Curiosity in Peru- Marcajirca

Curiosity, something I always claim to have. I’ll scheme days ahead to find that I will end up doing something out of the planned scenario all due to curiosity. What is down that path? What is in that store? What is it like to be there and try? In a way, curiosity got me involved more into anthropology and soon I found myself in Peru, never struck by amazement, but struck by curiosity.

An image of depth of where we stayed, dining house on top and our tents scattered around….

After having been in Huari for a few days of lecture, it was time to go to the site. I was so excited to be doing something I felt was going to be so worthwhile, and it truly was. To be able to do my research and be with people whom I felt were just as geeky about bones as me for two weeks, well, I couldn’t wait to go.

We begun our journey to over 13,500 feet by bus, well, more like small buses that lacked seatbelts, going over a one lane, narrow road alongside a cliff that either panicked a few, or in my case, made you feel as if you were flying. It may have helped that I took motion sickness medicine prior to the road trip (which I would suggest to everyone as it really does help). After about an hour of riding, we get off in a small town, taking small bags or just water, to begin our two hour hike up. Our bags were left in the car with a local farmer and his donkeys. At this point I noticed a few things, that is our group was already starting to form smaller crews. I remember all to well in Huari when I was walking with a couple others when one spoke up saying that a big group never stayed as a big group, that we were going to form our own little cliques of who we would rather hang out with and from there, even though we were in the same field school, those few other people were going to be our core group. I didn’t like the thought of it at the time, but I found that as we begun our hike, we were somewhat beginning to organize into these small groups and cheering each other on.

It was a difficult hike; I will not lie about that. It was as if we were climbing stairs two or three at a time for over an hour straight. I never felt so soaked in sweat, and at the end when we reached the top, never felt so accomplished. That is when the wind came and soon we were all freezing, I thought I was never going to be warm until our bags arrived and I was able to change. During that time the crew begun to organize where the tents were going to be set up and who was sleeping where.  Again, the groups grabbed each other and I found myself in the same tent with two other girls that were probably the quietest ones there (I was quite glad). There were two large tents that could fit about five to six each, and one of these tents were broken. The door was not zipping up and there were holes. Among all of us, there were combinations of duck-taping, sewing, propping things with sticks, and more duck tape. It was a bit entertaining to everyone involved. We were then told that we were free to explore, however to not touch any of the bones that we may see until we have done the Shogodan, a ritual with locals to give our respects and mark the beginning of our excavations. Do not touch any bone, simple enough.

The next day I was ill with altitude sickness, and I was glad that it was the morning that was reserved for weed pulling and picking up trash and I would not miss anything by staying in my tent. That afternoon we went to the portion of the ruin, which was originally a tower, to participate in the Shogodan. When all of us were seated around, a Quechua woman, also one of our cooks, laid down a colorful cloth and placed on it cocoa leaves, cookies, pisco, cigarettes with lighters, and candies. Our director played the conch shell to begin and explained that we offered these gifts to the mountain in which the mountain gives back to us in a mutual agreement for our health and prosperity. We passed around the leaves, pisco, and everything around the blanket, taking what we wanted in thanks. During this ritual one of my fellow students dropped his cigarette and without thinking about it, went to go pick it up and resume smoking it. I noted it as I continued to chew on the leaves (it really helped my stomach at the time). After the ritual ended, I hiked up back to the tent to rest up a bit more as the others could start setting up the excavation pits. Deciding I wanted tea, I went up a bit further to the dining house where I met up with one of the professors and one of the locals that was helping assist our cook for the trip. The local Quechua woman was being translated by our cook and the professor and I listened.  The Quechua woman described that one of the guys, whom dropped his cigarette, is a bad omen. That someone was going to get very, very ill. Our cook, as she was translating, mentioned that the locals are superstitious and that we can believe what we would wish. We tried to shrug it off, but I could tell that the professor was a bit uneasy.


A local Quechua woman making offerings at the Shogodan

I found out that archaeologists are indeed superstitious, but with good reason. A couple days later of being warned by the local, one of the students was bitten by a spider and had an allergic reaction in which her lip blew up to a large size and her tongue turned black. She had to hike down the mountains to receive care from the hospital. We all ended up being sick in some form however, it may have due to the lack of readily available water, or again, the mountain striking back. The director even mentioned that this was the first time he has seen so many people become ill. I personally think it could have been the dehydration everyone experienced, but then again, I’m now opened to ideas. To end the story, the poor girl, she did come back to base camp, yet on our way back home she had to go back to the hospital after collapsing in the street and continuously throwing up. She did make it back in one piece and is in perfect health now.

