One Of The Best Sights I’ve Ever Seen

(A Post by Matthew)

Last weekend, while we were filming at the Q’eswachaca festival, a car slid of the road and plunged down into a blue tent full of people. People screamed and crowds surrounded the accident.

My friend and I watched it happen. This was not one of the best sights I’ve ever seen.

Prior to the accident, I was looking for my kids. Elisa and I had been filming the bridge festival for several days while my parents took care of the kids back in Cusco. On the last day of the fest, my parents brought the kids out to the village to see us and join in on the festivities.

Amidst the crowds, Elisa spotted them as they arrived. So I was searching for them. Then the accident happened. My friend left me to check out the scene, wondering already what I was just beginning to wonder as I stood there alone. My family’s van was parked in the vicinity of the accident. Elisa briefly saw them in that vicinity…

The crowds around the accident were huge, and I refused to look for my kids there anyway. So I started searching around, more frantically… for 45 min…

While searching, I imagine everything. My dad likes shade. It was the closest tent to their van. I imagine my parents toting our 3 darling babies into that blue tent. The babies excited with hope to see their parents, especially their mother who they hadn’t seen alot of lately. Expectant with their hats to shade the sun, and their little bags of necessities and goodies. Trusting that they have been brought into a safe place. So trusting, always trusting…

I imagined that trust being violated. As they are sitting in that blue tent, playing, chatting, rosali’s new words, mateo’s cuddling, graciela’s performing. I imagined them all in their safe place, and then I saw the car plunging down upon them. What would be their thoughts in that split second? Would they understand that they were about to die? Would they feel betrayed that they weren’t protected? Over and over again I imagined my innocent babes being trampled. Trusting and trampled. Trusting and trampled. Innocent yet trampled.

As time went on, I was beginning to panic. I didn’t think they were there, but I didn’t know. I couldn’t understand why I still was unable to find them. In that moment, I realized that if they were gonna have to go through something that brutal, I have to do it with them. They have to know that their father loves them and did everything he could do to protect them. If my kids have to go down, I wanna go down with them. I realized that I don’t want them to feel any pain that I haven’t experienced. I will take my babies pain, and if I can’t, I at least want to be there with them.


I searched and I searched. I went down to the bridge, I looked down by the river, I scoured through crowds, people, every tent. it didn’t make any sense. At least not at this moment… my imagination was growing darker and darker and darker…

And then…

And then I saw one of the best sights I’ve ever seen…

Graciela was looking at a vendor’s Andean hats. She was wearing a white shirt with hearts, tan pants that were too short. Her running shoes, sunscreen that wasn’t all the way rubbed in. And her school hat to shade her from the sun. “Oh hi daddy!, do you think I could get one of these hats?”

I picked her up and held her tightly…. Because thats what we do. In the face of the disease that surrounds us, we hold each other tightly, realizing together what a gift life is. Your head against mine, your arms wrapped around me, and mine around yours. We hold each other, expectantly. We expect the future together. We have to…

As nonchalantly as I could I responded, “Hi, Gracie. I love you. How are you?”

“Can I get that hat?”

“We’ll see my love, we’ll see…”


Q’eswachaka 2014, a repost

Reposted from The Last Bridge Master.

This has been an incredible year and it all culminated with the amazing annual bridge rebuilding of the Q’eswachaka. Having lived so much of this year alongside Victoriano, the Bridge Master, it was a completely different experience to go through the festival with him this year. Last year’s bridge building was impressive and fascinating, but this year, we were with him every step of the process. We walked from his hut down the mountain with him every morning, to where the community, now full of familiar faces, was gathering.

I can’t describe how it felt to be greeted by name by so many people from Huinchiri throughout the 3 days the bridge was woven. I feel such a sense of fellowship here. To be stopped by the village leaders on the highway as the men twist the cables so they can shake my hand… To see the people who I have shared meals with waving at me from the edge of the gorge as the handrails are being pulled across… To have the woman who calls me her family stop as she arrives with her load of q’oya grass to give me a hug… To have the little boy down the road run up to tell me his class is about to perform their dance at the festival… My heart was so full this weekend. So very, very full.


We had the great opportunity to even meet one of our Kickstarter supporters at the bridge! Julie might even end up in the film, standing in line for her chance to cross the Q’eswachaka!

It has been so hard to leave Huinchiri and Victoriano especially. This year has been something I cannot even begin to describe. To each and every one of you who believed in our vision for this film and who have followed us every step of the way, we thank you from the bottom of our overflowing hearts.

