Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Flowers in Miraflores

Miraflores is an upscale residential district of Lima, the capital of Peru. Occupying just under 4 square miles in area, the town hugs the Pacific coast 260 feet above the ocean. Temperatures are mild, and cloud cover is common on most days. It seldom rains. So a day like today, with blue skies, is a day for photographs.

Looking north, much of Miraflores is bordered by a well maintained strip of parkland, with a wide walkway where the locals are seen jogging, walking dogs, biking, and sitting on benches. Tourists come to enjoy paragliding tours (click here for the website).

Miraflores means "Flower lookout," and beautiful flowers bloom year round.

Looking south toward Chorrillos and Barranco.

Public art is found along the park.

An obvious tribute to Güell Park created by Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain.

It's time to join Miraflores artist Rocío Nakahara for lunch, overlooking the park.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Caral, oldest civilization in the Americas

Currently considered to be the oldest civilization in the western hemisphere, the ruins of Caral are located about 125 miles north of Lima and about 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The ancient site is in the large and lush Supe Valley where it narrows near the village of Caral. The site sits on an elevated plain with a commanding view of the valley. A pre-ceramic civilization flourished here from 3,000 B.C. until about 1,800 B.C., about the same period as in Mesopotamia.

Supe Valley
The valley extends for many miles and provides excellent conditions for growing many crops. The colectivo (shared taxi) bumped along the washboard unpaved road for almost an hour, passing large fields of sugar cane, corn, avocado, asparagus, beans and sweet potato. Most crops have been grown here for thousands of years, feeding the people of Caral then and now. 

Irrigation ditch

The river flows from high in the Andes Mountains, but only for about six months of the year, providing ample water for domestic and agricultural use. In the other six months there is plenty of subterranean water, but it requires pumping to the surface, taxing the financial resources of the local people.

One of six pyramids on the plain above the Supe Valley. This the only complex which has been studied extensively. Nineteen others have been located around the valley in an area of about 35 square miles. To date, no evidence of warfare or human sacrifice has been found. Among the few artifacts discovered are flutes and trumpets made from bones of condor and other birds. Perhaps this was a gentle, peace loving people.

The pyramids were made of stone carried from the nearby mountains in woven sacks. The stones remained in the sacks as they were put in place, providing flexibility for absorbing seismic shocks in this earthquake prone country. And the vegetable material used provided carbon dating evidence of the ancient age of the pyramids. Mud provided mortar between the stones. The structures were not true pyramids, but were probably flat on the top.

The main structure covers an area of four football fields and is 60 feet high.

The pyramids surround this structure. It appears that the entire area represented a ceremonial use, as homes and cemeteries were not uncovered. With the Supe Valley below providing food for everyone, the working people probably lived closer to the valley. As yet, many mysteries remain as to the daily life of the people.

My ride back to the village
The infrastructure is barely developing. I arrived by collectivo taking local people to the nearby village. The driver agreed to deliver me to the river, from where I had to walk over a mile to the site in sand under the burning sun. This young man brought me back to town where I found a colectivo to take me and nine others to the coast. Tourists generally arrive in rental cars or in commercial tours. I chose the folkloric route, always more interesting!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Piedra Azul, Los Lagos, Chile: gateway to northern Patagonia

The small community of Piedra Azul includes several families who live along the shore of Relconcaví Sound near Puerto Montt in southern Chile. I spent a lovely afternoon with friends Gabriela and Javier at Gabriela's home. We first purchased two large fish fresh from the water.

The main house, just across the road near the shore

Our lunch will be a merluza (hake). Javier is an enthusiastic and experienced cook who will soon open his new cafe - restaurant in Puerto Montt.

Canela, about the happiest dog I have met in southern Chile

The beautiful countryside of Piedra Azul 

After lunch we set off to explore the property

Spectacular views of Seno de Reloncaví on the last day of summer 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Chepu, Chiloé, Chile

Home sweet home. This is just about my favorite destination in Chile, “Los Senderos de Chepu,” on the big island of Chiloé. It is by far the best-equipped B&B in Chepu to visit for a few hours or for several days, which is always my choice. The attraction is a gorgeous location in a quiet setting surrounded by gardens, pastures, forest, river and ocean. Rooms are comfortable and with modern conveniences. Outdoor activities abound, including fishing, hiking, horseback riding, visiting penguins, or my favorite, relaxation.

The beautiful garden is full of color year around

Chepu is not a village, but an area located a few miles southeast of Ancud on the island of Chiloé. Several families live here, spread over many miles. There is a bus that serves the area three times per week.

Country church

The locals have modern conveniences and vehicles, but the ox cart is most practical for transporting items on the farm, especially firewood that is needed daily.

The grass is always greener on the other side. I watched as this cow carefully removed his head from the barbed wire.

“Reduce, Recycle, Reuse”

Comanche and Mariachi

In the dunes; Chepu River is in the background

We must cross some wetlands to get to the beach

Don Fernando, my host and guide. Across the river to the south is the Chiloé National Park, on the west coast of the island.

This is our destination, Elephant Rock

Pacific Ocean at Aulen Beach

Lichens at the beach

View from above, near the main house, looking south toward Chiloé National Park

In the forest, I set off on a muddy path down to the river, about 30 minutes away. I brought rubber boots two years ago and leave them at the main house. It’s all I use outdoors. 

Ferns in the forest

The trail ends at the river. Many trees died in 1960 when southern Chile was hit with the largest earthquake ever recorded (Richter 9.5) The epicenter was near Valdivia to the north, but the land in many areas sank several feet, causing the river to widen, drowning trees. This is a great area for fishing and bird watching.

