Monday, 22 December 2014

Yaro Willka and Wari Willka

Hernan studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Lima with another young artist Pedro Rojas Ponce. They both hailed from the Mantaro Valley in  the central Andean highlands and were to become lifelong friends. It was Rojas Ponce who first introduced Hernan to Tello, and the two of them worked together on his team for many years. Pedro was also witness at Hernan's wedding. I love this photo of them, taken in 1936. Hernan wrote on it: the road to glory rises before us, we will strive to realize our ideals; humanity needs our art.  

photo taken from La Ilustración Arqueológica de Pedro Rojas Ponce - Dorothee Rivka Rago
Both Hernan and Pedro studied under the famous Peruvian artist Jose Sabogal, a leading light in the country's Indigenismo movement whose influence can be seen clearly in Hernan's paintings.  Later, in the 1940's, when Hernan founded the Grupo Waman Poma, Pedro joined him. Named after and inspired by Felipe Waman Poma Ayala, this small group of enthusiastic painters and sculptors sought to make their art accessible not only to a small elite public in Lima, but also in the smaller provincial towns and villages.

In doing so they hoped to cultivate a sense of pride and national identity by educating ordinary Peruvians about their rich indigenous heritage, and to underscore their respect for the ancient Andean cultures, they took Quechua names. Hernan was Yaro Willka, Pedro was Wari Willka.

When I first read the Anecdotes, in the depths of that dark winter in the 90's when Peru seemed fragmented and traumatised by terrorism, I was warmed by the cheerful intimacy amongst this little band of adventurers. The bond between Hernan and Pedro is obvious. So is the rather endearing difference in their personalities illustrated in this story. Hernan's original title for it in Spanish was  Mano a mano - Hand in hand.

Yaro Willka and Wari Willka
In which our young idealist pays heavily for a fit of indolence

 Casma valley and the Sechín archeological site 
Sylvain2803 CC BY-SA 3.0 
By the time of the Casma expeditions I had already been working for Tello for a year. He was dedicated and demanding, and as his illustrator and secretary I was used to a tough working environment. the wage paid to the excavation labourers was about 200% more than the meagre salary I received, but I was enchanted by it all because I had a real love of archaeology.  

But the truth is that Tello was relentlessly meticulous, and any error, no matter how miniscule, would throw him into a bad mood.  The longest telling off I ever received in my life happened in Mojeque – a site located ten kilometers from Casma. I think it must’ve set some kind of record because it lasted on and off more or less for two whole days. And this is how it happened. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

El Huaquero

Ancient artefacts that have gone walkabout all over the world are nowadays finding their way back home to museums where they can be enjoyed by everyone. Looted treasure, via unwitting explorers, local grave robbers and enterprising middlemen, can wind up in all sorts of places - from museums, to top end private collections, to the more humble dwellings of ordinary citizens.

In Peru, discoveries are made all the time in remote areas of a country where a rural population still struggles to make ends meet. Add to the mix a lack of trust in institutions, and it's easy for some to argue that there's nothing wrong with a 'pickings for all' approach.

To Tello the real value of an object was not the price it could fetch, but the story it would tell. Indeed his life was dedicated to bringing that story to the Peruvian people.  

He was pitted against looters of all types, as well as negligence and government indifference. Local tomb raiders posed a problematic dilemma .... whilst they were undoubtedly his sworn enemies, they could also help lead him to sites.

Silver and copper alloy headdress - Peru, 100-700 AD
 property of a Swiss gentleman acquired 1960 in the Paris art market. 
Vestervang House Auctions catalogue.

In this story Hernan tells of a chance encounter in the Casma valley which they hope can further their research. But science is not exactly uppermost in the mind of this particular local peasant.

