Tag Archive: Peruvian artisans


Bohemian Barranco

Bajada de los Baños, Barranco, Lima

Bajada de los Baños, Barranco, Lima

Barranco is the Spanish word for “ravine”, and Lima’s Barranco District takes its name from a ravine that was once a riverbed, but is now the site of a pedestrian walkway – the Bajada de los Baños – a ramp that connects it to the beach below.

The forest of glittering high rises that has sprouted in neighboring Miraflores has not yet crept this far down the coast, and it still has the feeling of a village.

Bajada de los Baños, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Puente de los Suspiros Bridge of Sighs, Barranco, Lima, Peru

The ravine, though, is not the only unique feature of Barranco’s geography or its appeal.

Cliffs extending out from the shoreline to the south shield it from cold and damp southern winds to create a comfortable micro-climate.

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La Ermita church, Barranco, Lima, Peru

On a side street, a hostel sign proclaims “backpackers welcome,” and through its open lobby door well-worn surfboards stand stacked against a wall.

Lima has been ranked Number 6 among the World’s 50 Best Surf Spots, and Barranco still boasts a marina and yacht club.

Barranco was originally a fishing village, and its maritime heritage is celebrated by the Eglesia de la Ermita.

Legend has it that a group of fishermen lost in the sea mist at last saw a distant light and rowed toward it.  When they came ashore, they found that in the spot where they had seen the light was nothing but a wooden cross in the sand, and built the church in thanksgiving.

Cupola of La Ermita church, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Cupola of La Ermita church, Barranco, Lima, Peru

La Ermita is now abandoned, its fractured ceiling a exposing earthquake-proof construction techniques that date back to pre-Columbian times that substitute light and flexible bamboo and stucco for heavy brick or stone.

Late 1800’s, the District became a fashionable beach resort where well-to-do  Limeños built casonas – their summer homes.

 

Electric trolley museum, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Electric trolley museum, Barranco, Lima, Peru

It was so popular that an electric trolley line once connected it to downtown Lima, and one of the trolley cars is now on display here as a permanent museum.

There’s more to Barranco, though, than its connection to the ocean

The District is also considered to be Lima’s most romantic and bohemian neighborhoods.

Cafe mural, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Cafe mural, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Peru’s leading writers, artists and musicians have lived and worked here for more than a century, and there are more than a dozen galleries here, including the first permanent exhibition of internationally known Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino.

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Restaurants and gardens, Barranco, Lima, Peru

The heart of the District covers a dozen or so square blocks.

It’s easy to cover on foot and very secure to walk.

The central plaza retains its original Spanish colonial flavor, and parks and streets are flower-filled.

Shops sell artisan goods tapestries and ceramics.

Street art adorns walls and homes.  Facades of casonas built in the Republican style retain all of their elegance and charm.

 

 

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Bajada de los Baños (Bridge of Sighs), Barranco, Lima, Peru

The walkway to the sea, the Bajada de los Baños, is spanned by the Puente de los Suspiros foot bridge.

Its name translates into Bridge of Sighs, so called because it is a frequent meeting place for lovers.

 

 

 

 

 

Dining car restaurant, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Dining car restaurant, Barranco, Lima, Peru

 

Here you’ll find no chain restaurants, but only owner-operated establishments, each brimming with its own unique charm.

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Peruvian restaurant, Barranco, Lima, Peru

 

 

 

If Barranco is a pleasant way to pass the day, it comes even more alive in the evenings, when the bistros, bars, and cafes are crowded with young adults.

 

Restaurant at night, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Restaurant at night, Barranco, Lima, Peru

I settle over a latte to watch passers-by stop to play a piano that sits beneath an outdoor canopy.

"Play Me" piano, Barranco, Lima, Peru

“Play Me” piano, Barranco, Lima, Peru

It’s only one of dozens placed in city parks and other public spaces by the city, and I sit nearby as a young man plays a flawless rendition of a work by Debussy.

It’s a perfect end to a perfect day, but I’m still looking forward to tomorrow’s culinary tour of Lima!  Click here to come along!

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Untouched Uros

Figurehead on the prow of a Uro reed catamaran.

Figurehead on the prow of a Uro reed catamaran.

Part of Ollantaytambo’s appeal is that Inca descendants living in the shadow of monumental Inca architecture bring the visitor one step closer to the feel of these ruins when they were still occupied by their builders.

 

On Lake Titicaca, two indigenous cultures are alive and well in their ancestral environments, unchanged in centuries and accessible to the curious.

