26 Sept 2013 – 24 March 2014. We began on the east coast of the continent in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our journey through South America took us first further north to Iguazu Falls and Uruguay, then all the way down through Patagonia to the island of Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of the mainland. From there we travelled to northern Argentina, further north through Chile traversing the Atacama Desert, across the High Desert and Altiplano of Bolivia, and on up the Andean mountain chain to the Inca ruins and living Inca traditions of Peru. We dropped down to the west coast at Lima, headed into the wilds of the Amazon Jungle, and cruised around the Galapagos Islands, finally ending up in the genteel town of Cuenca, Ecuador.
The distances are huge: in six months we barely saw half the continent. With no grand plan in mind, just some ideas about the places we wanted to see, we made it up as went along. We never expected to spend two weeks in the small unremarkable town of Puno, Peru, but learning about the Candelaria Festival made us change plans in order to experience one of the biggest festivals in South America, possibly in the world. It was an epic journey, sometimes exhausting, frequently exhilarating, and definitely the experience of a lifetime.
We saw much beauty, had many wonderful outdoor adventures, and met many big-hearted welcoming people in every country we visited. Here then are a few final photographs of the people of South America.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. An artist at the craft market in Recoleta,
and a musician at the Sunday market in San Telmo.
Cuenca, Ecuador. One day by chance we come upon a group of dancers in a large paved area next to a park. There are large speakers for amplified music, and the audience is seated on stackable plastic chairs. It is clearly a well-planned gathering, perhaps of indigenous people, or people who have come in from the villages. There are three or four couples dancing, their costumes a kaleidoscope of colour, their whirling feet a blur. As with all the dancers we see in South America, they dance with immense enthusiasm, joy and passion. I catch her in a quiet moment during a break.
Otavalo, Ecuador. At the weekly animal market.
Near Otavalo, Ecuador. She is sitting in a small café. She belongs there. We wander in, the only customers, and sit while her mother prepares tea for us. Throughout the Andes we see many children wearing these knitted animal hats in a great variety of colours, and a great variety of animals.
Antofagasta, Chile. A mining town on the coast in the far north of the Atacama Desert. Walking along the waterfront to the small public beach we see these two. They are a little sheepish when they realize we’ve seen them.
Ollantaytambo, Peru. He is dressed for the annual Bajada de Reyes Festival, and waiting to join in the parade. His group’s dance is called Qhapaq Sinkuy, a joyous dance to welcome the new year. There are many variations of this dance. Some of the men wear masks. They carry staffs and blow on conch shells. The women dance with multicoloured garlands of feathers. They dance in intricate patterns with flying ponchos and swirling skirts ablaze with colour.
Later that same day we go to a bullfight. Hundreds come to watch. We find ourselves a spot standing on top of a stone wall, back a bit from the main seating. Nearby, on the top level of the main seating she sits on a beer crate next to her father while he sells beer to the crowd.
Cusco, Peru. A panpipe player in the band of musicians and dancers entertaining tourists in a restaurant.
Pisac, Peru. At the Sunday local market. Throughout the Andes we see women wearing these white stovepipe hats though they are not as common as bowlers and fedoras.
She watches all the tourists filing off the buses, just hanging out like any little kid with not much to do while her parents work at the craft stalls.
Lima, Peru. In El Parque de los Tradiciones, sitting with Peruvian author Ricardo Palma.
Ollantaytambo, Peru. We are sitting at an outdoor table at a café in the main square. We’ve been talking with a local artist who creates batik paintings of ancient Inca and pre-Inca symbols. In batik! What a wonderful mix of cultures. Along she comes, bright-eyed and friendly and full of life. We have a brief conversation. We can’t understand much; she is probably speaking Quechua, but she is so animated. The café owner tells us she is ninety-two!
Puno, Peru. One of the many gloriously dressed participants in the Candelaria Festival.
Ollantaytambo, Peru. The hat. The colourful serape. The long braided black hair. A very typical street scene throughout the Andes: women selling their wares on the curb.
Puno, Peru. Part of the audience for the Candelaria Festival. The festival is such a big party: two weeks of community and family and fun and celebration. These kids are sitting on the curb with a whole group of friends and family waiting for one of the many parades,
and this young boy watches enthralled as the parade passes by.
Cañar, Ecuador. Two photos from Don, both taken at the Sunday market.
Puno, Peru. Candelaria dancer.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tango dancers.
Santiago, Chile. Little drummer boy. He is part of a full brass band playing at a ceremony for a group of perfectly uniformed and parade-ground-straight retired firefighters.
Santiago, Chile. Street performer. The firefighters’ ceremony, the young woman sitting with the statue, the kissing teenagers, the dancers in the square in Cuenca, and street performers everywhere; when wandering the streets without an agenda you get to see many wonderful things.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. Café culture. Every evening around six, right when we’re starting to think about dinner, Argentinians have a snack (maybe a sandwich or a pastry) and an aperitif, prior to eating their main meal at about nine or ten.
A small town in Peru, on the Puno to Cusco railway line. I photograph him from the back of the train as we move very slowly through the town. He watches us for a long time.
Puno, Peru. A member of the audience at the Candelaria Festival.
Puno, Peru. The next three photographs are all performers at the Candelaria Festival.
This is the final post documenting our odyssey through South America. Six months is not enough for such a vast and varied land. We didn’t even get to Brazil, Venezuela, or Colombia. But the countries we did visit are extraordinary, and unquestionably worth visiting. If you wish to delve a little deeper, search by country – Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.
Next post: Probably something in the This Nomadic Life series (maybe some hair-raising stories), and then the lovely Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.