Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘cultures’

The Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) holiday is celebrated October 31st-November 2nd; however, festivities are being held at Harbourfront this weekend.

Ballet Folklorico Puro Mexico

Ballet Folklorico Puro Mexico

Ofrenda for Amalia Hernández Navarro

Ofrenda for Amalia Hernández Navarro

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

IMG_4614mpnaturetrain

(February 2009)

This region is the Inca heartland and has been on my travel list for twenty plus years! Cuzco, aka Gringo capital of Peru has a population of approximately 320,000, and you cannot walk or sit for more than a few minutes without someone trying to sell you something. Nonetheless, this remarkable city, the oldest continuously inhabited one in South America, makes a great base and I stayed in the area for about 10 days.

The city is a stunning blend of Spanish architecture, Inca stonework, grand and not so grand churches, museums and shops and, oh, so many steep streets. That first day curiosity pulled me into Qoricancha at Santo Domingo Cathedral. During the Inca reign the site housed the Gold Palace, Temple of the Sun, Solar Garden, and Temple of the Moon.

Over the next few days I checked out the Museo de Arte Precolombino and the Museo Inka and wandered around the city, sometimes purposely and other times aimlessly, before buying the 10-day tourist ticket. While walking around the city I came upon a few fiestas and observed the participants consume food and beer, dance to the accompanying bands and then, meal over, parade off to somewhere else. There seems to be some religious significance attached to the events.

One morning, a small girl decided to accompany me on my way to the Plaza de Armas. Once there, we sat down and she requested some change, which I gave her. The city really is dependent on tourism and, for better or worse, I guess this was her take on it.  When I met Gladys, a woman from Chinchero, it was raining. She was roaming around the tourist area with her two children trying to sell decorative carved gourds and woven belts. She was so persistent that I did buy a belt from her. Gladys spoke English quite well and in the following days we would chat each time we met.

Ready to visit the Sacred Valley, I headed off to Ollantaytambo after purchasing train tickets for Machu Picchu. The Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo were an astrologically-aligned strategic fortress and a temple. I hooked up with a few Spanish-speaking tourists and we purchased the services of a guide. 

I spent the rest of the day exploring the village. The old Inca streets are fascinating and the villagers are very friendly. I chatted with an American woman who was volunteering in a textile shop/education centre. In another establishment I read about health and social initiatives, one directed at the importance of learning Spanish as a way out of poverty for the Quechua-speaking children. I watched the locals socialize in the square and later party through the evening with the aid of the resourceful liquor seller and her trusty cart. It was a perfect excursion and my favourite day in Peru!

I woke very early the next morning and headed down the dark road to catch the 5:30 am train to Aguas Calientes. At first I was a little apprehensive about walking down a deserted road. Soon though, I was enjoying the walk and the moment and felt very content. About halfway to the station, I encountered other people and a couple bicycle taxis. As I neared the train station solitude and silence gave way to long ticket lines and vendors with hot coffee and food. Seems that I just made my way down the road a little later than others.

I arrived in Aguas Calientes, purchased a bus ticket and was on my way up to Machu Picchu. It was raining and the mountain was covered in a thick blanket of fog! However, the rain soon stopped and the fog slowly lifted enhancing the grandeur and mystery. Despite the tourism aspect of Machu Picchu, exploring the ruins of this precariously situated city is still humbling and inspiring.

Read Full Post »

(Late January 2009)

Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city and also known as the “White City”, is in close proximity to El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu volcanoes and it intrigued me during my research. I arrived early in the morning and checked into La Casa de Sillar. I had read about the Cafe Casa Verde, which is run by street kids, and I strolled over there for lunch.

I wandered through the very memorable Monasterio de Santa Catalina. The nuns lived there in seclusion for 391 years before it was opened to the public in 1970. The architecture and design is very impressive. The monastery is like a self-sufficient secluded city within the city. In centuries past this must have been a very good life for the women who inhabited the community. I find it both appealing for its sanctuary and repelling for its isolation.

