Friday, 23 January 2015

The morning scramble

Here’s one for all you foodies and fitness enthusiasts. Tello and his explorers were obviously pushed to the limits on the expeditions, and tio Hernan always loves to point up the many and varied privations they had to endure, living rough in Peru’s wild and dramatic landscapes. Life was hard but never boring. 

photo by Marco Garro ©PromPeru 

This post is also inspired by a lucky find.  A couple of years ago my father in law gave us tio Hernan’s old diary. This week I discovered this wonderful negative, previously unnoticed, tucked in between the pages.  Hernan’s diary definitely deserves further investigation before it crumbles into dust.

I think the photo may have been taken at the Cumbe Mayo aqueduct site, one of the locations mentioned in this story.  Camping out amongst los Frailones - the Stone Monks - must have been something. Local legend has it that a traveling group of Spanish priests and soldiers once stopped for the night here.  Instead of sleeping, they robbed one another, angering the surrounding hill Gods, who converted them to stone. Hernan’s main preoccupation, however, here as elsewhere in the story, appears to have been food.

I like to think that Tello’s own personal take on breakfast as described here was inspired by his English wife Olive Cheesman.

And one last thing worth mentioning. Pedro Rojas Ponce, the final remaining member of the original team, lived out his twilight years on a state pension in a small flat near Avenida Brazil in Pueblo Libre in Lima.  He continued to practise yoga daily, and died, aged 96, in the summer of 2008.

The morning ‘scramble’ 
In which we hear more about the physical torments of life in the field, and discover the individual and unique gournet talents of (some of) the team. 

The expedition to the Marañón River Basin uncovered a wealth of discoveries. We were ten members and employed more than twenty peons working on the coast for almost three months. The whole expedition lasted in total just over seven months, during which time hundreds of plaster molds and thousands of photographs were taken and sent to Lima.  

The results it produced were outstanding, all the more so considering that there can never have been an archaeological expedition in the history of Peru that cost less. When I think about it, it never ceases to amaze me how we live on so little and produced so much.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Saved by the name

 Who was the inspiration for Indiana Jones?

George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg are said to have modelled him on their childhood action heroes: matinee idols like Charlton Heston playing Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas, and pulp fiction adventurers like Doc Savage.  

There are some real life candidates too: British explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared in 1925 searching for El Dorado in the uncharted jungles of Brazil, or Hiram Bingham, famous for rediscovering and excavating the lost city of Machu Picchu.

Wherever he came from, Indy´s look is now iconic, and I like to think that someone, somewhere was channeling tio Hernan - especially when I see photos like this one.

The fedora, the battered leather jacket, it’s all here and something tells me our young artist relished the sartorial aspect of being a roving archaeologist. The only thing that’s missing is the bullwhip.

But the bohemian adventurer look is not to everyone’s taste. Tello and his team garnered a certain amount of fame and were held in high esteem throughout Peru. But when travelling incognito, as was often the case, they sometimes drew disapproving looks from the more conservative members of provincial communities.

In these smaller towns and villages, with their entrenched social hierarchies, appearances mattered. What´s more, some people reveled in their role as big fish in small ponds, and took full advantage of their position -  as you will see in this story.

 fig 1

Saved by the name
 In which our adventurers ruffle the feathers of the local powers that be

When we arrived in Abancay it was already after three in the afternoon and lunch was no longer being served at the Chifa Hotel. Nevertheless, the owner very kindly sent for some food to be prepared for us.

Meanwhile, an energetic drinking competition was in full swing in the hotel bar, with much brotherly shouting and slapping of backs. And judging by the rosy hue on the faces of the participants, a very cordial time indeed was being had by all.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The eleven widows of Bischongo

To all of you who may have been overindulging a bit over the holidays. Here’s some more ….. food.

 fig 1 

Lima could just well be shaping up to become the gourmet capital of the world. Peruvian cuisine is nothing short of spectacular. Once you’ve eaten ceviche or papa a la huancaina or carapulcra in any one of the city’s growing raft of elegant, homespun or funky (take your pick) restaurants, I guarantee you will have been spoiled for pretty much any other place on earth.

The last decade has seen something of a food revolution in Peru.  There are even rumours that one of the country’s most renowned celebrity chefs (Gaston Acurio) may run for president in the next general election.

But this story takes place long before fanciful creations such as deconstructed causa or octopus in purple coal made their way onto the menu. A time when foam and sand were usually to be found on the beach, rather than on your plate.

For the longest time I wasn’t able to locate Bischongo on the map, but then when I dug a bit deeper researching for this post, I realized that it was because Hernan spells it differently. I also discovered a theory that says the name Vischongo comes from the Quechua words Wischuq Soncco meaning generous or giver. I don’t know if that’s true but I hope so. It fits this story perfectly. There are definitely none of your avant garde, molecular morsels here. Hernan describes a late night extravaganza, complete with all the elements I've come to associate with a typical Peruvian family food celebration: hospitality, creativity and the need for a digestive tract that can go the distance. 

The eleven widows of Bischongo
In which the ladies of a small Andean town manifest their fervent belief that the way to an explorer’s heart is through his stomach.

Vischongo - Ayacucho
All our archeological expeditions were undertaken on an amazingly tiny budget, and naturally that required a treasurer who could perform miracles. 

If only they were all like that, what a wonderful place Peru would be. But the stringent budget and the harsh discipline it required were not easy for some to bear.  Most new expedition members wore very long faces by the end of the first day, and by the end of the first week many of them had started to grumble and find excuses for leaving.