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Marinera, Peruvian typical dance.
18 March 2017

Marinera, Peruvian typical dance. Marinera, Peruvian typical dance.

Marinera is an elegant Peruvian dance which reenact a courtship. It is characterized by the use of handkerchiefs by both performers.

It used to be called “Chilena” because of the past friendly relationship between Peru and Chile. But when Peru entered war against Chile in 1879, the dance was then named “Marinera” in honor of the Peruvian Navy, the “Marina de Guerra del Peru”.

Marinera is a dance from the coast of Peru. It is as well one of the most popular dances of Peru which is celebrated for the whole month of January in the city of Trujillo. Trujillo is the National Capital of the Marinera and has been granted a Marinera Day on the 7th of October. On that occasion is held the most important Marina contest of the country.

The Marinera dancers are in general extremely focused on their practice and tend to leave aside any type of social or family distractions to dedicate time to their practice which is also their passion.

Although the exact origin of the dance is unknown, it is thought that it could be Pre-Inca. Through the years the dance suffered many influences: mainly Spanish, Moorish, Andean, and Gypsy influences.

There are three variations of the Marinera but the Marinera is also danced with the gentleman mounted on a Peruvian Paso horse: the “Chalan” directs the horse to dance at the sound of the Marinera (see photo).

The three Marineras:

- Marinera Limeña: this Marinera is the most slow-paced and considered the most elegant.

- Marinera Norteña: this version is faster than the Marinera Limeña and not as stylish.

The particularity of the Marinera Norteña is that the man wears shoes, while the woman dances barefoot. Female dancers dedicate a lot of effort in walking everywhere barefoot to tough up the sole of their feet.

- Marinera Serrana: this Marinera is typical from the mountain regions of Peru and is characterized by a slower movement.

Peru, the largest exporter of cochineal.
03 March 2017

Peru, the largest exporter of cochineal. Peru, the largest exporter of cochineal.

The cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) is a scale insect parasite found in tropical South America, Mexico and Arizona. It lives on cacti and it needs to be collected and dried, in order to produce natural carmine dye.

The cochineal produces carminic acid as a natural protection against other insects. The carminic acid has to be mixed with aluminum or calcium salts to make the carmine dye, also known as cochineal.

Carmine dye is mainly used as a colorant in food and cosmetics… but also as a textile dye in the Andes of Peru as well as in some towns of Oaxaca in Mexico.

Since the colonial times, the carmine dye was especially important for Central America’s exportation, before the invention of synthetic pigments and dyes such as alizarin, created in the late 19th century. Nowadays, since in general people are looking for alternatives for artificial food additives, the cochineal became popular again, with Peru being the largest exporter.

The Carnival of Cusco.
26 February 2017

The Carnival of Cusco. The Carnival of Cusco.

The carnival is celebrated in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and America. It shows variations according to the regions but its common characteristic is to be a period of permissiveness.

In Cusco, the Carnival is therefore a traditional festival which is celebrated in February or March each year before the beginning of Lent. The date is variable since it is according to the date of Ash Wednesday which is also variable.

The carnival is characterized by the colors of its dances and its "games" during which the participants throw water, confetti or flour… at each other.

Here in Cusco, the celebrations begin with the party of the "compadres" (“godfathers”) Y "comadres" (“godmothers”). The "central day" is celebrated on the following Sunday and seven days later is the "Octava" (the 8th day) or the "Goodbye".

The party of the "compadres" and "comadres".

These celebrations are held during the two successive Thursday which precede the central day. On the first Thursday, we celebrate the “compadres” and on the second, the “comadres”. The particularity lies in the making of allegories of human size made from recycling elements such as cardboard, bottles, plastic, worn clothes and shoes. These puppets are a satirical representation of an inhabitant of the neighborhood, the workplace, or even of an authority and the goal is to highlight a few traits of the character in order to send a message to society…without any lack of respect or bad taste.

In general these puppets are hung on Wednesday at midnight, on electrical poles for everybody to see.