El Huaquero 
In which an enthusiastic entrepreneur almosts gets more than he is bargaining for

Tello was in the Casma Valley one day, exploring every corner of the countryside and making notes on all the geographical features in order to make a detailed report, when we came across a small hut. The peasant who emerged from within could barely speak Spanish. Tello asked him for the names of all the nearby spots and landmarks, but he studiously ignored us, probably because we were strangers. Tello then decided to ask him if by any chance he had any artefacts

Friday, 24 October 2014

If the (strawberry pink) jumper fits

In a country not short on spectacular landscapes,  for me the Mantaro Valley,  in Peru´s Central Andean Highlands, is one of the most beautiful.  I may be biased.  This is where my husband was born. These are the mountain streams where he learnt to swim, and the rural setting chimes with my own cherished memories of a childhood spent roaming the Devonshire moors in Southern England.  

La Huaycha  Hernan Ponce Sanchez
Although at more than 3,000 metres above sea level, the adventures and tales told here, like most things in Peru, seem more dramatic, more vibrant, shot through with the Ponce family´s own special brand of magic realism.

Tio Hernan was born here in the small town of Concepción, and the play of light over the valley´s streams and terracotta roofed villages is a favourite theme in the young artist's paintings. 
Huaytapallana- Morada Campesina 
 Hernan Ponce Sanchez

Tello also visited and studied the valley on various occasions. In 1942 the expedition to the Alto Urubamba river basin stopped off for three days in Huancayo, the region's largest town, before heading southwards, and Hernan tells us this story of how a singular purchase the archaeologist made there was to bring unexpected consequences further along the road. 

If the (strawberry pink) jumper fits
In which it is proven that first impressions can be deceptive

On the eve of our continuing journey southwards from Huancayo, Tello asked some of us to accompany him to purchase some items, one of which being a woolen jumper. And so it was that Mejía Xesspe, Pedro Rojas Ponce, myself and the archaeologist found ourselves, late that afternoon, on Calle Real, the busiest commercial avenue in all of this central region of Peru. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The perfumed bed

Tello and his explorers were hardened travelers. The expeditions took them all over Peru´s remote deserts, mountains and jungles where, come nightfall, they were more often than not dependent on the generosity of locals for lodgings.  And as you may suspect, beggars can’t be choosers. In this story Hernan tells us about one particular bed that the archaeologist never forgot.

Guaman Poma de Ayala - The Author Travels

The perfumed bed
In which it is confirmed that some resting places are definitely more desirable than others

Travelling through the small towns and villages of Peru is something of an adventure. One day we could be staying in a comfortable hotel, but the next we would be in a second rate hostel, the next in a hovel or even in a cave.  And let me tell you a cave was preferable to some of the hotels we have seen. Tello was always meticulous in his personal hygiene, but you can imagine the myriad variety of beds in which he had slept, and the countless bugs and odours to which he had been exposed.

Once, for example, when he arrived at a small coastal town, an excellent room was made available for him complete with a bed made up with impeccable white linen. Unfortunately he was forced to vacate it only a short while after he had slipped between the beautiful snowy sheets, because a whole legion of insects had begun a stealthy advance up his body. Happily he had with him his riding kit, and he was able to stretch out his saddle blanket on the floor and lay down to sleep there, having first surrounded himself with lit candles to keep the bugs at bay. Of all these experiences, there was one that Tello never forgot. His night in the perfumed bed.  

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Let them eat cake

Panetón (panettone) is a family favourite in Peru. In fact Peru is the second largest consumer of panetón in the world, beaten only by Italy.

The domed shaped yeast bread, traditionally flavoured with candied fruit peel and raisins, is said to hail from fifteenth century Milan. Nowadays all sorts of delicious chocolate versions are available, but in Lima the old school panetón reigns supreme.

Indeed there is a kind of hierarchy of brands and in our family, when wishing to impress, it´s not unknown for lesser (no less delicious) brands to find their way into the boxes of their more upmarket relatives.

Panetón crowds the supermarket aisles in late December, and is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve accompanied by industrial strength sweet steaming hot chocolate. But you don´t have to wait for Christmas to enjoy it.

In this story Hernan tells how, on the long arduous Marañon expedition, Tello´s deputy and head bean counter Toribio Mejía Xesspe is sent one from his wife. 

