world traveler
    clown tom bolton

photos and stories of Tom's adventures in south america - peru
...Ruins and wonders of Peru...

I made 2 trips to Peru, the first a continuation of a trip from Ecuador in early 1994, which went as far as Lima. The second trip was early '96 and started from Lima and continued on through the southern part of the country. My impression coming from Ecuador is that Peru was livelier in both good and bad ways. More people begging and trying to short change one as a gringo. Yet many incidents of generosity and curiosity by people who hadn't seen any tourists for a long time due to the shinning path insurgency. Some of the people (often attractive women) who approached me might have been ones looking for a rich foreigner to either marry or do some dirty business with yet many seemed genuinely interested just to chat. Seeing tourists arrive being like the first flowers signaling the coming of spring after a long, hard winter. I do remember once having a guy hassle me for money because "it was his land, his culture and his landscapes". I replied that he was wearing jeans, drinking a coke and most likely watches TV and Hollywood films which all come from my culture - so maybe he should pay me! And as much as I regret how the Spanish conquered Latin America, the history of Peru is full of conquests, the Incas just being the last of the big native groups to beat up on some other culture before Europeans arrived.

Machu Picchu

One of the big attractions in Peru is of course the many ruins left by the Incas and other ancient cultures. Truly deserving it's reputation as a man made wonder, Machu Picchu, has the advantage of being set in a natural wonder of steep, cloudy peaks. One takes the train from the old city of Cusco. So many thieves and bag snatchers worked this train, watching their attempts were entertainment in it's own right. Then a bus takes you up a long winding road. Its breath taking but such a hard to reach place, you wonder how it was found again none-the-less ever built. Some hardy tourists trek a section of the old Inca trail in or out of Machu Picchu. When I asked one such adventurer what I missed, he said it was ten days of cold torrential rain and mud. Sorry I was on too tight of a schedule to enjoy that. It's speculated that this was a religious center but who really knows. Just the scale of the rugged mountains and jungle made me wonder how a small bunch of Spaniards could cross an ocean and conquer an entire empire. Yeah, they had steel swords, armor and horses but the Incas were experienced warriors as well. The expression "live by the sword, die by the sword" comes to mind.

machu picchu peru travels

This shot is from just below the view from the previous one but the lamas fit so symbolically to this place. There are often clouds at these high peaks but the sun broke through just as I arrived. It was humorous on the bus ride down from the ruins. Some boys ran straight down a steep path which shortcut through all the winds of the road. They yelled greetings to us in the bus again and again as we would drive by and make the next hairpin turn. They deservingly got a tip from most of us when we disembarked below.

machu picchu peru photography

machu picchu peru archeology

Ventanillas de Otuzco

I had stopped in the city of Cajamarca, which was attractive, but I found the people rather aggressive towards tourists. There I made a daytrip 8 kilometers to Vantanillas de Otuzco, which are burial niches carved into the hillsides as seen below. Different Indian groups in this part of northern Peru had ceremonially mummified people which where often place in niches or caves in often very inaccessible cliff sides. The dry climate has helped preserve these mummies some of which are said to be the oldest in the world. As the Incan empire conquered these regions they incorporated some of these religious burial methods.

machu picchu otuzco tombs

I also went to the ruin of Cumbe Mayo, which is an ancient aqueduct system at 3000 meters, which redirected water from the Atlantic to the Pacific watershed. The irrigation it provided makes this project a significant landmark in the history of agricultural development. Unfortunately, none of these sites looked worth using my film on. This was an extensive ruin called Kuelap near the city of Chachapoyas in northern Peru. It is not as spectacular but is bigger and higher than Machu Picchu and is supposed to have been built by a culture that predates the Inca Empire. It is very remote, not that the terrain was so rugged but there simply weren't any good roads connecting the area to the coast. It was beautiful but was quite an adventure to get there.

Kuelap

Continuing up into the highlands from Cajamarca, I reached the village of Celendin. Seems they rarely saw foreigners there and people kept mentioning the 2 bicyclists that had passed through 2 weeks, or maybe it was 2 months before. There was a road that would circle around up to Chachapoyas, a hundred miles or so away. But word was that there was just one bus a week and we had just missed it the day before, or maybe not. I had hooked up with 2 young English guys and we got up at 4 am to try to get the bus that some people claimed would probably, maybe, perhaps come. And if not the bus then a truck would surely come - or so many people believed. But we waited all morning to no avail and went back to the hotel to sleep the afternoon away. With hindsight, I think we would have found something if we had stuck it out for the rest of the day or the next day but we were impatient. So we did the only sure thing. We went back down to Cajamarca, down to Chiclayo on the coast and swung north and from there up to Chachapoyas. A diversion of around 800 kilometers down and up the Andes! I mostly grabbed some small provisions from kiosks in the bus stations on this journey so I didn't eat properly for a couple of days. Remember passing on the opportunity to buy a loaf of "Molde" brand bread, which didn't sound so appealing despite my lack of food.

