Keshwa Chaca 2008 – part 1: Getting There

Photos of the bridge building can be seen HERE, and also on my website at in the Inca Bridge gallery.

Videos of the bridge can be seen HERE

Rolando stopped the taxi right in front of the group of women weaving straw ropes, sitting by the side of the road.  Their kids immediately ran to the window, “Propina, propina, carameletto?” Oh no, I thought, I haven´t even gotten out of the car yet and they’re asking for handouts.  As soon as I pulled myself out and gathered my backpack and tent, the chorus of women started:  “Propina gringito, propina.  Carameleto para los niños?”  – “Tip, little white boy.  Candy for the kids?” My goodness!  They even sounded a bit angry that the money and sweets hadn’t started to flow from my pockets.  And I haven’t even pulled out my camera yet!  I came here with the hopes of spending three days taking award winning, up-close photos, and the women were already not pleased with my presence.  Is this how the next three days were going to be?

My welcoming committee, as I exited the taxi and immediately began taking photos.

I had headed south from Cusco on Friday morning and took a bus for two and a half hours to Combapata.  From there I switched to a collective taxi, and joined 9 other people as I crammed myself into the back of a tiny hatchback station wagon.  As an unshaven old man slept on my shoulder we slowly wove our way through herds of cows and sheep being led down the road, and forty minutes later, after picking up yet another passenger, everyone got out in Yanaoca.  I had thought we were going all the way to Huinchiri, but now I discovered I was the only one who wanted to go there.  Since the festival wasn’t until Sunday, neither locals nor tourists were heading to the bridge site yet.  So while it cost 2 soles to go the previous forty minutes, it was going to cost me 70 soles for the next hour and a quarter to Huinchiri!  I sat in disbelief in the car, refusing to get out.  I knew there were no other options, but I quizzed the driver.  “Are there any other cars going?  Any trucks, any buses?”  “No, not until Sunday.”  “But 70 soles?!” I responded.  “I haven’t brought enough money.  I’ll never be able to get back!” I tried to bargain with him, and soon started to beg.  “But you only charge 2 soles per person going back and forth all day.  How much do you make in a couple hours?  30, 40 soles?”  “Yes, but the road is very rough, full of rocks,” he replied.  We sat in silence for awhile, and every couple minutes I went up 10 soles.  “50?  60?” But 65 soles was the best I could get out of him  “Sesenta?” I kept trying, just for a personal feeling of accomplishment.  “Mas cinco,” he insisted.  Finally I had to agree:  65 soles.

A view along the way between Yanaoca and Huinchiri.

He was right.  The road was terrible.  We wound our way through dry grassland, with herds of cows and sheep and alpacas feeding on the q’oya grass that was the same material used to construct the bridge.  There were mud huts with thatched roofs, and precariously constructed stone walls meandering across the low hills.  At one point he gestured to a distant hill, “Atras, atras,” telling me the bridge was behind.

Along the way I realized that the bone jarring ride was probably doing at least 65 soles of damage and wear and tear to the taxi.  After an hour we reached a gate across the road, with a couple of locals attending it.  A handwritten sign was posted: Taxis – 5 soles, Camiones – 10 soles, Turistas – 70 soles.  70 soles for tourists!  My heart sunk into my stomach.  I´m never going to have enough money to get back, I thought.  The taxi driver talked to the men for a bit, then turned to me asking for 2 soles.  I quickly fished the money out of my pocket, discreetly hid my camera so I would look less like a tourist – if that was at all possible – and didn´t ask any questions.  While I got in cheaply, it wasn´t until perhaps two days later that I realized “Turista” likely meant 70 soles for an entire tourist bus.

A couple of the “Quince curvas” of the road winding down to the site.

We passed through the gate, climbed over the top of the last hill, and began the descent to the river valley.  “Quince curvas,” he told me – fifteen distinct, precarious turns in the road.  I caught my first glimpse of the bridge far below, but it quickly disappeared.  I saw a few tents in a pasture several hundred yards beyond.  Then he dropped me off in front of the women.

Where I was dropped off.  The bridge is right below, the weaving women just to the left, and the campsite in the distant top-right, to the right of the bus. The abutment of the far side of the bridge can be glimpsed in the center.

to be continued…

Keshwa Chaca – Inca straw bridge near Huinchiri

See THIS POST for photos of the bridge construction.

See THIS POST for the story of getting to the bridge site.

