When I sign into WordPress to start a new blog entry, electronic snow drifts across my computer screen. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on the roof of my hostel in 80 degree sunshine looking out over Volcano Misti with deliciously sweet mango juice dripping down my chin. It’s slightly surreal to sign into facebook and see everyone’s updates about Chiristmas Shopping (congrats on the sofa Juliet!) and photos in front of trees. That’s not to say we don’t have Christmas here too. Every plaza hosts a 30 foot pyramid shape of green plastic that is supposed to represent an evergreen. At the bud terminal yesterday we admired an extremely gaudy and ridiculously enormous manger scene. And all of Peru is marching along to the soundtrack of a permanently opened musical Christmas card. For some reason, singing Christmas lights are all the rage. But between boarding down sand dunes (see below), white water rafting, and creepy dark mummy vaults, I don’t quite feel the Christmas spirit yet.
After Huaraz and the Santa Cruz Trek (Where we actually were in the snow on the first day of December!) we took 12 hours of overnight buses to Huacachina. Smack dab in the middle of the costal desert and sand dunes, it felt like we couldn’t have traveled to a more different climate than the snowy glaciers of Huaraz. Huacachina is an oasis, made by natural cold water springs coming up through the sand, and for years served as a resort for rich Peruvians. Now it’s backpacker central. We rolled down the dunes like kids, swam in the sandy bottomed lake, and drank wine in our hotel in the evenings. Two of our good friends Emily from Vermont and Emilie from the French Alps met us there and the four of us frolicked in the sand. Huacachina area is also known for it’s wineries and pisco making. We took a tour out to the artisan winery where we learned about the barefoot grape stomping, the distillation process for the Pisco (local grape brandy), and the giant clay pots they age the products in. After enough wine and pisco tasting to be sufficiently giggly, we hopped in a neon green dune buggy, accompanied by a wonderful and hilarious driver, and took off into the dunes for some sunset sandboarding. With the buddy to haul us up the dunes and waxed (with a broken piece of candle) pieces of wood to carry us down, we had a grand time. Cameron and the girl, all snowboarders, rented real boards with boots and bindings and took off down the dunes upright and looking very professional. (Eurpoeans from another tour were amazed to watch Cameron go down one of the steeper dunes. “He must be a snowboarder!”) I, on the other hand, stuck to the local version of sandbaording which involved laying head first tummy down on a more rustic plank of wood. Sunglasses in place, off I’d fly…and I mean FLY. There was nothing gentle or slow about the way I went down the dunes. I learned very quickly not to open my mouth. I still have some sand embedded in my forearm.
After Huacachina, the four of us traveled down to Arequipa, known for it’s colonial feel, nearby canyons, and location wedged in a valley between Misti Volcano and Chachani mountain. I had my very first white water rafting experience which was so much fun! But the highlight of Arequipa was actually the museums….imagine that! We spent a while afternoon exploring the Santa Catalina Convent, a 400 year old city within the city. The nuns entered the walls of the convent, never to leave again. It’s a maze inside, narrow alley ways and gardens winding through the entire city block. We wandered through their kitchens with fire stoves, their simple bedrooms, the cloisters. It was beautiful and filled with 400 years of memories and lives. One of those rare places where you really feel the presence of the people who came before you.
In 1995, Volcano Misti was extra active, blowing off lots of steam and at. All that heat started to warm the top of nearby Mount Ampato which had been frozen in a glacier for hundreds of years. As the glacier melted, things that had previously been hidden under ice started to emerge. At the summit, 20,000 feet above sea level, they found signs of a burial site, but because of the melting ice, the actual grave had collapsed and whatever was supposed to be inside, was gone. Being the smart explorers that they were, they took a nearby boulder and rolled it down the mountain, following it’s natural path and sure enough, there she was. Later named Juanita, the mummy they found was of the 14 year old girl who had been an Incan sacrifice 500 years before. She was amazingly preserved, although it was lucky they found her when they did because just those 20 days she had been exposed since the collapse of the grave, had already done damage to her exposed face.
Juanita still has teenage skin, perfect teeth, and beautiful shiny hair. The cloth she was wrapped in is intact with stains from her blood. Her internal organs are all perfectly preserved, showing her hast meal of vegetables and corn beer (chicha) and traces of a stronger drug- a sedative- giver to her before the sacrifice. Farther down the mountain, they found 4 other children mummies, none as well preserved as Juanita, along with other artifacts. Gold statues, dolls, clay pots with (still preserved!) corn beer and dehydrated food in it, natural fiber shoes and purses filled with coca leaves…we got to see all of this stuff, including Juanita who is displayed only 6 months out of the year in a see through freezer in a dark room. The way it was all presented was not morbid or spooky, but filled with awe and respect. How amazing to took at he face, the hand, the hair of this 14 year old and to think about what she must have felt and experienced in her lifetime. It really was an awesome experience. If you want to see photos of Juanita, they are easily googled, although they don’t do justice to what it was like to see her right in front of me.
Tonight Cameron and I load our backpacks onto another overnight bus (did I mention that the seats recline to 160 degrees with leg rests,blankets and pillows, a stewardess, an on-bus meal, and movies?) for 10 hours to Cusco. I am so excited that my cousin, Dustin, is joining us there on the 22nd for his first Peru experience. We are so excited to have our first visitor and to be able to share some of our love for Latin America with him.
I hope everyone’s Christmas preparations are going well…we miss you all!