Cusco, Peru, heart of the ancient Inca Empire, is the jewel of South America. Photographers from around the world converge to admire the distinct Spanish colonial architecture and mysterious Inca stonework.
Nowhere is the Inca's finely attuned natural aesthetic and mastery of stone more visible than in the citadel of Machu Picchu, a site so well hidden, it escaped Spanish destruction, and was only "discovered" by American Hiram Bingham approximately 100 years ago.
Despite centuries of Spanish domination and imposition of their culture, religion and language, remnants of the Inca civilization remain to this day, squired away in isolated pockets of the Andes, where Quechua, the Inca's language, is spoken exclusively, and residents' knowledge of the world is limited to their particular valley, with ancient superstitions still prevalent.
It is these people we will seek out on our journey to the fabled Qoylluri'ti Festival, a once-a-year pilgrimage that forms the centerpiece of local Andean community life. The Qoylluri'ti is a celebration of animist pre-colonial beliefs, such as the Apus, or mountain spirits, mixed with Catholicism. For an entire week, Andean peoples from across the region gather in a high, glacier-encircled valley, 10km from the nearest roads to dance, pray, and share stories. There are even groups from the coast and the Amazon who participate in an atmosphere of welcoming fraternity.
The Qoylluri'ti Festival is more than a religious event; it is also a great source of community pride, with costumed groups dancing, around the clock, in an attempt to out-do their mountain neighbors. The whip is frequently included in these rituals, some of which involve consensual, forceful flagellation of fellow group members as a means to demonstrate group unity.
The costumes they wear are blindingly colorful, often festooned with strange symbolisms such as open bottles of rubbing alcohol and plastic doll heads to ward off evil spirits. Full facial masks hide the identities of the dancers, who, in a surreal twist, adopt eerie falsetto voices to further obscure their identity. Some masks feature grotesquely exaggerated facial features, whose sexual suggestiveness purportedly lends to their power. The costumes fall within one of three distinct categories, with each filling a specific role in the festival. There is even a costumed group tasked with patrolling the festival to ensure it remains peaceful, and alcohol free.
After this once-in-a-lifetime experience, we will drive back to Cusco and then to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (and home to landlocked neighbor Bolivia's navy). Lake Titicaca is so huge that from its shores, one can observe the curvature of the Earth, as high mountains and clouds appear to sink lower and lower into the horizon as the Earth curves away beneath.
In Titicaca, we will travel to three islands to observe and photograph the traditional way of life of the residents in a comfortable home-stay program. From there, we will travel to the shoreline city of Puno to experience one final night in the Andes, before visiting the hilltop Inca ruins of Sillustani, where certain artifacts have strange magnetic properties, before flying back to Lima to conclude the tour with a farewell dinner and flights home the next day.
Detailed Itinerary June 10-20, 2014 See http://mattgranger.com/Peru2014
Day 1: Arrive Lima
Day 2: Lima Tour
Day 3: Lima-Cusco
Day 4: Cusco-Sacred Valley-Aguas Calientes
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Day 6: Qoylluri'ti Festival
Today is the centerpiece of our trip, and while it will be a very long day, the sacrifice will be well worth it. We will rise at 4:00a.m. for a 5:00 departure in our private bus to the Cordillera Vilcanota, stopping along the way to photograph the incredible views of the towering Ausangate Mountain. If possible, we will stop in the village of Ocongate or Tinqui to photograph the traditionally dressed locals, whose clothing will be very different from that we'll see in other regions.
Day 7: Cusco-Puno
Day 8: Lake Titicaca
Day 9: Lake Titicaca - Taquile - Puno
Day 10: Puno - Sillustani - Lima
Day 11 - Lima - International Departure