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.

How we managed to sustain such an intense workload is a miracle. At one stage, when there were only four of the original members left, we found ourselves living and eating like paupers. After the first four months we slept mainly in small huts or caves. We lived in the one and only set of overalls that each of us had left, and took them off only to wash them. For this we had to wait for a hot day, so we could dry them right away in the sun and put them on again to get back to work.

Hernan's drawing of the work at Cumbe Mayo (fig1)
If that seems an exaggeration, then I can only say to you that it is God’s own truth.

If we had worn suitable clothes; boots, shirts and helmets or straw hats. If we had had sunglasses or binoculars, proper tents or maybe even medicines or a jeep. 

In short if we had had decent equipment and provisions, we would've spent triple what we did. 

As it was, we had Mejía Xesspe, a treasurer who could have invented the word tight fisted, and the whole expedition was completed on a budget of twelve thousand soles. Even so, Tello was disappointed that we hadn't been able to squeeze out even more from the money which had been a Nelson A. Rockefeller donation

Tello was a man who, although he had been honoured in London in front of an audience of delegates from all over the globe, was still comfortable preparing and serving food for us, his subordinates. And it is testament to his large heart and honourable spirit.  I know that Christ himself taught us that, but even so it’s not a feature found in many mere mortals. 

los Frailones - Cumbe Mayo
photo by Carlos Sala

For some weeks we lived in a cave in the megalithic formations surrounding the Cumbe aqueduct in Cajamarca. 
Hernan's illustration of a stone head
found near the Cueva Sagrada at the Cumbe Mayo site (fig2)
Another time we stayed in an abandoned shack on the slopes of Mount Chocta in Celendín where we were studying some rare and extremely beautiful three storey chulpas (funerary towers), and always after a hard day’s work we all had to set to in the kitchen.
fig 3

At least in Chocta living was cheap. You could buy a hundred eggs for next to nothing and then the locals would give you a hundred more for free. Whenever Tello went to get some corn he would come back with half a sack full, for no more than a few reales, for his young assistant! He had realized early on that I worked better when I was chewing on some cancha.  I loved the stuff and could happily eat it all day. In fact I managed to polish off a whole half a sack of corn by myself in the fifteen days that we were there …. Oh what it is to be young!

We made sure always to have two or three cabbages in the hut too because our main dish for breakfast was Tello’s famous version of ‘scramble’. He himself washed and chopped the cabbage and then mixed it up together with beaten eggs. After the scramble came our own unique kind of coffee made from burnt corn, and there was cancha for whoever wanted it. The coffee and cancha were my responsibility.
Cancha - roasted corn kernels
find it at 
el INTI online Peruvian bodega 
Mejía Xesspe was in charge of lunch, and his specialty was a simple but delicious sancochado, a dish of boiled beef and vegetables. He was already something of a seasoned cook, having been on the earlier expeditions to discover the famous Paracas necropolis, and the later trips to the Nepeña valley. 

Dinner fell to the illustrator Pedro Rojas Ponce, and when it was his turn how we all suffered. I think the only thing he knew how to do truly well was washing the dishes!  But, Pedro, apart from his obvious talent as an artist, was valuable to Tello for another reason : he was his gymnastics professor. Every day at six in the morning, you could see both teacher and pupil starting the day with a complete routine of stretches and exercises.

It was there in Chocta that Tello received his most cherished gift, one that he loved and treasured till the day he died ten years later. All day long we trekked up and down the hills where the chulpas were scattered, and Tello needed a walking stick.  At first he improvised with a stick he had picked up, but Julio Briones, the owner of the small simple hut where we were staying approached one day with a staff he had made himself, especially for him.
fig 4
Tello walked with that stick in Cajabamba, in Huamachuco and Chilia, in Pachacamac, Pisco, so many places, up and down the length of Peru. He never forgot the kindness of Briones.

fig 1. taken from Arqueología de Cajamarca: Expedición al Marañón -1937 by Julio C Tello  (Obras completas Vol 1)

fig 2. (as above)

fig 3. two of Hernan's drawings of the chulpas (as above)

fig 4. (as above)

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