Tag: South America

The Most Outrageous Festivals in the World

The Most Outrageous Festivals in the World

Weird, Wild, and Wonderful. Here are the Most Outrageous Festivals in the World.

I’ve been thinking about festivals lately. Festivals are a strange thing. They can start as a goofy way for a few people to kill time and grow over the years until they are major, multiple-day events drawing crowds from all over the world. The best festivals are loved and adored by the locals, yet make no sense to anyone visiting from another area. Some of the most outrageous festivals in the world have deep roots in tradition and lore. This is what makes them special, and if you’re lucky enough to participate in one, even as an outsider, you’ve had the experience of a lifetime.

Here are the most outrageous festivals in the world….

La Tomatina – Spain

Tens of thousands of people flock to the Valencian town of Buñol, Spain, on the last Wednesday of August to participate in a festival known as La Tomatina. If you think that sounds like it might have something to do with tomatoes, you are correct. Over 300,000 pounds of tomatoes, to be precise!

The tomatoes are shipped into the Plaza del Pueblo at the center of the town. When the cannon sounds, it’s every man for himself as one of the world’s biggest food fights begins. Festival goers rush toward the tomatoes and begin lobbing them at each other, resulting in a huge red mess.

Most Outrageous Festivals: La Tomatina in Spain is one of the world's biggest food fights.
Source

If it sounds like it could be dangerous, have no fear. There are six rules that keep it safe:

  1. Do not throw bottles or hard objects.
  2. Do not tear or throw tee-shirts.
  3. Squash tomatoes before throwing them to avoid hurting others.
  4. Keep a safe distance from trucks.
  5. Stop throwing tomatoes after the second starter pistol shot.
  6. Follow the directions of security staff.

Also, I’d recommend wearing something to protect your eyes, such as swimming goggles or mask.

According to Wikipedia, the festival has its roots in a 1945 altercation. Some young boys decided to take part in a “Giants and Big-Heads” parade. The big head of one participant’s costume fell off, at which point he flew into a fit of rage and began hitting everything in his path. Pandemonium broke loose and a market stall of vegetables fell victim to the fury of the crowd as people began pelting each other with tomatoes. It continued until the local forces ended the battle.

The following year, some young people engaged in a pre-planned quarrel and brought their own tomatoes from home. Although the police broke it up, this began the tradition. In the following years, the young boys’ example had unwittingly made history.

If you plan to go, you should know that admission requires a ticket, and lodging in Buñol is scarce.

If you have an aversion to tomatoes, or find that you really enjoy large scale food fights as an adult, there are other, similar festivals elsewhere in the world. For example:

  • Els Enfarinats Festival (Flour Fight) – Ibi, Alicante, Spain, December 28
  • Throwing Of The Grapes Festival – Middle Swan, Western Australia in February and Binissalem, Mallorca, Spain, in late September
  • Battle of the Oranges –  Ivrea, Italy, a few days before Lent begins

Surva – Bulgaria

Surva is also known as the International Festival of Masquerade Games. It is held over the course of three days in Pernik Bulgaria (near Sofia), usually in late January.

Masquerade rituals come from old pagan times and are still alive in the Bulgarian folklore tradition. The symbolic meaning of the dancing rituals is related to the end of the old year and the advent of the new and to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life. These rituals represent the wish for a rich harvest, health and fertility for humans and farm animals. They are intended to chase away the evil spirits and prepare people for a new beginning.

The masks, according to folklore beliefs, protect from the harmful influence of impure powers. The masks feature feathers and traditional symbols. Everything is made of leather and natural materials, exactly as it was done in the past. The sound of the bells hanging from the belts of the dancers reinforces the protective properties of the masks.

The festival features a massive costumed parade with over 100 international groups, bonfires and light shows. Spectators can interact freely with performers along the parade routes and on the improvised stages arranged throughout the town. Surva also features interesting outdoor exhibitions and vendors of traditional Bulgarian arts and crafts throughout the town.

Kanamara Matsuri Festival – Japan

I’m just going to come right out and say it. This festival is all about the penis. Yes, that’s right. If you haven’t yet heard of or seen pictures from the Kanamara Matsuri Festival in Japan, prepare to be amazed….

The festival is a Shinto celebration whose name means “Festival of the Steel Phallus” in Japanese, and it centers around a shrine in Kawasaki Japan.

The shrine’s origin story holds that a jealous sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of a young woman with whom the demon had fallen in love. The demon bit off penises of two young men on their wedding nights. After that the woman sought help from a blacksmith, who fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon’s teeth, which led to the enshrinement of the item.

The Kanayama Shrine was popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection from sexually transmitted infections. The shrine also offers divine protections for business prosperity, and for the clan’s prosperity; and for easy delivery, marriage, and married-couple harmony.

The festival started in 1969 and is held every year on the first Sunday in April. Today, the festival has become something of a tourist attraction and is used to raise money for HIV research.

As for what the festival actually looks like… well, if you are easily embarrassed, you might want to skip this one. There are literally penises – and, in the interest of equal rights – vaginas everywhere. Lollipops made to resemble genitalia, giant wooden penises, people with penis masks covering their head, penis souvenirs, vegetables carved into the shape of penises, and so much more.

Ducasse de Mons – Belgium

Also known as Doudou, this festival happens every year on Trinity Sunday (8 weeks after Easter) in the town of Mons, Belgium.

Back in 1349, the town of Mon suffered, like so many other places in Europe at the time, from an outbreak of the Plague. Town leaders decided to organize a procession through the town with the shrine of Waltrude, the patron saint of Mons. According to legend, the plague disappeared following the procession – a miracle!

Needless to say, the leaders thought they had done something incredibly right, so they made the procession an annual tradition. It has continued to take place every year since then, except during the French Revolution, both World Wars, and in the year 1803.

There are many activities associated with the festival, such as live music performances, a street sale, and children’s events. However, the core of the festivities are the procession and the battle.

The procession takes place the evening before Trinity Sunday. As part of a religious ceremony, the Priest removes the shrine from its Altar in Sainte-Waudru Collegiat Church and gives it to the town authorities for the duration of the festival. Then a torch-lit procession winds its way through the streets. On the morning of Trinity Sunday, the shrine is placed on a gilded cart, and pulled through the streets by draft horses. The carriage is accompanied by several guilds that represent the history of the region. At the end of the procession, the Car d’Or has to climb a steep, cobblestone street, the Rampe Sainte-Waudru. To help the horses with the immense weight, hundreds of people gather behind to push. Local superstition holds that if the Car d’Or doesn’t reach the top of the hill in one go, the city will suffer great misfortune.

The battle portion of the festivities, called Lumeçon, takes place on Trinity Sunday in the afternoon. It represents the fight between good and evil. On the side of good, you have Saint George riding horseback, protected by a group men dressed in white and others called chinchins (representing dogs). A 30 foot long dragon accompanied by devils and a group of men covered in ivy fight on the side of evil.

Photo via Flickr by David Taquin

Each devil carries a cow bladder full of air. With this weapon, they knock the chinchins and the spectators who have gathered around the arena. The dragon attacks Saint George with his tail, and also attacks the public. People try to take the hair off the tail because they believe it brings luck for a year.

While it may sound like total pandemonium, it’s important to note that the combat is precisely choreographed. Saint George on his horse turns clockwise, and the dragon turns in the other direction. Saint George tries to kill the dragon with his lance, but the lance always breaks upon contact. He then uses a pistol and finally kills the dragon on the third try. At 13:00 (1 p.m.), the carillon of Mons rings and the battle is over until next year.

Following the battle, the celebrations continue into the evening with a grand pageant of actors, musicians, and singers.

The Maiden Fair Of Mount Gaina – Romania

Mount Gaina (which means Chicken Mountain) was once a place where families used to bring their adolescent children and arrange weddings. The young women went to great lengths to prepare for the gathering, packing up their dowry in elaborately sculpted trunks. The weight of the dowry was then measured against the weight of the girl, to make sure it was of a sufficient size. Another key ritual was dancing, to ensure that the girl didn’t have a lame leg. If a couple got together following these rituals, one of the priests in attendance could marry them on the spot.

