Fruits of My Labor

(a printable version of this can be found HERE)

Over the last couple years as I prepared for and then lived in Peru, I did a lot of research into the best and most useful Peru related materials. So I’d like to share the fruits of this labor in case anyone else is interested in learning more. This is far from an exhaustive list, and is ever-evolving.

“I strongly believe that launching yourself into the world, putting yourself face to face with other people, on their turf, where you have to account for yourself on unfamiliar terms, is a noble way to live and to move ahead as a human being.”
(a quote by travel writer and creator of the world’s first travel blog, Jeff Greenwald)

Volunteering in South America
This is the best website for researching free and low cost volunteering opportunities in South America:
The South American Explorer’s Club is also a tremendous resource for traveling and volunteering in South America, although you have to be a member to access some content. If you plan on spending an extended period in South America, or making return visits, a membership will be invaluable. Their clubhouses are a true home away from home for me:

The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics – A collection of writings that serves as a good introduction to many aspects of Peru then and now.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann – Turns out everything we learned in school was completely wrong, and that the real story is much more fascinating.
The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming – A historical account that is actually a page-turner as Pizarro and his tiny band make their way to Cusco and conquer Peru.
The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker – Two somewhat different but related true stories from 18th Century South America. The first follows a French scientific expedition sent to South America to measure and determine the exact shape of the Earth. The author in effect takes an old map that one might glance at for two seconds in a museum and brings to life the interesting story and real people behind its making. The second part is the twenty year quest of one of the scientists and his Peruvian wife to reunite, including her harrowing ordeal as the sole survivor of her expedition through the Amazon jungle.
Cusco Tales by Richard Nesbit – A hilarious collection of stories about the “side of Cusco you won’t find in the guidebooks.”
Captain Pantoja and the Special Service by Mario Vargas Llosa – A side-splitting book about “servicing” the army stationed in the Amazon. Also has been made into a movie a couple times (see below).
Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa – A somber story of civil guards sent into the Andes to investigate disappearances during the period of the Shining Path.
The White Rock by Hugh Thompson – An exploration of the Inca civilization, as well as contemporary Peru, by a true modern day explorer.
A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru by Hugh Thomson – A physical and historical journey through the pre-Inca civilizations of Peru. Turns out I unknowingly followed in the author’s footsteps to many of these sites, and I even met some of the people in this book!
Humboldt's Cosmos by Gerard Helferich – a captivating narrative of Alexander Von Humboldt's five-year journey of exploration across South America at the turn of the 19th Century.  He was a scientist with an insatiable desire to learn, chart, measure, collect, explore, and discover.  He climbed some of the world's highest peaks, traveled deep into the Amazon, and in the process advanced numerous branches of science. Exceedingly well researched and written, and highly recommended.
Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru by Tahir Shah – A generally true detective story as the author attempts to discover whether the Incas were really able to fly like birds over the Amazon jungle, or whether they were experiencing drug-induced hallucinations. A great primer on the true purpose of ayahuasca.
One River by Wade Davis – This thick book was the perfect companion for my four day trip down the Ucuyali River in the Amazon region.  The author is an ethnobotanist and an excellent writer, who tells two intertwined tales of his own explorations in the Amazon in the 1970s and those of his mentor, Richard Evans Schultes, a generation earlier.  They were both interested in the psychoactive and medicinal properties of the region’s plants, and the cultures that use them.  One chapter tells the fascinating story of missionaries portrayed in the movies End of the Spear and Beyond the Gates of Splendor (see movie section).
Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire by Wade Davis – A collection of stories spanning the globe, but all focused around the theme of the importance of preserving the world’s diverse cultures and their knowledge and beliefs.  My favorite chapter is about the history and future of rubber, including the little known Fordlandia – a entire town and immense operation set up by Henry Ford in the middle of the Brazilian jungle with the goal of breaking his dependence on foreign rubber supplies.
Fordlandia by Eduardo Sguiglia – A historical novel that takes place in Henry Ford’s actual town in the jungle of Brazil.

The Golden Serpent by Ciro Alegria  – “…a poetic description of the daily life of a small village on the bank of the mighty Marañon River in north-central Peru . …the nineteen chapters are a series of stories or related episodes told by the narrator, Lucas Vilca, a raftsman and farmer of the Calemar Valley .”  (description from
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder"On Friday noon , July the twentieth, 1714 , the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below."  A monk witnesses this, and seeks to learn more about those who perished.
Lords of Sipan: A Tale of Pre-Inca Tombs, Archaeology, and Crime by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick – Read this true story first if you are going to be visiting the Sipan site in northern Peru

Spanish Language Books and Tapes
The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice by Ronni L. Gordon and David M. Stillman
501 Spanish Verbs by Christopher Kendris and Theodore Kendris – The must-have reference book which frightens even native speakers.  A smaller pocket version nicely compliments the large, brick-like version.
Breaking out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph J. Keenan – The antidote to all the other language reference books.
Foreign Service Institute – Programmatic Spanish Course – Spanish tapes to train diplomats, dating from the late 1960’s. Arguably still the best course available, and free!
Plus, as you listen to the tapes, you can just imagine the government men, in dark blue suits at metal desks, cigarette smoke in the air, as they all learned to say, in Spanish:
“Really? What’s her name?”
“Her name is Nora.”
“But - - isn’t she married?”
“No. Nora is single. The married one is Maria.”
“Of course. Maria is the older one.”
Makes you envious of the fabulous cocktail parties they were training for…

