Yesterday afternoon we took a yellow shared taxi to Azapa, where there is a small archaeological museum whose main attraction is the presence of Incan mummies.
They were shrunken and tiny, covered with mud and feathers and a kind of woven cloth like jute, or hessian. A man, a woman and a child. There were another two in a different display, in a seated position, wrapped in layers of woven clothes and with face masks. The museum itself is a striking oasis in the middle of pure dusty desert - with many trees and tropical flowers.
In the evening we went to the casino for a while, with a friend of Rita´s and his mate. It was the first time I have played in a casino. We decided on a limit of 3000 pesos each to bet. I found out pretty quickly that Roulette is not the way to go, losing 2 /3 of my stake in two meagre spins of the wheel. I then turned my attention to the black jack table, having to up the stake though, as minimum bet is 2000 pesos. This was a good move andI came out on top, winning 13000 out of my initial 2000. That was enough to cover my stake, the $2750 entrance fee and a small profit. I retired hastily.
Today we have been on a guided tour to Lago Chungara in the altiplano nearby to Arica. We saw a lot of wildlife - llamas, alpacas, vicuñas. The vicuñas are shy and run away if youb try to get close, but the alpacas and llamas are domesticated and are curious, in one one village in which we stopped along the way they came crowding around the bus, clearly accustomed to tourists feeding them biscuits which we promptly did. We also saw a small lake with flamigos, but only from a distance. Lake Chungara is very beautiful - but at 4800m you lose your breath easily!
My favourite part of the day was the later stop in an Aymara village called Parinacota. Only a small handful of families live there, maintaining the traditional culture. We were admitted to the church, which is tiny but very charming, with frescos and many small statues. A painting of the Virgen was uncovered, for one of only two days in the year. There is a tablewith a figurine of San Sebastian on top. This wooden table, which appears unremarkable, is very old and one leg is discretely tied by a long rope to the wall around the corner in the vestry, and also to a rope hanging from the roof. Legend has it that long, long ago, the table escaped and ran away from the church and stopped outside the door to a house, announcing a certain death. The inhabitant promptly died the following day and so from then until this day the villagers keep the table tied up inside the church so that it cannot repeat the performace! We spoke a while with the guardian of the church and chief of the village, with dark leathery skin and wise eyes and he recounted various other anecdotes. For example, no-one is permitted to ring the church bell except for the priest when he gives the call to Mass. If anyone else dares to touch it they shall fall victim to the following curse. If they are single they shall never marry, and if they are married their partner will leave them.
In an alcove in the wall inside a small chamber off to the side are some ancient skulls crowned with paper decorations. Apparently they belong to some once very important people of the village and they are now honoured and respected in this way.