Photographers' Blog

Living the Peruvian dream

Gosen City, Lima, Peru
By Mariana Bazo

Life in the settlements on the outskirts of Lima can be very hard, but years of economic growth in Peru have helped benefit even some of its poorest residents. In one shantytown called Gosen City, a cluster of houses that grew up haphazardly around a garbage dump, this change is really starting to show.

Peru has experienced a decade-long boom, and although growth slowed somewhat last year, changes and development continue. The government has pledged to dramatically cut poverty rates, and while it still has a long way to go, around 490,000 Peruvians were raised out of poverty last year, according to official statistics.

I decided to go to Gosen City, which stands high on a hill above the capital, precisely because on previous visits I found it to be a place of extreme destitution. This time, however, I interviewed a group of people who in some ways have seen their lives improve in recent years.

Carpenter Antonio Abad poses in his workshop in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality  on the outskirts of Lima,  March 18, 2014. Abad arrived in Gosen City in 1995, when it was just a settlement, and began helping neighbors build their homes and now has a factory that makes windows, doors, and furniture. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Neighborhood leader Honorata Huaman makes a living selling cakes, but rather than wanting to get rich she does it to help schoolchildren in the area. I asked her why and she explained that as a child she had nothing, but then good people helped her to improve her situation and now she wants to do the same for others.

Honorata Huaman poses with cakes and soy juice she sells in Gosen City, a slum that began years ago as an informal settlement in the Villa Maria del Triunfo municipality  on the outskirts of Lima,  April 10, 2014. Huaman makes a living selling cakes, and uses most of her profits to help needy schoolchildren in the neighborhood. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

She has had a hard life. When she was just 9 years old and living in the highland town of Ayacucho, her mother sold her for a sack of rice and another of barley and she was brought to Lima. Later, she had to free herself from an abusive husband, with whom she has four children, and she also had cancer.

Living on climate change

Huaraz, Peru

By Mariana Bazo

Climate change now has a historic route in the Andean cordillera. The gradual melting of tropical glaciers (glaciers located within the tropical latitudes) in one town has led to a decline in tourism that has made villagers look for alternatives to continue attracting tourists.

Peru is a country of multiple ecosystems. To travel from the seaside capital of Lima to 5,000 meters (3,107 feet) above sea level requires just a few hours driving uphill. One of the most important cities in the altitude, Huaraz, is famous for its nearby snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Huaraz is also frequented by mountain climbers, many of whom aim to reach Huascaran, Peru’s tallest mountain and the highest point in the world’s tropics at 6,768 meters (22,205 feet) high.

Huaraz is separated from Lima by about 500 kms (310 miles) of road, but it is much more distant in customs and economic development. One of the biggest attractions near the city is the Pastoruri glacier, on top of which visitors used to hike and play in the snow and ice.

Love within boundaries

By Mariana Bazo

The Lurigancho prison in Lima is one of the most overcrowded, violent and unruly jails in Latin America. More than 8,500 prisoners live within its walled perimeter with so much freedom that they have created their own city which reproduces the urban society on the outside, including its most unjust and grotesque aspects. The passageways and open areas are filled with vendors, food stands, soccer fields, industrial zones, rehabilitation centers, barber shops and even pet animals.

It is a tyranny with its own laws imposed by the president and bosses of each sector. Its unique social and economic strata, with classes of poor and rich, are all governed by the power of money and force.

Luri, their affectionate-sounding nickname for Lurigancho, is like a reproduction of Lima with all the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and resourcefulness of its inhabitants as they look for work in incredible places.

Trapped with a way out

By Mariana Bazo

It would be impossible to think of rescuing miners and not to associate such thoughts to the rescue of the Chilean miners in San Jose, Copiapo, 2010. That really was a glorious rescue after a lengthy sixty-nine day underground wait.

This time in Peru, nine miners were trapped in an illegal copper and gold mine in the desert of Ica, south of Lima.

The story began to gain momentum when it was discovered the Peruvian miners were still alive. Then with the hope came the story, curiosity, national interest and comparison.

The hunt for treasure

By Mariana Bazo

On my numerous trips around the outskirts of Lima I’ve long been struck by the sight of elderly women combing garbage dumps and lugging huge bags filled with recyclable items. I’ve photographed several of them and while talking to them I always get the same story – they pick up bottles, paper and cans they can sell later, and that little money allows them to survive. Some of the women are abandoned and have no relatives, but others prefer to live on their own means rather than depending on handouts. It’s common to hear them say that this is the only job they can get at their age. I often notice a certain glimpse of happiness when they talk about their hard-earned independence.

Peru’s national statistics bureau has published figures that older adults who don’t have retirement plans are forced to develop strategies for survival, to avoid being economically dependent and socially vulnerable, and these garbage pickers fit exactly that description. Many poor elderly women are excluded from social services and have never been in the formal workplace. Many are Andean migrants without the same education opportunities as men, to the extent where many are illiterate.