machu picchu peru ruins

The area around Chachapoyas was full of ruins in addition to Kuelap. I made a day trip to Yalape near Levanto, which was recommended by the South American Handbook. Had to take a taxi to get there and although it covered an extensive area, it was overgrown with brush and thorns. They had cut down many large trees in recent years to "clear" the ruin but this just gave the opportunity for the fast-growing small brush to take over so that one needed a machete to explore. I think the S.A. Handbook was perhaps a little off on this tip but otherwise was a great source of information that surpassed the Lonely Planet guides in both detail and breadth of coverage by a long shot.

Chan Chan

Near the northern city of Trujillo, third largest in Peru, there are extensive ruins of a city called Chan Chan, which is claimed to have been the largest pre-Columbian city in South America. It was the capital of the Chimor culture until the Incas conquered it in the 15th century. Most of this coast is desert but the Moche River, one of the few starting in the Andes that runs to the pacific, leaves this area fertile. The city was built of adobe walls, which were often decorated by inscriptions of animals. One can still make out figures but I suspect many of them have been extensively "redone". The remains are threatened by looters and excessive weather caused by el Niño. Despite what one might expect, there are few, if any, nice beaches on most of the northern Peruvian coast with the exception of the fishing village of Huanchaco. The water is cold for swimming and most of the towns seem to live from their fish canneries which always had a fishy, metallic stink that burned your sinuses from dozens of miles away.

machu picchu peru chan chan

machu picchu peru archeology

Chavin

Going south from Trujillo, I stopped in the small town of Casma intending to go to the ruins of Sechin. There was no transportation anymore and rather then spend an extra day, I continued up into the highlands once again, this time to the run down looking village of Huaraz. The English guys I had been traveling with stayed to see Sechin, which they said, was disappointing because it was mostly roped off for restoration work. Huaraz was not an especially beautiful area except for the good views of a chain of snow-capped high peaks. On the trip I noticed bags of coca leaves for sale at the small shops by the bus stations. To think what a stink they make about such drugs in the west and there one could choose a 1-kilo, 2-kilo or the family-sized 50-kilo bag! This area is prone to earthquakes and in one restaurant they had signs everywhere of which way to run in case of a quake. Looked like it was split into smoking, non-smoking and earthquake sections. From Huaraz I did a day-trip to the ruin at Chavin de Huántar. The highpoint is the temple, shown below, which takes about 2 hours to be guided through. It is built mostly underground with dark, narrow passages and adorned with many intricate stone carvings. It was built with a drainage systems due to the heavy rains but I felt a bit claustrophobic thinking what might happen if a tremor hit.

chavin peru archeology

Both inside and out were many carved stone heads

chavin peru carvings

There were also elaborate etchings showing such crazy figures like this one with snakes coming out of his head like hair.

chavin peru art

The village of Chavin impressed me as being quaint and I did a very nice show on the main plaza and in return the kids sang me two songs. The whole Huaraz area also looked to be a great place to do some hard core trekking or climbing but as I didn't have the proper equipment and had been having some problems with my asthma, I didn't attempt such an excursion.

...in and around cusco...

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire when the Spanish arrived. After conquering the city, the Spanish built many beautiful colonial buildings, often on top of Incan foundations. It's a nice town to stroll around and I never had trouble but met many people who had been robbed here (Lima is even worse) and locals sometimes warned me that certain areas are risky. Around the central plaza was a lot of nightlife and although my hotel was just 6 blocks away it was worth a dollar to take a taxi at night be to safe. There is a lot of poverty in the highlands and thieves know there will always be a stream of tourists here. Best not to wear any jewelry, just a cheap watch and above, all be aware of your surroundings.