The practical origins of this celebration stem from the fact that the inhabitants of the Sunset (Apuseni) Mountains do not live close together. The houses are miles apart and travel through the mountains is not easily done. Mount Gaina served as a convenient place to enable them to meet and keep in touch.

The not-so-practical origins come from a legend about a hen that laid golden eggs. Once per year, the people would gather their children to meet the hen. When the hen was ready to descend, it would flap its wings and turn itself into a lovely fairy. Then it would hand over its golden eggs to a newly wedded couple. This was considered a symbol of happiness for them in their future life together. But tragedy struck. When the hen was descending, the devil took away all of its golden eggs ran off with them. Once the hen turned around and saw that her eggs had been taken, she left and never came back. Since then, the people of Romania gather together at the mountain with a hope that the fairy/hen will appear again.

Most Outrageous Festivals: The Maiden Fair in Romania is all about matchmaking... and golden eggs.
The festival takes place every year in the village of Avram Iancu, Romania, on the Sunday closest to July 20. It attracts people from all regions of the country. The festivities include music, traditional dances, and handicrafts.

Perchten – Austria

In Austria’s pagan past, Perchta was a goddess whose role was as a “guardian of the beasts.” Her other job was to oversee the spinning of wool.

She had two very different physical appearances – either as light and beautiful or elderly and haggard. In many old descriptions, Perchta had one large foot, sometimes called a goose foot or swan foot, perhaps for working the treadle as she did her spinning.

Perchta enters homes during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (especially on the Twelfth Night). She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. She was particularly concerned to see that girls had spun the whole of their allotted portion of flax or wool during the year. If the children did their work in earnest, they might find a small silver coin the next day as their reward.

If the children had not done their work, however, she would slit their bellies open, remove stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles. (Yikes!) She would also slit people’s bellies open and stuff them with straw if they ate something on the night of her feast day other than the traditional meal of fish and gruel.

Nice gal, huh? Nowadays, thankfully, people omit a lot of the gruesome details. Perchta is a “rewarder of the generous, and punisher of the bad, particularly lying children.”

The Austrian region of Pongau holds large Perchten processions every year. Participants wear masks; some beautiful, some hideous. Beautiful masks encourage financial windfalls, and the ugly masks drive away evil spirits.

The wooden masks resemble animals such as wolf, bear, eagle, etc. They have enormous fangs, tusks and/or horns. In some areas, the animal masks purposely lack ears, so they do not have to hear the painful screams of their victims. The Pongau region of Austria is home to the biggest and most striking Perchten festivals, with the most notable in Gastein, Altenmarkt, St. Johann, and Bischofshofen.

Up Helly Aa – Shetland

In Lerwick, the capital of the remote Scottish islands known collectively as Shetland, a fire festival takes place each year on the last Tuesday of January. Some time around 1840 the traditional Antonsmas festivities grew to include burning tar barrels. Despite the fact that this particular tradition could be hazardous in the narrow winding streets of Lerwick, it lasted for 30 years.

Around 1870, some enterprising young men sought to change the festival, setting the stage for the modern Up Helly Aa traditions still celebrated today. For starters, they were the ones who established the name and the date of the festival. But they also introduced the element of wearing disguises, or “guizing,” and the torchlit procession through town.

Most Outrageous Festivals: The Guizer Jarl of Up Helly Aa in Shetland
Up Helly Aa’s Guizer Jarl. (Photo via Flickr by Captain Oates)

The head of the festivities is the Guizer Jarl, who leads his Jarl Squad on a procession through the town on the morning of Up Helly Aa day. Following a visit to the British Legion and a reading of the official Up Helly Aa proclamation, they assemble at the ferry terminal for an official photograph. At a by-invitation-only reception at town hall, the Guizer Jarl receives freedom of the town for 24 hours.

The Guizer Jarl and his Squad visit schools, retirement homes, and the local hospital. Then they stop at the Shetland Museum before heading to an afternoon tea and final preparations for the evening’s festivities.

Because of the northern location of Shetland, the nighttime festivities start around 5:30 in the evening. The Junior procession comes first. The juniors are high school boys who have built their own galley (Viking ship) and carry torches through the town as they follow it to the burning site.

Around 7:30 pm, the Jarl Squad light their torches – around 900 of them! They walk through the town and, when all the torchbearers arrive at the final resting spot of the longship, they form a circle round it and sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song. As soon as the song ends, they throw their torches onto the ship and watch as it burns. Once the longship has burned and the flames die down, guizers sing the traditional song “The Norseman’s Home” before going on to a night of partying. Any available large room become a festival hall, presided over by a hostess who issues invitations to attend, and every guizer squad visits every hall in turn to dance and drink with the guests. As there can be dozens of squads and dozens of halls, this takes most of the night and well into the following morning!

Ain’t no party like a Viking party…

Las Bolas del Fuego – El Salvador

The town of Nejapa in El Salvador holds this fireball festival on August 31 every year. The celebration has two origins – one historical and the other religious. The historical version explains that the local volcano El Playon erupted in November, 1658 and forced the villagers of the old Nejapa village (known as Nixapa) to flee and settle at its current location. The religious version explains how San Jeronimo fought the Devil with balls of fire.

Festival goers enjoy eating tamales and drinking coffee while waiting for the big event. The celebration begins with a music festival and when night falls, the balls of fire start burning. Each ball consists of a bundle of rags tied up with wire. In preparation for the festival, the rag balls soak in flammable liquid (kerosene or gasoline) for about a month.

The brave combatants wear fireproof gloves and wet clothes as a precaution. Once the battle begins, they throw their flaming fireballs at each other while trying to not get hit.

Santa Marta de Ribarteme – Spain

This festival in the Galician town of As Neves celebrates near death experiences. Individuals who have had a near death experience attend the July 29 festival in a coffin, believe it or not. Relatives of the nearly departed carry the coffin through the streets to the church that holds a shrine to Santa Marta de Ribarteme, the saint of resurrection.

There, they pray to Santa Marta (Martha, the sister of Lazarus, the man whom Jesus raised from the dead). The prayer goes something like this: Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death. Then they give thanks for their lives and give a gift to the Saint, usually in the form of money.

Following a mass, which is projected across the village using loudspeakers, the procession walks to the local cemetery and then back to the church with a large statue of Santa Marta overseeing the celebrations. These celebrations include fireworks, music, and partying that carries on into the night.

Songkran – Thailand

In Thailand, new year comes in mid-April, and is celebrated in a most unusual way: massive water fights. In the traditional Songkran celebration, people carry figures of Buddha into the streets for a ritual cleansing. Tossing water at the statues supposedly washed away bad luck for the coming year. As with many festivals, things can escalate and go a bit over the top. In some parts of Thailand, what started as a dousing of statues has evolved into an all out water war.

Most Outrageous Festivals: Songkran in Thailand is a Massive Scale Water Fight
Photo via Flickr by John Shedrick

Celebrants at this festival use water guns, buckets, hoses… even elephants with a trunk full of water! In Thailand, this goes on for five days: April 12-16 every year. If you go, please keep in mind that while the festival seems like silly fun it is also a religious holiday for many Thai citizens. Behave respectfully. At no time should you be without a shirt in public, male or female. It is considered indecent and may land you with a fine or jail time.

Most Outrageous Festivals in the World
Ten of the craziest, most outrageous festivals in the world, from the Japanese penis festival to a gigantic water fight, and so much more…
The Penguin Capital of the World (No, it isn’t Antarctica)

The Penguin Capital of the World (No, it isn’t Antarctica)

Where is the Penguin Capital of the World?

Information you might need for your next trivia battle:  There are 18 species of penguins in the world, and most of them do not live in Antarctica.

