Portraits of Peru
Portraits of Peru
My recent South American travels took me through the cacophonous and delicious metropolis of Lima, then down the southern coast of Peru, from the dusty roads of Paracas to the mystical land of Nazca.
I then took a turn east for Arequipa where colonial architecture and famous canyons stole my lens then chased that with a trek north to hike the Andes Mountains outside of Cusco and further yet to the edge of the Amazon where the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.
These are a few of the faces—and their stories—I met along the way.
Lima’s cacophony and chaos is in full-swing down in the city center surrounding the Plaza de Armas. I leaned out the window to snap this photo when I saw three boys all stacked on to the same body of this flame-painted motorcycle. The make-shift rig is driven from behind the massive cart in front carrying goods and products to be sold to passersby on the streets. The driver adjusted his microphone mouthpiece, a small but powerful tool used to amplify his products and attract customers—and the curious gringo in the taxi next to them.
Lima is a confluence of cultures where you can spot Incan-inspired attire in the streets and ancient iconography exhibited within the many museos. The ancient times blend within the traditional España architecture in el centro and is in the seams between the glass and steel high rises in Miraflores...where the old world meets the new.
I snapped this image with the intention of capturing the woman in pink selling souvenirs and this businessman happened to step into frame at the perfect moment to show this high contrast of the cities past and its present in human form. The native woman wears her vibrant attire from the highlands while the young man wears a steam-pressed uniform reminiscent of the business world. Between their pace and posture, this image says a lot about the times—from Native to Now.
Arequipa. Generations of Peruvian women all donning the same traditional black braids tied together at the ends and dancing down their backs. Some even weave in black yarn and pom-poms for an extension of their natural locks. The older women rarely wear anything but these long embroidered skirts and multi-colored sweaters buttoned at the front; they can be spotted on the farms and in the streets identified by their signature hair and wardrobe.
Family is highly valued in Peru, so, everywhere I looked there was an intersection of generations holding hands along boardwalks and quiet barrios. This abuela and her nieta were walking the cobblestone streets in Ollantaytambo, representing the traditional garb reminiscent of the past while her grand-daughter dons a modern backpack and the common uniform of the private schools. I was reminded of my own grandmother, Shirley, and the moments of walking side-by-side that seemed so simple at the time and now hold profound weight.
Ollantaytambo. I stopped to snap a photo of this original doorway built by the Inca’s in the late 15th century using the region’s granite stone. The impressively smooth treatment of the stone shows the craftsmanship of the people who carved them along with the cleverly built stone joints to fit them perfectly together. Just as I was taking the photo, this shop-owner peeked out of the door frame, smiling and sun-kissed, under the ancient door frame.
In the food and textile market of Magdalena del Mar in Lima, a young man makes an egg and corn dough to serve up at his restaurant in the busy market full of fresh pastries, chicken feet, and boiled potatoes.
Here I am being served the sweet, light red wine from a comedic bartender at a pisco and wine distillery on the outskirts of Ica in southern Peru. Between shots of the potent corn spirit and tasting every shade of wine from the shop, I left with a mid-day buzz and an appreciation for the process of wine-making here. Every batch is stomped by foot and then filtered, fermented, and served by a smart-ass barman, if you’re lucky.
ATIPAQ. This man is a political and social activist, speaking more than 5 languages and creating art and poster campaigns on the streets of Cusco. He told me he is fighting for his people and their native culture that is being threatened everyday. His hand-drawn signs are an effort to locals and discuss economical struggles and politics across South America and bring awareness to aggressive political figures abandoning the Peruvian farmers as well as calling out other presidents for their greedy behavior.
One small signs asks for tips from photographers and to not be stingy like Donald Trump. He names American politics often and criticizes the dictatorships that are negatively affecting the world economy and the celebrated ignorance that influences many.
A woman carries fresh flowers to be sold street-side in the city of Aguas Calientes beneath Machu Picchu Mountain.
And then my heart exploded. On our way to Colca Canyon, we stopped for breakfast at a small pueblo. Afer sneaking out of our group breakfast to go see what was behind the rural cafe, I stumbled into mamma llama and baby llama during their own morning snack. The decorated garb worn by the woman and the sweet niña are everyday attire on the farm. You will spot long skirts and hand-embroidered shawls walking the arid fincas during dawn...fashion can’t wait for these hardworking families. Loved seeing these generations of llamas and Peruanas off the beaten path.
In Cusco’s Plaza de Armas you will find young women on every corner wrapped in woven blankets and holding baby goats and fuzzy alpacas on display for the tourists to capture this iconic image of Peru for themselves. Of course, for a small fee. Coming to the main square with their livestock is a common practice to make some cash from the visiting tourists. I captured this portrait of a striking Peruvian girl holding a one-week-old baby goat from her families farm as she stared off into the midnight lights of the colonial square.
