Tears for Notre Dame

April 16, 2019

We were fortunate to have visited Notre Dame (Our Lady of Paris) Cathedral in October, 2015. This iconic cathedral has graced the city of Paris for 800 years, surviving two world wars and the French Revolution. I hope that it will survive this horrendous fire, which has destroyed the spire and much of the wood interior, and damaged many works of art.

Following is an excerpt from my blog post about our visit to Notre Dame that October.

The Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, built on Île Sainte-Louis between 1160 and 1345 AD, was one of the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses. The arched exterior supports allowed the builders to construct taller and thinner walls without compromising the structural integrity of the building.

At the base of the steeple, you can see bronze statues of the twelve apostles, three to a side. Of these, only Saint Thomas is looking up toward the steeple (still questioning?) while the others look down.

The cathedral has suffered a few attacks on its features and treasures, in 1548 by the Huguenots who considered many of the features idolatrous, and again in 1793 by anti-religious French revolutionaries, and then again during World War II when some windows were hit by stray bullets.

In 1238, the emperor of Constantinople sold what is purported to be be Jesus Christ’s crown of thorns to Louis IX. The king paid more for this relic than he did for the cathedral which now houses it. It is on display under red glass, so it’s pretty hard to see. It is simply a circlet of rushes, no thorns, which supposedly held the thorns together.

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Gold and Arms in Lima

Monday, February 4, 2019

This is our last day in Peru, We paid a visit to the Gold Museum of Peru and Weapons of the World, originally a private collection belonging to Miguel Mujica Gallo, who was a prominent businessman and philanthropist in Lima with a desire to salvage Peru’s national patrimony. Gallo had been an ambassador in Austria and Spain, and for a short time the minister of foreign affairs in Peru. He opened the museum in the 1960s in the Santiago de Surco district. Later, he donated the museum to the country of Peru. Actually, it’s two museums housed in the same building.

However, a study by the Institute for the Defense of Competition and of Intellectual Property concluded that many of the artifacts are “false without a shadow of a doubt.” The Catholic University of Lima had earlier questioned the authenticity of 92 other objects. It doesn’t sound like they are blaming Gallo for these errors, but rather that he may have been defrauded himself, or that objects were stolen and replaced with fakes when collections were traveling abroad.

In 2002, an article appeared in Forbes Magazine, indicating that there were claims that up to 85% of the pieces are fake. Another article that appeared in the Star Tribune in 2009 indicates that efforts have been made to root out the fakes, and the museum claims that all pieces now on display are bona fide.

Regardless, these museums are fascinating, and would take hours to examine fully. The Gold Museum contains over 8,000 prehispanic gold and silver pieces, pottery and textiles, representing several civilizations throughout the centuries: Vicus, Moche, Sican and Chimu from the northern part of Peru. The collection is valued at over $10 million.

The Arms Museum contains 20,000 weapons from around the world, dating back to the 13th century. In addition to the weapons, there are uniforms, stirrups, helmets and so much more.

In the afternoon, I went out with a friend to do a bit of last minute shopping and exploring. We headed to the Plaza Mayor, or Plaza de Armas. Every old Peruvian city seems to have a Plaza de Armas, which is the center of the old city, usually anchored by the government centers and a Catholic Church or Cathedral.

We visited the Basilica Cathedral of Lima, built between 1534 and 1649. Francisco Pizarro laid the first stone for the church and carried on his shoulders the first log used in the construction. He officially inaugurated the church in 1540.

It seems fitting that Pizarro’s bones should lie here. Pizarro was assassinated in 1541, and His remains were interred in the cathedral courtyard. Later, his head and body were separated and buried in separate boxes underneath the floor of the cathedral. Three hundred fifty years later, a body believed to be that of Pizarro was exhumed and put on display. Almost a century later, in 1977, men working on the cathedral’s foundation discovered a lead box with the inscription “Here is the head of Don Francisco Pizarro Demarkes, Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered Peru and presented it to the crown of Castile.” A team of forensic scientists confirmed that the bones in the box were the indeed Pizarro’s, and that those on display were someone else’s.

