Tag Archives: peru

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.

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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.

“Your Children Are Not Your Children”

5 Aug


Books, my ayllu, are fascinating creatures. How many of us know the phenomenon of buying a book only to not be able to read it? It’s as though it just won’t open itself up to us. And years later, having perhaps learnt new things and changed, suddenly, the book we had forgotten all about will suddenly attract us from the bookshelf, and we devour it within days.

This quite importantly happened to me when I bought The Prophet by Khalil Gibran in Lebanon. I was there visiting friends, who, as part of my short tour of Lebanon, took me to see his house. I was 16 and had no concept of Gibran. I bought the book because I loved his house and his paintings, and I felt buying the book was something I should do whilst in Lebanon. Yet that book kept me no company during my wait at Beirut Airport. I was bored to tears with it; I simply couldn’t access it. Then, when I was 20, it suddenly shone on the bookshelf. I took it down and inhaled it. I recommend it to everyone. I try to live by it. Seriously, if you don’t have it, get it right now. Your bookshelf – your life – needs it:

Click here if you’re in the UK.

Click here if you’re in Germany.


So in a way, it should barely have surprised me that Qayqa is doing what she’s doing. And I can only thank you all for being so amazingly understanding. I was in Germany for 3 days and I want to say THANK YOU to the people I bumped into who were so supportive about Qayqa‘s book tour being postponed.

The greatest thing I was told was:

Don’t worry about anything. You just organise the tour and whenever it happens, I’ll be there. You don’t even have to tell me when & where: that’s MY part.

It’s amazing you should feel that way!!!

Qayqa, perhaps, is like a wine that matures with time. Or perhaps she’s just a little bitch. Sometimes I feel like I’m dragging a heavy horse up the Andes, and I don’t understand why I feel that way. I think of Emily Dickinson who, after a few publication rejections, stuffed her poems into her cupboard. (They weren’t discovered and subsequently celebrated until after her death.) Am I doing the same thing?

Or is a book-pregnancy just a big big birth to give?

Is Qayqa also biding her time to open up to me?

Equally, as most of you will know, I have been working on the sequel, Munay, for over two years now. I have had the skeleton of the story in my mind since her initial conception, but it was connecting the dots that proved the hardest. I know where the main character, Anahata, has to go, but I don’t know how to get her there. And no amount of living my life, reading books or speaking about it to people was helping.

Yesterday I finished reading –

by Stephan Talty

(a fun historical read; I recommend it)

– and suddenly it all made sense. I needed to make Anahata crawl through the earth and now I finally know how to get her down there. As always, it’s a question of wind. So thank you, Stephan Talty, for including 17th century philosophies on the origins of earthquakes in your excellent book. I now know how to connect the final dots in Munay and perhaps even finish her. After waiting 2 years, my own book opened up to me.

I am the mother of two. Qayqa, who I am trying to wobble into the world, and Munay, who is expanding in my belly. I have flushes of excitement with Munay – and I am terribly afraid and nervous with Qayqa. That’s just how it is to give birth, I suppose.



Centro Internacional de la Papa

Centro Internacional de la Papa

So I am in Peru now, working on an anthropological-film internship. I have been hired by the International Potato Center in Lima-Peru, who is working, among others, in collaboration with the HoPe Foundation and Chirapaq Ñan on a project they have loving called the Las Papitas de mi Comunidad (the Little Potatoes in my Community). Together with several NGOs in the Andes, they have collected a vast array of film material about potatoes. Yes!

The material includes myths, rituals, songs about potatoes, as well as potato diseases, cooking methods and Andean agricultural farming methods. I have been given all this material and am now spending my hours at the institute going through it all to familiarise myself with it. My job will be to edit it into a series of trailers for a DVD. Teachers in the Andes will then be given this DVD / USB to reinforce their teaching in Andean communities.

at the office

at the office

I will, of course, show you the trailer once it’s done so that you can observe what I’ve been up to. In the mean time here are some pictures around my working space.

potato art around the institute

potato art around the institute

expansion routes

potato expansion routes

different types of potatoes

different types of potatoes

So far it’s incredible to be here. The working atmosphere is relaxed, so friendly, and everyone has been kind and welcoming. The institute emphasises the importance of sports, so there is a volleyball and a football court, as well as a gym with table tennis and zoomba possibilities. During my coffee break, I walk around the greenhouses, press my nose against the panes and ask the scientists inside to tell me about their plant experiments.