This describes my most recent subject, Victoria Ochante, 65. Victoria left her home in the highland town of Ayacucho 30 years ago to escape the violence of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. Illiterate herself, she’s been living in Lima slums since then, and with six children has managed to maintain her family in the humble shanty she built of recycled material.

From the Quake to the Cup

By Mariana Bazo

Nearly 300 Haitians are stuck in Inapari, a tiny Peruvian village on the border with Brazil. They are victims of the 2010 earthquake in their country and traveled weeks chasing their dream of simply getting a job. They believe that in Brazil the upcoming World Cup is creating great opportunities.

Some 3,000 kilometers after leaving home, they reached the Brazilian border only to find it shut to them, closed to stop the wave of their compatriots that began to arrive after the disaster.

They wait in the middle of the jungle and understand little. They’ve bet everything on this chance, selling or just abandoning all their belongings back home to make it this far. They now have nothing in Haiti and can’t reach their destination, nor can they return. They even asked me why they’re not allowed to cross the border, assuring that they are good workers and are willing to work hard to live better.

Lori Berenson – The 15-year assignment

By Mariana Bazo

On Monday, after several attempts, Lori Berenson finally managed to leave Peru for her native New York. And although it was a full year since she had been freed on parole, a total of fifteen years had gone by since the first photo I took of her. Peru has changed enormously since then. I still remember clearly the face-to-face encounter I had with her at the interview with Reuters the day after she was paroled.

I left my car badly parked and ran to the appointment in an old building in downtown Lima. I got lost, entered a slow elevator, and in too much of a hurry to realize exactly where I was headed and with whom I was to meet, the door opened and I was suddenly face to face with her. It was 15 years since I first met her, but it was the first time that we shook hands. The attorney asked, “Do you know each other?” I answered, “Well yes,” and I blurted out my name.

Fifteen years earlier I was awoken in the middle of the night to be told that something strange was going on in the Molina neighborhood. The word was that soldiers had surrounded a street. During times of the armed civil conflict that was enough information to race to Molina. I jumped in the only vehicle I could find on short notice, my own brand new car. Although new, I quickly left it badly parked in the area where there were army tanks and soldiers, and we could hear shots. Something big was happening. They had surrounded one house in particular. Photographers ran to the place in a group for protection. I saw a blue light flash between my legs; it was a bullet. We didn’t fully understand what was happening, but as the dawn sky brightened we learned that they had arrested a group of the rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and that among them was an American girl. It was Lori. The shots ceased and I returned to my car only to find it bashed by a tank. Nobody paid me for the damage.

The girl who mocked me

By Mariana Bazo

I arrived, greeted her, and was practically ignored by her. I took a few pictures, but it wasn’t a situation just to jump into and shoot away. I approached her and chatted. She was indifferent to the camera. Her movements were quick as she spun around. I didn’t want to invade her space, so I mostly observed and conversed. She hardly spoke to me, or to anyone.

At one point she was exercising with a ball and her trainer, and as I was taking pictures I tripped and fell on my back. She started to laugh a lot, at me.

I asked her, “Hey, are you mocking me?”

“YES!” she answered moving her head. We laughed together, looking at each other as I took more photos. We were suddenly more relaxed.

A penguin’s trip home

I went to the police rescue unit to take pictures of a Humboldt penguin, which is on the endangered list, that had been rescued a few days earlier from a beach full of bathers, very far from its natural habitat. The police chief told me, “We’re going to free it. Come with us.” Lima, Peru, is a city on the edge of the Pacific, with buildings and beaches full of summer tourists, traffic, noise and heat…and amidst all that, Tomas appeared.

Tomas was quiet and relaxed while awaiting his transfer to an island where there are entire colonies of his kind. The police rescuers took turns taking pictures with him and chatting about what penguins are all about. They named him Tomas after their cook at headquarters, because they both walked with the same gait.

Tomas, a lost Humboldt penguin, walks next to a mural at the headquarters of the police Salvage Unit in Chorrillos, before he is transferred to a penguin colony on San Lorenzo Island January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Tomas provoked a child’s reaction in everyone, making them (and me) stop work to just watch a cute bird, take care of him, talk about him, and wonder how he had ended up on the beach. Tomas was restless and waddled all around the police station, giving me ample opportunity to take pictures.

Surfing alpaca makes waves

Peruvian surfer Domingo Pianezzi hit the headlines in 2001 when he was photographed surfing with a dog on his board and again in 2008 after teaching a cat to surf. Now, photographer Pilar Olivares spends the day with him and his newest surfing companion, his alpaca Pisco.

PERU-SURF/ALPACA
Peruvian surfer Domingo Pianezzi carries his alpaca Pisco before entering the water at San Bartolo beach in Lima January 1, 2010. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

PERU-SURF/ALPACA
Pianezzi puts cotton in the ears of his alpaca Pisco before entering the water at San Bartolo beach. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares