Living the Simple Life in Peru
PHOTO: Machu Picchu. (Photos by Ryan Rudnansky)
There’s beauty and intelligence in simplicity.
After all, it was Albert Einstein himself who indicated one of the greatest measures of intelligence is the ability to simplify things.
In that sense, perhaps today’s villagers in Peru and the ancient Andean cultures have something to teach all of us.
Truth be told: a lot was learned during my four-day, five-night adventure from Cusco to Machu Picchu through tour operator Mountain Lodges of Peru. And whether my tour group was exploring the textile center of Awanacancha, spending an afternoon at the mountain village of Viacha, hiking from the village of Cuncani over Cruzccasa Pass or scaling Machu Picchu Mountain, there was always one prevailing theme: simplicity.
PHOTO: Children run to greet us 13,000 feet up in the clouds in Viacha.
In today’s bustling world, it can be rather difficult to lead a simple life, or have the desire to do so.
But in Awanacancha, I saw villagers make a living creating garments and fabrics out of llama and alpaca fur using simple tools: their hands. In Viacha, we visited one Peruvian family that lived 13,000 feet up in the clouds, far removed from big cities like Cusco … and this family seemed content. When trekking from Cuncani to Cruzccasa Pass, we came across a 7-year-old girl alone in the mountains monitoring the animals (so much for telling your kids to be careful outside).
PHOTO: Villagers in Viacha.
On top of Machu Picchu Mountain, you look down on ancient ruins while majestic green mountains surround you on all sides (the tourist center down below is a mere speck, while the flocks of tourists resemble ants in a much bigger world).
In so-called “developed” countries such as the United States, we are essentially taught that more is better, no matter what this “more” is. But we aren’t always taught what the consequences are of having more. Near Viacha, locals experimented with electricity at one point, according to Mountain Lodges of Peru tour guide Raul Ramirez.
After six months, they removed the electricity poles entirely. They said electricity was too expensive. They would have to get a job down in the city to afford it. In the hustle-bustle world, most people wouldn’t even think twice about getting a job down in the city to pay for electricity. But in Viacha, they didn’t think once about going to the city. That would mean compromising the lifestyle they knew and loved.
In Viacha, I asked the family at one point if they ever thought about moving down to the city.
One villager simply replied, “We have all we need right here.”
As the tour group hiked down from Viacha, we found children running to greet us, just out of school (a school that just so happened to rest at 13,000 feet). They were smiling, laughing and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Was I seeing things clearly? Weren’t they supposed to be miserable, yearning for the bright lights of the big city?
Nope. They were just fine.
In fact, I saw many instances of this. People on old buses in tiny villages laughing and smiling with each other. Children behaving just as they do anywhere else, despite not having first-world comforts such as shoes (many working villagers — including the girl in the mountains — wore sandals, and their legs and feet were generally covered in dirt).
PHOTO: A sole villager weaving in the middle of nowhere as we descend from Cruzccasa Pass to Huacahuasi.
Peru has its effects on just about anybody. One of the most memorable moments of the tour came nearly 14,000 feet up in the mountains at a Cruzccasa Pass lake. Two British tourists jumped into its icy cold waters with glee upon arriving. The father of a well-to-do Peruvian family joined them. When you are this high up in the mountains, surrounded by natural beauty, you just want to connect with the natural world any way you can.
Even the town of Machu Picchu, which was a landmark of the advanced Inca civilization, was simple in a way. I call it “advanced simplicity.”
The Inca civilization, which borrowed much from the ancient Andean cultures, had a very advanced collective mind. The Incas developed architectural and design practices — to combat earthquakes, in some cases — that are used extensively today.
They also used nature to their advantage instead of plowing through it. For example, they placed cork-sized wood inside naturally eroded cracks within giant boulders so when the rains came, the wood would expand and widen the gap. Then, they would take a hammer or a chisel, strike the fracture lines from above, and the rock would split. This technique was used a lot by the Incas to form boulders.
The Incas also used natural elements to break and form boulders for constructing major landmarks. At the Ollantaytambo archaeological site, for example, one theory is they used bronze and tin wire, with the help of the sun’s heat, to saw through granite.
In all of these cases, the Incas are using the simple natural world to create astounding architectural masterpieces. They didn’t have machines or the Internet.
Perhaps, if there’s one thing to learn from some of the remote villages of Peru — and the Inca civilization and ancient Andean cultures — it’s this: Create your own world, and live your life, starting with the basics.
You may be surprised how far the basics will take you, and how little you really need to be content.
PHOTO: A little boy looks on as one of the villagers works at Awanacancha.
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