I am using the fact that I’m on holiday to read as much as possible. Today marks my first week of being in Lima. Once my routine has set and I’ve kicked my jetlag, I will continue sorting Qayqa out.

I’m still living 3 lives: the writer, the anthropology student, the aerialist. That’s just how it’s going to be from now on, because I could not imagine giving any of those lives up.

If books come to readers at the right time in their lives – when you need them the most, when you are ready for them – perhaps that means they didn’t leave the writer until it was the right time either. Perhaps.




The Absence of the Author

27 Dec



In the months that have passed since my last post to you, I think we all knew the regularity of my posts could decrease somewhat. But I never expected it to decrease so much.

Ofcourse I have plans to change that. University life caught up with me. My courses are demanding, so I demand to give my private time the equal amount of dedication and energy as I do my courses.

I founded an acrobatics group within the Juggling Society at uni, and after a few months of teaching, we now have a firm group of amazing people who show up every single week, play the games I suggest enthusiastically, push their bodies beyond what they thought was possible for them, and are gaining strength and flexibility. So much that they have begun demanding acrobatics lessons twice a week… and I am only too happy to oblige!

I give my acrobatics lessons all my energy

I give my acrobatics lessons all my energy



taking credit

taking credit

Then I traveled to Martinique for 10 days, because one of my oldest friends from Nigeria, who lives on Martinique, was getting married. Martinique was astounding, beautiful, and steeped in literature. I discovered Aimé Césaire, a Martinique poet whose words can be found on panels all around the island.

2013-11-23 14.18.07

an impression of Martinique

The first poem I ever read by Aimé Césaire was a poem that hung from the ceiling at the airport. I spotted it while I was waiting for my luggage, and it has been haunting me ever since. Ayllu, this is where you either get out Google Translate or ignite your passion for French because I cannot translate beauty. I can only recount it.

2013-11-25 13.22.16

J’habite une blessure sacrée

J’habite des ancêtres imaginaires

J’habite un vouloir obscur

J’habite un long silence

J’habite une soif irrémédiable

J’habite un voyage de mille ans

(extract from Moi, Laminaire)

2013-11-25 16.48.04

During my first days on Martinique, I kept asking myself: What have I done to deserve such beauty around me? Is this beautiful, bountiful planet really just for our taking, for our pleasure? Of course we must assume responsibility for it – that goes without saying. But – really, so much beauty, just like that? 

Then why do we choose to live elsewhere – when paradise is right here, on a little island in the Caribbean? Forget colder climates, forget stronger economies. When you have this . . . 

2013-11-25 17.18.35

. . . Why are we elsewhere? 

Is there a subconscious pact among us that we feel we don’t deserve to live in paradise? Is this a very Christian thought?

As I sat on Banane Beach, I scribbled furiously in my notebook: Will I somehow have to pay for this one day? And why do I even think like this??!

Because it’s just so goddamn beautiful.

2013-11-24 13.18.36

Not even places that have been overloaded with humans could lose their beauty to that.

2013-11-30 15.11.29

Not even a tiny bit.

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Well, okay, maybe just a bit…

But then who would have taken this picture!!! . . .

2013-11-30 17.24.38

. . . Followed by the obligatory selfie that says: hell yea I took this picture.

vanity strikes hard

(I am only human)

It didn’t take long to acknowledge that these questions of “do I deserve this beauty” and “will I somehow have to pay for the pleasure of this beauty” were that, yes, I felt undeserving of so much paradise. I was humbled. Every day was an exhibition of beauty. What a miracle to be living on such a spectacular planet, just there for the taking, for the breathing and living. Just there. 

2013-11-26 16.47.39

And after 10 days, I was equally happy to be back in Scotland because this is my life. And, during my Literature in a World Context classes, was (ironically) encouraged to ask myself what is left of a text when the author is absent. Ironic, because it echoes my absence from my blog. What happened while I was away? What did you get up to? Did you re-visit the blog, re-read old posts? Did you wonder about Qayqa? Did you travel, make love, get annoyed, read books, take naps in odd places, get someone pregnant?

The Literature in a World Context classes fry my brain. Our tutor is very good: ridiculously knowledgable, charismatic… and frighteningly knowledgable. We all leave the tutorials feeling stupid. We don’t understand everything he says. We’re over-enthusiastic when we understand anything. 

how we feel at university

how we feel at university

We are being trained to consider the author’s motivation in writing a certain text; and how, in his absence, he cannot defend himself. The text could be an attempt to redress a wrong – so how efficient is it in redressing when he is away? 

