23 November 2012

Adios Peru

So, after 555 days it’s time to leave Cusco and Peru.

This has been the first stop on my ten-year global odyssey, working as project manager, South America for UK charity Globalteer. My job was to oversee all Globalteer projects in South America, which meant managing Picaflor House, Globalteer's project for underprivileged children in the small town of Oropesa, not far from Cusco, and coordinating the independent projects partnered with Globalteer in Peru and in Colombia. My responsibilities included such diverse duties as fundraising and social media marketing, staff and volunteer management, accounts and general administration, as well as teaching classes in English and Art.

It has been an extremely rewarding job and I am very proud of the progress made at Picaflor House under my management. I can’t take all the credit, of course, as I've had the support of a small but dedicated staff and Picaflor House has played host to some magnificent volunteers, all of whom contributed hugely to the success and growth of the project.

A few months ago, when I was writing Picaflor’s annual report, we interviewed some of our children to get their impressions. Their feedback was heartwarming. They spoke of the beauty and colour of our flower gardens; of how much easier their schoolwork was because of the extra support and tuition provided by our Picaflor House staff; of their love for our classes in arts and crafts – they are very creative; of the usefulness of learning English from native speakers; and of the fun they had on the days when we played games and sports, allowing our kids just to be kids.

Peru is an incredibly vibrant country to live in. It is a country rich in traditional festivals and colourful events, treating the visitor to a visual symphony of colour, energetic traditional dancing in the streets, delicious morsels of native cuisine and humbling displays of religious fervour. From the frequent booming of fireworks and barking of dogs, the almost deafening cacophony of seemingly constant music, the lung-busting challenges of life at high altitude, the impressive Inca ruins that dot the beautiful mountainsides of the Andes, to the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon jungle, and the tempting array of traditional arts and crafts for sale, Peru has it all.

I have taken full advantage of my 18 months to see and experience as much of the country and the culture as I could. I sweated in the jungle of the Manu Biosphere. I hauled my aching leg muscles up the thousands of steps at Machu Picchu. I marvelled at the soaring flight of the huge condors at Colca Canyon and I met the original Paddington Bear in the sanctuary of the Chappari Nature Reserve. I sailed the sparkling blue waters of Lake Titicaca and bounced as I walked on the floating man-made reed islands of Uros. I visited more churches and cathedrals than I ever had in my life before, and was enthralled by their magnificence and their architecture. I was fascinated by mummies and lines at Nazca, and captivated by ancient pyramids and glorious grave goods in the north of Peru.

I also explored a little of the rest of South America. The frequent need for new visas led to three trips to Bolivia, a couple of long weekends in the sleepy lakeside resort town of Copacabana and a ten-day tour that included the mesmerising salt flats at Uyuni and the superlative scenery of the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa further south, the picturesque capital of Sucre and bustling metropolis of La Paz. And I survived the heart-stopping road trip down Bolivia’s notorious Death Road.

I loved the wonderful week I spent in Medellin, Colombia, visiting Globalteer’s partner projects and exploring that vibrant city. As well as my meetings with enchanting Colombian children and hard-working project staff, the highlights were my visit to the lush tropical paradise of the botanical gardens and the art, in particular the voluminous bronze figures of Colombia’s famous artist, Ferdinand Botero.

It has been an incredible 18 months. When I came to Peru, I really had little idea what to expect but my new life has exceeded all my expectations. I have met some wonderful people, I have seen amazing landscapes and architecture, animals and birds. Each and every day has brought some new sight, smell, taste or unique experience, and I have felt more alive than I have in many years. Thank you, Peru. I hope we meet again one day.
With my co-workers Luis, Johan and Sarah at Picaflor House

With our Picaflor kids, on my birthday

18 November 2012

How to decorate your car Peruvian style!

So, you’ve come to live in Peru and you’ve decided to buy a car because you just can’t face the manic driving, and the squashed and frequently smelly conditions in the public bus.

If you don’t want to stand out from the crowd (and so risk attracting the unwanted attention of the local police force looking to extract a little donation for their daily intake of chicha – corn beer), you should consider buying an older car. A reliable make and model would be best, as the usual potholey state of the roads and the crazy antics of your fellow drivers will almost certainly generate a need for numerous repairs and a plentiful supply of spare parts. And there are no friendly AA servicemen here!

Given their reputation for dependability and economy (fuel prices are high here), I’d recommend a Volkswagen. As there used to be a VW manufacturing plant in Brazil, little old beetles are common in much of South America.