That’s right, Antarctica is not the penguin capital of the world. Believe it or not, that title belongs to the Falkland Islands, which roughly one million penguins call home. The Falkland Islands are perhaps best known as the site of a 74 day territorial dispute between the UK and Argentina in 1982. (The British won what is now referred to as the Falklands War, and they maintained ownership of the islands as they have done since 1833.)

The Falklands’ OTHER Claim to Fame

What makes this little group of islands the penguin capital of the world?  Well, out of the aforementioned 18 species, five of them have colonies on the Falkland Islands. Antarctica, on the other hand, is only home to four species of penguin.

Visitors to the Falklands may encounter one or more of the five penguin species who call the islands home:

1. King Penguins

These are the second largest penguins in the world, typically 28-39 inches tall and weighing 20-40 pounds. They can dive up to 1000 feet, and spend up to five minutes underwater. They do not make nests for their eggs, but rather carry their eggs around with them at all times by keeping the egg on top of their feet.

Penguin Capital of the World: King Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

2. Rockhopper Penguins

Smaller than their King cousins, Rockhopper penguins only measure about 20 inches tall. Their distinguishing features are red eyes and pink webbed feet. They also have yellow and black spiky feathers on their head. Their Latin name, eudyptes chrysocome, means “golden haired good diver.”

Penguin Capital of the World: Rockhopper Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

3. Gentoo Penguins

These penguins have a wide white stripe across the top of their head. They are the third largest penguin species, measuring 20 to 35 inches. They are the fastest underwater swimmers among penguins, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. Gentoos will not breed in ice-covered areas.

Penguin Capital of the World: Gentoo Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

4. Magellanic Penguins

Named for the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed around the southern tip of South America, these penguins. Their most distinguishing feature is that they have two horizontal black bands between the head and the breast. Magellanics always lay two eggs, and the parents take turns sitting on the nest and hunting for food during the 40-day incubation period.

Penguin Capital of the World: Magellanic Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

5. Macaroni Penguins

These penguins, like their Rockhopper kin, have bright yellow-orange plumes on their head. Their name comes from the term used in 18th-century England to describe fashions with flamboyant or excessive ornamentation. A person who adopted this fashion was labelled a macaroni, as in the song “Yankee Doodle.”

Penguin Capital of the World: Macaroni Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.
Image of Macaroni penguin via Flickr by Liam Quinn.

What Else Is There?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Falklands don’t have anything to offer visitors except penguin sightings. This South Atlantic archipelago is teeming with other nature and wildlife. It also boasts an unpolluted environment with clear blue skies, vast open spaces and stunning beaches.

The Penguin Capital of the World: The Falkland Islands are made up of an archipelago of over 700 islands.
Map of the Falklands

There are over 700 islands in the archipelago, but the two largest are East Island and West Island. The capital city of Stanley, and the majority of the Islands’ population, are on the East Island. The islands vary a great deal in climate and wildlife. The western islands are drier and sunnier, while the eastern islands experience a lot of rainfall.

Besides penguins, there are many other unusual birds to see in the Falklands. For example, over 70% of the world’s black-browed albatross breed around the islands. You may also spot South American terns, striated caracara, white chinned petrel, imperial shag, and many others.

The Falkland Islands, Penguin Capital of the World, is also home to 70% of the black-browed albatross nest sites in the world.
A black-browed albatross. Photo via Flickr by blachswan

And the varied wildlife of the Falklands doesn’t stop with birds. There are some fantastic opportunities to sight marine animals too.  The Falklands are home to seals and sea lions, orca, whales, dolphins, and more.

Because of the islands’ sparse population and semi-remote location, there is a lot of unspoiled nature to enjoy, from beaches to mountains. The offshore islands in the west have jagged cliff tops and rugged peaks, some dropping steeply. Others sweep down to white sand beaches, inviting coves and boulder-strewn shores. West Falkland has a rock formation known as “Indian Village” because of its wigwam-like shapes. In contrast, the small islands to the east are flatter – but no less scenic – with open land and magnificent seashores.

The Falkland Islands are the Penguin Capital of the World, but they also offer visitors plenty of gorgeous scenery to admire too, such as Gypsy Cove.
Gypsy Cove. Photo via Flickr by nimdok.

So How Do I Get There?

Long story short: It isn’t cheap or easy. As with any island, you can only reach the Falklands by plane or boat. Flights to the Falklands depart year round from Santiago de Chile. Cruise ships, many of which continue on to Antarctica, visit the islands during the high season of December-February.

Only one location on earth can boast that it's home to five species of penguins, and it isn't Antarctica. Click here to discover what's the Penguin Capital of the World.
Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Why Uruguay?

I’ve had an interest in Uruguay since my college days, when I represented Uruguay in a model OAS. In doing my research on the small South American country, I discovered it was an often overlooked but quite extraordinary country. Its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, get all the attention (and tourism), but Uruguay has quite a lot to offer its visitors. Here’s my Uruguay Top Ten list:

1. Montevideo

No visit to Uruguay would be complete without spending some time in its vibrant capital city. Take a stroll along La Rambla, the ten mile promenade that separates the city proper from the sea. While you’re doing that, cross over La Rambla and spend some time enjoying one of the city’s beautiful beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: No visit to Montevideo would be complete without strolling along La Rambla.
Photo of La Rambla & beach in Montevideo via Flickr by Andre S Ribeiro

If history and architecture interest you, go to Plaza Independencia and from there explore the older part of the city. Be sure to look for the old city walls and gate! And for more on Montevideo history – as well as outstanding views over the city – be sure to visit Fortaleza del Cerro a military fortress-turned-museum located at the highest point of the city.

2. Hot Springs Near Salto

The Guaraní Aquifer, one of the largest groundwater reservoirs in the world, is located in northwestern Uruguay near the city of Salto. In Uruguay, this water system has temperatures ranging between 100º and 115°.

As a result of their high mineral content, the hot springs are ideal for relaxing baths and also digestive remedies. The area has capitalized upon this by improving infrastructure and supporting the development of many hot spring resorts.

Uruguay Top Ten: The Hot Springs near Salto make for a relaxing swim.
Photo of Termas del Arapey via Flickr by todo tiempo pasado fue mejor 

After enjoying the water, stroll through Salto, which is the second most populated city in Uruguay. The downtown area is full of historic monuments, shops, interesting architecture, and cafes. Other attractions in Salto include a zoo, a water park, and a riverside walking path.

3. La Mano en la Arena

This literally translates to A Hand in the Sand.  And that’s exactly what it is. Located on the popular Punta del Este beach (see below), it is a sculpture of five fingers emerging from the sand.

Uruguay Top Ten: See the hand in the sand at the popular Punta del Este beach.
Photo of La Mano By CoolcaesarOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal made the sculpture in the summer of 1982. He sought to make a sculpture of a hand “drowning” as a warning to swimmers. In fact, the sculpture is also known as Monumento al Ahogado (Monument to the Drowning Man). The artist made three replicas of the sculpture – one is in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one is in Madrid, and the third is in Venice.

4. Casapueblo

Casapueblo is a sprawling, vivid white estate near Punta del Este. Originally, Casapueblo served as a a summer house and workshop of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Today, the building houses a museum, an art gallery, a cafeteria and a hotel.

Uruguay Top Ten: Casapueblo is an artist's former home with a stunningly unique design.
Photo of Casapueblo via Flickr by pviojo

Built of whitewashed cement and stucco, the building may remind you of the architecture seen in Santorini, Greece. The artist said that he drew inspiration from the nest of the Hornero, a South American bird known for building mud nests with chambers inside them. It has thirteen floors with terraces facing the waters of the Atlantic ocean. The construction has a staggered shape that allows better more/views of the ocean.

5. Museo del Gaucho y la Moneda

Two museums sharing a three story rococo mansion in Montevideo – what more could you ask for? The Museo del Gaucho contains exhibits about South America’s version of what we call a cowboy – el gaucho.

Uruguay Top Ten: Be sure to visit the Museo del Gaucho in Montevideo.
Photo of two gauchos via Flickr by Vince Alongi

Here you’ll find items from the gauchos’ everyday life, from traditional garb to the detailed silver work on the cups used for drinking mate. The second museum (la Moneda) deals with coin, and contains many examples of ancient South American and European coins.

