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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Faces Of Peru

More than just the iconic Machu Picchu, Peru is a wealth of landscape, wildlife and cultural photographic opportunities

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Llama and Machu Picchu
Nikon D90, Nikkor 16-85mm lens, Nikon SB-800 Speedlight flash
I’m perched precariously on a ledge looking over stone ruins 30 feet below when the winds and the rains suddenly let up, sun shafts penetrating the clearing clouds, and somebody gives me a strong shove from behind. On my knees, framing a shot in my tripod-mounted camera at the edge of a wall near the Watchman’s Hut in Machu Picchu, the fabled lost city of the Incas in Peru, I topple forward, but thanks to a low center of gravity, both the camera and I manage to stay on the wall.

Swinging around to give the culprit a piece of my mind, I come face to fur with the hefty rear flank of a llama. Apparently, he was grazing with the same intensity with which I was shooting, and neither one of us noticed the other until he nearly sent me to the sun gods with an Andean hip check.

As if to apologize for his clumsiness, my doe-eyed friend proceeds to position himself just in the perfect position for an environmental portrait with the famous ruins in the background. I grab the D90 off the pod, throw on an SB-800 for a kiss of flash fill on those big eyes, and frame up the scene quickly, thankful for the late-afternoon sun and the willing four-legged subject that gives me just that much of a different twist on Peru’s most famous view.

A family paddles their reed boat near Balseros, one of the Uros reed islands near Puno, on Lake Titicaca.
Nikon D90, Nikkor 12-24mm lens
That’s the way it is in Peru—even as you frame up a great shot, a better one will present itself, usually with a bit more ease than this.

Three Perus?
Although it’s one sovereign country, most tour guides here like to say there are three Perus with distinctly different landscapes. The first Peru consists of the thin strip of desert that runs down the Pacific coast. The second is the wide area of low-lying Amazon jungle in the country’s interior. The third and most famous area, lying between the other two, is the Andes region—a dramatic landscape of high mountains, cloud forest and desolate plateaus that was home to the Inca empire.

I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph two of the three Perus, and one day hope to make it back to the jungle. But there’s enough in the other two areas to keep you happily shooting for months!

Having been to the Andes region several times on my last trip to Peru, I wanted to check out the coastal area before heading up into Inca country. My main reason for making the journey south from the capital city of Lima was to see, and hopefully photograph, the famous geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. These huge carvings in the floor of the desert, made between 200 B.C. and A.D. 700, run the gamut from sets of geometric lines to stylized representations of hummingbirds, monkeys, spiders and an assortment of other figures.

It’s a long (185-mile) drive from Lima to Ica, the jumping-off place for most visits to the Nazca Lines, so don’t try to do it in a day. The small town of Nazca itself is another two hours south, but most tours will put you up overnight near Ica, where there’s a small airport that serves as home for the flight-seeing operations.

Although there’s one place on the road near the Nazca Lines with a 36-foot-high platform, where you get partial elevated views of the Hand and the Tree, getting up in the air really is the only way to appreciate these large figures.


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