Baraka – An astonishing and moving portrait of our planet, “…a dazzling barrage of images that transcend language. Filmed in 24 countries and set to an ever-changing global soundtrack.” I first saw this with the kids of Yanapay, which was an amazing experience in and of itself.
The Fall of Fujimori – A wonderful documentary about Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori: his rise to power, his successes including defeating the country’s terrorists, and his fall.  More can be learned by listening to the director's commentary.
Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove) – A realistic portrayal of an Andean town’s struggle against the Shining Path guerrillas, as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
Fitzcarraldo – The story of an opera obsessed wanna-be rubber baron in the Amazon at the turn of the century. The director of this movie mirrors the obsession of the character, and actually attempts to carry a steamboat over a mountain, without special effects. Does he succeed? Watch and see! A very different type of film-making than what we are used to.
Burden of Dreams - The making of Fitzcarraldo, where you can witness the insanity of Herzog and Kinski, and have a behind the scenes look at the incredible jungle settings and the indigenous extras. A must see if you’ve watched Fitzcarraldo.
Pantaleon y las Visitadores (Captain Pantoja and the Special Service) - A nice and accurate version of the Mario Vargas Llosa book. Doesn’t focus on the M*A*S*H (movie) style humor found in the book, but the characters are very much as I envisioned them - with Angie Cepeda as steamy as the air in Iquitos.
Tinta Roja - Set in contemporary Lima, an intern at a tabloid newspaper learns from his rough-edged mentor and gains success, but at what cost? Then suddenly their work and their lives collide! It all sounds contrived, but is very successfully presented and enjoyable to watch.
The Mission - 18th Century South America, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Jesuits, the indigenous Guarani, Iguazu Falls, Robert DeNiro…a beautiful epic of a tragic history. Also has a great “making of” disc focusing on the indigenous Waunana actors.
The Dancer Upstairs - An intelligent, well-considered movie, directed by John Malkovich, based on the book by Nicholas Shakespeare. The story of this intense drama revolves around the pursuit and capture of the leader of the Shining Path, with several scenes based on actual events.
End of the Spear – a well-made movie based on real events:  In 1956, five missionaries attempting to make first contact with a savage Ecuadoran tribe, the Waodani, were killed with spears.  However, several of the missionary families stayed, with the aim of breaking the tribes from their circle of violence with neighboring tribes.  There is also a documentary version of the story, Through the Gates of Splendor, and well as related books with the same names.
Soy Andina - A documentary by a friend I met at the SAE’s clubhouse when I first came to Peru to volunteer. A story of traditional dance and reconnecting with one’s roots, best described by Carolina Huaranca: “This film fully embraces Peru’s culture, traditions, and ethnic diversity. It not only helps re-ignite cultural pride amongst Peruvians-Americans from all walks of life, it encourages dialogue across all cultures.”

The Rough Guide – Music of the Andes
Fiestas: Music of the High Andes (Explorer Series – Peru)
Kingdom of the Sun: The Inca Heritage (Explorer Series – Peru)
Inkuyo – Land of the Incas
Andean Legacy
Treasures of Indio Music, vol. 1-6
Any Grupo Cinco cd, preferably purchased at Molino in Cusco

Aldea Yanapay
This is the wonderful after-school program where I volunteered in Cusco, founded and run by a young Peruano, Yuri.  Yanapay also runs a program with street kids detained in a local police station, a cultural center for older kids, a hostal where volunteers can stay, and the cafe, serving delicious food, which helps to support these programs.

My essay about volunteering at Aldea Yanapay, Cusco in June, 2007:
Two blog entries about working at Aldea Yanapay:

This is where I studied Spanish in Cusco.  It is a non-profit organization which trains single mothers as grammar and practice teachers, and helps to find volunteer and home-stay placements for students.  Not to mention the weekly cooking classes which sometimes end as all out parties and dance lessons.

Manos Unidas (United Hands)
This is a Peruvian NGO founded by an American friend of mine.  This school serves children and young adults with developmental disabilities, autism, down syndrome and cerebral palsy, on an individualized level.  Additionally, they strive to educate the people who are directly affected by a disability and the community in which they live – families, teachers, etc. – a difficult and important task in Peru.

Digital and Travel Photography Books  (there are many good ones - here are just a few suggestions)
David D. Busch’s Guides to Digital Photography – excellent, in depth and easy to understand manuals for specific cameras, such as: 
David Busch's Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Guide to Digital SLR Photography 
The Digital Photography Book, Volumes 1 and 2 by Scott Kelby – straightforward pro tips for every aspect of digital photography 
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition) by Bryan Peterson 
Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated Edition) by Bryan Peterson 
Rick Sammon's Travel and Nature Photography by Rick Sammon 
Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0 by Rick Sammon – I find the photos in his books to be more posed and less natural, but there are lots of good tips.
Spirit of Place: The Art of the Traveling Photographer by Bob Krist – one of the masters of travel photography 
Waiting for the Light by David Noton – Breathtaking landscape photos all demonstrating the importance of patience and light. Also includes some great travel pictures and bits of practical advice for capturing these kinds of images. 
Portraits by Steve McCurry – Stunning portraits of people from all over the globe, capturing the “unguarded moment,” by a renowned National Geographic photographer. 
Peru by Robert Frank – Beautiful photos of campesinos and landscapes of Andean Peru. While the subjects are often the indigenous people, the visual approach and sparseness of the images also strongly captures a sense of the land and the environment where they lived and worked. What is also astonishing is the timelessness of these photos, in that the dress and the places remain largely unchanged in many rural areas of Peru. One could capture many of these images today - all they need is the talent, sensibilities, and eye of Robert Frank! An inspiring must-view for any photographer traveling to Peru.

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No images may be used without written permission of the artist, including copying, printing, publishing, unauthorized distribution, or transmitting by any means.