6. Mercado del Puerto

I love shopping in Latin American markets, where the selection is vast, the colors are vibrant, and the prices are negotiable.

Uruguay Top Ten: Mercado del Puerto is a must for shopping and steakhouses.
Photo of Mercado del Puerto via Flickr by El Coleccionista de Instantes

At Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, you will find everything you can imagine – souvenirs, antiques, leather goods, hand crafted items, and of course, delicious meats. Be sure to eat at one of the steak houses there.  You will not be disappointed!

7. Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento is a small city in southwestern Uruguay. Founded in 1680, the town’s historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. As you might expect in a city this old, visitors are able to walk through cobblestone streets to the Plaza Mayor.

Uruguay Top Ten: The City Gate at Colonia del Sacramento, founded in 1680.
Photo of the city gate and wooden drawbridge at Colonia del Sacramento by User:HalloweenHJB, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Many points of interest can be explored from there, including the city gate and wooden drawbridge, lighthouse and convent ruins, two museums, and the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, built in 1808.

8. Punta del Este

Punta del Este is a tremendously popular tourist destination, with over 1 million visitors annually. It has been given several comparative nicknames, including “the Monaco of the South”, “The Pearl of the Atlantic”, “the Hamptons of South America”, and “the St. Tropez of South America.” In addition to the Punta del Este sites on this list (La Mano and Casapueblo), there are a few other attractions worth checking out when you visit.

Uruguay Top Ten: The pirate exhibit at the Museum of the Sea in Punta del Este.
Photo of pirate exhibit at the Museo del Mar in Punta del Este by FedaroOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One particular attraction that I would recommend is the Museo del Mar (Museum of the Sea), which contains over 5,000 specimens of marine animals, including whale skeletons, sea urchins, starfish and turtle shells. In addition, there are exhibits about beach attire and habits of the early 20th century, navigational tools, and famous pirates.

9. Punta del Diablo

Don’t let the name fool you, Punta del Diablo is a heavenly place to visit! This little village is very popular and growing more so every year. It has a temperate climate (70°-80° in the summer; 50°-60° in the winter), great views of the ocean, and stunning beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: Punta del Diablo offers visitors wide expanses of beach for recreation.
Photo of the beach at Punto del Diablo via Flickr by Vince Alongi.

In addition to the beaches, where locals and visitors are often seen in the summer gathered around fires playing guitars and singing songs, Punto del Diablo has other points of interest. Parque Nacional Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa National Park) offers 60 km of hiking trails and the potential for a whale sightings along the shore during summer. Another popular attraction is the Centro de Tortugas Marinas (Center for Sea Turtles). It is located near a popular foraging site for sea turtles, the waters off the beaches of Barra del Chuy to Punta del Diablo.

10. Wine Tasting in the Canelones Region

Uruguay’s wine industry began in the 1870s when Tannat was introduced by Basque immigrants. Since then, Tannat has become Uruguay’s signature varietal, producing rich, full-bodied red wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors.

Uruguay Top Ten: Uruguay has many wineries in the Canelones region.

The wine is food friendly and traditionally paired with beef and lamb as well as pastas and strong cheeses. Named for its high tannin content, Tannat has been found to be the healthiest of red wines due to its high antioxidant and resveratrol levels which can aid in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. (See? Wine is good for you!)

There are at least a dozen wineries in this region, all fairly close to each other, so it would be easy to visit several and learn more about the wines produced in this part of South America.

And Just for Fun:

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Uruguay

  1. Uruguay is a socially progressive country. It was the first nation in Latin America to establish a welfare state, the first in the world to provide every child in school with a free laptop and wifi access (2009), and the first in the world to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana (2013).
  2. Although marijuana is legal in Uruguay, it is illegal for a non-Uruguayan to purchase marijuana there.
  3. In the 2018 Global Peace Index, Uruguay ranked as the 37th safest country in the world – the second highest ranking country in South America.  (By comparison, the USA’s rank is 121 and the UK’s is 57.)
  4. Cows outnumber people in Uruguay by a margin of four to one.
  5. Uruguay is the only county in South America that lies completely outside the tropics.
  6. Uruguay’s national anthem clocks in at over five minutes, making it the longest in the world.
  7. Less than half the population of Uruguay is Catholic, making it the least religious country in South America. Many of the Catholic holidays have different names in Uruguay. Christmas is Family Day, Holy Week (Easter) is called Tourism Week, and so on.
  8. Uruguay was home to the “World’s Poorest President,” José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano. Mujica served as President from 2010 to 2015, and earned the nickname because of his humble way of life. He donated about 90% of his income as President to charity, refused to live in the Presidential Palace, and drove a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
  9. The unofficial national motto of Uruguay dates back to the 19th century and is still repeated today: “Because here nobody is better than anybody else.”
  10. The Rio de la Plata, which forms part of Uruguay’s border with Argentina, is the widest river in the world, with a width of 140 miles at its mouth.
URUGUAY TOP TEN: The ten best destinations in Uruguay that should be on  your bucket list.
Are You Being Spied on When You Travel?

Are You Being Spied on When You Travel?

Just Imagine This:

Say you go on vacation and later discover, to your horror, that there is a hidden camera in your hotel. Most recently, it was an Airbnb lodging that had a hidden camera in the smoke detector. But it could just as easily happen in a hotel room. Just ask Erin Andrews, the Fox Sports reporter who was secretly filmed through her hotel room’s peephole.

hidden camera
Photo via Flickr by Monchoocnom

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent being spied on when you travel. Here’s how.

1. Know Where to Look – Which Room?

There are basically two reasons why someone would use a hidden camera. Either they want to make sure you don’t steal anything, or they want to catch you naked. If it’s the first option, you should be looking for cameras near items of value (high end electronics in the living room, for instance). If it’s the second, the bathroom and bedroom are the most likely locations.

2. Know Where to Look – Where Is It Hidden?

There are a million different ways/places to hide a small camera. Some examples of everyday objects that could be hiding a camera are a hidden camera wall charger, a clock, a pen, a light bulb, a smoke detector, a key chain, a clothes hook, and a picture frame.

It’s easy to slide from “protecting my privacy” into full-fledged paranoia when you think about all of the places they could be. But take a deep breath and approach it rationally. Here are a few pointers on where and how to look for hidden cameras. First, remember that a hidden camera cannot work without an exposed lens. So look for anything that might conceal (but not cover) a small lens.

Also, if you’re renting a home, check anything that looks like it was accidentally left behind by the owner. I’ve seen cameras concealed in water bottles and coffee cups. Did the owners leave a gym bag out? How about a shirt with buttons? Tissue boxes and pens are another likely spot.

Consider the placement of a camera when looking. It will most likely be on the periphery of a room, facing the center where people will be spending time. Or it may be facing a mirror that will capture the events of a room. If you see a mirror hanging in an odd place, that would be a good area to examine.

hidden camera

3. What to Do When You Aren’t Sure

If you can’t rely on your eyes to spot a camera, try your ears. Many cameras have motion detectors, and are dormant until someone or something moves in front of them. In an absolutely quiet room, you may be able to hear a click or whir sound as the camera activates.

Some people recommend using the flashlight of your phone to look for hidden cameras. Because camera lenses are glass, they will reflect light. Shine your flashlight around a dark room very slowly and look for the glint of a reflection.

4. Fight Fire with Fire (or Tech with Tech)

If your accommodation has wifi, you can use a network analysis app to see how many devices are connected to the network. If there’s no hidden camera installed, you should only see the router and your phone listed. If you see more than that, there is a possibility that a hidden camera is installed on the property. Something listed other than the router and your phone could be another “smart” device in the household, so keep that in mind before jumping to conclusions.

If all of this just sounds like too much work, I’m inclined to agree. After all, who wants to spend precious vacation time looking for something the size of a screw head? Not to mention being paranoid about the possibility of overlooking one.