With the objective of preserving the tradition and motivate new generations to continue with these customs, the municipality organizes a competition of the best puppets and the winners are rewarded with a trophy. The winning allegories are part of the grand parade that takes place on the main square on the “Octava” day.

During the parade, there are many traditional dances which are also part of a competition.

The "central day" (Sunday).

It is a day dedicated to “playing and having fun” for all men and women of all ages. Early in the morning, they start throwing water, confetti, or flour at each other. In Cusco, it is usual that everyone participates, even foreign visitors…

The "Octava" (the 8th day) or Kachappari (Sunday).

As its name indicates, the "Octava" is celebrated 8 days after the "central day" and it is the "Goodbye" to the Carnival until the following year.

The "Octava" is characterized by its dances, games and variety of typical dishes. All over, people organize "Yunzas": a tree is erected and decorated of gifts. The people dance around the tree with a machete and the goal is to cut the trunk in order to be able to catch one of the gifts. The lucky person who cuts the tree finances the following year’s yunza.

The typical gastronomy of the Carnival:

*Timbu or Puchero: variety of boiled meat with cabbage leaves, potatoes, dehydrated potatoes, chickpeas and rice. Sweet potatoes, peaches, pears and plantains are also blanched. The whole lot is served in two different dishes.

*Kapchi: vegetarian dish which contains dry beans, onions, mushrooms, potatoes seasoned with milk and cheese … this dish is served with stuffed chili pepper and rice.

*Frutillada: it is a drink made from boiled Chicha (local corn beer), strawberries and cinnamon. After eight days it is converted into a delicious drink that is served with rum.

The Carnival of Cusco. The Carnival of Cusco.

Peru’s 4,000 types of potatoes.
24 February 2017

Archaeological findings tell us that the most probable origin of the potato is Lake Titicaca area, in Peru. There are about 4,000 different types of potatoes in Peru. Of course, all these different potatoes vary in shape, color, texture, taste…and they all have their place in the Peruvian cuisine. As we know, they also gave birth to an endless number of dishes around the world. It is worth mentioning that the potato helped reduce famines in Europe in the 17th and 18th century.

Peru’s 4,000 types of potatoes. Peru’s 4,000 types of potatoes.

Peru, a birdwatcher’s paradise.
22 February 2017

Peru has 1,804 species of birds…. This means that Peru has more bird species than in all of North America and Europe combined. This includes 120 endemic species… that can only be found in Peru. Every year some new bird species are discovered.

The Andean Cock-of-the-rock  (photo) is an example of the amazing birds of Peru: the Andean Cock-of-the-rock  is also the Peruvian National Bird. 

Peru, a birdwatcher’s paradise. Peru, a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Giant Hummingbird of Peru.
20 February 2017

Giant Hummingbird of Peru. Giant Hummingbird of Peru.

This a photo of a Giant Hummingbird, taken in a street in Cusco.

Even though the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas) only weighs between 18 and 24 g (0.63 and .85 oz), it is still the  largest member of the hummingbird family. On average, its wingspan measures 21.5 cm (8.5 in) in length, and its length is of 23 cm (9.1 in).

The Giant Hummingbird is ten times bigger than the smallest humming bird, the bee hummingbird; but its weight is almost twice that of the next heaviest species.

It may be worth mentioning that in Peru, there are 118 species of Hummingbird.

KESHWA CHACA: THE LAST INCA BRIDGE.
15 February 2017

KESHWA CHACA: THE LAST INCA BRIDGE. KESHWA CHACA: THE LAST INCA BRIDGE.


The Keshwa Chaca Bridge may well be the last example of straw bridges which used to be present all over the Andes in the Inca times. There may have been as many as 200 of them… The straw bridges have been a key element of expansion and control for the Inca Empire. They helped with communication and commerce but were abandoned after the Spanish conquest. The Keshwa Chaca Bridge is situated almost 70 meters (230 feet) high above the Apurimac River, 4 and a half hour drive south of Cusco. Amazingly, it is only made of “ichu”, a tall and tough yellowish grass, typical at high altitude, which feeds the camelids too. It has been shown that a bridge of the length of the Keshwa Chaca can sustain 1,800 kilos (4,000 pounds) of tension. In peak condition, the small bridge could support the weight of 56 people spread out evenly across its length (36 meters/118 feet).

