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What Other Artists Are Doing

5 Sep
urban pole at the International Potato Center

urban pole at the International Potato Center

Dear ayllu,

In a few days, I’ll be flying back to Scotland and from what I’ve heard from my friends, the welcoming parties for the new students are already starting in full swing. The day after I land, I will be running to registration offices… attending the Freshers’ Fair, where our Circus Society will be telling the newbies what we’re all about… spending the afternoon at Give-It-a-Go, in which we’ll perform and give sporadic trapeze & silks workshops on the university lawn… and see all my friends again after a 3 month summer break.

I’ve had such a great time blogging more often. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too! As always, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to blog once I’m back in Scotland, but I’m optimistic (as usual) that since I now know what university’s about, I’ll be able to balance it better.

Today is my last day at the International Potato Center. I’m just finishing up my work. The two videos I worked on have been shown at several conferences and the feedback was very good, especially for the project trailer. The minute it’s up on the CIP website / YouTube page, I’ll publish the link. It will best explain the project I’ve been a part of this past month.

with my supervisor Veronique and my fellow crazy intern Kathleen

with my supervisor Veronique and my fellow crazy intern Kathleen

So before I leave the country, I wanted to leave you with some videos of artists who have been influencing me, and who I have cast a firm and fascinated eye on. If you follow me on Twitter or Tumblr, then you’ll already know most of this, but I did want to dedicate a blog to what other artists are doing.

Firstly, with love from Scotland, the man who was supposed to follow his father’s footsteps and take over the local fish and chips shop:


Who knows where the audio track in the middle of the song is from? Here’s a clue:


Secondly, a short report introducing a fantastic new band and Grammy nominee, with love from Lima, Peru:

Visit their Official Website to know how you can get their music!


This is a fascinating film, based on a true story, that I cannot wait to see. It might be in your local indie cinema at the moment, so please rush to see it if you can.

I spent this week reading the following memoir and, because I am superstitious, I’m raced to finish it before my flight. It’s the true story of Juliane Koepke, who, when she was 17, became the sole survivor of a plane crash en route to the jungle city Pucalpa. She fought her way through the Amazon rainforest for 11 days with fractured bones, eventually finding her way out and discovering that everyone else, including her mother, had perished in the accident. Approximately 50 years later, she published her memoirs.

Juliane Koepke

Juliane Koepke

As “chance” will have it, her book has just been translated into Spanish and in a few days times, Juliane Koepke will be arriving and signing this book in Lima. I, unfortunately, will have left by then, so I urge everyone who will be here to go to the event, meet her, and get a copy of her book. It is very very good.

Here is the official invitation:


If you happen to not be in Peru, you can console yourself with an excellent documentary about Juliane’s survival by German director Werner Herzog, entitled Wings Of Hope. As “chance” would have it, he was desperately trying to get on that fated flight as well, as he was in the middle of finding Aguirre in the Peruvian Amazon. The flight, however, was overbooked, and he and his film team couldn’t get on.

Scoot up, I’m trying to watch this too:

Well, my friends, I have to get some work done before the day is through. I hope you enjoyed this first round of What Other Artists Are Doing. I’ll keep you informed on good art I discover along the way. Until then, I leave you with something I have been doing… with you… MY BLURB.

Thank you to everyone who gave me such excellent feedback; who wasn’t annoyed at me for bugging them about it. This is it. Unless I change something else.

You’re a fool if you think we work the fields! The fields work us!”

This foreboding riddle could have led Damian to be more careful with the Earth, but not much makes sense when you have knots growing out of your head. The young traveller works at a circus of flying people. He learns how to help others with magical plants, but neglects opening his own knots.

When Damian thoroughly loses what is left of his balance, he falls over the horizon. He wakes up to find himself in a desolate desert where the Earth sees him as a seed that refuses to grow. Only by striking a friendship with a charming but cheeky potato and learning to look the Earth in the eye, can Damian hope to open his knots and return to his side of the horizon.

Rooted in Peruvian mythology, Qayqa is a novel about the living energy of the universe, a fairytale about finding yourself.

Got thoughts on it? Let me know what you think!

Love, Ritti


Flying Over the Andes

28 Aug

Every manual for writers encourages us to write as much and as often as possible. The idea is to become familiar with your word flow, your inner thesaurus, and to become masters at describing the most mundane of elements in everyday life. When you can successfully describe the poetry in the mundane; when you can linguistically re-create scenarios everyone knows from daily life – then you are exercising your writing muscle. It’s an exercise I love doing, and that I don’t do enough.

This is what I wrote in my diary as we flew from Lima to Cusco. This is the view that inspired me.

These are quick thoughts from which more descriptions and metaphors can be born – completely work-in-progress!!!

Photo 21-08-2014 16 19 49

I can see the beginning of the Andes. The sirus clouds that cover the city of Lima reach only to their knees, like white wave lapping brown ruffles. They become minor, unimportant. It thrills me Such brown desolation, sharp cuts. No one lives here. On the horizon I see white peaks rise, white towers coming closer. How awed we all must feel when flying over Peru!

Photo 21-08-2014 16 24 23

Oh but the white is a crown for the brown mountains that made is so high. An act of distinction. A mutation of height.

And now the clouds that inhabit the space over these mountains begin to manifest. Thicker, they hang over the brown ruffles with a view to their lower cousins, the one who blanket Lima and lap at the knees of the brown ruffles. Solitary bodies, these thicker clouds cast large solitary shadows over the brown plateaus. How they must smile fondly at the Lima blankets, covering a world they neither see nor care about.

Photo 21-08-2014 16 29 36

The horizon becomes more jagged, interesting. The ruffles have now calmed into a plateau; the height has been conquered. These mountains now cover the world; their high plateau is no white base of the world, the point of origin from whence all life begins. And indeed, between the valleys, in every benign ridge, sparkles of rooftops appear. Brown tin, as though its inhabitants were camouflaging from fearsome sky predators.

Tired of plateaus, the mountains now rise again, resume their wild jagged nature. Their shapes are obviously restless, the existence as plateaus has obviously bored them. They rise to meet the clouds which now become tangled in them. They want another crown, another mark of distinction. Plateaus and valleys only served to become populated. No, they want to be wild again.

Photo 21-08-2014 16 51 05

And where they sink, they fall into the sirus clouds again, and it looks like that is where the world ends: the cliff over which mountains fall. They disappear into the grey-blue smog, over which thick solitary clouds hang as though patrolling, seeking the mountains that had fallen in.

Photo 21-08-2014 16 43 33

At the edge of the sunken world stand the mountains looking black. White tufts of clouds hang onto their sides like children afraid to venture. The horizon is empty again. There is a valley here where mountains do not belong, cannot exist. We leave it, turn to look at the rest of the world.

The mountains have matured. They are no longer light brown ruffles in the world but dark brown, almost black, serious creatures. They have reached new heights, have broken the hymen of clouds and are now peaked in white. Almost deadly, they stand adjoined in fraternity. They have survived the sunken world into which mountains fall, they have matured, and looking over the peaks of lower mountains, they see one another.

Photo 21-08-2014 16 52 49

I am so close to them, I can almost touch them. I don’t. Something must remain holy.

Photo 21-08-2014 16 53 56 (1)

The valleys widen now. What mountains the Incas crossed to found Cusco! How easily we fly over them today.

We are descending. I have written for almost an hour and a half. We are descending to the landing strip I know so well because I used to live close to it. I watched planes arrive and leave all the time and was happy I was only watching. Now I am landing myself and in a few days, I will take off again and return to descend into the blanket over Lima.

Photo 21-08-2014 16 31 22

that’s not wine; it’s chicha

About My Book:

For reasons I understand, Mark is now inspired to paint more for Qayqa. I think it’s the fact that the pressure is off his shoulders. Now that he’s illustrated what we agreed, he feels more relaxed and can start creating again. Ironic, no? He sent me a few illustrations today, like this one I didn’t understand myself at first – and I wrote the damn book! Mark knows my images better than I do.