My wonderful hosts during many visits to Chepu in a photo from 2012: Señora Enriqueta, Don Fernando and daughter Vanesa, who is almost finished with her medical studies.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Santiago, Chile: then and now - 1964/2014

The first trip I made to this wonderful South American country was in September, 1964, fresh out of college and eager to step into my role as a Peace Corps volunteer in Valdivia, Chile. I arrived with a group of like minded gringos, with about 25 words in my vocabulary. Walking around the city this week, I suddenly realized that it was 50 years ago (well, less a few months). This morning I was having a coffee at an outdoor cafe, when I looked up and thought the nearby building looked familiar. So I snapped a photo and later compared it with one from 1964. It was the same building! So I took two more photos that show roughly the same views as in my old pictures.

Parque Forestal 1964

My brother-in-law Rich gave me one of his cameras, an Argus C3. Color film was expensive in those days, especially for a Peace Corps volunteer, so I took photos sparingly.

Parque Forestal 2014

Río Mapocho 1964

The Mapocho River cuts right through Santiago. San Cristóbal mountain is in the background. If you look closely at the political graffiti, you will see a poem by Pablo Neruda:

Quiero saber quien eres
cuanto ganas,
en que taller trabajas
en que minas,
en que farmacia...
     ya llega el día
ven con todos los que a ti se parecen
los mas sencillos,
ven, no sufras
por que ganaremos, nosotros
los mas sencillos GANAREMOS
     Pablo Neruda

I want to know who you are
how much you earn
in which factory you work
in which mines,
in which pharmacy...
     now the day arrives
come with all those who look like you
the most simple,
come, do not suffer
because we will win, we
the most simple (people) WILL WIN
     Pablo Neruda

Well, senator Salvador Allende lost the election that year to Eduardo Frei. It was the second time he had run for the office. But on his third try he won in 1970. Neruda was one of his strongest supporters. Allende was deposed in the coup of 1973.

Río Mapocho 2014

Not the same location as above, but near by. I visited Neruda's home "La Chascona" today, in the Bellavista district, a short walk toward the mountain.

Universidad Católica 1964
Taken from Santa Lucía Hill, near the city center

Universidad Católica 2014
There might be less smog today

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Truth and Reconciliation in Chile

My 2014 visit to Chile begins with a few days in the capital city, Santiago. I wanted to see two sights dedicated to those who were detained, tortured, and killed during the military dictatorship of 1973-1990. The coup in 1973 overthrew the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, who died in the first moments of the coup. 

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, dedicated to commemorate the victims of human rights violations during the military regime led by Augusto Pinochet.

The museum is located in a neighborhood of Santiago facing the Quinta Normal, a beautiful public park comprising almost 90 acres of grass, trees, museums, and an artificial lake.

The museum was inaugurated in 2010 by Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. It houses memorabilia of torture devices used during the Pinochet dictatorship, letters to family members by prisoners in detention centers, newspaper clippings, and testimony from survivors. The museum also includes a philosophical examination of human rights. Chilean popular icon and folksinger Victor Jara's last poem, Estadio Chile, written in the moments before his death in the stadium during the 1973 coup, sprawls the entrance to the museum

The museum website states that “The Museum of Memory and Human Rights seeks to draw attention to human rights violations committed by the Chilean state between 1973 and 1990. Its mission is to allow dignity for victims and their families, stimulate reflection and debate and to promote respect and tolerance in order that these events never happen again.”

Villa Grimaldi is a three-acre estate that served as a detention and torture center during the military rule of Augusto Pinochet that began in 1973 and ended in 1990. It is located in the Peñalolén area on the outskirts of Santiago, with impressive Andes mountains as a backdrop. Most of the structures were demolished by the military, but testimony by officials and survivors allow for some modern reconstruction. The original building was destroyed.

In contrast with the Museum of Memory, which is entirely indoors, Villa Grimaldi is an outdoor space that affords good photo opportunities. Before the military coup the property was an elegant estate with a restaurant. Intellectuals and leftist political people often visited. It had been planted with exotic species of trees.

 This is the iron gate is where prisoners entered the grounds of the detention center. Years after the dictatorship the property was expropriated from the fraudulent owners.

The gate was locked permanently and the key was entrusted to a Jesuit priest. A sculpture was created in the entry way so that it will never again be used.

“Old access. Through here the prisoners began their route. This gate will remain closed forever.”

In 1973 the regime began to detain thousands of political activists, students, workers, trade unionists, and any other subversive individuals who spoke out against the fascist military government. This is a reconstruction of a small structure where prisoners were kept. Current Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and her mother were detained here briefly and subjected to some torture. Her father, as a member of the previous government, was detained elsewhere, and died in 1974 as a result of his treatment.

They were constantly blindfolded except when going to the bathroom. Those that survived only remembered some of the colored tiles in the walls. Many interpretive signs were made with tiles as a tribute to their only visual memory. This sign indicates where the torture room was located, where metal beds and rods were used to apply electric shocks. One can see the actual artifacts at the Museum of Memory.

This is the “Patio de los Abedules,” or Patio of the Gray Birch Trees. This is where the small cells were located, now indicated by bricks laid on the ground to show the boundaries of the cells. A birch tree was planted in each space to symbolize the prisoner in that cell.

This rose garden is a tribute to the women who were killed here. Each rose bush has a little sign with the name of a female prisoner. The signs without names are dedicated to the women who were not identified.

Between 200 and 300 people were killed here or disappeared by being dropped in the ocean from helicopters. Around 3,000 people were killed by the regime. Villa Grimaldi will remain a strong reminder of those dark years, with the intention that these events never again will happen .