Nowadays the Keshwa Chaca Bridge is hardly used since there’s a steel truss bridge nearby…but as a pure act of cultural preservation, it is being rebuilt every year in June, on the celebration of Mother Earth. As part of the ritual, Huinchiri and three other surrounding villages, gather in the valley for a three-day festival to cut down the previous year's Keshwa Chaca and replace it with cables twisted from fresh “ichu”. Each household is responsible for bringing 27 meters (90 feet) of braided cord to the ceremony. The entire process happens under the orchestration of the “Chacacamayoc”, the “Bridge Keeper”. Today since there’s only one bridge left, there’s also only one Chacacamayoc left and his name is Victoriano Arisapana.

As one can imagine, the whole process is not simple. During the year, the inhabitants of the 4 villages already prepare the straw strings according to Inca knowledge. It is a long process indeed since each bundle of fresh 60 centimeters (2 feet) long ichu bundle has to soak in water and then be pounded by stone until supple. These bundles are then twisted into finger thick cords. Then about forty of these cords need to be braided into a 15 centimeters (6 inches) diameter rope. The entire bridge is made of 16 kilometers (10 miles) of cord! Exposed to the climate, the bridge wouldn’t last more than 2 years and it is not possible to patch it up, it has to be renewed as a whole.

Well…long live the Keshwa Chaca Bridge! 

KESHWA CHACA: THE LAST INCA BRIDGE. KESHWA CHACA: THE LAST INCA BRIDGE.

The Huacarpay Lagoon: a Bird Watcher’s paradise.
26 January 2017

The Huacarpay Lagoon: a Bird Watcher’s paradise. The Huacarpay Lagoon: a Bird Watcher’s paradise.

The Lucre-Huacarpay Wetland is situated Southeast from Cusco, 30 km away. It has an extension of 1979 hectares and is composed of four permanent ponds, a seasonal lagoon (Huacarpay), two swamps and two rivers. The Huacarpay Lagoon is the largest of the system and is mainly characterized by its biodiversity and its scenic beauty.

The area is situated at an altitude of 3,070m/10,072ft and is surrounded by mountains. This wetland is part of the archaeological complex of Pikillaqta: the remains are mainly of Wari origins, a pre-Inca culture known for its urban planning; but Inca and pre-Inca vestiges are countless.

The Huacarpay lagoon is considered one of the 7 most important wetlands of Peru.

Wetlands are natural systems with great biological diversity and they regulate the water cycle and climate. It is known that this particular natural system is a source of food and shelter for approximately 108 species of birds; some are endemic to the place and others are in danger of extinction. For most of the year, the lagoon is home to 70 migratory bird species, coming from the south and the north.

The name “Huacarpay” refers to the white heron (Ardea alba): its name in Quechua (language of the Incas) is "WAKAR". This species is present throughout the year, although its population has been reduced in recent years.

In August 2006, this wetland has been recognized by the Ramsar Convention as a “Ramsar site” which means that this place has been declared a protected natural area which should be preserved at all cost.

About 300 people live in the municipality of Huacarpay, near the lagoon, and unfortunately, because of a lack of economic alternatives, they over exploit the natural resources like water and wood. They also create damage by fishing and hunting but they also invade the wetland with agriculture and livestock.

As a consequence, the lagoon not only suffers from water pollution from solid waste and waste water of domestic origin, but as well from the practice of agriculture and the presence of livestock...

In addition, the wetland is surrounded by a road that is used annually as an automotive circuit, a factor that increases the uncontrolled dumping of waste and inconvenience to the native fauna.

