The Road to Ayacucho

Greetings Intrepid Readers and apologies for a delay in posting.

I want to share with you today our recent trip to Ayacucho, Peru (WITH PICTURES!)

Melissa and I went to Ayacucho Peru to see their Semana Santa, or Holy Week, celebrations that they held over Easter Week. This is the largest celebration for Easter in Peru and in the Americas. My understanding is that only the Semana Santa celebrations in Spain dwarf these.

To get to Ayacucho required a 10 hour overnight bus ride. Being an idiot, I did not take pictures of the bus, inside or out, but these things were huge. They were somewhere around 50 feet long and two floors. Melissa and I sat on the top floor, and the seats weren’t too bad. They reclined nearly the full way back, every seat had its own TV built into the seat in front of it, loaded with movies and music to enjoy. However, as we were travelling overnight, many passengers, ourselves included, opted to lay back and go to sleep.

I did not sleep to well, to be honest. I drifted in and out, and probably only ever got about 2 hours of continuous sleep. The bus took a winding road over and through the Andes, and being a big bus going around tight turns at 45 MPH, I felt every sway and shift of the bus. It took me a full day being off the bus for my stomach to feel settled again.

When the sun started to come up and we were still about 2 hours from our destination, I spent some time looking out the window, and I must say, once you get out of the desert of Lima, Peru is a beautiful country. I’ll admit though that I’m a sucker for some majestic mountain vistas.

We rolled into Ayacucho on the Thursday morning before Easter about 8 AM, so we had pretty much the whole day to start looking around the city. We checked into our Air BnB briefly and then walked to the center of town to see Peru’s largest plaza, Plaza de Armas. It really is quite the cool place, and it made me really wish the US did plazas. It felt so lively, and it was such a good meeting place with plenty to do in the buildings surrounding it or within a short 1 to 2 block walk.

The pictures below are all taken from the Plaza. The center of the plaza was the large statue, and the main church in the city (there are over 30) is the Basilica right on the Plaza, plus some shots of the other buildings surrounding the plaza.

After seeing the Plaza, we went on a tour up to Quinua, Peru, about an hour away, and a small archaeological site and a statue commemorating the fight where Peru won its independence from Spain. I’m not going to get into the details of the tour, it wasn’t very good. Our guide was not very knowledgeable and we barely spent any time on what they advertised as the highlight of the trip – the small town of Quinua (pronounced the same way as the grain) where many artisans specializing in ceramic art in the country are from. I’ll post some pictures that I took while on the tour, and I’ll talk about Quinua again later, as we went up there by ourselves on Saturday.

The ride back, while later than expected, was nice because it was dark and we were out  of the city, so I got to see lots of new stars! It’s been a while since I’ve seen stars, there aren’t any to see in Lima.

I tried to capture some of the surrounding mountains, and you can see the obelisk commemorating the final battle, as well as Ayacucho in the valley as seen from the obelisk.

On our second day, after being reminded we prefer to make our plans and not rely on the pre-made plans of questionable tour groups, we decided to explore the city of Ayacucho more.

Our first stop was to a museum remembering those killed or disappeared during the 1980s to 2000 while Peru was being attacked by internal terrorists called Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path.

Let’s take a side bar, shall we? For about 20 years, Peru was plagued by the Shining Path, a terrorist group that started in Ayacucho. Their plan was to completely overthrow the government, and they committed numerous and various heinous attacks all over the country, including blowing up a near city block in the Miraflores district of Lima, but my understanding is they mainly operated by abducting, torturing and killing people they thought were sympathizers of the government.

To make matters worse, it appeared the army had no real clear plan to combat Shining Path and would similarly abduct people they thought to be part of or sympathizers of Shining Path. In most cases from either side, most of the people who disappeared were innocents.

The museum was small and did a good job of remembering those killed or still missing, but it missed the important narrative of explaining what exactly Shining Path was and what they wanted, besides overthrowing the government. I thought that would be important information to provide context to why any of this happened in the first place to lead people to become missing.

After our visit the museum, we made our way down to the opposite side of the city to see a Catholic Mass performed in Quechua. I only stayed for a little bit, because the woman singing in Quechua was way off-key and overly mic’d. Caterwauling would be a better term for what we heard. Melissa wanted to hear some of the sermon in Quecha, but I left when it was clear that there would be more caterwauling than sermon-ing. I watched the new “The Last Jedi” trailer a bunch instead.

Side note, what the hell does Luke mean “It’s time for the Jedi to end?” What is that shit!?

Anyway, after a little while longer, Melissa came back out without bleeding ears and we spent a large portion of the afternoon walking around looking at the various churches and some of the handicraft shops. I got an alpaca wool hoodie. It’s so soft! I’ll share some of the pictures of the churches below, but not nearly all that I took, because eventually you’ll just be looking at another gold-plated alter, which is better to see in person anyway.

