Saturday, August 28, 2010

Iquitos, Peru

Located on the upper Amazon River, Iquitos was founded by Jesuits in the 1750s to serve the local indigenous people. By the 1870s there were about 1,500 people. Then rubber trees were discovered and the process to create products quickly developed. Within a decade the population increased 16-fold, creating a rubber boom fever that brought entrepeneurs from Europe and the U.S.

By World War 1 the rubber industry collapsed due to the discovery that seeds could be planted systematically on the Malay Peninsula. In Amazonas the trees were scattered throughout the forest. A plantation was much more profitable. Oil was discovered in the 1960s, creating another economic boom. Tourism is also an important industry here.

Many of the buildings in Iquitos date from the rubber era, such as the Casa Morey where I am staying for a couple of nights. By bedroom is huge, about 300-400 square feet, with ceilings about 20 feet high, to better ventilate in hot weather. It has been recently renovated and has excellent air conditioning. My balcony window looks over the waterfront area. The river is so low in this season that people are planting corn in the river bottom.

This building is similar to my hotel. Pablo is one of the Earthwatch scientists who took some of us on a walking tour of the Belén market this morning.

Catfish and cilantro at the Belén market

The mototaxi is the most common way to get around town. They say there are 30,000 in Iquitos.

Here is a view of the almost dry Amazon River a couple of blocks from my hotel.

This will be our home for the next two weeks in the jungle. The Ayapua was built in 1906 in Hamburg, Germany. It has been renovated and is air conditioned. The purpose of the trip is to join a group of 20 volunteers from different countries to assist scientists in collecting data for their research in the 5 million-acre Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. About 95,000 indigenous people live in villages surrounding the reserve. The area teems with wildlife which we will be surveying.
This will be my last post until my return to Iquitos on September 11. We will have minimal contact with the world until then. Ah, sweet nature!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Temples of the Sun and the Moon

(Click on images to enlarge)
The Temple of the Sun (Huaca del Sol) on the south bank of the Moche River near Trujillo, Peru, is a Moche structure about 1,500 years old. It is the largest single pre-Columbian structure in Peru. Although about a third of the original structure has washed away, it is estimated that it once contained about 140 million adobe bricks. It has not yet been excavated.

The nearby Temple of the Moon (Huaca de la Luna) is smaller, and was built in successive stages over 600 years. Each century represents another layer of construction. Excavation began in 1991 at the top level, and only three levels have been uncovered so far. It appears to have been used as a ceremonial and religious center, which includes human sacrifice.

The top layers have been degraded by looting, rain and wind. But the third layer seems relatively untouched. This shows the remarkable polychrome friezes in their original state. They have not been restored, only cleaned.

No open spaces were found. After completing the friezes, they were walled in with adobe, which accounts for the preservation of shapes and colors. This is a land of dry desert. But occasional weather, including El Niño years, have taken a toll on the surface layers.

Below is the view from the highest point on the huaca, looking toward the Huaca del Sol and the Moche Valley. On the desert below are excavations of living quarters of the Moche people. These are very recent, some only begun this year.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pomac Forest

A favorite way to experience a new place is to find a horse and a guide. Fortunately I found Rancho Santana and Manuel near Pacora, 28 miles northeast of Chiclayo. This was my first opportunity to ride a Peruvian Paso horse. It was a new experience. The gait is very smooth and comfortable, even at a moderate run. Manuel agreed to take me on a half-day ride to visit the nearby Santuario Histórico Bosque de Pomac (Pomac Forest Historic Sanctuary).

We rode along a dusty road that passes by corn fields, sugar cane, and adobe huts. Mango trees and papaya were seen near the homes.

The forest is a protected area of 15,000 acres, covered in dry algarrobo (carob) trees and containing huacas (adobe structures) dating from the middle Sicán period (900-1100 ad). Some have been covered with later Chimú burials.

This next huaca is 50 meters (164 feet) high. It must have been much larger originally. As with all huacas, it is built entirely of adobe bricks.

The huacas have been studied but not excavated. Manuel and I speculated on how much gold might be under this pile of dried mud. As with most huacas, rain and wind have carried away much of the original material. Up close the shapes of adobe bricks become apparent.

On the ride back to the ranch we see a well and equipment for making the adobe bricks. Little has changed in construction materials in the past two thousand years.

Heading back to the ranch, we run into a traffic jam on the trail. Some people are working on the irrigation supply, and we must wait 20 minutes until they finish covering the large flexible pipe carrying water just under the road. Ahead of us is a donkey cart with firewood. No one is in a hurry. My chestnut horse was the only impatient one on the road.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mercado Modelo, Chiclayo

In my travels I find the most colorful things to photograph are in vegetable and fruit markets. This market in Chiclayo, Perú, occupies some blocks in the city. Offering fresh produce, meat and fish, there are also piles of clothes, shampoo and toothpaste. Fresh fruit juice smoothies are available for about half a U.S. dollar. I missed the Mercado de Brujos, offering everything necessary for shamans in the practice of their profession.

There is an astonishing variety of produce in the market. Many items I had never seen before.

These avocados are gorgeous, and easily 6 inches long. People tell me they grow even larger.

The lady selling the avos poses for the camera. I wish you could see her giggling friends looking on.

I had never seen purple corn before. Here it is used only for making chicha, a fermented drink that, when fresh, does not contain alcohol and can be very refreshing. It is also made from hops and peanuts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Lord of Sipán

Today I had the opportunity to visit significant archeological sites and a wonderful museum in northern Peru, near Chiclayo, about 500 miles north of Lima. After reading books about this remarkable find I was able to see objects of metalwork, ceramics, shell beadwork and more of the Moche civilization. One of several ancient cultures, the Moche thrived around 100-850 a.d.

Little was known about this people until 1987, when archeologists uncovered ancient burials close to the village of Sipán. The site is called Huaca Rajada. A huaca is a ceremonial mound of mud bricks, and they are found in many parts of coastal Peru. At first glance, the huaca looks like a giant glob of melting ice cream.

But on closer examination, you can occasionally see the adobe bricks that were used in the construction hundreds of years ago.

Sipán is an agricultural region southeast of Chiclayo. Principal crops are sugar cane, rice and beans. Ample water flows from the nearby Andes mountains, creating favorable conditions for people to live in the valleys along the rivers. Several civilizations have thrived here for 5,000 years or more.

Though looters had invaded much of the area, this tomb was discovered intact in 1987. It has been excavated and studied by archeologists, who found that succeeding civilizations had used the same burial huaca for centuries. Each group buried their elite rulers on top of the previous group. Excavation took years to complete, and many objects of gold, silver and copper were cleaned and placed in a museum in Lambayeque, north of Chiclayo. Replicas of the contents of the tomb can be seen here.

This is the museum of the royal tombs, Museo de las Tumbas Reales, in the town of Lambayeque. It was completed in 2002. The displays are placed on levels corresponding to their location in the tomb, so one begins from the top to view the most recent burials. The oldest objects are at the street level. It is possible that more burials are still below the latest excavations in the huaca.