Peru was the 20th country we visited on a one-year, round-the-world journey that took us to 23 countries on six of the seven continents.
There is a magic to Peru. Perhaps it's the elevation – most of your time here is probably going to be spent in excess of 9,000 feet. Grab some coca leaves as you leave the airport, where they hand it out for free to help ward off the symptoms of altitude sickness. Our stay in Cusco, an old, picturesque city that mixes a Catholic, Spanish colonial past with an even older indigenous, nature-based, Mother Earth world view, was full of opportunities to photograph architecture, people and plazas.
You can see this Inca-Conquistador duality in some of the most prominent buildings in Cusco. For example, the main Catholic cathedral was once an Incan temple, The foundation of the building still displays the classic stone-cutting skills of the Inca artisans, while the rest of the building is in white stucco typical of the Spanish colonizers at the time.
Outside of Cusco, you enter the Sacred Valley of the Inca. The opportunities for travel and landscape photography here are enormous. The Andes range towers over the old pre-Columbian valley towns of Ollantaytambo, Chincheros, Pisac, Maras, Moray and Aguas Calientes. The colorful traditional clothing and customs of the population, many of whom are descendants of the Inca, are like eye candy for a camera.
Of course, the crowning jewel of Peru, and the one most visitors come to see, is Machu Picchu, the mountaintop Inca stronghold that sits high in the clouds. Machu Picchu, also known as "The Lost City of the Inca," remained buried in the jungle, known perhaps to only a handful of locals, until a Yale University archaeology professor named Hiram Bingham in the early 20th century brought it to the attention of the world. Graphic, dreamlike images of Huanya Picchu, the mountain that overlooks the ruins of Machu Picchu, will float in and out of your imagination for the rest of your life once you see the images in this collection or visit it in person. One also can't help but marvel at the incredible skills of the Inca stonecutters who fitted together huge slabs of rock so snugly that not even a knife can be wedged in the cracks between them. And the stone walls, terraces and buildings have for the most part held together for centuries without any mortar.
On our return trip to Cusco after leaving Machu Picchu, we stopped at Lake Piuray, where I had an opportunity to photograph an elderly Quechuan woman who neither spoke Spanish or English, only her native tongue. I was told by a guide who knew her that she was a widow and over 90 years old by now. Despite her age, she labored in her vegetable garden picking weeds with the strength and stamina of a woman half her age. I could barely contain my excitement at the prospect of photographing her. She had so much character in her face. Even her bare, tan feet, covered in soil, spoke volumes to the kind of life she had known. "These will be the best portraits of anyone I've taken on this round-the-world trip," I thought to myself as a put my camera away. You be the judge. But to me, they are priceless.
© Stuart L Gordon Photography