Posts tagged ‘Incas’

The capital city of th Tiwanaku, the great Andean civilization that preceeded the Incas and who influenced them heavily

Tiwanaku

I couldn’t bear another cold, rainy day in La Paz so I struck out after breakfast one Saturday to visit one of Bolivia’s most important archaeological sites Tiwanku, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 90 minutes from La Paz. This “cradle of Andean civilization,” which preceded the Incas, was centered near the fertile soils near Lake Titicaca and flourished for nearly 2500 years until about 1000 AD when the site was abandoned after severe drought.

There is no written history of the Tiwanaku so unfortunately very little is known about this civilization.  An agriculturally based society, they developed sophisticated farming methods (including the sukakullos which Paul and I saw near Copacabana earlier this year) which sustained a considerably growing population. By 800 AD, the capital city of Tiwanaku had perhaps 50,000 residents and recent studies suggest up to 1.5 million inhabitants lived in the region.

The walled Kalasasaya, sacred space featuring many of the most important icons and temples (as seen from atop the Akapana pyramid).

The walled Kalasasaya, sacred space featuring many of the most important icons and temples (as seen from atop the Akapana pyramid).

They worshipped many gods, the most important being Viracocha who created the earth at Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca and brought forth humans from the earth’s rocks. He is celebrated in the site’s outstanding Temple of the Sun, one of the few remaining monuments at the site.  The Tiwanaku also placed great spiritual importance in prominent mountain peaks, the apus (deities) that control weather and determine agricultural output, traditions which continue to this day.

One of the iconic monoliths central to Tiwanau sacred art. This religious leader holds a goblet-like keru for chicha and a wooden case holding hallucinogenic herbs.

One of the iconic monoliths central to Tiwanau sacred art. This religious leader holds a goblet-like keru for chicha and a wooden case for hallucinogenic herbs.

Continue reading ‘Tiwanaku: The Cradle of Andean Civilization’ »

Scenes from Samaipata: Paul amid the peaks ~ Peter chatting on the parrot phone ~ El Fuerte archeological site ~ Easy rider Paul

In Quechua the town means “The Height to Rest” – and indeed this is where Paul and I found a relaxing and picturesque place to kick back for a long weekend.   We were coming from steamy, tropical Santa Cruz in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia in search of cooler temperatures and an escape from the crowds.  It was our last weekend together in Bolivia before Paul had to return home.

Samaipata is something of an anomaly for Bolivia.  Blessed with a delightful subtropical climate and tucked in the easternmost folds of the Andes mountains, the area has attracted foreigners for centuries: first the Sephardic Jews expelled from peninsular Spain during the Inquisition, later some Italians and Croats, and finally a sizable number of expats (mainly artists and free-thinkers from Europe) starting in the 1970’s when the road from Santa Cruz was paved.

Perhaps the most celebrated foreigner to come to the region was Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1966 during his ill-fated attempt to bring Socialist revolution to South America.  He was killed almost a year later in the nearby village of La Higuera.

Today Samaipata remains a sleepy backwater with quiet colonial streets, a peaceful Plaza Principal filled in the evenings with locals on promenade and traveling hippies playing music and selling hand-made wares.  The resident expats are barely visible but present, often running businesses catering to tourists.  Samaipata hosts organic farms, Buddhist meditation retreats, ecological construction (my superadobe instructor from La Paz is based here), and a large number of reveling cruzeños from Santa Cruz on holiday weekends.

Samaipata is an especially agreeable place.  It reminded us of what San Miguel de Allende in Mexico may have been like decades ago.

The quiet streets of Samaipata: wandering cows, unpaved roads and the parrot phone booths

Continue reading ‘Finding R&R (Rest & Ruins) in Serene Samaipata’ »

Scenes from scenic, sacred Lago Titicaca

After a chokingly long week in congested La Paz, Paul arrived and at our first chance we were off in search of cleaner air, a less-harried town, and some water in land-locked Bolivia.  I had finished my first week with Kiva, happily making friends at the Emprender loan offices and completing a couple borrower visits. It was time to celebrate my recent success with Paul!

So off we went to Copacabana on the shores of the magisterial Lago Titicaca.  Standing at 3,812 m (12,507 ft), the lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world.  The Copacabana region, or kota kawana in Aymara (which means “view of the lake”), was considered by both the Tiwanaku and Incan empires strategically, economically and spiritually important.  Consequently Copacabana was settled long before the Spanish arrived.

Today it is a quaint town of 6,000 residents and a tourist hub for both backpackers and Andinos alike.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, a hallowed shrine dating back to the 16th century, is home to the patron saint of Bolivia.  This so-called “Dark Virgin” purportedly has magical healing powers.  Her reputation is so great that pilgrims flock to the cathedral all year long.  Revered far and wide, the Virgin even inspired the naming of a now-famous beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Paul and I instantly bonded with Copacabana.  Laid-back, friendly and geographically and culturally interesting, we both relaxed within minutes of getting off the bus from La Paz.  On the ride there, I couldn’t remember if I passed through this town back in 1999 when I made my first Andean circuit with my brother Erik.  At the time, I recall, I was quite ill from the flu and my recollection was fuzzy at best.  But as soon as I saw the distinctive Basilica, fashioned in the mudéjar style of Islamic Spain, I instantly remembered being here.

One tidbit I do remember from my first visit was changing $100 USD at a local bank since Copacabana was my first stop in Bolivia, having just arrived from Peru.  There were no ATM’s in the town then and the bank teller patiently counted out a pile of small-denomination Boliviano notes.  I made my way back to my hotel with a stack of bills as thick as a brick, what a feeling!

The first afternoon Paul and I just wandered idly around town, poking about the markets, climbing the Cerro Calvario which has great views of the town and the lake.  We enjoyed a cold beer as the sun sank on the western shores of Lake Titicaca and delivered an almighty sunset.  The vote was unanimous — Lake Titicaca was a perfect place to be for a few days.

Continue reading ‘Lake Titicaca: At the Copa… Copacabana!’ »