Thieves are like any predators; they look for the easy victims. In any third world country one can find large strong sacks used to sell rice in the markets. Melt some holes for the shoulder straps and make a cover for your backpack. It is good protection against dust but mainly it makes it look incognito. Sometimes you travel on a bus and have to put your pack somewhere you can't watch it every second. A nice backpack is a target, what looks like a sack of rice isn't. A daypack should stay with you, if you put a backpack in an overhead rack, fasten it to the rack with the belt strap or else it can be quickly grabbed and thrown out a window to a thief's accomplice. Some travelers add a layer of chicken wire to guard against bag slashers but this can make it awkward to access your pack yourself and I never found it necessary.

cusco peru adventure views

cusco peru adventure travels

cusco peru lamas in street

This is a large church on the corner off of the main plaza of Cusco. The stairs were a popular place for both tourists and locals to hangout in the late afternoons to watch the people go by. I made a couple of short shows here, which was great because it was like a filled theater and yes, the crowd pictured below was one of my audiences.

cusco peru adventure travels

Main plaza on the other side of the church

cusco peru adventure travels

sacsayhuaman

Close to Cusco is the ancient Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, extensions of which continued to be discovered and unearthed in the time I visited. Not just the scale of the ruin is impressive but also the massiveness of the nearly house-sized stones. Although irregularly shaped, they fit together with absolute perfection like a huge puzzle. Built for the defence of Cusco, it played an important part during the battles with the Spanish, who managed to capture it and then use it's position to hold out against the much larger Incan force. I went to visit it with a Peruvian woman who had immigrated to England. She felt so annoyed that they demanded the tourist price from her rather than the local price that she insisted that we sneak in instead. We did manage but only after being comically followed around for an hour or so by some locals. We ever so nonchalantly walked around, often circling back and forth, looking over the barbed wire fences with the guards just waiting to catch us trying to gain entrance. One caught up with us as we were leaving and demanded money but we just jumped in a taxi and took off. My suggestion is to just pay the fee and have your peace. One usually has to buy a combination ticket for multiple sites around Cusco, so one ends up paying one way or the other anyway.

cusco peru ruins south america

These women in their traditional dress were grazing their lamas at Sacsayhuaman but I think it was no coincidence that they chose such a tourist visited spot as they could always beg a few donations for having their picture taken.

cusco peru south america

A few kids were also playing music by the site. They were more or less posing for pictures but such costumes and scenes are still common sights during any festival.

cusco peru adventure travels

cusco peru musician boy

cusco peru musician girl

...ain't heavy, he's my brother...

He ain't heavy, he's my brother. Yeah, this is a typical sight all over the third world, kids not only taking care on their younger siblings but also often carrying them strapped to their back.

peru south america photos

peru south america photos

I guess this child had no older sibling to watch her so while the mother sold things in the market they kept her in a box.

peru market travels

This little girl got an ice cream in the market. I avoided eating ice cream in warm countries if the refrigeration might be in question since the risk of bacterial contamination is very high. I have rarely had stomach problems on my travels but did eat a couple of bad meals and once came down with giardia in Peru. There were warnings of typhoid and even cholera in some coastal areas, which I luckily never experienced.

peru travels photography

Plenty of cattle, bulls, lamas, sheep, hares and guinea pigs were offered in the markets. Guinea pigs are considered a delicacy in Peru and Ecuador. One saw them roasted on a spit in the markets although they could have been rats for all I knew. Wasn't easy to find vegetarian food in Peru but sights like that were an inspiration. Many times I ordered something vegetarian only to find meat in it anyway. Thankfully, there were restaurants run by the Hari Krishnas in most bigger cities, which were always wholesome, and strictly vegan.

peru markets vacation

...lima and the la tarumba circus school...

I both ended my first trip to Peru and started the second one in Lima. It's a very hectic city where one has to take a lot of care. The center of the old city would normally be one of the worst areas but was also the most patrolled by police. On my first trip, I once returned at around 4 am from a night out and walked through much of the center. The biggest risk was not from thieves but from the jittery police who were heavily armed and positioned on virtually every corner. The Shinning Path insurgency had just recently ended (with an occasional hold out) and the security measures were still to be seen. One of capital's big attractions was the gold museum, which was protected like it was Fort Knox. Things were much calmer in the swanky suburbs of Miraflores and Barranco but even by the beach there I saw thieves snatching things out of the windows of cars when they stopped for a light.

I was in a trendy bar in the upscale Lima suburb of Barranco when I met Michelle. She saw me checking out the photo exhibition on the wall and asked me if I wasn't also a photographer or an artist like herself. I replied that I took photos but was a juggler and professional clown. To my surprise, she said that her Argentinean boyfriend was also a juggler and did I know of the local circus school and theater group? The next day we met and she took me to "La Tarumba" They teach circus skills and music to kids and bring messages of hope and fairness to an impoverished country, which was emerging from years of civil unrest. They inspired me that a clown can actually impact society as a whole. I could show the kids some new juggling tricks and once I got back to Europe managed to write a story about them for the juggling magazine Kaskade and get some props donated for them. I found that a few people were very generous yet many manufacturers of juggling equipment were too stingy to give anything. The people of La Tarumba repaid this generosity many times over by picking me up at the airport and putting me up on my second visit to Peru. And when I made a later trip to Argentina, they lined me up with a place to stay with an instructor for the local circus school there as well.

