Peru

I have returned home from my mini trip to Peru. Although it was a mere week long I packed in 9 villages, 6 flights, 2 train rides, 3 collectivos, 6 taxi rides, 2 bus trips, a 2 and a half hour boat trip, a trek on a horse, a mountain climb, 4 hostels, lots of conversations, much mangled Spanish and a colorful array of interesting cuisine explorations. Here are some photos highlighting the most memorable aspects of my journey. It was hard to pare down all the photos I took to just a few.

I began at O'Hare airport on the first of many flights to South American where I would be adding and de-layering clothes through out different times of the day and night. El Salvador was sticky hot, while part of Peru were chilly and cold. My first day and a half, I arrived in the the dilapidated town of Juliaca and took a collectivo cambi to Puno, where I was stricken with pretty severe altitude sickness. Lots of vomiting, chills and a headache that rendered me incapacitated in a hostel room bed alone and quite scared. Somehow I managed to get bottled water and get myself on a bus to Cusco at 7am the next day despite being doubled over with the ills and chills. Here however, is where the best part of my journey begins.

When my ailments subsided after some Muno tea and herbs from Jose and some other friendly travellers on the bus to Cusco, I met Graciella. She was sitting at her hand made loom on the side of the road weaving a new poncho to sell. I sat down next to her for a while and asked her questions about her weaving in my broken Spanish. She was very sweet and girlish, she smiled a lot and seemed happy to chat with me. She sat under a tarp to shade her from the sun. Draped over sticks affixed to the tarp were several shawls, ponchos and scarves she had woven that were for sale. I wondered how many people stopped along this dirt road to buy her gorgeous crafts. She pulled out a drop spindle with raw wool and said "Alpaca" and motioned for me to spin some raw wool into yarn. Everything about Graciella's craft is made by hand, from the loom she weaves on to the wool that she dyes and spins herself that become her beautiful shawls. When she saw my eyes wandering over her gorgeous work, she pointed out the symbolism in her shawls, el pajaro, the bird, la rana, the frog, los ojos, the eyes, la ola, the wave. I bought one of her shawls made from her hand spun alpaca. She charged me 80 soles which amounts to about $28.50 USD. She gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. When I brought it home, my cat wiggled around and snuggled up on the shawl. She seems to like alpaca too. See a short video of Graciella weaving.

Peru is an impoverished country with an economy that relies a great deal on tourism. Every where I went I was bombarded with menus, signs, people asking me to by things from them. Even a single snapshot was met with "un sole". While the Peruvian PEN is not as strong as the US dollar, it made me wonder a lot about value. I paid just under $29.00 for Graciella's incredibly detailed shawl and I know her weaving and skill is worth several times that much. It is interesting why and how we put the value we do on "things" and "goods" in certain areas of the world and not in others. Even the value of money changes, and differs from one part of the world to another.

I enjoyed visiting Cusco which had the most interesting architecture of all the towns and villages I passed through. There were many buildings made from stucco and cement with terra cotta roofs. However, most of Peru's homes and buildings are box like structures made from dirt. Adobe bricks are constructed from the soil and sediment which become the walls and facades of most villages.

When I finally met up with my friend and travelling companion Agatha, I had overcome the altitude and we decided to go horseback riding through the Andes Mountains. 

These buildings below were a mixture of adobe and stucco with some interlacing stone archways and doorways. While I enjoyed the architecture, which was so vastly different from anything I had ever seen in real life, for me, the people, crafts and folklore were what piqued my interest the most.

First time on a horse! And who could ask for a better experience! Riding through the Andes Mountains among fields and sheep, farmers and ancient Inca ruins. My horse was called "Prince". I thought, it can't get any better than this and then it did. Every day.

