National Geographic : 1964 Feb
In Lima, at the National Museum of An thropology and Archeology, we saw magnif icent specimens of such mantles, excellently preserved. Their lovely colors show in one of the museum's exhibits on page 231. In a lavish villa in the Pueblo Libre suburb of Lima, a noted scholar and archeologist, Rafael Larco Hoyle, opened a handsomely carved cedar cabinet to show me his rarest textile specimen. Found in the Ica Valley and believed to be 800 years old, it shows five small llamas in red and brown. A uniquely fine tapestry, it has an average count of 398 two-ply weft yarns to the inch. By compari son, ordinary wool serge made today has only 64 to 70! No wonder these ancient weav ers are among the finest in history. Senior Larco owns not only a superb textile collection but also one of the largest private collections of ancient pottery in the world. His museum in Lima, now open to the pub lic, displays nearly 45,000 pots, vases, urns, and jars, all taken from Peruvian graves. The ancient Peruvians, like the Egyptians, equipped their dead with everything they would need in the other world. Some 500 professional grave robbers called huaqueros systematically loot ancient ceme teries to sell to collectors, Sefior Larco said. They dig only at night, to elude the police. Highly superstitious, they make heavy use of coca and pisco to keep evil spirits away. Peru Plays Role in Space Research Vast amounts of archeological material have been uncovered near the beaches of Anc6n, 20 miles north of Lima, where the capital's elite play in the summertime (pages 234-5 and 237). But my interest there lay in something quite different-a NASA tracking station operated by Peruvian and U. S. per sonnel. Keeping tabs on unmanned satellites, it is part of STADAN, the Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network. Twenty-four hours a day the station watch es for such satellites as Explorer, Vanguard, and the Orbiting Solar Observatory-all of which were on the schedule the day I visited Anc6n. It plots their orbits and by telemetry it receives from them information that it re lays to the huge Goddard Space Flight Center just outside Washington, D. C. Messages from Explorer XIV, 36,000 miles away, came into the recording machines while I was there. I watched pens trace their curves on tapes. But I could hear the signal as well. It sounded like a multitude of tiny bells. Arequipa, Peru's second city, lies deep in 254 southern Peru, at the gateway between the coast and the sierra. Above it towers the snow cone of 19,098-foot ElMisti (page 265), whose volcanic fires still send out occasional wisps of vapor. Fruit and grain grow in abundance in this sunny region, except where water is not available; there the countryside is as barren as any in the land. We found Arequipa still rebuilding from the severe earthquakes of 1958 and 1960. Co lonial churches with elaborately carved fa cades of a soft white stone of volcanic ash called sillar have been especially damaged. Although all Peru knows the earthquake, Arequipa seems particularly susceptible. We felt a slight tremor during our stay. From Arequipa we returned once more to the mountain world, climbing by train to Puno on Lake Titicaca, at 12,500 feet the world's highest navigable lake. There, on floating islands of buoyant reeds, live some 200 Urus, who claim their tribe to be even older than the sun. In Inca times they were outcasts, so poor that the emperor disdain fully levied on them a tax of lice. Urus still live a painfully primitive exist ence, fishing for the lake's abundant trout, snaring ducks, and building their islands, huts, and boats from the totora reeds that flourish in the shallow fringes of the lake (opposite). In bad weather the islands rock like storm-tossed ships. Strangely, Urus hate the water and fear they will die if they fall in. Until the 20th century the Urus stayed aloof and seldom married outside the tribe. Now, unhappily, the last tribesman of pure blood is gone; with him, in 1962, died the Uru language. Puya Traps Sheep for Condors From Puno to Cuzco, the climax of any trip to Peru, we drove by car through high puna country, a trip memorable for its rough ness and for an opportunity to see the rare plant Puya raimondii.* Imagine a fat tele phone pole 40 feet high, with a bouffant skirt of long barbed spines a few feet from the ground, and you have it. The plant grows nowhere but in the high Andes of Peru and neighboring Bolivia. The small grove we found had been set afire by sheepherders because the spines snag their animals and hold them prey for condors, the huge black vultures of the Andes. Cuzco, capital and sacred city of the Incas, is a monument to a brilliant people who had no wheels, no iron, no beasts of burden other * See "Puya, the Pineapple's Andean Ancestor," by Mul ford B. Foster, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, October, 1950.