Ayacucho, Peru - 1998
southern and coastal Peru, northwestern Bolivia, and northern Chile. The following text is
taken from their diaries, with truk's writing in a normal font and Katherine's in italics.
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13 Julio 1998 - AYACUCHO! The trip to Ayacucho was extremely long and dusty. Kath and I got up on time for the bus (7 am) to Ayacucho, but, of course, the bus left late. We didn't get out of Huancayo until 9 or so, and the road was terrible. It is packed earth most of the way, and the shocks on the bus probably went out before Fugimori became Prez here. The bus kept stopping at every single village and almost every farmhouse picking up and depositing passengers. Sometimes, a lady in native garb (a cholita) with a child would just get out of the bus in the middle of nowhere. We would drive off and she would be left standing there.
Note for future reference: When the bus stops at a restaurant and everyone gets out and starts to eat, join them. You don't have another chance.
Well, it was one of those long bus rides - almost 11 hours of topsy-turvy, crowded, bumpy riding. Fortunately for me, the Dramamine kicked in and I slept, head bobbing, most of the first six or so hours. Our driver must have taken us through every god-forsaken town between Huancayo and Ayacucho. We picked up people, dropped them off. There were people on the bus with live animals - chickens and such. Vendors of ice cream, bread, juice would invade the bus at every stop. At one point, it was so crowded that an older man half way sat in Stacy's lap. All the while music, too upbeat and distracting to be good, blared from the radio and the mountains rose and descended all the way. The colors of the stone and earth below changed as we traveled south - tan to tan covered with gray - green shrubbery and cactus - to red almost clay, like New Mexico, and some dark black stone as well. The cacti changed as well, from hand shaped (mittens) to the desert cacti you see in old westerns - the waving hand kind. We followed the river for a long time, up and down the canyon - sometimes close enough to see the fishes swimming or children bathing and other times far away from a steep edge of the road. When we arrived, (there were several other gringos on the bus) I heard them talking about a recent terrorist attack, but I could not get the details. After our bags were unloaded from the top of the bus (where we fretted they would be "bumped off" by the rocky road), we took a cab to the Plaza and found our way to the Hotel La Colmena.
Our luggage had to be put on top of the bus because there was no room below after all the potato sacks and bags of corn were loaded. Needless to say, Kath and I are flying to Cuzco, we somehow got $25 tickets. AeroPeru, baby. It is only the way to fly here. Well, not exactly. There are several other airlines around, such as the successful AeroContinental and several others. But AeroPeru was the only one open on Sunday with the special to Cuzco, so we walked right in and signed up.
We were able to get a room when we finally pulled into Ayacucho. At s/ 35 a night, and occasional hot water, the La Comina, just west of the Plaza de Armas, has done just fine. Kath and I took a hot shower and went to eat at the Alamo Restaurant just down the street. The food was 1) served in enormous quantities and 2) extremely good. So good that, in fact, after we came back to the hotel and crashed, we got up the next morning and went straight back there to have breakfast. They serve something there called a "Continental Breakfast," which includes coffee or hot tea, OJ or papaya juice, and some bread with marmalade and butter. Actually, most restaurants in Peru offer a Continental breakfast, as well as an American (the same as Continental plus eggs) and, occasionally, other types. This is just a common way to serving an average meal with different varieties of portions. Eating that, sitting in a plaza surrounded by caged parrots and other jungle birds, that is a great way to start the day.
Kath and I spent our first honeymoon running errands and seeing some sites. We ran around the square while little kids marched into position for some sort of military/flag display. A lot of Peruvian towns have these sorts of events in the main plaza on Sunday. We bought airline tickets for Cuzco while honor guards goosestepped outside around the Plaza de Armas. We bought water and Sprite while little kids stood at attention in the hot sun and scratched themselves. The night before, as we slowly cruised the Plaza searching for air travel information, a religious procession carrying a shrine filled with candles flowed around the square while the whole town and a brass band (much like what we've seen in New Orleans around Marti Gras) followed it. We didn't stay to watch that (it was moving way too slow), but the flag-raising I just had to see. This general, who looked like the quintessential South American dictator as if lifted out of some B-grade Rambo movie, took the podium and gave a long and boring speech. People all around us yawned, and the school kids shifted back and forth in the sun. Finally, the band struck up and everyone put their right hand over their heart and said the national anthem. I've rarely seen authentic national pride like this in person outside the States, but these folks seemed to really get into it. The entire scene would have been somewhat moving, if it weren't for the commando troops that squeezed a volley off right after the song.