The next day I visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos. This is where the frozen Inca bodies discovered on Ampato Volcano are housed. Juanita, the best preserved and well-known, is not on display between January and March so instead I viewed the remains of Serita. Serita would have been between 15-17 years of age when she died. The child sacrifice was to appease the gods after a volcano eruption and is believed to have been a very solemn and important undertaking. Children were of noble birth, although Serita’s status is uncertain, and the actual death seems very cruel – a blow to the head. The culture believed in duality and objects accompanying the bodies were found in pairs. The Inca’s recorded their stories with fabric cords and these were found with the bodies. The film re-enactment of the sacrifice ritual is quite interesting and points out the fact the Inca’s would have been expert climbers.

I looked around for a tour to Colca Canyon. I considered the 3 day/2 night adventure in which you go down into the canyon and camp and a similar one but you stay with a family. I think either of these trekking tours would have been a satisfying experience but I was worried about my fitness level and thought getting back out of the canyon could be too difficult a challenge. The tours were also relatively expensive in comparison to the conventional 2 day/1 night tours. So, being a mild-core adventurer on a budget, I opted for the standard tour offering the creature comforts of a hotel room and hot water.

Colca Canyon is stunning. The road is somewhat rough but the landscape is truly breathtaking. We passed through Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca and spotted a few vicunas – they are wild and their wool is  much more expensive than alpaca. We did see an awful lot of domestic llamas and, unlike their Ecuadorian cousins, they were not the least bit curious about us. After an over-priced buffet in Chivay we checked into our hotels then met up again for a splash in the hot springs pools. For dinner we attended a traditional music and dance pena.

Chivay was cold and wet and the following day it was up early to head for Cruz del Condor. We stopped at a couple villages along the way and arrived there around 9:45 am. Much to our awe and satisfaction we spotted several condors and were able to spend some time watching these majestic birds. The Andean Condors live 60-70 years, are about one metre in length and have a wingspan of 2-3 metres. They are simply magnificent! On the way back we stopped at a couple miradors to marvel at the Inca terracing. Shifting our gaze up the mountain beside us, the guide informed us that important Inca’s were buried in the rock.

Read Full Post »

IMG_3938astronautMy bus arrived in Nazca around 10 pm and I let a tout talk me into staying at the hotel he was representing rather than the hostel I had in mind. I also purchased my Nazca flight through him and the hotel. My rationale was that it was too late at night to go comparison shopping for the early morning flight. I probably paid a little more because of this but what I didn’t find out until I was at the airfield was that I could have booked the flight directly with the airport. Oh well, then I would have had to pay for a cab. It’s definitely a very busy little airfield.

Flying over the desert is surreal. I had first read about and been intrigued by the Nazca culture back in the 80s but now I was relishing the moment. I’m intellectually stimulated by the lines and the puzzle they represent – my unscientific opinion is that they were created in homage to the highest of the three levels of gods in Nazcan mythology, the condor. I’m equally fascinated with experiencing this otherworldly view in a small craft – a four-seater plane and I was in the co-pilot seat! (One of my childhood ambitions was to be a pilot.) The pilot pointed out the figures and geometric abstractions and as I tried to isolate them in my camera’s viewfinder I missed most of the shots. I fared better than the other two passengers though – upon exiting the plane they became sick. It’s important not to eat breakfast prior to the flight. By 8:30 am the 20-minute flight and adventure is over!

Nazca is very hot with no shade cover. Hotel checkouts are in the morning. My next bus isn’t until 11 pm. I decided to pass on the countryside tour to the ancient cemetary where you can view mummified remains. No doubt, it would have been interesting but the whole tout experience had put me off. I walked around and visited the very good Antoni museum, dined on the special of the day, replenished my thirst several times, chatted with the locals, and was happy to leave that night.

Read Full Post »

IMG_3650domes

                                                                                                                                                            Cuenca is in Azuay province and has a population of appromately 400,000. I stayed at Hostel El Monesteria, which provides wonderful views of San Francisco market, the famed blue domed cathedral, and the mountains. The view from my window overlooked the monestary’s urban agriculture courtyard and, to my surprise, I saw nuns chasing pigs.

There are many Indigenous people although they seem to be outnumbered by the Mestizo population. Women vendors walk around with large wheelbarrows of fruit and tiny scales. Hats are an essential element of the Indigenous wardrobe and I checked out the hat shops and a museum. Cuenca is home to the Panama hat – yes, they are made in Ecuador. Something else I noticed all over Ecuador is that children wear school uniforms. It seems each school has its own uniform.

