In the last five years, the Chinese government has begun an active campaign to effectively colonize Lhasa, Tibet with Han Chinese. A massive airport was built a while ago, and two years ago they finished a very long road that goes between the airport and the city, about an hour away. After we pulled away from the airport, our bus stopped, and two Chinese policemen boarded the bus to ride with us all the way to Lhasa. The guide spun a story that the police were there to keep an eye on the bus driver as there had been a bus speeding wreck. I don’t think anyone on the bus thought that was who they were watching. Indeed, the guide's discussion of religion in Tibet immediately segued into a discussion of construction after the bus took off. The road winds through a valley where the people grow barley. At this time of year, all the mountains are brown and rather devastated looking with no greenery and no trees. Not even a tree line. In the valley, trees are grown to cut down on wind erosion.
In reality, rural Tibet probably resembles rural Cambodia, but we didn’t tour outside of Siem Reap in the countryside. I think I’ve never seen up close an agrarian culture like that of Tibet. People tending the fields remind me of Impressionist paintings of people throwing seeds on raised rows. Tractors powered by steam.
Entering the city of Lhasa there was a checkpoint through which we breezed ostensibly because somewhere, someone had given us permission. We proceeded past massive construction of apartment buildings, advertised in Chinese, and still more vacant Chinese apartment buildings and took a left where the Chinese have some kind of police station or hospital.
After a couple hour break at the hotel, we visited Serra Monastery. It was a much smaller group, about half. All of us are on some kind of high altitude medication; people who can take it are on diamox and the rest of us are on a steroid that masks symptoms. Some people are having their meds upped; some are trying oxygen. But not the intrepid people who went to the monastery. The good news was that the monastery was mildly uphill, as in the kind of uphill that made you think,”You’re kidding, right?” But still we were urged to take it slow to avoid pulmonary edema.
We saw several amazing things at this monastery: many people in native dress, including babies with pants seamed open at the bottom (they seemed interested in us as well; we were the only non-Asian tourists at the site); mandalas, massive artworks made of sand that could take as long as a week for four monks to make; a “classroom” in a temple, long low cement benches with cushions on them, surrounded by endless three dimensional and two dimensional Buddha and protective demon artwork, and Yak butter sculptures; and monks actively debating in a courtyard. Prayer wheels and prayer pillars.
The Tibetan Buddhists assimilated Buddhism and added some of their own spice. They believe in reincarnation. Thus, the 14th Dalai Lama, perhaps the most famous worldwide, living in exile, represents the 14th reincarnation of the original. As he is eighty, a strategic question is how they will find his successor, as the recruitment/identification effort is normally run from inside Lhasa with the heads of various monasteries and sects. Once the Chinese have a child lama in their grasp, he might better be considered a “Puppet Lama.” I’m sure this problem has been very much on the mind of Dalai.
When the Dalai Lama lived in Lhasa, he had two palaces: Potala Palace (the “winter palace,” stacked on a mountain and Norbulingka (the “summer” palace). Depending on whom you ask, there are 500-700 steps involved in getting up to and around Potala Palace; a number of people on the trip are concerned about whether they can make it.
What haven’t we lost at this point? At least we seem to be finding objects again. At the beginning of the trip, we each received a wireless one-way headset, which is one of the few things we need to return to Nat Geo at the end of the trip. Aili had gone a couple of days without it when it became clear that she had misplaced it. She said I had packed it because she had left it out. She was asked to search for it and said it was gone. We explained to her she would be paying for it if it weren’t found before we got back. I then went through every pocket of her two suitcases and couldn’t find it. In fact, it was right where it was supposed to be: in her fanny pack. At Sera Monastery, she put it on, and it was out of batteries.
Making me feel better is that other people are struggling with the packing between the two suitcases, the overhead compartments on the plane, and the tour buses. It is apparent that having all-branded luggage is greatly helpful to Nat Geo with logistics when they take our luggage from the airport to the hotel and vice-versa. Each bag is tagged with its own number, so they can be sure that everything has come off the plane. It is rare for a bag to get left behind because they are all olive green.
Apparently, people are having trouble getting the right things into the wheelie when it is separated from the big bag. I usually solve this by overpacking Aili’s and my wheelie, and I carried on my heavier coat for Lhasa. One poor woman left her coat for Lhasa in the overhead compartment on “our” plane, which is still in Cheng-du.
I wonder if this is a word. We’ve had two early logistics days in a row; get the wheelie out around 5:30 am. The whole family is struggling with sleep, though I think Scott is in best shape as he nods off easily.
