Meeting a mummy

We were led into the final dark room, and I felt her presence before my eyes found her. The air in her glass chamber was chilled to -20C in order to preserve the bundle that crouched before us. Juanita, the young Incan girl who was sacrificed to appease the Gods, sat in a foetal position with her face turned upwards.

Approaching her clear coffin, you could feel the cold pressing against the glass. Staring into her face, a wash of unease settled in the crooks of my elbows and knees – it was uncomfortable studying her as it felt like she belonged to the mountain, and another time. I kept my eyes fixed on her, expecting she would move and resettle her shawl, or uncross her stiff arms that had cradled her for more than 500 years.

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Arequipa is shaken by 8-10 tremors a day, and the gaping crack in the bell tower of the white-stoned Catholic cathedral stands testament to this fact. The city is surrounded by volcanoes, including the active El Misti. In late 1995, Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing assistant Miguel Zarate made a discovery that made reverberations of its own around the world, revealing new light on the former Inca empire that had ruled there half a millennia before.

Juanita, otherwise known as ‘La Niña de los Hielo’ (‘The Girl of Ice’) was found on Mount Ampato. Her mummified body was extremely well-preserved due to the fact she had completely frozen – her skin, hair, nails and organs were all intact. Only her face showed signs of deterioration. When volcanic ash from nearby Sabancaya melted the ice she was encased in, it caused her body to slide down the mountain into a gulley where her face was temporarily exposed to the sun.

The discovery was so significant because it allowed us a rare glimpse into one of the great lost empires – the Incas. She is estimated to be one of hundreds of children sacrificed high up in the Andean peaks, with over 115 sites sacred sites excavated so far. Each site contains rich textiles, ornate wooden utensils and small statues of silver and gold. The purpose for these sacrifices, or ‘capacocha’ was to appease the gods and mountain deities, and to ensure rain and abundant crops. Some scholars also cite that the rituals were in order to protect the Incas, or provide escorts for the emperor in the afterlife. Others who are more cynical believe children were offered so that their parents could increase their links with the emperor and become more influential in society. Most sacrifices were children between the ages of 6 and 15 years old since children were regarded as ‘pure’; Juanita is estimated to have been around 14 at the time of her death.

It was considered a great privilege to be selected for sacrifice, and Incan priests would even offer their own children to the emperor. The chosen children were lavishly treated in the months leading up to their pilgrimage into the mountains, and were fed on high protein diets consisting of maize. Beforehand, a feast was thrown in Cuzco by the emperor, where the children and their families would be honoured. Their hair was braided and they wore the finest clothes, made from rich vicuña wool (known as the fibre of the Gods), and jewellery made from precious metals, beads and feathers.

The journey to the icy summits was led by priests, and it was arduous with a great risk of dying from exposure given the low temperatures and high altitudes of over 20,000ft. If they reached the top, which was considered to be closest to the Gods, the children were given an intoxicating drink containing coca. Once the effects of the drink had dulled their senses, they were killed with either a blunt blow to the head or strangulation. The child sacrifices were then buried with statues of llamas and other precious items. Priests would revisit the sacred site, or ‘huaca,’ with coca leaves and food as offerings to the gods.

I tried to imagine how it must have felt to be chosen and revered by the emperor, enjoying celebrations in your honour, but still knowing that you would have to die once the pilgrimage was over. Despite this practice, the Incas were believed to exhibit more ‘humane’ sacrifices than the Aztecs and other pre-Colombian cultures.

Last year, 227 skeletons of children aged from just four to fourteen were uncovered in northern Peru in the Huanchaco site. These sacrifices were uncovered from the period prior to the Incas, the Chimú culture. It is thought that the sheer volume of sacrifices was a desperate attempt to appease the gods from the devastating floods and rainfall that the coast had experienced. Now, thankfully, we know that the change in weather patterns is down to the El Niño phenomenon, and not the wrath of the gods.

