January 24-25, 2016.
I’m at a cafe in the historic center of the Peruvian city of Ayacucho, named by Simon Bolivar in 1825 after the famous battle of the same name that secured the independence of the Americas from Spanish royalists.
The city is perched on the slopes of a valley on the western versant of the Andes at ca. 2800 m, on very fertile grounds that saw prosperous civilizations coming and going since about 11,000 years ago—including the Huari (or Wari), predecessors of the Inca, and the Inca themselves.
I landed here on Sunday with my colleagues Juan C. Chaparro and Roberto Gutiérrez (alias Gecko) on a flight from Lima that lasted scarcely an hour.
We felt the heat as we climbed down the stairs of the plane and stepped onto the hot pavement of the landing area. The air was thin and sunlight was bright and strong. The vegetation around the airport looked dry and was covered by a thin layer of beige dust—the area is experiencing an intense drought and the prices of vegetables have almost doubled during the last months. I glanced at the gentle slopes and flatlands covered with cultivated fields and unimpressive grasses and bushes that extend far beyond the city. The landscape was very pleasant to the eye, no wonder this has been a highly desired location for different cultures.
As we were traveling light—our heavy load going by truck (see previous post)—we managed to put all our equipment into a single cab and soon we were driving fast across sloping streets lined with brick and adobe houses topped lichenous red tiles and amongst the old stone houses and churches that make the beautiful city center.
At sunset, the plaza was full of people of all ages and some women wore traditional clothing with distinctive, colorful and elaborated patterns and the bowler style hat that they co-opted from British railway workers.
We got into a hotel, a two-story colonial style house with a ample patio lined with stone columns and a large balcony housing the most popular cafe-restaurant in town.
On the plaza women wearing colorful huamangina clothing were serving Muyuchi, a traditional ice cream made of milk, coconut, vanilla, clove, cinnamon, sesame, and topped with a drop of airampo juice, a type of nopal (Tunilla soehrensii) that grows on warm areas of the Andes.
Ice cream is made by manually spinning the mix in a large pot that floats on large chunks of salty melting ice contained in a wooden tray—Muyuchi actually means spinning, in Quechua. Long before electricity and refrigerators arrived to the city of Ayacucho their people enjoyed delicious ice cream. But to do so they have to carry large blocks of ice wrapped in ichu (Stipa ichu)—a though grass from the high Andean puna— in mules that walked for 14 hours down from Nevado Razuhillca to the city (nowadays there is no ice to be found on top of these mountains).
José Padial and his team of researchers are traveling to the Vilcabamba mountains in Peru in the pursuit of biodiversity research. He blogs and send photos daily capturing his expedition along the way.