Chloe Hayes: Seeing South America Chapter 1
When first arriving in Lima, capital city of Peru, art was not the first thing that leapt into my mind. Always before a holiday I go through my camera collection, wondering which ones would be the most appropriate, lightweight and how many to bring. I also try to envisage the photograph made by each camera, adding in the scenes from the travel brochures and friends images in the style that each one made. This trip was a particularly tricky one, not only because I had never been backpacking before and therefore did not know if carrying an absolute minimum of 4 cameras (no mean feet for me!) would be totally frowned upon by seasoned travellers, but also because I wanted to utilize everything I had learnt about photography and making art using the amazing, colourful and diverse subject that is South America.
So back to Lima at 8pm where I had just come off of a 13hr flight, completely pitch black and stuck in the most ridiculous traffic jam I had ever seen. My mind was so far away from the Pentax MX 35mm (with 80 films rammed into my bag as tightly as possible), Polaroid, 2 homemade matchbox pinhole cameras and a bashed up old iPhone of a friends that I had no idea how to use that it wasn’t until a full 2 days later that bringing one of them out of my huge backpack even crossed my mind.
For the first 2 weeks of my trip I had booked onto a G Adventures tour called ´Peru Panorama` and on the second day we had got to Puno, a beautiful city on the edge of Lake Titcaca. I felt so much better when we stepped out onto the streets here, Lima on the first night was a bit of a shock and we had been basically travelling for the rest of it, one notable point was landing in Juliaca, affectionately known as ´The Armpit` of Peru and I was not about to correct the locals. We got straight to a restaurant named ´Inca Bar` and we all tucked into Alpaca, Quinoa Soup and other amazing Peruvian dishes for our first authentic meal. Our group consisted of 2 Auzzies, a couple from Johannesburg, a Canadian, 2 Scottish couples, a Welsh couple and 5 of us from England. It was a super lovely group and everyone got on so well, really getting into the local spirit and willing to try new experiences.
The next 2 days were going to involve heading out on the lake and staying with some local families. Our morning started by getting `Peruvian Taxis`, Tuk Tuks to you and me to the Jeti, then hopping on a boat to the first stop, The Floating Islands of Uros. I had my first wow moment when stepping onto the bouncy straw base of the island and saw how truly tiny but incredibly beautiful they were. We were warmly greeted and instantly my collection of cameras came out. It was only by about the 5th day that I had sorted the iPhone out and so borrowed a phone from Martin, our CEO Guide for the whole trek who was utterly incredible at his job (not only because he lent me his phone). The base of the islands are made of reeds and everything on them was either woven, tied or made with the same product. There was 5 families living on this particular island, everything from gorgeous dribbling toddlers to elderly ladies and their simple homes were remarkably comfortable and cosy, a travel photographers delight.
Taquile Islands were next on our list, the steep road up from the Jeti severely testing our tolerance for the significant change in altitude. At the top of the hill a small family restaurant was ready for us, serving fried breads with a crazily hot and fresh chili sauce, more beautiful quinoa soup and the best rainbow trout that I had ever eaten, caught from the Lake, eaten by the lake. The locals showed us their traditional methods of weaving and what each pattern meant, they also told us that the local men wouldn`t get very far with the ladies unless they were highly skilled knitters! They truly were and almost every person on the island was sat either knitting, weaving or spinning (not the bike kind) making exquisite woollen pieces. Of course, this was another photographers delight and I believe I may have taken a few pinholes as well, VERY excited to see how those turn out.
Our final stop was to our home stay families on the edge of the lake. As soon as we got there we were summoned to play a game of football with the locals. Of course the altitude (and the lack of skill and want) prevented me from playing but about half the group did and lost terribly almost injuring an elderly gentleman and a dog along the way. After being paired up with our families, our mum and dad named Matilde and Pedro, we were dressed up in traditional outfits. For the men a huge woven top with cowboy style hat and dangly pom pom thing (I never did find out what that was called) and for the women 3 hefty woollen, colourful skirts, a thick tailored jacket and super tight waistband, it was honestly like wearing a corset, topped off with a white shawl, bowler style hat and a dangly pom pom thing. The whole outfit was very heavy to wear but was really warm and so fun. Once in the outfits we were treated to watch a local dance and then we joined in, all in our outfits having an absolutely great time.
