Journey into Peru’s wild and ancient north where misty mountains plunge into unexplored jungle, ancient ruins lie empty and the once-powerful Inca empire envelopes you. Around every cobble stone corner there are surprises waiting to be discovered.
Our bus from Lima climbed high over the Andes to the Huánuco, once a key Inca settlement on the road between Cusco to Cajamarca. The city is known for the nearby Temple of Kotosh, one of Peru’s oldest Andean archaeological sites and La Danza de los Negritos, a celebration in remembrance of the slaves that were brought to work in the surrounding mines.
After dipping into the jungle, we emerged in the laid back town of Chachapoyas. For centuries it was the base from which the Spanish explored and exploited the Amazon. It is nestled in ethereal cloud forest and filled uncharted ruins. From Chachas it is a two hour drive to the famous ruin of Kuélap. This grand citadel is perched on a limestone mountain. Only twenty or so years before the Spanish arrived (and burned it down,) it was conquered by the Incas.
The next part of the journey was a real test of nerves. From Chachapoyas we climbed high up a narrow, foggy road and over Black Mud Pass (12066 ft / 3678m). There were no guard rails just a sheer three kilometer drop to the Rio Marañon below.
Happy that we survived the journey we settled into the colonial metropolis of Cajamarca. Little remains of the Inca city, except for the massive room the Spanish forced the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa to fill with gold before they killed him and melted it down. The havoc the Spanish wreaked on the region is on prominent display in Cajamarca. It was always on the back of my mind during the jubilant carnival festivities that overwhelmed the city in the following days. The crazy carnival in Cajamarca turns into a giant water fight. We warmed ourselves by soaking in the city’s thermal baths, the same natural baths where Atahualpa was relaxing when the Spanish arrived in Cajamarca.
The Northern Highlands are a paradise for anyone seeking Peru’s beauty, unique culture and history without all the crowds. Cloud forests, waterfalls, jungle covered ruins, bustling markets and the Peru’s fascinating past all await those who aren’t afraid to head off the beaten path.
Recommended listening – LA DANZA by NACIÓN EKEKO
We crossed high over the Andes to reach Huánuco.
Climbing the valley walls that surround Huánuco.
Every January in Huánuco dancers wear decorative black masks to remember the slaves that were brought to work in the surrounding mines.
The central market of Huánuco.
We ate and drank fresh fruit smoothies in the market every morning.
As we climbed out of the jungle we arrived at Chachapoyas. Home to Gocta waterfal, one of the tallest in the world. It was only made known to the world in 2005 by a German and Peruvian explorers. There are various measurements, but the most common is 771 metres (2,530 ft)
Taking it all in at the base of Gocta Falls.
Entering the cloud forest that surrounds Chachapoyas.
Chachapoyas is a sleepy, white town surrounded by high altitude cloud forest.
The Spanish used it as a base to explore the Amazon.
The main street in Chachapoyas.
Chachapoya translates to People of the Clouds. Upon climbing to the top of the fortress it felt like a very apt name.
Chachapoya structures were round with pointed, thatched roofs. There are a couple of square Inca buildings on the mountaintop as well.
Villager wearing a typical hat.
We switched vans halfway through the journey over the mountains. Each van only drove half way and back.
We stopped in a small town to get some fruit and snacks.
The colonial metropolis of Cajamarca was once home to the Inca emperor, but nearly all of the structures were destroyed. The stones were used to build the churches.
Nicola Cruz is an eclectic international producer born in France of South American descent. He has established himself as an underground icon of South America’s electronic music movement. By bridging local soundscapes from the mountains and jungles with deep latin flavored rhythms and bass heavy beats, Nicola Cruz is bringing the Andean soundscape to dance floors worldwide.
This summer Nicola performed at several popular West Coast musical festivals, including Beloved Festival in Oregon and Symbiosis Gathering in California. We were fortunate enough to meet with Nicola before his set at Symbiosis. We delved right into his thoughts on why the South American sound has caught our attention in the U.S. and abroad.