The Huacarpay Lagoon is an important and amazing place to visit and we hope that by attracting more tourism and especially Bird Watchers, the local authorities will pay more attention and take more actions to help protect the area. Of course Education is the key: local people need to be educated on how valuable the area is… this way, they can decide to act and protect it. 

Santurantikuy
24 December 2016

SANTURANTIKUY: SALE OF SAINTS.

Every year, on the 24th of December, there is a very special event happening on the main square of Cusco: it is the “Santurantikuy” Fair. This fair is a must for local people and whatever the weather, everybody feels the urge to show on that day. It could be seen as a kind of pilgrimage, as well as a social meeting… and obviously a chance for last minute Christmas shopping. The “Santurantikuy” is a unique, lively and festive event during which people also have the opportunity to reunite with friends and pass on their greetings for Christmas and New Year.

Origins:

The word “Santurantikuy” is a mix of Quechua (the language of the Incas) and Castellano (the Spanish of South America) which could be translated as “Sale of Saints”. The fair is in fact a mix of local and colonial influences.

El “Santurantikuy” is a Spanish creation from the colonial time which was aiming at evangelizing the local indigenous people. For this effect they started selling images of Catholic Saints on the steps of the Cusco cathedral.

“Niño Manuelito”:

The most important Saint of all (since colonial times) is the “Niño Manuelito” (“Baby Jesus”). Baby Jesus is also named “Emmanuel” in the catholic tradition. “Manuel” is a diminutive of “Emmanuel” and “Manuelito” is a variation which shows the huge affection the Cusqueños have for Baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus is usually a beautiful painted representation made in plaster and it is customary to change his clothes every year on the 24th of December at midnight. He remains in the nativity until the 6th of January which is the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day. Then he’s packed away until the following 24th of December.

Local insight:

In Peru, 80% of the population is Roman Catholic, therefore Christmas is a huge event especially in Cusco which is way more traditional compared to Lima for example. Every house sets up a Nativity with a miniature wooden barn and “Baby Jesus” in his crib of straw or on top of a pillow. “Baby Jesus” is far from being alone: he’s accompanied by Mary and Joseph of course, but also by a myriad of saints, animals and miniatures of bridges, houses, windmills, ovens, wells… The whole scene sometimes represent whole towns and can end up taking most of a room. There is a big effort to make the scene as real as possible and it is the whole point of the “Santurantikuy” where the local artisans have a lot on offer. There is a wide choice in size and design for Baby Jesus’ new clothes as well.

Every aspect of the nativity is important, not only the elements, but the whole scene. Therefore, apart from small wooden barns for Jesus, local people also buy some type of vegetation (like grass and moss) for the ground and stick decorated paper on the walls to represent mountains, stars, the moon, the night sky…

The “hierberas”:

To provide Cusqueños with the natural details for their Nativity (Jesus’ wooden barn, the vegetation for the ground…), the “Hierberas” (hierba: grass) come to town for the Santurantikuy. These sellers come from the high provinces of the Cusco department and they bring all sort of different “grasses” from their ecological zone to sell them at a pretty low price.

Usual they are whole families, Quechua speaking and very humble. They come to town for a couple of days but the majority has nowhere to stay and they spend the night on the Square. Luckily there are initiatives to give support to these hard working people and some organizations and institutions offer them hot chocolate, “panetón” (of Italian origin but the typical Christmas treat in Peru!) and presents for the kids. For us, it is important to acknowledge these people since the “Santurantikuy” wouldn’t be possible without them…

Santurantikuy Santurantikuy
Santurantikuy Santurantikuy

Trekking : Choquequirao
13 October 2016

Trekking : Choquequirao Trekking : Choquequirao

Not as well known as other Cusco treks, this is one of the most beautiful because of its landscape. It winds through the Cordillera Vilcabamba, which is dominated by the Salkantay (6264 meters/20500 ft). This mountain range, which runs north-south, skirting the Amazon, is cut by deep valleys and canyons, offering a more rugged terrain, appreciated for its rich variety of altitudinal zones. Indeed, from Cachora, the trail goes down the Apurimac valley situaded more than 1500 meters (4920 ft) lower. It then goes up to the Inca site of Choquequirao which will be larger in size than Machu Picchu once the clean up is complete. The advantage of this trail is that it is off beaten path, making it more difficult to access. Most agencies offering it cannot guarantee a departure, even in the high season. However, if you are an avid lover of unique, untouched landscapes, it is worth organizing your own trek. This trail will not be a secret for much longer due to the construction of a five kilometer long cableway which will allow hundreds of people easy access to the Apurimac canyon on a daily basis.

