Ten Top Things to do in Cusco that are Not on Your Itinerary…Yet!

Cusco cuzco peru plaza night fountain
Cusco’s Plaza de Armas at night – all photos by the author – www.dojoklo.com

Every visitor to Cusco is likely to tour the Cathedral and a couple major museums, relax in the Plaza de Armas, and marvel at the exotic offerings in the San Pedro food market.  However there are additional essential sites and experiences that you may not find in your guidebook or that your tour guide might not take you to, which you don’t want to miss.  Most of these lie along or mere steps off the tourist trail, and with a little planning and effort can be fit into any itinerary.


All the guide books lists the popular restaurants in Cusco, and there are many worth eating at including Pachapapa for its distinct Peruvian dishes with international flair or the MAP Cafe for its creative Andean cuisine in a unique museum setting.  But the real local food is found with the local shops and vendors.

1. Picarones – An incredibly tasty snack that is a favorite among locals are Picarones, deep-fried pumpkin or squash donuts.  Although delicious by themselves, they are irresistible when covered with the syrup or molasses they are always paired with.  Shops and vendors selling picarones can be found throughout Cusco, so ask your hotel desk clerk for their favorite nearby spot.  Be sure to bring your own handi-wipes along because after eating a couple your fingers will be hopelessly sticky, and the damp cloths they provide are already too well used to work very well!

cusco cuzco peru picarones
Deep-fried and delicious Picarones

2. Tamales – As with picarones, the best tamales are found at the local shops and vendors.  As you walk around the city keep your ears open to the cry of “Tamales, Tamales!” and look for a woman with a large basket in her arms or at her feet.  There was one very popular vendor often under the colonnade at the north corner of the main Palza near Gatos market, though I don’t know if she is still there.  Be sure to try the “dulces” or sweet ones as well as the “pollo” variety that holds a tiny bit of chicken and an olive in the center.

3.  Cafe Restaurant Aldea Yanapay – Although there are many good restaurants to choose from in town, only a couple help to support social programs such as disadvantage children or orphan girls.  And only one is decorated like the inside of a dreaming child’s head!  This wonderful café-restaurant is run by the founder of Aldea Yanapay, a volunteer organization with various programs for the underprivileged children of Cusco, and all proceeds from the café benefit these programs.  Sit on pillows, play games, hold a stuffed animal, wear a silly hat, take in a playful performance, or just sit at a table and enjoy the delicious French toast, lunch and dinner entrees, or the best giant hot chocolate in town.  Ruinas 415, second floor

Aldea Yanapay Cafe Restaurant Cusco Cuzco Peru
Interior of Cafe Yanapay

Another restaurant associated with a non-profit is the Panaderia El Buen Pastor bakery and coffeeshop.  Enjoy a morning coffee while watching the racks emerge from the ovens with delicious pastries, sweets, and empanadas.  You will have to keep coming back each morning in order to try all the appetizing looking offerings.  Proceeds from this cafe benefit a home for orphan girls.  Cuesta San Blas 579 – San Blas

4. Brick Oven Pizza – While you’ve probably had great brick oven pizza, you’ve likely never watched it being made with such flair, while listening to reggae, and being warmed by the brick oven on a chilly Cusco evening.  Toss on a couple spoonfuls of the spicy aji sauce, and you won’t be able to understand how you ever ate pizza without it.  Maruri near San Agustin


After being fortified with Cusco’s great food, venture off to explore its cultural offerings.  Of course there are the Cathedral and Compañia facing the Plaza, the Inca walls and Coricancha Temple of the Sun, and the art and history museums.  But there are lesser known and equally as fascinating museums.

5. Andean Children’s Art Museum – Museo de Arte de Ninos Andinos, Irq’i Yachay – This unique museum displays the artwork of Quechua children from remote Andean communities.  A non-profit organization traveled to these communities to introduce the children to art and materials they had never had the opportunity to use, and the children responded with incredible creations portraying their lives, myths, dreams, and themselves.  An introductory short movie of the project and a free guided tour are provided in Spanish, and donations are encouraged.  Calle Teatro 344

Cusco Cuzco Peru Andean Children's Art Museum Museo de Arte de Ninos Andinos Irq’i Yachay Quechua Andes Andean museum kids children
Detail of a child’s painting in the Andean Children’s Art Museum

A similarly interesting local museum is the Taki Andean Music Museum, which not only exhibits Andean and Amazonian musical instruments, but is also a cultural center that organizes musical and cultural events, gatherings, workshops, sessions, lectures, concerts, teaches children to play, as well as promotes and supports traditional music groups.  Calle Hatunrumiyoc 487 #5


Of course you are going to want to bring home souvenirs to remember your experiences and unique gifts for your friends and family.  Instead of grabbing the mass produced trinkets sold by every vendor and every shop, why not seek out quality handicrafts that better represents the local culture while also directly supporting local artisans and their cultural traditions.

