Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Neal Bierling, Archaeological Adventures: Getting High in Peru, Year 2: Archaeological Adv.,...

Neal Bierling, Archaeological Adventures: Getting High in Peru, Year 2: Archaeological Adv.,...: Archaeological Adventures: Choquequirao, the Sister City of Machu Picchu or the Other Machu Picchu?             I first came to...

Getting High in Peru, Year 2: Archaeological Adv., Choquequirao?

Archaeological Adventures:
Choquequirao, the Sister City of Machu Picchu or the
Other Machu Picchu?

            I first came to hear of this (for me back then) unpronounceable site back in 2013 while in Cusco and at Machu Picchu. It didn’t mean much to me then. This was my first time to Peru, to Cusco, and now Machu Picchu. Sometime later it came back to me---what, Machu Picchu has a sister city? As a boy I remember looking at the pictures of Machu Picchu (National Geographic) wishing I could go there, and now here I am, and I find out that there is another one? Then I asked a friend here in Arequipa about this site that I could not pronounce. Katia knew what I was talking about and fed me some information. Now that I had the spelling of the site, I then went to Lonely Planet, Peru, which I discovered only had one small paragraph of info, and so I went to Google Earth and wow! It exists. Now I begin to wonder if I can go to this site in 2014.

Google Earth Picture of Choquequiro
            I then began to gather information on Choquequirao, which included rereading Hiram Bingham’s account of his visit in his book Lost City of the Inca (2011 ed). Actually, as he writes, he was in Peru NOT to “discover” Inca sites but was researching Bolivar’s Wars of Independence and was on his way to Ayacucho. But, in 1909, while passing through Cusco and Abancay, the Prefect invited him to go on a treasure hunt at Choquequirao. Its name means “Cradle of Gold.” I want to believe that Bingham did not agree with the premise for the visit, but agreed to go along and the visit led to a change of careers for him—he wanted to become expert on the Incas and to “discover” or visit their cities.
            Like Machu Picchu, the road to Choquequirao begins in Cusco. On the road out of Cusco, the group Bingham joined pass by Sacsaywaman (Bingham used a different spelling) a “Cyclopean fortress” (p. 115) with its mega-ton polygonal blocks. In 2013 in my first visit to Sacsaywaman, I heard this word “cyclopean” used and it sent chills up and down my back, since this is a Middle Eastern archaeological term (not “Greek myth” but story passed down) going back to wall or tomb construction at sites dating back to more than 3200 years ago. Uncovering, measuring, and photographing “cyclopean” blocks was part of my job in the Middle East. And then when I returned to my teaching job in the states, I got to tell stories and to challenge my students, how did the ancients construct these walls or tombs? That was another fun part of my teaching job. However, due to wars, climatic change, and movement of peoples 3200 years ago, knowledge was lost how these walls or tombs were constructed with these huge blocks weighing 100 tons and more. The answer back then was that only the ancient Cyclops could have built such walls/tombs with these massive blocks. And here in Cusco, this word was used to define the fortress walls of Sacsaywaman. This was another defining and serendipitous moment for me. Now that I have returned to Sacsaywaman in 2014 and plan to do so one or more times this year, I do plan to do more research on the site and blog it.  
            Soon Bingham describes the extreme hardship to get to Choquequirao; the slog downhill; the attempt to cross the Apurimac River, which at that time of year (Feb), he says was “a raging torrent 250 feet wide … , over 80 feet deep.” (p. 120). Once they succeeded in crossing the river, the slog uphill began, which he points out that “the trail was so steep that it was easier to go on all fours that to attempt to walk erect.” (p. 123) I enjoy reading Bingham’s account because I too now plan to do the 2-day hike to the site carrying my backpack accompanied by mules carrying our food, tents, and other supplies. Two days in, one day at the site (Bingham spent 4 days on site), and then another two days back out to Cusco. I plan to read other firsthand accounts to better prep myself for the trek.    
            Once Bingham gets to Choquequirao, he makes reference to recommendations by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS): “take careful measurements and plenty of photographs and describe as accurately as possible all finds.” (p. 125) Since he implements these guidelines at all sites, he clearly accepts this as a mandate, and this is much to his credit and for our benefit. It was Choquequirao that led Bingham to return to Peru the following year to search for the “Lost City of the Inca.
            Mark Adams, an editor for a US travel magazine decided a few years ago to follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham one hundred years after Hiram and entitles his book, Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, 2011. Mark Adams’ book is both an informative and an interesting read, and of course, as Bingham did, from Cusco, Adams determines to head for Choquequirao, and as Bingham did, Adams hires a guide (John Leivers), mules, a crew, and starts walking.
            Adams devotes chapters to the family history of Hiram Bingham, which provided me with another serendipitous moment since Hiram’s grandfather, Hiram I was Abner Hale in James A. Michener’s book Hawaii. Hiram I was an inflexible missionary sent to Hawaii in the 1800s. I loved that book and almost went to Hawaii to study archaeology there, in spite of Abner Hale. However, it was a road not taken (My Dad forced me to cancel my air ticket). Soon thereafter and in the Middle East, archaeologist Trude Dothan became my boss and friend at the excavation Tel Miqne-Ekron for more than a dozen years. Before she became my boss, she had been interviewed extensively by James A. Michener and his staff, and Trude became the female Israeli archaeologist in Michener’s book, The Source. That book was my road taken. And now I am here in Arequipa, Peru prepping to follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham III to Choquequirao.   
            While on the road to Cachora, the town too where I plan to begin the hike, Adams mentions about the difficulty in getting at Inca history. The Incas had no written language so archaeologists try to get at their history through the artifacts, but from my experience, this is extremely difficult. (Yes, it is true that some written sources come through Spanish historians, but, in a way, that may be like trying to learn about Iraq and its people by reading an account of the US 2003 invasion of Iraq written by Dick Cheney. Adams also references Dick Cheney in an analogy.)
People have always asked me what was the most exciting or important artifact I/we uncovered. I remember a find of gold jewelry (from around 1500 BC) and shouting out “gold” and everybody came running. I remember a silver jewelry cache (found by my oldest daughter who was 17 at the time), carved ivory, or other gold objects all of which are now on display in museums. However, the most important artifact (and also in a museum) and which I had the privilege of filming its uncovering was the cornerstone of a Philistine temple which, once translated, basically announced to us welcome to Ekron, listing their kings, and their goddess. Most names had been unknown to us.  That inscription was uncovered 14 years after myself and others began excavating the site, and we did not even know if the site/city was Ekron until the inscribed stone was recovered. Therefore, the fact that the Inca had no written language makes it extremely unlikely that we will get to know the Inca culture well.  
Adams points out how much the Choquequirao site is similar to Machu Picchu. It is in the Sacred Valley and connects to Machu Picchu by a complex system of “Inca Trails.” Choquequirao, as Machu Picchu, was built up on a high ridge with a sacred river below and surrounded by higher peaks, apus, the mountain gods. Machu Picchu is at 2430m (8068 feet) and Choquequirao is at 3030m (10,060 feet). Choquequirao also has upper and lower terraces with a central plaza and usnu platforms where the religious rites were conducted, and as Machu Picchu has a winter solstice line passing through, so did Choquequirao. As in ancient Egypt, the Inca king was a son of the sun god, Inti, so the solstice line would be important for the Inca (king) to reinforce to his people that the sun god was with him.
So, the above presents some of what I know of Choquequirao thus far. Neither Bingham nor Adams’ accounts change my mind of trekking there. I’m confident that I will learn a lot more while on the trek and while at the site. I plan, Ojala, to get back to you about Machu Picchu’s Sister City. 

