Tag Archives: Peru

Machu Picchu Baby

sketch of baby Llama

"Machu Picchu Baby", mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

When I downloaded this from my “Daily Sketch” folder I had to chuckle – daily has become more like weekly, but this too shall pass.  Life gets in the way, some months more than others.  This was one of the babies we saw roaming around the terrace pastures at Machu Picchu last month.  Our guide said she was probably about a day old, and Corey pointed out that her ears were so soft and floppy she looked like a Dr. Seuss cartoon.  That and her crooked little grin were so endearing!

This was water color and colored pencil, with just a bit of Photoshop tweaking to put more contrast on the right side of the sketch.

Sugar Loaf of the Inca

“Clash of Culture” hardly does justice to what happened when the Spanish showed up in South America with Salvation (and vast treasure) on their minds.  Every time these histories were recounted during our visit to Peru, I kept thinking back to being a kid in Klamath Falls, Oregon and watching the devastation of the tribes and the tribal lands there.  I never really understood what was going on at the time, but it was still actively being pursued in the 1950s and 1960s–although Americans prefer to not discuss it.   I think one major difference between our interactions with the Native Americans (especially on the West Coast) and the Spanish interactions with the Incas several hundred years earlier was that our diseases did a more thorough job of wiping out the populations, thus there were fewer folks left to offer any resistance.  The Spanish brought disease, too of course, but somehow there were more folks left who needed saving, and the Spanish Catholics were ready for the challenge.

Building cathedrals and monasteries on top of Inca temples just seems to me like adding insult to injury, but apparently this was just part of the Spanish plan.  Using tricks like stagecraft mirrors scattered throughout the cathedrals, they attemped to  persuade the “primitive” Inca people that here in the new church they could see their own souls, way cooler than the Sun God ever showed them their souls in the old shrines.  Every effort was made for several centuries to make True Believers out of them, and erase the influence of their previous religion.   The results are fascinating.  The main cathedral on the square is a good example, covered inside in gaudy re-purposed gold and silver from the original temple.  There is no stained glass like the European cathedrals, but there are lots and lots of mirrors, and platforms for saints surrounded by wood carvings painted in colors not found in nature (the platforms are also used to parade sculptures and paintings of the saints around town during festivals, just like the Incas used to do with their mummies…hmm.)  The cathedral walls are covered with the requisite dark and bloody medieval paintings of religious subjects, with a couple of unique twists.  One was the painting of the Last Supper, a Cusco-styled replica of the old classic with blue-eyed blond Jesus and disciples but with a roast guinea pig and local fruits in the center of the table, and Pisaro posing as a very dark Judas … at least, that’s one interpretation that takes very little imagination to see.  Even more remarkable to me, in a very dark corner at the back of the main chapel, there is a simple sculpted stone, roped off by dusty old velvet cords.  A security guard was sitting on a nearby bench when Corey pointed it out to us, but when we approached, he quickly went away.  Corey called the stone the “sugar loaf”, something she picked up from a tour with her history teacher during her first visit to the cathedral while she was studying with Pro World Peru.  She said it was the only remaining artifact from the original Inca temple.   Apparently not too long ago, the church officials had tried to relocate the stone and remove it from the cathedral,  but loud local protests prevented it.  So now there it sits in its dark corner, scrupuloulsy avoided by most tour groups, with coca leaf offerings strewn on the floor around it, a symbol of enduring tradition and belief, against huge odds.

And continuing in the spirit of mixing a dark medieval Catholic heritage with a sun-worshipping primitive culture, our hotel breakfast room was adorned by a series of vivid paintings of various saints and Madonnas in elegant carved gilt frames, all with gleaming patterns of gold paint at every point of their huge haloes and pretty gold swirls at every possible spot on their garments – they looked like somebody went crazy with the gold puffy paint from the craft store!  I sketched my two favorites, one with an eye-roll to Heaven that puts any teenager to shame.  The really striking thing about the paintings was that in the morning light, they were eerily reflected on the glass doors, through which you could clearly see the original Inca stonework of the entry hall… it’s hard to erase or outshine history.


