From Latin America

Peru Culture And History – The Moche Civilization

Posted in Latin American History by escapedtoperu on July 29, 2010

Around the time of Christ when the northern Peruvian Cupisnique culture was in decline the Moche civilization began to gather pace. These two civilizations merged together over this time period and retained the name of the Moche, after the river of the same name in Northern Peru which flows down into the Pacific Ocean.

The Structure of Moche Society
The important nucleus of the population consisted of the members of the upper classes which included priests, warriors and other influential people who lived near the main temples and ceremonial pyramids. Bordering these central areas were the middle classes who were mostly artisans and around these were the lower classes of the Moche civilization. The working class people were anyone from fishermen and farmers to servants, slaves and beggars. The warriors, priests and other important people belonging to the upper classes were highly respected by the rest of the population and were the decision makers in this society.

Handicrafts of the Moche
Ceramics left over from the Moche civilization provide most of the information that is known about them today. Common subjects painted onto their ceramics included clothing, musical instruments, tools and jewelry. Ceramics also depict some of the complicated weaving techniques that were well developed by the Moche but natural decay and environmental conditions have destroyed most of the textiles that the Moche created. The Moche were also skilled in metalwork and often used gold, silver and copper to make ornaments and jewelry.

The Cradle of Moche Civilization
The northern coast of Peru was chosen as the homeland of the Moche, an area which is a harsh, very dry desert. They settled primarily in the lower valleys of the nearby Andes near to the Moche and Chicama rivers, both of which are dry for much of the year. Eventually the Moche civilization would extend from the Piura River in northern Peru to the Huarmey River much further south with their capital Chan Chan founded in the Moche valley itself. Their livelihood was based around fishing in the Pacific Ocean and farming in the irrigated desert fields, which when flooded in the rainy season would benefit from a deposit of rich silt that yielded tremendous crops.

Moche Religion and Culture
Because the Moche had plenty of free time in their lives they developed an extremely organized religion. This is now known by examining their pottery which shows complicated religious practices, ceremonial sacrifices and also many scenes of warfare. The Moche civilization revered, honored and obeyed their priests and warriors. These people were often very rich as we can see from images on the ceramics, having very fine jewelry and clothing. Located near to the Moche capital, Chan Chan, are two mud brick pyramids with flat tops, the Huaca del Sol or Pyramid of the Sun and the Huaca de la Luna or Pyramid of the Moon which were used for many of their religious rites and ceremonies deemed important to these people.

Decoding the Evolution of Moche Civilization
Examination of pottery design is the principle means by which Moche history has been decoded and historians have be able to divide the development into five phases. The first phase of pottery art is seen as peaceful and simple with some painting of clay mixed with water which is known as slip painting. In the second and third phases the pottery are more complex and detailed with fine-line drawing evolving from the slip painting style. Pottery from the fourth stage shows motifs that are more definite and complicated as the art becomes more sophisticated. The fifth and final stage shows increasingly complex designs with intricate patterns as well as being more ritualistic and war-like, indicating advances and changes in the culture.

We are still uncertain as to the fate of the Moche and do not know what happened to put an end to them, other than the civilization seemed to have collapsed and was succeeded by the very aggressive and dominant Huari culture. Visitors to northern Peru on a vacation package or tour will be able to marvel at some of the treasures left by the Moche and leave with an understanding of an ancient an complex culture that is still, in many ways, shrouded in mystery.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Northern Peru – The Secrets of Chachapoyas, Kuelap and Gotca Falls

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on July 29, 2010

If you are considering visiting Peru on your vacation you should consider the less visited North of the country. Peru vacations are not just about Machu Picchu; there is so much more!

Chachapoyas – The Spanish Stronghold
Included in the secrets of the North is Chachapoyas, one of Peru's oldest cities with a long history and its colonial Spanish influence. This small town is located in beautiful northern Peru and its name is derived from the Chachapoyacuno, a native word meaning "mountain of mist or forest". It was originally founded on September 5, 1538 by Alonso De Alvarado and was the capital of the whole of Eastern Peru during colonial times as it served as a staging post for expeditions intended for colonizing and conquering the Amazon Jungle.

The city has remained fairly isolated until relatively recently when better roads were built connecting it with major coastal cities such as Chiclayo, Trujillo and Piura. The climate and surrounding spectacular mountain ranges make Chachapoyas a unique and beautiful destination. The colonial Spanish influence is still evident by the existence of large colonial mansions with their red clay tiled roofs, patios and wooden balconies with their surrounding orchards and gardens, and fields of sugar cane and coffee.