Salkantay Trail in the Andes Mountains. Backwards shoes and a smudged face. Christian led us up the rocky path towards the Salkantay summit. A bright red woven cape and matching multicolored hat with floppy ears was our light during dawn. A quick-footed boy un-phased by boulders twice his size, deep rivers, and stampedes of caballos and burros along the steep landscape he traversed with ease.
He caught me halfway between admiration and awe. This terrain at the base of a glacier in the Andes was his backyard, a home since birth. His five-year-old footprints may be light but his tread leaves a mark deep within the grain of the open path. Christian, a boy with dark and wondrous eyes and sinew made of earth.
As Christian led us up to the Salkantay glacier, we fed him sweet candies and packets of cookies that he ate with wide eyes while stashing some in his pockets for later. We all took photos with him as he draped himself on rocks and grassy patches, looking both sophisticated and wild in his small but mighty form that has acclimated to these high-altitude mountains over his five-year life span of living off-the-grid.
This is Tomas, a German father whose life-long dream of visiting Machu Picchu was realized after his 26-year-old daughter, Franzi, treated him to this surprise trip halfway around the world. He was a badass hiker and always speeding ahead to capture the wildlife with his superzoom camera lens while being his daughter’s pep talker when things got rough. It was beautiful to see Tomas navigate these mountains and the Incan ruins that he had been studying for 40 years back home in Germany.
Franzi! The lovely redhead and Tomas’s daughter was a wonderful walking buddy and conversationalist during our five days in the mountains together. She is a bright girl who treated me like a bestie, lending me her GoPro and spoiling me with a morning of zip-lining through the high mountain peaks above the river, where she overcame her fear of heights. Cheers, amiga!
Lee and Donna! The other fab duo we traveled with through the Salkantay trail. Donna is a striking woman from the Philippines, a physical therapist who was quick-witted and had an impressive knack for languages. Speaking Spanish with ease and narrating many of her own stories in Asia and her travels abroad with a keen sense of the world and its many cultural intricacies. Lee is a wise-assed Brit who was a delight to travel with. Always finding a joke in the mundane and messing with me on the trail. They were both the strongest of the pack, impressing Franzi and I with their speed through the peaks and never a complaint to be heard. Miss you two <3
Jhonathan was our guru and guide for 5 days through the Salkantay Trail towards Machu Picchu. I took this photo after doing the same tree pose on the rock and Jhonathan wanted to try his hand at the position. I helped prop his foot against his leg and kept yelling, “turn your toe in, turn your toe in!” He responded with, “I can’t!” And then laughing hysterically. Jhonathan was a soft-spoken and quirky man who had a charm about him and a smile that ignited a smile on my own face without restraint. I loved connecting with him during intense days hiking beneath the glacier and down through the jungle rain. His pace was fast in the mountains but he always seemed to glide over the rocks and steep terrain with ease. He made this journey through the Andes look effortless and care-free, he inspired me deeply.
He reminded me to bare my teeth to the day even when my legs burned and the wind chilled. I really didn’t want to regret not smiling through this experience, for it would be one that would bury itself within me, leaving me with a love for Peru and even more, for it’s humble and big-hearted people.
Renee was a security guard at Machu Picchu who was working the Sun Gate the morning we arrived to the ruins. In my attempt to find a less beaten path, I struck up a conversation with him. He left his post at the ruins and invited me on a walk down the original Incan stone trail where we walked to a private lookout, Renee’s favorite place to meditate. He taught me a few Quechuan words, one of the native language to Peru and the one spoken by the Inca’s. He pointed out the color-changing butterflies, blooming orchids, and the bamboo shoots which he showed me were used for flute-making in the region. Renee was a proud native man who clearly had a deep connection with the landscape. We strolled slowly and gracefully back to the tourist-laden ruins and he showed me that our pace can determine the amount of peace we cultivate within our own selves. We must slow down and walk quietly where others rush past.
Raging the desert oasis of Huacachina in a Polaris dune buggy was the thrill I needed on a hot day far from the coast. My friend, Juan, was the best driver, fueling off of my screams amongst the pristine white dunes and showing me a helluva day sand-boarding and walking the spines of the sandy peaks. A must-do if you are in the region!
