Sex, drugs and Lima beans.
Anybody care to guess how I’m going to squeeze all that into this post?
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Normally for group tours, there’s a welcome meeting the first night where the tour group meets each other and the guide sets the ground rules.
Not this time. As many of the travelers were flying in late that first day, we simply gathered in the lobby of the hotel the second morning and hit the ground running. First stop, the 17th-century Monastery of San Francisco complex.
Entering the compound we were met with signs and waving fingers – NO PICTURES! So I can’t show you the elegance of the church, or exquisite wooden seats carved into walls of the choir loft, or the huge ancient songbooks set upon stands in that loft – big enough for aged monks sitting 30 feet away to read. I can’t show you the library with 25,000 volumes, many of which go back to the 17th century or earlier. I can’t show you the courtyard surrounded by cloisters, the walls covered with artistic old tile, paintings above, with ceilings of ornate carved wood panels. As for the old ladies sitting in the courtyard, scrubbing and restoring tiles, forget it.
Maybe you wouldn’t choose to see the cemetery under the church. No church side burial six feet under in caskets this – it’s just a collection of bones. They’d bury them in pits, stacked up and covered in dirt and quicklime, where the bodies would decompose to skeletons. In the early days anyone could be “buried” under the church with the understanding of what would happen to their body. In time it began to fill up and only the brothers would be buried there.
At some point, things got a tad crowded (30,000 skeletons in your closet will do that) and the bros did a reorg. As in, femurs in one section, tibias in another, skulls in another, ribs somewhere else – you get the picture. If not, check this. A walk through the bricked in catacombs will show some of those pits, complete with dusty bones, nicely organized and stacked.
A couple blocks from the monastery is the Plaza Mayor, the old city main square. This is where the Spanish powers of the day hung out, and the buildings reflect it.
After lunch, the next stop was the Larco Museum. The Larco is a private museum, established by Larco Hoyle and opened in 1926. Larco picked up a substantial number of artifacts from various sources, including “clandestine excavators.” I suppose it’s better than Larco amassed the collection and made it available to the public than all those artifacts being spread who knows where (which still goes on.)
As for the contents, it was much like going to any museum – so much stuff from so many places and eras, it’s impossible to keep track of it all. It’s fair to say that much of it predates the Inca empire. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, and you can wander through the museum virtually. I’ll comment where I can.
I’ve read that the Inca culture did not show human forms in their ceramics. It seems probable that these pieces are from the Moche culture – a larger contemporary of the Lima, living further north on the coast.
It’s hard to tell from this angle, but the tube coming out of the top of the heads are stirrup-shaped spouts. I’d guess these elaborate works were designed for ritual use rather than day to day use – possibly something like a canteen to be placed in a burial chamber to be taken into the next world. These spouts were common on many forms of ceramics found in the museum.
Besides, can you imagine trying to clean the inside of one of those pots? Seems like a one-time use thing, or maybe limited to water. Archeologists, please weigh in.
These ancient cultures, despite their longevity, were missing one thing that would seem critical – a writing system. This implies a strong oral tradition for passing on knowledge. The only thing that suggests record keeping is the quipu.
The quipu is a series of strings of various lengths and colors, each with a knot or knots of different types and sizes in different places. This appears to be a mnemonic for recording different things: maybe crop yields, maybe populations, maybe the number of skulls whacked by the local warrior hero. Nobody knows the code, but they’re working on it. This is made more complicated as the Spanish conquistadors destroyed many of them, thinking either they were elaborate evil webs of Satan, or maybe they thought it would disrupt local administration.
Speaking of warrior heroes, I learned nothing of old time armies. But these artifacts suggest archers, spearmen, and infantry supplied with war clubs – club heads being anything from a clump of wood to these more ornate carved stone heads. Perhaps these fancier clubs were used for ritual combat. It didn’t pay to lose and not be killed outright, losing warriors could be grist for human sacrifice.
|Adornments for a Chimú Priest, King, or maybe both.||Ceremonial Knife and Cup to Collect Blood|
The items on display were just a small fraction of the collection. Consider these sample shots from a storage building…
The grounds of the Larco are set within an old homestead, large, with impressive buildings and grounds. And since I like flowers…
I promised drugs. While I thought the cactus with all the strange shapes was mind-bending, it’s the tall columnar cactus in the middle that packs a punch.
San Pedro’s cactus has a long history of being used in Andean traditional medicine. Archeological studies have found evidence of use going back two thousand years, to Moche culture. The cactus contains several alkaloids, most notably the psychedelic drug mescaline. Although Roman Catholic church authorities attempted to suppress its use they failed, possibly in part due to the natives naming it after the Catholic’s second favorite saint – Peter. The excuse? The cactus allows users “to reach heaven while still on earth.”
Did you wade through all this dry history to see what I’d have to say about sex? Note the sign to the upper right of the cactus; erotic gallery. This turned out to be ceramics of figures in sexual positions.
This puts me in a dilemma. I have several pictures from this gallery, ranging from “that’s explicit” to “Oh My God!” What to show in polite company?
Oh, the heck with it. This is all academic, right? But you’re entitled to a few OMG’s just the same. The following is not suitable for work, children, etc.
There were many variations on this, most of which suggested the missionaries hadn’t been around to suggest the “proper” way to do it.
Shocked? Stunned? Forget about the Lima beans?
After having our minds blown at the Larco we retired to the hotel. This was followed by a short rest where we decided what to remember and what to try to unsee, then, finally the Welcome meeting. The main topic of interest was how to avoid altitude sickness, as the next day we were off to the highlands (minimum 8,000 feet or 2,500 meters altitude.) Hydration was the answer; our assignment, drink two liters of water before 9 AM the next morning. Then, off to dinner.
Dinner was banquet style: an assortment of different dishes including uses for six various kinds of potatoes. Yeah. Spuds. Peru has hundreds of kinds of potatoes, we must have tried a dozen before we left. And yes, there were lima beans.
Everyone has types of food they hate. For me, lima beans are high on that list. Growing up my Mom would try to sneak them in from time to time because they were healthy, but ugh! Plump little bundles of mealy, ashy, bland but awful flavors; when hidden in mixed vegetables it was like hitting repulsive little land mines for the tongue. Would the “real” thing be better, much as fresh or frozen peas are better than canned peas?
Lima beans from Lima turned out to be bigger, flatter, and denser. The flavor was more pronounced. Overall, not great, but eatable.
BTW, our guide instructs, “they’re not lima (pronounced lime-a) beans, they’re lima (pronounced like the city name) beans.”
There you have it. Sex, drugs, and lima beans. Skeletons in a closet. Ancient civilizations. Pottery with drinking handles. Encoded Peruvian mnemonics. Priests and mummies, utensils of sacrifice.
And you thought Lima would be the boring stop.