The challenge we are having is, not only are we jet lagged, but our sleep cycles are all out of synch, and everyone is sleeping lightly and trying not to wake the other half in the room. Aili kept Anna up two nights ago because either 1) Aili drank too many fluids 2) she had too much tea with caffeine or 3) the steroid she was taking kept her up. Anna is complaining about her. Scott wakes too early for my taste. Upon hearing of all the altitude symptoms from others, Aili is complaining about feeling tired (and she should: she is getting way less sleep that usual) AND about having stomach pains, either from being hungry, having eaten too much, having minor digestive disruption, having digestive tract side effects of the meds we are taking or suffering just plain hypochondria. Anna has checked Aili’s pulse-ox (with extra batteries from her wireless headset), and she is fine. Our happy little family is turning into a family of whiners.
In addition to our altitude meds, we are on an anti-malaria med, and I’m occasionally hitting the melatonin. I then become reluctant to take an Alleve, which would also help with other minor “normal” symptoms. How many drugs should one be taking to get through this?
Wow! We’ve flown from a third world country to an industrialized country, from a country where the official religion is Theravada Buddhism to one that officially has no religion, from a country where the predominant vehicle is a motorized bike to one where there’s a Lamborghini dealership, from a country where 80% of the population is under the age of 18--due to genocide--to a country where ~80% of the population is over 20. I wouldn’t be able to identify this data easily because we’ve come from one of our countries with better internet access to one where “CheetahMama” and “beyondmarketing.com” are unapproved.
Our group traveling to Tibet is really only here as a pitstop on the way to Tibet. We flew into Cheng-du in the southwest of China and took a one hour bus ride to the Panda Center (we had the option of going straight to the hotel). To try to give you a sense of the sprawl of this city of 14 million, it has three ring roads.
The “Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” reportedly has over 300 Giant Pandas, with the world population hovering around 1900. Within the last year, 13 baby pandas were born here, which isn’t shabby. That being said, the more you learn about the Giant Panda, the more you feel you are witness to a species that really was intended by God to swirl the drain. Yes, I’m sure somewhere our deforestation of its ecosystem has had a terribly impact, but this is a creature that spends most of the day sleeping because the digestion of its diet of bamboo just takes way too much energy; it really eats only one kind of food; both adult males and adult females prefer to be solitary (ask any twenty-something what that does for likelihood of copulation); and it gives birth to one to two cubs that are hairless and defenseless. It doesn’t even have camouflage. This isn’t a creature bound for proliferation…
The Panda Center is home to two types of pandas, the Red Panda and the Giant Panda. In Chinese, our guide told us that the Red Panda, which is about the size of a fox, is called the Little Panda, which creates confusion when people want to see baby Giant Pandas and are instead directed to the area of the Red Pandas. All in all, the Panda Center greatly resembles the San Diego Zoo, with about the same number of hills, some of which can be traversed by tram, and significant bamboo and other foliage shade cover, with a very large green enclosure for the Red Pandas, and separate enclosures for the adult Giant Pandas. Likewise, oodles of field tripping elementary school kids, though here they are all in the same uniform; recognizing caucasian faces, each group burst into waving “hello!” A little different than at the San Diego zoo, the Red Pandas traverse the pathway interrupting their habitat through holes in the fence, so our tour was pleasantly diverted by one, who first went one way and then went back the way he came across the path through all the people.
I would estimate that we saw somewhere between 20 and 30 Giant Pandas… though some were small.
Our guide spoke to us about the shift from the one-child policy to the two-child policy. Parents here sometimes do matchmaking for their children, which Scott and I both thought was a good idea. He indicated that when he got married, his wife and he would be working, so his parents would likely have to take care of the child. To be a good son, he also needed to take care of his parents, and a second child would be another bowl at the table. He felt the one-child policy left his generation lonely, but it sounded as though economically, he couldn’t justify a second child.
I thought I would give you a run down of the plane experience. Most of our flights depart in the vicinity of 11:00 am. National Geographic helps us get through the airport by preprocessing passports and filling in those customs forms, which the first few times you traveled were interesting, but got old about 25 years ago. All we have to do is sign them. We go through regular security, though of course, it’s not as stringent as U.S. security, head to our gate and just get on our plane. The only waiting in airport chairs we’ve had to do was when the main tour flight from Cusco was delayed.
We then head to our seats on the plane. For the first half of the trip, we have been in one set of seats; those will be changing on the next flight. The National Geographic people sit in the back. We’re in four across from each other, which is nice. We get out iPads (which have our books and movies on them, in addition to the slides of the Nat Geo presentations), our headphones, any blankets we want (I get out the Algebra textbook), store stuff under the seats in front and tuck in. I’ve found the ambient temperature to be slightly warmer and therefore better than a commercial flight. Aili and I then begin a pattern of books-movies-math-computer games-etc.