lima peru circus school

La Tarumba was helped by an old actress who gave them a villa, which became home to their school. The courtyard has a circus tent like covering to protect them from the harsh sun. They have strung up trapezes and high wires so they really have a lot of the needed training equipment. The place is rather ideal except that the backside borders the busiest highways through the city. There are walls and fences that separate the highway so traffic is no danger to the kids but the noise is rather relentless and the air quality through Lima is terrible. What they most hoped for was technical advise like how to make proper safety riggings. I tried to contact Cirque du Monde, a part of Cirque du Soleil that is supposed to be helping such third world circus projects. I don't know what they really do but they didn't respond to my requests. More recently, I contacted them about a circus school in Nicaragua and waited about 9 months to get a bullshit excuse that they can't help everybody. Cirque du Soliel has created some interesting things but their hyped-up contributions to the third world seem questionable. Looks to me like they are more interested in maintaining a supply of trained cheap, labor from the third world with motives of more profits rather than altruism. Luckily, La Tarumba seems to have prospered anyway having even fulfilled their dream of getting a circus tent for traveling shows.

lima peru circus school

I threw this photo in here becasue it is the only one I have of me in Peru actually getting a crowd to make a little show. Somehow it is in with my photos from the highland area of Huaraz but I can't confirm exactly where. The trees and my memory tell me it was near the coast but I don't believe it was around Lima.

lima peru street show

...peruvian highlands...

My travels through Peru were on rickety old buses, many of which were old American school buses. The people there are relatively small but it is still cramped to be in vehicles made to transport kids. Like in the picture, many of the mountains were terraced for agriculture. But such slopes don't lend themselves well to use of tractors even if the people could afford them so people seemed destined to scratching out a living on small plots of land.

peru highlands mountains

On my second trip to Peru, I flew from Lima to Arequipa in the south of Peru. From there I took a bus into the highlands, climbing the altiplano and going through considerable amounts of snow before descending to Chivay, which is a good base to visit the Colca Canyon and do walks in the valley. As seen below, the canyon is typically shrouded in mist. It is not particularly wide but is the deepest canyon in the world. The mid-day sun managed to burn away some of the fog yet clear views of the bottom weren't to be had while I was there.

peru colca canyon

A big attraction is to spot condors soaring through the mist taking advantage of the updrafts. I got some clear photos of the 3 condors I saw but they are very far away. I'm including this one which was close by and although it was mistly, that just added to the mystique.

peru colca canyon condor

The Colca Valley.

peru colca canyon

Carnival celebrations.

Like in most of Latin America, there are lots of public celebrations at Carnival time. The celebrations, photographed below had started while I was in Chivay to visit the Colca Canyon and continued on the following days.

peru traveler photos

south america peru journey

south america peru journey

south america peru journey

Although a longer distance, the best way to continue on to my next destination, the city of Puno by Lake Titicaca, was to go down to Arequipa and take a train back up.

...puno, sillustani and floating islands...

I based myself in the town of Puno from which I made many excursions, like visiting the ruin of Sillustani overlooking lake Umayo, which I found attractive but nothing majestic. There are circular funeral towers called chullpas, which are found through out the Andes, but the bigger ones here were built in a very complex method unique to the local Colla tribe.

lake titicaca sillustani

There were also many small, basic chullpas like these pictures below but what a view. Was a common factor to most religiously associated ruins that they had great outlooks, which makes for sensible defence but I tend to think they were primarily chosen for their inspirational natural beauty.

lake titicaca peru photography

I then visited the island of Tequile where nearly everything was closed for the holidays. I also took a "floating island tour". There are groups of Uro Indians that live on artificial islands in the lake constructed out of reeds. Seemed like an unpractical place to live but maybe it was easier to defend against attack in times past. The guy below is poling along in his traditional reed boat.

lake titicaca peru photography

The islands, houses and boats were all constructed out of totara reeds whose inner part near the roots is both edible and used for medical purposes.

lake titicaca peru stories

The selling of souvenirs to tourists seemed to be their main occupation supplanting the catching of fish and birds.

lake titicaca floating island

A little girl on one of the reed islands.

lake titicaca peru photos

From Puno I traveled on to Bolivia

So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last twenty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!

To book or see more information about Tom's clown show and entertainment, click: www.clowntombolton.com
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copyright © 2007 Tom Bolton


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