Nearing completion of the Keshwa Chaca – Inca bridge made of q’oya grass – on Saturday afternoon, June 7, 2008

[flickr video=2566110776]


The completed Keshwa Chaca – Inca bridge – on Sunday morning, June 8, 2008.  With soundtrack of French tourists, who had instructed the locals to act natural as they cross…you know, so that their photos will look more “authentic” :)

[flickr video=2565020973]

The Real Story

A map uncovered by Paolo Greer demonstrating that Hiram Bingham wasn’t the first outsider to “discover” Machu Picchu (and the farmers living there, who presumably knew it was there as well)

A few months ago I met a real life explorer in the South American Explorer’s Club in Cusco named Paolo Greer.  He told me of his lifetime of searching for lost cities in the mountains of Peru, his studious research in dusty archives in Washington and Peru (I don’t think you’re allowed to say “archive” without first writing “dusty”), his innovative use of satellite maps to locate lost sites, and his technique of countering poisonous snakebites with a modified stun gun.  He even mentioned an NPR show where he was referred to as the real Indiana Jones.  AND, he was on the verge of breaking an amazing story of the true modern discovery of Machu Picchu.

At first I was fascinated and captivated, eager to hear of his adventures and his theories.  But after a few afternoons in the clubhouse, I repeatedly overheard him tell the same stories to any eager audience.  I began to suspect I had already learned all the juicy information.

Then last week, returning on a path back to Ollantaytambo after hiking to the Pumamarca ruins, we were joined by a British paleoecologist who was studying the ancient remains of mites buried in the mud of a lake.  The rise and fall of the mites, it turns out, from Inca times to present, corresponds to the rise and fall of the local populations, due to the fact that the mites lived in the llama poop.  Anyway, at his first mention of modern explorers, we exclaimed, “we know one of them!”  Turns out he has been working with Greer, helping him get his newly gathered information into the news.  And 5 days later…here it is: (sorry, some of these links don’t work anymore).  And here is the tale of our first unsuccessful but unforgettable expedition to the Pumamarca ruins.

Link to Article (no longer available)

Link to 2nd Article (no longer available)

Link to 3rd Article (no longer available…the Internet isn’t as permanent as we think!)

Link to Article with Pictures of the Maps and Documents

edit 2011-07-26:  Paolo Greer is now mentioned in a wonderful book by Mark Adams called Turn Right at Machu Picchu, a story partially inspired by the article that Greer was releasing in South American Explorer magazine at the time of this blog post.  Greer certainly is an “obsessed amateur historian,” as Adams calls him in the book, and their meeting commencing at the Lima SAE clubhouse in Miraflores reminded me so much of my first discussion with Greer at the Cusco SAE clubhouse.  Greer was enthusiastically, single-mindedly determined to share his story.  My companion and I had to begin to avoid him out and about in Cusco so as not to hear his theories again and again!  The paleoecologist mentioned above is also a footnote in the book, footnote 9 page 186.  I put together a blog post called Exploring the Andes to discuss the new book Turn Right at Machu Picchu, to discuss a photography e-book called Andes, and to showcase some of my favorite Peru photographs from other travelers.

The Bus to Sicuani

When asked a question, a Peruvian will never respond that they don’t know the answer.  Instead they will always offer an answer, any answer, its accuracy and veracity: unimportant.  Ask the next passing Peruvian the same question, you will get a wholly contradictory, yet equally passionate response.  Put the two responders together and ask the question, and you will be either greatly amused or infinitely frustrated by the ensuing debate, depending on the importance and urgency of the question.

This becomes an issue when you are asking for the location of, say, the buses to Sicuani.  I first asked a teacher at the Spanish school.  “Avenida Cultura,” she confidently responded, “al lado del grifo” – next to the gas station.

“So there is only one gas station on Cultura?” I asked in Spanish, knowing that there are numerous gas stations on this street, hoping the sarcasm would translate.  “No, of course not!” she smiled, amused by my bilingual wit.  But returning to her serious face, she again insisted, “It is next to the gas station.”  “¿Esta cerca?  ¿Puedo caminar?” I asked – Is it close, can I walk to it.  “Si, si, claro,” – of course.

I asked a few other people over the next week, but never got a similar, or clear response.  A couple days later, I posed the question to the woman at the reception desk at my hostal.  Surprisingly, she confirmed the earlier response.  “Avenida Cultura.  Close.  Yes, you can walk to it.”  “How often do the buses depart?” I asked.  “Cada diez minutos,” – Every ten minutes.  Based on her previously consistent record regarding similar questions, I was now certain of two things:  it wasn’t close, and I’d consider myself lucky if the buses left more often than every ten days.