Next, you need to decorate your vehicle.

On the outside, long strips of red and white stickers should be stuck to the sides and rear of your vehicle. I used to think these were used to indicate which cars were taxis but they are, in fact, reflector strips. As Peruvians drive extremely close to their neighbouring vehicles, I doubt these make the slightest bit of difference. Maybe they are seen more as a local version of racing stripes!

You need to adorn your little VW with stickers of various sizes, shapes and designs. These can range from images of that iconic hero, Che Guevara, to comic strip characters like Bugs Bunny, from bright glowing flames to roaring lions – almost anything that appeals.

A dedication to your girlfriend, mother or dog is essential, usually plastered right across the back window.

I go with God ... if I don't return, I am with Him
A dedication to God, a saint or some other religious personage is also a good idea, or perhaps a message professing your belief. Insurance is almost unknown in Peru, so asking for protection from an almighty being is about as close as you’ll get.

You must also decorate the inside of your vehicle. Although most Western countries prohibit the attachment of dangling objects to the inside of your windscreen, in Peru these are essential fashion accessories. Once again, something religious may work magic, but you should also add a colourful air freshener and perhaps a small soft toy.

On the dashboard, a religious banner will help with protection from the sun. And a baby’s or young child’s shoe is a great addition, either as another dangly or just sitting on the top of the dashboard. Just one shoe is needed and it must be a found object, probably picked up off the street, definitely not from your own child. This is for good luck.

Now, fill up your car with gas and drive like a crazy person and you’ll fit right in!

This is going a little too far!

11 November 2012

A Pre-Columbian art attack!

The pre-Columbian artisans of Peru produced some exquisite artworks, particularly ceramics, and I have now been lucky enough to see many of the places where these ancient cultures of Peru built their cities, worshipped their gods and buried their dead, near Chiclayo and Trujillo in the north, near Nazca in the south and here in Cusco.

This afternoon I spent a delightful couple of hours once again admiring their skill, their dexterity, their fine rendering of birds and animals, and the apparent simplicity of their human representation, all in one place. If you ever come to Cusco and you appreciate the art of ancient civilisations, you simply must visit the Museo de Arte Precolombino in Plaza de las Nazarenas, just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas in the central city.
Casa Cabrera, the building that houses the museum, is itself beautiful, and a fine example of colonial architecture, with exhibition rooms on the ground and first floors surrounding a central courtyard. Built in the 1550s, the building originally housed the convent of Santa Clara, then passed into the hands of Don Jerόnimo Luis de Cabrera and Cerda, a city official, hence the name of the building and the coat of arms on its facade. The earthquake that devastated Cusco in 1950 caused major damage to the building but, luckily, the Continental Bank bought Casa Cabrera in 1981 and has since restored it to its former glory.
The museum’s exhibitions include rooms of gold and silver craftworks, shell and bone jewellery, and colonial paintings but, for me, the ceramics of the formative epoch, the Nazca civilisation, the Mochica, Huari and Chimu cultures, as well as those Johnny-come-latelies, the Inca, were the highlight. So, let me take you on a visual tour through Peru’s early art history, from 1250BC to 1632AD.
Cupisnique, formative period, 1250BC - 1AD
Viru, formative period, 1250BC - 1AD

The sculpted bottle on the left depicts a beheaded man, probably symbolic of some religious ceremony. The lips of his inverted head form the mouth of the bottle. On the right, the body of this pitcher is adorned with geometric patterns and a wonderful animal head - probably a feline - decorates the upper body.

These bowls are from the Nazca culture, dating from 1 to 800AD, and they represent trophy heads, taken from the enemy in times of war. The artist didn't possess great sculptural skills but his painting was superb, expressing perfectly the ferocity, pain and strength of the doomed men.

The Mochica culture also existed from 1 to 800AD, but their artisans introduced a radical change into the art of ceramics, attaining high levels of sculptural excellence and pictorial design, as these three bottles clearly show. They are representations of the same individual, presumably someone of high importance, but were crafted by different artists. The Mochica ceramics are the most beautifully sculpted works of Peruvian antiquity. 

These bottles in the shape of cormorants are also from the Mochica period. Their graceful shapes are superb and so fluid. The artist obviously had a talent for observation and for transforming his observations into such fine pieces.

I can't resist including just one more piece from the Mochica culture. This humanised figure of a deer is just so  exquisite, with its plastic shape, its huge ears and bulging eyes, its finely rendered antlers and that wonderfully cheeky tongue. 

