All pictures © Gabriele Seghizzi

Anyone who ever traveled a little in his life knows that every journey has something unique to be told. Today I will tell you a story that has never been told and never will be again: it is the story of a journey into a land of timeless charm, where countless months seem to go by in just few weeks, it is the story of a dimension where the boundary between dream and reality is not completely blurred.
Peru is one of the largest countries of South America, 31 million souls are living there and it has a unique geography, meaning that in this country there is practically any type of climate: from the sea to the desert coast, from the Sierra, where the Andes reach an altitude of 6.000 meters, back to the plains, deserts and the most famous rainforest in the world, the Amazon forest.
As a consequence of the disasters of the conquistadores, Spanish is spoken in Perú, but many communities still speak the indigenous languages of this part of the world, namely Aymara and especially Quechua, which in fact is not a brand of camping tents but the name of the native language of the Inca people, whose heritage is certainly what makes Peru one of the most fascinating places in the world.

First thing first, we got in Perù, of course, by plane, flying over the Andes and landing in the capital, Lima, that is essentially known in the world for three things: a pleasant overhanging promenade, a deadly traffic, and above all Plaza de Armas. Apart from that, Lima had little else to offer, so we left this insipid city as soon as possible driving south, direction  Ica!
A few kilometers from Ica, venturing a little beyond the first desert dunes, we found the beautiful oasis of Huacachina, which would have been our base camp for the desert excursion that was waiting for us. A few hours later we were already on board of our dune buggy, ready to disappear in the midst of those immense mountains of sand, which we would soon have faced armed with a simple sandboard only.

After enjoying one of those sunsets that only the desert can offer, the following morning we went back to driving, and after endless hairpin bends, numerous reckless overtaking and some road hitches, we finally arrived safely in Arequipa, which stands out in the world for three reasons: a special panorama, a series of churches, one more beautiful than the other, containing real jewels and works of art, and, of course, the always present Plaza de Armas.
Well, actually, all those beautiful things I have just told you, vanish compared with the amazing beauty of the monastery of Santa Caterina, by far the most beautiful thing in all of Arequipa and one of the most beautiful in all of Peru in general. The monastery of Santa Caterina is basically a city in the city, it is a small labyrinth made of narrow streets, small prayer cells for the nuns who once lived there, everything characterized by the most beautiful and peculiar aspect of this place: the colors, a incredible range of shades going from bright red to blue.
The next day we started to experience one of the real pitfalls of a trip to Peru, the high altitude. Travelling through landscapes and scenarios of unearthly beauty, we began to reach quite important levelsContinuing to rise, the Andes welcomed us with endless landscapes and adorable animals such as the vicuñas, relative of the llama and ancestor of the alpaca, the other creature we met, of which it is impossible not to fall in love for their fluffiness and sweetnessThe road continued to give us unforgettable sceneries, while we slowly came to touch 5.000m. From there, a splendid descent to areas richer in oxygen, that would take us to Puno, begun.
Once the condor was sighted, the soul of Peru was now taking possession of us all, so much that after another long journey through bumps, hairpin bends and high altitude signs of madness, we arrived on the shores of Lake Titicaca now fully integrated into the Peruvian mood.

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, it is located at 3.800 m above sea level and marks the border between Peru and Bolivia. What is really fascinating of this place is that the native Quechua and Aymara languages are still spoken on the shores of this lake, as if local inhabitants never changed, as if time never moved forward. In such a beautiful environment, the most astonishing elements are the floating islands of the UrosThese islands are one of those incredible places that for a moment may seem like a classic touristic trap; the reality is that exists a community of people who live on floating islands built in the grip of a deadly art attack.
The islands are inhabited by the Uros, who are an independent and self-sufficient community that still speaks the Aymara language, a pre-Inca language. They basically do everything they need on their own, the only thing they need is some money for emergencies, and that’s why they work with tourists selling tapestries and souvenirs that they make during the night. The only moment they go to the mainland is when there is the market, to barter fish and everything they produce on the islands with vegetables and everything that can be useful to them. On the Islands you live totally immersed in nature, in a surreal peace, without any noise. But they taught us that among the many languages that are difficult to learn, there is also the silence. And if you listen carefully, you can learn it.