So I set out on a reconnaissance mission a few days before my journey.  I started walking down Avenida Cultura, past one gas station – no sign of a bus terminal.  Ten minutes later, another gas station.  No sign of a terminal, so I asked a passing woman.  “¿Sicuani?” she repeated as she looked pensively at her girl in tow.  “¿Sicuani?” the little girl echoed.  The woman then recalled, “Keep walking, it’s across from the hospital.  When you get to the hospital, ask someone.”

About ten minutes later I stopped in a Radio Shack and happily discovered that blank CDs were 25% cheaper than in the center of town.  After I bought a couple packs, I asked the woman where the paradero for the Sicuani buses is.  “Two blocks, no mas.  Maybe one and a half.”  After three blocks I came across a bus terminal.

“Is this the paradero for the Sicuani buses?” I asked the first knowledgeable looking person I came across.  “No, one block further.”  And so finally, after two more blocks, just past the fourth gas station, I found my stop.  Now, if I am only able to direct the taxi driver there on Friday morning.


Here is where I plan to be this weekend, in Huinchiri, to witness the annual rebuilding of the Keshwa Chaca, or Inca straw bridge over the Apurimac River.  Notice how Huinchiri is a dot with no roads anywhere near it!

Here are some articles about the bridge:

Oh, the Suffering! (aka Corpus Christi)

It just wouldn´t be a religious holiday without the self-induced suffering.  And the whipping.  Even the kids get to take part!

Images can be viewed on Flickr here

Get me to the Plaza on time!  (We will meet back up with these guys a little later…)

The little guy was enjoying the whip quite a bit

Often those are toy stuffed llamas on their back…these were real!

I don´t have much of a zoom lens, so I was right up on these guys.  I got pushed out of the way of an oncoming saint a few times!

Chiriuchi – the traditional food of Corpus Christi.  Yes, those are the guinea pigs in front!

To be continued… if I have time,
As always, more religiously uplifting photos on Flickr

Again with the Voting

I´ve entered myself into another photo/ writing contest, which again turns out to be a popularity-voting contest.  However with this one, there is no signing in or registering…you just click!  AND, you can vote once a day, every day, and keep voting and voting and voting for me!
1. just go here:‎
2. look for this picture of Clara´s painted face and the blue steps:
3. click and vote daily
This way I can win a new spectacular camera, and won´t have to keep battling with the stray hair I have on my sensor which is ruining my beautiful photos.
Thanks mucho!

Ride, Ride, Ride, Hitchin´a Ride

Sunday was El Dia de La Madre here in Peru, which is similar to Mother´s Day in the U.S., except that here all citizens are required to go to the bakery and then carry around a cake in a box covered with hearts.  There were also a couple local celebrations going on in the Sacred Valley, so when I arrived at the bus “station,” I encountered a line running out onto the sidewalk.  Luckily Nienke had arrived earlier, and was closer to the front of the line.  I expressed that we should take a collectivo taxi instead – just a few Soles more, quicker, and probably more comfortable.  But as I was trying to convice her that there is a marginal difference of safety between the driving habits of the taxistas and the bus drivers, a bus began to depart for Chinchero, with a final call for passengers.  We boarded and fought for some standing room space for the 45 minute ride.

We succeeded in holding our somewhat comfortable spaces, as well as our belongings. Upon arrival in Chincheros, I stocked up on bananas and bread, and we negotiated with some taxi drivers for a ride to the terraces at Moray.  I laughed heartily at their first offer for 70 soles to let them know I wasn´t a sucker gringo, and we tried to get it down to 20.  None of the drivers seemed interested and they wandered off, so we stood around for a bit.  One finally re-approached, we agreed on 30, and headed off across some dirt roads, through Maras, and on to Moray.

At the site Nienke worked her magic and convinced the guard that Moray wasn´t on her Tourist Ticket, and so that is why she didn´t bring it (they just recently added it to the Tourist Ticket, and her ticket had actually expired a few weeks ago.  I never even bought a ticket yet.)  I played along, mostly kept quiet, and in the end, we both got in for free!  We had planned to hike on to Salineras, the salt making terraces, since Lonely Planet told us it was quite easy, but the nice lady who let us in for free said we would need a guide, as the trail is difficult to find along the way.  So I flaged down a car driving out, we got a ride with a couple who had hired a private taxi from Cusco for the day, and off we went to Salineras.  We walked across the terraces, I took 100 pictures that probably all look the same, and we hiked on down to the small village below.