Besides 14 side chapels, there are a number of burial vaults that have been excavated, including one of a young family.

We headed to Larcomar for dinner and even a little more last minute shopping before catching our insanely early flight tomorrow, at 2am.

Tuesday, February 5

We arrived in Minneapolis around 3pm, greeted by snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Oh joy!

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Dance, Dance, Dance

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Yesterday, our guide told us about a large dance competition being held at the city stadium this morning, in honor of the Virgen de la Candelaria. Folk dance groups from around the Puno District come to the city every year for this competition. This year, there are 112 teams competing. The teams vary in size, and can be up to 200 – 300 participants. The competition starts at 6:30am, and thousands of people come to watch. Check out this video of one of the groups.

We decided to get up early to see some of the dance groups. We stood outside the entrance for the dancers, and were rewarded with so much color and excitement. We saw several teams in the short time we were there.

Then, we were off to the airport for a flight to Lima. We arrived in time to walk to the Larcomar Mall for the sunset and a little shopping.




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The Good Ship Yavari, Puno, Peru

Saturday afternoon, February 2, 2019

After returning to land, we had an opportunity to tour the MN Yavari, a ship that had been commission by the Peruvian government in 1861. It was built by Thames Ironworks in Scotland, then dismantled, and shipped in parts to the port of Arica, Chile in 1862. The parts were transported by rail 40 miles to Tacna, the end of the railroad. The original contractor failed to complete the journey by mule to Puno, so the parts sat in Tacna for six years before being loaded on to pack mules for the remaining 220 miles to Puno. The parts arrived in Puno in 1869, and the Yavari was finally launched in 1870. It had been designed to run on coal, but there is no coal in Peru, so dried llama dung was used as fuel.

Since then, it has  been refitted to run on Diesel. The ship operated until 1979. Some years later, it was renovated to carry passengers on the lake, and has even operated as a bed and breakfast. The rooms look pretty small to me, but I suppose it would be an adventure.

Currently, the ship and museum are closed as it needs more renovations to remain seaworthy. This work cannot continue without more funding. Although it isn’t open, our guide had managed to arrange for us to tour the ship.

After lunch, a friend and I went downtown. We were mostly on a hunt to purchase some red quinoa and black quinoa. We stopped first at the Plaza de Armas. The downtown area was very busy as it is the beginning of Festival de la Candelaria. The Virgin of Candelaria is the patron saint of Puno. The feast begins on February 2nd and continues until the 18th. This festival actually goes back to the Andean celebration of Mother Earth, the figure of Pachamama. Originally, the whole region around Lake Titicaca honored Pachamama in order to have a rich harvest and favorable weather. Tomorrow, there will be a dance competition at the city stadium. As part of There were people decorating another plaza with pictures made of flowers.

On our way to the supermarket, we were stopped by a parade, a very short parade, celebrating the Virgin of Candelaria, only about two blocks long. There were some local dignitaries, some military, a band, and several men carrying a large float of Mary. The parade moved quite slowly, as they had to push up the electrical wires a few times to allow the float to pass underneath. There were many people in traditional garb. Many were throwing flower petals at the float. After the parade passed, we noticed a few shrines along the parade route. The street was covered with flower petals that were being swept up by a maintenance crew.

We made it to the supermarket, where we found our quinoa, plus some corn and some sauces. It’s a good thing I brought my expandable tote with me.

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Colca Canyon and the Andean Condors

Thursday late morning and afternoon, January 31, 2019

The Colca River is the longest river in Peru, stretching from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. On its journey, it creates the deepest canyon in the world, over 2.5 miles, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. This area was inaccessible by road until the 1940s. Even then, the outside world was not aware of the canyon, which was first navigated in 1981 by a Polish rafting expedition. The expedition suggested that this canyon was the deepest in the world, and that was later verified.