The trip for me, culminated in Machu Picchu. I do not have a 'Bucket List' but if I did I could cross off a visit to the Sacred Valley. For most of my adult life I have wanted to visit Machu Picchu and I will say, that as you may have guessed it is far more spectacular and breathtaking in real life than any photo could ever show. We arrived at daybreak. As I entered the ruins birds chirped and llamas ran freely around the mountains. It were as though I had stepped into a picturesque fantasy world full of abundance, beauty and all of natures most richest treasures. I have never felt such peace as I did walking around the ancient ruins in a sort of solitudinal daze. Around 10am Agatha and I joined a group of people to climb Waynapicchu, the mountain that towers over Macchu Picchu. According to lore, Waynapicchu with its carved terraces was the residence of the high Inca Priest. It was a long, steep climb straight up. Treacherous and slippery in some areas, I climbed up it in record time and with ease much to my surprise. And, I think I discovered a new interest, mountain climbing! I never ever dreamed I would be into it, but I loved it!

I still cannot believe I was here. It feels like I dreamed it.

The day before I flew back home to Chicago, Agatha and I had planned a home stay on the Floating Uros Island in Lago Titikaka. With an overnight bus back into Puno that arrived at 4:30am and very little sleep after a lot of physical exertion, we opted to treat ourselves to real beds in a real hotel instead. We did however visit the 30 villagers on Isla de Uros. The entire island is free floating and made of reeds that grow in the lake, as is all of the huts that the villagers live in and their boats as well. This boat below was called "The Mercedes Benz",  as the mayor (who was a woman) kept calling it.

 The Isle of Tequile was breathtaking. The people who live there dress in traditional clothing to preserve the traditions of their culture. The men of the town knit hats to signify certain status. A special design and color scheme are used to knit hats that signify the difference between single people, married people and the decision makers of the village. Some of the elders who decide what things must be done in the village also wear specially knit pouches that they wear on their waists with colorful tassels on the bottom.

This little one had been mischievously photo bombing peoples family photos with all the cuteness she could muster. It made the tourists laugh, but she knew what she was up to. After a photo was snapped she would hold her hand out and whisper "sol", meaning give me some money for showing up in your photo. She wasn't making too much income on this day and her stance expresses that completely.

Some of the elder decision makers of Tequile, you can see the hats and pouches they wear to signify their status.

I almost forgot! When we visited La Isla de Uros, the villagers made us put on traditional clothing. They were very proud to show us their huts, how they lived and the way they lived. We did feel kind of silly wearing their clothes, I will admit.

I made some time to visit Master weaver Maximo Laura's gallery in Cusco. He also keeps a studio in Lima. Here, one of his assistants was weaving a tapestry. Maestro Laura has been deemed a national treasure in Peru for preserving traditional technique and inventing his own. Laura's tapestries are rich with folkloric symbolism and each carry their own mythological narrative. His vibrant use of color seems controlled yet uninhibited. It all made me think a lot about my own approach to color and the lack of narrative in my own work. I come from a strictly design perspective, this visit inspired me to incorporate a bit more story into my own weaving work. I filled pages of my notebook with ideas while waiting for a flight to El Salvador in the airport on my trek home. See a short video of Laura's assistant weaving in the studio.

Peru's landscape is both tantalizing and breathtaking. I found Peruvians to be somewhat cold and standoffish for the most part. Within their own families and communities, from my observation, they seem cheerful, jovial and loving. As an outsider, it is hard to cull a sense of warmth. I did however find a strong sense of connection, warmth and kindness from fellow travellers. On this short yet enlightening journey I met people from all over the world and had interesting conversations over lunches, on buses and trains and just plain old standing in line. I found that the warmth and friendliness I was looking for in the villagers actually came naturally from other interlopers like myself.

I am back home now, feeling like I just spent a month in Peru. I have much yet still to process. A new perspective on craft, economy and social structure has my mind racing in a barrage of ideas, thoughts and contemplations. I know that when I left for this trip, I considered myself just an ordinary person with an ordinary life striving for the same things all Americans strive for. Happiness, satisfaction, a nice home, leisure time, things of this nature. Upon my visit to Peru, I realize that I have a really wonderful life full of richness, joy and freedom. I discovered new interests and worlds I had never experienced before. For this I am truly grateful. And that above all, makes me happy.