Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Peru: Calabazas

I'm taking a break from writing about our trip to tell you about calabazas in Peru.

What is a calabaza?

It's a gourd or squash or pumpkin. In Peru they dry them, carve them and decorate them and they are fabulous. They are definitely my favorite thing to buy in Peru. They sell them everywhere from high-end gift shops to on the street. I have seen them in gift shops in the states and even purchased them here, but they sell for much less in Peru. The price depends on how good you are at haggling in the market and how much work went into each one.

some calabazas we purchased and brought home--yes, we did have to explain to Customs that they were decorative and we weren't planning on cracking them open and planting any seeds, but they didn't seem too worried

I think this was at the market at Pisac

We paid as little as less than $1 for the small cuy (guinea pigs) in the last photo to as much as $9-11 for the largest one below and the very intricate smaller one. It's hard to say exactly as it's better if you pick out several and then make the vendor an offer for the group. They are very strong and light and therefore easy to pack. Some are cut open forming a "box" with a lid.

We were fortunate enough to be able to see an exhibit of outstanding examples at Qoricancha in Cuzco while we were there, but couldn't take photos.

Above: the largest one we purchased is about eight inches high

This man has been decorating calabazas all his life. He demonstrated his skill for us in the market at Chinchero. The largest calabaza in the previous photo is his work. I'm sure we would have purchased more from him if we had had more than five minutes before our tour van left. I love buying directly from the artist. He actually does carve them upside down like he is demonstrating. Below he is explaining (in Spanish, of course) the intricate iconography.

Most examples have pictures of the sun and moon and a puma, serpent and condor--the most important images in Inca cosmology. They also often have images of people working at various tasks such as farming, pottery making, animal husbandry, images of mountains, Machu Picchu, Inca sites and more. Some are long shapes and used as maracas as the seeds rattle inside the dried gourd.

Cuy (guinea pigs) are raised like rabbits and eaten on special occasions in Peru. I had to get these little guys which are about 3 and a half inches long. Owls and Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) are also popular motifs on calabazas.

I'm not much of a shopper, but once again, I am kicking myself for not buying a couple of bigger, more intricate examples. What was I thinking? So if any of you go to Peru and discover that I've saved you lots of time and money by posting all these tips on my blog, you'd better bring me one back!


Copyright 2009 text and photos. All rights reserved

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