We drove from Colca Valley to Colca Canyon, through a tunnel that was built as part of the Majes-Siguas irrigation project in the 1970s that built a 63 mile long aqueduct to bring water to the dry lands around Arequipa.

The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world, considering both wingspan and weight, with a wingspan of almost eleven feet. It is the national symbol of Peru. This bird is considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Condors don’t make nests, as they can’t carry anything. They prefer rock ledges or caves on mountain faces, with wide open spaces. They use thermals that rise and spiral off the cliffs to soar for hours, looking for carrion. They rip open the tough skin of their kills, making it easier for other animals to feed on the carrion as well. Andean Condors have been known to prey on small live animals, but their short talons are not well adapted for hunting.

The condors mate for life, and can live up to 100 years, and lay one or two eggs per year. The young will stay will the parents for several years, as they don’t reach maturity until about age 5. The young have brown feathers. At about age 8, the feathers turn black with with patches on the wings and a ruff of white feathers. The male has a crest on its head which distinguishes it from the female.

Cruz del Condor, about a mile above the river, is an excellent place to view these magnificent birds. The total elevation here is 12,416 feet. We waited for a while, constantly scanning the skies around us, until we were rewarded with our first sight of a flying condor. Our trip in the cold was rewarded!

While not a pretty bird, the Andean Condor is magnificent, especially in flight. There were three condors perched on a nearby mountain that we watched for a while. We saw several flying, took too many photos, and decided to return to our vehicle. On the way, we saw people pointing and shooting photos, so we checked it out. First, we saw two on a ledge, then we saw three, then four, and finally six. There were two adults, and four juveniles. The ledge may be where their home cave is located. We watched as they fluffed their feathers, communicated with each other, and soared.


On our way back to the lodge, we stopped at a few more lookout points, and I bought a Cabana hat.. We went in to the village of Chivay, to do some shopping. The center square and the Main Street have some statues that reflect the local cultural dances. Chivay is the largest village in the Colca Valley, with about 7,000 people. Twice a week, there is a large market where people come to sell their goods, and the population doubles. It was delightful to watch the people, many of whom were dressed in their local attire, with lots of layering of skirts. There were so many beautiful hats, belts and dresses, colorful and with lots of bling. I did get my Cabana hat, and I was looking at some of the embroidered jackets, but resisted them (I’m kind of regretting that now.)

As we left Chivay, a thunderstorm was approaching. It was still raining when we reached the lodge, but we went to the hot pools anyway. Ahh – so very relaxing.



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Zig Zagging through Arequipa

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Our guide took us on a driving tour of Arequipa, starting with a view of the city from atop a hill. We noticed many fields and some farm animals within the city proper. There are many old Inca terraces being utilized for farming. They grow papaya (which is much better than we have at home), passion fruit, broccoli, avocado, carrots, asparagus, turnips, quinoa, potatoes, corn and more. They also grow maca, a member of the onion family, which is good for energy, and is sometimes called natural viagara.

Many homes are built on the hillsides. There are no roads going up these hills, so all of the homes have to be accessed by stairs. Walking up and down keeps them in good shape, but I sure wouldn’t want to carry four bags of groceries up several flights.

We drove through several districts of the city. The Yanahuara (Black Trousers) district has many colonial era houses. When the Incas first arrived here, they saw that the local people were wearing short black pants, so gave them the name Yanahuara. After the Spanish began settling in South American, many Castilians settled in this district. Castile is in the north central part of Spain, and Castilian people are represented by a lion in many of the carvings here.

We paid a visit to La Mansión del Fundador (home of the founder). Built by Don Garcí Manuel De Carbajal, a Spanish lieutenant who explored the area as an emissary of Francisco Pizarro, as a home for his local wife and family. From the paintings here, it seems he was a handsome man. BE93A150-54E1-40A2-B163-487C85490146The house was restored in 1980s, and is used as an event center. The grounds are beautiful. You can hold a wedding there for about $5,000 (not including food, drinks and decorations). The house is full of artwork and furniture from the many families who owned it over the years. Sitting high above the city, it provides panoramic views of the fields and buildings here.

