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essays | places


from sand to snow



Colca Canyon / Peru · 2013   literally breathtaking


   Whatever place we go to, our mind’s been there already, if vaguely. It has created its fractured visions of the place based on little puzzle pieces it gathered anywhere but in the place: hearsays, reads, films, songs, cliches, history lessons, biased information, misinformation. The Peru my mind had been to before my feet carried the rest of my body there, was the Andean, indigenous Peru. It’s unsurprising that that was the very smallest part of the Peru I found, given that I lived in Lima. My mind had been to her too, carried there on the words of passer-throughs who’d painted her ugly. And maybe it was thanks to those light expectations that she left such a heavy imprint on me. My Lima was a queen that birthed me all over again to live a double life, a triple life, a quadruple life between someone’s couch, piles of trash, an art gallery, and an orphanage. I did not pass up on Peru’s nature – from the sand to the snow – nor did I pass up on civilization’s old marks, but all that passed through me as I passed through it, and what stays in me is that sticky city in all her unexpectedness; most of all, the hard knocks that I could have foreseen even less than the good times, but which weren’t unwelcome back then and more than welcome in retrospect.


a glimpse


   TECTONIC | Our little, perishable human eyes make Earth seem so immutable. Rock-solid cliffs look like they always have been and always will be. Of course, the planetary face is changing as it ages, just like ours, just a little slower. Future generations will have to redraw the physical map according to what erosion, climate change, and tectonic movements dictate. And tectonic change is bound to happen on that political map too, as homo not-always-so-sapiens pushes or erases arbitrary borders with pencils or tanks. We will all be moved by this constant and inevitable change, one way or another, literally and figuratively. Those who desperately cling to the known, might find that it doesn’t have much grip. Those who welcome the unknown might find comfort in the embrace of change.


turquoise waters at Laguna 69 in Huaraz, Peru

   TRUE BLUE HUE | Almost too blue to be true, only few sport a hue like you. But your water doesn’t lie, pretend or cheat, you can pull this color off au naturel Laguna 69, and photo-sensationalists save their filters for duller lagoons, shouting “hashtagnofilter” from the Andean mountaintops.


Huacachina Oasis near Ica in Peru

I had never associated the desert much with South America.

Huacachina Oasis / Peru · 2013   drop in the desert

But I suppose it was there all along.

Huacachina Oasis / Peru · 2013   drops of light

Huacachina Oasis near Ica in Peru by night

We couchsurfed, as so often in Peru, and, as so often, our host had a story to tell. He'd fallen off a post in Arequipa's soccer stadium and woken up in a coma.

Arequipa / Peru · 2013   serene green

He also mapped out a plan for us to sneak into Colca Canyon without paying the oversized tourist fee. He knew that Western skin doesn’t always equal Western money.

Arequipa / Peru · 2013   lantern banter


Colca Canyon / Peru · 2013    Condor contrail



Chan Chan / Peru · 2013    adobe masters


Conache / Peru · 2013    sandboarding


Graffiti in Barranco, Lima, Peru

Barranco, Lima / Peru · 2013    nose bird



Peru · 2013    nowhere billboard






places / stories

Máncora / Beach and Surf and Fun and Tan

Beach and surf and fun and tan made Máncora indistinguishable from any other beach-and-surf-and-fun-and-tan-town.

Huanchaco / Sank & Stank


Huanchaco / Peru · 2013    tradition standing its ground


Huanchaco / Peru · 2013    to frame the sea, to tame the sea, an illusion at best


The sun sank, the sea stank, but all that was done in the best possible way and not one piergoer complained.


Huanchaco / Peru · 2013    piergoers


Huanchaco / Peru · 2013    sank


Huanchaco / Mountain Muscle

Huaraz mountain range in Peru

Huaraz / Peru · 2013    walls without ceiling


Those Huaraz mountains were buff, shredded beasts and nothing to mess around with. We’d come in from that silly, mellow beach and the ascend to Laguna 69 cost us some good breath and left Marie with a terrible headache. I got to enjoy that braggy, overexaggerated turquoise mountain puddle without any symptoms, but we switched shoes on the way down. Here’s a fun ghost story: one night we walked down the town’s main street when a man came up to me, investigated my face and saw God knows what in there if not the devil, because he turned pale as a sheet and started speaking in tongues and then screaming in tongues before running away into the night. Months later it turned out that Becca, a sweet little ghost from my past, had been there too, and while I hadn’t seen her, maybe that guy had.


Huaraz / Peru · 2013    mountain muscle


Huaraz / Peru · 2013    flexing


Paracas / The Meaning of Meaningful

Paracas National Reserve in Peru

Paracas / Peru · 2013    empty outside


Desert at Paracas National Reserve in Peru

Paracas / Peru · 2013    where to?