During our couple week stay in the mountains, I found that getting into a very basic routine helped a lot. I woke up at six in the morning, washed up (baby wipe shower really), changed from my designated sleep clothes to non-sleep clothes (you end up not caring how many times you’ve worn a shirt), get breakfast, hike to the site by eight, get lunch for a couple hours at base camp, hike up to finish the day at 5, go change or add more clothes, huddle at the house till dinner was ready at six, and go to bed at about eight. The weather was nothing to be trifled with, during the day a layer was fine, however when the sun went behind a cloud you wanted more layers. The temperature dropped fast and by the time we were getting ready for dinner, we were in an easy five layers of clothes. It took a bit of getting used to, and if I did not have a thick scarf to cover my face and keep my breath warm, I believe I would have suffered a lot more in the cold. I never looked forward to it, but I knew it was coming, and I found that as long as I got to do the work I came to do and learn about bones, I was okay with dealing with the cold for just a couple weeks.

I accepted it, but others had trouble adjusting to the cold and the idea of camping without running water and toilet paper (we ran out completely for a day and that roused a panic among a few).  This bothered me a little bit, we were all there to do what we loved, yet I found that there were other interests in my fellow archaeological friends. It was somewhat a curious thing as well to observe such behavioral changes from being excited to go and excavate bones, to being miserable about the conditions offered. Our conversations about halfway through the first week were mainly about food and what we would cook when we got home. From then on, that was the main topic of conversation, along with sex talks too which made me feel bad for the two guys at our table with seventeen girls. The week carried on, and I learned a lot at our lab tent in identifying bone fragments and got the chance to work with mandibles for my project. I also got to be in a chullpa; mostly being balanced on a thin wooden board inside a tiny building oddly holding a tape-measure in the ultimate game of pick-up sticks to get the single layers of bones mapped and removed at a time. I also liked it more when it was literally warmer inside the chullpa because the cold wind could not pass through the walls. Our weekend also served as our break and we celebrated a birthday in a very typical college manner by drinking pisco.

The next day we decided to go on a hike to the peak of the mountain we were excavating on, all the way to the cross that topped its crest.  It took us a good couple hours to get there, and I have never felt so fulfilled, or tired, after such a hike. The view was absolutely worth it. The others I was with felt the same and we stared at the world below us before taking a short nap from our exhaustion.

The second week made me realize what being in a mountain, isolated as we were, could do to people. Being in a routine helped a lot, but I found that I had become tired of eating potatoes, and I had a knot in my stomach every time I saw potatoes on my plate or bowl. I was not the only one though, hence as to why food conversations became more of a dominant topic. Many people did become ill, mostly with stomach aches and problems, and the cliques of the groups became stronger and more defined. I found that there were indeed people I preferred talking to, mainly the ones that were more mellow that didn’t mind the shared silence of watching the sunset in the cold. We were a bit more philosophical, and I observed even more. The girls quickly were easy to define, some more desperate in trying to remain clean shaven, others more mellow and not caring. A spectrum of behaviors could certainly be noted, enthusiasm verses a lack of such became more noticed in this second week. I didn’t feel tired, just a bit cold, yet despite that, I was certainly excited to be more by myself or with one other person to study the bones. Working in groups was certainly great, but I too, found myself with preferences as to with who.

Watching the sunset and gazing at the scenery with a friend, often our favorite way to end the day.

I guess anyone can say that we prefer to be with certain other people more than others, but after seeing how we started to how we ended made me wonder. I guess its just behavioral patterns that we tend to follow more and group ourselves by, which seemed more fitting in a way. We all got along, I will not say anything besides that, however, once we were all back to the house in Huari after being in the mountain, the cliques remained firm. Perhaps it is personality, or development of trust when you worked with people more than others and tended to agree as to what was going on and see the same things.

After returning, everything relaxed in a bit, and we celebrated with a large Bar-B Q. Showers and laundry were certainly priority and never felt so good to do. In a way, at the end of that mountain adventure, I was in a daze. I knew I was there, but then again, I was back and the view with the sunset and stars were not. I feel that being there proved to me that bioarchaeology is certainly the field of study for me. In fact, I’m convinced due to the reasons that I went through fairly extreme conditions and wouldn’t mind to do it again.

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