I’ve been struggling with the damn blurb for almost a week now. I decided to break all expectations and rules and go with what I like. I published my work-in-progress blurb on my Tumblr and asked for feedback. You can also give me feedback here! Tell me, does this sound like something you want to take home with you?

“You’re a fool if you think we work the fields. The fields work us!”

This foreboding riddle could have led Damian to be more careful with the earth, but not much makes sense when you have knots growing out of your head. As a young man on the road he finds work at a circus of flying people, learns about medicinal plants from the Obeah cook Ti, but continues not understanding his knots.

When Damian completely loses his balance and falls over the horizon, he lands in a desolate world where the Earth sees him as a seed that refuses to grow. Only by striking up a friendship with a charming but cheeky potato, battling the demons living within the Earth and digesting a storm of ghosts, can Damian hope to open his knots and return to his side of the horizon.

Rooted in Peruvian mythology, Qayqa is a novel about the living energy of the universe, a fairytale about finding yourself.

Until we meet again, I hope you enjoyed the thought-jumbles from the plane.

always on a plane

always on a plane

Love, Ritti

The Making Of Of Qayqa

11 Aug

photo 2

Work at the institute is going well. I finished a rough cut of the final material and ran into the weekend feeling I had accomplished something. But the city of Lima is driving me nuts and with Peru being so large, it’s hard to get very far with only a weekend to escape. So I complain to friends who raise their eyebrows and snigger: “Ritti, that’s the life we’ve been having for years. It’s what life is like if you’ve got a normal job.”

I did not know that.

The most normal job I’ve had is working at regional television with spontaneous working hours… And cafes / bars. I’ve never done a 9-5. Currently I’m doing a 7:30-4:30 job. In Peru’s winter. What the hell was I thinking.


The Making Of… Of… Qayqa

Last week I requested on Twitter for people to send me questions about Qayqa and my life / work as a writer. The reason for this is that I’m currently preparing a Qayqa Making Of book: a side-project which is designed to keep me sane (and motivated) while I walk Qayqa through the last steps of her birth. I got some excellent questions from a friend and stayed up way past my working-hours-bedtime having fun answering them. I found them to be so insightful and delicious. Here are 3 that made me snigger with delight:

We know that your life at the circus inspired elements of Qayqa, such as the Flying People, but how did your work on Qayqa have an influence on your work as an aerial artist?

Are there elements of Qayqa that you wrote knowing they would give away a lot of yourself, and if so, how did you manage to trust your readers and your audience enough to open up to them like this?

Many people are looking forward to learn more about The Flying People, do you feel like the great interest of people on THEIR story is somehow betraying Damian’s journey and HIS story?

Insightful, ey?

Some people will be receiving the Making Of book as their reward for supporting the crowd funding project. I’m going to print a limited edition and sell the rest during my book tour. So grab ’em while they’re out!

Chatting with a friend in Lima, I mentioned that I couldn’t think of a good title for the book. “I can’t really call it: the making of of Qayqa, can I?” He stared at me and immediately gave me the best idea. It’s brilliant because it’s to short, explanatory… and references X Men. I love X Men. This is how much I love X Men:

at Universal Studios in 2008

at Universal Studios in 2008

at the "Days of Future Past" premiere in Aberdeen

at the “Days of Future Past” premiere in 2013

I’ll be calling the making of book QAYQA: ORIGINS.

Get it?


My friend was amazed that I hadn’t thought of it myself.

I’ve sent Mark some questions for the book as well. I’m hoping it will give you an insight into the thought processes, the stories, the coincidences that all came together to make my first novel. And perhaps a sneak-peak into Munay, the sequel.

I spent the weekend finding my ideal café where I could write and go over Mark’s illustrations.

by Mark Klawikowski

by Mark Klawikowski

I also wrote for Munay. I realised (again) that she is much more done than I had thought. I’m connecting her dots and it’s so much fun to re-read all the old sections I wrote, knowing where I was in my life at that time, and where I was traveling too.

While I was seeping through, I discovered a passage that I’m not so sure will stay in Munay any more. I wrote it in Cusco two years ago, after a lovers quarrel, and now I realise it’s out of place in Munay. I may change my mind, but until then, what to do with it?

Put it in the blog, I thought.



“How Women Argue” by Ritti Soncco 

Allow me to generalise without apology: the trouble is that women are not as accustomed to sidestepping, not as accustomed to waiting with the patience of cavaliers. We do not harbour as little judgment as men who seem born with the knowledge that we must accept what is given and never demand more because “woman are fundamentally different, my son”. Instead, we are creatures of passion whose cries of strength and cries of insecurity sound identical. Who want “everything is fine” to mean “stay here and talk to me because nothing is alright”.

And so we fall into the dilemma of being a woman. A dilemma we ourselves do not approve of. We do not want to stand in a corner overcrowded with clichés. We despise the confrontation of man versus woman; the one which ends with the evolutionary argument that we are fundamentally different. What rubbish. We prefer the school of thought “everything is only as complicated as you make it”. We insist that we are not complicated.

And so we find ourselves increasingly demanding a sphere of our own. Why should the ionosphere be as unarguable as this and have all the fun? Where is our world where the rules of gravity and air agree that we are in the right? One sphere to call our own, into which the world can enter and understand what we meant when we said _______________; understand why we needed that hug to last longer or those extra words of praise. Understand that we weren’t being needy, we weren’t feeding a cliché; we will not be branded and used as an example of Venus.

Breathe the air of our sphere and you’ll know how a woman feels. Fly around in our wind and you’ll understand why we fall so hard in love, why it makes us feel insecure, perfect, insufficient, and divine. I tell you if we could have a sphere of our own we would never be cornered with clichés again. We’d be an aerial fact, something to be measured. Rational minds would agree on the degrees of feminine passion, the knots of feminine insecurity and the average speed of feminine stability.

Was my anger in our last fight a moderate gale or a deep depression? I meant it to scatter the clouds but I fear it called forth a storm instead. In my passion, as analysed by the Beaufort Scale and therefore measured by observed conditions on land or sea (you choose), we are now flying over the India of my love and experiencing a moderate tropical storm. According to the anemometers this is the average wind speed for a monsoon. You know what to do.

A sphere for our emotional weather, where women can remain as understandable and elusive as the clouds of every other sphere.


If you have any questions you would like me to include in QAYQA: ORIGINS (snigger), write me! I’m here for ya.

The Backpacker Poem is ONLINE

8 Oct

This is it: Our around-the-world video project is done!

To give all the newbies a short recap: back in August 2012, while I was backpacking through Perú, I wrote a poem about the life on the road – and had the idea to ask backpackers around the world to participate in a film project based on this poem. I filmed myself talking about this idea and posted the resulting video onto my blog:

I honestly wasn’t sure how much interest this project would spark up. Having a blog is really like talking to yourself in the mirror when you think you’re all by yourself. I’m constantly being surprised with the lines: “I read in your blog that…” So after being given evidence from different corners that there are avid readers of my blog, I decided to risk it and take our relationship to the next level: active participation.

… And I received incredible feedback! The project was retweeted and passed around immediately, and I received the first video contribution on the very same day – thank you Val! Over the upcoming two months, the videos kept pouring in. I was in a fever whenever I received a new video. I must have watched them over & over again. It was pure christmas-presents feeling, pure excitement. Honestly: I’m sad it’s over! I loved opening my inbox to find a new video lying in wait.

Ofcourse I didn’t know, until the end, which lines people would choose and therefore which lines were taken. It was interesting to see which lines were the ones that people most identified with. “Joyful that my wealth was the landscapes around me” was a favourite. In this way, the poem came alive over the last two months, like a puppet slowly beginning to move. I loved hearing my words with so many different voices.

