South American Travels!


Sarah Larsen, multi-media artist and teacher of Thangool, central Queensland, Australia - title graphic


Peruvian man dying and hand spinning wool for tapestries and clothing. All natural dyes used.


One of the many markets in Peru.showing the wonderful array of colours and designs on offer.


Machu Picchu and surrounding landscape.


Stone formations hugging side of the mountain, Machu Picchu, Peru.


Macchu Picchu and surrounding area.


Macchu Picchu and surrounding area.


Cusco, Peru.


Machu Picchu and Wana Picchu, Peru.


Street seller, Peru.


Lake Titicaca  and island views.


Island view.


Amantana Island - the local band.


Floating islands.


Floating islands.


Traditional woven hat from Amantana Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru.


Peruvian ceramic.

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After dreaming about the place and saying “I’d love to go there one day and see….” it finally was a reality for me. In October 2005, I boarded a plane in Brisbane and headed east, via Auckland and Santiago for my long dreamed of destination, Buenos Aries, “The Paris of the South” and my adventure in South America.  The trip was partly work as I was sketching and gathering information for my next exhibition, partly family reasons, I was visiting my daughter Fiona who had been living there for 5 months and partly just the simple pleasure.

I visited Argentina, Chile, (in transit), Peru, Bolivia and Uruguay. South America is such a vast continent with so much to see that it could take you a life time of visits and you would never see it all.

Fiona and her friend Katherine met me at the airport and I was introduced to the first taste of the sights and smells of BA. The place is huge and your first impressions are of a city busting at the seams with a passionate vibrant energy. It reminded me a little of life in Africa. This place is Alive and the people have a friendly indomitable spirit which is very infectious.  I loved it straight away.

The girls took me home, we dropped off the gear and headed straight to the hostel to meet Fiona’s friend, Mariela, a beautiful Argentinean girl who welcomed me with open arms and a kiss on the cheek. I instantly had another “adopted daughter”. Many delightful afternoons were spent visiting Mariela, sharing a meal together or sipping “Mate” and giggling over some of the day’s events.

I was based in San Telmo in an apartment there complete with antique mirrored lift operated by a pulley system of weights and counterbalances.  The apartment overlooked the Plaza Dereago. Daily the music would waft up to my balcony and continue through most of the night as the Tango dancers performed to appreciative crowds and craftspeople made and sold their wares to passing tourists.

 Each Sunday an Antiques market is held, the streets are closed and market stalls erected. Collections of bygone treasures, showing years of dedicated addiction to their particular interest, were on display.

San Telmo is part of the old city with narrow Italian style streets and apartments towering above you decorated with ornate iron work and hand painted tiles on the doorways. The effects of the years and the economic collapse have had their toll. You have to look where you are walking to avoid the potholes, rubbish and inevitable evidence of where the dog walkers have taken their charges for their morning constitutional.  

San Telmo is also one of the “arty” areas of Buenos Aries where artists, musicians, actors, writers, dancers and philosophers seem to congregate, sip the endless coffees while discussing the finer points of a work or simply having a jam session with their friends as they sit on the pavement.  I spent a lot of time here chatting and absorbing and being absorbed by the culture and way of life. The art of people watching, one of my favourite pastimes has been taken to its sublime summit here.

I spent 2 weeks based in San Telmo and divided my time between an amazing 3 day trip to Iguazu Falls, (the largest and most spectacular falls I have ever seen), a short trip over the border to Uruguay, (Fiona and I going crazy on a scooter forgetting they drive on the other side of the street!) and taking in the sights (as all good tourists should) exploring the city, sketching, people watching, and  relishing in the energy of the place as I tried to communicate with the locals (my Spanish improved very quickly, it does when you have to). I enjoyed everything, the markets, restaurants, people and of course the shopping.

One of my most treasured memories is of the last Sunday I had in Argentina. Fiona, Bruce and I had been invited to join Sebastian and his family and friends in an Asado. An Asado is a special type of barbeque and it was a great honour to be included. We had a delightful day, eating, drinking, talking, laughing and even creating a “Combined Communal Art Work“ as a special gift to Sebastian, who was heading off to the states.  It was a very special experience I will never forget.

In the second half of my stay, Fiona and I joined a tour group doing The Inca Adventure. We traveled with an Australian company, Peregrine, who looked after us extremely well. Some of the places we visited included Lima, Cusco, Sacsayhuaman, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Callentes, Lake Titicaca, Sillustani, Tiahuanaco and La Paz. The group initially comprised of 9 but due to sickness and some of our group joining another tour to trek through the mountains via another route we ended up with a merry band of 5 which was perfect. There was myself and Fiona, another Australian Bruce, and Sheena, who was from Canada. Our “fearless leader” was of course Marco, whose knowledge, enthusiasm, patience, sense of humour and passion for his country enriched our experience immensely.

We began our journey under the semi permanent smog grey skies of Lima, famous for its cathedral, government palace and the catacombs of the dead containing over 70,000 human remains from a bygone era.

We headed south east climbing steadily, eventually reaching the delightful ancient Inca capital, Cusco. I loved Cusco with its Plaza De Armas, itself dominated by the 17th century baroque cathedral. The last king of the Incas, Tupac Amaru, was executed here.  It was a delightful experience to wander the narrow cobbled streets and explore the smorgasbord of shops, market stalls and museums. Close to the city are the Inca ceremonial ruins of Sacsayhuaman with its massive stone block walls indicating the degree of engineering skill the Inca and pre Inca peoples had.

