The Little Red Umbrella Goes To Peru by Diana Massey

Peru might only be about one tenth the size of Canada, but in that relatively small space on the western coast of South America, there is still a stunning variety of landscapes. The country is split in two by the high peaks of the Andean mountain range: to the west are the arid plains and river valleys of the Pacific coast; to the east the lush expanses of the Amazon rainforest. And so, in a three week trip (like The Little Red Umbrella's), you can see everything from the soaring sand dunes of the deserts around Huacachina, to the deep blue waters of the Pacific, to the lush tropical rainforests and breathtaking mountain vistas of the east. Through it all, there is the incredible history and culture of Peru: the stunning Incan city of Machu Picchu; the enormous, ancient geoglyphs of the Nazca lines and the Paracas Candelabra; the modern, Spanish-influenced metropolises like Lima and Arequipa.

Arequipa, "The White City"

The volcanoes outside Arequipa

The Santa Catalina convent, Arequipa

Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru, after Lima, founded high in the Andes by the Spanish in the 1500s. By the 1800s, it had become a center for the rebel resistance which eventually led to Peruvian independence. It lies in the shadow of three volcanoes; white volcanic rock was used to build many of the city's older buildings, hence Arequipa's nickname: The White City. It's so cool, in fact, that the center of the city has been designated as a World Heritage Site.


Women's Weaving Project, Sacred Valley
Sand dunes at Huacachina
Sand dunes at Huacachina

Sand dunes at Huacachina

From Wikipedia: "Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess was apprehended at her bath by a young hunter. She fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her mantle, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid."
Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines were created about 1500 years ago by the people of the Nazca culture — a civilization eventually wiped out by El Nino-related flooding and deforestation. From Wikipedia: "The lines are shallow designs made in the ground by removing the ubiquitous reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguar, monkey, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 metres (660 ft) across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but in general they ascribe religious significance to them."

Similar techniques were used to create the Candelabra of the Andes, which is thought to be even older — from about 200 B.C. — and created by the Paracas culture on the other end of Peru. "The design," according, again, to Wikipedia, "is cut two feet into the soil, with stones possibly from a later date placed around it.... It is approximately 595 feet long, and is visible for several miles out to sea. The geoglyph consists of 2-foot-deep (0.61 m) trenches carved into the hillside and stones used to mark its edges... Local tradition holds that it represents the lightning rod or staff of the god Viracocha, who was worshiped throughout South America":

The Paracas Candelabra at Ballesta

National Reserve, Ballesta Islands

National Reserve, Ballesta Islands

National Reserve, Ballesta Islands

Ballesta Islands
The Pacific Ocean

Miraflores, Lima
Lake Titicaca!

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in Peru (about half the size of Lake Ontario), straddling the border with Bolivia high up in the Andes mountains. In recent years, as the glaciers which feed into the lake have been melting away, the water level has been dropping dramatically. (In a few months of 2009 alone, they fell by nearly a meter.) The lake is home to some species found nowhere else on earth, like the critically endangered Titicaca Water Frog, which Jacques Cousteau discovered to be the biggest water-living frog in the world.

Incan terraced farming

The Inca were mostly agricultural, which isn't all that easy when you're high up in the mountains. One of their techniques was to build flat terraces on the mountain slopes — and they're huge, each of those levels is taller than a person. Wikipedia says, "Farming was celebrated with rituals, sacrifices, and songs. Teams of seven or eight men, accompanied by the same number of women, would work in line to prepare fields. The men used foot plows, chakitqlla, to break the soil. The women followed, breaking the closes and planting seeds. This work was accompanied by singing and chanting, striking the earth in unison. By one account Spanish priests found the songs so pleasant that they were incorporated into church services."

People still use similar terraced techniques. At the salt pans of Maras, Peruvians have redirected water from salty springs into a serious of terraced ponds since pre-Incan times. The water evaporates, leaving the salt behind:

Salt flats, Salineras near Cuzco

And then, of course, there's Machu Picchu. The Lost City of the Incas was built high on a mountain ridge in the 1400s. Archaeologists think it was the estate of the emperor Pachacuti, the guy who led the Incan civilization to take over nearly all of western South America:

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Text by Adam Bunch

Diana Massey is a Teacher of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing in the Toronto area. You can follow her on Twitter here.


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