Peru of the Missing Thing

Vicuno - sign
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.

Camels are actually distant relatives of the vicuñas we saw in Peru

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.

Transportation? No.

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.

Titi transport
It’s not every day we are rowed between floating islands in reed boats, but that wasn’t enough to make transportation the thing
Train views
Inside and outside the observation car of our PeruRail transport between Puno and Cuzco we saw a lot of things but not THE thing

Construction? Meh.

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.

Areq collage
Arequipa is known for flamboyant architecture. A guide told us the old city was once as colorful as a Provençal tablecloth but were stripped to basic white by a mayor who thought the all-white theme might make more tourism. True or not, the “white city” is a visitor magnet.

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.

Titi terraces
Our guide said these terraces on the natural island of Tarquile are 3,000 years old
Titi collage 2
The men at the top are excavating reed roots to serve as island foundations (lower left); the boaters are transporting cut reeds to refresh the surface of islands they have already built. The islands don’t float away because the islanders anchor them. If they want to move, they just weigh anchors and float to a new spot.

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.

Inca blocks
We knew the mortarless walls of the Incas were an architectural wonder but never realized they were based on a system of interlocking blocks

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.

The sight of housing spilling down hillsides in the background may be photogenic to tourists but is often a sign of poverty and deprivation above Peruvian cities, including Cuzco

Pachamama? Naw.

That’s Pachamama in the middle (sort of)

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

Food 1
Yummy but not the thing

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.

Areq - oven
A kitchen stove that once fed nuns
Spinning as it has been done on Lake Titicaca for millennia
Flamingoes on the Peruvian Altiplano
Convent tree
Color as it used to fill old Arequipa
A window into the past on PeruRail
Machu Picchu in the clear 

Your Thing?

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.

The Thing Meister on the other side of the lens

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



10 thoughts on “Peru of the Missing Thing

  1. Thank you Photo Meister and Word Mistress for taking us along on your quest to uncover The Thing. But. As you well know, it’s the journey, not The Thing destination, that matters. Kudos for a great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I wasn’t seeking “the thing” about Peru so I appreciated your comment that perhaps Peru has so much “richness” that it could have a single thing. I loved the way the ancient stones fit together in Cusco, the natural dyes in textiles, the day long dance festival that broke out in Cusco for which everyone we asked gave a different rationale, the look on my son’s seven year old face to see alpacas scampering around Machu Picchu, the fresco in Cusco cathedral of the last dinner with Jesus and the disciples eating, yes, guinea pig!;)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And somehow. . . . somehow. . . . .somehow. . . .you two storytellers have beautifully crafted a Thing out of No Thing. Loved this post! That’s why I love you two! Thanks once again, for the magic. Be safe and stay sane.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. More Please on the Floating Islands! What are they used for? How large are they? Are they like houseboats or farm belts? When did they start? And did the desert “Floating Island” originate here? (I know they are french, but I can’t resist bringing the conversation back to food!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure the WordPress comment function is robust enough to handle all the answers, Megan, but here goes…. There are about a hundred islands floating in a couple areas of the lake. One group (Uros) welcomes visitors during a limited number of hours every day (or to a home stay), the other does not. Some are just big enough for a couple, others are occupied by many families. They used to be very primitive, but some now have electricity powered by solar cells. They were first devised eons ago, before the Spanish, by indigenous groups seeking safety from other groups. Everything is built out of reeds – the islands, the houses, the boats (now supplemented by aluminum boats with outboard islands). They look just like land if land were covered with reeds and spongy to walk on like a very firm trampoline. Our guide kept warning us to walk in the middle so we wouldn’t fall through an edge! (Good work getting back to food; all we can say on that score is that they also eat the reeds.)


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