Paz, Neal Bierling

Monday, August 25, 2014

Neal Bierling, Archaeological Adventures: Getting High in Peru, Year 2: Climbing Misti, 19,3...

Neal Bierling, Archaeological Adventures: Getting High in Peru, Year 2: Climbing Misti, 19,3...: Getting High in Peru: Climbing Volcano Mt. Misti, a 19,339-foot plus Peak Arrangements for the climb were made by Katia Zegarra C...

Getting High in Peru, Year 2: Climbing Misti, 19,339 plus feet

Getting High in Peru:
Climbing Volcano Mt. Misti, a 19,339-foot plus Peak

Arrangements for the climb were made by Katia Zegarra Castaneda 946780025
and through Norma at Quechua Exploring in Arequipa, Peru (Calle Jerusalem 508) Telef: 054 282965.

A Note: Now in August 2014 I am encouraging this year’s students from EE.UU. to climb Misti as did the 2013 students; therefore, I am revising and the blogging again our 2013 climb, our rafting trip, and biking down Mt. Chachani, on which I am hoping the 2014 students will also join me. 

          We did it (2013). We successfully climbed the 19,339-foot mountain, but not without problems. All of us have been seeing that mountain on a daily basis since the beginning of August and some of the students also wanted to climb it (A few others had been sick and were unable to go up with us.). We left for the mountain Saturday around 8:30 AM in 3-4 x 4s. There were 13 of us plus three German-Swiss on vacation who asked to join the group. Even though the mountain looms in front of us, it took a while to drive on bad dirt roads to get to the drop off point on the back side of the volcanic mountain.  

On our way to Misti (above and below)

            I had spent a bit of time researching which way up would be the best for me and the students. I may have put myself first since I did not want to slow the students down in our assault of Misti. Even though this route was a bit more expensive (the 4 x 4s would have to take us to the other side of the mountain), I chose the assault on Misti which would require that the students carry all their gear, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, snacks, and 5 liters of water for 3 hours rather than 6 hours on the other routes up (Quechua Exploring gave us a very good group rate.). The 4 x 4s dropped us off at 13,600 feet and we needed to hike up to 15, 969 feet to base camp. I was glad that I made this decision after watching a few students come into base camp quite exhausted. When Misti last blew, it shot rocks, volcanic sand, and ash in avalanche fashion on our side of the mountain. The volcanic sand that we hiked up with our packs was like Michigan’s sand dune sand. We arrived at base camp at 3 PM, a 2 ½ hour slog not 3 hours, and the students went to work immediately on setting up their tents. The wind was fierce but still warm. 