6. Center for Traditional Textiles – A non-profit organization founded this center to preserve and continue traditional weaving, and to teach and support this work in numerous communities around Cusco.  There is a very nice museum of the history and traditions of Andean textiles, and always a live weaving demonstration in the store.  The beautiful items are more pricey than the tourist versions at stores and markets, but are truly hand crafted and naturally dyed.  Avenida el Sol 603

7.  Museo Taller Hilario Mendivil – This museum, workshop, and shop of the notable local artisan Mendivil family is famous for the unique long-necked religious figures, dressed with indigenous influences.  The space also contains a small museum of historic pieces, and the proprietress may give you a tour (in Spanish).  Numerous beautiful works of of both the “long-neck” style as well as several other styles are available for purchase.  Plazoleta San Blas (along the right side as you stand in the plaza and face the fountain)

Cusco Suzco Mendivil sargento Peru dance
My Sargento figure from the Mendivil Workshop

8. Local Food Markets – Venture beyond the covered San Pedro market to the open street markets and local covered food markets in the areas behind the main market.  Ask the vendors about exotic fruits or animal parts that you can’t quite identify, and try some such as the delicious cherimoya (or custard apple) and the maracuya (or passion fruit).  In all markets, be aware for pick-pockets and be very careful with all belongings – carry your bags in front and go with empty pockets.

Cusco Cuzco Peru market meat cow beef tongue
Various tasty cow parts at a Cusco market


Travel isn’t just about seeing sights and eating food.  Some of your strongest and fondest memories may come from the unique experiences you can only undertake in a foreign place.  Strolling through a local market, looking behind the scenes to gain more insight into daily life, and interacting with vendors and shopkeepers can all provide these types of experiences.  There are other opportunities to take advantage of in Cusco:

9. Volunteering – It sometimes seems that Cusco may have more NGO’s per capita than any other other city, particularly any tourist-oriented city.  But this is due to real needs brought about by the inequities and social conditions that are common to many areas of Peru.  Find an NGO (non-profit organization) that serves a need which interests you.  This might include orphans, underprivileged children, single mothers, the environment, disabled children, cultural heritage, or countless other areas and needs.  The South American Explorer’s Club has extensive resources on local volunteer opportunities, and there is also a helpful list of organizations here: http://www.volunteersouthamerica.net/

volunteer aldea yanapay cusco cuzco peru
A student at Aldea Yanapay

I have volunteered for several weeks at Aldea Yanapay, mentioned in the Eating section above.  They run an after-school program and cultural center for the disadvantaged children of Cusco, as well as other projects.  You can take Spanish classes at FairPlay which in itself is an NGO that helps single mothers, and who will also assist you with volunteer placement.

10. Inti Raymi…Up Close – While many visitors to Cusco in June have the opportunity to experience the Inti Raymi Inca sun festival, those who make an extra effort can see more of the events from close-up.  The festival starts at Coricancha, the original Inca temple of the sun.  Arrive several hours early and you can grab a front-row spot near where the Inca King – Sapa Inca – greets the morning sun.  Locate your self at the top of the hill near the curving Inca wall that now forms the base of the Santo Domingo church, so that you can view the Sapa Inca atop that location and the royal court as they stand among the terraces.  Immediately after the ceremony, run just up the street to near the entrance of the church, where the procession will emerge, so that you have an up-close view of the Inca, his court, and the entire procession as they start to make their way to the Plaza de Armas.  Be sure to orient yourself so that you are in the best position for photos, where the light hits the subjects and you are not facing into the sun if possible.

Inti Raymi Inca king Sapa Inca sun festival Coricancha
The Sapa Inca greeting the sun at Coricancha

Inti Raymi Cusco Cuzco Peru Coricancha
A Ñusta (Inca Princess) in the procession leaving Coricancha

I have put together a list of some of my favorite additional places to visit in Cusco, including restaurants, shops, and practical resources such as banks.  You can view this list of Cusco Places to Visit here:  http://www.dojoklo.com/writing/cuscoplacestovisit.pdf  Be sure to do your research and plan your visit to Cusco so that you can fully take advantage of all that it offers.