Before the big event Friday evening, which was a procession of Jesus in a glass coffin to celebrate Good Friday, we went back to our AirBnB to visit a smaller plaza across the street that was hosting this big weekend long street food extravaganza. We ended up having some green rice with a local favorite they  were proud of called chorizo. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Below are just some photos trying to highlight the craziness of the whole thing – low slung tents with guy lines strung haphazardly across the plaza, just waiting to clothes line you and people packed in as if we’d all been friends since Jesus himself said “be excellent to one another.”

So this takes us to the big event of the night, the Good Friday Procession, which went around the main plaza. In the main plaza itself was a giant party of people drinking (including me) and vendors selling shitty plastic toys and cigarettes and, for some reason, an LED lit Predator, because you can’t have Good Friday without the Predator.

Once the procession started coming around, people on the upper balconies of the buildings surrounding the plaza started tossing in white flowers into the glass coffin that carried Jesus. Fat lot of good an open top glass coffin does, no wonder the guy escapes every year. Also, Jesus has grown to be about 8 feet tall and is the patron saint of public drinking. Thanks, JC!

Not even a little bit creepy. Unseen, the Ultimate Showdown between JC and Predator.

This takes us into Saturday. On Saturday, we spent a large portion of the day back up in Quinua, exploring the various artisan workshops. All of them make ceramics, but sell other pieces from artisans in nearby areas. Quinua is most famous for these ceramic churches, seen below.

IMG_4026

Blessings of Akatosh.

Before we departed for Quinua though, we went back to the main plaza, where they were preparing for their Annual Running of the Bulls. We went down to go see the crowds as this is what kicks off the all day party leading into Easter Morning. There were a lot of people.

What we were not expecting was to be a part of the Running of the Bulls. Now, for the next story, you’ll just need to believe me, because I quite literally put my camera away seconds before this happened, and by the time I had gotten it back out, the action was already over.

We were standing on a street corner, and suddenly, all those people you see in the bottom right picture scattered and cleared the street. I saw a reflection of some flashing lights, so I though maybe a police car was coming down the street, but instead, a very large and angry bull careened around the corner, followed by a very little man holding it on a leash, as if that would make any difference in the world. We pressed ourselves very closely against the wall behind us. We were probably about 12 feet away from it at our closest, and it just stood there eyeing us up. By the time I had fished my camera back out and turned it on, the bull was running up another street, spearing an innocent trash can off its mount in the process. RIP trash can.

Okay, back to the more interesting story at hand, Quinua is a small and quaint town known for its ceramics and beautiful views of the Andes. These Andes aren’t like the Patagonia ultra ragged snow capped Andes, they’re more like the Appalachians on steroids, though they’re still bad ass. While we were visiting, we purchased some small gifts for friends and family, and generally enjoyed not being covered in pollution and soot.

As an aside, Ayacucho has a handicraft of their own they are known for called retablos. Theses are small wooden boxes with little people made of plaster that traditionally depict a religious scene, but more modern retablos show people playing instruments, constructing houses or cooking food.

On our drive back, we passed some fields growing quinoa. That was pretty cool to see, but I didn’t manage to get any good pictures.

By the time we got back to Ayacucho, the party in the plaza was in full swing. We wandered around the city a bit more before grabbing dinner. Below is an assortment of some of my favorite photos while wandering around.

Also of note, the party that was in full swing would be lasting all night long into the grand Easter celebration Sunday Morning. Fireworks went off all night, people danced and drank all night long, and Melissa and I were in bed at about 9 PM so we could wake up at 4 to go see the big event.

Since we aren’t exciting people who stayed up all night dancing and drinking, we can fast forward right to the main Easter procession.

First, let me set the scene. We showed up around 4:30 in the morning. The plaza still smelled like beer and there were revelers passed out in wheelbarrows. There were a few various small fireworks being still being set off and the plaza was buzzing with people eager to see the procession.

The procession consisted of a giant wooden pyre lit up with LEDS and carried by who knows how many people, with a giant Jesus adorning the top while all the church bells were ringing out. This procession went around main plaza, and on every corner was a crazy scaffolding of fireworks that you just kind of guessed at trying to figure out how far to stand away from so as to not get hit. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of video, and its all insane. It was definitely worth getting up for. What an awesome experience. Below are photos and videos are available on my Facebook site here. Our Easter was definitely more exiting than your Easter.

The two photos in the top left aren’t during the procession, but pictures of what the pyre looked like before it got all dressed up.

So that wraps up our trip to Ayacucho. We had another 10 hour bus ride back during the day this time, but I was still an idiot and didn’t take pictures of the bus. I did manage to grab some photos of those craggy snow capped Andes I mentioned earlier though.

I’ll also add that, even though we traveled back during the day, I didn’t do as much watching of the landscapes as I wanted, because I was getting too scared watching a giant bus whip around hairpin corners 1000 feet up with no guard rail and the road hugging the side of the cliff. I just kept hoping I wouldn’t end up in an open top glass coffin.

Until next time, Intrepid Readers!

 

 

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