Sources

‘Peru: Skeletons of 227 victims unearthed at world’s largest child sacrifice site,’ by Sam Jones, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/29/peru-huanchaco-sacrificial-site-skeletons

‘Ice Mummies of the Inca,’ by Liesl Clark, NOVA Beta, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/ice-mummies-inca.html

‘The secrets of Incan sacrifice,’ http://mathwiz2001.tripod.com/theicemaiden/id9.html

‘The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes,’ by Johan Reinhard, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0792268385?tag=mummytombs&link_code=as3&creativeASIN=0792268385&creative=373489&camp=211189

Title picture: ‘Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden,’ by Dhwty, Ancient Origins: https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/mummy-juanita-sacrifice-inca-ice-maiden-009800

Article picture: ‘Meeting a 500-Year-Old Peruvian Mummy,’ by Margie Goldsmith, HuffPost: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/visiting-a-500yearold-per_b_1146363

A traditional tea ceremony

Japan is a place unlike any other, with cultural traditions fiercely protected across millennia. You can learn about the legacy of the samurai and their battles with the ninja clans, the skilful geisha and their performative art, or the rituals of the tea ceremony.

In Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, some of the old ways have been meticulously preserved. We visited WAK Japan, a women’s cooperative with local experts who can guide you through the process. There is so much more to a tea ceremony than just drinking tea.

On arrival, we removed our shoes. Had it had been the 16th century, our samurai swords would be left at the door. Putting on thick wooden slippers, we shuffled upstairs past shōjis screens. Our guide, Aska, wore a silvery kimono embroidered with the muted colours of autumn.

On the tatami floor, lay the polished ceramic drinking bowls. We knelt down, and with everyone at the same level, we were told that we were equals. Tea ceremonies were used as a leveler in society – no matter who you were in the outside world, everyone was treated the same when they came together for tea. No power or money could create a hierarchy here. Hand stitched on a cloth were the words Wa kei sei jaku meaning ‘Peace, harmony, purity, respect.’

There was something so simple and tranquil about that space, the light muffled by the paper screens and the room silent, except for our host whose movements were slow and measured. Aska tapped the ceramic lid of the tea pot with her long wooden scoop, as if waking it from a slumber.

Everything was gently submerged in cold water, then meticulously wiped with a small, folded red napkin. Aska spoke little as she prepared the tea. Instead, we listened to water being dropped, the clink of the ceramics, the hollow sound of bamboo.

With a small wooden whisk, she frothed up the green tea until the bubbles turned white. The maca leaves had been covered in silver to protect them from the sun, and as a result, the taste was less bitter than that of regular green tea. Tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th Century, when priests returned from China. Kyoto was the first place to grow its own tea in Japan. The hot sun and temperate climate was ideal for tea plants to flourish, and it is now famous for its matcha and gyukuro tea.

Before drinking the tea, it is customary to bow low to your host to show your gratitude. The bowls are placed in between guests with the design facing them at first, and this is the kao (face) side. You must say, “Osakini” to the person next to you, to show etiquette and to request permission to drink before them, then wait for them to nod.

At this point, you should turn the design on the bowl away from you in modesty so that the kao of the bowl is facing towards the host. The next step is to thank the host and tea growers before raising the bowl to your lips, with your left hand nestled under the right. You then spin the bowl twice clockwise and then sip – the standard rate is to finish your drink in three and a half sips. Only the last mouthful should be an audible slurp to show your appreciation.

Replacing the bowl back down in front of you, you can now turn it anti clockwise so that the design is facing you once again. The kao of the bowl is specifically chosen for the occasion, and you can enjoy trying to glean its meaning. Remember to thank your host for the tea.

There is a saying in Japanese – Ichigo Ichie, which means ‘savour every encounter.’ As Brits, we are particularly fond of a brew, but this tea ceremony was strangely calming. Emerging from the room afterwards, we felt like we’d enjoyed a soothing spa session.

To see a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in action, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wQVxj_0Mdo.

WAK Japan is a business that celebrates the historic roles of women, and provides many opportunities for cultural exchange. They are committed to preserving Japanese culture and offer courses in calligraphy, dancing, flower arrangement and Japanese paper craft. See their website for more details: http://wakjapan.com/

Be taste adventurous!

When travelling, rather than following the banana pancake trail, it’s more fun to seek out the local food. Discovering dishes that are different or a bit weird compared to options back home is one way of getting an insight into the place you’re visiting.

