General San Martin, (Pisco), Peru, Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On our last day in Lima, I went to the upscale Miraflores District on the shuttle bus provided by the ship and visited the Artisanal Market which stretches for several blocks. At the end of the day we set sail for General San Martin which is South of Lima. This is a port which is under construction on the coastal desert. They hope that it will become a major port in the future. Here I took a tour to Paracas National Reserve which is an ecological reserve located on the coastal desert.
We commenced with a visit to the interpretive site to learn about all the different species that are protected in this area, and also about the evolution of this part of the coast, which is of considerable interest to geologists. I could not get right down to the beach which is a wildlife reserve but I saw a lot of flamingos, pelicans and other birds. I coud not find any fossils that are apparently in the rocks here but a good example was on display in the centre.

We then stopped at Red Beach. It is the only beach with red sand and its shoreline is populated by numerous seabirds. During the visit we saw many different desert landscapes, including Supay Beach noted for its superb cliffs formed during the Eocene Period, which show sequences of horizontal layers. All the soil in the reserve is formed by marine sediments, so you can also see prehistoric fossils.

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Our next stop was at a landmark known as the Cathedral. Here I did see some impressive birds as well as the stunning scenery.

Lastly we visited Vineyard 1615, located in the province of Pisco. The vineyard was originally part of the Old Hacienda of Santa Cruz de Lanchas, dating back to the 16th century. A particularly fine climate lends excellent characteristics of flavor and fragrance to the Italia grapes. The use of technology in the management and development of the vineyards ensures premium pisco grapes for the production of Pisco wine. This vineyard is Peru’s largest exporter of Pisco. We enjoyed a local home drink made of pisco. Called a Chilcano, it is made of pisco, ginger ale, lemon and sometimes sugar. It is 42 to 45 proof. Our drink containd Pisco Pura but we were also offered samples of other kinds of Pisco, straight!

Figs and peppers were also growing in the area. The soil is made arable by the use of guano. No pesticides are used in agrulture as the dryneess of the area pretty much deters pests.

We now have three days at sea. We are heading north to Costa Rica.

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Lima, Peru, Saturday, February 17, 2019

Today I took a tour to two of Lima’s oracle centres. We began with a visit to the Huaca Pucllana — an archeological site that was active between the 5th and the 8th centuries AD. It was built by the Lima people who lived on the central coast between 200-700 AD. The name comes from 16th century commercial documents where the site is referred to using this name and is likely derived from a term in the Quechua language “pukllay” which means “game” or “to play”. It is made of small undried adobe bricks which are set in such a way as to minimize earthquake damage. There is very little rain in Lima so they survived the centuries. Rooms, patios ramps, corridors and staircases would be used for a period of time and then covered so that a new layer could be built. The walls were originally covered in fine plaster and yellow pigment. The rooms on the flat area were likely used by people of lower status. The site also includes a garden of Peruvian fruit and vegetables and a mini-zoo of local animals.

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We then visited the Huaca Huallamarca, located in the district of San Isidro. This was an oracle center that functioned for 1,200 years, up until the Spanish Conquest of Peru. This imposing monument has remained impervious to the ravages of time. The two-story construction is made of adobe with a steep ramp leading to the upper level. Archaeological excavations have unearthed mummies that are now on display inside the small museum along with ancient objects.

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Lastly, we visited the National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, which contains Peru’s largest collection of artifacts from pre-Hispanic cultures. The museum is housed in a stately colonial mansion that was once the country home of Viceroy Joaquin de la Pezuela and the leaders of the struggle for independence, José de San Martin and Simón Bolívar. The museum’s exhibitions include Chavin stone sculptures, textiles from Paracas, Nasca and Mochica ceramics and Chimu metal works. There are also paintings, documents and objects relating to the Conquest, the Viceroyalty and the Republic of Peru though we did not have time to see these latter items.

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Lima, Peru, Saturday, February 16, 2019

From the port we traveled to the world renowned Gold Museum, privately owned by Mujica Gallo. He has collected fabulous gold objects and precious stones that date back to ancient times. Here we could see and photograph the kind of objects found in the museum of the Lady of Cao near Trujillo. There was also a display of a collection of ancient swords, guns and other military objects.

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Next we visited the archaeological museum of Raphael Larco Herrera. Located in an old mansion built in 1707, it houses an immense collection of pre Inca pottery dating back to the Mochica, Chima and other civilizations. These civilizations are pre Inca. The Inca predate the Spanish by only a couple of hundred years while the Mochica dates from 200 to 600 AD.

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Manta, Ecuador, Wednesday February 13, 2019

Manta is just under one degree South of the equator which we crossed some time last night. The city has existed since pre Columbian times and has been the largest seaport in Ecuador for centuries. Just outside the city lie the towns where Panama hats are woven. The hat got the name Panama because many were exported there during the building of the canal and people returning to Europe called them Panama hats. If a hat does not say made in Ecuaor it is not original. Manta is the centre of the tuna fishing industry. This morning they were unloading fish on the dock beside our ship and the rest of the fleet was at anchor nearby. From the ship we also could see the waves rolling up on the nearby El Murcielago Beach.

Ecuador is the access point to the Galapagos Islands and many people set off early for a five day trip. They will rejoin the ship in Lima. There were shore excursions to many nature reserves nearby as well as to Montechristi where is the centre of the hat making industry. I chose to walk around the city instead of taking a tour. I first went to the Bancorp Central Museum where I watched an animated video about mystical traditions. The museum was small but had some ancient artifacts used in religious ceremonies and funerals. There was also some modern art.

I then went to a handicraft market and then the Central Market where two fellows insisted on posing for photos. I completed my tour with a long walk through town and returned to the pier which has free WiFi so l can publish this post.

Our next port is Sallavery, Peru.