Nature knows no regret. Whatever she creates is meaningful, whatever she changes is more meaningful, whatever she loses is most meaningful.

Red sand beach at Paracas National Reserve in Peru

Paracas / Peru · 2013    red beach


Fishing boats at Paracas National Reserve in Peru

Paracas / Peru · 2013    fishing armada


Machu Picchu / We Knew More Then

Machu Picchu train in Peru

Machu Picchu / Peru · 2013    blue coming through



Machu Picchu / Peru · 2013    waking from the mist


Machu Picchu / Peru · 2013    sky stone


Machu Picchu, now that’s a postcard. And two thousand people there to agree and snap it. Everybody including me trampling all over that deep history in collective step, but even that can’t bury the mysticism that keeps pouring out of every pore in every stone. What the Europeans killed there was more than a people and a culture. It was their own, their distant kin, humanity, civilization, knowledge, wisdom, keys, and futures. It was murder-suicide. To think that somebody built that there! A settlement that is one with the elements and stars. We knew so much more then.


Machu Picchu / Peru · 2013    harmony


Machu Picchu / Peru · 2013    to build there


Lima / A Quadruple Life

We arrived at 4am on a night bus I don’t remember. I hardly ever remember how I got to a place; like in a dream where you always miss the beginning. Suddenly you’re just there and for no good reason it makes too much sense to question it. Probably we’d come from Huaraz. Not the gentlest hour to knock someone’s door, but what to do. Marie and Coline were friends from back home and Coline was staying with Martha and Martha was Javier’s mom and Javier was Coline’s boss and I was me and I guess that about covers it. So Marie and I showed up at Martha’s house in San Isidro where Coline let us in silently and we nicked a couple more hours of sleep before joining the dearest breakfast table. Martha, her sisters, and Javier took us in their midst like we’d never belonged anywhere else. While they shared the food, I shared my situation: broke like an empty tin can, looking for a job and place like a stray dog, hopeful like an astronaut. Javier didn’t hesitate a second thought before offering me to work on a project in his firm, lining up two potential jobs with friends (at a bar and an art gallery), and inviting us to stay with him and his girlfriend for a few weeks once their roommate would move out a few days later.


Lima / Peru · 2013    ocean city


Until then, we surfed a couch. We had one set up for that night, but the guy canceled on us last minute. Sending out about twenty requests that day, we got lucky with our numbers game. We met Abigail in front of her apartment building in the center around 11pm, and after a ten-minute conversation we all went to bed. The next morning Abi wasn’t feeling well, told us that she’d head out to stay with her aunt and eat some sopa, and asked us if we could let in two more couchsurfers that night – a Brazilian and a Swiss guy coming in from Mexico – who could stay in her room. So that night, law student Abi had four strangers in her apartment, two of which she’d spent ten minutes with and two who she’d never met. Without her there, it was just us, the TV, the laptop, all the other valuables, and the keys. Beautiful trust, unwavering hospitality.

Once we moved to Javier’s house, he introduced me to his ex, Gabriela, and her pareja Jaime who were the owners of the contemporary Galeria del Barrio in Chorillos, which was right across the street. My first job. I don’t remember what it paid, only that my wage was measured more in weed, beer, and pisco than in plata – it was perfect. Once a month I would help set up the upcoming exhibition: take down the works, plaster the holes and chunks of wall that didn’t want to hang in there anymore (it was one of the oldest buildings in the area and one of the few that had survived the War of the Pacific), hang the new works, and play doorman/”security” (me, security, ha!) on inauguration night. During those pre-exhibition days I would always eat with and sometimes stay with Gabriela, Jaime and René who also worked at the gallery and helped around the house. Those avo buns! That fresh papaya juice!!

Barranco, Lima, Peru

Lima / Peru · 2013    snug by the sea


After Marie had left for France and I couldn’t stay any longer at Javier’s, I couchsurfed with Claudio who created crossword puzzles for the large local newspapers. He did well for himself and his house in Surco was mighty fine. Literal couchsurfing this time. I lived on that living room couch for more than two months while I kept hunting for grimy jobs, for anything at all. Once, Claudio told me about a casting he’d heard about. They were looking for a westerner to shoot an ad. A two-headed film crew came over with some terracotta products or something completely different I don’t remember, which I was to promote with a wide smile. We tried in the cute patio out back and in the living room, but no matter how many times the director lady told me to smile wider, I couldn’t produce any more fake emotion for that stupid whatever it was. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to sell my soul for that little bit of money, just that my physiology didn’t comply. Eventually, they gave up and unshackled me. It went without saying that I wouldn’t get the part I had dirtied myself for.