Let them eat cake 
In which the odyssey of a panetón is rather rudely cut short

On the eve of his birthday, whilst we were in Casma, Mejía Xesspe received a panetón that his wife had sent to him. The gracious lady, mindful no doubt of her husband’s companions, had sent a large cake that was plenty big enough for all of us. But we only got one tiny slice each, the excuse being that we would do well to save enough to share out again once we got to the other side of the Marañón basin

Señora Mejía Xesspe had probably not imagined when she sent the gift, that her cake would be so zealously preserved, but it’s worth mentioning here that Mejía Xesspe’s meticulous thrift always delighted Tello, because he was able to miraculously balance the books with his stringent economies and strict rationing.

Months passed and we soon forgot all about the precious panetón. Nevertheless, it unexpectedly came to light again one day in Pacasmayo. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The unforgettable millenium bean feast

The Paracas peninsula in the region of Ica is one of my favourite places on earth. 

Situated on the coastal plain just a few hours south of Lima,  it´s a haunting place of rare beauty, where the light plays off desert cliffs reaching down to beaches whose only inhabitants are seals and sea birds. 

The peninsula sands are also littered with archaeological sites, witness to the ancient peoples who depended on the area´s rich marine resources.

Tello began explorations there in 1925 and was eventually to unearth hundreds of tombs containing 
funeral bundles fardos yielding up a wealth of artefacts and the exquisite, finely woven textiles for which the area is now famous. 

Ica is also the birth place of  Peru´s beloved national beverage, the infamous Pisco; a drink that my friends have christened the happy drink and which indeed has brought me many a happy moment. 

Hernan's story from Ica  tells of a time when the team were treated to a very memorable meal. 

The unforgettable millennium bean feast
In which a lazy cook unexpectedly tickles our boys’ taste buds – and in doing so proves an interesting theory

During one of our excavations in Ica, the work schedule and the budget was so tight that there was no allowance for a cook, all the cooking was left up to us, the expedition members. We took it in turns to prepare the food, but our meals were truly horrible. Conscious that his team was wasting precious time in the kitchen and eager to improve our awful diet, Tello halted work one day and asked around amongst the peons we had hired if there was anyone who knew how to cook. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Public enemy number one

Lima 1992.  A winter´s evening, just a couple of weeks after our arrival. I hear fireworks popping outside in the street. The sound intensifies. Suddenly Mama Mery is running through the house screaming "abre la boca, abre la boca".  I have no idea what this means. My sister in law scoops my two year old from his grandma´s bed in the front bedroom where he is watching cartoons. I am bemused and befuddled on the stairs. And then an almighty bang rocks the windows.

detail from a Paracas textile held in the MNAA Lima
taken from : La cultura Paracas - treinta siglos de arte textil

This was the night Sendero terrorists killed the local university´s night watchman. He used to sit in a plastic chair, two doors down from our home on Las Nazarenas. We, along with the neighbours, took it in turn to offer him the occasional sandwich or hot drink to keep the cold at bay.

Turns out it wasn´t fireworks after all, it was automatic gunfire.

Then they threw a grenade at him.

Later I find out abre la boca means open your mouth; the local civil defence advice to avoid ear drums splitting in an explosion.

My brother in law had been tinkering with his old VW outside the house at the time of the attack, a bullet hole in the bodywork testament to a lucky escape. The family was anxious  for days afterwards, fearful that the killers would think he had seen their faces as they ran past. This was the Peru I first knew. A people stunted by fear and suspicion.

I was strung out and frustrated. The initial delight at living in a house with humming birds in the garden was wearing thin, but getting to know this beautiful country seemed next to impossible. Travel to the more remote regions was blighted by those twin goons terrorism and crime, and violence and murder was commonplace. So I took refuge in armchair travel and read Tio Hernan´s stories. They transported me to a gentler time.

But even back then bandits were a thorn in the side of our intrepid travelers. As this story shows. 