You Just Gotta Touch ‘Em

sketch of Inca Ruins

"SacsayHuaman", mixed media copyright 2013 by Kerry McFall

The stones of  Inca ruins, much like quilts, must be touched to be fully appreciated.  Looking is nice, but running your fingers over the rounded edges is the only way to understand how rocks can be so “soft” and yet so completely unyielding.  And just like at a quilt show, you’re likely to get scolded if you do touch, especially the famous ones…

Just above Cusco there are ruins of Inca structures at a spot called SacsayHuaman.  It’s a short taxi ride up, and for folks with bad knees it’s a fairly easy slope from the entrance to the “big rocks”.  It’s a good introduction to the incredible masonry that is quite literally at the base of nearly every building in and around Cusco, and here, at least for now, it’s okay to touch.  I found a shady corner and sketched and painted while the rest of the family went exploring the caves and arenas and thrones and other mysterious structures.  I made friends with several batches of Peruvian children as they curiously scampered around me – they were generally not impressed with my work until I showed them my sketches of dragons (sorry, can’t post them yet, they’re for a secret project) -clearly, a bunch of dumb old ruins just can’t compare to the universal “wow” factor of a snarling dragon!  I was also closely supervised by a small brown sparrow-like bird with an orangey ruff around his neck and a top-knot like a bluejay, but he was hyperactive and not a good model…

The characteristic trapezoidal shape of the doors, windows, and wall insets was apparently intended to withstand earthquakes, with great success – the wider bases transfer the pressures and jolts so the rocks lean into each other for support even during movement.  Existing boulders were left in place, trimmed up a bit to fit, and used to support the majority of the structural weight.  Where stones joined one on top of another, the surfaces were carved concave over convex, which let them “ride” and slide against each other and stay put, rather than rattling off to the ground – predecessors of the lego concept?  And apart from the practical aspect of these meant-to-last structures, they are simply beautiful.  Each stone is smoothed to near perfection, there is no mortar, no spaces.   We were told by several folks, including Paolo Greer, that this was probably accomplished by whacking away at the quartz with harder hammer stones…  apparently persistence pays off.   Makes my shoulder hurt just thinking about it.  And makes me doubt that the labor was voluntary…

Enter the Spanish Conquistadores.  With missionary zeal unrivaled in history, they pulled down temple walls and built their own monuments to their own god on the Incan stone foundations.  There are pieces of Inca walls everywhere you look – the entrance to our hotel was about 30% Inca stonework.  But more on the Spanish next time… now it’s time to finish unpacking!

Peru, Dragons, and Bucket Lists

sketch of HuanaPicchu

"Who Says There Are No Dragons in Peru", mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

We’re back from Peru, and in addition to several sketches, I have a few humble observations to offer about life, dragons, and bucket lists.

The closest thing that I have to a bucket list is a “Why Not!?” kind of wanderlust that takes me wherever and whenever an opportunity presents itself.  Opportunities generally arise in the form of people I cherish inviting me to visit them in places that are Not Where I Am.   This has taken me to New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, France, London, Botswana, Georgia, Tennessee, and several other exotic locales, and I’m always glad for the experiences, always the better for the relationships and the “Aha!” moments that can only come from stepping outside your comfort zone.

Up until a few years ago, the only “person” I knew from Peru was Paddington Bear… ( little known fact that he is a Spectacled Peruvian Bear).  When daughter Corey decided to take her semester abroad in Cusco, Peru, I thought it was an interesting choice but didn’t really understand her motivations – in fact, I’m not sure SHE understood her motivations.  When she wanted to go back, and back again, I understood it even less, but finally decided the only way to figure it out was… well, to just go.  So we did.  And it was amazing, living up to and exceeding every postcard scenario.  It was also thought-provoking, providing a snow-globe sort of perspective on what happens when cultures collide.  There’s not a lot of snow in the Andean snow-globe these days…

Because Corey works in the travel industry, we got the Supremo Grand Tour, and it was wonderful to meet her sweetheart Moises, and the people she works with, and to get to know people like her original Host Mom Nelly and her family.  Everyone we met – the drivers, the guides, the friends, the co-workers, the shoe-shine kids, the Llama Ladies – added something to the flavor of the trip, all of them diplomats and ambassadors in their own way.  I now truly admire Corey’s chutzpah at venturing alone into a completely unknown world – I certainly would not have braved it as a young woman.  We also got a bonus Archaeological/Historical perspective  from none other than Paolo Greer, a well-known explorer.  Corey and Ben had attended a lecture he presented the week before we arrived, and he joined us for a private lecture and even dinner one night.  Wow – he is a force of nature.  Hopefully we will hear more about his efforts to preserve and protect what has not been plundered already.

So I encourage you to take a look at your bucket list, and go.  Now.  That’s what credit cards are for.  The world is changing so fast that even “protected” world heritage sites cannot remain unchanged, and you won’t always be this healthy, so go – Now.  You will learn something important, every day.  You will experience something that makes you search your soul, every day.  Do a bit of reading first – “Turn Right At Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams is a good one if you’re heading to Peru.  The Internet is a great resource, but find a good travel consultant if you’re going someplace where driving laws are seen as suggestions and gringoes stick out like a sore thumb – I’m so glad we had Corey’s knowledge and experience to fall back on.

