In the past decade there has been a 180 % jump in costermongering.

Costermongers are showing up in communities all over the U.S. It is purported that over 8,000 cities in the United States now have significant gatherings of these people. There seems to be little to stop them.

This grass roots approach to commerce isn’t something new to humanity. Costermongers were an important commercial element to London in the 1850’s.

The author Henry Mayhew notates in his book “Mayhews London” (edited by Peter Puennell) the individual mongering and the specific tasks and trades that occurred on the streets of London.

How this relates to the modern day is of interest because of the direct relationship to the farmer and the market. Costermongers are street vendors selling vegetables and are often times the growers of the vegetables. The costermongering in my community and all around the U.S.A are bringing together the small commercial growers directly to the end consumer, the buyers.

Costermongering isn’t limited to vegetables, throughout the years other items are bought and sold. In London the mongering included all manner of items, cheese mongers, iron mongers, pastry, confectionary,fish,nuts,coffee,curds, live animals, bird nests, rags, bottles, and cigars.

For an easy example of this commercial enterprising idea, look at the vast flea markets that propagate throughout the nation at various times of the year. They tend to be regional in scope, most often they are located near a large population center. It might be a resort area, it might be a retirement village. The mongering that goes on ranges from garden grown food items, arts, crafts, automotive parts, rocks and minerals, antiques and junk.

The mongers that tend to this curious lifestyle are often times retirees enjoying a modestly profitable pastime. There are also the less fortunate and this avocation is borne from financial necessity. Either way, it brings people together to create modest commerce.

While we travel about the U.S. (and beyond) we seek regional art festivals that afford us the advantage of dealing with people that have higher discretionary incomes. We are not dismissive in paying attention to all sectors of our society.

Recently we were in the South West U.S. between festivals and had the opportunity of kicking around some of the more impoverished areas of the nation. We chose to spend some time browsing a market in an area of significant poverty. The items being sold were vegetables by local migrant workers and other non-migrants selling antiques and mainly “end of the line” junk. It was a dry and dusty market on the crossroads to distant cities of significance. The talk amongst the costermongers was that they shouldn’t be doing this market on a Tuesday because people around here don’t get paid until Friday. This meant that the money in their customers pockets doesn’t last until the following Tuesday.

They are a resolute group of individuals and many seem to be hard workers. They will arrive at four or five a.m. to set up their displays along some highway intersection and spend the day in the blazing sun selling their products to those people that live on the margins of our society and hoping to catch the spare change of some wealthy retiree, who in turn bargains with them for a cheaper price.

Borne from societies that have great disparities of income or just a fanciful means of augmenting your discretionary income. This is a type of marketing that has continued throughout ages.

Billkeitel RoadNotes-UnVarnished Essays

La musique et l’île de la Réunion

In the blink of a news cycle the world has become geographically familiar with Reunion Island. Airplane parts have drifted to the Reunion shoreline.
That flotsam may have been part of the ill fated flight MH 370, a suspected highjacking.
People pay attention to geography when things go  good or when things go real bad.
If you have a whit of interest in music, you should know more about this island. Reunion should be known for more than just the riddle of a missing airplane.

It is an Island in the Indian Ocean East of Madagascar and has a population of approximately 700,000. Reunion is a gleaming example of cultural blending. The demography shows that its residents are African, French, Malagasy, Malabar (Indian) and S.E. Chinese. They have all resided on this island for approximately 370 years.
Now that this island is in the news people should realize that this island is a treasure trove of ethnomusicological importance.

Reunion musique’ blends the sophistication of French & African influence, Jazz,Sega, Zouk,Calypso & Maloya.
Maloya is the equivalent to American Blues music, it was sung by slaves from Indian, Africa and Malagasy.
The French have had considerable influence in Reunion and considered this music a threat to the French State and Maloya was purportedly banned in the 1970’s.

The merging of these numerous cultural identities produced musicians like world renown accordionist Rene La Caille.
Their music is a labyrinth of poly-rhythms and is a challenge for listeners that have grown up on 3/4 and 4/4 pop music.
You will need special permission from your brain to listen to this beautiful and complex music.
Reunion musique’ often time employs  a 6/8 time signature with beats on the 2nd and 3rd.
If you think you might have an interest in the music, seek no further.  Bob Brozman and Rene La Calille collaborated on an album called Dig Dig, it won the Library of Congress Award.

Flotsam may litter the shore but musique’ fills the air. 



We kick back at the Blackbird Woodfire Pizza and enjoy an above average pizza and desert. We are exceedingly weary and prone to a bit of reflection. The street is being swept and cleaned as we look out the window and enjoy our meal. In no time at all, the tidiness of this city will once again be complete. The artists disassemble displays and tents scurrying off the to the next venue somewhere down that long lonesome highway.

Tonight, my wife and I are celebrating eighteen years on the road. We exhibit at juried art festivals throughout the nation. Today might well exceed our day ONE THOUSAND! Many people attend a festival each year, perhaps one, two or three? For better or worse we see festivals fifty to seventy five days each each year.

