Tag Archives: Peru

2012 6 Isaiah Brookshire Cover Photo

June Wallpaper and Cover Photo

Posted by on June 22nd, 2012

Many of my favorite photographers share their work every month in the form of desktop wallpapers. I love this concept and decided to get on the bandwagon. My plan is to post a new wallpaper every month to showcase some of my favorite photos.

I’m not stopping at desktop wallpapers. I’m also including an image specifically formated to be a Facebook cover photo. Feel free to download either or both. Click on the images to open a full resolution image in a new tab.

About the image: This is a photo of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru. To capture this high-contrast scene, three images were shot at dusk using my Canon 40 and 50mm lens at f/11. The exposures were then combined in HDR Pro (A feature of Adobe Photoshop CS6).

man crossing qeswachaka bridge and ruins below

Podcast: Crossing Qeswachaka Bridge

Posted by on June 21st, 2012

One of the most amazing adventures I’ve had in Peru was a trip to a hand-woven rope bridge called Qeswachaka about 150 km outside of Cusco. And no matter how you spell it ( Qeswachaka, Q’eswachaka, Keswachaka, Qeshuachaca, Queswachaca, or Qheswachaka) visiting the bridge was an incredibly unique experience.

Every year the bridge is rebuilt after the old one is cut loose and dropped into the water below. Hundreds of people join in the effort to weave the new bridge from grass even though there is a new wood and metal bridge upstream. The tradition brings communities together for hard work, lots of food, and even more fun.

If you would like to learn more about the history behind this festival, you can view an article I wrote for Apus Peru here.

While we were at the festival, my brother and I started working on a podcast. We put it together when we got home with the help of my good friend Ben Ayers. Click the play button to listen. I hope you enjoy it! (More photos below)

Right click here and select “save link as” to download the podcast.

Click on thumbnails to launch slideshow

andean boy wearing a poncho

Postcard: Mountain Villages

Posted by on June 13th, 2012


Canon 40D, 50mm, 1/1000 @ f/2.0, ISO 400

I’ve had so many adventures in the last week, it’s going to be hard to fit them all on the blog. My travel’s started last Monday when I packed up for three days of photography and interviews in two mountain villages where the NGO Threads of Peru works.

Threads is primarily an organization that promotes the native weavings of the Andean people around Cusco, but up until last week I hadn’t actually photographed any weaving for them. That changed after about two hours in the back of a Toyota Hilux. Continue reading

Postcard Rumira-6

Postcard: Rumira

Posted by on May 29th, 2012

Canon 40D, 50mm, 1/500 @ f/2.2, ISO 200

Last week I finally got a chance to get into a high Andean village. On Wednesday I traveled with a team from the NGO Threads of Peru to document a dye workshop in the community of Rumira, which is about an hour’s drive outside of Ollantaytambo on the eastern edge of the Sacred Valley. Roadwork meant walking about 20 minutes uphill out of Ollantaytambo to catch a bus that would take us the rest of the way up dirt road to Rumira.

If I hadn’t spent my childhood bouncing along mountain roads in my dad’s old Baja Bug, the ride might have been a little frightening, but as it was I just took in the scenery; the mountain streams, scraggly wildflowers, and ancient terraces build by Incan hands. The only real adventure we had on our way up was pulling another van out of a rut.

The van was on it’s way down the road when it hit a muddy patch and got wedged against the side of the mountain. All in all, I’d say getting stuck against the mountain was better than falling the hundred or so feet off the opposite side of the road. The rest of the ride was almost uneventful. In one spot we had to wait for some sheep to move off the road and in another we spun our tires a bit getting up a hill. Oh, and we also ran over a cat — our driver thought it was rather funny.

I was warned that the women in Rumira might be camera shy so I began slowly. I did a lot of listening and observing of the dyeing process, which at the time I arrived mostly consisted of lighting fires to boil water over. The photography I did do was mostly through my long lens (70-200mm). Once the fires got going and the water was hot, the real work got underway.

Canon 40D, 50mm, 1/800 @ f/2.5, ISO 200

The woman used several different natural dyes to create a number of colors from yellow to purple. Some of the dyes included crushed insects and various minerals. If you’re interested you can read more about the dyeing process on Threads of Peru’s website and you can also check out the three-part series I’m writing for Threads’ blog (see links below).

Canon 40D, 50mm, 1/1000 @ f/2.5, ISO 200

At one point I asked our guide, Urbano, to introduce me to each woman so I could shoot a posed portrait and have names to go with the faces. When we did this, the women’s shyness was apparent — Rumira is close to major tourists attractions but it is also fairly traditional and not often visited. I got a few decent shots but mostly a lot of hiding.