When we had finished twirling around we were led, in the pitch black with no footpaths to our individual houses. It was extremely intriguing going up higher and higher into the lands walking across fields and rocks and past donkeys, sheep and tiny little houses. We had 3 stops getting up to the house as we were still not used to the altitude and even a small amount of exercise took our breath away. We got out of the outfits and were called into dinner. The whole house was 1 tiny room with a small table and chairs that we sat on and a kitchen at the other end consisting of a clay fire oven and a little cabinet. Dinner was magnificent starting with homemade soya soup and vegetable pasta and rice (they really like to double or even triple carb in Peru, which became a bit of a joke during the trip). The family sat in the corner which I felt awful about and we made some very small talk with what little Quechua, Spanish and English we could all cobble together. As a bonus they had a tiny puppy called Juliett who was utterly gorgeous! That night we slept under thick woven blankets and listened to a huge thunderstorm with rain and hail on a tin roof. Absolute bliss.
In the morning we woke up to what looked like a snow covered landscape and had homemade fried breads, jam and a boiled egg with Coca Tea. It was time to get to work. We helped to plant the onions in the garden, move the donkey and herd the sheep, prepare lunch and peel the broadbeans. Lunch was of course, marvelous, vegetable soup and a plate of sweet potatoes, normal potatoes, broccoli , carrots and a huge disc of halloumi-like cheese that sat on the top- phenomenal! It was the end of our stay and so we headed back to Puno on the boat and bought bags full of empanadas and cakes from Ricos Pan, a delicious bakery to see us through the 7 hour bus journey the next day.
We got to Cusco at about 4pm the 6th day and were greeted with an enormous storm and rain shower. Immediately I got a great feel for the place and just fell in love with it there and then. We had our Inca trail briefing at the G Adventures office with our Trek guide Edwin, he was absolutely lovely and he told us what to expect for the 4 days on the hike, not that anything could have prepared us.
The 7th day was the final day before we started the Inca trail. On our way to Ollantaytambo, the town that everyone starts the trail in, we stopped off at a Women´s Weaving Co Operative. Of course this was photographer heaven with all the women and children around all weaving and knitting. We had a talk from 2 of the ladies going through the different wools, spinning techniques and weaving skills including showing us how they can make 250 colours from the one cochineal dye by adding other natural products to the base, utterly incredible! Of course I had to buy something and then we were on our way to the second stop for freshly baked empanadas and to see some guinea pigs and thirdly to the Pisac Ruins, the terraces were truly unbelievable and again, I had to bring out all the cameras to capture it all appropriately. Our last stop before the town was the G Adventures community restaurant. The food just kept coming (they don´t do small portions either in Peru) and we had a beautiful salad with almond paste and mashed potatoes, vegetable soup, traditional deep fried stuffed pepper, quinoa salad and purple potatoes and for pudding a strawberry jelly and apple and cinnamon tart, as you can tell I am loving the food more than any of the other sights.
Once we got into Ollantaytambo we went straight off to visit the Sacred Valley ruins which yet again, if you love succulents and cacti was a photographer`s heaven, I was actually thinking at the time that Shoreditch would love this place, the town was quirky and really interesting and I could have spent a lot of time there. Although maybe not, as avocadoes were off limits in this place due to the altitude of the hike and the time it takes to digest them.
Going from not ever using instagram to uploading nearly 100 pics in a week is quite a stretch to me, especially with the crazy Wifi around here, my next mission is to find a development lab for my 35mm. Always looking forward to the next adventure albeit slightly terrified at the same time. Now I have actually got to go and find a Lavanderia as I have been carrying around these clothes all morning. Adios!
Words and Images by Chloe Hayes