And about those Dragons… if the Incas could build all of those fabulous stone sites up there in the clouds, without spaceships or road graders or even wheelbarrows, then there could have been dragons.  I’ve seen some representations of dragons – although everyone else seems to think they’re just lizards or snakes – in some of the artifacts.  And when I was sketching Huayna Picchu (sp?- maybe Wayna Picchu?) I saw not only a condor outlined in the cliff, I saw a dragon.  Do you see it?  So there.

More sketches to come in the next few days as we get re-organized!


Corey’s Back Home!

"Corey's Home", mixed media, digitally manipulated, by Kerry McFall

The wandering daughter has returned briefly from Peru, bringing with her the equivalent of the contents of Santa’s Sleigh.  This afternoon during a vain attempt to clean off the piano, these random bits called out to me: the granadilla fruit sent by her friend Moises, a bird whistle/bubbler that could double as a Christmas ornament, chocolate-covered almonds, the infamous Peruvian tea, a 100 sole bill (not a lot of money but it looks impressive), and her passport.  As I arranged things, the passport fell open and those very faint red and white stripes on the pages kind of glowed… She’ll get to vote while she’s here (in Oregon we vote by mail, thank goodness, so the ballot will arrive before she leaves).  Living abroad makes voting take on a different perspective, makes it seem more urgent.  Sometimes this country holds up well compared to others… other times, not so much.  These are perhaps the “interesting times” (as in the ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.”)

She says it’s good to be home, she’s enjoying the hot showers and the functional plumbing, the cheddar cheese and the Northwest beer, driving again for the first time in nearly six months.  But I can tell Peru is calling to her.  While she’s here we’ll have Thanksgiving, birthdays, Halloween, and Christmas all rolled into one because her travel-related job requires her to be down there during the entire holiday season.  If all goes according to plan, we’ll be making a visit down there in 2013, altitude in Cusco be damned!

Cusco Commute

"Cusco Commute", mixed media by Kerry McFall, photo credit Corey Jay

Daughter Corey sent a stunning photo of her “commute” to work in Cusco, Peru.  From her apartment she walks down ancient cobbled – well, “streets” seems a bit over the top for what might be better termed “pathways”.  The view opening at the end of the narrow, winding way is of a surprisingly large (to me) city filled with adobe and terra cotta tiles and flanked by rugged peaks.  Perhaps, if all goes well, we’ll get to walk this route some day before she leaves… I wonder if my knees are up to it?  Not to mention that at 11,000 feet altitude, it might be a bit tricky to catch a breath.

The “frame” is based on another photo of a vintage textile piece that she sent, which seems to be an abstract made up of alternating dragons and some kind of doorway protected by maybe a snake…   Without seeing it and touching it, it’s hard to say how it was made, but I’d guess it started out as yellow fabric, some kind of resist was used for the eyes and the yellow dots (representing eggs maybe?), and then the rest was dye painted on using a terra cotta color and maybe an umber.  In several photos that she’s sent from other adventures in Peru, I’ve noticed costumes and murals and textiles that feature some pretty elaborate dragons…. wait, dragons in South America?  Where did those come from? Evidently there has been quite a large influence from Japan over time, maybe that’s the origin.  (There were also a lot of gorilla costumes… that origin escapes me completely.)  Given the scariness factor of dragons and snakes, I decided that they would serve to protect her on her commute if I put them on “guard duty” in the frame.  Safe journeys, Corey!

Dogface Butterfly… is that an oxymoron?

"Dogface Butterfly", colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

I learned when we visited the Santa Ana Botanical Garden (Claremont, CA) last month that the state insect of California is the Dogface Butterfly, not perhaps the loveliest of names.  I literally had to sit down and draw out a dog’s face on my sketchbook before I could see where they got the name… if you stretch your imagination, you can almost see a black-eared yellow dog laughing in the upper wings.  At the garden’s butterfly house they had specimens of the Dogface under glass, but no live ones, which was disappointing, but my recent Google search offers the excuse that they are very fast flyers.  That search also showed that a yellow-only version of the Dogface also inhabits Peru, which is where my daughter Corey has just started her new job.  It felt kind of like karma that during her graduation visit I had stumbled upon a butterfly that she might actually see in her new town – that is, if she goes to the Inkaterra hotel to see their butterfly garden.  Having a butterfly garden at a hotel sounds like such fun!  I wonder if it lives up to its potential?