Want to learn how to take better travel photos on your trip to Peru, such as the ones highlighted in my Peru and Dance photo galleries shown here?  Have a look at my blog posts about Photography Technique or my latest e-book Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography:

Exploring the Andes

My lists of Peru and Cusco resources later in the post, click here: Peru – Cusco Resources

There are a couple Peruvian / Andean related books that have recently been published and which I both just finished reading:  the wonderfully woven travel stories, characters, and histories of Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams, and a new print and process photography e-book from Craft and Vision called Andes by Andrew S. Gibson.

In the introduction to Andes, author Andrew Gibson shares that “Travel for many people is an unrealised dream. Things like the business of making a living, relationships and other constraints on finances and time can prevent people from turning dreams into reality. This eBook is for the dreamers, and I hope it inspires you to pick up your camera and go live out a dream or two.”  If after viewing his photographs of the people and places of Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia you aren’t yet fully motivated to undertake a similar journey, then reading Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu might just make up your mind.

A couple years ago I myself “picked up my camera to live out a dream” of exploring and photographing Peru, and to be honest, my life hasn’t been the same since.  The combination of volunteering, traveling, and photographing in Peru was a turning point that led me to seriously pursue photography as a profession, leave the 9 to 5 office life behind, discover the existence of an area of the craft called humanitarian photography, and to recognize and pursue many important but dormant goals in life.  If you read through the history of this blog, you should see that journey unfold.  Both Gibson and Adams pursued their dreams and goals, one through photography and the other through exploring the Inca ruins and history of Peru, and each came out of it with a book full of experiences worth sharing.

In Andes, Andrew Gibson presents the images he created, with both film and digital, on several trips to the Andes regions of Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia over a span of 6 years.  If you are familiar with his previous e-books such as The Magic of Black and White parts 1 to 3, you know he is a master of black and white, and all of the photos in this new book are black and white or toned monochome images.  The images capture the people, places, events, and sweeping landscapes of these regions, and the monochrome helps to express both the timeless nature or appearance of some of these places and their inhabitants, as well as the unique high altitude light of the mountains and altiplano.  At the end of the text, he includes the lens and camera settings details and short descriptions of the circumstances of each (see image below), as well as more detailed stories of his travels.  And for those interested in following in his footsteps, he includes practical advice for traveling and photographing in these countries.

For the first five days only, if you use the promotional code ANDES4 when you checkout, you can get the PDF version of ANDES, The Print & The Process Series for only $4 (or use the code ANDES20 to get 20% off when you buy 5 or more PDF ebooks from the Craft & Vision collection).  These codes are good until 11:59pm PST August 6th, 2011.  Learn more about Andes, Gibson’s other books, and all the Craft and Vision e-books on their website.

Back in 2008 when I was in Cusco, I met a real life explorer named Paolo Greer hanging out in the South American Explorers clubhouse.  He was preparing to publish an important article showing that Hiram Bingham was not the first outsider to “discover” Machu Picchu, and Greer was eager to tell any listener about the maps he uncovered in dusty archives that proved this.  I wrote a blog post about it at the time called The Real Story.  I didn’t think too much of it at the time, and people in Cusco aren’t too interested in Hiram Bingham so it wasn’t a big deal there – as they all know that Machu Picchu was never actually lost (Bingham himself met the farmers who lived ON the site).  But at the same time as I was running into Greer everywhere I went in Cusco, Mark Adams sat in his New York office and read about his findings, and it helped to stir his long-held desire to explore the Inca sites of Peru and re-trace Bingham’s footsteps, which eventually led to his marvelous book Turn Right at Machu Picchu.

Adams proceeded to travel to Cusco, find a dedicated and fascinating but somewhat extreme Aussie guide, and hike to the lesser known but important Inca sites that Bingham sought out as he searched for the last Inca stronghold Vilcabamba – sites like Espiritu Pampa, Choquequirao, and Llactapata.  Even though at first glance this book appears to be of the “desk-jockey heads into the wild, completely unprepared, with a crazy guide…mishaps ensue” genre, I quickly and pleasantly discovered it wasn’t. Adams expertly weaves several related stories together including a history of Hiram Bingham and his expeditions in Peru, the author’s own treks following Bingham’s footsteps, tales of his fascinating and capable Aussie guide, information about his Quechua guides and porters, a bit of Inca history, theories related to Machu Picchu and related sites and those who pursue the theories, and of course some self-depreciating travelogue humor.

