Clear skies and ancient history at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

view southeast from Quitor to San Pedro

Leaving aside the the iffy tourist scene in San Pedro de Atacama, there are three very good reasons for coming here – the clear skies day & night; it’s stunning geographical location; and some very ancient history dating back to the 9th century BC. The clear skies are there most days & nights, but especially at night – find a darker space to sit back and stare at the beautiful and clear array of stars, and indeed galaxies. To see the sky even better at night, we took a late evening tour with SpaceObs out to their site south of San Pedro, where there’s no ambient light, and had access to 12 telescopes of varying strengths – to see clearly things far away that we’ve never seen before. Recommended – see website!

entrance to Quitor site

We took in the local geography at the same time as the local history, by walking 4km from our hostel north alongside the Rio San Pedro (or Rio Grande), to the ‘El Pukara de Quitor’ (in Quechuan – the Fortress of Quitor, where Quitor is an ancient indigenous community – see wikipedia history in Spanish). The walk, and the views from the top of El Pukara and nearby viewing points, were breathtakingly beautiful on a clear sunny (very hot!) day – see pics below.

San Pedro, like all the villages & small towns in this region, sits beside a river or other water source (such as an oasis). Many are in river valleys, in San Pedro’s case between the mountainous Andes border between Chile/Bolivia (and Chile/Argentina) to the east, and a further mountain range (the Cordillera de Sal) to the near west. And so despite the heat & harshness of this remote desert region, there has been human habitation in these areas for a good 11,000 years – from hunter-gatherer groups, to herders and agricultural communities. And situated as it is on an ancient river, that feeds into the even larger Rio Loa – that travels from higher up in the Andes to the north, all the way to the Pacific sea (Chile’s longest river – info) – San Pedro is also on an ancient trade route dating back several thousand years.
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Civic strike in Cochabamba / #ParoCivico en #Cochabamba

What a strange day! Awaking in the morning in #Cochabamba Bolivia, to the sound of almost silence? No roar of traffic nor murmur of voices. What is going on? Out on the streets, in the city’s central district, it is eerily quiet. A quick hunt for coffee & wifi access, and a scan of a morning paper, reveals that…today, Thursday 16 March, is a 1-day #ParoCivico or Civic Strike. Organised by the Civic Committee of Cochabamba & supported by the local mayor, it´s specifically against a complicated legal section of a certain law, but more generally against narco-trafficking, and also the sense that the ‘Cocaleros’ (coca growers) receive preferential treatment (ie in relation to taxes).

This is a complicated issue! But we find the city, and probably the whole region, has been shut down by civic action since the very early hours, primarily by the simple tactic of blockading the roads – the key bridges into the city, the key intersections – and therefore ensuring there is no transportation. The blockades are a mix of ‘public transport’ vehicles (busses, taxis/trufis), bins & rubbish, and of course people in the middle of the road. Simple, and very effective. The streets are eerily quiet here in the city centre, and for as far as we are able to walk. Others are walking too, or moving by bike & motorcycle, and a few vehicles circulate within the blockaded areas. (See local media reports here and here in Spanish).
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Colca Canyon, Peru – where the condor flies




A visit to the Colca Canyon in Peru’s Andes is well worth the effort, even if you don’t actually get to see a condor fly by! The stunning beauty of the landscape in this region makes the trip well worth it, from snow-capped mountain peaks & rugged mountainsides, to lush fertile valleys and the near-death experience of Peru’s mountain roads.