Around Chachapoyas
There are many attractions for tourists in and around the city of Chachapoyas. The city has three plazas which are linked by Victory Street, named after the victorious Chachapoyanos who paraded through the city on this avenue after famous battles. The main square in the city is called Saint Anna's square and is where the first church of the city was built. Historically eight days of bullfighting took place in this square during the San Juan de los Indios festivities. In the east of the city Independence Square is to be found where a monument stands to the Chachapoyan heroes from the battle of the Higos Urco that took place on June 6, 1821.

Other attractions close to the city include the Cuyana fountain which is located on the hill known as Luya Urco just west of the city. This fountain is legendary as it has a water-well sunk into a rock from which Santo Toribo de Mogrovia was able to draw water, ending a drought that was affecting the region. It is also considered a fountain of love as it is said that any man who drinks from the fountain will always be attractive to the women of the city. Anything goes with the desperate…

The Ancient Citadel of Kuelap
There are also many important archeological monuments in the areas surrounding the town that were built by the Chachapoyans. Some of these are ancient stone citadels that were built on the tops of mountains with commanding views and leaving more land open for cultivation. One of the best examples of one of these citadels is Kuelap which is three miles from the village of Tingo and one hour by dirt road from Chachapoyas.

Kuelap is a colossal structure containing millions of cubic feet of stone and presumed to have taken 200 years to construct. Its strategic location between the Marañon and Utcubamba Rivers, both tributaries of the mighty Amazon, has contributed to the fact that it still stands today. At 9,843 feet above sea level, it can be reached by car, horseback or a three to four hour hike. The main group of buildings are circular with one main access corridor, designed for maximum security and defense. Inside the huge outer walls there are over 400 buildings in total, some of which are small round stone houses with some of the larger ones measuring up to 1,969 feet long and 66 feet high. Many defensive towers were strategically placed around the complex to protect the exterior and interior of the citadel from ancient invaders.

The Waterfalls of Gotca
Gotca Falls, located a couple of hours from Chachapoyas, remained unknown to the wider world until an expedition in 2002 led by Stefan Ziemendorf, a German engineer, and a group of Peruvian explorers re-discovered it. At a height of 2,532 feet, Gotca Falls is the third highest waterfall in the world if you consider its two stage drops together. The scenery is spectacular and the 3 hour hike to the middle of the falls is well worth the effort, as you are able to stand under the torrent at the bottom of the first drop.

The Gotca falls are produced as the Cocahuayco River runs over a sharp cliff face from a high plateau and falls for the first thousand feet to a large ledge which interrupts the torrent. The river waters then meander a short distance through vegetation and fall over the side of the second cliff to continue the decent to the base of the canyon.

Although this region is relatively new to tourism, many Peruvian travel agencies have developed tours for people with an interest in archeology and a sense of adventure. A tour through the landscape and history of Peru's little known northern region can make for a magical and enchanting vacation, one that few people have had the opportunity to experience.

The Paucartambo Festival – Peru's Best Kept Secret

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on July 18, 2010

If you have booked, or are researching, a Peru tour to discover the delights of the country, be sure to try to include the Paucartambo Festival. This festival, held in July each year, is a celebration of worship of the Virgin of Carmen, the patron saint of the small town of Paucartambo. For the vast majority of the year it is a quiet, remote rural town, located amidst magnificent scenery at the convergence of the Mapacho and Qengo Mayo rivers, about three hours from Cusco along a dusty narrow road.

Then for 3 days in July the town explodes! The main thrust of the spectacular Paucartambo festival takes place from July 15th to July 17th with thousands of visitors coming from all over Peru and the world to watch the town play host to one of the most fascinating and exciting fiestas in all of South America. The population of the town swells from around 1500 people to over 12,000 over these few days.

On July 15th, the festival begins with the entrance into the principal town church of all the sixteen different dance groups wearing costumes and masks in accordance with their respective customs and traditions. Meanwhile the most important dancers, Capaq Negro and Capaq Qolla, come into the building from the rear entrance singing a salute to the Virgin.

Photo by James Brunker

During the festival, the entire population of the town gathers itself in a spiritual mass that carries on along the main street, holding flowers, candles and other offerings. In the evening hours there is a glorious display of fireworks in the main square, during which different groups of Chunchos, Capag Qollas and Sagras wildly dance in the square, jumping through bonfires that have been set around the plaza. At midnight, all the dancers come together again without their elaborate costumes to solemnly pray for the Virgin in front of the closed doors of the church.