After having spent time in and around Cusco and having read countless books on Incas and Machu Picchu, I still came away from this book learning much and having lots to ponder. It is a must-read for anyone who has visited or plans to visit Machu Picchu or hike the Inca Trail (or alternative trails). You will have a much greater appreciation of the Incas’ accomplishments, the hike, and the sites and people you encounter after digesting the information, experiences, and theories in the book.

Since either of these books by themselves should inspire you to want to immediately start packing and head to South America, and since they’ve cause me some intense nostalgia for my trips there, I’d like to also share some photographs from other talented photographers who have visited Peru either recently or decades ago, some of my Peru photos, and a couple of my resources for visiting Peru such as my recommended sites, stores, and restaurants in Cusco and my exhaustive list of Peru related books, movies, and resources.

When I was in Cusco in 2008 I met a young student and photographer named Peter Martin.  When I returned home and viewed his photos, I was fascinated at how we viewed and photographed the same country in such different ways.  I always zoomed in on the people, dances, and details while he captured more of the experience of “being there” in the moment or in a specific place.  Here are a couple examples, plus a link to more of them:

Peter Martin

Peter Martin

More Peru photos by Peter Martin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterfmartin/sets/72157606934173170/detail/

A couple years ago I also came across an amazing collection of photos taken by John Tucker when he was a Peace Corp volunteer in Peru in the late 1960’s.  His photos capture the out of the way places and people that most tourists to Peru still never get a chance to see, and some of these places and outfits would appear unchanged in those remote places today.  Tucker has a photographic sensibility that reminds me of Robert Frank and his powerful and somewhat similar images of Peru from the late 1940’s, as seen in his book Peru:  Photographs.

Like the Robert Frank photos, Tucker’s photos capture the indigenous people plus a strong sense of the communities, land, and environment where they lived and worked. Both photographers create a true connection to the place for the viewer.

John Tucker

John Tucker

More Peru photos by John Tucker:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/30427909@N04/sets/72157608888125285/detail/

Peru – Cusco Resources

Here are my Cusco / Peru resources I referred to:  my list of Cusco Places to Visit and the Fruits of My Labor of all the research and reading I have done on Peru including books, movies, and more.  Both are Word documents that will open up when clicked.  And then some of my Peru images from 2008.



Mission Accomplished

Two years ago, in 2008, I ventured to the annual rebuilding of the last remaining traditional Inca rope bridge, the Keshwa Chaca, which spans the Apurimac River near Huinchiri, Peru.  My mission was to photograph the locals as they spun q’olla grass into rope, constructed the bridge, and celebrated the completion with a festival of traditional dance and music.

Previous posts describe my journey to the bridge site and show some of my photos from the weekend.  Many of my photos are also posted on my website in the Inca Bridge gallery as well as in the dance gallery.  One of my very favorite photos of the weekend was of this bridge-builder:

Keshwa Chaca bridgebuilder
Keshwa Chaca 2008 – Huinchiri, Peru

As I was taking images of the bridge construction, this man quietly asked me to take his photo.   A crowd of fellow bridge-builders quickly gathered to see it, and when I realized I had taken it in the black and white setting, I asked to do another in color.  But it was too late.  “Oh, es blanco y negro,” I said disappointedly, “¿un otra en color?”  I asked.  “¡Un otra desnudo!” an onlooker called out – “Another one in the nude!”  The men erupted in laughter, the moment was gone, and I wasn’t able to take another.  Luckily this one came out well, and ever since then it has been my goal to get a copy of the photograph to this man.  Many people in developing countries have few, if any, photos of themselves or their family.  I was sure he and his family would appreciate such a nice photo of this man standing modestly but proudly in front of the bridge he is helping to construct.

This year at bridge building time my friend Mitch Teplitsky (director of the documentary film Soy Andina) was visiting Cusco.  He got in touch with me to find out more about the event and how to get there.  When I learned he and his wife Doris had decided to go the following day, I begged him to find a way to print the photo and deliver it to the man.  “It shouldn’t be hard,” I said, “just find a photo place on Avenida el Sol to print it out, and when you get there, just ask around, they will know him!”  At least I hoped it would all be that easy.  I’m not sure how they did it, but Mitch and Doris managed to print the photo, find their way to Huinchiri, and locate the man!

