The mesmerizing colonial city of Ayacucho is known for its holiday festivals. Just a short flight from Lima, you can enjoy the spirited history of the city.
John and I headed to Ayacucho this past weekend. I was told this is considered a handicraft city (I’m all about the handicrafts!); well known for its ceramics, embroidery and especially for its retablos (little boxes which depict either religious figures, history or everyday life).
The city is also well known for its 33 churches (1 for each year of Jesus’ life) and during Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) the city is especially well known for its religious ceremonies- code for it’s a madhouse!
Ayacucho was part of the trade route: Lima to Rio (via Ayacucho, Cusco, Puno, La Paz, Rio), so lots of history in the area. One last tidbit: the Shining Path was located in this area.
Getting to Ayacucho
It’s an easy flight from Lima, just over an hour’s time. Side note: short runway plopped right on top of the flattest part of the mesa that could be found; when we left we had inches to spare to leave the runway to get into the air.
From the airport you can take a taxi into the city. Our driver told us he would be happy to drive us to the Wari dig and Quinua area on Saturday, which was perfect – and it’s a chance to practice our Spanish (both listening and speaking!).
We wandered around the Plaza de Armas on a Friday and caught a little parade (I love a parade!). Not sure what the parade was all about, but it was small kids holding onto lighted objects. It was a sunny and warm day, so we were able to eat dinner outside overlooking the Plaza; couldn’t have asked for a better start to our little holiday.
Saturday we were up early, again breakfast outside on the balcony (can life get any better?). Another parade; this time it looks like more a sporting event/team competition. Lots of schools, mascots, noisemakers, drums. You know, general chaos.
While waiting for our driver, I checked out the quinoa ice cream: it’s a “thing” in Ayacucho. The local ladies set up shop on the weekends along one side of the plaza; creamy, sweet, cold. Very delicious!
Visiting the Wari archeological dig
There’s a S/3 entrance fee ($2.00 for us both) and directed to the museum on site. I love these small, slightly quirky museums! The museum is all in Spanish (this is when I’m slightly bummed we didn’t take a tour of the site to understand a bit more of what we’re looking at).
But that being said, both of our Spanish has improved so that we can read more than 50% of the descriptions and understand the displays. The Wari people came before the Incas, and covered a large territory (like the Inca)- a huge culture of influence on weaving and ceramics, and elaborate burial rituals. They were around 500 AD until about 1100 AD when the next civilization came (Chankas), and then the Incas (1350 AD).
After our tour of the museum we wandered around the archeological ruins; saw a huge slab stone used for sacrifices (I wasn’t sure if it was for humans or animals – but wasn’t sure I really wanted to know, either!). We came upon a big area, slightly underground divided up into little rooms, plus what looks like a small cave a bit higher up – maybe group housing? Come to find out it’s a burial. The people are buried in fetal positions with all of their worldly possessions (which because of the very dry area has preserved many textiles/ceramics/basketry). Very interesting.
Trip to Quinua to see the Pampas de Ayacucho
There’s a big monument here in the middle of a large empty field: it’s the monument where the Battle of Ayacucho took place against Spain in 1824. The battle won Peru’s independence, evidently a very bloody encounter – Ayacucho means “bloody corner” in Quechua.)
Huge wide open spaces (pampa does mean after all huge, wide open spaces!), a little stand of restaurants (didn’t try – next time!) and a stand of artists. Very local – essentially I think we might have been the only tourists there (though many locals around).
As we walked over to the monument a group of 3 young men came running up to us and proceeded to interview us for a little survey. Come to find out they are looking into “glamping” for this area (they even said the word glamping – it’s a real thing!) Tents, organic meals, some adventure hiking/horse riding/waterfalls/transportation, all for $70 a night. I hope it works out for them.
The monument is lovely, for a mere S/2 (less than a $1) we were able to enter the monument and tour the bottom for a little bit of history (the monument has been made 3 times), plus we were able to climb up and get a great view. Well worth every bit of S/2!
Next stop: Plaza de Armas in Quinua
The plaza is small, not very touristy, and known for its ceramics. We were able to wander around and buy a few ceramics. I saw on the top of quite a few roofs what looked like little churches made out of ceramics. I understand that the church on top of your roof means the house is occupied, and no church the house is abandoned.
Sunday: sun and another parade in Ayacucho
This time the parade was slightly more military in feel, though many schools marched; school of doctors, school of ecology, engineers, though there was also what looked like a kindergarten marching, what looked like troops of girl guides (though I know that’s not the right word), plus many Quechua (local indigenous population) ladies and gentleman.
They were all carrying signs (though not up high, but rather more flat). Good thing I was seeing the parade from up above, but still couldn’t puzzle out what the banners were saying or more importantly the why!
They decided not to fly us home that afternoon. We never did understand the reason why – the plane did come out, but maybe too windy (which I could understand – not much leeway on the runway!) One more night in Ayacucho and out the next day (early afternoon).
A very fun weekend away.
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Cover photo: Lorena Flores Agüero/Flickr
Photos in article: Lynn Weglarz
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