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From prisoner to weaver to renowned artist: Máximo Laura

21 Jan

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Like every day in Peru, our last day exceeded expectations. We flew from Cuzco back to Lima and bused directly from the airport to the home of Peru’s most acclaimed textile artist,  Máximo Laura. A longtime friend and associate of ArtAndes owner Melanie Ebertz, Laura gave us a tour of his workshop, where he employs about 15 weavers, and his personal collection of richly colored and textured wall hangings.

Laura grew up in the same mountainous Ayachuco area as Wilbur Quispe, and he likewise suffered persecution during Peru’s civil war with the Shining Path in the 1980s and ’90s. The government imprisoned him as a suspected Marxist, but when the war wound down, he took up weaving (as had four generations of his family before him) and raised it to an artform.

Moving beyond the natural dyes and fibers of his ancestors, Laura used modern synthetic threads and bright colors to give new life to his people’s legends and dreams. Over the past 15 years, museums around the world have exhibited and honored his textile art, including the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington. Still, he was as friendly and humble with us as every other Peruvian, patiently explaining his work, selling some of the smaller pieces to us at great discount, signing autographs and posing for pictures. After weeks in the soaring Andes Mountains, we ended our trip back at sea level — yet at the pinnacle of Peru’s weaving culture.

Slide show produced by Mike Dorsher. Photos by Mike Dorsher, Sharon Kessler, Brita Dallmann and Jeff Nistler.


A taste of Perú, sweet Perú

17 Jan

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Here is just a sampling of the delicious desserts we were lucky enough to try while in Perú. A lot of the desserts contain unique fruits not familiar to U.S. residents, such as lúcuma (a subtropical fruit native to the Andes of Perú).  We have noticed that the desserts and drinks here are much sweeter than what we are accustomed to. Just grab a bottle of Inca Kola, the nation’s favorite soft drink, and see for yourself!

Photos by Brita Dallmann, Lacey Weninger and Megan Roltgen


First look at Lima leaves lasting impression

7 Jan

As we prepare to leave Lima today and fly to Arequipa, we’re still haunted by our first encounter with indigenous Peruvians, on New Year’s Day, at the Plaza de Armas. As you can see in this video that Mike shot and Megan edited, the new year spurred a celebration of traditional dressing, dancing and singing. But like everything in Peru, it included a “mixto” of present-day European culture with centuries-old indigenous culture, manifest in this case by men wearing bright-red masks replete with oversized sunglasses. ¡Que fantástico!

Mira las flores en Miraflores

6 Jan

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The beautiful section of Lima where we’ve been staying is called Miraflores, which is Spanish for “see flowers” — and we sure have: flora and fauna of all types, colors and sizes. They almost all looked exotic to us, especially coming from winter in Wisconsin to summer in Lima. You can enjoy them, too, with this slide show by Equipo Peru’s visiting journalist, Sharon Kessler.

A day in downtown Lima

5 Jan

Centro, as los limeños refer to the downtown area, is home to many of the historic buildings in Lima, although the majority are not the original buildings that the Spanish built after Francisco Pizarro founded the capital city of Peru in 1535.   On Sunday, Melanie picked us up from our hostel in a van and pointed out various buildings and neighborhoods along the way.

La Plaza Mayor

Our first stop was in the Plaza San Martín which honors José de San Martín who played a large part in liberating South American territories from their respective rulers across the ocean and helped Peru declare its independence from Spain in 1821.  From there Melanie led us to the Plaza Mayor, which is surrounded by the government palace, the municipal palace and a cathedral.  All of these buildings have been reconstructed because earthquakes severely damaged them throughout Lima’s history, but the original doorway of the cathedral has survived the test of time.  One interesting thing Melanie told us is that all government-owned buildings in Lima must be painted on a regular basis as required by law to keep them maintained.  Different buildings are painted various colors; those surrounding the Plaza Mayor are a vibrant yellow while those surrounding the Plaza San Martín are white.  We also saw blue and red buildings surrounding other plazas.

Making our way through the shantytown.

After strolling past a few more historic buildings, we found a bus that would take us to the top of the San Cristobal hill, the highest point of the city, to get a panoramic view.  Our bus wound through a large shantytown before climbing the steep hill.  The road that leads up to the top is only one lane wide and has a very steep drop off.  Needless to say a few of us had to cover our eyes as we made our way up.  We made it to the top and spent a half hour looking around, chatting with Melanie, and waiting for the next shuttle to come.  The ride down was just as scary as the ride up.  At one point our bus encountered an oncoming taxi and I’m pretty sure the whole bus was only centimeters from plunging down the side of the hill.  If you think I’m exaggerating, watch Mike’s video of part of the ride down.  We all let out a sigh of relief when we found ourselves at the bottom again.

After lunch, Melanie took us to meet Humberto who will be helping Melanie lead our tour, and we ate gelato with him and his family.  It was a lovely way to start off our adventures in Peru!

Past and present collide in Peru’s San Francisco

5 Jan

The Church and Monastery of San Francisco on Lima’s Plaza de Armas is an outstanding example of 18th-century Renaissance revival architecture — but the monks who still roam its chapel make some questionable calls, if you ask me. One is the kitschy-Christmas town scene right next to the high altar, replete with flashing lights that “sing” — crass Xmas songs about Santa Claus right along with sacred carols. That made it hard to take when a monk pseudo-sacredly accosted Lacey and Megan, asking them to leave the sanctuary because they were wearing shorts (as were Mike and Sharon, with middle-age immunity).

On the residents of Parque Kennedy

4 Jan

I have a few mottoes when it comes to traveling.  One is to never ask the Spanish for directions, but that’s a story for another time.  One of my most important mottoes is: Meet the locals.  Dine with them, talk to them, ask them about their lives.

Equipo Peru has been doing just that.  Just today we met dozens of the friendliest limeños imaginable in Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, close to our hostel.  These limeños are in a particularly rough spot.  They have no permanent homes, they have no income, and no job prospects but to keep the park free of rodents.  They depend on a group of neighbors to place food beneath their trees every day.  They own nothing but the fur on their backs.

Yes…I’m talking about the cats of Miraflores.

One thing I love about cats is that they are the same in all places.  They’re predictable in a way that people never can be.  And this explains why the best friends I meet abroad are felines.

This evening, the five of us took a lovely walk after dinner to find ice cream, which we decided to eat in Parque Kennedy.  It’s a beautiful park, well-kept and buzzing with life at night.  The most notable thing about this park, however, is its heavy cat population.  Orange and gray tabbies, calicoes, tortoise-shell, you name it, coming out of the flowerbeds and the trees in search of your love and scraps.  I was kind enough to share my ice cream with two little beggars.

A couple of the park's residents.

While walking through the park, we noticed a woman setting out dishes for a horde of cats that had surrounded her.  Lacey (my partner in cat love) and I decided to get to the bottom of this cat park and why it exists.  We asked the woman if she gives food to the cats every day.  She replied that she does, or one of the neighbors does.  She went on to explain that a group of neighbors has gotten together to feed the cats and take the initiative to have them all spayed or neutered in order to prevent rampant reproduction.  I can’t say that I’ve ever found a city more dedicated to the care of its cat population.  Take a trip to Morocco and you’ll find quite the opposite.

Enjoying an evening meal. The white one appears to be doing after-dinner yoga, and the one in the back may just shoot us with his laser eyes.

And so I commend the people in this neighborhood of Miraflores for their great work and care.  If my career in journalism goes down the tubes, I know now what my calling is: saving the cats of the world, one neighborhood at a time.

Although not a resident of the park, I made good friends with Wilbur's cat.