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PERU 1974
 
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PERU 1974

LIMA

I visited Peru back in 1974 at the invitation of a friend who had made it his home for a few years. It was an unforgettable experience start to finish.

We arrived in Lima in the dead of night and I went out to organize a taxi. This was my first shock. About a dozen short dark haired men surrounded me each shouting what I assumed was the value of his service. The whole exercise was wasted on me as I spoke not a word of Spanish. What I found so uncomfortable was they had moved way too close for comfort. I would get used to this in time, but it did take a while.

Passing through shocking corrugated tin and cardboard slums we eventually arrived at a beautiful home, a guesthouse where we would be for a few days. Again a shock when I took a walk around the neighborhood the next morning and saw the haves and have not's up close and personal. In the States, these folks are always separated by the almost haves and the probably will someday haves.

This photograph and the two below it were taken from the exact same place. I simply turned around.

 

Another shock came in the center of town when a beggar was refused money by the driver of our taxi. The poor man began beating the car with his home made crutch while hopping around on one foot filling the day with verbal abuse. Confronted for the first time with something like this I was paralyzed. My friend pitched some money out the driver's window and the fellow using his crutch scrambled off to get it. The driver was completely unfazed.

 

A good shock came when we rented a car and went to the beach, sitting in a covered open air restaurant to enjoy my first pisco sour. Delicious! And I never imagined so much beach right by a huge city. The sun was hot and the air was cool.
 

The next day we drove up the coast to see a real eye opener -- a desert. Peru has a coastal desert where it hasn't rained for centuries. As you drive through small settlements you'll see greenery outside kitchen doors. That is where dishwater and laundry water is pitched. Otherwise there is no relief from the hot dry sand.

 

I remember how cold the ocean waters were in contrast to the heat of the sun. Apparently that didn't stop anyone but me from plunging in.

 

The coastal road north reveals an almost lunar landscape, starkly beautiful and profoundly forbidding. Yet even here you can see an adult with two little ones heading to the beach below.
 

Now and again there would be a human settlement, probably where there was a river flowing from the Andes. I had another shock coming upon this place where cement is made. From a distance the air was filled with dust which became thicker as we approached the factory.

 

My heart breaking for these people, I realized I had been living a very sheltered life.

We returned to the city and prepared for our flight to Cusco the next morning.

Our last evening in Lima was filled with more pisco sours and the delights of a glorious restaurant. I'd never before had a meal with hearts of palm. I'd never even heard of them.

 
CUSCO

Soon it was time to fly up to Cusco, leaving sea level for a place about 11,200 feet or 3,400 meters above sea level. I was wisely and strongly advised to walk slowly, not pick up my bags, not light a cigarette (I did anyway) and head slowly for the taxi stand. All went well and I arrived at my new temporary quarters, a surprisingly modern home with lots of cars and every appliance, sound system, television and electronic gadget popular at the time. This family was wealthy. Right beside their home were hovels of the poor and no one had a problem with that except me.

 

This is the young woman who lived with and worked for the family in whose home I was staying. She was delightful. In doing laundry she fore swore the modern machines sitting there emptying all the dirty clothes into huge plastic bins of soapy water. She pulled up her pants and paraded round and round in each bin until she felt the rinse was in order. Wringing and rinsing and rinsing again and wringing, the clothes eventually made their way to the clothesline foregoing the clothes drier.

Cusco was a marvel. I walked into the town center several times passing small shops of all kinds. It was warm on the sunny sidewalk, but stepping inside one of these shops I could feel the chill at that altitude.

Then came my biggest shock. I saw indigenous people and had the oddest feeling that I was somehow "home," that I had been there before. I found them not only beautiful, but they felt like family. I've never gotten over that feeling. I came upon the llama below on my way for a cup of coffee as I returned to the town square I found his young owner. She has the face I still recall. Old women, young men, old men it made no difference I was "at home." I'm not usually given to this sort of fanciful thought, but it has stayed with me for decades.

 

 
Back then the central square of Cusco or its zócalo was a small town affair with beautifully crafted architecture, few cars and not too many people. Below are some photographs I took at the time. The architecture has a decidedly Arabian feel to it.
 

 
 
 
Above the town square, life reverted to centuries old traditions. Here you see the llamas with little red ribbons on their ears. The local people used these ribbons to identify the llamas that were theirs. The conundrum was that everyone seemed to use the same red ribbon. No matter, nothing changed the practice and it did seem charming.
 
 

This very humble adobe brick abode has a doorway blackened with firewood smoke as there is no stove. There's also no refrigerator which in this climate is not an issue, not to mention that few of the foods consumed would need refrigeration. Despite the apparent lack of resources, the people I encountered seemed healthy and strong. The culture of course for someone like myself was completely impenetrable so I only have my impressions.

 

One bright and sunny early afternoon we went off to a traditional upper class terraced restaurant far from the hustle and bustle of the center of town. It was as lovely as it was unexpected.

 

 
A DAY'S EXCURSION FROM CUSCO
In my short few weeks in Cusco I had the great fortune to take advantage of all the local knowledge of my friend and of the family we were staying with. We took his little blue VW on many a trip. Some of our encounters left me speechless as in the church below. The exterior was well maintained, but of a simple design. It looked very much like a village church. The interior was entirely different. The rectory below was also lovingly constructed though in need of restoration.
 