In the tutorials it became obvious: a text is a good piece of writing if it will withstand the absence of the author.

This, of course, begs the question: Can Qayqa withstand my absence? 

from the exquisite Ti Son Son restaurant in Saint-Luce, Martinique

from the exquisite Ti Son Son restaurant in Saint-Luce, Martinique

Before I moved to Scotland, I gave a series of “last readings” in Ulm as part of the Kulturnacht 2013 in the book shop Eichhorn. Manfred Eichhorn, owner of the book shop, friend and writer, was kind enough to read my manuscript of Qayqa. He attended the readings and afterwards sat me down with some tea and we spoke about my book.

His primary concern was the absence of the writer. (His secondary concern was that Damian should be female. This suggestion almost gave Mark a heart attack.)

“How strong is Qayqa without you?” he began. “When you read it, yes, I am there with you. I close my eyes and I feel the world you have created. But when you’re not around, what will motivate your readers to continue turning the pages?” He paused – but he had promised me to direct. “I fear there may occasionally not be enough to keep them turning pages.”

This, people, is fantastic feedback.

I just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy. (Literally: just. I was too hyper to go to sleep so I settled into bed with my computer) I was slightly disappointed with the end (J.K Rowling has ruined ends for me) but The Hunger Games is a page-turner. I practically inhaled those books: I finished the 2nd and 3rd books in 5 days. I recommend it. I’m going to see the film tomorrow.

The Hunger Games is powerful in the absence of the author.

Is Qayqa?

Can she . . .

power of books

Take you  hostage .  . .


Transport you . . .

become someone else 4

Like she did to me?

There’s one way to find out. (And this is also a way to re-active my blogging duties during university hours)

Dear ayllu, once again I need your help. Are we still a community? I believe we are. You showed it to me over & over again, and I would be terrible to even doubt it. I need your help again. No: I would be honoured to have your advice. 

Originally I planned to publish a bit of Qayqa as a Christmas present of sorts, from me to you. I’m taking it a step further.

In order to find out if Qayqa withstands the absence of the author, I will, over the upcoming weeks, publish extracts of Qayqa for your reading pleasure. I won’t read the extracts out to you, obviously, as it defeats the purpose.

What I ask from you is your honest feedback and your valuable advice: Was it boring? How did you feel while you were reading it? Did it make any sense at all? What questions arose? What bothered you? What delighted you? What made you itch for more? 

And did you wish I was reading it to you instead . . . ?

As always, write me in the comments, email me at rittisoncco@gmail.com, tweet me @rittisoncco

Good idea? Bad idea?


Another sleepless night blogging. I’m in Perú, on my parents’ sofa in Lima. Outside the window is a sunrise-tainted fog. I can hear the ocean; I cannot see it. All I can see is a monotone the vague colour of an approaching sunrise. A wall of vague. Goodnight. It’s brilliant to be writing to you again.

For the Child Challenging the Adult

6 Jun
age 4

age 4

I was an impertinent child. I was an only child. My parents put me through a lot of adventures and adapting to many cultures taught me quite early on that you can not only be a different person in each world – you can also easily adapt rules from one culture into another. This sometimes created loopholes. But it mostly just broke the rules.

age 6

age 6

When I was 12 my family lived in a research compound: originally built as a research center, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) quickly understood that welcoming scientists was one thing; keeping them meant welcoming families.


So IITA built several recreation facilities (tennis courts, swimming pools, football fields, bars, etc) and a school.

I grew up around this pool

I grew up around this pool

And we all lived in there, encompassed by a large fence with barbed wire that was supposedly heavily guarded against armed robbers.

Nigeria outside IITA

Nigeria outside IITA, road to my school

When I was 13, I started climbing over the IITA fence, because my best friend lived on the other side of it. One day my father found out and his words to me were: “Don’t forget the 12th Commandment: don’t get caught!”

My friend and I delighted in this. We spent that summer stamping about, shouting our mantra at the top of our lungs. Don’t! Get! Caught! Don’t! Get! Caught! 

us, many years later in Brighton

she & I, many years later in Brighton

It’s 4 am on the morning before my 2nd crowdfunding and I can already see the dawn changing the sky into the flamboyance of a cocktail. I’m going through old photographs because these last few weeks, several mirrors were held up to me – sometimes by people, other times by the stress of crowdfunding – and as I grow older, I find issue with my sometimes snappy, stressed out, basically bitchy reaction. It reminds me of the impertinent child. So I’m looking at pictures of her.

age 8

age 8

I am wondering many things about her.