Bridge-builder and Mitch 2010
Keshwa Chaca 2010 – Bridge-builder and Mitch Teplitsky, photo by Doris Loayza

Keshwa Chaca Inca Bridge

This weekend – June 10-13, 2010 – is the annual reconstruction of the Keshwa Chaca, the last remaining traditional Inca rope bridge (actually made of straw or grass), which spans the Apurimac River near Huinchiri, Peru.  If you are in the Cusco area, I highly encourage you to visit the bridge building and the incredible dance and music festival which follows on Sunday.  It is a truly unforgettable experience.

Keshwa Chaca weaving hands
Weaving q’olla grass into rope to construct the Keshwa Chaca Inca rope bridge

To view photos I took of the 2008 reconstruction, check out this post.  There are additional photos in the slide show on my website – www.dojoklo.com – in the Inca Bridge gallery.

This post describes my journey to get to the bridge site from Cusco.  If you are a member of South American Explorers, be sure to look at my trip report online or in the binder to learn valuable information about getting to the site, what to bring (you need to bring all camping gear and food and cash for various expenses), a rough daily schedule of what to expect, and getting back home.  Let me know if you went, and I’d love to see your photos.

Travel Guide Cover Photo

I just learned that I’ve accomplished one of my photography goals:  to have my photo on the cover of a travel guide book!  My photo of the Inca King at Inti Raymi was selected to be on the cover of the Viva Travel Guide Cusco and Machu Picchu guide book.  As their website explains,

V!VA Travel Guides is a web-based community intent on collecting and sharing the most up-to-date travel info available. Essays, reviews and ratings submitted by travelers are available both online and in published travel guidebooks.”

viva cover amazon

Inca King at Inti Raymi – Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru 2007
f/5 – 1/800 – 18mm

The guidebooks, if I recall correctly, were originally only available as downloads due to them being updated so regularly.  They are now offered as printed guides in paperback as well as some e-books, but are still updated frequently.  They cover numerous South American countries including Peru, Columbia, and Ecuador, and they are soon branching out into Central America.  You can buy the guides on their website, on Amazon, or in bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble.  The Cusco and Machu Picchu guide with my cover photo will be released in October 2010.

If you ever attend Inti Raymi, (in the paid bleacher seats) be prepared at the end of the ceremony to go onto the field and get some quick close-up photos of the participants (and I mean close – note the 18mm focal length!) as they parade out of Sacsayhuaman.  At least we were able to do that a couple years ago, when I was lucky enough to capture this dramatic shot.  This was the guy who, through sheer force of will, invoked the clouds to part and the sun to shine down on us, stunning the entire crowd (which included Bill Gates that year).

United Nations – Humanizing Development Campaign

My photo Women in the Plaza – Combapata, Peru, was one of 50 selected – from thousands of photos from over 100 countries – to represent the United Nations Development Programme and their Humanizing Development campaign.

The photos will be published in a book sponsored by the Presidency of Brazil, and are currently on exhibit at the headquarters of the United Nation’s International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in Brasilia, Brazil.  The exhibit will tour major international cities throughout 2010, including NYC, Bangkok, London, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Bonn.

According to the IPC-IG, “The meaning of ‘Humanizing Development’ cannot be expressed in numbers. It shows examples of people winning the battle against poverty, social exclusion and marginalisation. It calls for the humane face of development. It spreads hope, initiative and determination. It transmits inspiration to each of us and feeds our dream of transforming the world we live in into a just place. A world that enables all of us, regardless of our birth place, social and economic status, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion and ideology, opportunities to fulfilling our potential as individuals, human beings and members of our society.”

As a photographer dedicated to documenting the work of  humanitarian organizations throughout the world, I’m extremely thrilled and proud to have been selected for this honor, and can’t wait to see the exhibit in NYC.

The women in the photo are queued in the main plaza of Combapata, Peru to receive monthly Juntos program benefits. The Juntos (Together) program, a conditional cash transfer (CCT) government program, provides cash to the poorest families if they meet certain criteria. Recipients must have children under the age of 14, enroll their children in school and have them vaccinated. Pregnant mothers are required to utilize mandatory pre- and post-natal healthcare programs. Peru’s Juntos program, similar to CCT programs in other Latin American countries, was launched in 2005.  I captured this image on my way to Huinchiri to see the annual reconstruction of the Keshwa Chaca, the last remaining traditional Inca straw bridge.  That journey was detailed in this post.

The Heart of Dampness

The Ucayali section of the Amazon, somewhere between Pucallpa and Iquitos
The Ucayali River, somewhere between Pucallpa and Iquitos.

I once visited Istanbul, reaching it by ship, and realized that was by far the best way to enter the city.  One slowly floats past the bustling city, with exotic minarets poking up from the skyline, and then disembarks in the manner travelers had for centuries.  The city of Iquitos is accessible by only plane or boat, and so the same romantic notion overtook me.  What better way to enter this one time rubber boom town carved out of the jungle than by boat down the Amazon?  You can’t understand this city without experiencing the river, I figured, so I flew to Pucallpa, and found my way onto a lanca, a passenger and cargo boat heading down the Ucayali section of the Amazon River to Iquitos.

I then spent the next four days on the equivalent of a Peruvian Greyhound bus, albeit in boat form, with hammocks instead of seats (bring your own), a hundred passengers in one big open deck, 2 trucks, 3 moto-taxis, 1000 kilos of salt, several thousand bananas, a few hundred eggs (hey guess what, you really don’t need to refrigerate them!), 8 pigs (they don’t actually squeal, they cry in a manner disturbingly similar to a very loud toddler), 2 cows, and a crate of chickens.  I also discovered, to my shock and disgust, that while the civilized world is trying to save the Amazon, the Peruvian boat passengers are using it as their garbage can, throwing their empty 2 liter Inca Kola bottles right into the water.  One Peruvian man decided that the boat ride was a good time to consolidate his cd collection, so after he emptied the plastic cases, he frisbee’d them, one by one, into the river.  Luckily, after about a dozen, a couple kids begged him to give the cases to them rather than to the river dolphins.  I think they were more entrepreneurs than environmentalists, but hey, same result.

Early into the first day, we were cruising along and hit bottom. Sudden dead stop! One of the moto-taxis on the top deck went sliding 15 feet across the deck towards me. Then there was the night we got stuck for 2 hours in the pitch dark. The procedure for that is to gun the engines for 2 straight hours as you turn the wheel back and forth and shine the spotlight around on the shore – i dunno, maybe looking for a crocodile who can help.

I did discover the greatest Peruvian invention since the potato: bathrooms that are also showers. That way they are always clean!  And then finally, after 4 full days of a 3 day trip, we reached Iquitos. Everyone just stood on the front deck staring. Maybe out of habit, maybe out of shock. Maybe they had all died, in place, out of boredom. There was no mad rush for dry land as I expected. I thought, hmm, is this just a cargo port and we get off somewhere else? But no, it was over! And I lost another 15 minutes of my life until I figured this out.

At some point, I think it was towards the early afternoon of day three, I discovered I’d had enough of Peru and decided to return to the US.  I spent a few days somewhat enjoying the frantic energy of Iquitos, and am now back in Lima for a long week before flying home.

Clara Update

I haven’t written an update on Clara for awhile, so there is a lot to catch up on!


As previously discussed, my friend Nienke put me in touch with an American special needs teacher here, Celeste, who then arranged for a young deaf Peruvian women, Karen, to work with Clara.  Finally everyone’s schedules coodinated, and they came to Yanapay to visit.  Clara soon figured out that we were discussing her, and she refused to join us, acting unusually shy and hesitant.  Nevertheless, Celeste explained everything to Yuri, and acted as a multi-communication translator, signing to Karen and telling me in English.  Yuri was thrilled with the idea, as was Karen’s mom, whose support was also important for this to work.  I was beaming with happiness, as it seemed Clara was finally going to get consistent help.  In the process, I obtained my name in sign – a “d” next to my glasses.  Finally Clara was forced down to join us, the idea was explained to her as best as possible, and she agreed to work with Karen.

On the first day of class, Karen and I sat down with Clara, and Clara already didn’t seem very happy.  She kicked me under the table in protest, but we carried on with the lesson.  Karen went through the alphabet in sign, and then seeing that she hadn’t brought any materials, I pulled out my flashcards.  She went through each of those, with Clara learning the signs.  She then quizzed Clara, and she remembered nearly all of them.  Not knowing what to do next, I ran to the storeroom to get some drawing materials.  However, when I returned, Clara had run off, and I had no success in coaxing her back.  “Poco a poco” I told Karen, little by little.

The following day, Clara wouldn’t even sit down with us to start the lesson.  We tried and tried to persuade her to join us, but no luck.  Eventually, however, as Karen and I stood around not knowing what to do, Clara invited Karen up to the games room.  Great!  Clara is warming up to her teacher!  I thought.  Karen was hesitant, but luckily she went up and joined Clara.  I left them alone, with the hope that Karen would turn it into a learning opportunity.  After about 10 minutes, they came down and went into the art room.  I tried to spy a bit, but mostly gave them their space.  They weren’t really working with each other, but working next to each other was a start.