He thinks that the “American music scene has lots of different crowds but [he] feels the response has been nice. The American listeners always show [him] a lot of love at shows, which always feels good.” His music “lacks talking but emphasizes unique samples and rhythms from [his] South American roots,” which he believes is becoming more popular in the US.
Nicola Cruz’s music offers a beautiful balance of sounds, drawing from a verity of sources that reflect his passion for Andean culture and the landscapes, rituals and rhythms that raised him. His vibrant mix of organic samples and deep rhythms, topped with smooth seamless melodies creates a soundscape for listeners to simultaneously journey into and move the body through.
He feels that the sonic qualities of his music is not just deeply reflective of the world he comes from, but also a personal practice of self-expression. Thus his music is an example of his own personality, the greater identity of Andean culture and South America at large.
Ultimately, his sound and practice “came natural for [him] while living in Quito. Living there, you are really exposed to music from the mountains (Andes), the coast and the jungle. The mix of environments in Ecuador creates an interesting contrast of sub-cultures and through their soundscapes takes listeners on a whole trip from the jungle to the coast to the mountains.”
He explained, “I really like to take music from around the country that I find through parties I attend or on vinyl records as well as natural environments, etc. Whatever I can sample from really, At the same time however, I love to record live instruments to create more sounds that I compose organically.”
We wondered if any traditional Andean Music or indigenous instruments inspired his music, but he responded, “not really, only some percussion“. Furthermore, “for me, studying the folklore and folk music is kind of a new thing. When I say that I mean in last 5 years but still I find it to be a new addition in my production. “
The defining theme for us at Breaking Borders during our Symbiosis coverage was whether festival culture functions as a was to ‘break down borders,’ by bringing people together as one, regardless of cultural differences. His response was simply, “yeah, well, several years I’ve been playing festivals world-wide so that’s integration right there.” He symbolizes a new wave of artists who are breaking borders and defying cultural boxes and is the perfect example of an artist who does not fit into a single genre and is difficult to label.
He continued, “I’m known for playing everywhere from large disco clubs to smaller spaces that are more rustic and traditional, there are no limits.” This resonated with us and validated our understanding that the music of Nicola Cruz is an essential reflection of himself and his culture. A reflection which should be heard as personal musical expression, one that blurs genre lines, and returns the focus to the celebration of diversity without judgement of difference.
We were curious what the future holds for Nicola Cruz and if any new tours, projects or any collabs are on the horizon. He replied, “I will continue to be active internationally with shows coming up in Mexico, Brazil and then back to the U.S for New Years in Los Angeles.” Additionally, “there will also be new compositions since if I don’t have that, I don’t have anything. As for upcoming collaborations, they are secret right now but I can tell you that I am always working with others.”
As a final question, we asked Nicola if he recommended any global festivals in South America that are similar to Symbiosis. He told us that “Nomad festival in Chile is a good one coming up next year. It contains a strong global fusion element and is always looking to collaborate with people from around the world through volunteering, performance, etc.
I never expected to end up in Albania, but once I did, and tasted the delicious burek and coffee, met wonderful people and experienced the untapped beauty, I had a difficult time leaving.
Albania was under the tight grip of communism for nearly 50 years. Enver Hoxha ruled the country with an iron fist as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces from 1944 until his death in 1985. During his rule Albania declared itself the first atheist state and destroyed many religious artifacts. Communist rule collapsed in 1991 and the country has been rapidly opened itself up to the world since.
Now it is a land of opportunity, just starting to crank it into high gear. You can sense an eagerness to embrace western culture. Unfortunately corruption runs rampant and the average salary is hovering around $300 a month. This does make the country cheap for travelers who can take advantage of the wealth of natural beauty and history. The best part is that you can do it without running into any other tourists. Lets go on a journey back to the days when coffee and tobacco ruled and family was the only law. Visit now before its too late.
I started my Albanian adventure in Shkodër. A city in the north overlooked by an impressive medieval castle built by Venetians, and crisscrossed by wide communist-era boulevards.
We woke up at the crack of dawn and drove deep into the Albanian Alps to Lake Koman. At the small dock we watched as ferries and boats were loaded up with people, goods and cars.
We hopped on a boat and headed out as spectacularly green cliffs plunged into the water all around us. After a short ride we rented kayaks and explored on our own.