Public enemy number one (and two)
In which our explorers have a narrow escape and find that a pistol comes in handy  

A battalion of army engineers was working on the extension of a landing strip in one of the northern coastal towns where Tello was studying some tombs. He had gotten to know some of the commanders and one day,seeing one of them with several pistols stuck into his belt, the archaeologist smiled and said to him: "You're certainly well armed there Commander. Can you believe it, I've travelled all over Peru, many times alone, and I've never carried so much as a small penknife". 

It was true. I never knew him carry any weapons with him on his travels. He did, however, once tell me of a rather swashbuckling incident that had happened many years before.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Mummies or daddies

Photograph Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty images
Arguably one of Tello´s greatest contributions to archaeology was his work at Chavin de Huantar, and his travels frequently took him through the beautiful Callejón de Huaylas in the mountains of Ancash. The stunning landscape is home to some equally picturesque inhabitants that Hernan delights in describing in the Anecdotes. 

Hernan loved to poke fun at small town manners and conventions. When I arrived in Peru´s capital city many years later things had changed. But when I stepped off the plane and found myself thrust into the heart of what was still, in some ways, a very conservative Andean family, there was still plenty of room for disaster.
Hernan´s hankering for a freer kind of life had launched him on the adventures I was reading about more than half a century later, and his sense of humour, which shone through in stories like this one, was a breath of fresh air.

It felt like I had found a kindred spirit.

Mummies or daddies
In which things get a little saucy at the home of the sisters

On one of his regular visits to the beautiful Huaylas canyon valley, Tello arrived at one of Ancash's many charming country towns. As always, the first thing he did was to set about finding any local archaeology aficionados.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

All roads lead to Casma

The river Marañon, a tributary of the Amazon, rises to the north of Lima and flows along the eastern flank of the Andes before turning inland, carving through the mountains and continuing on through the rainforest on the other side.

In 1937 Tello got funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to explore the upper Marañon river basin and in June of that year the team set off north from the capital out onto the coastal desert plain, where they were to begin by exploring the river valleys

Some unexpected discoveries  led  to an unscheduled and highly successful three months stay excavating in the Casma valley, and the expedition was to eventually last an extraordinary six months and take them as far north as Cochabamba and Chachapoyas.

This little adventure occurs early on in their travels. Money, as always, is tight, and Hernan is just beginning to get used to life on the road and Tello´s robust temper.

All roads lead to Casma
In which our young adventurer's heroic undertakings take a wrong turn

When we left to explore the Marañón river basin, there were so many of us that we set out in two cars. Doctor Tello led the group. Then there was Mejía Xesspe, our assistant director at the National Anthropology Museum, and the one who was in charge of logistics and budget, the illustrator Pedro Rojas Ponce, the North American anthropologist Donald Collier and his two fellow students Honour McCreary and Barbara Loomis. As usual I went along as illustrator and Tello’s campaign secretary. 

We started off at Huaral and continued on beyond Sayán, stopping off and excavating wherever we found cemeteries and pre-Columbian ruins. we stayed for several days studying tombs in Lachay and then went on through Vilcahuara, San Nicholas and the port of Supe

At that time what served as a highway was little more than a collection of tracks that changed according to the whim of the dunes and the winds that erased them.  It meant that the drivers had to be very skillful. Ours were good on the tarmac streets of Lima, but they were hard pressed to negotiate such an uneven expanse of shifting desert dunes.

We were making our way toward Casma, descending the long incline just past Las Zorras, when we started sliding all over the place in the sand, struggling to keep the cars on the track. The engines began to rattle worryingly and we decided to get down and push. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The photographer

Marcahuamachuco - David Almeida, Lima Peru

As I read through the Anecdotes I was struck by the dveloping picture of this band of brothers; their unique individual characters and the bonds that formed as they travelled the length and breadth of the country, working, eating and sleeping together.

In June 1937 Tello took off to explore Peru's northern coastal river valleys and the upper Marañon river basin. The expedition was to become one of the team's most important scientific endeavours, taking a total of six months and yielding a wealth of discoveries, all logged and illustrated by Hernan.

