Ayacucho thoughts…

(August 5/6 – written by Dave)

Today we were reminded how lucky we are to be doing this trip.  Right now and for the last couple years, for the first time in the recorded history of mankind, there are no wars going on in the Americas*.  Even before the Spanish arrived in 1534, the Incas were fighting with just about everyone around them, so we are talking probably 500 years.  That’s 500 years where riding from north to south would not be possible – you’d be kidnapped or at least minimally caught in the crossfire of a conflict of some kind.

* this of course ignores the unrest going on in Venezuela, and the difficult situation in Nicaragua.  While deeply upsetting, neither situation would generally be considered a war (though perhaps it is to the people experiencing it).

Today we learned about what is referred to as the “internal conflict in Peru”.  This conflict started when a small group of intellectual communists (referred to Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path) decided that the way forward was through armed revolt.  The conflict took place over a relatively short period from 1980 to 2000.  Ground zero for this dispute was the city of Ayacucho.  The conflict pitted insurgent communist rebels against government forces.  As normally happens, the local people suffered immensely.  Gatherings of any size were considered a threat to the government and dealt with violently.  Not pledging loyalty to the communists in the territory they controlled meant that you would probably “disappear”.   In 20 years, nearly 60,000 people were killed and/or simply vanished.

This morning, we visited the Memory Museum of ANFASEP.  ANFASEP is a group that was formed early in the conflict, in 1983, mostly by mothers or relatives of those who “disappeared”.  The founders took only one side, that is, the side of peace and reconciliation.  In fact today, ANFASEP still accepts no money from the government because this money comes with the condition of saying that the communists were fully at fault.  The situation is not that black and white- in truth, both sides were guilty of inflicting considerable misery on everyday people.  The museum was quite moving containing many photos of those who were killed or disappeared and in particular, personal items that the departed left behind.

Memory Museum of ANFASEP 4

ANFASEP building in Ayacucho – well worth a visit

Memory Museum painting

Memory Museum – there was evil on both red (communist) and green (government) sides of this conflict

Memory Museum clothes

The people in the photos disappeared – their personal items remained

From 1980 to 2000 the conflict raged and yet living our own far away worlds, we’d never really heard of it.  The region wasn’t safe for locals and certainly would not have been safe for us to travel through by bicycle.  Which brings me back to how fortunate we are to be able to do this trip, to live in a time when there is more peace and less conflict and to be able to travel to places like Ayacucho and learn the good and dark stories of their pasts.

We had read that Ayacucho was one of the poorest regions and cities in Peru.  Those that could (including companies) left during the conflict and have been slow in returning.  We had low expectations for Ayacucho.

As often happens, what we found here is actually a remarkable city.  The old-town area is full of colonial buildings with grand facades and big interior courtyards.  The streets are full of Peruvians out walking, working and selling.  There is the buzz of prosperity and commerce.  There aren’t many gringos in part I’m sure because people all read the same things we’ve read.  But also because Ayacucho is not Lima or Cordillera Blanca or Machu Picchu – you’d have to make an effort to come here and there isn’t a big nearby attraction to catch the eye of the foreign traveller.  Travelling by bicycle meant we had to pass through to get from the north of Peru to the south – we are glad we had the chance to learn about Ayacucho and “Peru’s internal conflict”.

Juice seller 2

Vibrant Ayacucho – juice seller in the main market

Cheese in the market 1

Cheese seller in the market

Ayacucho church 4

There are 33 churches in Ayacucho – one for each year of Jesus’s life

Ayacucho church 3

Another Ayacucho church

Ayacucho church 2

And another…

Juice seller - street 2

Juice seller on the street – Nancy got a fresh squeezed grapefruit juice

Papas puca picante

In the main market – Papas Puca Picante – spicy and delicious 

View at lunch

The main square from Via Via – a restaurant we ate at twice – good food

We depart Ayacucho tomorrow and begin the long traverse across southern Peru to Cusco, our next big destination.  We’ll be travelling again with Philipp and Kathrin.  The four of us and Andi have met up a couple times over the last few days to work out a plan forward.  Andi will bus to Cusco, the rest of us will ride.  Our adventures continue, but we are leaving Ayacucho with a much greater appreciation for the people, the region and what they’ve gone through – and how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do.

And finally, good luck to the folks at ANFASEP, keep up the good work.

Memory Museum MLK

Well said MLK – “Violence creates more problems than it solves”


8 thoughts on “Ayacucho thoughts…

  1. Thanks for the history lesson and background information. It is amazing to think of this as a time without wars in the Americas. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way in the US, but I know it is not a war zone.

  2. I’ve been worried out you folks traveling South of the border, however you have not complained or written of any real problems in any of the areas you have traveled. Continued safe travels to all of you!

  3. Ha! The juice seller looks like my grandma. When she was alive, she claimed she was Tarascan/Mayan. But, she looked very much like a little pear-shaped Peruvian women. And, yes, thank you for the history lesson.

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