Photo by James Brunker

During the festival, the entire population of the town gathers itself in a spiritual mass that carries on along the main street, holding flowers, candles and other offerings. In the evening hours there is a glorious display of fireworks in the main square, during which different groups of Chunchos, Capag Qollas and Sagras wildly dance in the square, jumping through bonfires that have been set around the plaza. At midnight, all the dancers come together again without their elaborate costumes to solemnly pray for the Virgin in front of the closed doors of the church.

The primary day of the festival is July 16th and in the morning, the people of the town return to the main square after attending mass to receive gifts of handicrafts, fruit and toys made for them by the majordomos of each dance group. In the afternoon, the Virgin, beautifully decorated and escorted by the Capaq Chuncho, is removed from her resting place next to the main alter of the church and is carried through the crowded streets and squares of Paucartambo to the head of all the dance groups. The groups are now in their festive costumes and the respective band for each group plays its distinctive music, creating an uproar that resounds against the surrounding mountains.

The next day is a ceremony reminiscent of the ancestral cult of the dead. Each dance group parades to the cemetery through the townspeople lined up along the streets and sings to remind themselves of their ancestors and their listeners of their own mortality. In the afternoon the image of the Virgin is carried through the narrow streets of the village for the last time to the bridge named after Carlos III of Spain where all the townspeople gather silently to pay their respects and the Capaq Qolla and Capaq Negro sing a prayer of farewell.

The main square then fills again for the fiesta’s grand finale once the Virgin has been put safely to rest. Dramatics take place as dancers imitate Spanish bullfighters and a mock battle occurs recalling a war at the time of the Incas. Fighting ends when the fallen warrior dancers are taken away and the Qolla king is killed by the king of the Chunchos as his wife is taken as a trophy of war. The fiesta is officially closed the next day by the dancers doing the traditional cachapari or farewell dance.

Accommodation is difficult to find over this crazy weekend, so the best thing to ensure you can witness this fantastic and unique cultural event is to plan well ahead and get in touch with a Cusco based tour operator who has links to the local community and service providers. With their connections they will try to ensure you either get accommodation in Paucartambo or at least transport to and from the town on the days of the festival. This way you can have the rare experience of being one of the few foreigners to enjoy these incredible celebrations.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

The Paucartambo Festival – Peru's Best Kept Secret

Posted in Traditions and Culture by escapedtoperu on July 18, 2010

If you have booked, or are researching, a Peru tour to discover the delights of the country, be sure to try to include the Paucartambo Festival. This festival, held in July each year, is a celebration of worship of the Virgin of Carmen, the patron saint of the small town of Paucartambo. For the vast majority of the year it is a quiet, remote rural town, located amidst magnificent scenery at the convergence of the Mapacho and Qengo Mayo rivers, about three hours from Cusco along a dusty narrow road.

Then for 3 days in July the town explodes! The main thrust of the spectacular Paucartambo festival takes place from July 15th to July 17th with thousands of visitors coming from all over Peru and the world to watch the town play host to one of the most fascinating and exciting fiestas in all of South America. The population of the town swells from around 1500 people to over 12,000 over these few days.

On July 15th, the festival begins with the entrance into the principal town church of all the sixteen different dance groups wearing costumes and masks in accordance with their respective customs and traditions. Meanwhile the most important dancers, Capaq Negro and Capaq Qolla, come into the building from the rear entrance singing a salute to the Virgin.

Photo by James Brunker

During the festival, the entire population of the town gathers itself in a spiritual mass that carries on along the main street, holding flowers, candles and other offerings. In the evening hours there is a glorious display of fireworks in the main square, during which different groups of Chunchos, Capag Qollas and Sagras wildly dance in the square, jumping through bonfires that have been set around the plaza. At midnight, all the dancers come together again without their elaborate costumes to solemnly pray for the Virgin in front of the closed doors of the church.

Photo by James Brunker

During the festival, the entire population of the town gathers itself in a spiritual mass that carries on along the main street, holding flowers, candles and other offerings. In the evening hours there is a glorious display of fireworks in the main square, during which different groups of Chunchos, Capag Qollas and Sagras wildly dance in the square, jumping through bonfires that have been set around the plaza. At midnight, all the dancers come together again without their elaborate costumes to solemnly pray for the Virgin in front of the closed doors of the church.

The primary day of the festival is July 16th and in the morning, the people of the town return to the main square after attending mass to receive gifts of handicrafts, fruit and toys made for them by the majordomos of each dance group. In the afternoon, the Virgin, beautifully decorated and escorted by the Capaq Chuncho, is removed from her resting place next to the main alter of the church and is carried through the crowded streets and squares of Paucartambo to the head of all the dance groups. The groups are now in their festive costumes and the respective band for each group plays its distinctive music, creating an uproar that resounds against the surrounding mountains.