Like: if she hadn’t been brought up to be so cheeky, would she have gotten all those tattoos, the piercings, the dreadlocks and the colourful black-light dreadlocks?

age 22

age 22

If she hadn’t been brought up as a Third Culture Kid, spending most of her life in airports – would she still have felt so lost?

I used to be carried to my plane in those days

I used to be carried to my plane in those days

age 1

age 1

India, age 4

India, age 4

age 6

age 6, still at airports

From my film workshops at international schools, I’m now in touch with a few Third Culture Kids currently reaching their teens. I follow their blogs and read their tweets; and so often I just want to hug them. I want to tell them that it’s all going to be alright. So if you’re reading this – Chris, Maddie – I swear to you that I know how shit it is; how confusing and messed up, growing up not really know who you are, how each culture has molded you and how you’ll ever manage in the next. It’s hard as hell, and I won’t lie: the alienation goes on for a while. You’ll often find yourself with people whose jokes just aren’t funny, whose definition of “fun” really ISN’T; and you’ll wonder what’s wrong with you.

I just want you to know that I really understand – and that it does get better. I see you now and I don’t worry, because all this pain you sometimes feel is really making you so strong & beautiful. You might not see it now, but I can see it. You’re turning into fine adults. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to suffer to get there, but trust me: it’s for the good cause of turning you into beautiful adults who understand the meaning of empathy, the search for home, the quest for identity, and the depth of growth.

I know it’s hard, but you’re not alone.

age 13, "The Sound of Music": this is the Von Trapp Family. Skin colour doesn't exist

age 13, “The Sound of Music”. Here we are as the Von Trapp Family, singing ‘Edelweiss’. We played one family. Skin colour didn’t exist.

I have been writing, reading and performing my whole life. Now I’m trying to self-publish, trying to raise €2,500 in a small town that doesn’t really know the concept of crowdfunding. In 2 days we raised €250. I’m excited and panicking. I’m trying to stay calm – and I obviously can’t sleep.

I’m incredibly lucky: I have A Crew. I have the Fab Fab, who I can count on for anything. I have Power Ranger, with whom I can exchange mad business phone calls at midnight, discussing wildly what else we can do to make the crowdfunding work. I have an ingenious Pixie who seems to save people wherever she goes. Then there’s Mark, who is, and always has been: Mark.

Still I run around like a headless chicken, like a leaky calabash, and when someone asks me a helpful well-meaning question, I sometimes snap back. I get stuck in my head and can’t relax; can’t enjoy conversations; can’t enjoy company because I’m so busy thinking about how I can leave as quickly as possible so I can get more things done.

And I’m sorry I can be so silly, because somehow Wonderful People surrounded me and decided to support my project.

Yet I still hear that impertinent child stomping her foot, being demanding. So I take a long hard look at her and wonder how many traces she left in the adult. How many demons she gave me to exorcise.

age 4

age 4

And I love her for it, because had she not been so goddamn impertinent I’d have no battles to fight; no way to decide what kind of woman I want to be. If she hadn’t been so decisively independent, so cheeky, so eager to taste Everything life has to offer… Ah, beautiful girl, you’ve given me some great gifts for the road!

So here’s to the snappy, difficult, moody child I sometimes was. Here’s to the confused teenager who fought depressions, skipped school and buried herself in poetry. Here’s to the sleepless adult who is writing this and watching Sunrise Number I’ve-Lost-Count.

sunrise over the 6th June 2013

sunrise over the 6th June 2013

Here’s to the teenagers about to move again. To the teenagers wondering why the hell they’re being tortured like this and wondering what it feels like to have a world under your feet that doesn’t spin with this much insecurity. You are so very beautiful. Life is giving you a tough journey, but one day you’ll be joyful when you realise your wealth is these landscapes around you.

To the Third Culture Adults making their shaky ways: We still wonder if things couldn’t have been that much easier if our parents hadn’t just stayed in one place. Hadn’t confused us by showing us the whole world at once. Hadn’t taught us to understand society by teaching us how to break all its rules. Hadn’t taught us so many languages so we would eventually not know how to express ourselves.

Those impertinent, insecure, egocentric, hedonistic children we once were… I still see mine in how I act today.