We arrived at a farm after a hour or so. There were chickens and donkeys, grapes and fruit trees. We were welcomed in (for a small fee) and served a tasty fish lunch.
On the outskirts of the Skoder I stumbled upon a Roma community (behind the fisherman).
Some lived in pretty standard houses, while others like this family, lived in huts amongst mounds scraps and junk.
A Roma girl inspects me from her families encampment filled with things they had collected.
After a few days in the north I settled into Tirana, the capital of Albania. I was lucky enough to find a great couchsurfing host.
Albania, like the rest of the Balkan countries, is small. My host had a car so we decided to drive to the coast about an hour from Tirana.
The Byzantine Forum (Macellum) is in the center of the coastal city of Durrës. Greedy and corrupt politicians have sanctioned big, ugly developments next to and on top of ancient ruins across the city.
Constructing houses and other developments is a great way to launder money.
Albania was under communist control from 1946-1992. The country is home to lots of communist era statues and military bunkers.
We arrived at the Cape and were greeted with a beach all to ourselves and clear blue water.
Not a bad place to spend a few days relaxing.
After the Cape we headed south to Beat.
Overlooking Berat, one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, from the old citadel. One of the most refreshing aspects of the country is that there is the tourist infrastructure.
Back on the valley as the sun set.
The old city of Berat.
No rules apply to the Albanian streets and roads.
After Berat we drove for a while longer into Osum Canyon
A shephard grazes his sheep along the main highway into Tirana.
Albania is littered with ugly incomplete buildings. This is the most glaring example in downtown Tirana.
A young boy practices football in the little play area in the center of my block of apartment buildings.
The central market after the rain stops.
People smoke a lot of cigarettes across the Balkans and Albania is no exception. There is a tobacco section in the market where you can buy half kilos straight from the farm for cheap..
The driving in Albania is insane. Seems like there are no rules, or lines on the street
Coffee plays an important part in everyday life in Albania. This young woman enjoys an expresso during a warm summer afternoon.
Bagan is home to Myanmar’s precious “Valley of a Thousand Temples”. It is a place quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a landscape that is both barren, and vibrant, and host to an ancient culture that is in the midst of modernization.
There are many questions left to be answered regarding this modernization, especially with regards to the new youth of Myanmar, many of whom are now working in the tourism industry, a business that didn’t exist when their parents were their age. Many Burmese people, both young and old, have acknowledged that as Myanmar opens itself up to the world, it is inevitable that change will happen. However, both have expressed sentiments that aim to preserve as much of their traditional culture as they can. As I walked around the plains of Bagan, meeting with locals and travelers alike, I asked myself, how will Myanmar look in 10 years? It was then, that I met a young Burmese girl, who introduced herself as Ma (younger sister in Burmese). She approached me, with a stack of foreign money in her hand, and asked me where I was from. I told her the United States, and she promptly spoke to me in English. Perfect English, not a word wrong, her accent was impeccable. She reminded me of a highly intelligent young girl in junior high. So what was she doing with a stack of money from all over the world?
“I can speak all of these languages” she told me.
“Every single one?” I looked at the stack, there were bills from all over the world. France, Brazil, England, Chile, China, everyone was accounted for.
I tried Spanish with her, she nailed it. French, again, perfect. Her Portuguese was good enough to get her a job in Rio. I couldn’t believe it. We walked for some time, and she told me how she learned so much.
“Tourists are my teachers” she said with a smile. Ma has been a tour guide for 5 years, literally starting as soon as the borders opened. In that time, she has worked all around Bagan, hiking from one temple to the next, with a bag full of postcards, and foreign currency. From sunrise to sunset, this has been her life. As the tourists come in larger and larger numbers, Ma has seen more and more business. So, how is this influx of global culture affecting young people like Ma?