The next day is a ceremony reminiscent of the ancestral cult of the dead. Each dance group parades to the cemetery through the townspeople lined up along the streets and sings to remind themselves of their ancestors and their listeners of their own mortality. In the afternoon the image of the Virgin is carried through the narrow streets of the village for the last time to the bridge named after Carlos III of Spain where all the townspeople gather silently to pay their respects and the Capaq Qolla and Capaq Negro sing a prayer of farewell.

The main square then fills again for the fiesta’s grand finale once the Virgin has been put safely to rest. Dramatics take place as dancers imitate Spanish bullfighters and a mock battle occurs recalling a war at the time of the Incas. Fighting ends when the fallen warrior dancers are taken away and the Qolla king is killed by the king of the Chunchos as his wife is taken as a trophy of war. The fiesta is officially closed the next day by the dancers doing the traditional cachapari or farewell dance.

Accommodation is difficult to find over this crazy weekend, so the best thing to ensure you can witness this fantastic and unique cultural event is to plan well ahead and get in touch with a Cusco based tour operator who has links to the local community and service providers. With their connections they will try to ensure you either get accommodation in Paucartambo or at least transport to and from the town on the days of the festival. This way you can have the rare experience of being one of the few foreigners to enjoy these incredible celebrations.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

The Galapagos Islands – 6 Conservation Precautions For Your Galapagos Vacation Package

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on July 15, 2010

Its time to go to the Galapagos Islands! Your tour operator has got your flights booked from Quito or Guayaquil and the yachts and cruise ships are waiting ready to take you between the Islands for the trip of a lifetime. You’ll be seeing some of the most incredible flora and fauna in a setting that has been hidden beyond the knowledge of humanity for thousands of years.

However, many understand that the Galapagos are under threat from the presence of humans in the last few hundred years. Despite best intentions, people sometimes don’t respect the importance of conservation as much as they could and there are few places on Earth as important as the Galapagos Islands in this respect. The best conservation can come from the eyes and ears of visitors, so here are some useful things to watch out for as you travel around “Nature's Laboratory”.

1) Keep everything shipshape
Yachts are the only way to travel between islands, and marine traffic can have a strong impact on the environment.  Make sure that your boat has no gas or oil leakages and that no chemicals or bilge water is dumped into the sea.  No garbage or refuse should be thrown overboard either.  If you’ve got professional experience with boat operations, your perspective can be very useful; you’ll be in a position to recognise and report anything that seems improper in terms of maintenance or operation.  To put it in context, you’d be surprised how many airplane faults have been spotted by qualified passengers!

2) Guided by good practise
Visitors to the Galapagos Islands should be guided at all times by a qualified individual.  They should help keep you in the marked sites and pathways and assist in communicating and enforcing conservation rules.   There shouldn’t be any more that 16 people in your group, to allow for proper control and guidance of tourists.  They should also provide information about general water safety and monitor all swimming and snorkeling.

3) Taking a piece of the island
Galapagos themed objects made of wood and ceramics are available on the inhabited islands, but any souvenirs made of black coral, marine tortoise shells, sea lions fangs and other such objects go against the principles of conservation.  Don’t be tempted to buy any of these objects, and dissuade others from doing so as well.

4) Fire-starters
In 1985, Isabel Island suffered severe damage from negligence with smoking and fire lighting. Amazingly, the same thing happened again almost a decade later in 1994.  Resisting the urge to light up or enjoy a camp fire will make a big difference.

5) Making friends with the locals
The majority of animals on the Galapagos have no reason to fear humans, and consequently will allow visitors to get very close without bolting.  However, you should go no closer with two meters of animals, as in some cases they will follow you, leaving their nests uncovered and exposing eggs or chicks to the sun.  The trustworthy behaviour of the animals shouldn’t be given reason to change, and visitors should not touch any animals or interfere with their natural behaviour, let alone harass, chase or surround them.  It is obvious advice, but no animals should be fed or baited on water or land.  

6) New things
Darwin highlighted the power of the evolutionary process over time, but things can be wiped out in the blink of an eye if pests and diseases are brought into the mix.  Introducing any exotic organisms to Galapagos could have a devastating effect on the ecosystems that exist in a state of delicate balance.  Any food, animal and vegetable products and plants or fresh flowers should be declared before leaving the airport at Quito or Guayaquil so that a trained inspector can deem if they are safe or not.  Live animals in any form are also not permitted.  The same principles apply for inter-island trips; each island is its own unique ecosystem, so introductions between islands can be just as destructive to the natural process of things as items from the mainland.

