Tag Archives: andes

Over The Andes

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

Bringing ‘Andes-Step’ to the USA

An Interview with Nicola Cruz

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.


The Highest Inhabited Place on Earth (Pictures)

They warned us about going to La Rinconada, “it’s so dangerous, you will get robbed in broad daylight,” said one man at the bus station near Lake Titicaca. Another man chimed in, “so many people are taking gold out of La Rinconada, that young men are beginning to rob people on the road from here to there.” I asked if any of them had visited the city, they said no.

La Rinconada, Peru represents the most extreme lengths people are willing to go in pursuit of money and a better life. At 18,000 ft above sea level, it is the highest inhabited place on earth. Living at these altitudes seems nearly impossible, yet 60,000 people call it home. Most work long hours in hazardous conditions deep within the gold mines. It’s entrepreneurial in the most brutal sense of the word—it’s unregulated and unsafe. Many peoples lives are cut short from contamination, tough working conditions and alcoholism. Mercury, cyanide and human waste flow openly down its unpaved streets and alleys.

The process of gold mining in La Rinconada is conducted by small companies and individuals—rather than large multinational corporations. Miners hike every day over 30 minutes at 18,000 feet to the entrance of the mines, which are carved into a think glacier. They walk 1,500 ft into the dark tunnels of the mountain where oxygen is even more scarce and toxic fumes are overwhelming.

Once the ore has been extracted from the mountain, individuals break it down using stones and a crusher driven by donkeys in their homes and back alleys. Water from the glacier mixed with mercury helps extract the gold. The gold is sold to middle men working in pawn shops, who bring it down the mountain to be sold again into the global market. Most of it ends up in India and Asia. Many times, armed men with ski masks rob merchants traveling along the one road leading out of town.

Instability in global markets has caused the price of gold to triple in the last 15 years, pushing many lower-class Peruvians to seek their fortunes in the mines of La Rinconada. Most miners come from the surrounding Puno region, a poverty stricken provence of the Peruvian Andes.

The story of La Rinconada is similar to that of Williston, North Dakota, where oil workers have been drawn to the harsh plains by the allure of high wages. Williston’s boom has affected the local environment and created a demographic shift and a strain on public services.

Similar to Williston, La Rinconada’s population has exploded—an increase of 230% over the last 10 years. Like a lawless frontier, the residents of La Rinconada have pushed back against the efforts made by the Peruvian government to bring regulation and some sense of law and order to the region. Many fear taxation and regulation that come with government oversight, thus the degradation of the environment, pollution, crime and corruption still reign.


Ice and Fire, Wind and Salt in Bolivia (Pictures)

We spent two weeks traveling across southern Bolivia through some of the most spectacular landscapes on planet earth. After nearly being denied entry into Bolivia and getting told to “get your backpacks and get the fuck out of here” by the Bolivian border guard, we eventually made it in.

We ascended into the Andes to the capital city of Sucre. Sucre is a pleasant city with lots of Spanish colonial architecture, and one of the largest middle classes in Bolivia.

From Sucre we climbed even higher to the silver mining city of Potosí, located at 13,342 feet above sea level. Potosí has a more gritty feel than Sucre, with silver miners flooding the street after work, and brutal temperatures with frequent snowfall. The surprisingly bustling Potosí was founded by the Spanish in 1545 who bankrolled their empire by mining the Cerro Rico. Centuries later the same silver mines are still active, and adventurous travelers can tour them. Although Potosí is not an easy city to visit, it is certainly one of the most authentic cities in Bolivia.

Next we started our three day Salar de Uyuni jeep expedition. We drove across salt flats, passed smoldering volcanoes, bright green, red and pink lakes, and climbed over 16,000 ft passes, and took a sunrise dip in a steaming hot spring. Most people come to this part of Bolivia for the salt flats, but the most impressive part of the journey was the day after. Geographically speaking, this is one of the most spectacular places on earth.