The Museo del Banco Central is wonderful. This was the third ethnographic collection I had viewed and makes me want to see more of the country. The museum has several shrunken heads from the Shuar tribe in its collection. The Shuar shrunk the heads of murders – woman, children, and whites/mestizos were considered inferior and not subjected to the practice. By the way, head shrinking is against Ecuadorian law!

I booked a hike to Cajas National Park, which turned out to be one of my most satisfying days in the country. Adrian, our guide, was exceptionally knowledgeable about the plants, flora, trees, and birds in the park – Cajas guides require a special license. First, we stopped at the three crosses where legend and custom dictate that you place a rock on one of crosses for a safe journey. The ancient Canari people crossed through the park to trade on the Pacific and parts of the road are still in existence. We hiked at a leisurely pace at 4200 metres above sea level for a few hours, venturing around a mountain and a couple lakes. There are 232 lakes in the park, mostly small. We went through a forest of amazing trees – they seemed so fluid and organic and possessed a richly coloured, thin, flimsy bark.

Prior to the hike we saw a llama herd in the hills (they were very curious about us) and a couple of llamas near the road. According to Adrian, this is unusual, as was the clear, bright day. After lunch we went for a shorter hike at 3200 metres. The trees, vegetation, and birds at this lower altitude are different. It’s greener and we even spotted an Andean Toucan.

I also spent time soaking up the hottest sulphur spring baths in the country – 24 degrees Celsius, or, 76 degrees Farenheit. Unlike the other Banos, I had to take a bus to reach this town just outside of Cuenca. I went a little too far and had to ask several people for directions – this seems to happen alot when I use local transit.

Cuenca is considered a good place to stay awhile and take  Spanish lessons. There is some degree of affluence. For instance, many Ecuadorians were eating in trendy restaurants. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’ve also quite gotten used to seeing cows, pigs and chickens in people’s semi-urban yards.

Read Full Post »

(December 2008)

I love Oaxaca! Unlike the highter altitude location of Guanajuato, it’s very hot here, sweltering actually. On the way here I was awed by my first ever sighting of a volcano and sensed the shift from North American to Central American Mexico. After a late night arrival I spent the first day walking and sitting and drinking (water) and walking and people-watching and walking some more. The Zocalo is quite large, lit for the season and filled with tourists, locals, and vendors. Oaxaca is reknowned for its food and crafts and neither disappoint.

The city has a population of approximately 200,000 and is a big tourist draw. Vendors, including children, actively try to sell their wares, even while you’re seated at one of the many outdoor patio restaurants. Beggars, mostly women with children, are stationed along the main streets. I’m still touched by the soft-spoken little boy who ran after me and asked for my almost empty bottle of water.

The historic centre and ruins at Monte Albán have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Monte Albán is situated in the mountains and the setting is spectacular! It’s an ancient Zapotec captital and during its peak, around 500 BC, it had a population of around 25,000.  Eventually, it was overtaken by the Mixtecs. According to our guide, it was destroyed by nature. Apparently, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs were frequently at war. The Aztecs expanded into the Oaxaca region but this was short-lived and ended with the Spanish conquest.

I spent the following day in town and wandered through the cultural museum. I was impressed by the Day of the Dead artwork on display. The artist’s graphic skill and the subject mattter were striking. Mexico has produced many highly talented artists. 

New Year’s Eve, I ventured out on yet another tour. This time it was to the Mitla ruins. Mitla is a small Zapotec site with a unique and intricate stone mosiac fretwork. It is not as old as Monte Alban; however, the town has been continuously inhabited. Apparently, the Spanish had the site destroyed due to its religious and political significance.

The tour also included a visit to the Tule tree, a small tequila factory and a Zapotec weaving community. The Tule tree is a Montezuma Cypress. It’s the widest tree in the world but not the oldest – there are older trees in California, Africa, and Japan (7,000 years old). The weaving village is a successful Zapotec project where members of the community help each other with building their homes and getting established.