We traveled the next day through the sacred valley, located between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The Urubamba, or Sacred River, winds through the valley still providing water for crops and stock as well as humans. Pachamama, (Mother Earth) is still revered throughout Peru and there are imposing sets of terraces and shrines. The wonderfully colourful markets are an absolute delight to the eye. The designs and iconic forms of the weavings and on many of the ruins had me in awe.  I was simply amazed with the similarities to so many cultures around the world. From Celtic to African, Australian and the South Pacific, similar patterns or designs or marks appeared.  While each individualised theirs according to that part of the world I saw evidence of a common human thread, reaffirming my belief of our one Universal essence and therefore Universal wisdom that ancient and modern  cultures  tap into when expressing themselves.  

Onward and upward we boarded the early morning train and journeyed through some simply spectacular country following the Urubamba and then climbing steeply to arrive in the delightful town of Aguas Callentes later that morning.  After a quick freshen up and bite to eat we boarded the bus to the “Lost City of the Incas”.

My heart was thumping with excitement as we rounded each hairpin bend on the steep climb, eager to see the successive visual delights around each corner. I will never forget my first trip up that incredible road.  On reaching the summit we had to have tickets checked, how long that process seemed to take, but eventually passing through the gates and climbing up over the ridge, I was there.

Machu Picchu stood before me as she had for centuries, serene, awesome and encapsulated in what felt like a time bubble. I stood, breathed and let time pass.  I had fulfilled one my dreams. A sublime moment in this lifetime.

Marco guided us around that afternoon filling our heads with information he had gathered from a life time of passionate study. The following day we returned for the full day to explore by ourselves. I spent a good part of the day just sitting in meditation, or watching a humming bird feed. It is an incredibly spiritual and beautiful place.  I spent some time sketching and gathering visual information, but also just lying on the grass allowing the energy of the place to filter into my system and heal me. I had eaten something my system did not agree with the night before and was feeling the consequences of it now.  

Leaving Cusco we headed on to Puno situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and a regular stopover point for many migratory birds. We boarded our boat early in the next morning, arriving at the harbour in a rickshaw which had raced us through the tangle of traffic to our squeals of delight.  A perfect day had been laid on for us as we chugged toward the first of our island stops. The people on these islands live in the same manner as they have done for centuries and again I felt that time warp sensation as we climbed steadily up the worn tracks to the centre of the village where we were welcomed by the local chief. The islanders live primarily from their sheep and fish from the lake, supplemented with the vegetables they grow.  I relished in the craftsmanship of the people creating the woven and knitted garments, each piece used for a particular purpose or telling a story. Interestingly the men do the knitting and the women the weaving in these communities. Our stop for the night was at Amanatana Island where we were the guest of local families. Living in a dirt floor hut and cooking over an open fire brings back to you the reality of life. It was simple and authentic.

That afternoon Fiona, Sheena and I were treated to a local game of soccer by Marco and some of his friends and in the evening the whole village dressed up for a festival in our honour.  Unfortunately Fiona chose that night to succumb to the dreaded “tummy bug”. We had rather a long night of high fevers and cramps but I guess if you are going to get sick it is good to have your mum around. Much improved but still weak, the next morning we continued our journey around the lake, stopping at the floating islands. These amazing islands, and just about everything these inventive people use, are completely fashioned from the reeds growing around the edge of the lake and provide them a completely sustainable lifestyle.  

Leaving the lake we headed across the boarder to Bolivia, passing through immigration and customs formalities (Bolivian Style) at Desaguadero. Visiting the ancient ruins of Tiahuanaco, from the 8th to 10th century, we continued on our way to La Paz. A city busting at the seams, La Paz, with Mount Illimani towering above it at 6439 meters, it is the highest capital in the world. Much of La Paz is modern but I found the old city with narrow, dark, winding streets and the famous Witches Markets far more interesting.  A strong stomach is sometimes required here. We also visited The Valley of the Moon, not far from the city, where erosion has formed a bizarre landscape of pinnacles and canyons that changes with every downpour.

Our final evening was spent together dining at a local restaurant where the owners put on a wonderful floor show, showing different aspects of Bolivian culture and dress, for us. It was a great night and a fitting end to my amazing Inca Adventure.  

Sarah Larsen. 


Three paintings (San Telmo,Tango and La Bocca) by Sarah Larsen, inspired by her South American travels - click to see a larger version.

One of the many markets in Peru.showing the wonderful array of colours and designs on offer.


Machu Picchu and surrounding landscape.


Llama grazing at Machu Picchu.


Macchu Picchu and surrounding area.


Macchu Picchu and surrounding area.


Macchu Picchu and surrounding area.


Cusco, Peru.


Machu Picchu and Wana Picchu, Peru.


Bruce and Marco.


Lake Titicaca  and island views.


Amantana island, Lake Titicaca.


Amantana Island - we had to dress up in traditional festival clothing for the night of dancing and music.


Floating islands.


Travelling by reed boat, Lake Titicaca, Peru.


Rickshaw riding, Puno, Peru.


Peru - start of the sacred valley.

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Sarah Larsen, Hayshead Studio, PO Box 45, Thangool  4716 Queensland AUSTRALIA
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