 
 
I have no idea where this road led us and since I was wearing traveler's clothes they don't help either. What was wonderful was a perfect road set below mountains and well above beautiful river valleys. We came upon an untethered calf by the side of the road which was enough for me to exclaim, "Stop." Looking down into the valley you will see curves cut into the land. These were in respect for "Mother Earth" and are part of the landscape where ever you go in this part of Peru.
 

 
 
ABOVE CUSCO
 

Having been out late partying the night before taking this ride up above Cusco in our little blue Volkswagen was as I recall excruciating. The mud track was dry, but the holes and ruts and increasing altitude served only to be balanced by intensity of my headache and the beauty of what I was seeing. It was extraordinary.

Driving up from Cusco we came upon laundry day always an opportunity for pneumonia as the flowing waters were icy cold, everyone was soaked and would return home to houses warmed only by firewood.

Below on the right was the drying area for clothes. Somehow it was as beautiful as it was charming though I'd bet many of the women doing wash may have cherished a clothes drier.

 
As we drove higher the air seemed to thin while the sky became exquisitely clean and blue. Settlements were small and widespread. I couldn't imagine making a life there. It is cold and there are no or few trees for firewood.

 

 
RUINS NEAR CUSCO
In truth I have no idea where these ruins are or what they were called. They are within a day's drive of Cusco and they are amazing. In traveling I have always look for experiences, places of spectacular beauty only rarely remembering the names of the places. I recall walking to this site heart in hand at the height and the narrowness of the pathway. I was not about to deny myself the experience, but truly I thought it might be my last.

 

 
The stones used to construct this site were not in any way cemented together. They were beautifully crafted to fit together forever and they have.

 

OLLANTAYTAMBO

Before setting off we stopped in a butcher shop to buy meat for the friends we would be visiting. Meat is sold all day so if you get there early you get the first axe cut, later in the day you get meat from lower on the cow. All of it was laced with broken bones and none of it could be distinguished as one part from another. We bought five pounds, filled the car with gas and set off.

 

The drive to Ollantaytambo was almost entirely on dirt roads or maybe more appropriately dirt tracts, perfect for a VW. And almost the whole way it was exquisitely beautiful. We came upon  the monastery below and I learned they had walled up the first floor windows as there was entirely too much traffic.

 

Along the way we came upon the truck and fellows in the photograph. They were standing there in the road sort of milling about so we got out to see what was happening. Out of gas was happening so we gave them some and sent them on their way. What seemed surprising is that this truck has made the trip before, but no one thought to see that there was enough gas to get to Cusco. Planning ahead is relatively uncommon.

Arriving in Ollantaytambo in the afternoon we greeted friends, handed over the beef, and were shown to our rooms in the little hotel. Two couples, one American and one Canadian had rented this little place and opened a hotel. Since it was the only one in the area they were doing well though living pretty simply. There was no electricity and you'll see a photograph of the bathroom facility below. I found it a little uncomfortable sitting in the open air on a rolling log over a rushing river, but soon learned to make do.
 

Below on the left is the "bathroom" and on the right a photograph taken at the train stop just below the hotel. I boarded early in the morning on my way to Machu Picchu. The corn you see growing is probably a variety called "choclo." It has huge kernels which are picked off and eaten one by one. If you want to know about the corn here's a link http://www.starchefs.com/cook/savory/product/peruvian-choclo.

MACHU PICCHU

Machu Picchu is a place out of time, a place that exists but is hard to imagine. People lived here and grew crops. No doubt they had chickens and maybe goats as well as the llamas that still decorate the peaks for the benefit of visitors. But what kind of people were they to have created such an extraordinary place in a time when that was very hard to do. Today you'll find folks there who seem to be communing with unseen spirits, folks who resent the fact that they aren't the only people there and many more folks who are cleaning out their buckets before they die. I'm not sure I find any of these groups appealing, but there is not lots of space for them to commune on the dining terrace at the entrance to Machu Picchu. My husband joked that it is a bit like the Aspen of Peru and he was not far off the mark. So take your bucket and go. Everyone else has so why should you be different?

Below is a place called Huayna Picchu.It is treacherous to get to and yet still it is used as a garden.

This is the top of Machu Picchu, and even in 1974 the llamas were there for the site's visitors. They are most often peaceful creatures, but when riled, they will spit especially when there is a youngster to protect.
 

A COUNTRYSIDE FARM NEAR CUSCO

One sunny day we visited this countryside fruit tree farm near Cusco. The owner took us around and delighted in bringing us ripening fruits. She was enormously wonderful as was her farm. She had paid every attention to the orchards, but also to the appeal of the gardens. It made for a magical place.
 

 

 
PISAC
 

Pisac is a small town near Cusco where crafts are marketed in tiny shops and on "market day." It is a lovely place and well worth a visit if you get to Cusco. I think the trip from Cusco is about an hour on a good road with lovely views.
 
 

Pisac is a central marketing town where villagers come to buy what is unavailable in their small outlying areas. It isn't in any sense a sophisticated market. I remember buying a coke, one, then again and then again. It was not possible to buy three cokes all together. Everything was purchased one at a time.
 
 

 
Below is the town's bakery and very good bread it is. The small child on the right is clutching her breakfast bread.

 

 

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