What was fun was when two people, who live on opposite sides of the planet and know nothing of each other, chose the same lines. In video, they have to share the lines, and while editing it sometimes looked to me as though these complete strangers were in the middle of an intimate dialogue…

I gained a lot of insight learning which lines touched you the most. As a writer, as a blogger, I’m constantly on a mission to find out which lines keep you awake at night. I have a few favourites in there too, that might have a cameo in Munay.

Back in Germany, I set up my computer and began editing. I took this picture last night, as I was almost done:

On a personal note: the best lesson this project gave me was the realisation that there’s a community reading this blog. So if you can hear me, if you’re reading this: it’s fantastic knowing you’re out there.

This is it. This is what happens when a bunch of creative and exciting people around the world read a poem.


The Backpacker Poem from ritti soncco on Vimeo.

If you liked it, please share it on your facebook, twitter, blogs, etc! If you liked it, join the blog so that you can join our next project!

Additionally to a line from the poem, I received a short film from a backpacker friend, who not only wanted to send me her line, but also her thoughts on the project itself. I compiled her words into a short video, so as to share it with all of you. This is what she had to say about backpacking and about our Backpacker Poem Project:


Some notes to editing THE BACKPACKER POEM:

Editing presented two major challenges: The first was, as it has always been, sound. Most people, when they’re backpacking, aren’t carrying professional sound equipment around in their backpacks – unless your name is Almuth, you worked at Radio Free FM, and you’re backpacking through Perú. When I recorded a video and played it back on the camera, the sound seemed good. Later, on the editing programme, not so much. Well. Such is life. I wanted to put subtitles so as to bring a little more focus onto the lines and less onto the changing locations – in the end, subtitles were good with the sound issue, too.

The second issue was that everyone, obviously, has their own rhythm of speech. I tackled it by laying a soundtrack: it’s “Unspoken” by Four Tet.

I loved your creative videos and your enthusiastic energy. Personally, I would love to do something like this again. So I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on the final video, and if you think it would be sweet to see how far we can go with ideas like this.

It’s been a great ride with you guys in my car. I look forward to your thoughts, ideas, comments. Please feel free share the video on your every networking site! Here’s to more adventures on the road of our crazy little heads.

The Cookie Gun, and Some More Fun

5 Oct

The cat’s out of the bag: I’m back in Germany. I was being secretive about my return until I was told that everybody already knew I was back. But the anti-climax had a surprising climax: when I saw Mark, he told me that my return had been announced on the radio. So, thank you very much, obscure radio journalist, for making me feel famous and somewhat intruded!

My flight went smoothly and other than having an overly enthusiastic pilot, who stopped the films every now and then to let us know what exciting places he was flying us over, the only other excitement I had was at migration in Puerto Rico. Here’s the tweet about it:

Confused, migration in Puerto Rico had my bag go thru their X-Ray twice. The officer explained to me: “Your cookies, the book and the electric adapter were lying on top of each other like this…” Using said three items, he formed a gun. “And we didn’t like what we saw. All good though.” He packed my bag again. “We have nothing against cookies, after all.”

This tweet received some fun responses:

“Least it wasn’t a dodgy sex toy”

“You don’t need a gun. You’ve got a blog.”

“Not a revolutionary so no bomb, just a foodie who loves cookies lol”

And to Mascha’s response…

“Picture of the cookie-book-adapter-gun please!”

… come the following two pictures. I tried to mimic what I think it must have looked like in their fancy X-Ray machine. I’m sure one of you out there can do a better job, but this is the basic gist:

And the real deal:

See the gun?

Migration had a good laugh about it, and I went on looking for my gate, thinking that when you least expect it, life will display its great sense of humour at your expense, and in the end, you’ll have to laugh. Another example that comes to mind is when I crossed the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. We all had to pile out of the bus, open our bags for general inspection and let the migrations dog sniff it. This dog was so friendly and pleased with his job, that he excitedly jumped up to greet one of the bus passengers. This poor man instinctively threw his hands over his head and shouted: “I swear I don’t have any drugs!” We all burst out laughing: the dog was only being friendly.

Or when the inspection officer in Panamá went through my luggage and discovered a bottle of Colombian aguardiente (“fire water”, 29%). I explained: “I have good friends in Nicaragua.” When he found the second bottle of aguardiente, he gave me a sceptical look and I added: “I’m also a writer.”

I had a lot of ridiculous adventures while border-hopping. If you want to know more, just ask at the next reading.

a bag

Returning to Germany actually went a lot “smoother” than I thought. This could be because this time, as opposed to when I returned in March 2012, I was ready to come back. You’ll have noticed how I came to Germany and zipped back to Perú the instant I could. And in hindsight, I can say that I really needed to do that. I wasn’t “done” with Perú, and now, after four months of digging deeper, developing my Peruvian sense of identity (something I didn’t know growing up, and which I am only now developing), and collecting information for Munay, I’m ready to digest. I’m dying to give readings, I’m excited to publish Qayqa.

The first two things upcoming for Qayqa are to plan the book tour with YOU (yes, you); and to work on the book illustrations with Mark. Here are two pictures from his doodle book, which can give you a minute idea of how excited I am that he will be illustrating Qayqa:

by Mark Klawikowski

And I’m sure this one is sheer mockery of my blog:

by Mark Klawikowski

We’ve set aside a week in November to work on the illustrations. I’m excited to blog about our progress and perhaps sneak-peak the odd illustration now and then… We’ve already had a few talks about the style Mark wants to illustrate in, and what I especially liked was that he doesn’t so much want to illustrate scenes from the book, but rather: feelings. Moments of silence; moments that will (hopefully) bring you closer to the characters and let you stand among them, breathing in their air, while you take a break from the narrative.

It will be a very exciting progress, I am sure. And coffee-fueled. Bloody hell.

What’s it like to be back? I’m loving this wild autumn wind. I timed my return so as to not have too much time to think, but instead jump right back into work. Today, I sent out a tweet concerning the Backpacker Poem Project. All I was missing was one line, so ♥ THANK YOU ♥ to Hannah Platt and Alonso de Belaunde for their quick response and romantic video! Watch out for the epic Peruvian hat Hannah is wearing; it make her looks like a “cute egg”, as she would say!

And here’s the shout of celebration: The Backpacker Poem Project has received sixteen … oops, make that seventeen (thank you Gerhard!) video contributions from around the world!!! They were sent from Canada to Ecuador… from Guatemala to Finland… from Germany to Nicaragua. Editing is well underway and I’ll have it up soon! Until then, here’s a small screenshot and my THANK YOU smile:

The next few weeks will be slightly crazy for me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. It involves a lot of creativity and travelling. It’s just strange to be thrust so suddenly back into the artist life of survival, after being a backpacker and hovering uselessly at bus terminals and sitting around on boats. Almuth found a watch lying on the ground in Iquitos, which she kindly gave to me. I started telling people the time just because it didn’t mean anything: “It’s 3:35 pm, and that means nothing. We have nothing to do and nowhere to go. 3:35 pm, everyone!”

Now, the challenge will be to keep a clear head. Yesterday, I met up with Udo Eberl, director of the upcoming performance EXODUS. We had a great talk about my role in the performance, some exciting brainstorming, and now I have some challenging texts to compose for my characters. Next week will be full of all-day rehearsals.

This weekend, however, are the autumn performances of the Circus Serrando! So if you’ve been dying to get out of the house and have some family entertainment, PLEASE COME. This year’s performance is Annuschka und die Vier Jahreszeiten, at 3 pm on Saturday 6th October and Sunday 7th October, Altes Theater, Ulm. Family entertainment for all you young at heart, and all your children.

Click HERE to go to Serrando’s official website and view our trailer.

This is where the performances will be:


I just re-read this post and feel like I must seem to be overflowing with energy. Actually, it’s the damned jetlag. All day I feel like I’m a drop of water desperately hanging onto a leaf (I’m sure this is a German expression but I cannot remember how it goes), exhaustedly trying not to collapse onto the ground. Around 10 pm, I am wide awake, a chatterbox, and getting kicked out of friends’ houses.