Here are some of the stranger delicacies I’ve come across:

1. Scorpions on Koh San Rd, Bangkok

This road is infamous in Thailand for its nightlife, and travellers are drawn to the neon lined street like the insects buzzing around the hawker stands. Here, you’ll find a host of creepy crawlies sprayed in a salty sauce and roasted. The brave can try a crispy grasshopper, scorched tarantula, or like me, a crunchy scorpion on a stick. Have a Chang ready to wash it all down!

2. Cuy in Cusco

Best known for its delicious ceviche (fish cured in citrus juices), Peru serves up a veritable feast using ingredients plucked from its diverse ecosystems, and usually sprinkled in spicy ají pepper . You can try quinoa soup, a range of potatoes in every colour, corn, and the popular lomo saltado (stir fry beef). For the more adventurous, there is anticuchos de corazón (grilled beef heart) or cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig). I tried both on my final night in Cusco, but couldn’t quite put the image of my childhood pet aside.

3. Ice kachang in Manila

In the capital, it is impossible to miss the tourist slogan: it’s more fun in the Philippines. They’re not wrong when it comes to their desserts. Ice kachang is a favourite in Southeast Asia. You might recognise the shaved ice and syrup elements, but the rest may come as a surprise. This sweet includes coconut milk, aloe vera jelly, attap chee (palm fruit), nata de coco, sweetcorn (a popular dessert as corn on the cob), black grass jelly, sweet condensed milk, and my particular favourite, red kidney beans. It starts off as a delicious looking rainbow mountain, but as it melts it becomes brown and sludgy so eat it quickly.

A variation of ice kachang in Singapore

4. Sambal stringray in Singapore

Walking along Marina Bay’s waterfront between the Merlion and the boggling Marina Bay Sands hotel, you’ll stumble across Gluttons Bay. This place certainly lives up to its name. Hawker stalls are a way of life in Singapore, and this street serves up almost every dish you’ll find in the food centres around the island. You’ll find satay skewers, black carrot cake (actually radish), wonton noodles, roti prata, fish balls, chicken foot soup, spicy nasi lemak, and the famous chilli or black pepper crab. We also ordered sambal stringray, and its grilled white meat was delicate and slathered in a tangy, hot sauce. I washed mine down with soursop juice, which gives a refreshingly citrus hit to counteract those chillis.

5. Curry for breakfast in Jaipur

If you’re travelling to India, you’re in for a treat. With rich creamy curries, pickled vegetables served on banana leaves, pan-baked roti, fresh mango lassies, sticky gulab jamun and steaming chai masala tea, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Whilst most places in Rajasthan catered for Western breakfasts with German bakeries, cafes serving eggs, fruit or pastries, we found Jaipur a tricky place to find breakfast. After eating curry for every meal, we found it difficult to have an equally spicy start to our day. Luckily for us, fresh bananas on the bunch were easy to come by.

6. Fish sauce in Bangkok

This is another specialty hailing from Thailand. If you are a fan of Thai food, you’ll be familiar with Pad Thai, red / green Thai curry and Tom yum soup. You might not know that along with the trademark chillis, lemongrass, tamarind and kaffir (lime leaves), there is one key ingredient: fish sauce. Walking past the main factory, there was a strong gust of fish which blew us backwards. We heard rumours that Thai people pack fish sauce in their suitcases when they travel so they’re never without, just like Brits taking HP brown sauce or Heinz ketchup on holiday with them.

7. Durian in Singapore

I’ve saved the worst until last. This fleshy yellow fruit is actually banned on public transport as it smells so strong. It is pungent enough that a rotting durian shut down an Australian University last year, since the students believed it was a gas leak. The appearance of the durian should be enough to put anyone off as it has a hard, thick shell adorned with dangerous spines. Passing a durian stand burns your nostrils and fills your throat with the taste of raw sewage before you’ve even had a bite.

After two years living in Singapore and politely making excuses to avoid durian parties, I finally tried it. I think the Victorian anthropologist Alfred R. Wallace captured the sensation in his description in 1856:

A rich butter-like custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities.

