Friday, December 25, 2015

Week #51 - Christmas is here!

With Christmas at the end of this week, we assess our dwindling availability of days, and decide to make a P-Day trip  to Ollantaytambo, for a look at those ruins that we have been close to several times, but have not had the opportunity to see up close.  We hire a car and driver with the Hasler's and head up and over the hill out of Cusco to the north, hoping to see the high peaks and glaciers on the other side of Urubamba, but due to the season, they are covered by clouds, and we're not able to see them.

Ollantaytambo is a site that was under construction at the time of the Spanish invasion.  Wikipedia has some good information about it.  It is essentially a series of terraces starting at the valley floor, with temples or palatial residences on top.  Still in remarkable condition, attesting to the enduring quality of the Inca builders.  Note that all of the stones used here were not gleaned from the surrounding mountainsides (those are not homogenous and easily fractured), they were brought from the other side of the valley, and the biggest ones were put on top.  Their means and methods are not known with any degree of certainty, and have remained one of the biggest puzzles of the ancient world.  Hnas J and Hasler open their umbrellas against the intermittent rain and head toward the top.

Here's a view from near the top looking up the smaller fork of the valley.  On the other side you can see several groups of structures that were built, these were likely for storage of grains and other crops, the buildings were made so they were ventilated, and air could circulate and dry the grains for long-term storage.  The Incas fought a battle with the invading Spaniards at this site.  It would take too long to describe it in detail, but Wikipedia "battle of Ollantaytambo" has a good description.  In short, the Incas fortified this site and some of their important leaders were here.  The Spaniards who had already taken Cusco decided to come down here and take it.  The Incas had enough preparation that they diverted the river (not visible to the right) so that it would turn across the entire width of the valley, so the Spaniards would have to cross it.  Then they dammed up the smaller river in this valley and held back the water.  When the Spaniards finally made it into the valley, nearly to the site, they broke the dam and flooded this valley, so the soldiers and horses were in a quagmire.  The Incas had the high ground and with their slings and rolling rocks down from the heights, the Spaniards couldn't take it.  After deciding there was no quick win, the Spaniards retreated at night back to Cusco.  The Inca leaders decided that they really couldn't hold this site against a prolonged siege, so they abandoned it.  Thus this battle was really indecisive.  This area is one of our favorites in the area, only about 9,000ft, so the temps are mild, lots of crops grow here, and we have met several delightful and interesting people.

These are some of the larger stones that were moved from across the valley, somehow moved up to the top, then carved in the finest craftsmanship, indicating this was a temple or holy site.  It was left unfinished after the battle, so it's hard to tell what their overall plans were for this site.

The terraces are still quite intact.  They are not farmed now, but some similar ones across the valley up and down from here still are.  Before the devastation by the Spaniards, the estimates go up to 8 million people living in the Cusco area (which includes this), so there were a lot of people to feed, and the Incas used most of the available land for farming, even if it included terracing the mountains.

 A stoneyard at the bottom shows some of the work in process, left where it was for nearly 500 years.

A few of the local alpacas take shelter from the rain against a thatched roof building.  Elder Hasler approaches for a photo op.  There are several varieties of Alpaca, with different grades of wool, the one on the right is a "suri", higher quality and finer than the one in the back.

After our visit and a nice lunch in Urubamba, we head back to Cusco.  I'm on the lookout for oxen working in the field, and we come across Gabino working his fields with this pair.  He has already plowed with the same team, and now has a harrow hooked up to flatten the furrows.  His oxen are well trained, they move with voice commands and his little switch.  They can turn tightly at the end, and move at a fast walk down the field.  Gabino and his antepasados have been working these same fields for probably 400+ years (no oxen til the Spanish came, before that, all the ground was turned and worked was done with hoes/mattocks.  Hard to imagine in the 21st century, but this is still how it's done in several parts of the world we have seen - if they're lucky enough to have oxen or water buffalos as draft animals.  Otherwise it's all by hand.

Instead of harnesses, Gabino lashes the singletree to their horns with leather straps.  It's a solid setup, one can't even lie down by itself.  Note the modern buildings in the background - what a contrast.

The whole family was out in the campo (field) today:  Gabino's wife and 2 hijas.  She asked for a propina (tip) for us taking photos, which is customary, and we were glad to provide,  The smallest hija, sitting in the shelter of a rock on a blanket all day got a granola bar and her own small propina.

On 23 Dec, the entire Plaza de Armas is taken over by the campesinos (farmers, hill people), who bring their moss, greenery and crafts in to sell.  It runs for 2 days, and we got there the morning of the lst day, before it got really crowded.  Most of the city will come here to buy items for their Nativity sets and other crafts for the celebration in these 2 days, and we're glad to get here and out again before there's negative personal space.

Here's a sampling of the crafts:  These are pre-made stables for Nativity sets.  Or you can buy parts to make your own.  The moss and greenery are purchased every year, as part of the rather elaborate and creative construction of these sets, which are the Christmas centerpiece of the homes.

