Marcahuamachuco – The Machu Picchu of the North.

The road from Cajamarca to Trujillo was filled with unexpected delights and downhearted reminders of the difficult lives of the Peruvian people. The political system in Peru has been described as an ongoing state of democratization. It flounders back and forth between dominant executive branches (dictator-like leaders who have occasionally dissolved congressional power) and an emerging congress that seeks to counterbalance the dramatic executive swings. While most of the political process plays out in the larger cities where the population is concentrated, the ‘local’ politicians of the outlying areas in the small Andean villages take advantage of the opportunity to advertise. In the US, our politicians – large and small, use signs, placards, billboards, radio/television ads, and of course, social media to promote themselves. The US politicians pay for these political advertising opportunities with campaign funds. In the Peruvian mountain communities, the politicians use only one form of advertising – painting houses. I do not mean that they paint the houses with fresh coats of paint to enhance the aesthetic nature of the mud brick and straw structures. I mean that they paint the entire house with a campaign sign. Because so many of the people in the rural areas do not have access to education beyond elementary school, many people have poor reading skills. Political parties count on icons to help at voting time and when they paint the house with their name and slogan, they always make sure to add the icon that sets their party/agenda apart making it easier for the locals to choose candidates. The result is not an visually pleasing countryside. The landscape and the natural beauty of the Andes is dotted with unpleasant ‘billboard-looking’ houses. Occasionally, you can see that a political group has attempted to make life a bit easier by installing gaudily painted outhouses with small solar panels to provide warmish water to the local community…but, in general only a few dollars are contributed to the people who allow the houses to be painted and promises for better futures are rarely realized.

Yes, life for these people can be difficult. Almost everything is done by hand. Check out this farmer using his horses to help separate wheat from the chaff. We found examples of this everywhere…sometimes the whole family sifts through the piles of wheat found drying on large tarps in the middle of the field. We found coffee drying on burlap stretched in the sun on the streets, rice being separated by hand in large baskets, and beans being shelled by women squatting over big steel bowls.

We spent the night near the ruins at Marcahuamachuco, another pre-Incan site found high in the mountain region known as La Libertad. The discovery of this area is recent, and the Peruvian government is currently undergoing the process of collecting, categorizing and protecting this important archaeological monument. It was amazing to see that, high in these Andean mountains, many people are living among (and in some cases within) the ruins, subsisting on very little from the outside world. This site is over 1600 years old and by the time the Incas conquered this area, the site was already a ruin that had long been abandoned. It will be interesting to watch as the process of discovery unfolds here. Many already postulate that this area rivals Machu Picchu.

Today’s theme – every day brings touching beauty and severe reality.

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