I took a ton of photos during the day — close to 650 — and filled up 8GB of memory cards. It didn’t take very long for the women to start ignoring me and allowing me to work closer. I’ve fallen in love again with my 50mm f1.4 and I used that for most of the day.

Canon 40D, 50mm, 1/1250 @ f/2.5, ISO 200

In some places (my mind goes to northern Zambia) you can get really great posed portraits, but in others shooting candids is the best bet; the villages around Cusco fall into the latter category.  Of course shooting candid photos can yield some great results.

Being foreign and male, my interaction with the women was somewhat limited but I did get to spend some time learning about the dyeing techniques from Daniel Sonqo, Threads’ master weaver. The results he and the women were able to achieve using only natural ingredients were impressive.

I did a little exploring in Rumira, which is actually two villages divided by stream, and got to know some of the kids. Most of them wore bright orange and red ponchos, and were either camera-shy or complete hams. One kid seemed to have a sixth-sense and would instantly strike a pose when he felt my camera pointed at him — even if I was shooting from 20 feet away.

Canon 40D, 200mm, 1/1000 @ f/4, ISO 400

The skies were overcast all day and rain fell a couple of times. Standing outside by the dyeing fires was cold, smoky, and often damp, but I loved it. There is something powerful in these mountains; watching damp clouds slowly wash over rocky heights and seeing sheep graze in alpine meadows that slope steeply down.

We stayed in the community from about ten in the morning to three in the afternoon. It was a quick visit but enjoyable and productive all the same. I had the pleasure of shaking the hand of one of the older weavers before we left. We both exchanged goodbyes in our second langue; Spanish (many people outside Cusco learn Quechua as their first, and sometimes only, language).

On the way home I sat facing backwards on a bench behind the van’s driver. We left Rumira the same way we entered, but the landscape was still new and exciting. I remember passing through a striking valley with grey walls that crumbled into grey boulders along the road. Along the valley’s floor grew a scrubby bush with small yellow flowers and near the bushes flowed the same river we worked by in Rumira. The unsaturated tones of the rock made the hues of the flowers even more brilliant.

We arrived in Ollantaytambo a little before four in the afternoon and caught a taxi back to Cusco. The drive between the two cities takes a little more than an hour and passes through some of the Sacred Valley’s most spectacular vistas, made all the more brilliant by the setting winter sun.

Cusco is an interesting city; full of history, colonial architecture, and compelling traditions. But after spending the day in the Sacred Valley, it’s hard not to notice the dust, the noise, and the smell of urban life. I’m grateful that I get to live here and I’m even more grateful for the chance to get out.

(My work in Rumira will be posted as a three-part blog on Threads of Peru’s website. As the stories post, I’ll link to them here:)

The Color of the Andes Part 1: Getting There

The Color of the Andes Part 2: The Process

The Color of the Andes Part 3: The People


Photos of Cusco 58 Years in the Making

Posted by on May 20th, 2012

La Compania was undergoing heavy restoration during the filming of the Secret of the Incas. Today it's one of the city's major landmarks.

In 1954 the movie Secret of the Incas hit movie screens in America. It’s probably best remembered as a huge inspiration for the Indiana Jones series. There’s even one scene where beams of light are reflected through a series of mirrors to reveal a treasure — just like Raiders of the Lost Ark. But the movie itself is interesting for a number of other reasons; one of them being the early looks at Cusco and Machu Picchu on film.

Last week I was had a conversation over at the South American Explorers Club about how much Machu Picchu has been rebuilt since it appeared in Secret of the Incas, and that got me thinking about how Cusco might have changed too. I watched the film again (it’s available on Netflix) and looked for all the scenes with exterior shots of the city.

When one flashed on the screen, I captured it for later reference. Once I had ten photos, I loaded them onto my Kindle and went out on a photographic scavenger hunt. It was surprisingly easy to track down the locations because Cusco hasn’t changed much in 58 years. From 1954 to 2012 the most noticeable changes are the streetlights and trees which now fill the plazas.

In my photos, I wasn’t going for exact copies of the scenes from the film (in some cases trees now block the view or replicating the shot would require standing in the middle of a busy street). What I wanted to show was a clear before/after view of the Cusco landmarks.

Below you can find the results of my scavenger hunt along with the some interesting tidbits about how things have changed. You can view a map of these locations here. Continue reading

Moonlight illuminates Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley.