New Year’s day caught me off-guard – unlike Christmas, most businesses were closed! Perhaps I shouldn’t put things off. I was looking forward to indulging in a hot chocolate at one of the specialty cafes I had spotted on my first day of wandering. Guess it will have to wait for a return visit. Maybe, then, I’ll be adventurous enough to try the grasshoppers!

Read Full Post »

(December 2008)

I awake early on the morning of December 4th. The subway isn’t operating yet and it’s dark and cold as I get into the cab. It’s a quiet, peaceful drive to Kipling station where I catch the express bus to the airport. I am running a little behind schedule and when I see that there isn’t anyone in line at the check-in counter I’m not sure whether to be worried or not. It’s alright, I still have time, but, I drop my documents all over the floor. Relief, I have time for a coffee in the lounge. It’s the start of a whirlwind day.

Huge, vibrant, pulsating and slightly overwhelming! My month in Mexico begins here right in the heart of D.F. one of the world’s most populous metropolitans with an estimated 22 million inhabitants. From the moment I slipped into the authorized cab I was in awe. It was early afternoon, the sun was beating through the smog, and I was amazed by the shear volume of traffic, impressed with the somewhat organic nature of its flow, and stunned by the vendors incredulously selling snacks, refreshments and miscellaneous wares right there, in the lanes, in that mass of cars, trucks and buses.

I checked into a beautiful hostel in Centro Historico and climbed the four flights of stairs to my second floor dormitory. After chatting with a dorm-mate I ventured out for a stroll. Guidebooks and Alvaro, a very helpful resident who I had previously corresponded with on CouchSurfing, provided plenty of suggestions of what to see. I do enjoy visiting cultural and historical attractions but I also like the sense of place I get by walking around and people-watching. The Zocalo is the world’s second largest public square and the ideal place to start.

It is the holiday season and Mexico City’s Zocalo is a focal point for the season. Despite the warm weather there is a large skating rink and many short-sleeved residents are enjoying the challenge of being on ice-skates. Others are experiencing the thrill of the snow-tubing slides and checking out the igloos. As I walk around taking in the people, amusements, architecture, and space, I stumble upon Templo Mayor and purchase a ticket to get a closer look at the excavation.

Gone is the noise and frenzy of the main square. My mind is contemplative as I wander through the site. The temple of Tenochtitlan was once home to a powerful Aztec culture. It’s impressive. Actually, I’m fascinated by the layers of culture and history – sculpted symbolism and architectural remnants of an ancient state, a beautiful Spanish colonial historic district, and a blend of contemporary cultures with striking contrasts between the haves and have-nots – all here in this spectacular, polluted, earthquake-prone, sinking city centre.

I went back to the square later that evening. I had read warnings that this city is dangerous, i.e., 60 kidnappings a day, but I felt safe. The Zocalo and nearby streets were overflowing with people – families, friends, lovers, performers, artisans, tourists, and police. A magnificent Christmas tree, lighting displays, and the vitality of the crowd were all so enticing. I was glad I had decided to stay in this part of the city. However, after a refreshing pineapple and orange juice earlier in the afternoon I now felt I was doing a disservice to myself and the culture with my 7-11 dinner of a hot-dog and coffee.

Day two found me on the Touribus. It’s an excellent service – 21 stops and you can get on and off all day! I did not get off though – not my intended plan – the city is so large, and I decided it would serve as an orientation and overview. Back on foot, I explored more of the historical district. Architecture, sculpture, mesmerizing murals, the Almeda, Spanish conversation with a couple schoolgirls, a tortilla and cerveza at an outdoor cafe made all the more pleasant by a talented classical musician, and another evening strolling about the Zocalo happening upon various groups performing ritualistic dances.

The third day I went to the Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacan.  The site is awesome, the sun is hotter, and it’s full of tourists! I stood on top of the Temple of the Moon and tried to imagine life in the former society. While anthropology sheds much light, the reality is that time presents an impenetrable barrier. I didn’t make it to the top of the Temple of the Sun – I was worried about how I would get down. I wondered if the Aztecs, too, experienced vertigo.

Later that night, while I was sitting in the hostel entrance, a young man entered and very politely explained that he was a craftsperson from the north but hadn’t sold enough today to pay for his room. He was now trying to earn the money by selling lollipops for a peso a piece. One peso is worth so very, very little.

Read Full Post »