Kath and I then went in search of a post office (closed Sunday) and the tourist office (closed Sunday). Determined to do something with the day, we headed to where the collectivos (popular taxi vans) left for Quinua, a small village about 38 km away. We sat on one easily and soon were streaming over the Andean plains, past Wari ruins, to finally arrive in Quinua for s/ 2 each. The Sunday market was supposed to be in full swing, but somehow (because of the World Cup Final?), we missed it. We did, however, enjoy some fries and Pepsis with a great view of the valley that had to go on for fifty miles or more. We climbed the stairs to the central plaza and church. Kath and I bought some necklaces while a small political meeting seemed to break up as everyone moved into siesta-mode. Down the road, Kath bought a gourd-flute at another store, and we hustled (read: wheezed) up the hill outside the village to visit the site of the last battle against the Spaniards. The monument is marked with a 40 meter phallic symbol, albeit a very impressive phallic symbol. Little boys flew kites made of little plastic bags and twigs in the breeze that whistled around the monument. I noticed that even Canada and Spain (the defeated country!) had left a marble marker of respect at the bottom of the monument, but there was nothing there from the US.
In Quinua, we stopped at an outdoor cafe for some coke-a-cola and papa fritas. We thought they had forgotten our food, but then realized that someone was having to chop up the potatoes and heat up the oil - we each got a plate of freshly cut and fried potatoes and a pile of red onions with lemon juice on top and some tomatoes. To my surprise, onions with lemon juice and potatoes taste pretty good together. After our snack, we took a gander at the crafts shop area of the cafe. There were lots of clay figures, retablos (boxes), tapestries, and other assorted souvenirs of the area. All of the crafts are starting to look the same and uninteresting - save the large ceramic (clay) roof toppings and the variety of scenes in the retablos. The clay roof toppings are often churches in a sort of cubist meets Dr. Suess perspective with people and clocks around the church doors and on the oddly angled steeples/ The retablos are hand made, wooden boxes with paper mache scenes inside. They are brightly painted and depending on the size have a variety of themes A small one will have only one scene like the navitity or street life. A larger one might have both scene separated by a shelf and an even larger one could have three or more scenes, depending on the size of the scene and the number of shelves. Each retablo is somewhat different and style intentionally varies from artist to artist.
The people at the tourist office were very helpful and provided us with a map of the city and a packet of information on the history and culture of this area, including post cards. Using our newly acquired map, we headed toward the Museo de la National Cultura. It was a long and winding path toward a place where Lonely Planet said that you "couldn't miss." After walking past the hospital four times and taking a back road through a neighborhood, we asked an armed guard of sorts, who instructed us to keep going up the road a bit. Finally we found it and although small in size and collection, it was a worthwhile stop. The artifacts traversed time - Wari, beyond and before. There were clay vessels, not unlike the ones in Memphis at the Incan exhibit. Stone warriors of the Wari, textiles, stone and metal tools and other various material remains. In the building marked Biblotecia, was another exhibition space that had some colonial artifacts - clothes, stoneware, filigreed silver items, and the history of writing and written communication in this area. Also, tucked back in the last third of this room was a mummy gallery. The level of preservation is amazing. You could see things like toe nails and teeth and dried skin. Gross and astonishing at the same time.
Coming down was easier than going up, and after buying some more trinkets, we found ourselves in a car driven by a teenager listening to the France-Brazil World Cup Final (and cursing every time France scored) heading back to Ayacucho. Once back, we read for a bit and went out for dinner. This time, we tried the La Casona. I had a "Bisteak a al Cubana," which turned out to be beef with rice and baked bananas (yum!). The honeymoon festivities didn't last that long, however, as we were extremely tired and pissed at the continued lack of hot water.
This morning, however, we had glorious aqua calientes (hot water) and ran the shower until our fingers were pruned. After yet another fine breakfast at the Alamo, we headed off to find the city's archeological museum, somewhere near the university. After an hour of looking for it, we stumbled into it. The place was worth the effort, though; great pottery (better than the Peruvian Memphis show) could be found in abundance, and there were several mummies available for close inspection in a nearby building, as well as early Peruvian printing presses and newspapers. Extremely interesting stuff. Next, we headed to the other deserted museo (museum) in town, dedicated to Gen. Cáceres and the time around his victory over the Chileans in 1884. Period guns, papers, and furniture made this stop interesting as well. We continued around the west side of town, taking in a few more colonial churches and seeing a lovely playground filled with kids right next to a sewage stream the locals call Rio Alameda. Lunch at Los Portales was wonderful (I had the trucha frita (fried trout), Kath the tallerin de pollo (pasta with chicken)), and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow and do some writing.
Overall, we are both very impressed with Ayacucho. Although this area spawned the Shining Path and other movements of social unrest, this is a pleasant, sunny place. While the people aren't as rich as in Lima or Huancayo, the poor aren't bad off as the poor in those cities, either. Most impressive, however, is the general lack of any gringos. In a few years, they will undoubtedly be crawling all over the place here. But for now, it is almost as though we have the town to ourselves.
La Paz -> Arequipa -> Colca Canyon -> Nazca/Pisco/Lima