We greeted the Uros and we sailed towards what would have been one of the most beautiful experiences of this trip, the Amantanì island. Once there, we have been divided in groups and assigned to a householder who, that night, made us sit at his table, he offered us his food and hosted in his houseThe following morning we set sail on Lake Titicaca, to discover a community that would have literally shocked us, namely the Taquileños, whom inhabit the island of Taquile.
On the Taquile Island lives an autonomous community of about three thousand people, direct descendants of the Inca people, so much so that even today they speak Quechua. It is a community totally detached from the Peruvian state, they receive nothing from the state, they give nothing to the state and have their own social organization, their rules, their traditions and the only way to be part of it is to marry one of their women. What is really extraordinary, is that nobody has come to try to conquer them in all these centuries, to subject them to some rule or to include them in a nation. They have always remained autonomous and independent, and it is something that nowadays is very rare, the most precious gift of all, freedom.
Looking at the landscape of Taquile we felt closer to home, because after all, the landscape is somewhat reminiscent of our Mediterranean Sea. This of course until you see a hundred-year-old man (I mean a hundred years!) who spends the day sewing a hat that we find out to have a fundamental role in the dress code of every Taquileño. Indeed every men of the island must always wear a hat, which identifies their social status: single, married, village chief.

After the visit to the Taquile island, it was finally time to go to the discovery of the cornerstone of any trip to Peru: the incredible charm of the Inca culture.
Here we were finally in Cusco, the navel of the world, heart and capital of the Inca empire that holds its most incredible structural treasures and that has been our base camp for the following days. From there we then made our movements to visit a set of places full of energy and mysticism, which the Incas knew as Valle Sagrado, the sacred valley.
The Mother Earth or Pachamama is what the Incas mainly tied their lives to, not only from a spiritual point of view, but also and above all from a technological point of view. In fact, the many agricultural terraces that we had met so far were just an appetizer of a real masterpiece of agronomy that awaited us in Moray, just as the ingenious system of canals built to sprinkle the saltworks of Moras was an incredible feat of engineering.
In all the Peruvian cities it is possible to find two great constants: the first one is that the main square always has the same name, Plaza de Armas; the second one instead is a colorful and picturesque market, and the one in Cusco was one of the largest. It is in places like this where you can find the people who lived the Peruvian life to its fullest, and despite the fact that everyday fatigue was painted on their faces, they welcomed you with a smile.

After the umpteenth upturn we aimed to touch the sky with a finger, heading towards the 5.100m of Apu Winicunca, the mountain of Siete Colores, also known as Rainbow Mountain.
Walking for 700m in altitude, starting from the level of the top of the Mont Blanc, is not a thing for everyone, and along a path that at home could be the “Sunday walk”, you feel a bit ridiculous, because at 5.000 meters each step requires an extreme effort. Despite the wake-up call at 2.30 am, the three-hour drive, having ventured into roads that until you have arrived, you are not sure where they would have taken you; despite the 5 am climbing at over 4.000 m from the sea level, despite the mass of tourists is usually arriving on top by 9am and we were already there at 6am… Despite all this, despite the fact that that day we were the first on the summit, there was anyway someone who had preceded us.
That morning the fog had decided to gift us with a different scenario, almost surreal, it seemed to be on the moon (even if actually I haven’t been on the moon, YET). For this reason we waited, waited and waited. And almost as if it wanted to make fun of us, with the arrival of the first groups of tourists, the fog decided to leave us, giving us the show for which we come for. Whichever way you turned, you could only find wonder.

In a train station with no sidewalks nor barrier of any sort, a train welcomed the wealthier tourists to take them to Aguas Calientes, a small town insignificant in itself if only it were not placed immediately under a certain Machu Picchu. For the more adventurous, the city can be reached with a walk of a couple of hours that runs along the train tracks and gets lost in the Peruvian jungle.
Being Machu Picchu one of the most visited sites in the world, there are a lot of tourists every day. The first bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu leaves at 5.30am and arrives at the gates of the site at 6am, and, of course, tickets are sold out months in advance. If we wanted to have a little hope of being among the first and having the chance to photograph the site without tourists and with the light of dawn, we had to leave at the 4am, sharp. And so, mocking those who were in the queue already from 2.30am waiting for the first bus, unaware of what was expecting us, we set off along what would have been the most challenging route of this trip to Peru: 2 hours of uninterrupted steps with those 8kg of backpack on my shoulders. Being now here, on my sofa, writing about it, I can assure you the sacrifice to be among the first was rewarded by an unprecedented view: Machu Picchu was there only for us, in all its millennial splendor.
Machu Picchu still remains one of the greatest mysteries of the Inca civilization, because no one knows for sure who lived there and what this place was for, but some clues lead to fairly credible hypotheses: the fact that skeletons of children were not found and that most of the buildings were temples or astronomical observatories suggests that this was a city dedicated to the study of the stars and the cult of religion.
Machu Picchu is an icon of mass tourism but its charm knows no obstacles, because its aesthetic beauty and the perfect marriage with the harsh landscape that surrounds it, blend with its invisible allure, so rich in energy that it does not follow the laws of time but those of the spirit.
If I had to say it in a few words, perhaps Machu Picchu is the fifth essence of the charm of the pre-Colombian world, of which we still unfortunately know too little.