I love that cute little toothless girl who taught me to the break rules. Who said, when she was 5 years old, “When I grow up, I want to be a writer.” And then spent the following years building up the necessary cheek, naivety, pain and innocence so I would have stories to write and balls to perform.

Here’s to the child challenging the adult. The child who asks cheekily: “How are you different from me? How do you act when you’re stressed / angry / feeling cheated / overworked?”

And here’s to how little the years will sometimes change things:

same shit, different year

same shit, different year


The History of Qayqa

9 Feb

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m having a cup of black tea, munching on some chocolate, and going over the corrections suggested by my lector in the German version of my novel Qayqa. And I’m thinking, if I ever have this, I’ll feel I made it. Unless it’s actually my house, and not just my writing room:

Neil Gaiman's writing gazebo

a writing gazebo like Neil Gaiman has… and a wolf

Lovely, silly, distracting fantasies.

I’m preparing Qayqa for publication, and that means the world to me.

In the light of the upcoming BIRTH, I want to talk a bit about Qayqa, who she is, what she does – and who Munay is. I know there’s been some confusion.


How Qayqa Began

I began writing Qayqa four years ago (o boy). At the time, I was in the middle of my media designer apprenticeship at SWR, living in my first apartment and had no sense my Peruvian identity or heritage. All I knew was that I wanted to write about a man walking over a woman’s body, peeking into her scars and wounds, and through this, discovering just how much of an adventure it is to love a woman. I wanted him to learn to feel grateful for her.

Some feminism going on there.

But the story wasn’t working. I tried it as a poem, a short story, a film script, even a play. I almost had it as a play, but I was writing on my typewriter back then, and one day, I lost the pages. Bummer.

Then the lines came: “I once knew a group of flying men and women…” I began writing. I thought I was writing a short story. Then Damian fell over the horizon and began wandering over a woman’s body, peeking into her scars and wounds… and that was when I realised what I was writing.


During Qayqa

I excitedly called my father to tell him I was writing a book. I said I didn’t have a title yet. He said: “You should give it a Peruvian name, something in Quechua, perhaps an Inca philosophy.”

I snorted: “And how am I going to find that?” To date, I have found two books in all of Peru that teach Quechua, and one of them was written by a friend. “It’s not like I can just google: secret shamanic Inca words!” My father laughed, said, “Try it!” and hung up.

So I googled secret shamanic Inca words. It actually worked.

I found an glossary of shamanic vocabulary, and slowly read through it all. I finally came to Q – qayqa: “a state of bewitchment or illness, a psychic or energetic knot of energy, which can be released through healing, ritual or initiation work”. It was perfect! It even said “KNOTS” in the definition!

How terribly exciting. I began referring to this glossary for ideas while I wrote.

Shortly afterwards, we received word that a friend of the family, estimated Peruvian scientist & explorer, and the man who gave me my name, Carlos Ochoa, had passed away.

left to right: Dr Carlos Ochoa, Dr José Luis Rueda. CIP Archive

left to right: Dr Carlos Ochoa, Dr José Luis Rueda. CIP Archive

I ran with the obituary to Mark (who, in those days, wasn’t my art partner – just a guy I was dating), read it out loud to him, and told him all my memories of Carlos Ochoa. While I was ranting, Mark painted a picture of a potato slowly transforming into a child. I snapped my fingers: “That’s it! I’m going to create a homage to Carlos Ochoa by making him a character in my book. I’ll name a small potato after him, one that can do exactly what you painted: transform into a little person, and back into a potato.”

That painting still hangs in Mark’s apartment. It is one of our most prized joint possessions.

When I returned to see Mark the next morning, he had wild eyes and crazy hair. He had been up all night, digesting Carlos Ochoa’s incredible life story, and doing this:

the very first potato Ochoa created by Mark Klawikowski

the very first potato Ochoa created by Mark Klawikowski


first steps

first steps

me examining the puppet for the first time

me back then, examining the puppet for the first time

Over the next few weeks, Mark and I decided to make our first film together. By that time, we had collaborated on my first book, a collection of short stories entitled Overripe Fruits: illustrations by Mark.

from "Overripe Fruits"

from “Overripe Fruits”

With Ochoa the Potato as the main character, I wrote & we directed Children of Roots.

me filming Ochoa at the theater in der westentasche, watching Thomas Dentler and Nancy Calero perform from one of their plays

me filming Ochoa at the theater in der westentasche, watching Thomas Dentler and Nancy Calero perform from one of their plays

We took Children of Roots to Peru: Peruvian actress Nancy Calero organised a film tour through northern Peru, where we showed our film at schools, to artists and to youth organisations. We told everyone about Dr Carlos Ochoa.

