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.

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

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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” :)

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