There is “only” one meal on the plane, though it’s a good one. It is served at a very leisurely pace, and usually arrives around 2:00 pm, which is why you hear me all amped up about snacks for Aili, who has usually finished a significant bag of nuts by then; she’s definitely getting her magnesium. The meal service starts with a welcome drink when we board. In the beginning, they were pouring champagne, but I think we’ve all moved on to the smoothies or fruit juice. Before we take off, they’ve asked us for our order, which seems to always have a vegetarian option, a seafood option and a meat, and includes recommendations for paired wines. They will bring a glass of wine long before the main meal comes, usually with something small to eat as well, like veggie chips comes or nuts.
If there are two lectures for that flight, we receive a lecture of more than 50 slides before or after the first course. The courses are reasonably substantial for airline food, given that most of the meals are lunch. A second lecture may follow the dessert courses. Some of the lectures are over an hour long. Aili gets a little fidgety, but does well, given the complexity of the talks. Usually, early in the flight, the trip doctor visits every seat and asks how people are feeling. During the flight, people occasionally get up and walk around; everyone is friendly, but mostly involved in their own entertainment system.
When we came in to the Great Barrier Reef, the pilots flew the plane about 500 feet over the reef, this way and that way, so that we could see the reef from both sides of the plane… and not just one reef but multiple reefs; it was at least an extra 30 minutes of flying time, and I think the flight crew was sincere in showing us a good time— not just trying to wait for a gate to open. The views were breathtaking.
Somewhere in the middle of the flight, usually while they are announcing plans for the next day, our passports and customs forms will be handed back to us. Occasionally, across the South Pacific, a flight attendant walked up the aisle spraying pesticide all over the plane... it might have been three or four times as we crossed the Pacific.
When the flight lands, there seems to be a little more waiting around than usual on a commercial flight; it might be the same amount of waiting around but just seems longer because the aisle is wider, and fewer people have to get off the plane. The Nat Geo people come from the back to the front first to intercede on our behalf. Eventually, the doors open, and we’re off to the one guy at the airport who does customs at that hour… at least that's what happened on Samoa. Depending on the location, Nat Geo picks up our luggage for us (Samoa, Easter Island) or we pick it up before going through customs (Australia).
All in all, the time on the flight goes quickly.
Just for the record, let me say that Siem Reap, Cambodia in March, is remarkably devoid of biting insects when you have 100% DEET sprayed all over you. Based on the dust on the plants, it hasn’t rained here in a while, though water is standing in various ditches and ponds, so perhaps that accounts for the tourists walking around in shorts and t-shirts. Disembarking, we noted hazy skies and a slight bitterness of residual smoke in the air, likely from burning fields somewhere. And it was HOT, 94 degrees and Scott wants to say 94% humidity.
Right away, it was clear we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Tuk-tuk motorcycle-powered-carriages are all over the place. The highways of wires that decorate buildings in third world countries hang here as well. We went past a number of hotels on the way to ours, which is an older, colonial establishment with… wait for it… excellent wi-fi. Scott gradually persuaded everyone but me that we should get up for the 5:00 am morning tour of Angkor Wat. This meant that I would be awakened for it as well, so defensively, we all hit the sack at about 8:00 pm.
Here’s a photo of what Angkor Wat looks like at about 5:30 am in March:
What you are missing, but becomes clearer as light slowly fills the sky, is loads of other people have had the same idea:
Besides the people that are taking photos, quite a number of young women come out to sell silk scarves. One woman who I will refer to as a girl because she looked about 14 was very assertive and having a hard time taking “no, thank you” for an answer. I told her her wares were pretty, and we would buy them from her if we were going to get any.
“You buy from me,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“From me,” she said.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“Na-fa-ge,” she said.
“Na-fa-ge,” I repeated.
“Mom,” Aili said, “She’s saying,’Don’t forget.’”
Of course, then, we went and bought another scarf from a girl who looked a lot like her. But we were able to make good on our commitment because we still needed to buy gifts for Aili’s friends, and we found her later, or rather, she found us.
Aili and I proceeded to sit on a wall, waiting for the next phase of the tour to begin. I watched a little boy digging through a trashcan to pull out food; he was unaware a man had just reviewed its contents.. Someone went over to the trashcan and handed him something to eat; he set it down on top of the trash can and continued digging through the trash can I sent Aili to him with $5. He put the $5 in his pocket, and went back to digging through the trash can.
But we weren’t there just for the sunrise, we were there to be blessed by Buddhist monks. This was an approximately 7 minute ceremony involving sitting on the floor and being liberally doused with holy water. As the monks sat down to begin the ritual, I smiled at the young man opposite me, and he smiled back and then quickly became serious, as if monks aren’t supposed to smile. — though they take selfies, as we learned leaning out our window in Peru. They take selfies here, too, with iPhones.
