Child of the Soil

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

We arrived in Arequipa early and the nice people at our hostel, Wayra River, let us have some dorm beds to sleep on until our room was ready. Its another colonial city, but Arequipa is surrounded by beautiful snowcapped volcanoes.  It is known as the 'Ciudad Blanco' or white city not only as in colonial times only those with white faces were allowed in the city centre but also due to the white volcanic stone used to construct the buildings.  We visited the main churches around the square but unfortunately we missed the monastery which later found out to be the main event, hey ho. 

After a delicious menu del dia we visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos where they keep several of the frozen bodies of Inca children that have been found amid the mountains in Peru.  The children were sacrificed by the Inca’s to appease the volcanoes.  One of the bodies is on display in a glass freezer.  She is estimated to be 13years old when she died 550 years ago and has been called Juanita after the archaeologist who found her.  The Incas were different to their predecesers in that the children they sacrificed were usually Royal, of pure blood.  The children would have been raised for this purpose from birth, it sounds brutal to our generation but would have been seen as a great honor in the time of the Incas.  The Incas were not unique in the sacrifice of children to the gods.

 What is amazing is the altitudes that these sacrificial circular burials have been found considering the relative primitive ways of these Indian people, in particular the lack of hiking equipment for hiking such immense mountains.  Juanita was found at the summit of Mount Ampato near Arequipa which is over 6000 metres above sea level.  In Inca times the neighbouring volcano was active and so the summit of Ampato would have been accessible.  Since then the surrounding volcano lay dormant and so Ampato’s peak was covered in snow and ice preserving Juanita, and the other children that were subsequently found on the mountain, including the clothes and blankets surrounding them and the offerings buried with them.  Many of these offerings and textiles are on display in the museum alongside Juanita herself.  As part of the ceremony the children were given a ceremonial drink known as Chicha.  This intoxicating drink together with the coca leaves chewed to help with altitude sickness would ease the whole process, so they say.  When the children were killed, by a blow to the head from a mace, they would have been too intoxicated to suffer too much pain.

The next day we headed off into the mountains, past Mount Ampato to Chivay, in the Colca Valley.  Scared my knees would cause me problems again we decided against the trek down into the Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world and so settled for exploring the higher areas around the canyon and looking down into its abyss.  The whole area is stunning, with snow capped mountains, the blue Colca River running through the valley and the surrounding hills scarred with agricultural terraces from Inca and pre-Inca times, dotted with llamas, alpacas and other livestock.  On the way there we drove through a National Reserve where vicuņa’s roam wild.  The vicuņa is Peru’s national animal and their wool is said to be some of the best in the world, it wants to be, at $800 / kilo. 

After a short walk to see the colcas, inka storage jars carved into the canyon walls, we took a soak in the local hot springs.  In the evening we sampled alpaca (not sure we would eat it again but not too bad), drank a hot toddy made of Pisco, oranges, cinamon, lime and coca leaves and were treated to some traditional dancing and of course panpipe music.  Will got picked to join in which was quite entertaining. 

An early start the next day (5am) and off to Cruz del Condor to watch the beautiful, huge Condor birds soar through the air.  With the mountain background and the Canyon below it was truely breathtaking.... or was that the altitude and lack of oxygen!
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