 Wallace, Alfred Russel (1856). “On the Bamboo and Durian of Borneo”

Unlike Wallace, though, I was not a fan.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this taste bud adventure! Have you ever tried anything strange whilst travelling? Let me know in the comments:

Travel buddies

When I think about my travels, my memory sometimes lets me down. It becomes increasingly hard to distinguish something real against a memory forged from a photograph.

Pictures and films help us to record experiences, but they are not always true to reality. They cannot recreate the moment so that you can feel the same things as before. The sky was a different colour. The menacing monkey was surely larger. Who is that hidden in the edges of the frame?

Asides from messy scribbles jotted down on overnight buses, I rely on the memories of my travel buddies. Yet it’s difficult to describe the exact smell of the streets in Jaipur, the subtle flavours of an authentic Cambodian dish, or how I passed the time on a 26 hour bus ride back to Cusco.

One thing I can recall clearly are the people, or rather, the lasting imprint of meeting them. Travellers often cross paths only once, but these individuals will stay with me:

The taxi driver in Jaipur who learnt all his English from Alan Partridge and ill-advisedly allowed Tom to drive his tuk tuk down the street. The small boy with brown teeth who brought joy to an otherwise hellish coach from Vientiane to Hanoi. The silent Thai man wearing a bandanna who fed his white kitten fish crackers in a bar, before commandeering the live band to play karaoke with us.

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The Vietnamese brothers who took us on a motorbike tour of Dalat, driving through villages where children rode water buffalo down dirt roads. The elderly Peruvian mountain guide nicknamed ‘The Cat’ who bounded effortlessly ahead on the Salkantay Pass to reach Machu Picchu. A young Indian girl, the namesake of my friend, who taught me bhangra moves at a wedding in Delhi.

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The German cousins who toured with us around Kerala and shared their views on Ayurvedic medicine. The inspirational Dutch woman who sold her house, bought a waffle cart and travelled the world. The laughing border control officers in Laos who saw me stagger off the boat, flu-ridden, into waist deep mud.

The man with the golden eyes in Kerala who convinced us to meet him before dawn for a sunrise paddle. The family we stayed with on the remote island of Amantani who heartily welcomed us and showed us how to dance. The competitive American author who raced us down a 200ft sand dune in the desert oasis of Huacachina.

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The family in Udaipur who spent the afternoon decorating us in henna, whom we thanked with an impromptu family portrait. The diving couple in Komodo National Park who had dived hundreds of times yet still wanted to see more. The restaurant owner who proudly taught us complimentary phrases (for haggling) in Balinese when we visited him.

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The daredevil guys who took us paragliding in the Himalayas but narrowly missed a tree on the ascent. The giant Russian man who joined our mud bath in Nha Trang and emptied it instantly. The young entrepreneurial girl hustling in a temple in Angkor to pay for school fees.

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The wildlife guide in Borneo who played Christmas tunes with his nostrils using a specially carved pipe. The enthusiastic farmer in Laos who showed us how to steer a water buffalo and harvest rice. The guide who proudly showed us the delights of Quillabamba despite the promised waterfall being dried up.

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I’ve realised that the best travel experiences happen when you let go of control. It takes courage to swallow your cynicism, suspicion and worries.

Only then can you fully embrace an opportunity and allow yourself to be surprised by what you’re experiencing, rather than what you’re expecting from the guide book description.

Sometimes that means taking the risk of being ripped off, trusting someone you’ve just met to show you around, or simply being able to laugh when plans go awry (which they often do).

Part of travelling responsibly is being social, establishing meaningful connections and engaging with local customs. To traverse the cultural divide, you have to abandon your comfort zone and challenge your existing ideas. Of course, I’m not advocating that you go do something dangerous, but measured risk is part of the adventure.

Imagine how many more meaningful connections we would make if we thought the best of strangers and sought to know them better, even if our time together is brief.


What have you learnt from travelling? Who are the people that have left the greatest impact on you?