DIY: From Cusco, minibus to Abancay (ask the driver to drop you off at Curahuasi : S./15, 2 hour drive). From there, taxis will drive you directly to Cachora (S./50 to S./60, 1 hour drive). The taxi can also drop you off in Capullyoc, another village at the end of the dirt road, passing Cachora (S./30 more, 30 min drive from Cachora). You can avoid a two-hour walk by doing this. In Cachora, you can pay someone to take you to Choquequirao. If necessary, you can rent mules or horses to carry your luggage. But you can also do the trekking on your own, as the trail is now well marked. Food, water and meals, as well as camping, are available in Chiquisca, Playa Rosalina (watch out for mosquitos!), Santa Rosa and Marampata.

Itinerary

Cusco - Capulliyoc - Playa Rosalina : 3h30 (Transportation) ; 3h (hike, down)

Playa Rosalina – Santa Rosa Baja : 2h (up)

Santa Rosa Baja – Santa Rosa Alta : 1h (up)

Santa Rosa Alta – Marapampa : 1h30 (up)

Marapampa – Choquequirao : 1h30 (up)

Altitude sickness (Soroche)
06 December 2016

Altitude sickness (Soroche) Altitude sickness (Soroche)

Due to the altitude, you will surely feel breathless and a little weak when arriving in Cusco. You may also suffer from headaches and/or more or less intense nausea. This is normal: your body has to work harder to get the oxygen it requires. You will need a few hours to acclimate to the altitude if you are arriving directly from the coast or a lower altitude region. There is no need to worry immediately. However, if the symptoms get worse and persist (especially if you have a medical history), you will need to consult a doctor *.

To help you acclimate, here are a few tips to follow during the first hours of your stay:

- Stay hydrated. You should drink larger quantities when in higher altitude.

- Consume sugar. It helps your body to work more efficiently. Sugary drinks are recommended because they hydrate you and provide you with sugar.

- Limit physical exertion. Avoid hiking. If you will be visiting the city, slow down your pace as much as possible.

- Avoid drinking alcohol and avoid smoking.

- And most important: don’t stress! Staying relaxed is the best way to adapt quickly to the conditions of your trip.

Pisac - 2900 to 3400 meters / 9515 to 11155 feet above sea level
06 December 2016

Pisac - 2900 to 3400 meters / 9515 to 11155 feet above sea level Pisac - 2900 to 3400 meters / 9515 to 11155 feet above sea level

This village lies on top of the Sacred Valley. It boasts a traditional craft market and an archaeological site, which, at its highest part, rises 500 meters (1640 ft) above the village. In recent years, Pisaq has become an esoteric center where it is possible to attend courses or personal development sessions (yoga, meditation, ingestion of traditional plants, etc.).

Craft Market: This market is open everyday, except on religious holidays, at the Plaza de Armas and on adjacent streets. You can find all kinds of crafts: wool and cotton clothing, jewelry, gadgets, toys, semi-precious stones, paintings, etc. On Sundays, street vendors selling fruits and vegetables are also present. This is an opportunity to experience the atmosphere of a local market with its food stands.