On Assignment: The Sacred Valley

Posted by on May 8th, 2012

Moonlight illuminates Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley

After more than a month in Cusco, I recently got the chance to get out of the city and explore the surrounding area. Over the course of three days I documented a festival, Incan ruins, and an agro-tourism project for Apus Peru, an adventure travel company based here in Cusco. The stories and photos I worked on for Apus will appear on their blog in the next few weeks.

My first adventure happened last Thursday when I reported on the Cruz Velacuy  (Vigil of the Crosses) festival. It was difficult to track down information on this event and I was at a loss until I discovered that one of Apus’ staff members had an aunt who was organizing festivities in a town about 45 minutes outside of Cusco. She also had a brother, Jhon, who agreed to act as my guide.

Early in the morning we caught a bus out of Cusco which took us to Izcuchaca. There we rode a moto-taxi from the city center to his aunt’s house where preparations for the fiesta were already underway. At least a half-dozen women and a couple men were preparing food for later in the day. Jhon and I estimated that there must have been three whole pigs in various stages of preparation.

The next several hours were a blur of parades, Mass, and dancing. When we arrived back at the house, it was time to eat. First up, big hunks of fried pork with brown bread. Being included in the meals and fiesta was incredibly humbling, as most Peruvians are not exactly people of unlimited resources.

A hearty tripe soup followed the pork. When I felt like I couldn’t take another bite, they brought out the chicha, a kind of fermented corn drink. If I learned one thing from this trip, it’s that I am incapable of partying like a Peruvian. Jhon and I took our leave right as the dancing (and drinking) was kicking off.

Domingo, our awesome guide to the Sacred Valley.

On Saturday, I left Cusco by a slightly different route and my wife, Sonya, also got to come along. After picking up another photographer who is working for Apus, we made our way to the Moray. This is an ancient agriculture project nestled high in the mountains above the Sacred Valley.

The Moray is made up of a series of circular terraces once used to preserve rich top-soil. Now the site attracts more tourists than farmers and a lot of those tourists find the appeal more spiritual than agrarian. Convinced that the geometry of the place has mystical properties, they are often spotted holding hands at the lowest level and occasionally participating in some scream-therapy (the place has great acoustics).

Our second stop was a series of evaporating pools used for harvesting salt. These pools are carved into the side of a narrow canyon and predate the Incas. The salt comes from a saline spring and reaches the pools via a series of channels. The flow is controlled by placing rock barriers at critical intersections along the channels.

After a long day of exploring we drove to the town of Ollantaytambo. This quaint village is the last stop before trekkers take to the Inca Trail and as such, is well stocked with all the camping equipment, woolen headgear and walking sticks you could shake a… well… walking stick at.

Night brought out the stars and the “super moon” bathed the rugged mountains in blue light. After dinner we took time to admire the city’s ruins under nocturnal illumination. Getting away from the noise and exhaust of Cusco’s streets was a nice change. I’ll take the splash of streams over the grunting of buses any day.

The next morning we had a little more time to explore Ollantaytambo before going to the Chichubamba Agro-tourism project located near Urubamba. Here we got to visit several artisans’s houses and learn more about their craft.

I thought the handmade ceramic demonstration was particularly interesting. It probably goes without saying but Sonya was pretty fond of the chocolate making portion of the tour. After lunch, we rode back to Cusco and took the rest of the day to relax and start editing photos from the trip.

Climbing Cuesta Santa Ana-2

Podcast: Climbing Cuesta Santa Ana

Posted by on April 12th, 2012

So we’ve been in our new apartment for almost a week now, but I thought it would still be worth posting something about the guesthouse we were staying in when we first arrived in Cusco. Mostly because that guesthouse was reached only by one very brutal uphill climb through painfully thin air.

I decided the best way to tell this story was in audio format. This is the first time I’ve put together a podcast and it’s still a little rough around the edges, but a fun experiment nonetheless.

Click the play button below to listen.

Still Alive in Cusco

Posted by on April 6th, 2012

Hey friends, sorry for the absence of pictures and stories from our new life in Cusco. Looking for apartments has been crazy but we’re really close to being settled. Once that happens, I promise to keep a better posting schedule. For now I humbly offer a single photo of an Andean dancer from a recent festival in the city’s main plaza. Hang in there, more to come soon.

P.S. I think I’m sticking with the “s” spelling of Cusco. While not official, it seems like the most commonly used.

Cuzco Ho-3

Cuzco Ho!

Posted by on March 28th, 2012

I thought about writing my first entry from Cuzco (or Cusco or Qo’sqo if you want to get all fancy) as a postcard but it didn’t seem right to put the city I’m going to live in for the next several months into the same category as those places I pass through in a couple of days.