As I mentioned in the previous post: I’m ready to “squeeze my eyes” and give back some of the beauty I saw on the road. I have a lot of energy for the upcoming performances and my book tour. But what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t start right now! The following pictures were taken on a national flight in Nicaragua, and below is what I was writing at the time.

I think this excerpt will be somewhere towards the end of Munay. This is Anahata speaking about her growing relationship with, and understanding towards, the love of her life: the clouds.

I realised that to see clouds from below was to see them with less illusion. I used to pity the townspeople for looking up and never seeing how high a cloud continues, what stories he tells of winds and altitudes. They only saw the base, I thought, a flat dimension, just as they saw the horizon as a line and the sun as a perfect circle. When I thought of them, I thought they lived in ignorant isolation. The things I had seen, the wealth I had collected in my eyes, set me apart, I thought.

But now, clipped, crippled, willingly fearful and cautious, I looked up and saw not the intoxication of a rising kingdom – but the changing faces of clouds.

Flying, we had felt the clouds’ bodies, but we had never discovered their faces. We often mused about it, sitting on our field after a day spent in the sky. Looking up, we’d ask each other where the faces of clouds could possibly be. Where we could see their expressions, the eyes with which they look at the world, and the moods with which they grumble and rain. But all this time, the face of the cloud could only be seen from the ground. All this time, the clouds weren’t looking back at us: they were looking down.
Now I could see its face, and now I could see its nature. I saw it illuminate with the privacy of lightning. I saw it hover in the distance. I saw it seduce with elusive romance.

And I understood how I had come to fall in love. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have preferred: the brutal falls from the sky and the utter subjection of my own psyche – or seeing the faces of the clouds clearly from the ground, knowing their danger and their romance from a distance. Would I have felt safe on the ground – or would I have wondered what it would be like to fly?

Here’s what I do know: the path they sent me on was the hardest walk I ever had to take – but when the clouds made me fall, I discovered my feet and with my feet I discovered the world.

Thank You for Blessing My Road

12 Sep

Today I tweeted: “THANK YOU, all the friends & strangers who blessed me along my journey, with their words, gods, help and friendship! It has helped!”

Tonight, I really want to elaborate in a short, short post.

During my writing & backpacking journey the last 8 months, I have been blessed with intense encounters with people who, after a few simple exchanges of dialogue, touched my hands or my face, and said: “I wish you all the best.”

Or even: “May your road be blessed, may you find everything you are looking for, and may your journey continue to be as beautiful as it has been so far.”

So far on this blog, I have spoken in abundance about the wealth of the landscapes, and photographed them with passion, so as to share them with you. I spoke little of the people I have met, and how their friendship has blessed, challenged and encouraged me.

And even less has been said about the people who came into our lives for single seconds, but -if we let them- stay with us for much longer. Such as the beautiful lady Olga Calderon, who spoke with such love about her son and grandchild, and afterwards gave me her phone number so that the next time I am Bogotá, I can stay at her house. Or the kind, kind elderly traveller, Roy from Australia, who insisted on paying for my hotel room so that I wouldn’t have to sit in the bus terminal until 6 in the morning: “I’d like to think that if my granddaughter were sitting in some terminal all night, someone would help her out too. She’s my princess, and so are you.”

I thank you.

The friends who have come to define entire cities for me – people who I met one evening, who later took me into their homes, showed me around their towns, and shared with me the secrets of their homes. You are the true value of my road.

I thank you.

The pixie who hides flowers and notes in my books, which fall suddenly into my lap, surprise and delight me, and make me realise that this is one of my favourite things about being alive.

In the hassle of travelling, of border-hopping – of finding yourself again alone in a new city, trying to figure the city rules out and trying to keep a mental map of the roads in your head – all the blessings from strangers & friends echo in my heart, and I feel a little more warm and a little less afraid.

And I think: Surely there’s a place where they all go – surely they work together with karma. Surely, if these people are blessing me with their words, with their gods, with their friendship and their help, surely I have something beautiful on my side. A guardian angel. Something. And my walk becomes a little less shaky. And things somehow always work out.

Tonight, in a hotel room thanks to Roy (a hot shower thanks to Roy – a big warm bed thanks to Roy), I want to thank all of you with my whole heart.

I hope you see my blog as your home – as a place of my gratitude for how you enriched my life.

As soon as the road quietens down (which will be soon), I’ll reply to all your comments on my previous posts. Just so you know: I love hearing your thoughts, and the interesting discussions that follow up are what make this blog so special to me. So please know: I read everything you write me. I’ll reply as soon as I can.

Joyful that My Wealth Was the Landscapes Around Me

7 Sep

When we took the ship from Pucallpa to Iquitos, we had a lot of time for ourselves. It was a journey of 5 days and I had a lot of time to THINK. This post will include extracts from my journal, from during these days.

The ship we took belonged to a fleet called Henry. The 4-5 day journey from Pucallpa to Iquitos costs 100 soles (approx. € 30), including 3 meals a day. The ship supervisor later told me off for accepting the price without haggling: “If you say you only have 90 soles, or 80 soles, ofcourse we’ll accept! Just don’t try to haggle us down to 50. Only hippies try that. It’s bad.”

If you are planning this journey, this is what you must bring:

  • a hammock
  • learn one form of sailor knot, because the people who’ll help you hang up your hammock will charge you for it. And the price will depend on your skin colour. The whiter you are, the more expensive the knot.
  • a small food container in which to receive your food. Note: you can go for second and third helpings!
  • a spoon. Knives and forks are an unnecessary luxury.
  • Soap for your body, soap for your dishes.
  • More water bottles than you can carry. There’s a bar onboard and the prices are pretty much the same as they are on land, but in Pucallpa, you can get a 2.5 liter bottle for 2.5 soles (75 cents) and that’s a pretty sweet deal.
  • enough toilet paper for your 5 day needs

I made a short video for you to give you an impression of what it was like on the ship:

If you ever tire of Henry’s food, regular stops are made at villages for passengers to get on and off, which is when villagers board to sell fresh fish dishes, watermelons, eggs, etc. They won’t care what time you stop at their village: they’ll get on and broadcast their merchandise at the top of their lungs regardless of the hour. We stopped at Requena at 3am and woke up from the shouting: “Hay papas, hay papas! Hay pescadito, hay pescadito! / We have potatoes, we have fish!”

The Henry fleet is the only official and secure means of travelling up to Iquitos. We asked around at several ports and were always sent back to Henry. He sells cool beer, chocolates, cookies, soft drinks and cigarettes at his bar. There is running tap water. And four toilet cabins. Each toilet cabin is also a shower cabin; i.e, the shower is above the toilet, meaning that you could literally shower while sitting on the toilet. Most shower taps were loose, so that going to the bathroom meant that you came out with your back drenched from the dripping shower.

And yes – the shower & tap water comes from the Amazon, and your refuse goes right back in. But tell me – what else are they supposed to do? Seriously?!

It’s not all beautiful: everything, literally everything, is thrown into the river. From plastic bottles to baby diapers. Henry offers a large plastic bag where you can put your trash, but these bags are also thrown into the Amazon. People are quick to chuck things – it was impossible to stop them on time, and believe me, we tried.

I spoke to the captain about it, suggesting they put up signs and hang trash bags by the windows. He shrugged and said, “Ofcourse, but these people have no education. They’ll keep throwing things into the river.” I emphasised the need for someone to make the first step, and he agreed, but I really doubt anything will be done.

Here are some extracts from my journal:

A good time to read all your books. To exhaust every thought. My thoughts are a place of cool refuge, but I’ve chased them into their forests so often that the path is now well-trodden and I am ready to LIVE again.

I think every thought through. Then I challenge every thought. Then I challenge my challenges. Now I know a little more about myself.

