5.16.2006

last post from peru

We´re back in the hotel for one hour before leaving for the airport. I´ll try to bang out a post about our last day.

We spent the morning in El Museo de la Nacion, a natural history museum that gives an overview of the ancient Peruvian cultures, from the first civilizations through the Incas. There´s an emphasis on ceramics (since much of our knowledge of these peoples comes through their pottery), along with some good reproductions of their buildings and temples. There was a school group there, eager 4th graders, and their teacher´s talk was just about on my level of comprehension.

It was a nice place, well designed and thought out, but the real treat was unrelated to the museum, and unexpected. In an alcove to the side of one of the exhibits, a young man sat in a room full of a kind of handicraft we have not seen anywhere else. He gave us a beautiful description (in Spanish, dumbed down for me, I believe) of how they are made and what they mean.

They are gourds, meticulously engraved in the most painstaking detail, then rubbed with the black ash of a certain plant, then cleaned with another solution (all from plants found in the rainforest), so the inky colour stays only in the engravings. The drawings are playful and light, depicting festivals, music, work, family life, and other aspects of rural life in Peru.

I cannot begin to describe the intricacy of the drawings. We were positively flabbergasted. Some of the engravings were huge, on giant horn-shaped gourds. Others were small, about the size of a pear, or even smaller, the size of a small egg. The workshop of artists who make them are entirely the young man´s family.

Off to the ATM we went! We simply could not resist buying these unique figures from the artist themselves. After much decision-making - they were all so beautiful - we bought one medium pear-sized gourd, and a very small egg-shaped one. (They were priced according to how long they took to make.) When I asked the boy for his photo in front of his work, he gave me his email address and asked if I would send him the photo. Great!

I don´t know if there´s anything about this work online. He called it Mates Burilados. (I asked him to write it down with his email address.) Mates are the gourds; the etching instruments are burillas.

After the museum, we went to Barranco, the supposedly funky suburb just south of Miraflores. Either we didn´t see the funky part, or this neighbourhood went upscale long ago. It was beautiful, and very ritzy, full of huge colonial homes and gardens.

We were very hungry, and on a guidebook recommendation, Allan found us a terrific place for what turned out to be our last meal in Peru. It was a neighbourhood joint, a big open place with 25-foot ceilings, from which hung all manner of soccer memorabilia. It´s only open for lunch and the big tables kept filling up with all manners of groups. (Except tourists!)

We each had a ceviche appetizer that alone would have been a meal. Mine was the deluxe mixed edition, full of squid, octopus, shrimp, langostinos, mussels, clams, a few kinds of fish, and a shellfish I had never seen before, which I found out was concha negra - black conch. After this the waiter brought me a small cast-iron crock of chufe, thick, creamy chowder filled with shrimp and langostinos. (For my own record, Allan had calamari ceviche and chiccharrones mixto, mixed fried seafood.) We were both full for the rest of the day.

We walked around Barranco, finding little pedestrian-only lanes among the colonial houses and sea views everywhere. Tired and too full, we sat in the town park, then found a little place for a cup of tea. The owner was a local man who spoke excellent English, who said he thinks his English is "like Tarzan", pronouncing Tarzan with the accent on the second syllable. I must use that line about my Spanish! He had a beautiful, tiny cafe, which he said he designed himself, and, being unemployed and broke at the time, constructed entirely out of materials recycled from trash. (I´m going to come back to this post to add the name of his cafe.) [Name and address of cafe: Paz Soldan, Av. Grau 508, Barranco. Proprietor: Jose Antonio Paz Soldan Vargas.]

After this, we hopped yet another cab to Larcomar, the trendy outdoor mall, to have one last drink overlooking the Pacific. It was dark by now, but the mist that hangs over the coast obscures all stars. All you can see in the darkness are the whitecaps of the waves rolling in, and the roar of the surf echoes on the cliffs.

Peru has been like a dream, like an odyssey - so different, often wonderful, sometimes difficult, but always fascinating. I feel sad to leave and so incredibly fortunate to have been here.

Thanks for coming along on our journey! Tomorrow we resume normal we move to canada programming. I can´t remember what that was, but Allan assures me I´ll come up with something.

A few photos from our last day in Peru.

Allan took several close-ups of the amazing mates burilados, but, engrossed as I was in trying to communicate with the artist, I forgot to tell him about the close-up setting on the digital camera. So unfortunately, most of those are too blurry to post, and I'm still kicking myself over it. However, you can see the artist himself, Cristian Alfaro, and a few of his family's creations.

3 comments:

Owl-in-Toronto said...

Thank you for all the colourful descriptions and the short lessons on archeology - I felt almost like I was there too.

doggerelblogger said...

Hey - how much were the gourds?

I need that kind of detail.

L-girl said...

Thank you, O-in-T!

DB, the young man priced each piece according to how much work went into it. One that took a day's work (if you saw it, you wouldn't believe anyone could complete it in one day) was 30 soles, about US $10. A larger piece that took about a week was priced at 150 soles, or about $50.

We bought two pieces, one tiny and one small, and the boy insisted on giving us a small keychain as a gift. In fact, he wanted to give us two keychains but we would only accept one.