canyon1The fotos here were taken near the ‘Mirador del Condor‘ (or condor viewpoint), which we are told is at the canyon’s deepest point, of some 1.2km down, of very steep sides – making it arguably the world’s deepest canyon!? The Mirador is at a height of some 3400m above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains reaching upto 6000+m, some of which remain actively volcanic, which is why we were quite literally up in the clouds at times (fortunately in a coach) – giving the whole area a quite mystical feel, as the ground touches the sky, and who knows what occurs hidden in the clouds?
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Cusco, Peru goes Yellow for NYE 2017

nye_prepSo here we are in Cusco, Peru, the ‘navel of the world’ in the eyes of some, observing the build up to the NYE2017 celebrations in 12 hours time. Cusco is, we read, the top destination for Peruvians when it comes to celebrating NYE, and one of the top 10 worldwide. In Cusco the colour of NYE is Yellow, and the markets are filled with yellow items – knickers & pants, bras, ties, hats, confetti, tinsel and much more. Wearing yellow, especially underwear, is supposed to bring you luck for the coming year. Green underwear might bring you money, and red underwear helps bring you love. Our underwear will remain black!

intiSo why yellow? It’s in honour of the sun, a much worshipped entity or deity in these parts, not least as a result of one or more of the Inca creation myths, in which the sun god Inti is the second most important god after the creator god Viracocha. The myth goes that Inti married the moon goddess Quilla, and they gave birth to the first two Inca, one of whom was Manco Capac (1st Inca ruler, who possibly married his sister) ensuring the Inca could claim divinity & the right to rule thereafter.
Virtually all religions/cultures have creation myths, christians have the Virgin Mary & baby Jesus
. Inca myth info here and here.
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Xmas in Cusco started with a BANG!

santurantikay16Well that caught us by surprise! At 5 minutes to midnight on xmas eve, Cusco exploded with a cacophany of noise. Bangers & chinese crackers echoed in the narrow streets whilst larger fireworks exploded high in the sky providing an array of colours. This was no organised city centre state display, but a self-organised custom that happened across all the districts of Cusco, from the valley floor to the mountainsides overlooking the city, and lasted until at least 20 minutes past midnight. This video (on utube) from 2012 gives you a flavour of what it is like. Continue reading

Feast of the goddess of grey hair and wisdom. Sort of!

goddessSo on Sunday 18th December in Cusco, Peru, we celebrated the 48th anniversary Feast of the Goddess of Grey Hair and Wisdom. A female deity so wise that no mortal may gaze upon her face, who is celebrated by only a small dedicated group of devotees.
One is of course ever so slightly taking the piss here, although this writer does remain in awe of this wise grey haired lady!

feast_100yrAs it so happens though, there was a major community celebration in the San Blas neighbourhood of Cusco, where we are staying, that took place in the small Plaza San Blas. The ‘Fiesta de la Adoracion de los Reyes Magos del barrio de San Blas 1916-2016’, like most feasts & festies here does have an overly religious basis. From 3pm for about 90minutes there was indeed an excruciatingly slow theatrical re-enactment of the evenjts prior to the 3 Kings arriving with their gifts for the baby JC (no not Corbyn!). But really the event, which ran from midday to about 9pm, seemed to us to be a welcome excuse for the local community – largely working class & indigenous/mixed – to hang out in the Plaza, cook, eat & drink (surprisingly heavily too!). From what we could see people had a fine old time, with the theatrical re-enactment and some folk dancing a minor distraction – see fotos at bottom of article. Continue reading

Feast! Of the Immaculate Conception. Of course!

The city of Cusco, Peru, in the Andes, is it seems a city of many festivities, celebrations & feasts. Most, but not quite all these days, have their roots in Spanish colonialism & government, and the enforcement of the Catholic faith. So within our first 3 full days in Cusco we witnessed not only a regional celebration in the main square of the creation of the national police service (6th December), but also the Feast day of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December.

cusco_virginOn the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we saw members many of Cusco’s 40+ Catholic churches parade around the streets of their locality, carrying on their shoulders huge statues of the Virgin Mary. It just happened to be pissing down for much of the day, but it didnt seem to dampen their arduour. Leaving aside the absurdity of both the Immaculate Conception – impregnated by…the Holy Spirit? Please! – and the birth of Jesus Christ less than 3 weeks later on Christmas day, one wonders why on earth Cusquenians fell for this story? Continue reading