Anyone who can guess what these are wins a stupendous prize!  Any takers?  Hint:  the come in many sizes.
They are underwear for dressing baby Jesus.  Every year he gets dressed in new clothes as part of the tradition, and these are for the different size dolls.

The week before Christmas, the nuns carry around a baby Jesus. each one dressed per their own taste

After our trip around the plaza - where I bought a miniature Nativity set - 5 pieces that I can hold in the palm of my hand, and they let me mix and match (trades cows for llamas) - we stop at a place known to the Hasler's by the reputation of:  "We haven't ever got sick eating here", which is the first recommendation of any restaurant here.  Their specialty is chicharron, or fried pork.  This isn't exactly on the mission's approved list, but it sure looks and smells good, and after it's fried, what kind of bugs can still be living in it.  You get your choice of 2 or 3 chicharrons, plus papas and choclo, just the right size, but not the kind of lunch I could eat every day.  Anyway, we had a very enjoyable time with the Hasler's, who are flying to Lima for Christmas.

The mission Christmas event was held the evening of 23 Dec.  The 4 Cusco Zones, plus Sicuani gathered in the Inti Raymi building for a movie "Freetown" (the only one the missionaries get to watch during the entire year, a very spiritual and moving devotional centered on the Savior, complete with a slideshow of all the missionaries serving, plus a dinner and gift exchange.  The hermanas line up first for dinner.  This is only a quick shot of a few of them.

Our friends Hnos. Willian and Marisol are our favorite cooks for large events like this, and they always do an excellent job.  There was plenty of pollo milanesa (chicken fried in egg batter) for the elders to have a 2nd round, and some of the hermanas as well.  Hna Kunz checks out the potato chips.

Elder Freestone seems to be the first in line whenever there's food to be served, after graciously allowing the hermanas to go ahead.

Here's our Inti Raymi zone:  Elders Henderson, Niupari, Heslop, Card, Thacker, Yorgesen,  Hnas. Viriochea, Fernandez, Robinson, Celan, Paez,  Hansen,  Elders Osinaga, Flores, Melo, Flores, Urritia, Webb, Tsosie, and us.

The Stake Presidentes and their esposas were invited, and Presidente Garcia insisted on a photo with us.  We really love him and the dedication with which he leads the Cusco Stake, especially in Historia Familiar.  He is a great supporter of us and our efforts to assist the members here.

The Presidente and Hna Harbertson lead the missionaries in an Espanol version of The Night Before Christmas, with cues and clues to pass the gifts left and right.  If the one you hold during a pause has a red ribbon, you can exchange it for any other gift.  We saw the same gifts go back and forth in front of us a number of times.

When the game finally stopped, Hna J really scored with this knitted sweater with hood.  I thought she may want to negotiate an exchange it for something else, but she wasn't letting go of it, and it has become her warm and cozy favorite very quickly.

Lots of small vendors out on the street at this season selling little packages of corn or nuts for 1 Sole.  These cute kids had small sacks of abbas (roasted beans) that are so hard they would crack your teeth before you could eat them, but I bought their remaining stock so they could go home.

 A stop at the home of Hnos Romulo and Emma show the results of what you buy in the Plaza this season.  He has made an elaborate nativity scene, over 40 animals, plus the wise men, Mary, and Joseph.  Where is baby Jesus?  He doesn't arrive until midnight, when he is placed in the manger.

Here he is, fully dressed in this year's elaborate costume, complete with the underwear you have seen earlier.  All part of the unique and memorable traditions that celebrate the birth of the Savior all around the world.

Hermana Liliana invited us for lunch, but it appears that she forgot to tell her parents, so we trundle into a taxi and head for a traditional Peruvian restaurant.  I can vouch the food here is really good, and the lomo saltado is excellent.  We really love her and her family.  She is always enthusiastic and dedicated to her calling as HF Specialista, even though she is a little excitable at times (most of the time).

About 15 minutes before midnight, the fireworks start.  This was the largest and longest fireworks event we have ever seen, and all of the ones shot off are what we could consider unregulated, illegal back in the US.  They're not launched from one central location, it seems as if every house had their own large supply.  We looked out our front window for a long time admiring the show, then I realized I should get photos.  A little hard to do, as I couldn't find the time exposure button, but I did get a few shots of them.  Last year there was so much smoke in the valley after they were over (about 12:30am), that the airport had to be closed for a couple of hours as the night visibility was obscured to the point where landings and takeoffs were unsafe. 

This week has been very memorable for us and we're looking forward to having a quiet Christmas day for reflection and recollection of our blessings, and contemplating the birth of the Savior.


  1. Looks like another cool trip to the ruins!

  2. One of the sweetest and most memorable mission experiences was Christmas with the missionaries and also seeing the Christmas traditions and decorations in the Canaries and I enjoyed seeing Peru and your experiences.