We also stopped at Molina de Sabandía, a 400 year old water mill used to grind wheat. Unlike the water wheel many of us are familiar with, the Sabandía uses water diverted from a nearby stream and sends it down a series of floors to power the mill. Here, too, there are beautiful views of the city of Arequipa.

Our visit to Museo Santuarios Andinos was fascinating. This is final resting place of the Peruvian Ice Maiden, a 12 year old Inca girl who had been sacrificed to the gods in the 1450s. Dubbed Juanita, her body was discovered during a 1995 excavation atop Nevado Ampato in the Colca District. Her body had been hidden in ice until a nearby volcano began erupting, causing melting on the mountain where she had been buried. She is called the Ice Maiden because the body is placed in deep freeze in total darkness from January to April every year for conservation purposes.

We also enjoyed Mundo Alpaca (Alpaca World) where we heard about the differences between llamas, alpaca and vicuña. All of the wool is sorted by hand. The baby alpaca is pulled out first, then the fibers are separated by color. The vicuña provides the finest and most expensive wool. These animals are shorn only once every two years. The wool must be sorted by hand to remove impurities and coarse fibers, leaving a small amount of very soft wool. We observed a couple of local women weaving the wool into beautiful fabrics. I purchased a scarf and shawl made of silk and baby alpaca. Normally, I can’t wear wool, but this is very soft and delicate and I think I’ll be able to tolerate it.

The Mercado San Camilo is a very large market frequented by the locals. We were awed by the displays of fruits (some of which we didn’t recognize), vegetables, meats and cheeses as well as household goods.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant that our guide had suggested, Zig Zag, where we were able to try alpaca meat. This meat is quite good to eat, and is lower in calories and cholesterol. Our meals were served on piping hot lava plates; the meat was still sizzling. Besides alpaca, we were able to have two other meats. I chose beef and chicken; Mark chose beef and lamb. We could even choose the size of servings, which I appreciated, not having to waste half of my meal. The meats were served with some tasty sauces as well.

We learned the next day that there was a 5.0 earthquake in the Arequipa area around 6:20 pm. This was the time we were walking to the restaurant, but we didn’t notice the tremors.

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Final Excursion in the Amazon

Saturday afternoon, January 26, 2019

Our afternoon excursion was on the Yarapa River. This river is outside the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, so there is more water traffic there. We boated past several Eco-lodges, including The Treehouse, where all of the lodges are up in trees. Most of these eco-lodges are quite basic, for guests who want to experience nature without the amenities. (We did see some solar panels and electrical cords, so they aren’t completely off the grid.)


We spotted a couple more Pygmy Marmosets who played hide and seek with us. They really are adorable. There were a couple of Wooly Monkeys jumping through the trees and playing with each other. They reminded us of the acrobats with Cirque du Soleil. They cling to the branches and swing by their prehensile tails. It’s amazing that they don’t fall in the water, which is a good thing since they can’t swim.


We did see a Coatimundi running up a branch, but weren’t quick enough to get a photo. They have long noses like anteaters, but are related to raccoons. They spend most of their time in the trees.

Suddenly, our guide became very excited. “My friends, my friends, you are very lucky. There is the world’s largest Toucan – the White-throated Toucan.” It was difficult to spot at first, hiding behind a branch. With some maneuvering by our pilot, we got to see this magnificent bird. It was joined by a second one that we couldn’t see, though.


We managed to see a Yellow-crowned Brushtail Tree Rat peeking out of its hole in a tree. We had seen one at dusk the other day, but this one was much easier to see. It obliged us by climbing out so we could see the entire body.

After dinner, several crew members entertained us with music and singing. They call themselves “The Chunky Monkeys.” Several of us got up to dance for a while. It was a lovely final evening here in the Upper Amazon.


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