The quiet, dusty roads of Paracas, Peru, showed me a rural landscape on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. A place where restaurants buzz with reggeaton at night, Pisco Sours are poured in plenty, and boats sail off the coast during the day, taking tourists to the nearby islands. I strolled the backroads for a cup of coffee mid-day and ended up sitting across from the store-owner’s daughter while sipping my drink. This gorgeous young girl watched me from between the slats of her wooden chair. I smiled wide with squinty eyes, a welcome for her to come sit with me. I snapped this photo her and I after her mom did a mini photo-shoot with us. Afterwards, we both looked steadily at one another with an appreciation for the differences between us.
I can’t rave enough about the porter’s, horsemen, and chefs who trekked through the Andes alongside us in order to provide us with some high-altitude amenities that I have never had in my history in the mountains. I took this blurry shot with one of the sweet guys who was up at 4:00 am to prep the horses and pack the mules for a day of hiking to the next destination. I never saw an ounce of frustration or unwillingness from these hard-working locals who work double-time in order for travelers to have a supported and beautiful journey through this stunning landscape.
Stopping through Cachiche on our way to Huacachina in the desert was an unexpected treat for me. The city is known for it’s history of local witches who once inhabited these quiet dirt roads and practiced ritualistic magic centered around female empowerment, mother earth, and alternative medicine. Statues pay homage to the big-breasted witches who are portrayed in the city square wearing silky robes and long flowing hair while carrying owls and skulls in their open arms.
There was a local tarot card reader who spent 20-minutes with me reading my past and future along with a collection of colorful cards that traced my career as a writer and pointed to my heart, which he said needed to be used more for logic than for blind love. I carried his words with me as I channeled the witches prowess for healing and self-reflection inline with the powers of the natural world.
It was only fitting that llamas grazed and played along the green peaks of Machu Picchu as they were a staple for the Incan people’s everyday lives. They used to craft clothing and textiles from their soft fur, made instruments from their bones, ate their meat daily, and offered their blood during rituals to the gods. They represent the resourcefulness of the indigenous people and to this day, llama meat is served as a common dish in Peru.
I named these two Sheila and Sherlock. My furry friends waiting for us on the top of Rainbow Mountain, a casual 17,000 foot high mountain peak a few hours outside of Cusco in the Andes.
Trekking up to the famous Rainbow Mountain in the Andes, you will find traditionally dressed porters leading horses and burros up and down the hillside where tired tourists could hitch a ride to the base of the steep and sandy peak before making their final jaunt 200-meters to the top of the peak. Day in and day out these colorfully-cloaked men and women run up and back down the mountain for long hours while travelers pant and sweat nearby just to make it to the scenic overlook. I spotted sandal-clad men baring dark and dirty toes and dusty capris treading the trail. They were unfazed by the biting cold in the early morning while the many American and European visitors hid beneath North Face jackets and wool scarves as the weather challenged their comfort.
Epaulito, the man-of-the hour. What a guy! I booked a full-day trip through the outskirts of Ica, a large city just south of Lima, where archeological ruins and desert landscapes converge in the heat of the winter. I happened to be the only person who signed up for the tour that day, so, Epaulito and I had a day together consisting of cathedral wandering, desert roaming, and tarot card readings together. I had to snap this portrait of him because I loved his white button-up donning comical skateboard graphics. His sweet, crooked smile was the highlight of my day as he described his country’s history to me and his Quechuan traditions.
Cinchero, Peru is a small town in the Sacred Valley an hour outside of Cusco where handfuls of markets display the soft and color-rich fabrics hand-woven by the local women in the region. Scarves, hats, gloves, and blankets feature traditional geometric patterns that have been replicated for centuries. Baby alpaca, llama wool, and the rare vicuña hair creates beautifully soft and warm garments that are a necessary purchase when roaming the cold nights of eastern Peru.
Wild woman. Captured this still image from a video I shot featuring this woman demonstrating the traditional weaving process in Peru. She showed us their system of cleaning and dyeing the alpaca fur and then spinning that into yarn to craft hand-woven blankets and garments. They use small antlers and llama bones to facilitate the process and this woman, speaking in Spanish, showed us a sharply pointed bone that she told us had actually come from the remains of a tourist who didn’t buy anything from their shop. She proceeded to bare her perfect smile and cackle into the sunlight after seeing our faces. We all laughed along with her, albeit with a tinge of nervousness. Let’s just say she got a heavy handful of coins from me before we jetted back to the bus.
My last photo taken in Peru was of this small boy on a rural farm outside of Cusco. He stepped out in front of my path looking up at me as he devoured an orange the size of his face. He was sucking and gnawing his way through the citrus with full focus on retrieving every last sweet bite he could. As I snapped the image, I saw myself in him for just a moment. I, too, had been eating my way through Peru, siphoning everything I could from this rich and fruitful country, leaving nothing but seeds in the dust.