Thursday, July 30, 2009

Striking Images of Peru: Inca Terraces, Salt Pans, and Traditional Dance

Three of the best Photo Ops I found in the Cuzco area were the dance performances at El Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, the agricultural terraces at Moray and the nearby salt pans of Salinas.

Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, founded in 1924, was the first institution dedicated to preserving and cultivating the folkloric music and dance of the region. Seventy artists perform fifty different original dances. A live orchestra of local musicians playing traditional instruments accompanies the dancers with more than 100 melodies collected in the high land communities of PerĂº.

The artistry of the musicians and dancers is excellent, the costumes colorful and professional. The audience is usually made up of tourists and locals alike, a real tribute to the continuing popularity of the Andean traditional arts. The show is included on the Cuzco-area tourist ticket which is the best buy for admission to many of the regional sites, including Sacsahuayman, Corichancha, Pisac, Ollantytambo, and many other "must-see" attractions.

The experimental agricultural terraces at Moray (3 km. from the village of Maras) are interesting for their design element and much more. The various levels of terraces are carved into a huge naturally-occurring (but further excavated by the Incas) bowl. Experts think the Incas used these terraces to determine the best conditions for their crops.

Just a few km. away is the seldom-visited site of Salinas, also one of the most photogenic places I found in this area of the Andes. These salt pans have been used for salt extraction since Inca times. A hot spring at the top of the valley releases a stream of salty water which is diverted to the salt pans below. The salt, worked for very little money by a members of a cooperative, has been used for salt licks for cattle, although there is a movement afoot to begin an industry to provide it as a designer salt for cooking. For about $.80 each I bought baggies of the stuff to use in my own California kitchen, and to share with my foodie friends.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mysteries of Peru: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

The access to Machu Picchu, often called "Lost City of the Incas," has definitely gotten easier since I was first there nearly 40 years ago, but the feeling of mystery it evokes has not changed. When we arrived in the early morning, Huayna Picchu (the mountain peak rising sharply behind the ruins) wasn't visible and the entire site was dripping from that night's precipitaton.

As we trudged up and down the steep steps listening to our guide's explanation, clouds and fog wafted in and out, until we finally got the view we had been waiting for. At that moment, a llama raced frantically over to the precipice near where we were standing, as though compelled to do so, and posed elegantly for several photos.

On the route from Machu Picchu 60 km. away from Cuzco, the train stops at one of my other favorite destinations, the Sacred Valley town of Ollantytambo. Here a dramatic archaeological site nestles up against a tidy Andean town. The site was built by an Inca emperor as a ceremonial center. The town dates from the late 15th century and has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America. Colonial and republican buildings surround The Plaza de Armas.

Not far away, another Inca site (Inca Pisac) towers above the sprawling town of Pisac, on the Urubamba River. The hillside is lined with agricultural terraces constructed by the Inca and still in use today. It was distroyed by Pizarro and the Conquistadores in the early 1530s. The modern town of Pisac was built by Viceroy Toledo the 1570s.

While in Pisac, we attended two days of the Catholic festival of Our Lady of Carmel which goes on for several days. The processions we saw began outside of town and culminated in the town's main plaza. The exuberant energy of the brightly costumed dancers was amazing. I couldn't restrain myself from shooting hundreds of images of the diverse material displayed before me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rocking and Rolling in Cuzco, Peru

After a brief stay in Lima, Peru, John and I arrived in Cuzco, where the massive Inca-built stones can be found all around the vibrant city. The center of it all is the Plaza de Armas, flanked by La Catedral and La Compania, both magnificent colonial edifices. Other plazas and colonial churches dot the landscape, all of it surrounded by the ever-changing earth tones of the Andes.

One of my favorite sites is Corichanca, once the Inca empire's richest temple, over which was built the colonial church of Santa Domingo. This site is the city's most dramatic example of both types of architecture and of the colonial dominance over the indigenous civilization.

A short drive (or a long hard walk) away are four other archaeological sites. Sacsayhuaman is the most dramatic, with huge beautifully fused Inca stones, one of which weighs 300 tons. Although extremely large, only a small portion of the site remains.