Been through the desert…
So, it turns out that there are people who read this now. Hi there. I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks in Lima, trying to figure out what I should write this blog entry about. I have so many options…I still haven’t talked about the DR this summer, or about my host family, or about my classes, or any number of other things that have happened and/or are a part of being here. And somehow now that I know I have an audience I feel like I have a responsibility to cover it all.
I’ll start with this past weekend. We went to Caral, part of the oldest civilization in the Americas, and third oldest in the world (more info here: http://www.caralperu.gob.pe/). On the way we went to two other sites (Bandurria and Aspero) that were part of the same civilization in the Supe River valley north of Lima. They were interesting, but by the end of seeing the second one we were ready for lunch and a break, and I don’t remember much about it. Caral we saw the next day, and we had a really great tour. The site is really cool, with a bunch of pyramids all spread out in a rough circle, and a sundial, and a bunch of stuff still being uncovered. Also they had a little museum first with pictures and info that made the stuff we saw more coherent. One thing I really liked was that our tour guide explained to us which parts of what we were seeing were real and which were recontructed. Usually they just say that there’s been reconstruction and I’m left wondering if some archeologist just got an idea in his head from a few rocks and built some pyramids out of them. But here you could tell by the color of the clay what was new and what was actually old, and most of it was old.
Probably the coolest part of the tour for me was seing the agricultural fields they had a little way away from the ruins. The area was a desert…nothing but sand and rock. We drove in on our bus on an incredibly bumpy road in between sand dunes and mountains made of rock and gray dirt, and occasionally saw strange greenish-gray shrubs huddled close to the ground. (Also we passed two chicken farms, I think, which struck me as strange. Why have chicken farms there? It’s possible I completely misunderstood what they were, though. Between the noise of the bus crunching down on the rocks and the engine noise and my head knocking against the window every few seconds, I couldn’t really hear well.) The area seemed completely inhospitable, which made seeing the pyramids there even cooler. The only thing the archeologists could use for carbon dating were some rush-like things that the Caralinians used to tie together rocks as filling in the layers of the pyramids. So it was a pretty exotic desert scene when you stood in the middle of the ruins. But then we walked past one of the bigger temples and all of a sudden there were fields with crops, and trees, and bushes—everything was green! It turns out there was a river that flows by there during some parts of the year that allowed them to grow food and have water, and created the cool oasis-like effect. It was surprising and very interesting to look at, and, biology major that I am, I have to say I enjoyed looking at that more than the actual temples. Don’t be too critical though…part of the cool thing about it was that it made me think about the way that the Caralinians lived and all the things they accomplished, and made me appreciate a little the challenges that faced civilizations there. So I feel like I got the general message of the site.
Another interesting thing about Caral was the way our guide talked about it. She was a woman who lived in the village of Caral, for which the site is named. She worked at the site as a laborer and then became a tour guide after a few years, and was very grateful for the job. She spoke highly of the archeologist who was doing the work, and continually mentioned her as she talked about the ruins. I’m not sure if it’s because the archeologist is a woman, which seems to be kind of rare at the sites we’ve visited, or because the project has brought a lot of change to the town, but it was definitely noticable that the guide said “the doctor knows” or “the doctor discovered” rather than the “we” used by most tour guides. It was interesting to hear that now the very small village has running water and trucks and color televisions, thanks to the project, and that lots of local people are employed there. It ties in nicely with my ecotourism class, which talks about development of the local community as a factor in responsible tourism. It seems like a happy, feel-good kind of story, but I wonder if there are downsides for the community to having this big toursit attraction in their backyard. I learned this summer that sometimes development can bring more problems than it solves, and I’d love to know more about the community.
Two more highlights of the trip that had nothing to do with ancient civilizations: a monkey and a beach. The beach was right by the restaurant we ate at on Saturday, and was guarded by a giant white Jesus statue on a cliff that we later walked up to see. (These giant statues of Jesus are pretty common it seems…there’s one overlooking Cuzco too. And a giant white cross you can see from the Malecon in Lima.) We took off our shoes and put our feet in the sand, and then waded into the water. My inner New Englander braced for the chill of ice cold water, but it was surprisingly pleasant. We fooled around in the water and I got soaked up to my thighs when a wave took me by suprise. Luckily the desert air dried me off by the time we made our way up to Jesus, so it wasn´t a problem.
On Sunday after lunch we went to a super-mini zoo at the restaurant. Really, super-mini: it had, I think, four animals. Two parrot-type birds, a penguin, and a monkey. Bizarre: a penguin at a restaurant in the desert. But we had the most fun with the monkey, who was small and evil-looking and on a harness in an open grassy area. He would demonically glare and then jump at us, trying to catch hold of our hands or legs or pants. He would also bite at our hands and arms (he didn’t have very sharp teeth), and kind of attack us, playfully (I think). It was completely terrifying, at first, to be charged at by a demonic monkey, but pretty hilarious at the same time. Nikki eventually got him to jump into her arms and sit there, and there’s some great pictures of the process leading up to that point.
After that we made our way back to Lima on the bus, and then home by combi (I promise more on combis later, because they’re a huge and kind of ridiculous part of my life here.) Overall it was a pretty good weekend, and definitely worth waking up at 5am on Saturday. Before the weekend I was a bit frustrated and annoyed with life here and coming to study in Peru, for various reasons. But the weekend’s activites and being with the group from the study abroad in Peru program solved that wonderfully. Points: Kristen 1, Culture Shock 0.