The 4 x 4s have left. We are putting our packs together (above and below)

Our hike up to the base camp

Now we have to set up our tents.

            At 4 PM supper was ready, and we had supper early since the sun was on the other side of the mountain, and it would get dark and cold here soon. We had one excellent guide (Ignacio) and two very good assistants (Gaston and Angel—so we had a guardian angel watching over us whom we appreciated). We had hot veggie soup and tea plus spaghetti with tuna sauce (our two vegetarians got theirs before the tuna was added). It was not surprising that everybody retired (including the German-Swiss three) to their tents by 6 PM since the wind was fierce and it got cold. Talking continued in the tents at least in the tents near me.

Our tents at the base camp 15,969 feet.

Making supper behind a windbreak

Waiting in line for our hot food above and below

Note how we are dressed now?

No, we're not cold.

            We were woken up at 1 AM for coca tea, squeaky cheese, jam and bread. I had also made two and one-half liters of coca tea (and took along coca leaves) at our house for this trip, but I have no idea if this was why I was one of the few (other than our guides and they too were using forms of coca) with no altitude sickness. At 2 AM Sunday, we continued our assault up Misti. At base camp the temperature was just above freezing, the sleeping bag and tent were so warm and now my fingers and toes were beginning to go numb. Therefore, I had no desire to recheck the temperature as we ascended (It was 3 degrees C as we began), even though my temp gauge was attached to my backpack. Well, it was dark as well. 

(No pictures while going up; it was just too cold for my fingers to push the button.)

            I was dismayed to discover that we would be hiking up the entire 6 hours on “scree.” When Misti blew its top, it sent an avalanche of rock fragments, and volcanic sand over the top—all of this is loose material. So, for six hours it was switchback after switchback after switchback over this scree. Gaston gave me a walking stick to help me keep my balance. However, until the sun came out, my fingers were too numb to use it correctly. So, from 15,969 feet to 19,339 (plus) feet this was what we hiked up on. It was funny, that at the beginning of the hike up all of us, except for the German-Swiss, were chatting constantly. But as the elevation increased and the amount of oxygen decreased, our chatting ended. 

            Already the night before, students were asking me for high-altitude sickness medication (at the 15,969-foot base camp). Profe had told the students where to buy it, but Profe was compassionate and gave me some in case the students had not purchased any. Now, at our breaks going up (first after 1 ½ hours, then every 45 minutes), a student or two would be asking me for the medication—or, I was resupplying last night’s requests.       

            I did not have high-altitude head pains other than not getting enough oxygen into my lungs. I was slowing down drastically and wondering whether or not I should just quit. Students who noted my lethargy shouted down encouragement as did the guide Ignacio (the two assistants were helping others behind me), but I was just tired and a bit discouraged to acknowledge. 

5832m = 19,362 feet (Map has 5822m = 19,329 feet).
That's Chachani behind my hand, a plus 20,000-foot peak for next year?

Resting on the top before taking pics.

The volcanic crater—we did view puffs coming out of vents.

Well, one is up taking pics

Oops. Only me taking pics?

We're getting up. That's Arequipa down below

That's our guide Ignacio on the left and Gaston on the right.
Our other guide, Angel, is flying around somewhere.

A few are venturing closer to the crater

Some continue to rest.

            Exactly six hours later, at 8 AM, the guide and several students made it to the top. I dragged myself to the peak perhaps five minutes later and a few others dragged in after me. We spent an hour on the top, resting, taking pictures of Arequipa, the volcanic crater (still sending up plumbs of smoke), the exhausted students, and then finally we took group shots. It took us just 90 minutes to return to base camp because we slid down the scree. It took us less than an hour to go from the base camp to the 4 x 4s since we were sliding down dunes of volcanic sand to the vehicles. We had 3- 4 x 4s, but mine got stuck in the volcanic sand when attempting to return to Arequipa so another one of our 4 x 4s towed us out. 

Group shot.

Guide Ignacio took this shot for me.

            We all made it back and several students told me that all of them had thoughts like mine, that he/she would not make it to the top. Plus, several of us had a similar problem; as we tried to take a deep breathe, our throats hurt. We all agreed that it was a great but exhausting experience (Misti is there), and that they (and me) would not do it again. “But, please Neal, do set it up for next year, except, no details of the scree.” In fact, Megan made the comment, “This is the best miserable thing I’ve ever done.” Carmen DB mentioned, as did the others, that this was worth the effort but never again.
            As we were sliding down the scree on the descent, I saw the tents below and did NOT realize that this was our base camp. It looked so barren, so like nothing surrounded by nothing, and I said to myself, once realization set in---this is our camp? We camped in scree covered by a few rocks? However, we made it. We did it; it was there and we did. Praise the Lord. 

This is our base camp in daylight as we begin to take our tents down.

The peak and all the scree going up to 19,339 plus feet.

Very little vegetation and a bit of colorful lichen on the rocks.

            Thanks to Quechua Exploring for giving us excellent guides including the very veteran climber Ignacio, his very capable assistant Gaston, and our guardian assistant Angel. We also used this company for our rafting trip, and I used them earlier for biking down Mt. Chachani. Paz y Shalom, Neal Bierling.