Published: December 1st 2007November 7th 2007
Although Vista Alegre is only a 10-15min bus
ride from the city of Ayacucho, taking the bus to and from the the city is a true deporte
(sport). First of all many of the streets are unpaved so the bus goes through the parts of the road that are most flat, including the right, middle, and left parts of the road, even when it's a two-way street. This wouldn't be so bad if the bus wasn't in an imaginary race with the bus from Speed - the bus speeds as if running away from a fire - I have yet to see a sign communicating the maximum speed limit (in Vista Alegre). The buses are the size of minivans, they seat around 20 people and can probably take a maximum of 35 ppl. A person, usually a teenage boy, stands at the bus's door and tells the driver when to stop the bus to pick up people and when to start it again. The boy also behaves as if a huge Godzilla is running after the bus to devour it, so when people are getting off, he repeatedly says in an urgent tone, "Baja, baja, baja
" (Get off, get off, get
Ayacucho and its airport.
Taken from the top of my house.
off), and equally when people are getting on the bus, "Sube, sube, sube
," (Get on, get on, get on). Before entering the city, the boy has to run out of the bus to punch in a card - he runs as if the devil is after him. As a bus passenger, if you get a seat you are mostly okay, but if you are left standing, you are happy to be alive by the time the bus reaches your stop. The bus trip is, to say the least, an experience. Some copy/paste from Wikipedia to give you some background on the city of Ayacucho:
Ayacucho is the capital city of Huamanga Province, Ayacucho Region, Peru. It has a population of 93,033 within the city and an additional 140,230 in the surrounding area (suburbs, or rather ‘dwellings with unpaved roads and vicious dogs). The name is derived from two quechua words aya
(death) and cuchu
Ayacucho is famous for its large number of churches and for its religious celebrations during Semana Santa (Holy Week). These celebrations include horse races featuring Peruvian Caballos de Paso and the traditional running of the bulls, known locally as the jalatoro
Ayacucho and me.
Taken from the top of my house.
. The jalatoro is similar to the Spanish encierro
, except that the bulls are led by horses of the Morochucos.
Vestiges of human settlements more than 15,000 years old have been found in the cave site of Pikimachay, about 25 km north of Ayacucho. In the 6th and 12th centuries, the region became occupied by the Huari (or Wari) Culture, which became the first expansionist empire known in the Andes before the Incas.
The modern colonial establishment of Ayacucho was led by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro on April 25, 1540, as San Juan de la Frontera de Huamanga (St. John on the Huamanga Frontier). Due to the constant Incan rebellion led by Manco Inca against the Spanish on the zone, Pizarro was quick to populate it with a small number of Spaniards brought over from Lima and Cusco. On May 17, 1544, by Royal decree Ayacucho received its title of "La Muy Noble y Leal Ciudad de Huamanga". On February 15, 1825, by decree of Simón Bolívar, the city's name was changed to the original "Ayacucho".
The city's main University was founded on July 3, 1677 as the Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga (National
A beautiful church
Photo taken from the mirador, but it is in Ayacucho.
University of St. Christopher of Huamanga).
The city is named after the historical Battle of Ayacucho. Upon seeing so many casualties on the battlefield, the settlers named the area Ayakuchu, aya
meaning "soul" or "dead" and kuchu
meaning "corner" in the Quechua language. The Battle of Ayacucho was the last armed clash between Spanish armies and patriots during the Peruvian War of Independence. The battle developed in the nearby pampa of La Quinua on December 9, 1824. The patriot victory sealed the independence of Peru and South America. La Paz, now capital of Bolivia, was also similarly renamed La Paz de Ayachuco following this battle.
The city's economy is based on agriculture and light manufactures, including textiles, pottery, leather goods, and filigree ware. End copy/paste from Wikipedia
It is in Ayacucho that the Maoist revolutionary (later guerilla/terrorist) group Sendero Luminoso
(the Shining Path) was born in the 1970ies under the leadership of Abimael Guzman, a professor from the University of Ayacucho. The threat presented by the group left Ayacucho very much isolated from Lima and others parts of Peru, until 1992 when the professor was caught and sentenced to life. The civil war between the Sendero
The fruit in Ayacucho
This is probably the best looking 'booth' at the Mercado Central. Most are hideous-looking.
Luminoso and the Peruvian government in the 1980ies resulted in the deaths or disappearances of 40,000 to 60,000 people in the central Andes.
The city center is very busy both during the day and the night. The true center of life in Ayacucho is the Mercado Central
(= central market). It is reminiscent of Croatia’s open markets, but it is closed
. Located in a stone building, at the Mercado Central you can buy anything from cheese to waterproof shoes. Each person/family has their own little booth/store and they sell their stuff. It is open daily from 6am to 8pm (on Sundays it closes at 4pm). It also sells packages of 20 toilet rolls! Very practical. Bartering is a necessity at the market, expecially for a gringa
like me because they want to charge foreigners more, as anywhere in the world. Everything is fairly cheap and single units of anything mostly cost 1 sol - a kilo of potatoes, half a liter of water, or a fast-food meal from the mamitas
(women cook in the street and sell you a small meal for 1 sol, usually fried potatoes and rice). A kilo of apples is 3 to 4
soles - but they look and taste good. The bananas here are really cheap but they are either really fat (I never thought bananas could be fat!) or small, skinny, and mostly black - looking half dead. Sufficely to say, I am not eating a lot of bananas. The grapes I've had so far taste funny. The tomatoes and mangoes are mostly good. I did not enjoy the cucombers much. I am in LOVE with the palta
(avocado) - I eat it ALL the time!