The Huari civilisation succeeded that of the Nazca and the Mochica, and spanned the period from 800 to 1300AD. The Huari people spread through much of Peru, from Chiclayo in the north to Nazca in the south, and extending inland to Cusco and beyond. Their civilisation saw the beginning of nationhood in Peru, with their domination in religion and politics.  

The influence of the Mochica culture is obvious in Huari artworks, as you can see with these llama-head vessels. As beasts of burden and producers of wool and meat, llamas were important to the economy of the Huari, so it is no surprise that they were frequently represented on their ceramics. These particular examples are outstanding, for the fluidity of their shapes, the liveliness  of their design and, of course, I just love that tongue.

When the Huari empire came to an end around 1300AD, the Chancay-Chimu culture arose in northern and central coastal Peru. For some unknown reason, their artisans chose to reject the use of colour in their artworks and focused instead on form and on achieving perfect harmony in the proportions of their pieces. Though it may not be entirely realistic in its depiction, the pelican above is a perfect example of this. 

At the same time as the Chancay-Chimu civilisation was flourishing, so was the Inca culture and, eventually, their empire, which lasted from 1300 to 1532 AD, stretched all the way from modern-day Ecuador to southern Chile. Most people know of the Incas' incredible ability to construct magnificent cities, but their artworks are not as well known. Their craftsmen worked in wood, in clay, and in stone, producing stunning works that blend the beauty of art with the practicality of ritual use. Their style is a synthesis of the magnificence of the Pre-Columbian cultures that preceded them.

The influence of the Chimu can be seen in the sculpted bottle, pictured at right. The simplicity of design in this representation of a condor is a good example of Inca ceramic work, and the stylised stone llamas shown below are fine exemplars of Inca stonework. 
Known as conopas, these llama sculptures were created as offerings to the gods and symbolised the importance to the Inca of the submission of man to the immensity and power of nature. 

07 November 2012

Nazca day three: the lines, the pyramids and the aquifers

The lines! The lines! I’ve seen the Nazca lines! Not a lot of them, as most are only visible from the air and there was no way I was going up in a small plane and vomit for half an hour to see them, no matter how amazing they are.

My tour guide Jeffrey picked me up at 8.30am and we headed north along the Pan American highway. First stop was a natural hill by the roadside, the place from which many of the actual lines originate, in particular the one that marks the line of the sunrise on the mid-winter solstice. The Nazca desert is littered with heavy rocks – heavy with various minerals, which is part of the reason the lines haven’t been destroyed over time. The lines were made by clearing pathways of varying widths and depths (to a maximum depth of 30cm) of the surrounding rocks – and the lines are as long and straight as I’ve read about.

From the hill, you can see only lines, one rectangular area and a few small circular formations of larger rocks, which may have housed ceremonial fires. Unbelievably, the Pan American highway has been built right through this magnificent place, bisecting lines and, as I saw later, one of the figures – the head of the lizard is now separated from its tail.

The tree

Jeffrey waiting for me at the bottom of the tower
From the first viewing tower, not far from the hill, I could see three of the figures very clearly and close up, the tree and the hands and the dismembered lizard. The tree (the local name is huarango) was particularly distinct and was perhaps 20 metres long, relatively small when compared with some of the other figures but still impressive.

Continuing up the Pan American, after about 15 minutes we turned off to the second tower. Here we saw the human-like figures of a hunter with a bird in his hand, and a family group of mother, father, two children and, set slightly apart, a baby. Strictly speaking, these are not Nazca figures, as they were made by the people of the neighbouring Paracas culture and were made by heaping up stone to create the shapes, rather than taking them away. Fascinating! But what a time for the zoom on my camera not to be working.

For some obscure reason – lost in translation! – but I gather something to do with soaking in the energy, Jeffrey made me breathe in deeply at each of these places (or was this just an excuse to touch my arm, shoulder, tummy?!).

The other Nazca figures passed unseen from the car, though the low-flying planes buzzing overhead marked their positions as we retraced our steps back to the outskirts of the city, then turned inland and sped like rally drivers along 13kms of dirt road across more sandy desert to the pyramid complex of Cahuachi. Within a 24 km2 area lie the remains of 36 pyramids. This site is where most of the exhibits I saw yesterday in Antonini’s Museum came from. These are adobe brick pyramids and were built to house the dead and for ceremonial purposes. As Jeffrey put it, the Nazca lines were an open temple to the gods, and the pyramids are closed temples to the gods.