We waited for a combi but they were passing us by, already full, so once again I flagged down a ride, this time with a large emtpy tourist bus returning to Urubamba.  As we wandered around Urubamba looking for a place to eat, we ran across some girls in costume, so I asked if there were dances going on in the plaza today.  Yes!  In a half hour!  Of course, this was one of the celebrations this weekend, el Señor de Torrechayoc.

We decided it was best to leave a little early so that we could manage to get back to Cusco at a reasonable hour.  We headed to the bus station and again discovered that the lines were out the door.  As we stood there not knowing what to do, a guy told us he could put us on a bus for Cusco without a ticket, 3.5 soles (50 cents above the typical price).  He ushered us to the bus, kicked the people out of the front seats, and put us there.  It turned out to be the bus that takes the side dirt roads all the way back to Cusco, and stops at every house along the way to pick up or drop off someone, but the scenery was beautiful and we eventually made it back.

Hmmm, how to get back to Cusco?

Somos el Mundo – Aldea Yanapay

Aldea Yanapay – Mi Grupo de Amor:
Arni, Roberto
Iomira, Zakhia, Naysha, Jazmin, Lucero, Me
Claudia, Rosy, Cecilia
(not shown – Cristian)

The presentation of the continents went great!  I contend that Cecilia and my group was the best, most prepared, and most creative!  We had a couple missing kids and a couple new kids, so we rearranged the roles at the last minute, including the lead role, and it still went great.  We concluded with a song:

Hanging around before the presentations

Clara as a half-butterfly (marisposa)

See Flickr for more photos, including more stomach-turning market photos, and a photo essay of “Nienke´s Day Out!”

We Are the World

Feliz Cumpleños a mi hermana, Lynn!!

(Photos can be found in this Flickr set:

Jazmin y Marita

Lots of news and developments the last few days.  I just found out I will not be going to Pilcopata to volunteer in July and August.  The volunteer coordinator just quit, for many many reasons, mostly based around how the organization is being run and how the money is being spent.  As with so many things in Peru, it always comes down to money, and it seems the woman in charge is not behaving as a professional NGO and a legitimate non-profit.  And the organization is no longer going to be sending volunteers to the jungle but will be focusing on their other project.

I also just learned that I did not win the Travelocity grant for an Amazon scientific cruise, which I had hoped to go on.  But that is OK because it conflicted with the Amazon River Raft Race that I will be going on.  And I plan to reapply for the grant again.  In other Amazon news, it the Amazon has been declared (by the Geographic Society of Lima) to be the longest river in the world.  With the discovery of its true source, it is 4,388 miles in length, and beats out the Nile by 242 miles.

At Yanapay, the one-on-one lessons with Clara are not going as well this week.  One of the volunteers is doing elaborate face painting, so of course Clara wants to do this.  And since a week of face painting is much more important than learning to read, that´s how it goes.  I have been able, after ten minutes of chasing her down and persuasion, to bring her into the classroom and do 15 minutes of work.  I made some worksheets to match the words with the pictures.  She has yet to learn what the words mean so I want to keep this up, but it is difficult to continue making it entertaining and fun.  But Sr. Tigre begged to do Clara´s worksheets.  I couldn´t refuse a kid who WANTS to do homework, so he eagerly did a set of them as well.

I also meet with a special needs teacher, who a Dutch speech therapist friend of mine happens to know, to try to find out what resources or path might be available for Clara.  This teacher, Celeste, is an American who has lived here for four years, and has set up her own school for special needs kids.  She does not work with the deaf, but has a colleague who does, and of course knows more about the system.  Celeste has also worked with a young Peruvian deaf girl who has been well educated but is currently not working.  She is going to try to bring this girl to Yanapay to meet with Clara and with Yuri and see if she can be set up as her teacher.  The problem, of course, may be that there is no money to pay the teacher a small salary.  I hope this works out, as it would be an ideal long term solution, but I´ll wait and see what happens.

Geography lessons at Yanapay have been going well, and I am paired with a wonderful Swedish volunteer this week.  We need to come up with our weekly presentation today, which I can only hope will incorporate the chorus to “We Are the World!”

Davis (El Señor Tigre) reading with wonder and awe about planet Earth!  (this is honestly not posed!)

Davis eagerly does my worksheet

Señor Tigre!!

Cecilia teaches geography with Jasmin and Zakhia

Chinchero Market and Hike (aka, How did we lose the trail?)

The image links to Flickr all disappeared. I will retain the captions for future reference, and here is the set of images from the hike!

View the images on Flickr here.