By the following day, Clara would no longer greet me.  I assume it was because I was making her work, and perhaps because she comes to Yanapayto play, to have fun, and to be with other kids.  It is entirely possible that she is in her house all day, as she no longer attends school.  She wouldn’t sit down to work with Karen, and I began to think it all might fall apart.  I was away from Yanapay for a few days, and was afraid the lessons be over when I returned. 

Although Clara still wouldn’t greet me when I returned, she was proudly sounding out, “I am Clara!”  One of the volunteers had somehow taught her that.  She was also showing that she could sign her name.  I joyfully discovered that Karen had brought 2 of her friends, and they all worked with Clara that day.  It turns out, in my absence, the teachers at Yanapay had explained to Clara that if she wants to continue to come to Yanapay, she has to work with Karen.    I was extremely curious what they were all doing in the classroom, but I left them alone, and they worked for well over an hour.

A few weeks later, Karen started a job, but she had started to go to Clara’s house on Sundays for the lessons, which are hopefully continuing.  Last week, again after an absence when I went to Puno and Bolivia, I returned and saw Clara signing with Yuri.  It was not longer gestures and pantomimes, but real signing, which she seemed to be doing it with new found confidence and perhaps even a slight bit more maturity than I had seen before!

Aldea Yanapay Day Out

Please view additional Yanapay photo essay at www.dojoklo.com

OK, so I’ve been very forgetful.  I forgot to do a special post for Tracie and for Aunt Vickie and Grandma on their donation days.  I will have to make that up to you…  BUT, today is Gail Zimmer’s donation day and birthday!  Her donation was for a doll related art project with the kids.  Since I was supposed to be in the jungle now working in Pilcopata, I was going to do that at this time.  However, since that gig fell through, I am carrying my art materials deep into the jungle to Iquitos next week.  When I hook up with a volunteer organization, hopefully in a secluded indigenous community, I will attempt to do that project.  In the mean time, here are some pictures from an outing with the Aldea Yanapay kids.  We hiked just outside of Cusco, and explored a creek and some woods for the afternoon.  The kids loved playing in the water, and many left quite wet, along with a couple unlucky volunteers.

Heading out

Yuri helping a little one across

Jenni in the water


Clara getting ready to cause trouble!

“Mira Profe!” The little ones were amazed by the wonders of nature

Diana playing in the mud

Maria calm and composed as always

Yuri and the kids

Ascending the trecherous hill

Returning from collecting leaves and seeds for future art projects

Descending the trecherous hill

Heading home

Festival de Tinajani – aka More Skirt Twirling Photos

Traditional dances from various regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile

As the bus from Puno approached Juliaca, I turned to the campesina woman next to me and asked how I could continue on to the Festival de Tinajani.  Her face lit up and she told me, “Nosotros vamos a Tinajani tambien!” – “We´re going to Tinajani also!” I asked how we proceed there from Juliaca, and she explained rapidly, so I figured it was best just to follow her.  She was with a group of 3 other adults and 2 children, and after we unloaded their buckets of what I assumed was soup to sell at the festival, we attempted to find a taxi.  Ten minutes passed without luck, only bicycle taxis came by, and so I tried again to ask her where I go to get to the next city near the festival.  She convinced me to wait, and finally we got a taxi, loaded the buckets, and all piled in.  Deposited at a large plaza and market area, we happily discovered there were direct buses to the festival, and wouldn´t have to go to Ayaviri first.  I asked the oldest woman how much my share of the taxi was.  “Dos Soles” she quickly replied.  Based on my knowledge of transportation prices, my experience with Peruvians, and the smug expression on her face, I assume I paid for the entire family…and their soup, which I had helped to load and unload.