We cannot wait for you to see the film! There is a year’s worth of footage for us to mold into a story, so we will continue to update you as we move back to the United States for our post-production phase. Thank you again!

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

Machu Picchu and Paragliding

What an incredible gift we have to live in such an amazing place!  I love living in Cusco, and I recently found out that as Peruvian citizens and Cusco residents, the kids and I have free entry to Machu Picchu on Sundays. So, when our friend, Jed, came for a visit, we all joined him on a weekend in the Sacred Valley. We explored Machu Picchu and the next day we went paragliding off a mountain in the valley. We spent hours waiting for the right kind of wind, and the kids managed to find a forest and build themselves a lean-to.  The wind finally shaped up enough for Jed and Matthew to paraglide over a phenomenal view. (There wasn’t time for another run, so I missed out. Next time I guess.)

Why We Need Culture Shock


The only picture of me in the village, taken by Cristobal, age 10.

On my last trip to Arequipa, I experienced some pretty significant culture shock. It wasn’t unfamiliar to me, but it is something I haven’t experienced in quite some time, though I did to a much lesser degree my 1st visit to the new mall in Cusco. It was the culture shock that comes from partaking in plenty in a land of want.

I’m sure in part because of my childhood in provincial Peru, but also because of choices I have made in my adult life, I slip easily into cultures of want. I don’t mean for that to sound trite or calloused. It isn’t that I somehow ignore the need or that I see myself as “one of them.” But operating in cultures of need is something I understand, something I can get my head around. Something I can settle into, secure in where I am and what it means.

Since June of last year I have been spending regular amounts of my time in a remote Andean village, sleeping in tiny adobe huts and corners of cement rooms, eating sporadically from chipped dishes and shared mugs, ignoring gristle and animal hairs while I gnaw the precious meat from greasy bones. I’ve pushed myself to the limits of discomfort and pain simply to travel from one location to the next. I’ve ridden bareback and in sheep trucks and on motorcycles racks with 3 other people in front of me, my pack and theirs hanging off my back for endless miles of winding mountain roads. I’ve crammed myself into the backs of station wagons, balancing bundles of bread and other peoples children on my feet.

And the buses. Questionably serviceable brakes and questionably alert drivers. Bodies stumbling into undesired intimacy, smells and noise and jarring stops. The first trip I took to Arequipa was 12 hours of this, no chance of getting off, no bathroom break. This is how I travel. pict.php

Then, on this last trip, I left Arequipa on a bus that cost twice as much as I usually pay. I got to the bus terminal, the crowds and the noise washing over me, comfortably familiar. Then I discovered I was in the wrong place. Walking across the parking lot I entered “my” terminal, a clean, neat building I had never noticed before, staffed with pleasant uniformed people who asked me in English if they could help. I stammered out something and followed pointed fingers to the check-in desk, where an immaculately manicured woman motioned for me to wait.AREQUIPA 2

I tried to sit down in the waiting area, but I was too jittery, almost panicky. Upper class Peruvians kept shooting glances at my bundle of clothes tied up in a manta (a traditional cloth). Tourists would look up now and then from their Lonely Planets, pleased with themselves, I’m sure for experiencing a real Peruvian bus terminal.

When they called my bus I was instantly relieved. But that relief faded as we were ushered into the private waiting lounge. I stood in a corner, taking it all in, the terrifying niceties of moneyed travel. Flatscreen TV, cushy chairs, tea and coffee service, clean bathrooms. The panic was back. I sat down awkwardly with my manta bundle and my backpack, but again, I couldn’t relax. I was on the edge of my seat, my eyes darting around the room, frantically looking for any person who looked like they might have travelled in my ‘usual’ buses. Maybe that lady? She looks like someone who knows how to make 5 soles stretch pretty far. No, she’s complaining about something to her husband. The one in the suit. That hippie guy, who hasn’t washed in weeks? Well, no, he’s white, so it doesn’t count.

There have been few times in my life that I have felt so out of place. And I didn’t want to fit in. I wanted to stand up and shout across the lounge that I don’t belong here.When I finally sank into my seat on the bus, my manta bundle securely stored overhead, I was breathing too fast and my heart was doing a marathon. A staff member handed me a blanket, the HD movie began playing and I realized my hands were shaking. The only thing that calmed me down was a quick call to my husband to describe all the horrors of wonderfully comfortable travel.300-1-28

The ride was wonderfully comfortable, with meals and an onboard bathroom, and I felt secure and safe traveling with my film equipment, which was the point of paying a bit more. But I am still surprised by my reaction. I didn’t expect it and I’m not entirely sure where it came from. Though I have a pretty good guess it has to do with my pride.