Fourth day. No one is expecting to arrive today, but there’s that quiet ease of having completed the obligatory four days, and now a patience settles in. “We’ll get there when we get there.”

A sense of solitude and isolation. Almuth and I watch our mosquito bites and count the days. “Malaria has an incubation period of 7 days,” she says. And if we got malaria, nothing can be done but hang on. We’re in the middle of nowhere. If my leg falls off, nothing can be done but wait until we arrive. There is nothing out there – but jungle – and there is no quick way out of this.

The heat and the duration makes this journey challenging. But I’m learning many new things: sleeping whole nights in a hammock for the first time in my life, for example! Now I am getting very attached to my hammock. I absolutely love it. What a useful and relaxing invention. After 3 full days of this, I wonder why we ever live without hammocks. Are they not just endlessly practical and comfortable?

I’m learning to live around the weather, according to its rules. A lessons in showers around midday, to be slightly cool when the sun is at its most ferocious. But live under no illusions: you won’t escape sweating again, sticky skin again. But for 10-20 minutes, your skin will be cool and you’ll feel you have won.

Sleep around midday, just to escape the worst of it. I’m so unprepared: I have neither a blanket nor a sleeping bag, so I’m using my towel as my blanket and pillow. But those eyeshades are saving my life! (Thank you Duke!)

A cool breeze will make all the difference, turn everything into pleasure and paradise into an adjective. Sewing, knitting, sleeping, and standing at the outer balconies watching the rainforest roll by.

The worst is the screaming babies, but luckily we have our MP3 players.

Still not sure how long the journey will go on for. Most speak of 5 days. Considering how low the river is, our progress has been rather slow. We stop every night around 8pm and begin sailing around 6am.

At night we’re like a species of ghosts resting in our cocoons. By day we’re playful monkeys, swinging in our hammocks, crashing against one another, sleeping, laughing – just trying to let the days pass quickly. Are we getting better at it? I realise now it’s a mistake to count the days. It’s the worst thing you could possibly do. Just let them blur.

There’s a nun on board with a small, small puppy (did you spot her in the video?) who keeps rolling around when the ship turns. There’s another nun wearing a pink shirt that says in bold glittering letters: I’M NO ANGEL. You can’t make stuff like this up.

Women check each other for lice. We’re fine so far.

Last night there was a beautiful display of lightning. Almuth and I sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellent and went to watch the sky display. I asked her if she knew how lightning occurred and she said: “It happens due to the little pluses and minuses in the clouds.” I loved her reply.

In Peru, people say: “Thinking too much will break your head. A good conversation is worth more than thinking so much.” Almuth and I are the only two gringos on the ship and everyone is curious as to why we are there. The minute one of us stands alone, contemplating the river, just wanting some peace & quiet to think, someone comes up to us to ask us who we are, where we are from, where we are going… Answer that 200 times.

The lack of privacy is trying. The only escape is lying in the hammock. The days have blurred. I have no idea how long I’ve been here. On a ship, it’s useless to count the days. Don’t make that mistake my friends.

And then, in a small pocket of time, startlingly pale and literally pink, a small dolphin. Just its back as it broke the surface. And me, giddy with delight, with awe at something so beautiful. A strange little albino, a literally pink dolphin.

Yes, the ship journey was a challenging experience, not merely for the heat but also for 5 days without anything to do, except think, read and sleep. But to sail up the Amazon was a thing I simply had to do! I made very good friends onboard: Percy, the ship’s cook who only talked about the food people eat in different countries; the ship supervisor who’s been travelling back and forth between Pucallpa and Iquitos for 3 months, is always moved to a different ship shortly before the harbour, and has therefore not actually reached a city, or set foot on land, in 3 months; Frank, who played the guitar for me; the most beautiful baby in the world, a boy called Schneider (?!), etc.

I wrote for Munay on the Henry ship, and I continued writing in Iquitos. We were very lucky to make friends with wonderful wonderful Iquiteños, who told us many fables and beliefs from the jungle. I was constantly scribbling into my journal, and now have many exciting new ideas, characters and plant knowledge for Munay.

So I want to thank Frank and Adderli for sharing their knowledge with me so openly. Yes, you’ll be thanked officially in the book!

After we arrived in Iquitos, I ended up staying one week, and here are some impressions from around the capital of the Peruvian jungle:

children swimming in the Amazon

being given a face mask with the rich Amazon earth

yuca plant

just compare the monkey’s elegant pensive pose with my hysterical antics, and tell me homo sapiens are more highly developed!

This lovely sloth is a house pet and a regular stop on jungle tour. All he wanted to do was munch on his alkaline leaves and get high (thus producing the sleepy grin), but along come a bunch of tourists who try to pick him up.

And here we find out that sloths actually make sounds… that they have really long nails… and that they can be very fast! As promised, a sloth-video for you:

leaves that are bigger than my head

in the Reserva Nacional

okay, now I’m just showing off

To be honest, dear ayllu, I have a lot I could say about Iquitos, but the truth is, this was never meant to be a travel blog … and there are other things I want to talk to you about. Suffice it to say that we had many many adventures in Iquitos and made very good friends. After a week, we were offered a job at the Camiri Floating Hostel, where we were staying the last few days. The deal was to work in the bar, and in exchange live & eat there for free. We both seriously considered it. I declined. Almuth accepted! How cool is she!

I still have a bit of road ahead of me, and didn’t feel ready to settle down in Iquitos for my last month. So on Tuesday morning, I took a speedboat for 40 passengers to Leticia, Colombia. The journey took 10 hours. It cost $77, we were served breakfast and a hot lunch, and the toilet worked all the time.

inside the speedboat

The last sunset over Perú, seen from Colombia:

I stayed one night in Leticia, as I had a connecting flight to Bogotá the next day. Now I am in Bogotá, writing this post. My backpacking is coming to an end, and I will admit that I’m glad. I’m getting tired. As a very good friend said: “I’m not running to waterfalls anymore.”

After a while, every plaza begins to look alike. Every beach in paradise is just another strip of sand. Last night, I decided that I won’t, after all, go to Cartagena. I’m sure it’s as beautiful as everyone tells me, but I don’t think I’m in the emotional place to appreciate it. Right now, all I really want is to spend time with friends. I’m not going to run to every museum in Bogotá. I may not even see a single one! – except for the Botero musem, ofcourse.

In Bogotá, I’m staying with my good friend Erick, about whose band, Milmarias, I’m planning to write in the next post. Next week, I’ll travel to Nicaragua to visit another friend, and after this, my backpacking will end, and I’m alright with that. I feel the wealth in my eyes; I’ve had a good minute to think; and now I’m eager to get back on the Writing Horse in Europe.

flying over the Amazon rainforest, we witness the unique “two suns” phenomenon! With this, I feel my cup is full. I have seen everything I could have ever hoped to see – and more.

Now something about the BACKPACKER POEM PROJECT:

Over the past month, videos have been coming in from all over the world, and they are so so beautiful. I’m sure the final product will be really special, and I can’t wait to begin editing. I’m still waiting on a few videos from some people, so if you still want to send me a video, you can. Remember: you don’t have to be backpacking to participate! You just have to want to participate.

Last week, I met my friend Richelle in Iquitos, who had done something incredible. When she took the ship from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, she wrote down the entire Backpacker Poem by hand and got a lot of peopleon the ship to recite a line. When we met, she handed over a whole bunch of videos for the project! Here’s a picture of us watching them:

This project has become larger, MUCH LARGER, than I had dreamed, and it’s THANKS TO ALL OF YOU. So far, I have received videos from Germany, Finland, Canada, Guatemala, the United States, Perú, etc etc etc.

As a small thank you, here’s a video I made at the Leticia Airport, before flying to Bogotá. It’s a line no one has taken yet, but I’m not sure if I’ll put this video into the final film or if I’ll make another one. Perhaps someone will send me the line still!


I’m going to make good use of the strong internet connection in Bogotá to write my next post soon. The next posts will be more dedicated to my work and less to my travelling. But I hope you’ve enjoyed the videos… I filmed them especially for you!

And if you wanted more details on what the jungle is like, don’t worry: you’ll feel a lot of jungle in Munay. The second chapter is completely overgrown with it. I had a lot of fun writing, and thanks to all the information, stories and plant knowledge that my friends in Iquitos shared with me, the chapter is now rich with culture, ghosts, demons and plants!

thank you, Sophie, for this picture

Legends of Last Week

27 Aug

I’ve been looking forward to saying this so much:

THANK YOU ♥, all of you, for your overwhelming responses to my Backpacker Poem Project. ♥ Thank you ♥ for your videos, for your sweet words of support, for the laughs. I’ve had such a great time watching your videos – it was exciting to see how & where you chose to make the video, who was in the shot with you, and, of course, which lines you chose to recite.

To be honest: when I began mapping out the project, I wasn’t sure, not one bit, if anyone would want to participate. Your enthusiasm, your videos, have overjoyed me! Thank you for sharing the project with your friends, in your tweets, facebook, etc. It’s been great fun receiving videos from around the world, proving that we exist in a collective of equally minded and artistic people, and I would very much like this to be the first of many collective projects to come. I hope we can collaborate on something again… How does that sound to you?

Here’s a beautiful image I stumbled over last month – and you know how I love to share beautiful things with you:

It’s 7 more days until the set deadline, but if you miss the deadline and would still like to participate: hell, send your video over. I’ll let you know if you were too slow, or if you made the cut on time. Deal? Deal.

I’m filming my bits of the poem too, in every place I visit. I’m on the road again, and the following video was shot on a ship sailing up the Amazon River. This is just a small Thank You for all your videos ♥ – and so that you can see that I’m also doing my bit… even if I do forget my own lines:


After initiating the Backpacker Poem Project, I spent another week in Lima, saying goodbye to old and new friends. Some who will continue travelling – some who are now returning to Europe, hereby closing their backpacker chapter. We shared a good road, my friend. I hope your highways continue to lift you and teach you. Thank you for the smoothies, for feeding me while I was writing, for the crazy, CRAZY adventures – and for everything we know.

But all those people I met on the road… we’re still in touch. We still make plans (and fulfil them) to see each other again. Even though some of us only knew each other for a week, a month, a year, we shared the turbulent, beautiful road – and that’s one hell of a bond! To this, I believe, the Backpacker Poem Project attests.

Middle of August, I prepared to leave Lima and set back on the road again. Here is something I wrote at the time:

When you’re about to go on the road, turning off a hot shower becomes similar to saying goodbye to a lover. You do it slowly… wistfully… And you wonder when you’ll ever be so lucky again.

Here is my plan for the next two months. Or rather, my challenge:

the plan / the challenge

I’ve made it to northern Peru: to Iquitos! And the next couple of posts will be dedicated to this mad mad journey. I can’t bore you with the details, so let me baffle you with the pictures. I left Lima for an 8 hour journey to San Ramón. I had been here many, many years ago, fallen in love with it, and wanted to return ever since. For this journey, I crossed the high mountain passes. It never ceases to amaze me that in Perú, lakes only happen in the altitude.

San Ramón and neighboring town La Merced are on the so-called “eyebrow of the jungle”. You can enjoy a tropical heat but maintain your eye on the Andes.

And ride my absolutely favourite mode of transportation: the mototaxi, or tuc-tuc.

More impressions around La Merced:

hot dog on a tin roof

“I have written many pretty words on paper, but the most beautiful thing I have ever written is your name on a wall.”

with an insatiable machetero

Bayoz Waterfall

My mototaxi friend Juan: “I can’t smile for your photograph. I’m worried. I have no wife.”

to give you an impression of the size of Bayoz! Can you spot us?

From there, it was a 16 hour bus ride to my next stop: Pucallpa. When I went to buy my bus ticket, the boy behind the counter said: “Someone’s just cancelled, so by chance, we have one free seat. It’s alright, you don’t have to pay me. Pay the bus driver when he gets here. Also: you won’t get a bus ticket. That’s alright too. Nothing to worry about.”

I thought: “That can only mean my free seat is in the storage compartment with the luggage.”

It wasn’t quite so bad: I was to ride beside the bus driver for 16 hours. There’s a space between the assistant’s and the driver’s seats, where the clutch is, and he said: “Princess, if you get tired, this is where you can sleep.”

That was when he discovered he, too, had been lied to. The bus company told him I was only going to Tingo Maria, which is approximately halfway to Pucallpa. When he discovered the truth, he asked his assistant how many free seats the bus had. Eight. So I was sent to the back to a proper seat, after all. In the end, everyone was wrong. There was no sudden cancellation. I wasn’t going to Tingo Maria. The bus wasn’t sold out.

It broke down twice. We got locked in the passenger compartment. A baby had to pee, so the woman opened the window and held her baby out. In 16 hours we climbed the Andes to over 4000 meters at Junín, and then descended into the heat, heat, heat of the jungle.

I’ve been trying to get to Pucallpa for 4 years now, but everytime, everytime, something happened and I couldn’t go. What with the mess of buses, I feared it’d be the same this time around. But 16 hours later, I arrived, smelly and happy, and met up with Almuth, who had arrived the night before and was waiting in a ventilated hostel room.

Our first tourist stop in Pucallpa was to visit the Amazonian Art School, founded by the Pucallpa artist, teacher and ayahuasquero Pablo Amaringo. I’ve spoken of his beautiful paintings many times on the blog. Of the few I know, this one is my favourite:

Finding the art school was slightly difficult: no one reacted to the virtuous name “Pablo Amaringo”. That came as quite the surprise, considering his fame abroad, and what I would have imagined to be a great tourist impact on Pucallpa. The school is on the outskirts of Pucallpa, a neighborhood I felt was the “real” Pucallpa. Simple wooden shacks, people sitting on rocking chairs outside their houses, chatting. The sun setting between the wooden planks of the houses. Children playing on the dirt road. Men fixing their mototaxis. Young girls strutting in tight pink leggings, flaunting puberty.

A student of the school opened the small gallery for us, and was kind enough to answer all our questions. The art school is for children and adolescents, as an after-school, holiday and weekend program. The students learn to paint Amazon landscapes, but no visions, because for this, they would have to drink ayahuasca. Our guide spoke in a respectful and beautiful manner of “Don Pablo’s” talent and vision. We enjoyed our visit very much.

at Usko-Ayar, art school founded by Pablo Amaringo

The market in Pucallpa had other things to boast:

stuffed sloth in the market

The next day we took a boat to visit Lake Yarinacocha, and San Francisco, a nearby Shipibo village.

Lake Yarinacocha

from the lake to the village, the walk is over a 5 meter high bridge, and this is what it looks like

The Shipibo are a matriarchal people who live off their beautiful crafts work. They are also the people who drink ayahuasca, a psychoactive infusion of various hallucinogenic plants. It is called “the vine of the souls”, and is meant to let you see the world as it really is; all illusions fall away. That is a really simplified definition. Please read more on it on Wikipedia, because it’s truly a fascinating subject – one I have often spoken of, and will surely continue to.

Here is a brilliant clip from an unlikely source: “Blueberry” (2004), a Hollywood film based on a French comic, which has abundant ayahuasca scenes – beautiful graphics strongly reminiscent of Pablo Amaringo’s work! A brilliant adaptation, I think – thanks to director Jan Kounen’s appreciation of the Shipibo culture.


Scenes from San Francisco:

a Shipibo house

the hot roads of San Francisco

We arrived at noon, a terrible hour to be out. I heard Germany had a pretty hot week. My friends keep trying to compete. Sorry, gang, this was hot.