Ochoa and I standing in the Peruvian desert

Ochoa and I standing in the Peruvian desert

It was while I was there that I really began to identify as a Peruvian – for the first time in my life. Keeping Qayqa in mind, I bought as many books as I could find on Peruvian shamanism, Quechua glossaries, Quechua dictionaries…

Children of Roots was the first puppet-documentary we made, and Ochoa was the first film puppet Mark ever created. Ochoa took us on the wildest ride of our lives: thanks to him, we’ve been giving Children of Roots workshops for the past 4 years; Mark went on to create more film puppets, which starred in The Tailorettes of Ulm; we founded a film company entitled (also a homage) GoldenPotato; and even won a prize for our puppets.

All of this, everything we have today, is thanks to Dr Carlos Ochoa, and the potato Ochoa. Who would have thought that a little potato could take you on such a wild adventure.

Over the years, Mark kept telling our audiences that the potato Ochoa is originally from my book Qayqa. But it confused everyone, and after a while, we stopped telling people.

But now, finally, after four years out & about, Ochoa is going back into Qayqa – back to where it all began. And after four years of waiting, Qayqa will finally be published.



Preparing Qayqa for Publication

The plan was always for Mark to illustrate Qayqa. Even while I was writing her, Mark was already sketching my ideas. It was always a clear deal. Even though we are today going separate ways, it would be preposterous for him to not illustrate Qayqa.

In preparing Qayqa for publication, I am doing several things at once:

  • a few months ago, I translated Qayqa into German and sent her off to a friend / lector for corrections. She’s now coming back with suggestions and corrections, and I’m going through it all. After I’m done, she’ll go off to another friend / lector for a second proof-reading.
  • I’m reading up on ways to finance & publicize Qayqa‘s publication. I’m looking into CrowdFunding, and I’ll talk about that more in a little bit.
  • writing lists of which sections I believe should be illustrated and meeting up with Mark to talk about them. We agreed on 6 illustrations per chapter.
  • thinking about Qayqa‘s book tour. As you know, I have always wanted to incorporate music (and singing) into the readings. I just received a happy “Yes!” from a pianist, who has agreed to stop by some readings and play his own compositions. That’s all in planning, and once we know more, I’ll tell you. I’m just so happy about his spontaneous “Yes!”
Pacha Mama

Pacha Mama


Illustrating Qayqa

Over the last few weeks, I took my list of possible illustrations to Mark and we worked through them. Last Tuesday, we completed all the illustrations for Chapter 2. (There are 4 chapters, but the last chapter is probably just 10 pages, so might just have 2-3 illustrations)

It was a very bizarre meeting. I was coming down with a cold, and all I really needed to do was sleep. But I put Qayqa first and trekked over to Mark’s. This is what made the meeting bizarre: I read out my first idea to him and fell asleep. He sketched quietly, then shook me awake to show me. I made a few suggestions, went back to sleep, and he modified the picture. He woke me. I explained the next idea to him and went back to sleep. He sketched… shook me awake… I explained the next idea.

But we did it. We finished Chapter 2!

Now, my lovely ayllu, I’m going to show you what we did. Here it is. A few sketches of Qayqa, JUST FOR YOU:

Mama Ti's caravan, not yet complete

Mama Ti’s caravan, not yet complete

Damian trying to balance on the horizon

Damian trying to balance on the horizon

This is the last illustration from Chapter 1.

Chapter 2:


Damian falling into a scar of the earth, slowly transforming into an animal as he falls

Damian falling into a scar of the earth, slowly transforming into an animal as he falls

Very Alice in Wonderland…


Ochoa the potato explaining the world to Damian

Ochoa the potato explaining the world to Damian

My favourite:

Damian would make a terrible plant: his knots falling all over the place & not reaching out to the sun (as they should). Meanwhile, Ochoa the potato grows stronger and more beautiful, while Damian sits in angry frustration

Damian would make a terrible plant: his knots falling all over the place & not reaching out to the sun (as they should). Meanwhile, Ochoa the potato grows stronger and more beautiful, while Damian sits in angry frustration

What happens now:

I recorded myself reading all of Chapter 1. Mark will now go over the illustrations from this chapter with ink. Once he’s done with that, we’ll select one (we already have one in mind) to be a flyer (perhaps even poster), so that I can start publicizing the book.

My job is to read myself reading the relevant bits of Chapter 2. While he listens to my recording, Mark will draw the sketches out in big, start with ink, and surely add more detail; some of these are, after all, still a bit rough. How could they not be, when the writer was falling asleep while describing them?


After Qayqa Came Munay

Three years ago, I gave Qayqa to a friend for translation. He came back with surprised eyes: “Yes, I liked it a lot, but… I thought those flying people were a bigger part of the book. I kept waiting for them to come back!”


The flying people only really feature in Chapter 1. 2/3 of the book is about Damian stumbling through the desert with a potato. Sorry.

I was a bit depressed back then because I had finished Qayqa. I was missing the world. I began with what I thought would be a short story: one that is just about the flying people, because (let’s face it) they’re pretty fascinating. They still have so much room for development & storytelling.

At some point I realised I was writing a book. I gave her the playful name Munay and kept wanting to change it. Munay stuck. It’s Quechua and means “the power of love and the power of will, combined”. In 2012, I backpacked with her through Peru and wrote a lot. She’s not done and she’s already more pages than Qayqa.

Munay is the sequel. She’s about a young woman named Anahata. One day, the caravans pass through her village and she meets Ti. She decides to leave her village and travel with the caravans. One day, she discovers that she, too, can fly. Thus begins her transformation… And a lot of other things happen. Until she leaves the caravans and runs into the jungle.

For Munay, I wanted to write solely about the flying people: how they fly, how this changes them, what they’re like. And I wanted to create a character who knows everything about the sky and the earth. For that, I had to make Anahata fall out of the sky and dig into the earth. And then, more stuff happens.

a mysterious picture that is actually information for writing Munay

a mysterious picture that is actually information for writing Munay

While illustrating with Mark, he occasionally says: “Oh, this one will go in Munay…” So there you have it.



I’m looking into ways to finance the printing, publishing and publicizing of Qayqa. An exciting option I’m looking into is Crowdfunding. Have you heard of it?

Here’s a video with a quick overview:

This is how Amanda Palmer raised ONE MILLION DOLLARS for her tour & album book:

This is my idea:

I need to raise money to be able to send Qayqa off to the printer. My first calculation had me at 200 books = € 1270.- At the moment, I’m thinking I might print off 100 first (LIMITED) editions. Then there is the cost of flyers… posters… and the book tour.

I’m thinking about doing this over Crowdfunding. That means that if you decide to donate, depending on HOW MUCH you donate, you get something SPECIAL and UNIQUE in return. For example, if you donate, say, € 100, I could make you a thank you video. If you donate € 150, we’ll have dinner together and answer all your questions. If you donate € 250, I could name a character after you. Just ideas.

The more support your pledge, the greater your reward. And one day, you say: “This book came into existence because I helped it.”

Other ideas I had for SPECIAL & UNIQUE packages include:  a never-before published short story… one of my limited edition collages… one of Mark’s Qayqa illustrations (I have to talk to him about this first)… or your pre-ordered SIGNED copy of Qayqa.

The idea is that WE are making ART TOGETHER. I want to do this as close to you as possible.


All of this would happen over an official website, like StartNext. If I say I need €2000 to publish and tour with Qayqa, and in the set amount of days, we DON’T raise that much money: then everyone gets their money back. If we DO, great!!

If you don’t think this could work, then CHECK THIS OUT. Or THIS.

Do you like the idea of Crowdfunding? Could you picture yourself supporting the cause of publishing a unique book that without your help will never be published???

And if your answer is YES, then tell me this: What would you like to get in return for your donation???

I want to collect ideas for Thank You Packages.

Send me your thoughts & ideas to rittisoncco@gmail.com, to my twitter (@rittisoncco), facebook/rittisoncco, or here in the CommentLand. I’ll collect them, and in the next post: we’ll discuss.

me, right now

me, right now

It’s not afternoon anymore. It’s night.

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.

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

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 https://www.wetransfer.com/?to=rittisoncco@gmail.com&msg=The%20Backpacker%20Poem%20Project (your video file must be sent to: rittisoncco@gmail.com)

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:  rittisoncco@gmail.com

Twitter:  @RittiSoncco  |  Facebook:  Ritti Soncco  |  Website:  www.rittisoncco.com

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. ♥