My pride in who I am, as a Peruvian, as the kind of person who lives “authentically” wherever I am, as a tough traveller who knows how to rough it. Maybe traveling ‘in style’ took some of that away from me. Is my own self-identity so weak that I need the props of a manta and a crowded bus to hold it up?

It’s made me consider what other props I use to define myself. House, children, language, film, clothes, books. It seems we all do this to some extent. But when we are in a comfortable place, surrounded by what we know, it isn’t as obvious how much we have internalized our surroundings. The more we step out of that space, the more we are forced to discover our true selves. When we take away the usual props what is left is more authentically us. Perhaps that is what frightens us so much. Perhaps that is why we need culture shock.

Repost: Filming With The Family

From The Last Bridge Master. I really thought I posted this on here, but apparently I only did on the “official film” site.

farm courtyardI’ve been out many times now on my own to film in the village. It’s become something familiar to me, something that, in spite of all the discomforts, I am comfortable with.

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to take the whole family. Our children are 6, 5 and almost 2. Not exactly at the “free film crew/unpaid intern” age level. I was very nervous. Every time Matthew had suggested we all go out I’d hemmed and hawed and postponed. And for good reason (see How to Get to the Q’eswachaka). But I knew it was something I wanted them to experience, in spite of everything.

So, that’s how we ended up huddled on the steps of a shop in Yanaoca, surrounded by a crowd of fascinated Andean peasants who just could not get over our fair-haired children, trying to find a ride to Huinchiri. Of course there were no buses. And of course we didn’t have enough money for an “expreso” taxi. And of course we couldn’t attempt the walk with our babies, who the concerned Quechua folk were certain would catch their deaths before we made it a mile out of town. We finally found a mototaxi who agreed to take us for 40 soles, an amazing price. Unfortunately he didn’t know how far Huinchiri was. He didn’t have enough gas to make it and ended up dropping us just after the bridge, a whole mountain hike away from Victoriano’s hut. Then it started to by bridge

We straggled into the closest building we could find where the farmer’s kind daughter welcomed us and offered us a room for the night. They ended up giving us two rooms, in a charming little farm, neat and snug and lovely. The sun came out a bit before dark, and I managed to head down to the river for some great shots of the rainy season. The kids played on the mountain side, splashing through streams and collecting stones. That night we looked at stars and snuggled up under warm alpaca blankets, listening to the rain thundering on the roof.outside bedrooms

The next day we hitchhiked up the mountain, visited with Ruth Laurita and Victoriano, got some great footage and picnicked under a tree. It was almost noon, we needed to head home and we hadn’t seen any cars go by so we began walking back down the mountain. Five hours, several vicious dogs, and a rainfall later, we had still not seen a single car. The kids played for hours by a stream next to the road, we discovered some caves, finished the last of our snacks and water and I was remembering all the reasons I usually come alone. matty and victoriano

Just when we thought we’d be crashing at the farm another night, we managed to talk and plead our way into a construction truck who took us as far as Yanaoca.

The kids will remember playing on the mountain, discovering stones and caves, visiting the guinea pigs at the farm and riding on a mototaxi. I hope they don’t remember Mama stressing about where we would stay or what we would eat or if they were warm enough. It was a wonderful family vacation, the kind you can’t perfectly plan or expect to run smoothly. The kind with lots of memories. petting guinea pig

guinea pig farm

climbing mt   Rosali on mt teo on mt

Taking pictures for her blog

Taking pictures for her blog


And it all went awry in a beautiful place


So, I’ve had hiccups happen before on filming trips. The last major one left me stranded in Madrid for a week. I actually love the excitement and adventure of my filming life. But it would be a whole lot more enjoyable if I still was able to accomplish my filming objectives.

This time, after many phone calls to Victoriano’s son Yuri about when he might be coming to the village so I could film him, we finally decided I would just have to take the bus to Arequipa where he lives. It’s a 10-12 hr bus ride, over some beautiful countryside and very inexpensive, so I didn’t mind. I even have some old family friends in Arequipa to stay with.

I’m not sure how to explain what happen without making Yuri sound like a complete jerk. So I will just try to make it short. We met, we went to the place where he lives, the owners refused to let us inside to film the interview, we filmed it at the top of an overlook (beautiful, but noisy), he promised that he’d ask a friend if we could use his room to film the interview the next day for better sound quality, he assured me that he had all day tomorrow and I could accompany him everywhere he went to film his daily life, he had to go back inside and I couldn’t follow him, so we said goodbye. I emphasized how important it was that I film him the next day and I begged him to call me the instant he decided to go anywhere. No calls that night.