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Panama City, Monday February 11, 2019

We anchored at Fuerte Amador Island near the Bridge of the Americas at the western end of the Panama Canal. This is the second and last tender port on this voyage.

Today I took a tour of old and new Panama City. We first took a coach across the isthmus highway that joins the island to the mainland. En route we saw the Gehry Biosphere Museum.

We viewed the ruins of Old Panama City from the motorcoach. This site was founded in 1519 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila. It was a stopover point on one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent, leading to the fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo, where most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas passed through. Pirate Sir Henry Morgan destroyed the city, setting a devastating fire in 1671. It is still in ruins today, and has become known as Panama Viejo, or Old Panama.

We also viewed the modern city from various points.

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In 1673 the new Panama City was built, established on a peninsula five miles away from the original settlement. The location was chosen based on its utility in protecting its inhabitants from future pirate attacks.
Within the new city, is Casco Antiguo. This is the colonial part of town and it displays a mix of architectural styles, which in turn reflect the cultural diversity of the country. Caribbean, Republican, Art Deco, French and Colonial influences are seen here. Most of Panama City’s main monuments are located in Casco Antiguo. During the walking tour, we saw the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Theatre among other buildings.

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Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, Friday February 8, 2019

This is not a region normally visited by tourists. We set off from the pier for the nearby city of Tapachula passing through much agricultural land. The region exports an abundance of fruit and vegetables. This area is the first stop by Guatemalan migrants on their way to the USA. They can work in the fields earning money for their onward journey. Meanwhile the local government provides free education for their children. Tapachula is a diverse city whose history and heritage has been influenced not only by the Mayans, Mestizos, and Spaniards but by German, Chinese, Japanese and French immigrants as well. On our visit to the town square we frst stopped in the city hall to see two beautiful stained glass windows, one depicting the historical heritage of the area and the other its natural bounty. There is also a mural honouring the peasants.

We then visited St. Augustine’s Church, the oldest in the area. Beside it is the old city hall outside which some women dressed in local costumes were dancing for tips.

We were to visit the local artisan shops, but a demonstration by teachers who were protesting that they were not being paid, forced us to leave before they blocked our exit.

Our next stop was the ancient Mayan ruins of Izapa. It began as a small village around 500 BCE and grew into an influential cultural and commercial center with a population that may have reached 10,000 between 60 BCE and 100 AD. It had been a producer of highly valued cacao and is believed to be the site of the sacred Mayan calendar. Upon entering the complex you come across the main market square to the back of which is a tiered stand which was used for selling slaves. Women were more valuable as they produce children. To the one side is a raised platform which is original. There was no need to reconstruct it.

Adjacent to the market place is the ball court. This was the location of a special event which occured on December 20-21, 2012. According to the Mayan calendar, the 20th was the end of the 5th solar cycle and the 21st the beginning of the 6th. These cycles occur every 5125 years and there are several yet to come. However, various people around the world thought that the world was going to end on the 20th and large crowds of people from around the world visited the ruins to witness the event. On the 20th, the sun shone from the west onto a stone set at the eastern end of the ball court and on the 21st with the coming of the new cycle, it shone on a stone at the western end. The world did not end.

At the western side of the ball court are several large mounds which have been reconstructed.

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Our tour ended with a visit to the Planetarium. It is in an area of cultural buildings which include some university buildings and the community theatre. We were treated to a modern improvisation of a Mayan dance presented by a local school of dance. Inside the Planetarium we were shown an animated video describing Mayan cosmology and the various ancient sites in Mexico.

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Huatulco, Mexico Thursday, February 7, 2019

Today we arrived at the quiet resort town of Huatulco. Constructed since 1985, the entire area is beautifully landscaped and wins awards for ecological sustainability. All of the water is treated before being released into the ocean, power is obtained from wind farms and most of the food is organically grown.

I took an excursion to the Copalita Archaeological Zone. This is a recently discovered site populated about 1500 years ago by the Mixteca and Zapoteca people. After 1200 years the population was abut 2000 people but by 700 to 1000, they had died out. It is not Mayan. Our excellent tour guide had a hand in the discovery of the site. She was a girl scout and they used to camp in the area and found remnants of pottery. They showed them to their parents and some people from the town took them to Mexico City to the National Archeological Institute. One archaeologist decided to take a look and the found the site worthy of investigation. Today it is well laid out with flag stone walkways and a very small but beautiful museum. Not all of the buildings have been uncovered but three important ones can be seen. What you see is original, having been covered over for centuries by earth and sand. It was a complete jungle before the excavations began. The first building is the Serpent Temple because the heads of two serpents made of polished stone were found among the ruins. The building was built on a swamp on a base of round river stones covered by flat stones. The walls of this and the other buildings were covered with a stucco made of ground sea shells. It was probably decorated with designs that served as a way to tell the story of the people.

The second area is a ball court where youth would play a game called Pelota. The ball would have weighed 8 pounds. It is believed that the game was played here over 1600 years ago for a period of 400 years. The game was believed to be a way of making an offering to the gods to perpetuate the life and sustenance of the people.

The third building and the largest is the main building or temple of Copalita. Built over 200 years ago and used for at last 900 years, it would have been the centre of the community. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see because of the trees surrounding it. The trees have been left in place but are trimmed regularly. The existing root systems protect the base of the structures and removal of the trees would sufficiently weaken the base of the structures that they would be subject to damage during storms or earthquakes.

We climbed a steep path to a lookout that showed the confluence of the Copalita River and the ocean. There were a lot of birds to be seen. Next we visited an ecological zone where other flora and fauna were seen.

Lastly we visited the small museum where some of the clay figures, pottery and a death mask made of turquoise mosaics were on display.

Our next port is Puerto Chiapas where I am going to visit a Mayan archaeological site.

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