In a recent study published by Routledge, a publishing company that specializes in providing academic books and journals regarding humanities and social sciences, researchers went to Bagan, and conducted interviews with locals, who described the three biggest changes that they had seen since the opening of the borders. People of all ages agreed on three major areas; theconsumption of alcohol, the way thanaka (traditional make-up of the Burmese people) is wornand the perceived importance of marriage (Rich and Franck 334-44). Although, tourism in not alone to blame for these changes. Free access to the Internet has also helped foster a developing mindset in the minds of many young Burmese people, especially with regards to drinking alcohol, and relationships. According to the study, it is in conjunction with modern media formats that Burmese people have been exposed to and have assimilated new cultural identities.
There are undoubtedly benefits to tourism, and most locals do agree that those benefits are very important to providing new opportunities for the next generation. Many young men and women are now able to afford luxuries that their parents could not have thought possible at their age, and many more are able to attend schools now. Whatever future these changes hold in store for Myanmar, it is important to learn from the successes and failures of nearby destinations like Thailand and Cambodia. Will Bagan’s Valley of a Thousand Temples someday have backpacker ghettos lined up across it’s plains? Will the environment suffer the way it has in some parts of Thailand? These questions are left to the people of Myanmar to manage, and to hopefully, resolve. Either way, it is a fascinating time to be young in Bagan ;a time when the new generation is setting out to define itself, and decide what direction it wants this new Myanmar to go.
Large tour busses are beginning to arrive in Bagan, bringing with them thousands of tourists every year.
The market in Bagan is always a good place to get great food, and meet some interesting locals.
Wandering around the ancient temples in Bagan, one is almost nervous of touching the walls.
Each temple offers something hidden inside of it’s walls, and no two are alike.
The valley stretches as far as the eye can see, with temples poking up from the horizon everywhere.
A statue of the Buddha hidden inside a large temple.
Tourists line up to see another one of Bagan’s many legendary temples.
A group of young Burmese schoolchildren on a field trip to Bagan.
Although there is indeed a huge influx of tourism, there are still places hidden away that can offer us a moment to reflect.
Myanmar, delicious, refreshing, and probably the only cold thing you’ll get on one of Bagan’s hottest days.
A glorious sunset from one of Bagans largest temples.
Rich, Anna-Katharina, and Anja K. Franck. “Tourism Development in Bagan, Myanmar: Perceptions of Its Influences upon Young Peoples’ Cultural Identity.” Tourism Planning & Development 13.3 (2015): 333-50. Print.
For anyone interested in reading more about Myanmar, here are some interesting books to check out:
The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint-U. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
Freedom from Fear, Kyi, Aung San Suu. London: Viking, 2009.
After discovering the Brooklyn Gypsies earlier this year at Ozora Festival in Hungary, we were thrilled to see them perform again at Symbiosis Gathering right here in California. This unique global fusion group caught our attention with their incredible, multicultural stage performances and powerful message of “sin fronteras” (without borders) which resonates strongly with our mission here at Breaking Borders. The New York based Brooklyn Gypsies are an emerging collaboration project consisting of six urban nomads each deriving from an international origin with their own ancestral roots in gypsy music. The fusion of their individual styles and performances is apparent as soon as the group hits the stage, creating a syncretic new sound of “future roots” live- tronic music.
We are grateful to conduct an interview with Troy Simms, a founding member of the Brooklyn Gypsies who plays alto and soprano saxophone. He spoke on behalf of the group, sharing with us how they began and the collective intention behind their sound. Troy also offers meaningful reflections on world fusion music today and how it’s becoming stronger through global festival culture. Have a listen and let the sounds of the Brooklyn Gypsies take you back to your nomadic roots while at the same time attract your modern ears while get the body moving with their live-tronic instrumentation and bassy beats.
“As a multicultural global fusion band we draw from our rich ancestral roots and end up discovering how much more alike we are then different”
Breaking Borders: Brooklyn Gypsies are a collaboration of diverse musicians representing different musical and cultural backgrounds. How did you form as a group? What inspired you to start performing together?
Brooklyn Gypsies: The formation of Brooklyn Gypsies was inspired by our collective interest in fusing various genres of gypsy music (Balkan, Middle Eastern, Flamenco) with that of Hip Hop, Reggae Dub Dancehall and Electronic music. I had been producing under the name Mobius Collective in NYC since 2002 and later released a single entitled “Gypsy Cab” in 2012 featuring Carmen Estevez. Gypsy Cab was the first incarnation of what would soon develop into Brooklyn Gypsies as it fuses an Ethiopian inspired horn melody with Carmen’s Flamenco cajon and vocals.
