.30 was the tour, with an enthusiastic guide who only strayed from straight facts twice.Towards the end (actually, about five minutes from the end) we lost the group and kept exploring. It’s really amazing – completely intact except the roofs;  everything is so well-built (there are the walls you can’t fit a credit card in and then some others that would have been plastered over – don’t worry, I took pictures);  and the entire thing is huge. There’s a terraced agricultural part and an urban part, with houses, temples, schools, and plazas. The Incas really loved trapezoids – all the windows are trapezoidal, as are the doors, and even the walls slope at 87· to make trapezoidal houses. I think the grassy plazas are kept in check by the roaming llamas, which we got to pet. (One even rested his foot on mine!)



After a short snack and bathroom break outside the walls, we decided to try to climb Waynapicchu, the ceremonial (and super steep) mountain with the Temp0le of the Moon on top. Unfortunately, they only allow 400 people to climb it per day (for environmental protection) and we didn’t get there in time. So we went to pet the llamas, then began to climb Machu Picchu. (The city is called MP, but the real MP is the peak behind it.) It was stone steps all the way up, sometimes through the jungle and sometimes in the open air. Alice hiked considerably slower than I did, so I got to the top in 1 hour 40 and she took two hours. It was only then that I informed her we had just climbed nearly 3000 feet in altitude, up to 10000. (That was why I took the map away from her to begin with – oh, there was planned trickery.) The view from the top was amazing – you could see how Machu Picchu was condor-shaped (the Incas like to do intense urban planning – Cusco used to be puma-shaped). There was a rainbow flag, which I’ve been seeing all over and wondering why there’s so much gay pride in this region; eventually I figured out it’s also the UNESCO flag. It took us an hour to hike down, and we were back in the hotel by 4:30. We went to an internet cafe and rewarded ourselves with cake, then went straight to dinner at a cheap and sketchy place across the plaza, where we met Leila and Veena fresh in from their trek.  Apparently the trek was fun, except that all Sunday they had to hike in the rain and then overnight it froze. They didn’t eat there because we’d already finished, so we took them to the pizza place from Sunday night, where Alice and I split a pizza for dessert. We then went to bed and slept for 11 hours without waking even once. A nice reward after a hard day.mp4

This morning we wandered through the Traditional Peruvian Market to get to our 9:30 train. Nene’s call must have made some impact at the travel agency, because we were greeted by a man holding a sign (albeit with Alice’s last name horribly mangled) who took us back to Cusco in a private car. Although it was one of the more nauseating rides I’ve ever taken (the road is very curvy and brakes were used infrequently), it was better than having to sit with our luggage on our laps on the bus. We went straight to 2Nations, the lunch place from Sunday, for lunch, then went to see Qorikancha, the Inca’s golden palace turned into a monastery and cathedral. (The gold was stripped off to barter for the return of the Inca Atahualpa after he was captured by the conquistadors; the palace was engulfed by Spanish colonial buildings, but they still used the old rooms.) Then Alice went to take a nap while I went to the Museo del Arte Precolombiano, which featured artifacts in an art museum context. (“Look at the delicate work on this pot – imagine what it represented to the primitive peoples, etc etc.”) I also did some shopping and may have bought some antiquities – the woman assured me they were Colonial, but they look pretty Formative to me. I almost bought a llama car seat cover, but it was too expensive. Tomorrow morning (at 5.15) we leave for Lima and the last two days!




July 26, 2009

Peru, Week 5: “Is there any efficient way to get there?”

Last night we went out to an Italian restaurant that had an Inca wall as part of it. Apparently this is a big thing in Cusco, and Jenny’s group did an Inca wall pub crawl this week. Afterwards we went to a bar that advertised a Rolling Stones cover band, but I had an altitude headache and they weren’t very good (nor did they play Rolling Stones songs) so we went to bed at 11, which was still much too late as we had to wake up at 6. I couldn’t sleep all night because I was worrying whether the travel agency woman would actually be meeting us with our tickets; she did, 15 minutes late, and gave us only the briefest explanation before putting us on a bus. Turns out there are two ways to get here: take us to Ollantaytambo, a tiny town two hours away, then get on the train; or take the train straight from Cusco. I have no idea why the travel agent chose the first option, as it was inconvenient and confusing. There was a Quechua singer on the bus who demanded to be tipped. Also, it started to rain when we were on the platform waiting for the train, which was late. Apparently train is the only way to get here (besides walking, which Veena and Leila are doing – in the rain, while Alice and I napped in a cozy hotel facing the river) because the river valley is so steep and narrow. There are buses to get to Machu Picchu from this tiny town (Aguas Calientes, named such for its hot springs – swim suit rentals upon request), and they had to be carried in by train too. The mountains are amazing though – they’re like the erupting rocks from “The Rite of Spring” sequence in Fantasia, but covered with multigreen lichens, shrubs, and small trees, steep-sided, craggy, folded in mist so you can’t even see barely three hundred feet up, let alone all the way to the top (and I know they´re ridiculously tall – I saw a break in the clouds.) A mountain on the way here (seen from the bus) had fog clouds wrapped around its shoulders like a scarf made of sheep.