On the way back they stopped off at a hacienda just outside Chilia in the morthwestern highlands. By this time the expedition was reduced to a small core group and it's not entirely clear who the bumbling protagonist of this tale of manners is. But Hernan has some wickedly ironic fun describing ...

The photographer
In which it becomes apparent that archaeologists are not always good diplomats

We arrived in Yanasara, by car from Huamachuco, after having crossed the river Marañón in a basket sling bridge. Three days on horseback out of Yanasara, and we arrived at La Deliciana hacienda. 

Tello (right) and his assistant Mejia Xesspe crossing the Marañón.
 Hernan is seated behind, wearing his distinctive hat.

We were relieved to get to the property which was situated high up in the hills. We had no desire to spend the night further down in the muggy, hot air of the valley. It wasn’t the heat that worried us so much, as the fact that the valley lay in a zone well known for the virulent and debilitating ‘verruga’ disease. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Death stalks the valley

One of my most treasured memories is of a winter night sat listening to Jesus' aunt Hayde telling tall tales in the garden of their old family homestead in the central Andean highlands. The two hundred year old house sits in a small village in the Mantaro Valley. At that altitude, at over three thousand metres above sea level, the air is pristine : the moonlight, the stars, the sounds of the valley drifting through the stillness of the night,  its a special kind of magic. 

This story describes a similar moonlit night. The place is Cuzco's Sacred Valley. The year 1942. Tello's Urubamba expedition has arrived for their first night at Huiñay Huayna. But the sounds Hernan hears coming out of the darkness turn the magic to fear.

Death stalks the valley 
In which our explorers get a nasty fright

It was the 25th of August 1942, a beautiful calm, starry night, and the first night that we stayed in the Huiñay Huayna expedition hut we had constructed close to the ruins on the edge of the forest.

We retired early as usual at seven o’clock. But for some reason, at ten o’clock, when all the others were sleeping peacefully, I was still awake. 

I was listening to the sound of the crickets and mulling over a thousand memories in my mind when a distant but clear shriek of anguish tore through the silence of the night:

 “Oh my God! God have mercy, Mercy!”

The scream echoed through the secluded valley. I froze in my bed. What on earth was happening?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The boy from Machu Picchu

Tello’s explorers were no strangers to hardship. Many of Tio Hernan’s stories tell of the constant challenges the expeditions faced in finding provisions and eating well on scant resources. On the 1942 expedition to the Urubamba valley (also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas) located close to Cusco and the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, they met a young boy who turned out to have a particular flair for making ends meet.

In this story Hernan describes the ingenuity, creativity, and drive for improvement that many Peruvians still pride themselves on today. 

But he also writes about a far less attractive social phenomenon, and the obstacles and harsh conditions that eventually blight the life of a resourceful young man.

The boy from Machu Picchu
In which we learn more about the expedition's young camp cook and his unfortunate fate.

There are some interesting ruins at Corihuayrachina, linked to Machu Picchu by a very well conserved granite paved Inca road. We had just set up camp there when we realized that we were running very low on provisions. So we sent a peon to buy more from the small town which is situated down in the valley near the famous ruins.

The next day climbing back up the hill, burdened with his purchases, came not the peon but a small boy of about fourteen years of age. He explained that his brother had been taken ill, and so he had come himself to bring us our provisions.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The bears of HuiñayHuayna

I had already heard Hernan’s name before I found his Anecdotes. Travelling by train from Cusco along the Urubamba valley on our first trip to Machu Picchu, Jesus pointed up at a grey smudge barely visible amidst the lush green valley covering:  “Look up there,” he said “Those are the ruins my uncle helped discover”.

These days the site is well known, one of the final stops on the Inca Trail before arriving at Machu Picchu. Clinging to a densely forested slope high above the river, the ruins are connected by a long staircase and a series of cisterns or baths.  Hernan gives us his own take on how they came to light, and contemplates their fate.

The bears of Huiñay Huayna
In which, on the trail of the Peruvian spectacled bear, an archaeoogist finds some exraordinary ruins, and how they are named after the orchids that bloom all over them.