Walking around the plaza, I asked the people sitting, sweating in the shade for a place to eat and a place to sleep. The one hostel in San Francisco looked like it had been abandoned months ago. Finally a woman stood up and offered her house and some food. Grateful, we followed her in a procession of ten women, ranging from two to thirty years old, all following and curious to see what was going to happen.

On her land stood six houses: one where her family slept; the kitchen house; the bathroom / shower house; two guest houses; and the last I’ll explain in a bit. We discovered that she was housing 4 other gringos (white tourists) but she didn’t explain why. Thinking that the Shipibo people are famous for ayahuasca, we didn’t really have to ask why.

where we slept

The sixth house was the maloka, the place for ayahuasca ceremonies:

the maloka: house for ayahuasca ceremonies

In the center of the maloka, the trunk that holds up the roof had been painted in the colour and with the leaves of the main ingredient of ayahuasca: banisteriopsis caapi. Personal mats were spread out around the room, decorated by the owner in the manner that made him/her most comfortable. The inside of the maloka felt safe, comfortable, and it was were some relaxed during the hotter hours of the day. The father of our host, Don Matteo, was a highly respected curandero, healer. Everyone spoke very well of him in the village.

We came there literally by coincidence. We weren’t looking for ayahuasca or a curandero. Had I asked someone else on the plaza for a room to sleep, we never would have been there. With my great fascination for ethnobotany and hallucinogenic plants, I was delighted, and asked as many questions as I could.

The Shipibo give ayahuasca to their children, for protection, and to help them grow strong. Walking around the local market, I spent some time chatting with Erica and Lilla, two Shipibo girls, who taught me some shipibo. I’m phonetically guessing the spelling:

hauskaremia:  how are you?

nuquhane reike ritti:  my name is ritti

Erica and Lillca

Shipibo statue at the market

Shipibo women sewing clothes with ayahuasca patterns

an example of Shipibo textile art

It was exciting to be among the Shipibo – a tribe I have read about for many years; for whom I have a fascination and admiration comparable to towards the Q’eros in the Andes. They were very kind towards us, such friendly, honest people. A simple chat with Marco led to a small tour of the beaches, where he told me about piranha fishing, and afterwards organised a car to drive us back to Pucallpa. Don Matteo and his family were kind hosts, and I had very interesting conversations with the other boarders about their experiences with ayahuasca. The boarders had come from all over the world to live with Don Matteo for a few months, and do spiritual work. They told me of their experiences, fears and joys during “the work”, but never went into personal detail of their visions.

In all these experiences, I managed to do some writing for Munay. She creeps back into my journal every now and then, and I am grateful. I wish I were writing more, but it really is difficult to write & backpack at the same time.

I leave you with a short, short extract from something I wrote in San Francisco. It’s been a fascinating week! My next blog post will come soon, because I still have to tell you about sailing up the Amazon River. Yet I leave you now, because this really is long enough.

This is a scene from Munay, shortly after Anahata has left the caravans to run into the jungle (notice anything?). Here, she is haunted, tormented – but that means she is face to face with her demons.

After a while, these bare feet that had so rarely touched the earth before, took on the colour and texture of the skin of potatoes. I became pale, like a ghost, from the shade of the jungle, from my ambling only at night, and from my ramblings about clouds.

I felt their memory rise to my skin and cover me in a vague shroud of nostalgia, as I missed these old lovers of mine – but at the same time, I hoped that my skin was their last barrier, and that from here, they would seep through my pores and finally leave me.

I imagined all of them suddenly leaving me one day, leaving at once: my skin suddenly exhaling clouds. Standing somewhere in this jungle, clouds rising from my body, one after the other, in an exorcism of the sky, of what had been taken from me – of what I had loved.

What colour would my skin take on then? What is left of me when all the clouds are gone?

The Backpacker Poem Project

11 Aug

Saying goodbye to Cusco was hard (it gets harder every time), but I have a few more places I would like to visit before I return to Europe in October. Just a quick note to the people who have been asking: Yes, I am coming back. I’ll be in Germany in November. I’m planning some readings for Ulm, trying to organise a few other cities, and have set a publishing deadline for Qayqa. I’ll say more on that soon!

This week I’m in Lima. This city has always been good for sinking into my brain-bog to Think. I spent the last few days writing a backpacker poem. Ironically, in order to write it, I locked myself up and didn’t leave the house for a few days… And with the poem came the idea for a project with YOU, which I explain in this video:

The Backpacker Poem:

When love left love left nothing left – so I left

I exchanged my life for a dormitory bed

For the road, parks with free WiFi

And I forgot how to write about people like you


I was fine forgetting, fine letting the weather decide

When I should do my laundry

Joyful that my wealth was the landscapes around me


I recognised how long other travelers had been on the road

By the bracelets they wove

I knew if they had been to the Andes

By the sweaters they wore


A species of our own

Instead of kilometers, we measure in weeks

Instead of watches, we consult altimeters


We know our passport numbers by heart

We eat dinner because digesting gives our bodies warmth for the night

“You have me to warm you now.”

I had forgotten things like that.


No, I haven’t seen my heart in a long time

I killed my passport to that side of the planet
My pen gained weight

And forgot how to write about people like you


Other than writing THANK YOU on hostel walls

Other than signing my name at border crossings

My pen had little exercise

But you began to remind me


Remind me of the various names lovers have for ‘kisses’

Remind me how secrets become pillow-talk

How cooking becomes companionship


So I move closer on the globe to you

Reach your country I don’t have a map for

Remind me you’ll carry my backpack when I arrive

Remind me you’ll tell other people about the way that I smile


Travel agencies know all the romances,

Know all the lovers’ names and passport numbers

We postpone your flight – my flight

Remind me of reasons to unpack


We’ll teach English at a local school

Live on the beach and sell bracelets to tourists

We don’t need much in a country that’s warm

Home is far away – why leave paradise to go there?


And if you leave, my life will still fit into my backpack

You’ll take a bus out of town, say, “I haven’t seen Bolivia.”

I’ll say I felt paradise on the road – but the road didn’t end there


A flight back home – hot water, the Internet

Traffic lights that remind me of juggling

Sunny days that remind me to do my laundry


A bracelet that reminds me

That it wasn’t all a dream –

That when I went on the road to forget

The road rose up to remind me.

When you have chosen a line, verse or bit that you identified with, record yourself reading it and share it with me using WeTransfer. (We’re no longer sharing over Dropbox)

To share, go to (your video file must be sent to:

THANK YOU @AndreasUsenbenz for all his amazing help!

The One Rule:  Be respectful of other peoples’ contribution. I will check the Dropbox folder as often as I can and save all videos onto my computer so that none are lost. Remember: if you delete something from Dropbox, it’s deleted for everyone. Watch out!

Deadline:  3rd September 2012. You have over 3 weeks!

What You Get in Return:  I’ll edit a short video of everyone around the world reading the poem and publish it on this blog, Facebook, YouTube and make it available for everyone who contributed. If you want, at the start of the video you can tell me your name, profession and where you currently are, and I’ll include the info. If you want.

  • This is an open project. If you know someone who might be interested, get them to join in!
  • You don’t have to be backpacking to participate. If this project interests you, join us! 
  • You also have 100% freedom with the presentation of your video! You can recite the lines – you can sing your lines, play a song instead. Dance. Film a scenario you think applies to the lines you chose. Anything goes. Let your mind soar.
  • It will be wicked fun!

