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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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The main square of Cusco at twilight.
Nikon D90, Nikkor 16-85mm VR lens
On To Machu Picchu
You can do Machu Picchu as a day trip out of Cusco via train or bus and train, but that’s not the way you want do it. You want to spend at least one and maybe even two nights in Aguas Calientes, the small town at the foot of the mountain where Machu Picchu sits that’s the rail terminus from Ollantaytambo.

That way, you get to go up to the site at least once and hopefully twice. A good plan is to arrive on a midafternoon train, get settled into your hotel in Aguas Calientes and then plan a late-afternoon excursion to the ruin. It’s open until 6 p.m., but most of the day trippers are gone by 3 p.m.-ish. So not only do you get better light the later in the afternoon you go, but you get fewer fellow tourists crawling all over the place.

Then you can plan on going back up early the next morning (it opens at 6 a.m.) to try to catch some early light. This plan gives you two cracks at shooting the ruin, and gives you twice as good a chance of not getting rained on—a distinct possibility, especially in the rainy season (October to April). Tickets are very expensive, about $40 a day, but how often will you get back here, and what is it worth to have some decent weather to shoot one of the world’s most impressive ancient sites?

My strategy shooting the ruins involves climbing up to the Watchman’s Hut first for the famous overview. Depending on weather, I’ve waited up there for up to about four hours for rain to stop and fog to lift. It shapes up nicely with a wide-angle, and hopefully you can get some of the local llamas in the shot (if they don’t push you off the wall first!).

It’s all more or less downhill from there, and I work my way down from there, shooting tighter shots, details and other angles. Make sure you have enough cards, batteries, water and rainproof gear for both you and your equipment (and a small umbrella so you can shoot in the rain), as there’s no “running back to the hotel” for something you forgot.

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A little girl peeks from behind her mother’s backpack during the Sunday market in Chinchero.
Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens

The no-tripod, no-backpack rules at Machu Picchu are, shall we say, fluid. On my last trip in January 2009, I had no problem with my Tamrac Velocity 9x sling bag. I tucked my Gitzo Traveler tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-25 ballhead under my rain parka and walked right in, and nobody hassled me when I used it.

I’ve heard recently of all kinds of restrictions—charges for lenses over 200mm, etc.—but I only can report that I’ve never had any problem. Then again, I go out with minimal gear, I tape over the names and logos on my cameras with black electrical tape so they look generic and harmless, and I always have a few bucks at the ready for any necessary on-site “permits” a security guard may require. Discretion is the watchword here, as in many travel situations, and the less “professional” you can appear—anywhere—the easier it will be for you.

Going Higher
Once you’ve had a few days in Cusco, it will seem like nothing to take the Andean Explorer train across the highland plateaus toward Puno and legendary Lake Titicaca. Here, the altitude is more like 13,000 feet, but I felt much more chipper having already been at altitude for several days.

You’ll want to take at least the one-day boat tour on the lake to the reed islands of Uros. Here, you can meet families who live out on these reed islands in a traditional manner. Now, you definitely won’t be the first photographer to set foot here—they’re well accustomed to tourists. But what I really like about Peru is that, even in the more touristed areas, they don’t seem so jaded by your presence that they can’t be bothered to demonstrate their crafts and way of life.

Be sure to take a short trip on a reed boat, and enjoy these folks’ hospitality, as it still feels genuine. There’s some nice images to be had here and on Taquile, a gorgeous Mediterranean-like island where the native dress is almost a dead ringer for that of the fishing villages around Nazaré in Portugal, and the landscapes look like Corsica or Sardinia. These islands are just two more threads in the gorgeous and eclectic tapestry that is the country of Peru.

To see more of Bob Krist’s photography, visit www.bobkrist.com.

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