With these important guidelines, you can ensure that you are visiting the Islands as an informed conservationist, and assist others in following the same behavior.  Despite best efforts, sometimes over-excitement, negligence or opportunism creates problems; if you see any violation of conservation principles, contact the tour company who you made the booking through. They will be in a position to speak with local operators and apply pressure to make sure that such incidents don't happen again. With visitors keeping an ever watchful eye on the state of the Galapagos Islands, we can be assured of many more years enjoying the variety and splendour of this unique place on Earth.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

5 Unmissable Animals From The Galapagos Islands

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on July 13, 2010

Most of us are aware of the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago of volcanic islands 2 hours by plane from the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific ocean.  Many of us also know that the animals and plants of the Galapagos Islands provided Charles Darwin with the inspiration he needed to create his famous work “Origin of The Species” and refine his Theory of Evolution.  The Islands are famous for their diversity of flora and fauna but if you visit them on a Galapagos vacation or Galapagos cruise package, what are some of the most spectacular and unmissable animals to see?

1) Lonesome George, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Reputed to be the last of his kind and belonging to the Abingdoni subspecies, George plods around the Pinta Island in a fruitless search for a mate.  Such is natural selection…

The Galapagos Tortoises are huge, with adult males weighing in at around 600-700 lbs and the females between 300-400 lbs.  As you’d expect, the pace of life for these creatures in fairly slow, but that doesn’t bother them much because the have between 100 and 150 years to achieve their career goals.  This “island gigantism” was deemed to occur because the tortoises had no natural predators and as such could grow in size over generations.  This was to their disadvantage when humans showed up at the islands in the 17th century, and the population was decimated.  Recent conservation efforts are focused on stabilizing the ten remaining subspecies that exist from the initial twelve.

2) The Marine Iguana
The only modern lizard able to forage and live in the sea, Marine Iguanas can dive 30 ft into water.  They’ll never win any beauty contests, Darwin describing them in his journal as “disgusting, clumsy lizards”, but are graceful swimmers thanks to their long flat tail and spiky dorsal fins.

Feasting on seaweed and algae, the Marine Iguana uses its flat snout and sharp teeth to scrape its food off the rocks around the waterline, and some biologically neat glands help filter excess salt out of its blood that it ingests whilst swimming.  It gets rid of extra salt by sneezing it through its nostrils, another reason why Darwin found it to be unattractive.

3) The Galapagos Land Iguana
Darwin really wasn’t a fan of lizards.  The Land Iguanas were written up as “ugly animals”, with a “singularly stupid appearance”.  Once so prolific amongst the islands that the visiting ship’s crews couldn’t pitch a tent without covering a Land Iguana’s nesting hole, the population was all but wiped out by introduced feral animals like cats, dogs, rats and pigs.  Meanwhile, the Island Lizards enjoy a symbiotic relationship of convenience with the island birds, who eat the parasites and ticks that inhabit their bodies and cause them discomfort.  If not consumed by a rogue pig, Land Iguanas can make it to 50 or 60 years of age.

4) Darwin’s Finches
The thirteen endemic (unique) species of finch found on Galapagos known as Darwin’s finches formed a huge part of the Theory of Evolution.  Nothing special to look at, the finches are about 15 cm long and a dull brown colour.  The exciting part of the animals are their beaks, which vary in size and shape.  Beaks are highly adaptive depending on the animals food source, and it was this fact that allowed conclusions that organisms adapt to conditions in which they must survive, thus forming the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

5) The Galapagos Penguin
A black and white maverick, the Galapagos Penguin is the only tropical penguin in existence. Around 50 cm in length, these little creatures are on the wrong end of the food chain, mercilessly hunted by crabs, snakes, owls, and hawks.  Life doesn’t get any easier in the water, where they must avoid sharks, fur seals, and sea lions.  Adding the unfortunate influence of humans catching them in fishing nets and destroying their nests in the process of knocking down mangroves, it’s clear that the Galapagos penguin has a pretty hard time of things.

Take a trip to the Galapagos with a reputable travel agent or tour operator and you’re sure to see these unique creatures and more as you navigate the rich diversity of flora and fauna that the archipelago has to offer.  By experiencing first-hand the complex networks of species that inhabit the part of the Earth untouched by human influence for thousands of years, you can hope to get a little closer to understanding who we are and where we came from.

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America