Lima / Peru · 2013    patio oasis



Lima / Peru · 2013    business noncasual


Another time I borrowed Claudio’s shoes to complete a business look I had spent some of my last pennies on – pants, shirt, tie. Sales. I remember something like a classroom with about twenty other aspirants, each of us sitting at our own little desk like in high school if that’s even possible? I must misremember. What I do know for certain is that the whole thing was completely commission-based, which we only learned at the very end (and long after I had bought that soulless outfit). Another waste of time. Then again, I had a lot of time to waste in those days as I didn’t do much more than exist and spend solid chunks of that existence streaming Game of Thrones on the little, shitty phone I’d just bought after being phoneless for a year. My laptop had broken down and then been stolen, but at least in that order. My camera didn’t work either and I didn’t care enough for photography in those days to get it fixed, so I don't have many pictures of that life. Sometimes I walked Leica, Claudio’s fluffy, white, ornery dog. Claudio’s cook would prepare entire human meals for her too, which were stacked in the freezer once a week. She was a princess if I’ve ever seen one.

Barranco, Lima, Peru

Lima / Peru · 2013    full frame


I sent out a whole rainbow of job applications in those days, making my eagerness known to the nonprofit and private sector alike, but everybody seemed to be doing just fine without me. Since the gallery job was only a monthly gig, I checked up my sleeve and found one little trick left up there. A day later, quite a few lampposts in my barrio were one flyer richer – private language lessons. A bunch of slips with my contact information hang from that silly thing like a fringe of teeth. It wasn’t a dead end, but certainly a very short ride. One lesson at the fine home of a limeño journalist and editor whose name was big enough for Gabriela and Jaime to know him. We hit it off well, or as well as I believed, but I never saw him again. He went on a vacation and either forgot about all the fun we had, or we hadn’t had any from where he’d been sitting at that tasteful living room table.


At some point the project at Javier’s company started and that was a bit of pocket money. It was a green consulting firm and that’s the short version of what I did for a living then: participate in a project for a green consulting firm. The longer, truer version is this: a pharmaceutical brand wanted an analysis of the trash produced at their branches and production sites, which meant I would go there, put on a tarp-like industrial apron and gloves, and dig into piles of trash that I was to separate into trash categories which included absolutely every substance in the universe, and in Latin America that also meant toilet paper and feminine hygiene products. The amount of blood I found in there at times left me convinced that these women couldn’t have possibly left the building alive, not without providing blood transfusions on the way out. One site was right by the airport in Callao, which was about ten kilometers from my couch residence in Surco. That bus ride was a three-hour voyage. Ah, these micros – thirty people in a family minivan, at every corner one person screaming “baaaajaaaa” to get off and five more people hopping on. Delight-full.

Bags of trash

Lima / Peru · 2013    trash buffet


Despite all the heavy help I got from my beloved limeños, the city wasn’t exactly bombarding me with jobs, so when my mini-career in garbage ended, I transitioned back to volunteering. I moved into a Christian orphanage a little outside of Lima, where I shared a bunk in the elder boys’ dorm. Some 5ams and ice-cold morning showers later, it was like I’d never lived anywhere else. About a hundred kids of all ages – from babies to 17-year-olds – lived in the gigantic turquoise building which had an institutional vibe somewhere between school, hospital, and government office. Lots of ghost stories going around, not just among the kids, the most famous ghost being that of a girl who’d jumped off the roof where the laundry always swayed so cheerfully.


The kids were split across gender and age, and each group had a caretaker, some of which stern as walruses, others loving like jelly. On-site psychologist helped with the kid’s monsters. The machinery was run by a holy trinity: founder Papa Roberto, his right-hand brain Tio Tom, and errand boy Joven Walter. Papa Roberto only showed up on occasion, Tio Tom ruled out of his office at the far end of that massive concrete cluster, and Joven Walter buzzed in and out with his muscular pickup truck and his down-to-earth air. I liked him. I arrived alongside an entire, organized group of European volunteers from Italy, Spain, and France. We all hit it off more than well and our jobs varied from loving these kids and helping them with chores and homework to maintenance, paint jobs, kitchen duties, and all other sorts of tasks and activities.


The place had its own little chapel, library, and farm. Camote for breakfast, rice and veggies and meat for lunch and dinner. You would know that pork was on the menu as soon as the pigs knew that pork was on the menu. That’s when they started squealing and that’s all they did for those last minutes of their lives before they were stunned and slaughtered. The next day, a pig head would look at you from inside the giant stockpot when you’d pour seconds into your soup bowl. The kids walked a difficult line between brotherhood and adversariness, and all of them were strong beyond their years – sage Emilio, daredevilish Miguel-Angel, gentle Alejandro, muscular Kevin. And then there was Diego, 15 on paper, but smarter and better-read than most 55-year-olds. Once a month, I went back to the city to work at the gallery for some days and I felt like living a double life – the contrast between Lima’s art scene and the orphanage was like a sledgehammer on the nose.

Kids at a children's home near Lima

Lima / Peru · 2013    little heroes





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