I’ll start this post by saying, getting to our new home was a grueling trip. Long layovers, exhausting flights, miscommunication, sleep deprivation, multiple security checks, none-too-friendly immigration officers, and lugging a hundred pounds of gear made this one of the most stressful and taxing journeys I have ever made.

Sitting in Lima’s terminal, my spirits were pretty low. I had gotten about seven hours of sleep in the last two days and I felt burnt out from all the stress. We boarded our flight to Cuzco around 6:30 in the morning. Even before the wheels left the ground, my eyelids were collapsing.

I don’t remember what woke me up — it might have been turbulence, it might have been the fatigue induced nausea — but whatever it was, when I opened my eyes my mood started changing, for the better. To my side, distorted only slightly by the water streaked and stained windows, I saw the narrow coastal plain of Peru rise abruptly. Brown hills, green mountains, white peaks in turn passed below me. I watched as streams left glacial lakes and fell staggering distances into steep valleys lost in shadow.

As we flew higher, I saw a thick layer of clouds breaking on sharp peaks like ocean waves. Soon all was lost to whiteness. “What a country,” I said to Sonya. She was asleep. “What a country.”

I slept in vignettes for the next 30 minutes and woke up just in time for our plunge into Cuzco. I call it a plunge because words like descent or landing don’t quite do justice to the experience of arriving in the old Incan capital. When I had fallen asleep, the clouds were unbroken but now summits loomed unsettlingly close, like icebergs adrift on the same white sea our airplane floated on.

The pilot turned our craft in a full circle; nowhere, save for those menacing peaks, did I see ground. Now I realized that we were going to dive blind through the clouds, with only the flight instruments as a guide. Clouds don’t seem so soft and fluffy when you realize solid rock could loom unseen behind any one of them.

Soon though, the world opened up to me again and I saw we were flying through a valley with hills, still lush and green from the rainy season, rising high on both sides. Cuzco now came into view with all of its red tile roofs and square concrete houses. I was still delirious from the sleep deprivation but my adventurous spirit was alert and only beginning to wake up.

The short drive from the airport to our guesthouse so full of new sights that is hard to put it down in writing. One thing I will recount were the roads. Tire-polished cobble stones rose steeply from the city’s center and whipped around  switchbacks that looked more like hiking trails. Whenever our driver approached one of these he wouldn’t let off the gas but rather lay on the horn as a warning for anyone coming the other direction.

We wound through narrow alleys and up hills that sapped every last bit of horsepower from the tiny station wagon. Our guesthouse was perched on top of Cuesta Santa Ana, a stair-lined street with an impossible slope that fell away to an awesome view of the central Cuzco. At 11,000 feet above sea level, even walking up small flights of stairs left us huffing.

To fight altitude sickness, we sipped tea made from coca leaves but the effects were almost disappointingly mild. So mild in fact that after consuming the base product of the world’s favorite illegal upper, we fell soundly asleep and didn’t wake up until late afternoon.

When I did wake up, I set out on foot in search of water. The local markets only carried small bottles so I asked the receptionist at the guest house where the nearest supermarket was. Armed with a hand-drawn map I descended Cuesta Santa Ana. The trip down the stairs was easy, even fun, the trip up was less so. Ladened now with five liters of water and a bagful of groceries, I plodded slowly upwards, mouth agape, pulling thin air into my lungs.

When I reached the guesthouse gate I turned back to look at the steps I had just ascended and down on the city. When I looked, I had a suspicion that I was falling in love with Cuzco. My trip into the center of the city had taken me past colonial churches, Incan stone work, and crumbling plaster. When I looked at the architecture I noticed that something was missing — advertising. Sure, every shop had a sign and I had seen a few billboards at the airport but that was nothing compared to some of the places I’d visited in Asia.

Cuzco feels like its own city. Like anywhere in the world, western influence is a factor, but this city has somehow managed to keep a soul. How many other places in the world could you walk up to a McDonalds and only realize that it was a McDonalds after you had stepped under a stone colonnade and peered through the windows?

Sonya and I walked onto the roof of our guesthouse right before sunset where we saw Cuzco open panoramically before us. Rainclouds darkened much of the city, but off to the east we could see a mountain, snow sheeted, glowing yellow in the late afternoon sun. Below us people walked in plazas and church bells rang.  If I read what I am about to say somewhere else, I would dismiss it as a travel writer’s hyperbole, but I promise this is what really happened; as we stood there tracing old stones with our eyes and embracing against the mountain breeze, the soft sounds of a pan flute drifted up from somewhere in the cobbled streets below.