After such amazing experiences, the journey had to end with a bang. For those who don’t know, Peru is divided into two sides by these magnificent mountain ranges. The classic tourist itinerary includes the circumnavigation of the latter. We have decided to cross it, to experience one of the last fantastic experiences that this trip would have reserved for us.
As one of my traveling mates said, “Peru is a land of contrasts: sea or mountain, meat or fish, alpaca or vicuña, rich or poor… Fortunately, potatoes make everyone agree!”. Yes, because there are more than four thousand varieties, and it is impossible not to find the one that suits you. Each type is different from the other and each has its own peculiar look or taste. And the method with which they are cooked is also particular, the so-called pachamanca, consisting in building a sort of igloo of earth clods, setting a fire inside it and waiting for it to collapse on itself. When this happens it means that the oven is ready. The igloo must then be opened, the potatoes are thrown in it and covered with the still burning earth. In about an hour you have the chance to taste the best potatoes you’ve probably ever tasted.

Another destination that doesn’t fit into most travel itineraries in Peru is Aguas Turquesas. Lost in the Andes, four hours drive from any other city; until you get there you will think you have gone the wrong way. But how could we, crazy people, not go for it? Probably that is exactly what I was looking for in Peru. Hours and hours far away from everything, spent together with good friends crossing breathtaking landscapes to reach destinations that gave you the breath back and filled your lungs with gasps of life.
We finally reach the last stop of this long journey: Paracas. From there, we took a boat to reach the Ballestas Islands, a small archipelago that is a paradise of fauna in the Peruvian coast. Once aboard our boat, we took the path of the sea and immediately we came across the umpteenth great mystery of Peru, that was an enormous candelabrum, according to some a cactus, carved in the mountains, it is not known by whom, neither when nor how, nor especially why. We only know that it is wonderful and that a few miles from here there were the Ballestas Islands, where we were greeted by sea lions, pelicans, birds of various types, including a kind of rave party for cormorants.

This journey seemed to last several months instead of 3 weeks, but don’t think that this has something to do with the intensity of the days while traveling. Paranormal thought it may seem, Peru is a place where time flows at a different pace than in the rest of the world. An hour is always an hour, and a day is always a day, mind that; but what you live there doesn’t seem to correspond to the exact duration of the time spent, as if Peru was in a parallel universe, resembling our world, but follows different laws; we can find several clues of this, if you seek with the right eyes.
For example, looking at the dug faces of the elderly in the streets, while you still have the feeling that alpacas live with their shepherds more in heaven than on Earth. Similarly, diving first with the eyes, and then with the spirit, within the colors of an imposing nature, which splashes from the sea to the six thousand meters, passing through a dense array of inexplicable enigmas and the enormous mystery hidden between the evidence of their technological superiority, drowned in the Spanish conquests, like the knowledge of an old sage who disappears under the blows inflicted by a street thief.

Anyone who travels to Peru develops a kind of hatred towards the Spaniards who, six centuries ago, have deprived us of one of the greatest cultural richness in history. Yet the charm of Peru is perhaps due to the fact that the Spanish conquest could only kill the body but not the spirit, which still dominates this land and which takes possession of anyone who wants to travel in the footsteps of the Inca people.
It is exactly by looking at this spirit that I feel an enormous sense of wonder as I realized that the intimate energy of this place is so superior that it transcends history and all the human events that remain confined to the Earth. There is no power able to profane this parallel dimension where Peru is, and where the synchrony between body and spirit is lost a bit like in those dreams from which we wake up with the doubt that what you dreamt really happened.
Here, for me this is the essence of Peru: a land that takes you, puts you to sleep, and takes you to a place where the laws of time are not valid. A land where three weeks last 6 months, and sends you home with the pleasant sensation of being lost somewhere. A land of such impalpable and mysterious charm, that when you wake up, perhaps for the first time in your life, you have a real chance of having understood that if it is true that life and dreams can be the same thing along the Peruvian Andes, then perhaps they can always be, and not only there.