Right next to the Mercado Central is a smaller fruit market, which is cheaper and the fruit/vegetables are better so I go there to buy groceries but the Mercado Central is wonderful to walk through because you can find shoelaces, needles, pirate DVDs, etc - basically, anything your heart desires... except Nutella! It bustles with life, and the area with the meat and cheeses stinks. The only fish in Ayacucho is ‘trucha’ - fish from the river.
The Mercado Central is located just above a very large, spectacular arco
(arch), which is taller than all the houses in the city, so it is a helpful orientation monument. It is well-preserved, nicely painted,
The market is surrounded by various pedestrian and non-pedestrain streets, filled with supermarkets, boticas
(pharmacies), linen stores, and hardware stores. The road from the arco
to the main square is a calle peatonal
(= pedestrian street) full of various little tiendas
(= stores), pharmacies, two supermarkets, and a church (which I have never seen open).
Although not very large, the main square of the city represents the best of Ayacucho for me. Known as Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor de Huamanga or just Plaza Mayor
(yes, it seems that the main square of every single city in Peru is called ‘Plaza de Armas’ - Peruvians do seem to love weapons ;), the square centers around a little park with benches and a statue of Antonio José de Sucre in the middle. Sucre is the most important Peruvian independence leader, victoriously defeating the Spanish on December 9, 1824 in the Battle of Ayacucho at the Pampa de La Quinua, a few kilometers from Ayacucho. The plain where the battle was held is a national sanctuary. [From Wikipedia:]
The Battle of Ayacucho was a decisive military encounter during the Peruvian War of Independence. It was the battle
To the right is a church.
that sealed the independence of Peru, as well as the victory that ensured independence for the rest of South America. [end Wikipedia].
The park in the square is well-maintained and it is one of the rare places in Ayacucho that you will see real grass (other smaller parks also boast grass surfaces). Around the plaza you can find a bank, a cultural center, money exchange offices, travel offices, telephone tiendas
(selling phone cards and phone minutes), and the spectacular Cathedral.
Fun fact: Ayacucho has 33 churches!
After you pass the Plaza there is another calle peatonal
, which has more tiendas
and supermarkets, a centro comercial
(= shopping mall - but really small and not very attractive), and the post office!
The mail gets delivered to Vista Alegre once a week so usually when people are in the city they go to the post office to pick up the mail, if there is any. Many volunteers get packages from home, always including chocolate!! Lol. There does not seem to be real chocolate in Peru (incl. Lima supermarkets) - most of it is black chocolate. Sometimes it says milk chocolate but there never quite seems to be enough
milk in it. I want Milka!! They do have super yummy chocolate covered raisins.
Also, the supermarkets in Ayacucho are more like little stores with products crammed everywhere, so that there is only space for one person in the miniature aisles. So it’s more like an overstocked grocery store than a supermarket. In some, however, you can pay with credit card, which is a rarity. I haven’t found any other store that accepts credit cards, although I assume the tourist agencies that offer tours accept them. There are a substantial number of ATMs though.
There seem to be plenty of hotels and hostels in the city even though I don’t think there are that many tourists to fill them. There is a very pretty one with a great location and bellboys in uniforms but I can’t help but think that it is mostly empty.
Many street names in Ayacucho (and I think in Lima too) are of dates but I can never remember which dates. It’s like 28 de Mayo, or 9 de Diciembre.
Last, but not least, after you pass the Plaza, the stores, and the bus terminals, you come to the Mercado Artesanal
At the Plaza Mayor with Sophie
Now, this was taken my Natalie, someone who can take a proper photo. I love how Ayacucho is surrounded by mountains, it's such a wonderful view.
with handicrafts), located in a former prison (prisons seem to follow me around!). It is an impressive stone building. What used to be single cells are now little repainted shops where around 200 hundred people sell handicrafts. There is a variety of choice, but most of the shops sell very similar if not the same things. Bartering is a must, but a very exhausting task. Many of the same things can be bought at the Mercado Central but for a much higher price and there is not such variety. The Mercado Artesanal is also the only place where I have found postcards and only a few portray Ayacucho.
Perhaps the thing I miss most in Ayacucho, after Nutella (and Milka), is a cinema. There is not really a regular cinema in Ayacucho. There is a one but it doesn't really show commercial movies and it is open at random times. If my observation is correct, the same title has been playing for a month. The cultural centers, however, at times have projections of movies. Recently there was a festival of European movies. They were mostly from the 1990ies. The projections at the cultural centers are free and open to
It drives you anywhere around Ayacucho for 1 sol (max. 3 ppl). It took us to a food market that is futher away from the center but cheaper.
Although Ayacucho is one of the poorest regions of Peru, many local kids (incl. the kids from the Casa) attend private elementary and secondary schools - you can tell because they wear uniforms.
The altitude of Ayacucho is 2750 meters above sea level, meaning that Vista Alegre is around 2800 m.a.s.l. As someone coming from a coastal town in Croatia where the lowest point is 0 m.a.s.l. and the highest is 189 m.a.s.l. (according to Wikipedia), coming to Ayacucho was a big change. I haven't had stomach problems yet, but the first two weeks I felt exhausted ALL the time. My brother explained it has to do with altitude, red blood cells, oxygen, etc., which is why athletes go to higher sea levels to exercise and then have an advantage when they compete at lower altitudes. How interesting!
Anyway, I think this is a fair and exhaustive overview of Ayacucho so far. Once I have actually entered one of the churches I will let you know!
There are more photos below