Fortunately, there is a gadget that will help you find any hidden cameras in your lodging, and they aren’t expensive. I recommend this  Hidden Camera RF Signal Detector, which is in the $15-$20 range. For a professional grade device, you could get this Anti-Spy Amplification Signal Detector instead or about $80. In both cases, you don’t have to do much more than turn the gadget on.

Even cheaper is an app for your phone that will detect hidden cameras. There are many available, for both iPhone or Android, and they run $2-$5.

5. Okay, I Found One… Now What?

First and foremost, take pictures of the hidden camera and its location. Report it to management (hotel desk or Airbnb, whichever the case may be.) Then contact local authorities, as secretly filming someone in a private residence may be illegal in that location. If you’re really angry about it, you can use social media or place a call to local reporters. Third, find yourself another place to stay.

What not to do:  Do not destroy the camera. Do not angrily confront the property owner. Do not stay there after discovering the hidden camera.

If you’ve ever found a hidden camera in your lodging, I want to hear about it.  Leave a comment below!

 

Hidden Camera
5 essential tips for making sure you are not being secretly filmed in your lodging when you travel.

Disclosures:

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Pinterest image via Flickr by kimubert.

Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to Peru

Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to Peru

Peru Travel Tips

Even though I had been to Peru before and was comfortable with the idea of traveling there, I was still a little surprised (or at least reminded) about the quirkier aspects of traveling in this South American country.  Here are some important Peru travel tips.

1. You will need your passport, even when you think you don’t.

peru travel tips machu picchu passport
US Passport

I knew I would need my passport to leave the US and enter Peru (and vice versa) but what I didn’t know was that we would also need our passports to travel within Peru. When we flew from Lima to Cusco, we needed to show our passports. We also needed them when we bought tickets for the bus that ferries tourists up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. And when we entered Machu Picchu, we needed to show our passports. I learned to just keep my passport with me at all times in a zippered pouch that hung around my neck. I always had it with me, but didn’t need to worry about losing it.

2. Before leaving the airport is the best time to change money, buy SIM card, get information.

peru travel tips airport baggage claim currency exchange sim card

When you arrive in the luggage claim section of the Lima Airport, you will see some kiosks set up in between the baggage carousels.  There are three that are particularly helpful.  First is an information desk, which is a great place to get recommendations, directions, etc.  Second is a cellular phone provider. Buy yourself a local prepaid SIM card and forego paying for international roaming charges. Third is a currency exchange kiosk. Some may disagree, but I found that the rates at the airport kiosk were comparable to those elsewhere in the city, and the convenience factor was a big plus.

3. You don’t have to know Spanish, but it sure does help.

peru travel tips spanish

Nearly everywhere we went in Peru, we found individuals who spoke English.  However, we did notice that when I spoke Spanish with people, they were more receptive, helpful and friendly. While they might view my tendency to only speak in the present tense as quirky or improper, they appreciated the fact that I was at least making an effort to speak in their language rather than expecting them to speak in mine.

4. You can bring luggage on the train to Machu Picchu

peru travel tips luggage on train t o aguas calientes machu picchu

Everything I read when I was planning our trip said that no luggage was allowed on the trains to Aguas Calientes.  As far as I could tell, that left me with three options: (1) find out if we could leave our luggage at the place we were staying after checking out, (2) pay for an extra night at the apartment, and leave the majority of our things there, or (3) be a rule-breaker and bring the luggage, pretending I didn’t know about that rule.  I went with option 2. We put toiletries and a change of clothes in a backpack and left everything else in the apartment we were renting.  Imagine my surprise when I boarded and saw a sturdy luggage rack right by the door.  So yes, you can take luggage with you.

5. Learn to say “no, gracias.” A lot.

peru travel tips no gracias street vendors

We could not walk, stand, or sit anywhere in Cusco without being approached by someone who wanted to sell us something.  Sunglasses, tours, bags, hats, jewelry, decorative gourds, shoe shines, and so on.  It only took one afternoon to see that this would be an ongoing issue.  At first we listened politely and declined politely, but we soon learned that these vendors would not take no for an answer.  After that first afternoon, we learned to keep our eyes down, our pace brisk, and a “no, gracias, ” on the tip of the tongue, ready to turn the street vendor away.

6. Don’t wait for the waiters to bring your check.

peru travel tips dining out restaurants

If you finish your meal and sit around the table waiting for your waiter to bring the check, you will be there a long time.  Americans tend to get in, eat, and get out, but we are in the minority when in comes to dining out.  You will find neither hovering nor impatient waitstaff in Peruvian restaurants. When you are ready to leave, simply motion to your server and ask for the bill (cuenta in Spanish).

7. A double room might not be what you think it is.

I booked a double room at a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the three of us.  I assumed that it would be like a hotel room in the States – two double beds, bathroom, TV, and some furniture in which to place clothing. Imagine my surprise when we arrived and discovered that a double room was two twin size beds.  Fortunately, they had a room available that could accommodate three people without one having to sleep on the floor.  Be sure to ask when booking what size bed(s) you will have in your room.

8. Lima’s rush hour can mess up your plans.

peru travel tips rush hour traffic

I heard from more than one taxi driver in Lima that their evening rush hour lasts from 5:00 until 9:00 PM every weekday.  What I didn’t hear was how that could adversely affect our plans.  It became glaringly obvious on our last day in the City of Kings when we found ourselves near the Plaza de Armas around 5:00 PM, needing to get a cab back to Miraflores where a driver would be picking us up at 8:00 PM to take us to the airport. Nearly every cab that passed us already had a passenger.  One cab stopped but when we told him we wanted to go to Miraflores, he drove off, unwilling to drive that far in rush hour traffic.  We walked for a while, stopped and ate dinner at a KFC, and walked some more.  We called for an Uber car twice; they never showed up.  Finally someone stopped and asked if we needed a taxi. We reached the apartment at 8:10 PM.  Fortunately, our driver was waiting for us and we made it to the airport on time.

9. The Toilets.

peru travel tips rest room toilet

I will try not to be too indelicate, but the toilets in Peru are different from what we are used to here. While some are exactly the same, others are noticeably different.  The first glaringly obvious difference is that many do not have seats. The second big difference is that in most places, you are not supposed to flush your toilet paper.  The infrastructure is not equipped to handle it.  So regardless of what you do in the toilet, you are supposed to fold up your used toilet paper and place it in a nearby trash can. Not so bad when you are sharing a bathroom with your family, but when you’re out and about and using a public restroom, the ick factor increases exponentially.

10. It’s worth it to pay for a guided tour.

peru travel tips tour guide

We paid a nice young man to give us a tour at the Cusco Cathedral.  It cost just $10 and lasted about an hour.  That was probably the best $10 I’ve ever spent.  He gave us so much more information than we could have possibly picked up or learned on our own.  Definitely money well spent.  We did the same at Machu Picchu and also at the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima.  Each time we felt like we got a lot more from our sightseeing because we learned the history and significance in a way that only a local could explain.  Paying for a guide is a great way to add depth to your travel experience and is well worth the small fee.

I hope these tips help you prepare for your journey to Peru!  Are there any you would add?

Essential tips for a trip to Peru
The Archbishop’s Palace in Lima, Peru

The Archbishop’s Palace in Lima, Peru

The Archbishop’s Palace

There is another baroque building sharing the city block on which the Cathedral of Lima sits.  It is the Archbishop’s Palace Lima, and it serves as the administrative headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lima. Two ornate cedar wood balcony enclosures stick off the front of the building; they are its most distinguishing feature. While it appears to be a very old building – at least as old as the cathedral next door – it actually opened less than 100 years ago, in 1924.

