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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.

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Písac ruins still used for agricultural purposes today

20 Jan

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After hiking around Machu Picchu and a day of rest and travel, I think we all realized just how exhausted we were.  However, that didn’t stop us from hiking around Písac and climbing still more stairs.  Písac is the site of Incan ruins that includes agricultural terraces, a citadel, a sun temple, and an astrological observatory.  We hiked along the side of a large hill overlooking the Sacred Valley and the city of Písac in order to climb up to the Temple of the Sun.  Once there, we had a panoramic view of the Urubamba River, which cuts through the valley along with many Incan terraces that are still in use today.  Afterwards, we descended into the valley by route of time-worn, steep stairways but were rewarded at the bottom as we got to stroll through the famous Písac market to browse the local products.

Machu Picchu: Exploring the lost city of the Incas

18 Jan

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Machu Picchu sits near the top of many people’s bucket lists, and it’s easy to see why.  The original stone masonry, contrasting with the mountains, forms a setting that cannot be compared to any other place on Earth.  The Incas constructed Machu Picchu in about 1450, and historians argue over the significance of the archeological site. Unnoticed and untouched by the Spanish during the conquest, the ruins were “discovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911.  Though we visited during the rainy season, the sun was shining for most of the day, and it only rained later in the afternoon (hence the change in lighting in the photos).

Photos by Megan Roltgen, Lacey Weninger and Mike Dorsher.

Equipo Peru visiting journalist Sharon Kessler has posted another Machu Picchu slideshow, focusing on the Inca’s stonework, on her StoneBankBlog.wordpress.com

Preserving a traditional weaving technique near Cusco

17 Jan

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We spent part of Tuesday in Chinchero visiting the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco where local women gather to preserve their traditional weaving method.  The traditional indigenous weavers use the back strap loom, which dates back to pre-Columbian times, to create their textiles. When we arrived, the weavers handed each of us a poncho to wear and a cup of tea to sip on.  Nilda Callañaupa leads the women and explained to us how they create a piece, from hand-spinning the yarn to weaving the actual textile and finishing the borders.  Nilda’s co-op differs from the others that we’ve visited because customers can visit their store and purchase products there on a regular basis.

Photos by Lacey Weninger and Sharon Kessler

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

 

The ascent to Ollantaytambo

17 Jan

The breath-taking site that is Ollantaytambo was constructed in the mid-1400s by the Incas.  Sitting at about 9,160 feet above sea level, Ollantaytambo was created as the personal estate and military fort for Inca emperor Pachacuti, and is also considered the home of South America’s most beautiful fountain, which was carved in the shape of the Inca cross.

Exploring the site is no easy feat.  To reach the top, it is required to scale a seemingly endless set of stone stairs.  If you are lucky enough to still be breathing by the time you arrive at the summit, you are rewarded with a striking view of the valley, town and other ruins nearby.

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Slideshow produced by Brita Dallmann.  Photos by Brita Dallmann, Megan Roltgen and Lacey Weninger.

Sacsayhuamán ruins spark amazement at Incan ingenuity

16 Jan

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As the famous Quechuan-Spanish author Garcilaso de la Vega wrote:

This fortress surpasses the constructions known as the seven wonders of the world.  For in the case of a long broad wall like that of Babylon, or the colossus of Rhodes, or the pyramids of Egypt, or the other monuments, one can see clearly how they were executed.  They did it by summoning an immense body of workers and accumulating more and more material day by day and year by year.  They overcame all difficuties by employing human effort over a long period.  But it is indeed beyond the power of imagination to understand how these Indians, unacquainted with devices, engines, and implements, could have cut, dressed, raised, and lowered great rocks, more like lumps of hills than building stones, and set them so exactly in their places.  For this reason, and because the Indians were so familiar with demons, the work is attributed to enchantment.

Textbooks and Garcilaso couldn’t prepare us for seeing Sacsayhuamán in person.  This  archeological site is overlooking Cusco, about 12,500 feet above sea level, and its walls contain boulders so precisely cut that a piece of paper will not fit between many of them — even after 500 years and dozens of earthquakes. Though appearing to be a fortress, many researchers believe it was actually a temple devoted to sun worship.

It remains a wonder how humans used nothing but handmade rollers, ramps, levers and chisels to mine, transport, carve and precisely fit together boulders weighing up to 200 tons!