From the coastal Paracas we went directly into Peruvian Sierra, straight to Ayacucho. Ayacucho surprises its visitors with the number of churches – according to travel guides there are 33 of them from colonial times (16th-18th century), one for every year of Jusus life. Counting 20 modern churches more, it gives over 50 in the city with just 150 thousand citizens! Why so many? The guide does not answer this question any more but my guess is that the city was in a strong opposition to the Spanish culture. And the conquistadors remedy against confrontation was to destroy on the local shrines and build in this place a church – a symbol of the new god.
Until now Ayacucho has an exceptionally strong personality and feeling of its own identity. The primary language of the city is not Spanish, as is the case for northern and costal Peru, but Quechua. I had the impression that almost all the ayacuchans know it and speak it between each other. The women in Ayacucho wear small white or brown sombreros, so different than the ones I got used to in the north. The skirts have incredible colors and flower patterns.
On the local market one can find overwhelming number of cheese sorts (in all the stages of maturity!) and the best bread I tried during my whole stay in Peru (that’s a personal opinion of course). In the weekends local women sell traditionally made ice cream muyuchi (tasty, creamy and completely natural!).
However, Ayacucho has behind it a painful and difficult history. Just a few kilometres away from here took place the most important battle of south american war for independence. In 1824 the revolutionists defeated the royalists, a victory which lead to the creation of new republics, among them Peru and Bolivia. After this campaign the city gained its contemporary name: Ayacucho, which some translate as ‘The city of dead’ (although it could mean also the ‘Home of the soul’). This first name actually describes better what happened to Ayacucho later.
Just half a century ago, in 1960s, the city witnessed the birth of the peruvian maoist political movement known as Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path), which was to hold the whole country in the terrorist horror until late 90s. The Shining Path developed under the leadership of Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor at the local university. Guzman was finally sentenced a life in prison for terrorism and murder, as his political organisation evolved into brutal guerilla groups. In the 80s the campesinos in central Andes were trapped between two evil forces the terrorism of Sendero Luminoso on one side and the brutality of peruvian army on the other. Both parties are responsible for exterminating the whole villages: those who supported the army were killed by the guerillas, those in favour of Sendero Luminoso were murdered by the government. No escape.
The woman in the market stall smiles as she pours us a freshly made juice. She seems to be a very positive person but her past hides some sad memories. Asked about the Shining Path she tells us briefly her story: how the terrorists came to her village, how her father was killed and hanged outside by his legs, how his only fault was to be the son of the mayor.
Her story was a nighmare come true for many people that still walk on the streets of Ayacucho. Now the city lives its modern life as if nothing ever happened. Many of the young ones will even not know what Sendero Luminoso was. The topic is almost omitted at the history classes (mostly due to the lack of time) and the in result the young students with revolutionary idea are attracted to MOVDEF, a political ‘cover’ movement for old members and ideas of Sendero Luminoso people. When will we finally start learning our lesson from the history?