If you have any questions or ideas, get ’em to me:

Twitter:  @RittiSoncco  |  Facebook:  Ritti Soncco  |  Website:

While you think about how much fun you’ll have recording yourself, and how wicked the final film will be with contributions from all over the world… Here are some nice pictures from last week:

off to the Pacha Mama Festival in the Sacred Valley. We had no tent but we had a large blanket!

the rickety bridge to the festival

local kids watching the hippies float in and out

the Pacha Mama festival took place in a labyrinth of abandoned houses, and hippies have to paint everything!

the yoga tent / chill-out dancefloor

aerial tissue workshop at the festival

brilliant contact staff performance

the road leaving the festival

1st August: celebrating the Andean New Year in Cusco with Q’eros priests

a despacho: offering to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth)

saying goodbye to Cusco: the San Blas Fountain at night

9 bus hours later: Hello Arequipa! Hello Misti volcano!

the Plaza at night: a public opera performance to celebrate Arequipa’s anniversary

I’ll write more before I hop back on the road next week. I haven’t forgotten that I promised to post an extract from Munay so that you can see how she’s coming along… Until then, please please help me promote the Backpacker Poem Project!

I wish you miles and miles of fun recording your contribution! I can’t wait to see you all, what setting you choose for the video, how you’ll do it, and which piece you’ll choose to record! ♥ I hope you have a lot of fun doing it. In the end we’ll have a sweet little video with voices from around the world…! Thank you so much in advance for your enthusiasm. ♥

We Can Live Without Gold, We Can’t Live Without Water

28 Jul

Today, the 28th July, is the Peruvian National Holiday, and everything that reaches me via the news solely concerns the issues of legal and illegal gold mining in Perú. I feel that I can’t blog about anything else at the moment, because it’s my country, it’s happening not far away from me, and I know that you, my dear readers, are in countries far away – which is exactly why I feel it is my duty to bring Perú closer to you.

I spent the last few hours informing myself as best as I could about the mining projects. I will post the websites, podcasts and photos onto this post so that I may give you a basic overview of what is happening… and if you are interested, you can follow up on the links to inform yourselves.

The Peruvian president Ollanta Humala is under pressure because today, the 28th July, marks his first anniversary in office, and the Peruvian people feel he hasn’t kept his major campaign promise: to bring the profits of Peru’s natural resources back to the people.

current Peruvian president Ollanta Humala

The Two Issues:

1 – The Conga Mining Projectis a project expansion of Yanacocha, the biggest gold mine in South America, owned by the US-based Newmont Mining Corporation, which will take place near Cajamarca.

The problem with the Conga Project is that it will destroy water resources, and while Newmont is promising the people of Cajamarca artificial water resources, they are protesting that the destruction of the water resources will harm their agriculture and basically: their right to water, sanitation, etc. The people of Cajamarca are currently on a hunger strike, demanding that the Conga Project be cancelled. The debate of the Conga Project has lead to several ministers resigning, the president announcing a “state of emergency” and the death of several protesters.

Here is a very informative website (in English) by the campaigners against the Conga Project:  It will tell you all you need to know about the mining project and the campaign against it. It’s a fantastic overview, please read!

If you want to support the campaign against the mining project, you can sign the petition here:

I watched a video of the hunger strike in Cajamarca (follow this link to see it, in Spanish:, and what moved me the most are the peoples’ hopes for international attention on their problems. Not just by the international press, but by you. I urge you to pass the links, the petition, on to everyone you think may be interested in knowing what is happening.

I also found some interesting art work online, campaigning against the Conga Project:


“You’re poor. If you sell your hills and your lagoon to me, you’ll have money.”

“When the money finishes, I’ll have neither hills nor lagoons.”

“Ignorant idiot!”


Just one picture from the many protest rallies that have occurred all over Peru, including Cusco. If you want to see more, simply google “Conga No Va” (Conga can’t proceed).

“Water belongs to the people and not to Yanacocha”

Having gold, oil, silver, coffee or even cotton is the worst thing that can happen to a country. Growing up in Nigeria, I saw how the abundance of oil brought the country to its knees. I lived there during the dictatorship of Sani Abacha and the disgraceful murder of poet, politician and activist Ken Saro Wiwa by the Nigerian dictatorship and the Shell oil company. If you want to know more, please follow this link:

If you want to know more about the pillages of Latin America, I highly recommend Open Veins of Latin America by Eduard Galeano. A fascinating look into the cause of social and cultural poverty in one of the most abundant continents on our planet. Sometimes a bit difficult to read, but very much worth it.


2 – Illegal Gold Mining

When I told my mother that upon returning to Perú, I was planning on travelling straight out to Cusco, she became very frightened. She told me that in the neighboring “departamento” of Madre de Dios, a frantic gold rush was leading to violence. Living in Cusco, I witnessed a few rallies against the Conga Project and mining in general, but life here has been stable and safe.

The BBC published a very good report on the “not so black and white” issues concerning illegal gold mining, which can be read here:

Additionally, reporter Rob Walker produced a more extensive podcast, which I highly recommend. Please follow the link and scroll down until you find the podcast entitled “Peru’s Gold Rush” (published 12th July 2012):

an illegal mining system in Madre de Dios

On the one hand, we see illegal gold mining destroying the land, the environment and the unique animal habitat of the Amazonas.

The byproducts of cyanide and mercury are poisoning the water.

The mining camps use tons of mercury, which has polluted streams and entered the food chain. A study in 2009 by Luis Fernández of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University found high levels of mercury in common fish. In some cases, a person who ate those fish even once a week would exceed World Health Organization recommended limits for consumption of mercury, which can cause neurological and developmental problems and is especially hazardous to developing fetuses.

Indigenous communities are at particular risk from mercury in fish, which are a dietary staple.

Corrupt officials in charge of stopping the illegal mining have found to own mines themselves. The police are destroying all machinery involved in the illegal mining, in a desperate attempt to get people to either stop, or sign up for registered legal mining. Such a registration will obviously include taxes – another reason for miners to want to remain clandestine.

But Peruvians streaming into the Amazon area in a frantic gold rush do so because their poverty condemns them to seek for desperate means of survival. One miner feeds 12 people. Once their machines are destroyed, they are condemned to live on the streets, which they protest in the regional capital Puerto Maldonado.

A friend of mine said today that she didn’t think the Amazon rainforest should “belong” to any specific country. Being the lungs of the world, she thinks its fate should be decided by an international council, such at the United Nations, and not be left to the political decisions of a country. An interesting idea.

We will see if president Ollanta Humala will address Cajamarca and Madre de Dios in his speech later today. In a country where water is more expensive than Coca Cola – and is owned by the Coca Cola company anyway -, where its availability will save lives, we have to ask ourselves: Which thirst will you quench, the thirst of the little, under-educated, isolated people somewhere in the Andes or the Amazon rainforest – or the thirst for a private economy?

“water, yes – gold, no”

One last thing: I hope tourists coming to Perú inform themselves not only about Machu Picchu and the Nasca Lines, but also about the socio-political state the country is in. Perú is in a highly interesting political place at the moment (to say the least) and, much like Spain in the Spanish Civil War, a spotlight on basic world issues. Not to mention that the “lungs of the world”, the Amazon rainforest, resides within these geographical boundaries and should therefore be of extreme interest to everyone!

Perú is beautiful – but so are its people, the cultures they are keeping alive, and the generations being born now. Water, such a basic thing, is so ridiculously scarce. When Helping Hands travelled to Cupi with clothes donations last month, we stayed in a house with no running water and our toilet was a furiously smelly hole in the ground. After three grubby days, we returned to our flat in Cusco, where our shower gives us regular electric shocks and all water is turned off around 8pm.

always the trusty bucket

During the day we collect water in buckets, in the blender, in large jugs. We buy water in bottles (owned by the Coca Cola Company).

can you see the Coca Cola Company sign on the water bottle?

But I imagined staying in Cupi without water for the rest of my life, and I considered the dental and health issues involved. All this makes you respect water to infinity. And if you don’t believe me, give this experiment a go: Don’t use your tap water to wash your hands, don’t flush your toilet, don’t shower for three days. If you must use water (to brush your teeth or do your dishes) buy it in a store. That’s a microcosm of what’s going on. And if you actually do this experiment, I beg of you: write to me and tell me how it went!

I leave you with a picture I have at home, which I love:

Water Is Precious

On this fine day, the 28th July, please think of Peru and of water.