We all sat on the bus for several minutes, and the passengers started to get antsy.  “Vamos!” they all began to yell.  We moved a bit, stopped some more, moved a bit.  People started to get off to try their luck with another bus.  The young woman sitting next to me had been attaching yarn braid extensions into her hair, and so I assumed she was a dancer headed to the festival.  As soon as she got up, I knew it was best to follow her.  We got on the next bus, which filled up when a man butted right in front of us (an everyday experience in most any line in this country), and unfortunately we had to stand for the ride.   An hour and a half later, we turned off right before Ayaviri, onto a dirt road heading into the altiplano, the high plains between the two spines of the Andes.  As we followed buses and cattle trucks loaded to capacity with festival-goers, a continuous series of buses and combis, now empty, passed us on their way out.  The festival was nowhere in sight, just desolate, dry grasslands, fields, and pastures with cows, sheep, and llamas.  After twenty minutes, the dramatic rocks which I had seen in pictures came into view, then the parking lot loaded with hundreds of buses, then the crowds, covering the hillsides.  Emerging from the bus, I didn´t know where to turn.  There was color and activity in every direction, so overwhelming I didn´t know where to start.  I didn´t want to miss any photo opportunity, but I just had to begin.  Right next to me was a field with some dance groups practicing.  After a few minutes there, I weaved through the vehicles, and merged with the crowd crossing a precarious plywood bridge to the site.  I moved through the rows of food vendors and people eating lunch, chicharones on grills sputtering grease at every turn.  At the dance site, I tried to determine how to best sneak my way in, but each corner was filled with crowds and police.  I circumnavigated the entire area, since I saw other photographers on the far side.  I waved my camera in front of a guard and he let me pass.

Since I had no idea how I was going to return to Puno, how difficult it might be, and how long it might take, I knew I couldn´t stay long.  So I alternated between taking photos, filming videos, wiping the dust off my camera, and blowing it off my lens.  Group after group of dancers performed, each with their own band of musicians and singers.  The announcer´s voice boomed through the PA system constantly, even over the music and voices of the singers, “TINAJANI RAYMI!”  “La Provincia de MELGAR!”  The crowds continued to grow on the rocks and hillsides surrounding the site.  At 1:30 I forced myself away, knowing I had to be on my way out of there by 2:00.  But on the hillside there was so much more activity:  kids flying kites, groups of dancers waiting, carnival games and foosball tables.  I made my way back through the food area, to the parking lot, and once again found myself in the practice field.  A group of women danced in a circle, surrounded by men parading huge red and white banners.  Another amazing photo opportunity!  I snapped as fast as I could, and then delved back into the parking area looking for the combis heading back to Ayaviri.

I got the last seat on one just about to head out, and encountered a small group of Spaniards, the other other tourists I saw the whole day.  We spent the ride amused by the smiles and laughter of an adorable little girl, just as entertaining as the festival we just came from.

I just got off the bus – dancers practicing in a field

The crowd, visible from the parking lot

One of the market and lunch streets

So much overwhelming color, activity, and so many people, I didn’t know where to start!

I got my way into the photographers’ row, right at the side of the dance area

Skirt-twirling action!

Dust, dust and more dust – not so good for the camera and the sensor.  Luckily I had my Rocket Blower with me.

This dance involved sweeping the dirt right onto me!

Danza Tondero de Piura, surprising to see so far south

Awaiting their turn to dance

transportation costs:

Moto-taxi from hostal to Terminal Terestre Puno – s/. 1.50 – 7 min
Bus from Puno to Juliaca – s/. 2 – 1.5 hr
Taxi with family and food to Plaza – s/. 2 – 5 min
Bus directo from Juliaca to Tinajani – s/. 5 – 2 hr

total: s/. 10.50 – 4 hours

return trip:
Combi Tinajani to Ayaviri plaza – s/. 1.50 – 25 min
Bike taxi to Ayaviri Terminal – s/. 1 – 5 min
Bus from Ayaviri to Juliaca – s/. 3.50 – 1.5 hr
Bike Taxi to paradero – s/. 2 – the slowest 10 minutes of my life, as every other bike taxi passed us
Bus from Juliaca to Puno – s/. 2.50 – 1.5 hr

total: s/. 10.50 again! – 4 hours

Additional photos can be viewed at www.dojoklo.com in the Dance or Peru galleries.

Here Comes the Sun – aka Inti Raymi 2008

**Sorry, the links to most the photos got messed up.  Please view photos in the Peru gallery at www.dojoklo.com or my Inti Raymi set on Flickr here.

Here are some shots from the Inti Raymi morning ceremony to greet the sun, at Coricancha.  I got there bright and early, and hour and a half before, in order to get a good spot on the railing.  But the front row was already full!  What to do?  Wait until someone makes the mistake of leaving their spot, and jump right in!  Then push, nudge, and hold my ground for the next 3 hours.

Keshwa Chaca Inca Bridge 2008 – Photos

You can view this entire photo series, with captions, on my website at www.dojoklo.com in the “Inca Bridge” gallery.

See THIS POST for my videos of the bridge construction.

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


Keshwa Chaca 2008 – part 1: Getting There

Photos of the bridge building can be seen HERE, and also on my website at www.dojoklo.com 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.