 

There are too few opportunities to experience such “living legacy” cultures, and with the cultural integrity of  many indigenous communities  threatened by the impact of Western civilization, many such opportunities are fading all too fast.

Uros Island village

Uros Island village

The first of the two cultures is the Uro people, after whom the floating Uros Islands are named.

The Uros moved into the lake for the same reason that ancient Venetians first settled in a swampy lagoon:  They were more defensible.

Looking back on Puno, Peru.

Looking back on Puno, Peru.

 

Their islands sit not five miles offshore from the Puno harbor, and the route is via a boat channel that has been cleared through the reed-covered lagoon.

 

The morning sun is still low in the sky and a chill in the air as the boat departs.

 

The islands soon appear as clusters of huts, watchtowers, and catamarans all made of reeds.

 

Uro men head out for day of fishing on Lake Titicaca

Uro men head out for day of fishing on Lake Titicaca

 

 

 

 

 

The men typically are out fishing during the day, but two pass by in a small motorboat as we approach.

Every island seems to have a watchtower

Every island seems to have a watchtower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another man looks out over the water from the vantage point of a watchtower.

 

Walking about on one of these islands is not unlike walking around on a very firm water-bed, and the sensation takes a bit of getting used to.

 

Any qualms that I may have about the safety of this floating bird’s nest, however, are quickly laid to rest by an explanation that uses 3-D miniatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foundations of these islands are the root beds of totora reeds which have grown so far from shore that they detach from the lakebed and float along the surface like lily pads.

Uro women show how root blocks of floating reeds are lashed together.

Uro women show how root blocks of floating reeds are lashed together.

Layers of reeds are cross-thatched over the floating block before home construction.

Layers of reeds are cross-thatched over the floating block before home construction.

 

 

The Uros corral enough of these floating beds to house a group of four or five families, trim them close to their roots, and corral them by lashing them to stakes driven into the lake bed.  Alternating layers of cut reeds are laid atop the floating root system, and structures are then built upon it.

The Uros value the totora reed not only for construction, but also as an essential part of diet and medicine.  The iodine-rich, white bottom of the reed is chewed or brewed – as with coca leaves – for relief from climate, hunger, and hangover. It also is wrapped around wounds to relieve pain.

Because the reeds are continuously decaying, the islanders have to re-create new island homes – as well as replace their catamarans – every few years.

Traditional clay pot cooking stove

Traditional clay pot cooking stove

 

 

 

 

There is no electricity here except for solar panels which now power electric lights and radios, and which have reduced the risk of fire.  Traditional cooking stoves, however, still remain a fire risk.

 

 

 

 

The lake is not only the islanders’ home, but their highway.  A grocery boat – a sort of floating convenience store – makes a stop at the island on its appointed rounds.

The grocery store boat makes a stop

The grocery store boat makes a stop

The school "bus" arrives.

The school “bus” arrives.

 

 

 

 

A school boat drops by to take one of the island’s children to class.

On Sundays, worshipers travel by boat not only to the Catholic church, but also to services for the Seventh Day Adventists, who have been gaining acceptance in this part of Peru.

 

Uro women

Uro women

 

 

 

 

The Uro population now numbers only a few thousand, but the greatest threat to their way of life may not be their numbers, but negative environmental impact.

Introduction of non-native fish has driven species long fished by the Uros into endangerment or to extinction.

Uro woman with child

Uro woman with child

 

 

 

 

Global warming is shrinking Andes ice caps and altering mountain runoff.  A thinning ozone layer reduces the scant sun protection afforded by thin air and cloudless skies; it’s no surprise that skin cancer is epidemic here.

Islanders benefit from tourism through sale of their hand-woven work

Islanders benefit from tourism through sale of their hand-woven work

 

These threats have compelled the Uros to turn increasingly to tourism in order to preserve their distinctive settlements and culture.

There are no admission fees to these islands, so visitors’ purchase of handicrafts fashioned by Uro women are the only way that the families benefit from tourism.  Be forewarned that the Uros will adamantly refuse anything resembling a handout.

The launch awaits at a nearby floating island which serves as a sort of marina, affording the opportunity to make the trip there on one of the reed  catamarans, rowed – traditionally – by the women.  As we part at the end of the crossing, I grasp their hands in thanks.  They are small as a child’s, the skin a rich, warm brown.  Their palms and fingers are as dry and calloused as a farmhand’s.  They smile and nods as if the ferry ride was all in a day’s work.