Besides looking at the scenery, though, there’s nothing to do but eat, sleep, and remain frustrated at the travel agent. A guide to Machu Picchu was supposed to call to arrange things, but they haven’t yet and we’ll probably just have to take ourselves. (Which may be better, as Jenny said she saw a tour guide telling a group to rub a “sacred Inca rubbing stone”. We´ve decided that if they try to tell us anything remotely untrue-sounding we’ll pool our archaeological knowledge and cross-examine them.)

June 27, 2009

Peru, Week 1

Sorry… I{ve either been to tired or too busy to post. Also, I apologize for punctuation and occasional spelling mistakes as I adjust to the Spanish keyboard.

SO I arrived in Lima last Saturday at around 10, then stood in the longest customs line, then waited another hour for the bags to come off the plane. Fortunately my next flight was only at 3.45 am, but that also meant I had nearly five hours to wait around. I didn{t want to check in hella early and all the restaurants and stores were closed, so I parked myself and my luggage under an arrivals-departures board and did some more of the reading for the week. (The flight to Lima was only 6 hours, by the way. And I{m on central time.) Anyway, by the time I got to the gate I was so tired I fell asleep. And then I fell asleep again on the plane (and woke up and the flight attendant had apparently lowered the tray table on top of me and put a snack on it – “Tiempo para un snack” it said). When we arrived in Arequipa, it was FREEZING. This has been the weather pattern for the week – 80s during the day and 40s at night. We were picked up by the hotel, checked in, and promptly went to sleep.

Sunday was relaxing; everyone was arriving and I spent the day outside, reading and dozing in a hammock. That night they took us out for Turkish-with-a-Peruvian-twist. Apparently that{s the thing to do here: lunch is a big meal with traditional Arequipeña cuisine, and dinner is something foreign. Except that it{s not entirely foreign – everything is Foreign “with a Peruvian twist”. We have had Turkish, Italian, French, pizza, and Chinese all with a Peruvian twist. (Turkish was the best, Chinese the worst, and Italian might have given me food poisoning Tuesday night.)

Monday we drove to the university – by drove I mean they put us in taxis, making sure there is at least one Spanish speaker per taxi and at night, at least one Spanish speaker and one male –  to have classes. At about 1 we left, again in taxis, for a restaurant with a pre-set menu so we could have quick lunch, then back to the university. It{s actually a really beautiful campus, four-story buildings painted beige and light orange with big outdoor quads and rosebushes between them. The whole thing is a compound and you need IDs to enter, so it{s safer than the surrounding streets.

Short bits: Tuesday and Thursday afternoons we took field trips to three sites and the antiwuities department, respectively. The latter, like many things around here, is housed in an awesome colonial building.

Arequipa is called “the White City” because all the original colonial buildings are made of white volcanic stone. Everything else, though, is painted in bright colors – orange, yellow, periwinkle, bright blue.

Things are super cheap here. You can get laundry done for about $3.50 and a meal for the same. Last night I splurged and had lomo saltado and sangria and the whole meal cost $10.

Last night we also went to a club after dinner – it played good dance music, mostly reggaeton and techno. I had my seond pisco sour of the week, then found out they make pisco sours with raw egg whites, and decided never to have a pisco sour again. (Even though they taste really good.) Today we had a barbecue at Nene{s country club. We got to ride her horse and meet her sister and some of her family friends – this guy Diego, who was about our age, showed us around the stable and I got to see all the other horses. I rode around the paddock a couple of times before I realized that if I didn{t stop soon all the empanadas would be gone, and most of the rest of the barbecue was pigs on spits (and potatoes. We are in the home of the potato, after all). There were also guinea pigs (cuyes, after the sound they make). I tried a tiny piece and, like the pisco sour, decided never to eat it again. It was kind of like dark meat chicken, but stringy and oily, although that was possibly because they were fried. It was also mostly fat and bone, which thrilled Max-the-zooarchaeologist, who spent about an hour defleshing it to study the bones.


cuy cuy cuy cuy

Tomorrow we leave for the field at about 2, and then no internet until Friday. I just hope the field house has hot water, otherwise I{m just not showering until then either.

“Does excitado mean excited? Because I just realized that might also mean horny, and I{ve been using that word about going out to the field.” -Ben (our TA)