The statue at the top of the center section of the palace is of Saint Toribio of Mongrovejo, the second Archbishop of Lima.  He is also the subject of a very large painting inside the palace, which our tour guide pointed out to us:

archbishop's palace lima saint toribio mongrovejo

About Toribio of Mongrovejo

He is considered the most important religious leader in Peruvian history, serving as Archbishop from 1579 until his death in 1606. Our guide told us that he did not just sit in Lima and preside over church matters from there.  Instead, he went out among the people, walking hundreds of miles to meet and convert Peruvians to the Catholic faith. During his travels, he faced storms, wild beasts, tropical heat, fevers, and sometimes threats from hostile tribes.

He learned local dialects so that he could communicate with – and convert – the native peoples, and he was a strong and effective champion of their rights. He was responsible for baptizing and confirming nearly a half million souls, among them St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He built roads, schoolhouses and chapels, many hospitals and convents, and at Lima, in 1591, founded the first seminary in the western hemisphere.

Our guide pointed out this golden reliquary, which contains relics of three saints.  The item on the left is a piece of Saint Francis Solano’s skeleton.  The item on the right is a bone from a finger of Saint Rose of Lima.  The larger item in the center is a finger of Saint Toribio.

archbishop's palace lima relics of saints

The First Floor

From there we saw several rooms of the Archbishop’s Palace Lima which were nicely furnished and almost always had artwork in them.  For instance, this was the dining room:

archbishop's palace lima dining room

Then we saw some rooms that were display areas for more artwork, such as this figure of “Our Lady of Sorrow.”

archbishop's palace lima our lady of sorrow
This figure has glass eyes to reflect the light, so that it would appear that she had tears in her eyes. Notice also the sword piercing the heart on her bodice.  “Our Lady of Sorrow” is Mary after the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Second Floor

After our guide pointed out items of interest, she led us up to the second floor.  The rooms of the Archbishop’s Palace Lima line the perimeter of the building, with a grand, red-carpeted staircase in the center. Looking up as we climbed the stairs, I noticed a stained glass ceiling above us.  It was just beautiful!

Archbishop's palace lima stained glass

The upstairs contained more official rooms – offices, meeting areas, and the like.  The salon, located on the front of the Archbishop’s Palace Lima, is where the Archbishop would have held meetings with visiting dignitaries.  It is also the room from which the balconies would be accessed.

Archbishop's Palace Lima salon peru
The salon. There is a very large, throne-like chair at the far end.

In addition to the wood balconies, there is another balcony on the front of the building from which the Archbishop would look out upon the Plaza de Armas.  We were not allowed to enter, but the small glimpse that I could see offered a great view.  Just imagine the Plaza de Armas below, bustling with people, and the national band playing during the changing of the guard each day at 11:00 AM.

archbishop's palace lima balcony view peru

When we left the salon, we stepped out to this amazing view:

archbishop's palace lima second floor

So much symmetry and beauty – I don’t think I would ever tire of seeing that! As you can see, there are more steps directly across from the salon. They lead to the chapel:

archbishop's palace chapel

The Chapel

The chapel was as big as some country churches in the United States – but after touring the vast open space of the Cathedral next door, it seemed quite small in comparison. A statue of Jesus carrying the cross was on the left.  To the right were some kneelers and two angel statues. It was a very beautiful, peaceful space.

The Archbishop’s Palace, along with the Cathedral of Lima and its Museum of Religious Art, are a wonderful way to spend a few hours exploring the center of Lima.

The Archbishop’s Palace is on Lima’s Plaza de Armas, Jirón Carabaya, Cercado de Lima 15001.  It is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.  Closed on Sundays. Telephone:  +51 1 4275790.

The Archbishop's Palace of Lima is an easily overlooked but worthwhile destination in the historic center of Lima.
The Cathedral of Lima & Religious Art Museum

The Cathedral of Lima & Religious Art Museum

Cathedral of Lima

cathedral of lima from plaza de armas peru

The Cathedral of Lima’s proper name is the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Located adjacent to the Plaza de Armas Lima. I’ve already written about the chapel that contained the remains of Francisco Pizarro, but that is just one small corner of a very large and beautiful church. Today I’ll share the rest of what we saw there.

But First, a Little History

In 1535, Francisco Pizarro laid the first stone for the church. He also carried the first log used in the construction of the Cathedral on his shoulders. Construction of the church was completed three years later, but it was mainly built of adobe, and was relatively primitive. Pizarro returned in 1540 to inaugurate the church.

Over the next eighty years, the church was rebuilt three times, and in 1622 the third cathedral celebrated its first mass. Then in 1687 an earthquake destroyed the vaults of the cathedral, and it took ten years to complete the reconstruction work. Another earthquake in 1746 destroyed many of the cathedral’s vaults and pillars. Twelve years of reconstruction work followed. In the late eighteenth century, the cathedral increased its height with the addition of two towers.

For the 100 years that followed, there were no earthquakes, no reconstruction projects. But in the beginning of 1893, the cathedral shut its doors to the public because so many repairs were needed. It took almost three full years before renovation work even began. The repairs took two years to complete.

Do Come In

The Cathedral of Lima’s main gateway is the Portada del Perdón or the “door of forgiveness.”

cathedral of lima gate of forgiveness peru

We entered via one of the smaller doors to the side, greeted by very friendly employees who sold us our tickets and made sure we knew where everything was. The church is quite large, with a lovely black and white floor and high vaulted ceilings.

cathedral of lima interior peru

We started off looking at the chapels that line the sides of the cathedral. These are small(er) rooms with elaborate displays and statues in which people pray and worship. Starting on the right and going around to the back of the cathedral, then proceeding to the front in an upside-down U shape, the chapels are:

  1. Tomb of Francisco Pizarro
  2. Saint John the Baptist
  3. Our Lady of the Candlemass
  4. Saint Toribio de Mogrovejo – more about him in my next post
  5. Saint Anne
  6. Chapel of the Visitation
  7. The Chapel of Souls
  8. Chapel of the Sacred Heart
  9. Saint Apolonia
  10. Our Lady of the Peace
  11. Our Lady of Evangelization
  12. Saint Rose of Lima
  13. Our Lady of La Antigua
  14. Saint Joseph

I found it especially interesting that the chapel of Saint Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, was the only chapel to have “naked” wood. Very little adornment, hardly any gold leaf – simply the wood in all its glory.

cathedral of lima patron saint of carpenters joseph peru

Saint Joseph’s Chapel served as an interesting contrast to that of Our Lady of Evangelization. I had to take some panorama shots to try and capture the size and scope.

cathedral of lima our lady of evangelization chapel peru

Or, if you would prefer to see it in a little more detail:

cathedral of lima our lady of evangelization chapel peru
This chapel was named Our Lady of the Conception until 1988.  When Pope John Paul II visited, he renamed it Our Lady of Evangelization.

I just couldn’t believe how much ornate decoration was in that space. As my daughter would say, “It’s so extra!”

We also got to see some of the catacombs beneath the church. One open grave demonstrated how multiple bodies shared the same space. In the one that was open, we could see the skeletal remains of at least three bodies:

cathedral of lima family grave peru

Museum of Religious Art

In addition to being an amazingly beautiful house of worship, the Cathedral also serves as a Museum of Religious Art. This 18th century chest nativity really impressed me. Closed, it looks like an ordinary wooden box, but when you open it, there is a world of wonderful detail, with a nativity scene as its centerpiece.

cathedral of lima nativity chest peru

The level of detail was just amazing!

My other favorite item in the museum was this 18th century statue of Joseph holding the baby Jesus. I thought the expressions on their faces were just so sweet.

cathedral of lima joseph and jesus peru

We also saw some historic church garments and items associated with the visit of Pope John Paul II, who went to Lima in 1985 and again in 1988. There were many paintings and also these pretty tiles:

cathedral of lima pretty tiles peru

And then as we were winding up our tour through the museum portion of the Cathedral of Lima, I saw a staircase and a sign with an arrow pointing up. The sign indicated that there were choir books upstairs.  Well, I’m a sucker for anything involving old books, so we went on up.

There, in a small room at the top of the stairs, was a collection of choir books that dated from several hundred years ago. Not only that, they were HUGE, measuring probably somewhere in the neighborhood of two feet high and 12-18 inches wide.

cathedral of lima choir books peru
She did NOT want to get her picture taken, but I needed her for scale to show just how big these books are.

