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…”



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



Days in Cusco


Every day is a party in Cusco. The combination of ancient Quechua traditions and Roman Catholic holidays pretty much guarantees that you will run into some kind of festival several times a week. Dancing in the streets is a real, daily part of life here. And we love it. The richness of this place is all around us.


The central market is a bit of a walk from our home, but it is such a fun place to grocery shop. It floods me with memories of growing up in Ica and accompanying my mom on her shopping rounds. My siblings and I had the run of that place. Ica was still fairly isolated and our blond hair made us instant favorites with all the shop keepers. I see the reactions here to my kids and it is so familiar. And brings such complex emotions and thoughts… But that’s another post. The rows of juice stands at the market provide lovely fresh smoothies at minimal prices.  I had a carrot orange juice and the kids had watermelon.


It’s a rocky climb every time we head out the door. The kids are slowly becoming used to the physical effort it takes us to get anywhere. And I have to say, I truly do not miss jumping into the car for every errand. Our leg muscles are going to be rock solid by the end of our time here. And the expectations of our kids will be so drastically changed. They used to complain when we would walk three blocks to our library in Columbus. If they had only known what they were in for! But they are troupers and even made it all the way up the mountain on our family hike!


Speaking of changed expectations, I don’t really think of myself as spoiled. I’ve carted loads of dirty clothes to the laundromat blocks away, with a toddler in tow and a baby on the way. I’ve operated without a dryer in a tiny house during the “2 kids in cloth diapers” stage. But doing laundry by hand, with only cold water and a clothesline takes it’s toll.  At least I have an amazing view!


This is where we live. Our fabulous, Andean mountain home. We are loving it.

Our Jouney So Far

We arrived in Peru early June. After a quick trip to the Q’eshwachaka Festival, we landed back in Lima at my parents’ house. For 2 months we crashed in their lovely home on the side of the mountain, in our own little section of the house. Our kids played with their grandparents, ate lots of new Peruvian food, got to know their cousins, explored Lima, and spent most days covered in a layer of dust from climbing outside.

I loved seeing my family regularly and had the immense joy of being there for my little sister’s first baby. Ignacio (“Nachito”) was born on Peruvian Independence Day, July 28th and he is absolutely precious!

We also got to see and film Vidal in his Lima home.

I was still waiting to pick up my Peruvian paperwork in Lima, so Matthew made the brave decision to head off to Cusco, and take Graciela with him.  They moved into our apartment, signed up for Spanish classes and started getting to know the town.

Moving to an Andean town without knowing the language or culture may be picturesque, but it’s not easy.  They had a few tough days, but together they were figuring things out. Then, after my paperwork came through sooner then expected I made a quick decision, packed up our overwhelming amount of stuff and headed out for Cusco the next day. We showed up at the door, after maneuvering one of Cusco’s famously steep and rocky alleys and knocking on several doors, to the shocked faces of Graciela and Matthew. It was wonderful to surprise them, and then to get the tour of our place, including our  roof.

We’ve been here for almost a week, and it’s been lovely. We are still setting up here, taking care of a few things before we dive into film work. But every day is another adventure for us all, whether we’re purifying water, trying not to fry the electric shower head or desperately attempting to get internet connection.  Today, I’d like to find a desk. 🙂


All in all, we love Cusco.

Things I Love About Living in Peru

Trusting my kids:kidsonmt

My parents’ house is built on the side of a mountain, cliffs and steep rock slopes everywhere. And my kids are loving it! Every day they spend at least an hour climbing, building, inventing, pretending and sliding down rocks and dirt. The house has windows all around and I can watch them while they play. I was raised on these mountains, and in spite of what the modern/western “norm” tells me about safety and children and how concerned I ought to be, I can’t help believing they are okay.  Because I know my kids. I know how carefully Mateo will approach a new situation. How he will observe quietly, watching and soaking it all in, before he attempts something. I know he won’t try it if he doesn’t believe he can do it. And I know Graciela’s ability. I know how well she climbs, how quickly she can assess what is around her, and how accurate her physical senses are. Let them climb. Let them slide. Let them live!

Feeling the love:sweetestboy

Both Graciela and Mateo were wearing their baby dolls around yesterday in makeshift baby carriers. Every time I see them in this kind of role-playing it just warms my soul. And lately they have both been especially parental with their baby sister. I have never seen either of them show any kind of antagonism toward her. There are so many things we really wonder about as parents, how we’re doing, if this is right. But it’s moments like this that I think we’re gonna be okay.

World Citizen Kids:kidsonbus

I love having our kids here in Peru so much. Most of it is personal. I want them to experience everything I had growing up, which I realize is unrealistic and somewhat selfish. But I also firmly believe in the richness of growing up as a world citizen. My kids are all American/Peruvian and two of them are also Canadian. Having three cultures as part of their identity is an amazing privilege and I want them to drink up every bit of it. And they are. 🙂