Then, we toured three temples with a brief stop for a box breakfast. Constructed in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat was a religious center, and as the largest (known) religious complex in the world, is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is surrounded by what was once the city of Ankgor. The three temples we visited are called Angkor Wat, which was a temple of prayer; Ankgor Thom, which was a royal palace; and Pra Thom, which was an arts education center. While very different from one another in many ways, they were built within about 100 years of one another and therefore share similar “galleries,” walls covered with bas relief, stairs, towers and stone carvings. Most of the statues were long ago hauled away. Some are in the Angkor Wat museum.
When one arrives in complete dark, the most treacherous thing about the temples is that the flagstones are broken in places, so you have to look carefully with your flashlight (supplied by Nat Geo in our original suitcase… we didn’t realize its purpose until now). Once the sun comes up, you do a fair amount of stepping carefully on uneven or steep steps. Many of the stairs or transoms are covered with wooden staircases that are more “to code.” When we came to the end of the three temples, Nat Geo was offering us interesting afternoon alternatives, but we were pretty spent. Up too early, too hot, too humid.
This part of Cambodia has seen an overlap of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Wat temple was Hindu, though it ultimately because a Buddhist temple, and I believe people have been continually practicing in it, or at least more continually than in the other two, which were “found” covered with jungle. The bas relief stories on Wat's walls are those of the god Shiva and others in epic battles. Fun fact: the Wat temple used to have quite a number of phallic statues which were removed when it became Buddhist. Angkor Thom’s walls are covered with smaller scenes of daily life underlying a foundation of massive battle scenes of the king defeating the Cham people. So: war again. Prah Thom’s walls were covered with Buddhas… it was a Buddhist temple… until it was converted into a Hindu temple, and most of the Buddhas were chipped off the walls or artfully altered into Shivas.
What is hard to explain is the magnitude of the sites. The images you find on the internet don’t do them justice. Before we came, we had looked some maps of the sites, and still it feels as though you walk a long way to get through from one side to another of the temples; I was reminded of the gardens at Versailles. In fact, we didn’t even see all or most of Angkor Wat; we were on a tight time schedule, given the pending heat of the day and the itinerary. As the bus drives down a road from one to another, the guide points left to another temple, right to another; here a temple, there a temple, everywhere a temple, temple. It really seems we could have come here for several days, if we could have withstood the heat. Of course, we WERE all wearing long pants or skirts and long sleeve shirts, out of concern for the mosquitos.
The hotel has a printed message for all guests: the grounds are sprayed Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so, “Should you encounter thick, white smoke appearing outside your window or balcony, please do not be alarmed as this some will clear within minutes and is not considered to be hazardous to the health as the chemicals are safe and approved by the American Pest Control Association.” (!)
In lieu of potential afternoon activities, many of which would have been tempting had we not arisen so early, or if it had been cooler, we Skyped with Liam and my Dad. Also, Aili and I had a manicure and a pedicure respectively. Only after my feet were soaking did I suddenly think, "Wait! What are the pedicure hygiene regulations in Cambodia? We're not even allowed to drink the water! What if I get a disease?!" This made for a not-very-relaxing pedicure.
In the evening, we were treated to traditional Cambodian dances: the Blessing, Golden Mermaid, and Aspara Dance.
We're off to Cheng-du tomorrow, with only our small suitcase. From there, part of the group goes to see the terra cotta warriors in Xian, and we go the next day to Lhasa.
We’ve had good news: Aili’s stuffed animal has been found in Peru!
This is my third trip to Australia and the rest of the family’s second, so we opted for the Daintree Rainforest alternate tour, in lieu of the Great Barrier Reef, both of which are within spitting distance, the only area in the world where two UNESCO identified habitats are in such close proximity. As the tour was to be given by an Aborigine, I was rather expecting a barely clad, body-painted person with spear. I was therefore a little disappointed, when the tour guide looked pretty much like a park ranger. He showed us many different ways the Aborigines who still live in the forest are able to use substances for various purposes: paint, numbing agents, soap, sunscreen, vines as fishing hooks, etc. One can hit a hollow tree with a rock and make a REALLY loud noise to indicate one is lost.
The guide spoke about weapons and shields, and I asked who the Aborigines were fighting. You’ll remember a graphic of the migration of humans out of Africa, a map which shows populations moving from Africa to Central Asia, from Central Asia to several places, across the “land bridge” to North America and from there to South America. As a species, humankind moved a lot, and for the most part, this migration is pitched as a story of following the animals we hunted.