Unfortunately, the books were all closed and kept behind glass. They did have a blown up photograph of some medieval music contained in one of the books and it was just beautiful.

The Cathedral of Lima is a great place to visit because it has something to appeal to everyone: classic architecture, beautiful art, historical significance, and creepy catacombs. It is definitely one of the must-see places in Lima, Peru.

The Cathedral of Lima is adjacent to the Plaza de Armas.  Admission is about $3 per person, and that covers your entrance to the Cathedral, the Musuem of Religious Art, and the Archbishop’s Palace next door.  Hours: Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, Saturdays 10 AM to 1 PM.

The Cathedral of Lima, Peru, dominates the city's Plaza Mayor and also serves as a museum of religious art.
How Cusco Cathedral Honors Both Quechua and Catholic Heritage

How Cusco Cathedral Honors Both Quechua and Catholic Heritage

Cusco Cathedral was our first stop for sightseeing on our first full day in Cusco. We walked down to the city’s Plaza de Armas and saw this big cathedral dominating the center of town. And as if it weren’t big enough, it incorporates two smaller churches on either side of it. To the left is the Templo de la Sagrada Familia (Temple of the Holy Family) and to the right is La Iglesia del Triunfo (Church of the Triumph).

Cusco Cathedral
Photo via Flickr by Speculum Mundi

Sitting in the Plaza and looking up at the churches, one of the statues on the Church of the Triumph really struck me.

cusco cathedral triunfo iglesia angel devil

I think all too often we see angels depicted as namby-pamby, floating around in the air and strumming harps. This angel, by contrast, is kicking the devil’s butt! I just love it!

We started our tour in the Templo de la Sagrada Familia, and hired a guide to tell us about it. The fee for a personal guide was about $10, and it was money well spent. Our guide was very familiar with the cathedral, the local history, and the religious symbolism.

There were plenty of Quechua symbols in the Catholic art that decorated the cathedral because in many cases, local people were the ones creating the works of art. Take, for instance, the painting of the Last Supper, Cusco native Marcos Zapata painted in the eighteenth century:

cusco cathedral last supper painting cuy guinea pig
The Last Supper Painting from Cusco Cathedral

This painting has a lot of interesting details to distinguish it from a European last supper. Probably the most notable difference is that the meal’s main dish is cuy – the Peruvian delicacy of guinea pig! Also, Jesus and his disciples are drinking chicha, which is a traditional Peruvian corn drink.

As for other interesting aspects of the painting, note that the only figure besides Jesus who is looking out at the viewer is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. All of the men in the picture have their hands clasped in prayer or reaching toward Jesus. However, Judas’ hand is below the table, clutching a money pouch. What was really eerie, though, was that when we looked at Judas while walking past the painting, his eyes seemed to follow us.

Another notable piece of art in the cathedral was what our guide called Black Jesus:

cusco cathedral black jesus

It is a statue of Jesus made of mixed materials and covered in alpaca skin. Most scholars agree that native artists created the statue around 1570. In 1650, when there was an earthquake, the religious leaders grabbed the statue and carried it around the town square, praying for an end to the earthquake. When the earthquake tremors ceased, the statue became known as Señor de los Temblores, or Lord of the Earthquakes, and the patron of Cusco. Each year, the people of Cusco take it out of the cathedral on Holy Monday and carry it in a procession.

It is a tradition for the faithful to throw red flowers at it, symbolizing the blood of Christ. Sticky residue from the flowers, along with a buildup of soot from candles and oil lamps placed at the statue’s feet for prayers, are the reason why the statue is now black. They say, however, that the legs underneath the skirt are still very white!

Throughout the tour, our guide pointed out how the artworks done in a way that would appeal to the locals. For instance, Mary was often depicted with her arms obscured from view and wearing a mountain-shaped skirt with a river running around its hem. This depiction identified her with Pachamama, Mother Earth to the locals.

Another item of interest in Cusco Cathedral is the main altar. Covered in embossed silver, it is visually striking and quite unusual.

cusco cathedral silver main altar
Source: Wikimedia Commons

But that’s not the only place you will see an abundance of silver. There is also a silver room, which is one of the side chapels in the cathedral. It contains many gleaming silver items, including an embossed silver bier dating back to 1712. Parishioners carry Black Jesus on the bier in the Easter Monday procession. Another impressive item is a large trellis in the form of a small temple. Covered with more than 370 pounds of silver, the trellis features a pelican piercing his own heart with his beak, symbolizing supreme love and self-denial.

We really enjoyed our tour of Cusco Cathedral, and learned a lot about the local people from our guide. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Cusco and want to learn more about the area!

Cusco Cathedral is on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Admission for non-Peruvians is $9 for adults and $5 for children.   

 

Cusco Cathedral offers visitors a fascinating look at how Quechua culture and the Catholic faith were integrated in Colonial Peru.
Changes Are Coming to Machu Picchu

Changes Are Coming to Machu Picchu

Last month, I was lucky enough to cross a destination off of my bucket list: Machu Picchu.

new machu picchu rules july 2017

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience at Machu Picchu was very different from what most tourists will experience after me. You see, a new set of strict rules will be in effect starting July 1, 2017.

The New Rules:

There are three major changes that will affect your visit, plus a laundry list of prohibited items/activities.

The first major change requires that a licensed guide accompany all visitors entering Machu Picchu. Guide-led groups will consist of no more than 16 people.

We used a guide when we went to Machu Picchu and we were glad we did. There were so many things that we would not have noticed or understood without him. (Signage at Machu Picchu is almost non-existent.) For instance, take a look at this photo:

machu picchu guide new rules july 2017

Our guide had previously told us that the stones the Incas used to build were perfectly smooth and straight for buildings of special importance, such as temples and the king’s residence. Here, he is showing us the back wall of a temple and a connecting priest’s quarters. The stones on the far left side of the picture (the temple) are very smooth, flat, and straight. However, as the wall progresses to the right (priest’s quarters), the stones become more roughly hewn.

Would we have known that without our guide? No way. We probably wouldn’t have even noticed. So I think that having a guide will add to the Machu Picchu experience in a beneficial way. I don’t know if the Peruvian government will pay the guides, or if visitors will have to pay them. Either way, I’m sure you can expect the expense of visiting Machu Picchu to increase. We paid our guide 35 soles (about $10) per person for a group of eight.

The second major change is that admission to the site will be split into two time frames: morning (6:00 AM to 12:00 noon) or afternoon (12:00 noon to 5:30 PM). That doesn’t seem too bad until you learn that you must enter and leave the site within the same time frame. If you have morning tickets and you don’t get there until 11:00 AM, you will have just one hour to see Machu Picchu before you are escorted from the premises. But that’s not all. Once you go through the exit, you cannot re-enter. This could present a problem for anyone in need of a rest room, as those facilities are located outside the site.

The third major change is that the site will have clearly defined tour routes, and you will have to choose which route you want to take when you book your ticket. Route 1 is the physically demanding classic route, which takes in the upper sector of the citadel, before heading in a large loop around to the lower-sector. Routes 2 & 3 go through the mid and lower-sectors, and are more suitable for those who want a more relaxing visit.

Visitors who wish to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain now have set entrance times as well. Those wishing to climb Huayna Picchu must be at the trail head between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM or between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM. Those wishing to climb Machu Picchu Mountain must be present at the trail head between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM or between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM.

Prohibited at Machu Picchu:

The following items will be prohibited at Machu Picchu after July 1, 2017:

  • Bags/backpacks larger than 40 x 35 x 20 cm (15.7 x 13.7 x 7.9”). You will have to check larger items at the entrance for a small fee.
  • Food and/or beverages of any type, alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
  • Umbrellas or sun shades. (You may, however, wear hats and ponchos or rain coats.)
  • Photographic tripods or any type of camera stand/support. This is only permitted with pre-authorization and an appropriate permit.
  • Musical instruments, including megaphones and speakers.
  • Shoes with high-heels or hard soles. Shoes with soft soles (like those found on tennis shoes or walking shoes/boots).
  • Children’s strollers. Only strap on baby/child carriers are permitted.
  • Walking sticks with a metal or hard point. Elderly people and physically handicapped people may use a walking stick provided that it has a rubber tip.

