Travel in the Media: Peru

So, here’s the thing (without trying to sound like Siobhan Sharpe from the spoof documentary 2012). I was going to do one of those Travel Wishlist posts, but it got so long that I started separating it into categories like Long Haul, then smaller categories, and things got a bit ridiculous. It seemed only right to kick things off by focusing on the one country that’s on everyone else’s mind right now, as well as my own, and that’s Peru. Land of Paddington Bear and his marmalade sandwiches, photographer Mario Testino and a snazzy new documentary on BBC4 with a presenter who fearlessly jumps on rafts in jeans… I’m intrigued – are you?

The Must-See Gallery: Asociacion Mario Testino (MATE), in Lima

MATE Asociacion Mario Testino, Lima, Peru

Asociacion Mario Testino, in Lima. Image: MATE

I made a beeline for the MATE stand at World Travel Market the other month, keen to find out more about the organisation set up by the fashion photographer in his home country to promote its artistic talent. It’s a must-see in Lima, drawing attention to lesser-known artists as well as showing off the largest Testino photography collection in the world. The current exhibition from the man himself is Todo o Nada (All or Nothing), which covers nude and fashion photography, but a traditional Peruvian portraiture exhibition is also due to hit MATE this year, showing how Testino can capture his countrymen.

The TV Program: Lost Kingdoms of South America, as seen on BBC4


Chachapoya Sarcophagi. Image: Wikicommons.

This new documentary series focuses on the more obscure elements of South American history – in Episode One, that meant putting the Incas to one side and overstepping Machu Picchu, in favour of the lesser-known Chachapoyas. Extremely intelligent, democratic and resourceful, the Chachapoya made their home between the Andes and the jungle and used the river to transport goods, as explained by presenter Dr. Jago Cooper. They lived high up in the mountains, a bit like puffins clinging to rocks on the coastline, and they then buried their dead in cliff-side caves, somehow regularly visiting despite the obvious dangers. This was all centuries ago (800AD-1500s), yet they accomplished things that we can’t even begin to understand now, such as the building of a huge site called Kuelap with walls as high as 65ft.

I also love that their name translates as the Enid Blyton-sounding ‘Cloud People’, which adds another element of mystery to their story. Compared to the barbarity of the Incas, the Cloud People were incredibly peaceful; they didn’t even have chiefs or any kind of clear leadership structure, yet they survived for hundreds of years and built up enviable trade links. Their respect for the dead is also really admirable (however, the mummies in the documentary were pretty nightmarish initially – it takes some getting used to, and I much preferred the Fernand Leger-esque sarcophagi, if we’re going to be picky).

Like most wannabe Peru tourists, I’m tempted by Machu Picchu, but this program really opened my eyes to what else is out there, and also what the Incas tried to destroy in the name of progress. They drove many of the Chachapoya into exile in Ecuador and slaughtered others at Kuelap, making their own mark on the Andes and not leaving any room for other cultures. Lost Kingdoms of South America definitely showed me that I need to look beyond the obvious tourist traps in order to find out more about this country’s past, and get the most out of it when I (eventually) visit.

The Magazine Feature: Vivienne Westwood in Peru, as seen in the Times Magazine

Vivienne Westwood in Peru for Cool Earth, by David Ellis.

Vivienne Westwood in Peru, photographed for the Times Magazine, by David Ellis.

Those of you who have read my fashion blog, or who know me personally, will already have been warned that I’m a huge Westwood fan. For years, Dame Vivienne has been campaigning to raise awareness of climate change (under the slogan of Climate Revolution), but she recently spent time with a tribe to see first-hand how communities can benefit from rainforest protection and avoid giving into the demands of loggers at the expense of destroying their community. All this, and the woman is 71.

You can read the full article here, by Deborah Ross, who was lucky enough to accompany Dame Vivienne and her husband Andreas on their trip to meet the Ashninka tribe, with charity Cool Earth. The Ashninka cultivate cotton and hunt, as they always have done, but they are also becoming modernised and feel the pressure of loggers offering reasonable prices to take their trees, changing the landscape forever. They are just one example of the many communities living in the rainforest who are being helped by Cool Earth to make sustainable decisions and keep their trees intact, without losing money. It’s a bit like the FairTrade initiative, only the trees are not traded at all and the community is given the same amount that they would have earned from the loggers, so everyone wins.

As a result of the Vivienne Westwood speaking to the Peruvian environment minister at the end of her trip, it’s hoped that the World Bank will give £5 million to help prevent deforestation, which would be an amazing achievement.

Basically, Peru is on the radar right now and it’s hard not to be drawn in. Already having drawn up a substantial list of where to visit, I seem to be constantly adding more ideas, especially when there’s great coverage like this. Here’s hoping I’ll be posting from there soon…

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