Archaeological Site: This vast area is composed of several "sections" spread over the mountainside. Its function was to monitor the Sacred Valley below and serve as a pass joining the Amazonian foothills. Like any Inca site, it was built to allow its occupants to live independently. The terraces provided food, the canals brought drinking water to the site, the storerooms were used to store food, the ceremonial center offered the inhabitants from which to appreciate the elements of nature and the cosmos. The ticket office is situated at the highest point: 10 km (6,5 Mi) from the center if going up by vehicle or at the outskirts of the village if you climb on foot. From the car entrance, you will pass by a first set of buildings (old food reserves and checkpoint) on a flat road. Behind this, you will see holes in the rocks: it is an ancient tomb complex. Once the path passes under a stone gate, it becomes less dense. After a series of steps and a small tunnel, you descend to the heart of the site: the ceremonial center. It consists of a high-quality construction Intihuatana (see “Visiting Machu Picchu” for an explanation) and of canals built to bring water to the sanctuary. From the right-hand side of the ceremonial center, you can continue down the path that leads down to the village .or follow a trail on the left-hand side, towards one of the sharp turns in the asphalt road below the ticket office, You can thus pass below the site’s many terraces.

Admission: The archaeological site is included in the boleto turístico

DIY: By bus or minibus from Cusco to Pisaq (see "Cusco Metropolitan" map): S./4. By minibus from Urubamba (45 minutes). To get to the archaeological site: taxi from the village (about 20 minutes) or on foot to the left of the church. After the ticket office, this street becomes a path (from 1 hour 30 minutes to two hours).

The Inca Trail
06 December 2016

The Inca Trail The Inca Trail

This well-known trekking belongs to the paved trail that once joined Cusco to the Amazon via Machu Picchu. The most famous trail of the country, though also the busiest and most regulated. It starts at Km 82 at the railway in the village of Piscacucho (a short distance from Ollantaytambo) and ends at Machu Picchu for a total of 33 kilometers in four days. For non-hikers, you may choose to start at Km 104 for a two day trek.  The longer version of the route crosses over three passes (4198 meters/13775 ft, 3950 meters/12960 ft, and 3670 meters/12040 ft) before descending towards the rainforest that surrounds Machu Picchu. Along the way, you can explore the archaeological remains of tambos (hostels for the chasquis, runners for the Inca Empire) and immerse yourself in the beauty and variety of nature.

The Inca Trail is limited to only 500 people per day including guides and porters. It is therefore strongly advised to book your tickets or your trip early, especially during high season when reserving five to six months in advance is recommended. Most Cusco agencies offer the Inca Trail at rates ranging from $550 to $660 USD, including admission to Machu Picchu (group excursion).

DIY : Unfortunately, it is not posible to plan this trek on your own : you must have a guide on that trail, and will therefore have to book through an agency. However, it is possible to check on the availability of reservations via the website www.machupicchu.gob.pe by clicking on “Consulates”.

Inti Raymi : the Sun Festival
06 December 2016

Inti Raymi : the Sun Festival Inti Raymi : the Sun Festival

This festival occurs on June 24 of each year. Before the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1532, the Inti Raymi was the most important celebration of the Inca Empire. The Sovereign, son of the Sun, would thank his father for the past agricultural year and appeal for clemency for the new one to come. This event occurred during the winter solstice, shortest day of the year, which resulted in the start of a new cycle. The festivities were banned in 1572. They ceased to be celebrated in public but might have been secretly continued. In 1944, the festival was revived as a historical re-enactment.

The performance starts in front of Qorikancha (the Temple of the Sun) at around 8:30 a.m. Hundreds of dancers, playing the role of the inhabitants of the four Suyus (parts) of the Empire, perform for the public. Then, the Inca Emperor makes his appearance at the top of the temple. He is joined by his wife Qoya and they move toward the Plaza de Armas where they arrive around 11:00 a.m. From there, the actors walk up to Saqsayhuamán, where the last part of the performance takes place from 1:30 p.m. to about 4:00 p.m.

Access: The presentation in the city center is free and therefore very well attended, so plan to arrive early. In the early afternoon, access to Saqsayhuamán is completely blocked off. The easiest way to get there is on foot (see paragraph "Saqsayhuamán" in the Cusco section). The entrance fee for stadium seating costs $90-$130 USD depending on seating location. You can purchase tickets online at www.reservasintiraymi.info