Thursday, 31 December 2015

Meeting People by Sketching

Some of the best moments on this trip to Peru were meeting local people as a result of sketching in public.  I've heard this form other sketchers - taking photos of people is something that is often resented and people can even get upset about it.  However, people seem to be interested and even complimented if you draw them.

Here at home, I rarely seem to be noticed drawing on location, much less strike up a conversation, however in Peru, people often came up to look over my shoulder and called others over.  In Cusco's San Pedro Market, a pair of small boys were quite uninhibited in learning over my sketchbook as I worked and the ladies in the smoothie aisle were all curious to see the finished product.

It somehow broke through the tourist barrier so that rather than being a foreign voyeur I was treated as a curious visitor.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Tuk-Tuk Moto Taxis

One of the charming aspects of the couple of days I spent in Ollantaytambo was the put, put of the tuk-tuks.  There were a few flatbed models moving produce, but most of them were "moto taxis" running people around the small town.  There was a taxi stand of sorts near the bridge over the river, but they rarely seemed to be there for long.  The dozen or so little vehicles were all somewhat customized and so were quite recognizable, as they constantly circulated around the streets of the newer part of town.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Don Miguel

While sketching in Pisac, Peru, I bumped into this gentleman several times. As luck would have it, I was lucky enough to met Don Miguel Chavez again at a cafe and he had some time to tell me a little bit about his fascinating life.

Born on the coast in northern Peru, his forbearers were from Italy.  In the early 1960's he made his way to Hollywood and had bit parts in serval movies before training as a pilot and finding employment as a crop duster.  A few years later he found himself back in Peru and became established in land-reform.  At that time the whole of the Sacred Valley was controlled by just 11 families and a new system of co-operatives was established.  As an offshoot of this he went to Prague to study agricultural engineering, but with marriage to a German woman, remained in Europe.

All these years later he is back in Peru studying "Andean Cosmology", ancient beliefs that continue as folk practices and cultural values, such as "Pachumamma (Mother Earth).   On a more practical level, he became aware that most of the Llama and Alpaca wool was either being laboriously spun by hand spindle, or sent out to be mechanically spun commercially.  He started to import simple spinning wheels and train local women to use them, in order to improve the economics of their beautiful weaving.    A brief outline of the project can be found at

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Inca Terraces

Those busy Incas!

The Inca empire was not much more than 140 years old before the Spanish conquest and to see what they constructed in that brief time is incredible.  What struck me while visiting was the intentionality - the planing.  Their projects were not iterative ....successive waves of improvement, rather they were implemented with a high standard of workmanship towards a master plan.  The experts recon Machu Picchu was build over a period of 100 years - sort of like starting a final drawing in one corner and filing the page, except for that each stone took hours to carry and fit.

These terraces were constructed to optimize  crop space - what the crops were and why they couldn't be grown in the valley lands, I haven't learned, but can only assume there were compelling reasons to go to so much effort.  And here they are 600 years later - truly a cultural landscape.

Inca granaries in Ollantaytambo, Peru

On arrival in Peru, we traveled to Ollantaytambo, some 60 km.s from Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude ( 2,792 m/9,160 ft. above sea level)   The next day we puffed our way up in the thin air on a narrow path to Pinkuylllana.  These are remnants of large storage buildings perched on the mountainside about 200m above the town.  It offered a great view of the rigid grid of narrow stone walled streets in the town below,l which are largely unchanged from the original Inca construction and the agricultural terraces on the mountainside on the other side of the narrow valley.

The superb stonework of the granary walls are still in good condition and include projecting corbels on the outside of the gables which were supports and up-lift tie downs for the rafters ("hurricane straps").  I never did find out why they chose such an inaccessible location to build these, but it certainly implies a very well organized society and surmise that the food kept here would be easily defended from theft.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Andean Condor - better from afar

I saw 3 condors while hiking in the Peruvian Andes - they were very high so I didn't see much, even with my field glasses.  Maybe just as well, as I was so short of breath that had one circled me, I would have assumed it was casing me out for dinner.  Not to mention, as majestic as they are in flight, they look very like the vultures they are, up close.

At Machu Picchu, I learned that the Condor was revered as a messenger to the Gods as they flew so high.  And like Zoroastrians and Tibetan Sky Burial, the bodies of the deceased were put out for Condors, in the belief that the person's soul would be delivered to the afterlife.

Machu Picchu

Last week, on my Birthday, I visited Machu Picchu.  It was amazing and much more impressive and interesting that I had hoped for. The tour took a couple of hours and was fascinating.  Afterwards, I found a shady bench to do this drawing from.  This is the beginning of the rainy season, so I was lucky to have a clear sunny day, and relatively few visitors.

As good as the tour was, it raised many questions in my mind about the Inca civilization - now that I'm home, I'll be searching for a good book about those amazing people.