Women enjoying chicha at the Chinchero Market

The ruins at Chinchero

Starting the hike from Chinchero

Boys with their sheep.  They asked us where we were going…In hindsight we think this is where we got distracted and “I” lost the trail!

I took the lead and, hmmmm…where did the trail go?

Trying to re-find the trail

Pigs in training for Marathon de Chanchos!  I had no idea pigs could run so fast for so long.

Ruins at the lower right

The long and painful (on the knees) descent

Long way still to go to get to the bottom

Walking through the little village at the valley floor

More photos on Flickr!

El Señor Tigre


Bored with making friendship bracelets, one of my art class students grabbed a paper mache mask from the shelf and put it over his face. With the skill of a true comedian, he patiently sat and waited for a reaction. I turned around, saw him in the painted tiger face, and exclaimed, “Hola, Señor Tigre!” The room erupted in laughter and that´s how Davis became Sr. Tigre.

Angeline sponsored April 16 for art projects with the kids, and so her blog entry is long overdue. As head of the art room at Yanapay a few weeks ago, I was able to do my feathers project and then make friendship bracelets. On Flickr you can view the photos that I brought along for inspiration, from an exhibit at the Met of Featherwork in Ancient Peru. I prepared a presentation of the history and significance of these objects, and managed to keep their attention long enough to ask them a few questions. Doing art projects, its difficult to get them to think and work creatively, as they are so used to just copying, copying, copying in school. None the less, the class went pretty well, and we made some nice feather mosaic pictures.

However, they loved making the friendship bracelets, and wanted to do that for days. The girls, for the most part, knew how to do it or else picked it up very quickly. The boys, as a whole, were hopeless, and succeeded in making a series of irregular knots.

In general the boys are rowdy and disruptive for the entire three hours at Yanapay, and make a smooth, organized class impossible. So when Sr. Tigre came into the reading room this week, I wasn´t expecting to get him to concentrate and read. But surprises never cease, and when I wasn´t working with Clara, I had an amazing week reading with Davis. He gasped in awe as he read about killer whales (ballenas asesinos-murderer or assassin whales!) and traced his finger over the beautiful pictures in the book. Since he enjoyed that so much, we drew pictured of killer whales. Then we learned about all the animals besides hens which lay eggs, about polar animals, and about all the different types of trucks. He was quite impressed that I have seen, with my own eyes, el camion de salchicha (the Weiner Mobile!)




What Would Anne Sullivan Do?

flash cards

At the Yanapay school there is a deaf girl, Clara.  She´s a little older than most of the kids, and no one seems too sure of her situation.  Does she go to school still?  How much can she hear and understand?  How much can she read and write?  I´ve been very concerned about her and her future even since I knew her from last year, and so I told Yuri I would like to work with her one on one, maybe start to teach her sign language.  He was very enthusiastic about the idea, but since I was needed to lead various rooms (art, reading, etc.) and English classes, I didn´t have the opportunity to start.

I wasn´t sure if he remembered or not, but this week Yuri came into the reading room and and said, “You wanted to work with Clara, right?  Here are some books, get started!”  He handed me a couple archaic, baby ABC books and a new spiral notebook, and he gestured to Clara indicating that I´d be  working with her.  She was very pleased with her own new notebook, and we opened it up and got started.  I had to think fast to start a lesson and keep her attention, as she has the habit of running off to get another pen, or an eraser, or a scissors if she is idle for a moment.  What to do?  What to do?  Let´s see, what would Anne Sullivan do?  I saw the movie once…there was a doll, a water spigot, a bad dinner scene…

I wrote the alphabet down the inside margin of the first page, then made lines for her to copy each letter five times.  After we made it through the alphabet, I pointed to drawings from the book and tried to have her write down the words.  It became immediately obvious that she didn´t want to use and be seen using the baby books.  In fact, she was very self-concious of the other kids seeing what she was doing, and covered up the page whenever other kids came near.  So I started doing my own drawings.  I began to see that she sort of knew the alphabet, but mostly seemed to be copying the letters and words.  If I made an accidental dot or line near the letter, she meticulously copied that too.

For the second lesson, I had to be prepared so that there weren´t any lulls.  Since I had no books to use, I spent the afternoon making my own flash cards, with the letters on one side and a picture and word on the other.  We went through the cards, copying the letters and the words.  She recognized and acted out all of my drawings, even the poor ones that I thought I would have to explain.  Then I had her look through magazines to find similar pictures, and cut them out and paste them and write the word again.  That was so successful that we went over our time without her noticing.  What I´m going to do next week, though, I´m not sure!