When we are all over the place in the world, the observations that become our Partout blogs typically come to us easily and spontaneously. Between ourselves, we call these themes “the thing.” (That’s TV talk; newsprint Doris would be more inclined to call them “the hook” or “the angle,” but she is happy to learn new tricks.)
Finding “the thing” is a source of constant pleasure for us, old newsies that we are. We enjoy viewing our destinations through the familiar journalistic lens that seeks what is new, different, illuminating and even entertaining. Camel races in Dubai, for example, had “the thing” written all over them.
But hunt though we did, Peru refused to yield up the thing. Of course, we were dazzled, educated and feasted. We gasped and gawked and all the rest. But nothing, isolated or combined, ever grabbed us as the story we had to share.
We considered transportation. Having traveled by reed boat on Lake Titicaca and to Cuzco by the world’s highest regularly scheduled train, “trains, planes and automobiles” had a bit of the thing going for them. But who hasn’t been on trains, planes and automobiles, even unusual ones? Scratch that.
Construction was a stronger candidate. Besides speaking to Doris’s trademark Chix with Bricks past, we saw building projects in Peru like none we had ever seen before.
In Arequipa, we learned that only a generation ago, all the white surfaces that have made Peru’s second-largest metropolis known as “the white city” were brightly colored in red, blue and yellow. An inventive mayor decreed that all the color be stripped off to give the city a unique marketing hook. It worked.
On Lake Titicaca, there were the millenniums-old terraces on the natural island of Tarquile and the floating islands of Uros, marvels of reed construction that residents rebuild from their roots up every five years.
And, of course, there was Machu Picchu, the Inca sanctuary of stones like Brobdingnagian LEGO blocks, still standing strong more than 500 years and countless earthquakes later. What a professional boom that 50-year project was, requiring architects, astronomers, agricultural and civil engineers, geologists and more.
Also on the theme of construction, albeit grimmer, were what the locals call “invasions”: pop-up communities where impoverished Peruanos claim a scrap of land too undesirable for anyone to want, erect a shelter and squat – without electricity or running water – until they can claim ownership. We saw them almost everywhere we went.
Pachamama was another possibility. In Inca legend, Pachamama (or Mama Pacha) was a fertility goddess, mother of the moon goddess and sun god (and maybe his wife, too). Because she was embodied in mountains, she was also inseparable from Machu Picchu. For all the colonialization and Catholic conversion, she remains today the Mother Earth of the Andes. During our Peruvian blitz, we heard about her in song and story and saw her in art and architecture. More subtly, we glimpsed her enduring importance in the innumerable public admonishments around using plastic containers, paper towels, straws of all kind, even paper receipts from ATM machines. She is definitely the thing for Andean cultures; she just didn’t stick as ours.
In Lieu of a Thing, Everything
In the end, we decided that maybe our aperture was too narrow. In Peru, perhaps, there are too many things for a single “thing.” The thing about Peru was everything: timeless culture, astonishing artifacts, breathtaking landscape, enduring mysticism, lively cities, old-world luxury, gastronomic food.
Fortunately, even when we do not have a thing, we do have the Thing Meister: Louis and his camera. He may not have caught everything, but he captured many things that taken together, might just be the thing. Here are a few of our favorites.
Please! If you beat us to Peru (as so many of you did), let us know if and where you spotted the thing. Just hit “Comment” and share with us all.
Tips from the Partout toolbox: Anyone who travels internationally knows the dismay of being faced with a screen filled with indecipherable language. Especially when undertaking vital chores like checking into flights, being abandoned to the local tongue can be frustrating and a little scary. Our fix is to set Google as our browser whenever nothing but English will do. Unlike Safari (the default on our Apple devices), Google automatically translates to English, saving us time and mistakes.
COMING SOON! Machu Picchu Beyond What Meets the Eye