The next morning, I called him. And called him. And called him. Finally I went to his house. They had no idea where he was. I sat outside his house all day, calling repeatedly. The next morning I called him at 5 am, which is when I was told he leaves work. He answers. Apparently, he decided to take a bus to Cusco that first night, the same day I arrived in Arequipa from Cusco. He is on his way to the village, to go home for a little vacation.

I’ve been picking this apart for days and the best I can do is this:

In Andean culture, there is a particular kind of interaction with the outside world. There is a way to talk to the outsider. And I am sure it is based on a very complicated history of outsiders and their interactions with Andean people. But it essentially means that there is a mentality of saying whatever the person asking wants to hear. I’ve run into this with every member of Victoriano’s family. I have to ask the same question multiple times and in different contexts to get a good understanding of what the actual answer is. Because the first time, it’s just about what they think I want to hear.

I’ve been stood up and given wrong information many times throughout this filming process. I’ve taken to asking different people about events or times just to have some kind of pool I can draw from when one thing turns out to be not true.

Part of it as well is the idea of living moment-to-moment. Future plans are so malleable and indefinite. If something happens in this very moment to change what you are going to do, you just go with it.

But I felt like this time it was really extreme. Yuri decides to jump a bus to Cusco, great! Just give me one. short. phone call. That’s all I ask! I would have been on the bus with him, filming him returning to his family home.

So, I find out where he is at 5 am Friday morning. I take a taxi immediately to the bus terminal and that’s where things get really dicey.  Here, I’ll let you catch up via my Facebook statuses.

arequipa status updates

There you have it. I left Cusco last Tuesday. I’ve been trying to get back there for the past three days. It’s a beautiful place to be stranded, but I sure wish I could have accomplished the filming I was meant to do.


Oh, I also accomplished these things:

1. Read a new book

2. Did some writing

3. Toured Arequipa

4. Skype interviewed and got a new blogging job

5. Watched the entire 7th season of House, M.D.

6. Wrote this blog post



Coming Clean

The kids selling rocks they decorated.

The kids selling rocks they decorated.

So, I’m not really much of a blogger. You may have caught onto that, since I kind of… don’t post. I really thought I’d post a lot more. Back when I was at Bub and Lala I posted quite a lot. Regularly. But, it has gotten harder and harder for me to will myself to post. So, I’m admitting it. I’m not one of those post-a-day types who actually somehow manage to get followers and make some money. Not gonna happen.

Posting has been hard for me. And I feel I should come clean as to why. Our life since moving to Peru has been tough. Really tough. I’ve loved living here, still do. I love seeing my kids here. I love that we took a chance and committed ourselves to something we love in spite of the risk.

But living without an income is tough. I’ve posted some on my old blog about the stress of living in poverty. But that was different somehow. Partially because we lived in the States, so we were on food stamps and we didn’t actually have to worry about feeding our children (though the end of each month, right before it renewed, was always somewhat scary).

But now, well, we chose this. We knew that getting the necessary financing for our film was iffy. But we took this step anyway. We knew that Matthew couldn’t legally work in Peru, and that if we didn’t get the grants we applied for, I’d have to find some kind of work. So, this situation was a choice. And that makes is suck even more.

See, you can’t point fingers when this happens. It’s not the system that did this to us. It’s not the big corporations. The government. Society. They didn’t tell us to move to Peru and film a documentary.

We have applied for a handful of production grants. One in particular would have solved all our personal and filmmaking financial issues for the rest of the time here. We thought we had a really good chance. Our project was compelling and spot on with what they were looking for. We did all our homework, prepared a killer application and sample video. They sent us word we made it to the final round last month. We’ve been holding our breath ever since.

Then, two nights ago, we got the word. No.

And now, we are struggling. Struggling to keep our heads above water as we plan our next move. Until we have a rough cut, there are not many grants we can apply for now. We are on our own.

So, that is why it is hard for me to post. So often I feel like all my energy is pouring into my family’s survival. My constant awareness is caught up in lifting Matthew above that deep darkness that is pulling at him, every moment of the day. My peripheral vision is full of these bright and beautiful children who should have a full and protected life, savoring this place and exploring this world and not being hungry. And my own focus has to be on finding jobs, a translation here, a class there. Maybe even an occasional video. Anything that will keep us going.

I just don’t have the breath to sit and type my heart out onto this blog. I will try, but I’m just so tired.

And I should add that I know exactly how fortunate I am to have this healthy, lovely family, who usually has enough and appropriate clothes to wear and almost always has something to eat, even if it’s not what they want. There are many, many, all around us, who don’t.