Out of a Clear Grey Sky: One day in 2007, a meteorite landed in a Peruvian hamlet. And it wasn’t just any meteorite.
ON A WINTER’S morning, the sun is rising over Lake Titicaca and steam is coming off the frosted water as it melts. The light at 13,000 feet is so thin that the Andean mountains around the lake have an eerie, insubstantial quality: cardboard cut-outs in a puppet play.
At Puno, the largest town in this region of south-eastern Peru, passengers are being piped aboard the Orient Express, with its leather armchairs and complimentary pisco sours, to take the high pass to Cusco and Machu Picchu. In lakeside boutique hotels like the $1,000-a-night Titilaka, foreigners and now a few well-heeled Peruvians are sipping muña tea as they contemplate a trip to the islands or a spa session. And I’m bombing along a rutted road into the badlands beside the border with Bolivia, to an isolated community which, until a few years ago, no one had ever heard of.
My destination is Carancas, some 20 miles from the lake, a scattered hamlet of Aymara homesteaders tending their sheep and llamas on a wide-open plain of tufted ichu grass that looks like a worn carpet. It is too poor a community to have any cars. Even so Eduardo, my taxi driver, is not taking chances. Every bicyclist, chicken or señora in a stately bowler hat gets due warning with a double blast of his horn.
The wide-open plain and the clarity of the light mean that the few inhabitants I can spot are picked out as if by Edward Hopper. A boy of about nine is wheeling an old bicycle wheel across the grass. Another is playing with a toy truck outside an adobe hut; being a truck driver is something to which many campesinos aspire. In the fields, the donkeys are staked and hobbled, a belt-and-braces approach to ensure that they, like the campesinos, are never likely to leave.