Travel guide to Sanur, Bali

Some travellers call the town of Sanur in Bali ‘Snore,’ as it is more relaxed compared to the party towns of Kuta and Seminyak on the west. Yet there is more to this place than its moniker suggests:

Where to eat
There are lots of local warungs to satiate your nasi campur appetite, along with more international options with fusion-style meals available. Here are our favourites:
Natah Bale – tucked away on the main street, you might miss this one. It is worth seeking out just for the hospitality. We learnt lots of Bahasa Bali phrases from the owner. They serve the best satay chicken and lamb served in their own mini charcoal pits so you can cook your meat to your taste.
Genius Bar – based smack bang on the shore with live music, dancing, movie nights and fire shows during the week. Their cocktails are strong (try the pina colada in a coconut) and their food portions are generous. Ideal for vegetarians or those who appreciate healthy food.

The delectable banana/honey pizza from the Genius Bar, Sanur beach.

Warung Baby Monkeys – a cosy reggae-themed cafe that serves hearty Balinese and international food. Their nasi lemak rivals the best in Bali. The hamburgers and thick shakes are a hit.
Soul in a Bowl – located further up the main street, this one is another great find for vegetarians. The menu is extensive and the salad bowls are huge. Try the fresh juices here.
Malaika Secret Moksha – the rustic atmosphere fits the organic menu, where food and art meet on a plate. Their key lime pie is a winner.

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Vegetarian lasagne at Malaika Secret Moksha, Sanur

What to do
Sanur beach is a long stretch of white sand. To hire two sun loungers and an umbrella for the day will put you back IDR50,000 (£2.70). The beach was clean, unlike Kuta and Seminyak that were sadly awash with plastic brought in with the tide when we visited (December 2017).

Watersports are available on the beachfront, with speedy jet skis or the option of paddle boarding on the still, shallow water. Kite surfing is popular here, but the regular surfing looked better in Canggu as the surfers had to be taken far out to the wave breaks.

Shopping
The main shopping street is Jalan Cemara that extends to Jalan Danau Tamblingan. Here you can discover boutique shops as well as the usual souvenir vendors. You can buy carved wooden statues, traditional instruments, artisan bamboo bags and handpainted bowls from local artists. See here for more information.

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Sunset view from Genius Bar, Sanur

Pampering
The Aroma Spa is located on Sanur’s beachfront and offers high quality treatments ranging from reflexology to deep tissue massages, and they even have a sunburn soothing massage for those who’ve spent a long day at the beach.

Day trips
The island of Nusa Lembongan is nestled into the mainland and is just a short ferry ride from Sanur. There, you can snorkel in the shallows by Lembongan Watersports, kayak in the mangrove forest and enjoy the tumultuous waves of Dream Beach.

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The rough turquoise waves at nearby Dream Beach, Nusa Lembongan

Sanur is ideally located in the centre of most activities in Bali. You can take a day trip north to visit the steeply tiered paddy fields and craft galleries of Ubud, jump off waterfalls in an arranged tour, or for a half day option, you can clamber through the nearby hidden canyon of Beji Guwang,

From Sanur, it’s possible to drive east to Tanah Lot and then on to Canggu to surf. Or head south to Nusa Dua beach, then on to the famed Padang Padang beach (locally known as the Julia Roberts beach as she filmed Eat Love Pray there). If you continue further to the southern tip, go watch the Kecak fire dance at the Uluwatu temple during sunset.

If you travel west, it is possible to snorkel at Padang Bai and if you’re lucky, you might spot a cuttlefish in the depths. For wildlife enthusiasts, the nearby butterfly park was a highlight, with fat caterpillars and hundreds of large winged butterflies and moths.

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Tourist map of Bali, provided by our driver Made Murjana

Where to stay
I highly recommend Terta Ening Agung hotel. It has a pool and a peaceful garden full of flowers and birds, and is just a 10min walk from Sanur beach. As a party of 12, we were given adjoining villas. During peak season, we paid £25/night for a large private double room with an en suite bathroom.

The rooms were clean and comfortable and the staff were friendly and accommodating. Breakfast was included and consisted of Balinese favourites as well as a continental option or pancakes. The owner, Wayan, booked all our transportation at a reasonable price and made us feel at home.

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I hope you’ve found this information useful. If you have visited Sanur or plan to go there soon, comment below as we’d love to hear from you!