Catamaran crew of two rowing the ferry across the channel

Catamaran crew of two rowing the ferry across the channel

It’s been an unforgettable experience, but the day is only half over.

From here the route continues further into the lake to Taquile, where yet another distinctive culture has evolved in island isolation.  It promises to be a great afternoon.  Click here to come along!

 

 

Andes by rail

Andes Explorer passenger car

Andes Explorer passenger car

Train travel affords an opportunity to see a side of the landscape not to be otherwise seen, and by that measure Peru Rail’s Andean Express is over the top.

The train covers the 240 miles between Cusco and Puno – the jump-off point for Lake Titicaca – at a leisurely pace which allows passengers plenty of time to soak up the scenery.

Villager seen from the Andean Explorer

Villager seen from the Andean Explorer

The train pulls out of the Cusco station at 8AM, and as it passes through the city, locals are eating breakfast under the canopies of sidewalk kitchens or making their way to work.

Children and adults alike wave at the train as it passes, evoking a childhood memory.

It’s no surprise that the Andean Explorer has been named one of the world’s Top 25 Trains.

It  serves up the day-long trip with a level of comfort and service that recalls the golden age of train travel.

Mealtime is an event on the Andean Explorer

Mealtime is an event on the Andean Explorer

Armchairs and white tablecloths lend the feel of a drawing room to the passenger cars , and uniformed stewards seem ever-present.

Cocktails and high tea are served in a club car tacked onto the end of the train, but it’s the view from the car’s open-air gallery that’s truly intoxicating.

For those who are so inclined, a Happy Hour and made-in-Peru fashion show help to break up the trip.

 

Freshly made bricks and roof tiles

Freshly made bricks and roof tiles

The outskirts of Cusco dissolve into small villages where all manner of enterprises have been drawn to the rails.

In some places the tracks pass through the dowdy underside of towns and in others run alongside their main streets.

Wives work side by side with their husbands in every type of endeavor from tending fields to brick making.

The train passes through the Rio Urubamba canyon and continues climbing away from the river’s headwaters.

Behind us, mountains loom over river and villages tucked into lush, terraced valleys, and pare the sky into slivers.  Ahead of us, the landscape unfolds into a vast, arid altiplano – high plain – framed by mountains that ring the horizon as if propping up the endless sky.

Church at La Raya, Peru

Church at La Raya, Peru

 

 

Near the halfway point, the train begins to brake in what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

 

A small church appears as we pull to a stop in front of a bazaar that stretches alongside the track for nearly the length of the train.

 

 

 

Artisan vendor at La Raya, Peru

Artisan vendor at La Raya, Peru

This is La Raya, and at more than 14,000 feet above sea level it’s the highest point on the route, and  the divide beyond which water no longer flows toward the Urubamba and Amazon, but instead toward the Pacific Ocean.  To the north are mostly Quechua-speaking peoples and to the south – and into Bolivia – the native tongue is Aymara.

Artisan vendor at La Raya, Peru

Artisan vendor at La Raya, Peru

 

Artisan market and Andean Explorer, La Raya, Peru

Artisan market and Andean Explorer, La Raya, Peru

As I step off the train and begin wandering among the artisans, Cusco’s 11,000 foot altitude suddenly feels like child’s play.

 

 

The stopover is brief, and it’s a bit like watching a speed-dating event as everyone tries to strike a deal.

 

 

The quality and variety of the work – mostly textiles – is good, and since only one train passes through each day, the vendors are highly motivated.

Couple working their fields near La Raya, Peru

Couple working their fields near La Raya, Peru

 

 

 

 

Beyond La Raya, the route passes through agricultural villages separated by grazing animals and the stubble of recently harvested fields.  Couples labor together on their land.

Motorcycle taxi waits at a railroad crossing.

Motorcycle taxi waits at a railroad crossing.

Motorcycle taxis wait at crossings for the train to pass.

Bicyclist alongside the tracks of the Andean Explorer

Bicyclist alongside the tracks of the Andean Explorer

 

A bicyclist paces the train for a while before falling behind.

 

 

About an hour before its arrival, the train passes through Juliaca, home of the airport nearest to Lake Titicaca.  It’s about 10 blocks to the harbor from the Puno train station, and the hotel zone and central plaza are even closer.

Tomorrow begins with a boat trip to the floating Uros Islands.  Click here to come along!

 

Tip:  The view from seats on the west side of the train is significantly more interesting, particularly on the segment through the Urubamba canyon.