I have a different theory, not quite as romantic as that of the Noble Savage as hunter. After the events in Turkey this last summer, it’s obvious: people migrated to avoid war… I’ve come to believe that war is just this horrible inevitability, not only because the written history of humankind has rarely seen a year of peace. Likely all of unwritten history is similarly seasoned with war because war is the single challenge that forces us all to act in “one” direction, with one purpose, like a colony of ants. In wartime, people fall into specific roles contributing to the war effort. Our genes pre-destine us toward war because it ultimately prunes some genes and concentrates those of survivors.
On Easter Island and amongst the Moche of Peru, the archaeologists are proposing that, instead of war, these two separate cultures had “competitions” to take the place of war. On the walls of the pyramids in Peru are lines of men tied together by the neck, the “prisoners.” The Moche supposedly had ceremonial wars, not real wars, which generated these prisoners who then were drugged and sacrificed; a high priest drank their blood. The Rapa Nui developed a competition about climbing a cliff, swimming to an island and bringing back an egg. I’m not buying it. When the Rapa Nui lost all their forests and couldn’t even build another canoe to leave the island, were they just kindly saying to one another, “You eat that last coconut.” “No, you have it.” “No, you?”
Given what I’ve seen on this trip so far, to my theory about war I’ll have to add a corollary: the second great uniting force is the desire to create structures in support of worship, or belief. The Moche are not supposed to have had slaves; their pyramids were built with bricks that were tithed from clans in the area. Likewise, it is believed the Rapa Nui tribes erected their statues to worship ancestors. Most of these beliefs hold that through worship--a combination or structures and ritual--people together can influence a better outcome, whether in this life (El Niño) or the next.
Whom did the Aborigines fight? Other Aborigines and pygmies. The Aborigines would take the pygmies out to an island and leave them there, whether dead or alive. Genocide.
After our visit to the rainforest, we went to visit the “Botanical Ark.” Over 30 years ago, Alan and Susan Carle had a vision that they wanted to live off the land. Unfortunately, they found the foods they were growing weren’t that interesting, and so they embarked on a lifetime of visiting exotic locations and sourcing seeds of unusual fruit from all over the world, along the way, converting grassland to proto-rainforest in their corner of Australia. Scott thought that if he had taken a different path in life, he, too, might have ended up here.
The snorkelers from the reef came back having seen a lot of “bleaching” of staghorn coral, which happens when the temperature of the water gets too warm. Reflecting on their comments, I witnessed this in Samoa as well. With all the dead coral, the challenge we face is in how long it will take to regrow, if it ever does. A great portion of our talks since Peru has consisted of descriptions of ecologic disaster and the need for conservation. At the Botanical Ark, Alan couldn't know we’d already had the spiel, whether on Easter Island where the forest of gazillion-year-old trees that grow microscopically was decimated; whether on the way to Samoa, where we had a lecture on oceanography of Polynesia; or on our way to Australia, where the lecture addressed the decline of the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve heard the word "diversity" here almost as often as I’ve heard it described as a need at universities.
If you are looking to impress people at cocktail parties, our Nat Geo geographic specialist informed us that New Zealandia is the eighth continent.
This morning we visited a wildlife refuge/zoo. Everyone was invited to feed the emus and touch the wallaby’s. Even though this is my third visit to Australia, it’s the first time I’ve touched an animal. The wallaby’s fur feels like that of our German Shepherd.
As we leave the Pacific Ocean area, I’m reminded that I first read about Easter Island and the Aborigines and “dream-time” in elementary school. Given my suburban upbringing, these were exotic places and mysteries that are still being unraveled by science. I could only dream of visiting them… Still, in some ways, these first four stops have been the most familiar. Scott and I honeymooned in Fiji; we had been to Machu Picchu and Australia. We’re leaving behind our beach weather and moving into the tropical humidity and buggy portion of the trip. I’m excited to see new things, and visit new continents.
One of the best parts of visiting Australia was that we were staying at a condominium resort with a washer and dryer. This stop, about a third of the way through the trip, was pretty critical to not spending a college education on getting clothes cleaned. The challenge? How to get it all done and still do most of the touring and dinners, etc. Also, a fair number of clothes needed to be line dried. Would the laundry be done in time to repack before 5:30 pm the next day? And would that be better achieved in the higher, more humid temperatures outside or inside in the air conditioning?
With four people, we had two washers and dryers, though Anna threatened she would use hers, so I was "on" ours as soon as we arrived. I also prioritized using the gym for the first time during the trip, and unfortunately missed the “guest” at dinner, a koala that Aili was able to pet.
Drying the clothes in the room did the trick, and the next day at 5:30, I was at the gym again.