We couldn’t approach the most significant pyramid as part is still being excavated and part is being reconstructed – not sure if I agree with that process but it does give the visitor a better idea of the pyramid’s structure. Just walking around the exterior, we were walking atop adobe walls, could peer into huge grain silos sunk into the sand and see the holes where two enormous clay water jars would have sat – both the silos and the jars would have stored excess supplies in times of plenty, as insurance against times of scarcity.

The most amazing thing for me though, as a history geek, was to walk up and down the ploughed furrows of a field below the pyramid and, with minimal effort, turn up shards of beautifully decorated 2000-year-old pottery, including part of a cat’s face, a fragment of a spider and various geometric designs. I was so tempted to take a couple of pieces (and, as these will probably never be collected for museum display or any other purposes, it would probably have been acceptable) but, out of respect for the site, left my finds in the earth from whence they had emerged. Jeffrey was impressed with my decision – he said most tourists just take what they find.

On the way to this site, while speeding over the lumps and bumps of the dirt road, and on the return journey, Jeffrey sang me romantic songs, not something any man has ever done before! It was a very sweet, if a trifle bizarre experience.

Jeffrey down an aquifer
Our last visit of the day was to the aquifers, the Nazca civilisation’s version of the Roman aqueducts and their answer to the droughts that have plagued this area for millennia. There are several of these aqueducts running from the mountains down into the city, most of which are underground but still accessible every so many metres by spiral pathways built down into the ground. The spiral shape is not just for ease of access but also serves to funnel air into the aquifers, partly to cool the water and partly so the people who ventured into the underground portions of the tunnels to clean them could breathe more easily. Most of the length of the aquifers is underground to prevent evaporation of the previous liquid and all are constructed along a curving, snaking path, rather than straight, to slow the flow of the water. The channels have stone-built sides, 2 metres tall, which have survived the frequent earthquakes that rock this area, though no mortar binds them. Jeffrey told me it is this very flexibility that makes them strong and tremor resistant.

What was most delightful was the bird life that perched in the trees that ran along the line of the aquifers’ route – sparrows, doves, one small darting bird of brilliant red, a tiny brown humming bird and many others sang to their hearts’ content which, together with a wall spilling over with the vibrant colours of bougainvillea and a pleasant cooling breeze, created a near idyllic scene. I could easily have stayed longer.

The last snippet of information I gleaned before we headed back into town was concerning the field next to the bougainvillea wall, which was filled with cactus. This variety is grown for the insects which live on and in them, as the insects produce cochineal. There was a piece of paper on the ground which a previous tourist guide had smeared with insects, producing the distinctive colour to show his tourists.

Jeffrey wanted me to spend the rest of the afternoon with him, eating and talking, but I declined. He was a very nice man and I would definitely recommend him as an excellent tour guide but I was a little uncomfortable with his increasingly amorous attention. I wasn’t afraid of his intentions, it’s just that I haven’t been used to a man paying me that sort of attention in recent years and, as I was off back to Cusco that evening, there seemed no point in encouraging him any further. He certainly made my trip to Nazca more fun and interesting!

Back in town, I ate a late lunch, then sat under a shady tree on a bench in the plaza, writing up my notebook, people watching and very much enjoying not being constantly pestered by shoeshine boys and trinket sellers, as would have been the case in Cusco. It had been a wonderful long weekend, full of amazing sights and incredible ancient culture. Thank you, Nazca and Jeffrey for your hospitality!

06 November 2012

Nazca day two: the city and Antonini's Museum

I awoke this morning, after a very long sleep, feeling like crap: head spinning, queasy and diarrhoea. Maybe it was something I ate? I postponed the day’s tour and went back to bed and, luckily, felt much better when I woke again at noon.

At about 2pm, I headed out, and walked up and down the streets of the inner city, taking photos of buildings and doorways and the plaza, and checking out restaurants. There were plenty of local places but none looked too clean and I was a little wary so I returned to the place I ate at yesterday, where I had a simple meal of chicken and chips.

Back at the hotel after lunch, I asked the owner for directions to the museum she had mentioned the previous day. “Turn left at the other side of the plaza and walk 5 blocks.” Off I went, slowly in the heat. After a couple of blocks, the buildings got more dilapidated, then the pavement disappeared into dust and I was a little worried I had gone the wrong way. Was I heading into a bad neighbourhood? I asked some schoolgirls where the museum was and, luckily, they confirmed I was on the right road so I continued … and there, one block further on the right was the sign, Museo Antonini.

