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.
passages CHANGE | Peeking out through the tiny peephole of our perishable human dimension, earth seems immutable. Rock-solid cliffs look like they always have been and always will be. Yet, the face of the earth 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 society has its say, pushing or erasing 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.
passages 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.
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
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
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 / 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 / Peru · 2013 empty outside
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.
Paracas / Peru · 2013 red beach
Paracas / Peru · 2013 fishing armada
Machu Picchu / We Knew More Then
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!!
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.
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.
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.
Lima / Peru · 2013 little heroes
when you set out to see Everest, but Everest doesn’t care