In Australia, we left all the nut snacks on the plane due to import restrictions, though I was able to bring in the Teriyaki jerky which was in its original packaging. The worry was that the temps in the plane would cause the chocolate in the mixes to melt, turning it all into one large nut bar per bag; Scott was getting a good chuckle out of this over dinner. With the help of a Nat Geo staff member who was going into town, we also acquired MORE macadamia nuts, in case of total failure. Another small miracle for us: the chocolate did NOT melt, and the snacks are good to go with us for the rest of the trip.
Compared to our other stops, Australia has felt like an oasis of civilization. Although the wi-fi was among the worst so far on the trip, we were able to get decaf cappuccinos and drink water out of the tap. Humidity was not quite as bad as it was in Samoa.
After the little bit of rain on Easter Island, we were somehow not expecting the 90 degrees and humid in Samoa. Our bags arrived very quickly, and we went to the pool, where it seemed warmer…. We had another Polynesian show at dinnertime, including a fire dance. I imagine that for some people on this trip, particularly those from the East Coast, all this Polynesia stuff is fairly unusual.
Nat Geo offered three options for the next morning: snorkeling, a Robert Louis Stevenson museum, and a visit to the “Women’s Committee” of a village, along with a kava ceremony. Scott and I have both done something like this in Fiji, and having been to Fiji twice, we signed everyone up for the snorkeling. But wonder of wonders, after hearing the options, AILI said SHE wanted to do the “cultural” activity. Scott decided the pressure to get cleaned up and back into suitcases the next morning would be too much, so he agreed to go with her. Aili says that it was “way better” than any snorkeling; a kid climbed a coconut tree and brought down a bunch of coconuts.
We were up early. Our trip leader, Richard, said that, because we fly westward and gain hours most days, it’s usually very easy to fall asleep at night, and people don’t mind getting up early. We also haven’t been tempted to even look at the TV’s in our room, either because we’ve been too busy or… maybe our room on Easter Island didn’t have a TV? In bed last night at 9:30, it WAS easy to get up at 6:30. Funny how that works.
Snorkeling was snorkeling; we saw loads of stag horn coral, both dead and alive, the usual suspects, and probably some new fish. I’d be a poor person to ask which ones. The water was like a bath… in the 80’s.
This is Samoa-Samoa, or “true” Samoa, not American Samoa. In 2009, they decided to change which side of the road they drive on and in 2011, they changed their timezone to align with that of New Zealand and Australia, with which they do their greatest business. The Rapa Nui on Easter Island are fomenting for independence and separation from Chile. With only about 7000 people on the island, Scott and I were thinking the disadvantages of being a country that largely imports everything would seem apparent, but from our summer trip in the Galapagos, we know the people there have also had some rustlings of independence from Ecuador. I think this is an essential question for minority cultures and far-flung territories within any country. Democracy as a small minority within a much larger population doesn't always serve the minority population well. And yet, what is too small, too inefficient? I suppose the Rapa Nui would like to be able to choose their own timezone and side of the road.
The Cusco/Machu Picchu group was delayed because the Peruvian charter plane to Lima did not show up, so Nat Geo somehow scrambled a second plane, and that plane with the other 60+ travelers finally arrived in Lima. As people boarded “our" plane, it became apparent that while we were getting to know four couples in Northern Perul, Anna had been entertaining the rest of the travelers, including all the “singles,” in the Andes. This led to many good reviews, all telling us how wonderful she is. I'm guessing the average age on the plane is 68. The fourth youngest person, after Aili, C and Anna, is 39 and traveling with his mother..
One way in which this travel is different is that we are flying with the same crew when we are on the “private” plane, which is for most of the trip. Intra-country, we fly with local planes or carriers. Despite our late departure and a curfew at Easter Island like that at SNA, the pilot floored it, and managed to get us in maybe an hour after we were due. In my not-very-good Spanish, I told the Customs people I had food, but I think they were so frustrated with my repeated honesty (“Yes, I have food. No, it’s not in its original packaging; it’s just nuts… and jerky.”), they let me through with the snacks intact.
Last night would then be the night that Aili discovered her favorite stuffed wolf was MIA. Lots of tears. Definitely left in Peru.
On Thursday, six small buses came to collect us from the hotel. We lucked out to have Claudio Cristino as our guide; he has done archaeology on the island for 40 years, and he and two other guides had been flown from Chile specifically to guide us. Although many of the Easter Island statues, known as Moai, around the island had been knocked down by the 1960’s, a particular altar full of them was wiped out by a tsunami in 1990. In 1992, the Japanese sent a crane, and Claudio was unexpectedly put in charge of uprighting quite a number of them in a project that took two years..