Some actions are prohibited, too.  As of July 1, 2017, you may not:

  • Climb or lean on walls or any part of the citadel.
  • Touch, move or remove any stone items / structures.
  • Make loud noises, applaud, shout, whistle and sing.
  • Smoke or use an electronic cigarette.
  • Feed the resident or wild animals.
  • Paraglide or fly any type of drone or small aircraft.

If you keep these regulations in mind when planning your trip, you will not find any unpleasant surprises once you get to Machu Picchu.

Wondering what a visit to Machu Picchu is like?  Click here to read about our experience!

Recommendations for a Trip to Machu Picchu

Recommendations for a Trip to Machu Picchu

Our Machu Picchu trip was not something that we had planned to do in advance.  In fact, it wasn’t on our radar at all, other than us saying, “I think it would be cool to see Machu Picchu someday.”  But when Spirit Airlines was offering a huge discount on Tuesday & Wednesday fares during the month of May, it meant that we could fly to Peru for just a tad over $200 per person.

At that price, who wouldn’t want to take a Machu Picchu trip?!?!?

This post is going to focus only on Machu Picchu recommendations.  I will have other posts dealing with Lima and Cusco and the Spirit Airlines experience.

The Prelude: Aguas Calientes

Much like Grand Canyon Village in Arizona, Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo, is a dreadful little town where your options are limited and the prices are inflated.  Recommendation #1 is that if you know that going in, you will be prepared instead of disappointed.

Machu Picchu Trip Aguas calientes

Personally, I did find two aspects of our stay enjoyable.  First, we had a very good meal at Incontri del Pueblo Viejo.  The service was exceedingly slow, even by Peruvian standards, but the food was delicious and the ambiance was nice. Second, I got the best night’s sleep at Gringo Bill’s Hotel. The bed was the most comfortable of the entire trip.

The Preparations

Our plan was to get up at 4:00 AM and catch the first bus to the site at 5:30 AM so that we could see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Thankfully, I checked the weather forecast beforehand, because it was calling for rain and clouds. We wisely decided to go later in the morning instead. If I had gotten up at 4 AM to see the sun rise and then couldn’t see it, I would have been seriously put out!

Recommendation #2 is to check the weather and prepare accordingly.

We found out that you could buy your bus tickets any day, not solely on the day that you visit Machu Picchu. We decided to go ahead and buy ours the day before so we would be ready to go after breakfast the next day.  I have two important tips for you here: you will need your passport to buy the bus ticket, and the bus ticket office only accepts cash or Master Card.  You will not be able to pay with a Visa.

The Ascent

The next morning after breakfast, we headed down to the area where the trains line up. There was a long line of people, but also a long line of buses, so the line moved quickly.  The bus ride takes about 20-30 minutes, but it feels longer because you’re going very slowly and zigzagging back and forth across the side of a mountain. Recommendation #3: If you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to consider taking some medication.  The ride is pretty bumpy and the bus lurches from side to side quite a bit while navigating the sharp turns.

The Arrival

When the bus finally pulls up to the Machu Picchu entrance point and you disembark, you will probably encounter someone asking if you want to hire them as a guide. Recommendation #4 is to do so, for a couple of reasons. First, there are no informational signs at Machu Picchu, no brochures, nothing to give you any sort of indication as to what you’re looking at or why it’s significant. I suppose you could purchase a guidebook and bring it with you, but who wants to be looking down and reading when they could be taking in the scenery while listening to the information? Not I.

The site

We waited until our guide gathered some more people, and then we entered. I cannot adequately describe the feeling that you get when you enter the site and see the vastness of it. It is nothing short of breathtaking.

There are massive mountains in front of you, with clouds hovering over and in front of them. Clouds, not fog! In both directions, up and down, you see row after row of terraces, where the Incas grew coca. Ahead of you is one lone tree in the midst of the remaining walls and structures.

Here is one of the first pictures I took:

new machu picchu recommendations rules july 2017

Our guide started the tour by telling us to look at the walls.  The Incas were masterful masons and architects.  These walls have been standing for roughly 600 years, and you won’t believe what’s holding them together.  The “cement” that they used was a mixture of clay, llama hair, cactus juice, and ash. Pretty incredible.

machu picchu recommendations stone wall

In other areas, stones had been cut with such precision that they fit together without any sort of cement or mortar.  These stones were smooth and flat, and reserved for use on special buildings, such as temples or the king’s residence.

machu picchu recommendations stonework

Most of the living quarters we saw – whether those of the king or of a common worker – had small cubbyholes built into the walls for them to store belongings.  And here I thought my closet space was on the small side:

machu Picchu recommendations storage space
Inca “closets” – cubbyholes built into the walls of the king’s bedroom.

Our guide told us that the Incas would sacrifice black llamas to their gods. I asked him why black llamas, and he explained that the black llamas were not as common as white or brown llamas. The black llamas, by virtue of their rarity, were considered special and therefore more pleasing to the gods.

There are (at least) four temples in Machu Picchu. One of the best known is the Temple of the Three Windows. Our guide explained that there were three windows to correspond with the symbolic animals that the Inca connected to creation:  the condor represented the spiritual realm, the puma represented the earthly realm, and the serpent represented the realm of the underworld.

machu picchu recommendations temple of the three windows
The Temple of the Three Windows

Perpendicular to the Temple of the Three Windows was the Main Temple. One side of it was sort of lopsided, which was due to natural conditions.

Main Temple machu picchu recommendations
Main Temple with rocks that have moved out of place over time.

I think that my favorite spot in Machu Picchu, however, is the Temple of the Condor, which quite literally resembles a condor.

machu picchu recommendations temple of the condor
Can you see the head and body of the condor on the ground, and its wings jutting up behind it?

At one point in our tour, I looked over to the right, where we had entered. I was amazed to see just how far the rows of terraced gardens extended down the mountain side.  I thought we had entered at the bottom of those rows, but we were in the middle. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that they covered the entire side of the mountain.

machu picchu recommendations terraces
Row after row of terraces – and there are many more that you can’t see here!

There are at least thirty terraces in this photo, and even more that did not fit in the frame!

We also walked around a large grassy area that served as the Main Plaza, an important place for ceremonies, announcements, games, etc.  Our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate how it worked. The sound reverberated off the surrounding rocks and was amplified tenfold. Add acoustics to another skill of the Incas.

Machu Picchu recomendations central main plaza

In general, I was glad that we took our Machu Picchu trip when we did instead of waiting until we were older. Although we did not hike the Inca Trail, it was still a physically grueling place to visit (particularly when you have creaky knees like I do!). Here’s what my iPhone said I did that day:

machu picchu trip workout

138 flights!  Dang.  I’m tired all over again just thinking about it. So Recommendation #5 is to try and get in shape a little before you go. A little pain now will save you from a lot of pain later.

The Incas only lived at Machu Picchu for about 100 years, or three generations. They abandoned the site when the Spaniards began invading the area. So the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, and for 400 years it sat dormant, slowly becoming swallowed up by the lush vegetation. The world knew nothing of its existence until a Yale professor named Hiram Bingham III found it in 1911.

One thing that I found really odd was how quiet it was there.  There were loads of tourists from all over the world, and yet for the most part it was peaceful and quiet throughout the site. Maybe because there is something about a place that big that reminds us of how tiny a speck we are in the grand scheme of things. Maybe because the history of the place is so sad and, frankly, a little overwhelming. Whatever the reason, Machu Picchu was a travel experience that I will relish for years to come. I highly recommend making the trip to see it.

Note:  Rules for touring Machu Picchu will be changing effective July 1, 2017. Click here to read my blog post outlining those changes and what you can expect