We soon assembled a band to perform this new brand of fusion and released our first single “Fafisa” recorded and produced by Takuya Nakamura at the former Studio BPM in Williamsburg BK. Zeb aka The Spy From Cairo was a producer whom I’d wanted to collaborate with especially since he’s been such a major influence within the genre over the years with various releases to his name. So when the choice came to pick a producer to remix our first single he was our first choice. Soon after he would join the group on the ancient Arabic stringed instrument The Oud adding another ancestral dimension to our sound. Our drummer Brandon Lewis aka B-Riddimz is a major contributor on the drums as well as beat production. Fatima Gozlan is our most recent member on Arabic percussionist and Ney flute joining us after our Ozora Festival debut last year in Hungary. BK Gypsies currently represents 5 different countries including U.S.A, Spain, Japan, Italy & Hungary. The diverse cultural backgrounds of the members inevitably comes through in our productions and performances.
Your album concept “sin fronteras” is a very important message that is reflected in your music. It also resonates with our mission of cross cultural connection and exploration. Can you tell us about it’s significance and origin?
Sin Fronteras means “without borders” in Spanish and is a message we strongly believe in especially considering the current times we are living in. This is the title track on our album in which Carmen wrote the lyrics and Zeb composed the music. The recent political rhetoric of building walls and alienating people based on where they were born and their religious beliefs is precisely why this message needs to be spread. As a multicultural global fusion band we draw from our rich ancestral roots and end up discovering how much more alike we are then different.
You’re an emerging global fusion group that’s become popular in the global festival scene. What do you feel has been the driving force behind your success?
The release of our album last year on Wonderwheel Recordings put us on global festivals radar such as Ozora festival in Hungary which we had the honor of playing the last two years and Symbiosis Gathering this past September in Oakdale, California. This project has an incredible resiliency as the setup has had to change many times, yet the ability to deliver a strong stage show has become increasingly consistent. As a result we have discovered new musical combinations and concepts within the group that in turn keep the project new and evolving. I also feel we are bridging a gap in the global fusion genre that connects the bellydancers and dancehall queens. We are still just scratching the surface, but audiences have been responding with a real sense of appreciation. It’s future roots for music.
What’s your opinion on the independent music and art scene today, specifically within global festival culture?
There seems to be a growing appreciation for independent music and art, especially within the global festival scenes that we’ve participated in recently, most notably Ozora Festival’s Dragon Nest stage and Symbiosis Silk Road Stage, which curate their programs with a focus on folk and global fusion. These festivals allow for audiences to discover up and coming artis, and in turn give independent artist a world class platform to make an impact and gain a wider fan base.
Do you see festival culture functioning in a way that challenges to “break down” social norms? And if so, in what way?
The sense of community and brotherhood we’ve experienced at various festivals is amazing, from the organizers and fellow artist to the festival goers. We’ve lost cell phones and wallets and gotten them all back in the course of a festival, which gave me a glimpse of how a multicultural mash up of strangers can live and party in harmony. Everyone is there for that ultimate frequency that dissolves societies boundaries and awakens the power of a sense of unity.
Symbiosis is a unique global gathering, what makes it special to you and how does it stand out among other similar events?
Symbiosis was Brooklyn Gypsies first festival debut on the west coast where we were blessed to be included amongst the premier projects of global fusion and world music. The response was overwhelmingly positive during and after our set. We have toured more outside the states then within so performing at Symbiosis opened up a whole new market we are looking forward to tapping into.
Any new projects or tours to look forward to?
This year on our tour we visited the homeland of each of the members which included Spain, Hungary & Italy. Next year we are looking to return to Europe as well as our gypsy brother Takuya’s hometown in Japan! Southeast Asia and India has been calling our attention as well with the likes of Bali and Goa. As far as new music, we have a upcoming EP to be released early next year 2017. All tour dates and release info will be posted on our website: brooklyngypsies.com