Approximately 50 to 100 Rapa Nui people are believed to have come here from western Polynesia (supported by DNA) in about 1000 AD, and by 1200 had put up these monumental statues as part of their ancestor worship. Altogether, there are about 1000 Moai, once intended for groupings on altars. They also built structures aligned with the stars, along north-south or east-west directions. In the 1500’s, it is believed ecological disaster caused some kind of war for resources. By the time westerners arrived, the island was bare of trees. And in short order, given the gift of disease, only 100 Rapa Nui were left.
Having now learned of the Moche people, whose structures predate those of the Rapa Nui by about 700 years, I found the coincidences interesting. Both had an active belief in an after-life, with the Rapa Nui believing that you came from darkness went to light and then back into darkness, and the Moche burying their leaders in tombs with what appear to be their servants (and occasionally dogs). Both were preoccupied with stars; the Rapa Nui built structures oriented toward observing particular stars out of doorways. The Moche may have oriented their pyramids more around mountains but were equally preoccupied with the stars, with the leading theory being that they wanted to predict the weather, which could be determined by how bright the stars were at certain times of the year.
Of course, sadly, neither had a written language and their cultures remain open to great interpretation and great mysteries still remain, which makes this a great trip for people interested in science.
We toured a quarry and visited a great altar and had a barbecue lunch on a beach. This is where Aili put in extra effort to get to the know the other 10 year old on the trip, whom I will refer to as C. She and he chased chickens near the beach. We then had options to do three different activities, and C's family generously offered to take Aili to the next stop. It had started raining, so the rest of us opted to go back to the hotel, where Anna napped, I repacked and Scott did a little hiking. Aili went on to go swimming with C, and afterwards commented “Now, he and I are friends; before we just knew about each other.” Aili, in turn, earned good reviews from C’s family, who was happy to find another child equally engaged with the experience.
It was during the afternoon that an eery thing happened. I knew we were between lunch and dinner, and we were supposed to be at cocktails around 6:00 pm. When I looked at my watch, which I had set on the plane as we landed, it said “3:06 pm.” When I looked at my phone, which I had had to set manually to “Easter Island,” it said it was “5:06 pm.” Looking at the height of the sun didn’t give a clue. How long had I been packing? No idea. I had to go to the lobby to find out it was after 5:00.
Before dinner, the experts did a brief presentation about some of the theories, and we were then treated to a “native” dance. The Rapa Nui, bereft of their own dance culture, have been cultivating a new form of dance, which seems to incorporate elements of other Polynesian dances. Good thing Aili has seen naked Greek, Roman and Italian statues. It was quite vigorous and athletic, and eventually they called people up on stage.
This morning, having done the "relaxing" afternoon the day before, we opted for a hike around the rim of a defunct volcano.
Fun fact: rapamyacin, an immunosuppressant, was found here.
"Our" pilot indicated that winds were in our direction, and he then magically turned a 10+ hour flight, plus a possible 1 hour stop in Tahiti, into an 8+ hour flight. I believe that was supposed to be the longest or second longest set of flights, so we were very happy when we landed in Samoa.
When we arrived at the hotel room, my temporal disorientation continued. "What day is it?" I asked. "Saturday? Sunday?" We HAVE crossed the International Date Line. Out came the Easter basket for Aili, which was much appreciated. "How did you get this here, Mom?!"
More on Logistics
The number one reason you should not bring a child on this trip is that she takes things out of her fanny pack and backpack and doesn’t put them away. Almost every day of the trip, Aili has misplaced an object, such that before the first week of travel is up, we already have neither of the two pencils I carefully put in her pack. The trip is rife with hats, jackets, earbuds, i-devices, chargers, and everywhere she goes she holds things in her hands instead of putting them into her pack and ends up leaving them on seats. Really, it is a good thing we’ve brought three adults to double-check her. Of course, no sooner do I write this than Anna gets off the plane in Samoa and can't find the phone she had on the plane; thankfully, the flight crew finds it.
It's becoming apparent that we need to carry "wearables" in our backpacks; this was a little unexpected. Aili's backpack going forward will have a swimsuit, pajamas and toothbrush, and my fannypack now holds both the really water-proof sunscreen and the sort-of-water-proof sunscreen, as well as one bug spray, while my backpack contains the extra fluids that were leaking inside my suitcase. I'm conflicted about this... my backpack for items of intellectual interest is turning into a carry-on bag.
The delay in my posts is related to two things; we are kept pretty busy, and the wi-fi in different places has been slow or spotty. I'll try to post about every two days, but you may have posts without photos owing to the less responsive wi-fi.
Today is a flight day. We arrived at the hotel in Lima from Chiclayo at 1:00 am.
Thankfully, departure from the hotel was set for 11:00 am, one of our later departures, for a 1:45 pm flight. Early on, before we even sent in our deposit, I asked about the average flight departure times because I was afraid a trip like this could be a Death March. Flights seemed to depart at a reasonable time. Only about a week before we left, after perusing the itinerary with descriptions of some drives between the airport and the hotel, did I learn that almost all of the departures from the hotel fall between 7:00 and 8:00 am, requiring a wake-up in the 6:00+ ams. We also seem to leave Easter Island on the late side, largely, it appears, because of the time warp of the International Date Line, which we cross later that "day." One significant exception is our extra-early departure from the hotel in Lhasa at 6:30 am to catch the flight from China to India.
I respect you early-birds, but this idea was a struggle for me. I am hoping to win that struggle with a positive attitude recognizing that, after a couple of flights, we really won’t have any idea what time it is because we are gaining hours with every flight.
One great benefit of our “separate” trip to Northern Peru was that we became better acquainted with the four other “couples," and they appear to be among the most international: one British couple, one Canadian couple, one Texan couple (actually, she grew up in Mexico City and later lived in Guadalajara, and he was born in Canada), and two retired school administrators from Brooklyn, who seem to have been traveled just about everywhere. Indeed, there are a remarkable number of former school teachers/staff amongst the spouses here. All of the Northern Peru travelers had been to Machu Picchu before; all agreed that the “alternate” tour of the Moche coast was very special. For me, it was great to be able to focus on eight people whom I now recognize and know. Even better, Aili seems to have worked her magic on everyone, so that she now has a popular reputation amongst the women, which should benefit her when we get back together with the “big” group.
Today's late start is off to a slow start because, despite our arriving at the airport on time, the Machu Picchu party is arriving at least three hours late. We were scheduled to arrive at Easter Island at 7:15 pm; will have to let you know if we make up time. I thought we might be flying out of a separate jetport, but instead, we are waiting in the international terminal of the main Lima Airport. We were scheduled to have lunch on the plane, but it's looking as though it will be an early dinner. Good thing we have Teriyaki chicken in my backpack! I'd show you a photo of us all killing time on our i-devices, but you can just imagine your own family killing three hours at an airport.
It will be good to reconnect with Anna today. She had expressed that the altitude was really tiring her out (or was it the altitude medication?), but she said she was doing better than others in Cusco.
Following on our interesting day yesterday, we headed north to see two Mochican museums. One museum covered the findings of a site discovered in 1987 when grave robbers were arrested with loot from a nearby mound. It ultimately yielded an amazing set of graves, including those of the nicknamed Lord of Sipán and Ancient Lord of Sipán. The "Ancient" Lord of Sipán's tomb predates that of his successor by 300 years; they appear to have been related via maternal bloodlines. Suffice it to say that the museum of artifacts, including copper, gold plate, silver, jewelry and figurines, from the 14 tombs covers three FLOORS. Some of these tombs date from 300 AD.
The Lady Cao Museum, which is about 4 hours away from the Lords of Sipán Museum, holds findings from a pyramid that is in many ways related to Huaca de La Luna...
Though the Lacy Cao pyramid is a little smaller than that of Huaca de Luna, the stupendous characteristic of this site (and museum) is the woman-priestess found in a tomb there. She was effectively mummified by the manner and location in which she was buried, and a crazy numbers of artifacts, including gold, were found with her. Indeed, all sorts of mysterious questions surround her: Did she die in childbirth? Does she represent a "fourth" person in various iconography? Does her presence mean that Moche society was not actually as patriarchal as archaeologists initially believed? (!) What is the relationship between her pyramid and that of Huaca de La Luna? This mummy's location was only uncovered in 2006.
After two days in Northern Peru, I have to wonder why Americans are not flooding Northern Peru. I've been thinking all day about why we have invested so much energy in Tutankhamen when this is within spitting distance of the U.S. Certainly, the Tut findings were spectacular. Mystery surrounds the very short time period when he and Nefertiti were alive, and where she might be buried. Rome eventually conquered his descendants, so we have written records of the dynasties of Egypt. Living around 1330 BC, his life and times predate the Moche by about 1600 years. Yet, in South America, we have this incredibly rich, mysterious culture, about which we barely know anything. They held sway for nearly 600 years. They had amazing metal working abilities and built crazy numbers of pyramids all over the place. We believe they understood and feared El Niño. The only reason I can think of that we don't know more about this is that we have been distracted. On our behalf, I could add that there is really limited information on the internet, and they don't let you take photos in the museums, so the Moche and these interesting sites are hard to research.
If you're curious at all about this, some videos are available on YouTube:
In the middle of the drive, we had lunch at a Paso Horse Breeder's Home. Paso horses move the legs on one side of their body together, and then move the other set, making for an unusually smooth ride. They are bred for this trait but must also be trained to use it "beautifully."