The exhibits were really interesting – the explanations were all in Spanish, of course, but I could make out most of them. They told the story of the excavations at the nearby pyramids at Cahuachi and other sites in the Nazca area. Maps and pictures showed the geological zones and ecosystems; diagrams explained the cross-sections of the excavations; there were displays of agricultural tools and crops grown; replicas provided visual explanations of the building methods for houses and the pyramids themselves; and the beautiful ceramics illustrated the rich culture of the ancient Nazca peoples. Slightly macabre but extremely interesting was a display of decapitated skulls, which may have been offerings to the gods or perhaps trophies of war. There was also one huge cabinet with an incredibly well-preserved and large piece of cloth – the colours were still rich, the patterns vibrant, even after some 1500 years.

I could hear the calls of peacocks and, when I ventured out the back of the museum, found a delightful garden, complete with a displaying peacock and his hen. His tail was fully extended and he was shaking vigorously in an effort to impress his mate. She was ignoring him, picking at the seed tray. Another tourist, a young German from his accent, was also taking photos of them. We chatted briefly. He was identifying with the male peacock: “Story of my life”, he said. I thought that a very candid remark to make to a stranger! I said I thought the hen was deliberately ignoring her mate to provoke more displays. The German laughed at that. I wondered at the story behind his comment and reaction.

The garden also contained replica tombs, an aqueduct and cave paintings, as well as a miniaturised map of the Nazca lines. With the shady trees, it was a cool and refreshing oasis in the heat and bustle of the city.

I grabbed a few more street photos on the way back to the hotel, some interesting signs and one very bizarre building. I had a quiet evening and was asleep early, as the next day was to be long and busy.

04 November 2012

Nazca day one: mummies, ceramics and gold

I’m here and I’m exhausted! What a nightmare of a bus journey – not because of the bus, but the road twisted and turned its way around the mountainsides, from Cusco’s 12,000 feet down to Nazca’s almost sea level, for 14 hours! I slept a little but it wasn’t very restful – I had to wedge myself into my seat with my arms to stop rolling constantly back and forth as that rolling motion was making me feel seasick. I looked out the window from time to time once it got light but all I saw was dry, rocky, hilly country and yet more winding roads ahead, so I quickly shut my eyes again. I imagine some of the roads we drove down during the night were fairly hair-raising, so I’m rather glad I did the journey at night.

On the short drive to the hotel my taxi driver persuaded me to go on a tour with him this afternoon – perhaps not the smartest move for a woman alone but, if anything, he will be after my money, nothing else from a wrinkly old bat like me, so I think I’ll be safe. I’ll leave most of my money and my passport locked up in my bag at the hotel and I’ll charge up my phone – not that that would necessarily help.

Oh, and the hotel, the Kunan Wasi which I had prebooked on booking.com, is fine – just one block from the Plaza de Armas and clean and bright, if rather twee. Check out the bathroom picture!

I’ve had a shower and a nap but I’m still a little shaky from exhaustion, and the more than 30°C heat here is energy sapping, so I’m sitting in a restaurant in the plaza, having a sugar-filled Coca Cola and about to have some food, which I hope will revive me somewhat.

Later … well, the afternoon was fine. Jeffrey collected me from the hotel on time at 2pm and we were soon speeding south down the Pan American highway in his little red taxi, enjoying a somewhat stilted conversation in Span-glish – his English is about the same level as my Spanish – about life, love and Nazca – mostly, about love. It seems I was wrong about him only being interested in my money! He quickly asked how old I was, if I was married, and, though he is 39, he is not married, preferring, it seems, to pick up women from around the world and show them a good time Latino-style! He was very complimentary – said he thought I was between 40 and 45 and wouldn’t believe I am 56 – all part of the charm process! But I am not interested in a brief fling with a shortish  Latino from Nazca, no matter how nice he appears, how much he smiles and says sweet things and touches my arm.

About 30 kilometres south of Nazca we turned inland and churned up the dust, barrelling over a barren dirt road. We passed a modern-day cemetery of wooden and metal crosses – surprisingly there were no families there today on the Day of the Dead, cleaning up the graves and having a picnic lunch with their deceased family members. Before we reached the surrounding hillsides, which are where the mummy civilisation actually lived, we reached the place where they buried their dead.

Twelve graves have been opened at Chauchilla for tourists to see the mummies. The graves are covered with wooden and thatch shelters to protect them from the 3 to 4 hours of rain this place receives each year and have stone walls on their southern sides to protect them from the constant wind that soon had my hair blown wildly and my face covered in gritty sand.

The mummies are fascinating – seated in a foetal position (the tendons behind their knees and across their elbows were apparently cut post-mortem to achieve this) (another opportunity for Jeffrey to touch my arm to explain this!), their skin rubbed with minerals, wrapped in cotton and textiles, then placed in the graves, all facing towards the rising sun. From this, archaeologists have concluded these people believed in reincarnation. The hair and textiles, and sometimes the skin, are remarkably well preserved considering the burials date from between 200 and 1000AD. The hair was particularly fascinating – extremely long and now lying curled around the body on the sand – but these may have been the original Rastafarians, wearing their hair is big spiral mounds on their heads.

The bodies are buried in family groups of, on average, 2 or 3, and up to as many as 6, including the occasional tiny bundle of a baby, sometimes all in one chamber, sometimes in multi-roomed chambers, and they have very simple grave goods – earthenware plates of corn and meat and urns of water. Some of the pottery is plain, some decorated. Around these restored graves are strewn the remains of hundreds more that have been subject to the vandalism of grave robbers, hunting for the more ornate pottery. Fragments of bone and pottery, pieces of hair and textiles, just lie on the surface of the sandy soil.

Unfortunately, my camera started playing up at this point. It would take normal pictures but, if I tried to zoom in, would take a blank picture and had to be turned on and off before taking a normal image again. It hasn’t been jolted, banged or badly treated in any way so I have no idea why it chose this moment to become faulty. Maybe the mummies didn’t like being photographed – spooky!

It’s easy to see why the Nazca civilisation failed due to lack of water, particularly as their economy and daily sustenance was based on agriculture. The valleys surrounding the now-dry river beds form green stripes on an otherwise arid and barren landscape, so there is obviously water underground near the rivers for those roots deep enough to reach it.

The only crop I saw was cactus, grown both for its fruit – called tuna here – and for its leaves, which provide the ingredients for face creams and ointments. As well as tourism, the area’s main industry is mining – those barren-looking hills are rich in copper and gold, and I was to see more of the gold extraction process a little later that afternoon. But first we headed off to the workshop of the most famous ceramic-producing family in the region, the Emilia pottery workshop. Grandfather Andrés Calle rediscovered and practised the traditional techniques of his Nazca ancestors, and his descendants continue in his wake. They have photographed most of the pieces in local museums and now reproduce these for sale to tourists.

I was first shown the process, based on the rich clay deposits of the region, with no moulds used, simply a very basic form of wheel, more like a spinning plate, and using a llama bone to smooth the external surface of the vessel. The colours – shades of red, white, yellow, brown and blue – come from minerals, ground down into fine powders and mixed with water, and the firing process uses a traditional clay-brick oven, which must be heated to 900°to bake the ceramics sufficiently. Once fired, the slightly grainy surface of the pot is rubbed vigorously with special stones, which serve to polish off the roughness.

Then to the salesroom, of course! And, although my suitcase is already destined to be full to bursting when I leave Peru, I couldn’t resist a small wall plaque, with a figure of the god of Tiwanaku, the civilisation in Bolivia near Lake Titicaca. Apparently, this and the Wari and the Nazca cultures were all linked. Many of the ceramics had picaflor designs and I was tempted by them, as a reminder of my time at Picaflor House, but I preferred the colours of the other piece.

From ceramics to gold … we next visited a gold processing workshop, where the rock is pulverised then mercury used to extra the gold dust – a very large amount of rock for a very small amount of 14 to 22 carat gold – but enough for families to labour away at this backbreaking task for a few years to make their fortunes. They work in small co-operatives, the better to protect each other during times of ill-health and injury, probably quite a frequent occurrence considering everything is done by hand and part contains potentially hazardous chemicals. It reminded me of the coca-chewing silver miners of Potosi, in Bolivia.

This is how they pulverise the gold-bearing rocks, standing on that plank and rocking the large stone back and forth.
That was the last call of the day and Jeffrey dropped me back at the hotel just before 5pm. And my first impressions of Nazca? Well, it is disproportionately noisy in relation to its size. Just sitting in the restaurant at lunchtime the noise level generated by the air-conditioning unit, radio and television, external traffic and jovial patrons must have been well above acceptable decibel levels. The city seems small and rather unattractive. The large plaza has benches, sculptures and a tiled walkway all decorated with the symbols from the lines but little else to beautify it, though a smattering of trees provides some shade from the sweltering heat. The church is utilitarian and, frankly, ugly. There seems to be nothing old or historical within the city itself, which is what usually gives a city its character and charm, at least in my eyes.