We have seen perhaps hundreds of communities and their festivals. These are communities putting their best foot forward and inviting the pubic to come and enjoy what they have to offer. The offerings include the artists, artisans, craftsman and various other amenities. Those amenities might include amusements, rides, antiques, music, art workshops and various entertainments that attracts the public. These festival are far flung and varied, a few years back we attended a rattlesnake festival!

This weekend we have traveled only five hours to Fargo, North Dakota, it seems a rather short distance because we often times travel much further attending four to six shows in the course of four or six weeks.

10565279_827318857278133_1547446609936441476_nThe city of Fargo is celebrating their fortieth year of this event. Their volunteers have come forth and they are well versed in their responsibilities. The festival director knows her stuff and takes the brunt of everything a festival has to throw at her. Tens of thousands of people show up to have a great time and be entertained. The community leans forward and provides for this event. I suspect many generous people and businesses provide the currency necessary to make this work. Those that don’t provide currency, provide volunteer labor. All of these folks are to be admired, because they are doing the work that most people think “just happens”.

In the art and artisan world of gypsy travelers, information is shared and discussed regarding festivals throughout the nation. We first became aware of this festival because some artists told us that it was a very good festival, yet they did not continue attending because of the long hours and at times the wickedly hot weather that can occur in July. True to form, the weather was at times rather hot. A sprinkling tent was positioned within the event site to lower body temperatures and provide a soothing, refreshing spray of water.11178360_1018167524859931_1667022099575684716_n

We have enjoyed all of these communities from our curious viewpoint. We meet the organizers, we meet the local citizens, we meet the students, we meet people from the surrounding trade area. Fargo offers an interesting day “ ONE THOUSAND”

The microcosm that we see in Fargo is indicative of many communities across the United States. Fargo is a University town, it has bright and educated people from all over North Dakota, including many other parts of the MidWest. Interspersed in this curious mix happens to be people seeking education from China, Egypt, Japan, Korea and many other countries. The community of Fargo exhibits that midwestern ethic of being profoundly respectful of others. The international communities that exist within this community seem to thrive and also assimilate.

I write this with a viewpoint that is not unfamiliar with diversity. My own community has a wealth of immigrant population. While in Fargo I happen upon a group of Sudanese men that call this city their home. They are from the White and Blue Nile region of the Sudan. A place called Malakal four hundred miles north of Juba, the city that borders Kenya. They seem well adapted to this northern prairie community and speak of Fargo with pride and appreciation. I am a student of history & geography and I know of the region from which they have come. Fargo is a vastly different from their homeland. A Sudanese friend is fishing for king crab in the Bering Sea. What a profound change their lives have seen, enduring the wild swings of climate & temperature of the sub-arctic tundra!

We have finished “take down” and are comfortably back at our campground. We have decided not to travel home during the late night hours. It is no longer necessary to arrive home at 3 a.m. We will stay camped along side the Red River of the North. I am inclined to pay attention to watersheds. If we elected to jump in this river we would slowly drift towards the Hudson Bay in Northern Canada. It has been a long day and that doesn’t seem a necessary adventure. I am headed toward the Mississippi River watershed, Southern Minnesota!

The sun is fading and the music in our campground is rather festive and loud. We don’t find the music particularly annoying, yet I can’t quite recognize the ethnic origin of the music. I resign myself to wander over to the loud and celebratory group of people. To my enjoyment and surprise, they are Bosnians! They are Fargo-Bosnians! and they are a proud group of new found citizens in this curious city. As I visit I try to search for words from that area of the world. I stumble out the words “dobro utro and dobro den”! (good day and good night) The man that I am visiting with, broadens his smile and says “thats pretty close!” It is the language of our people. He confides in me that there may be a thousand Bosnians living in Fargo. I am heartened by the warmth, I am heartened by a community that allows such generosity, for all will be rewarded.

What I find in Fargo is a gleaming example of America’s new found wealth. The wealth is comprised of (not only) middle age white guys like myself, but people that are willing and understanding to accept the new immigrant population. This immigrant population is their new salvation. That salvation is coming from all over the world to replace that waning demographic of people that are my age. They have come from all corners of the earth. Some come to labor, some come to study and learn and be educated. They have come appreciating the promise that is held in this community.

I have been attending the Fargo Art Fair for perhaps six or seven years. We camp in a local campground and bicycle to the event site that is a mile or two away.11703087_10154142114559782_6558020907614436537_n

It breaks up our long day and it affords us some pleasant scenery as we pedal the well placed bike paths. Fargo has recognized what attracts and maintains its citizenry. It is more than strip malls and buildings. They have put together parks and pathways that connect much of their community. They have done it long before other communities realized the importance.

The Fargo Art Fair might just have been another art fair in our one thousand days of festivals, yet… This city embraces the arts and humanities, this city embraces education, this city enjoys the interconnectedness of the world.

As I leave festival number one thousand behind (in my rear view mirror) ,

I will look forward to a return visit.

FARGO-Keep On Continuing!

Bill Keitel RoadNotes-UnVarnished Essays

He’s Got A Hemi !

The hood of the car would open and my high school buddies would look wide eyed as they peered into the engine compartment. They could not have been more in awe of this marvel of technology.

I grew up in a town of four thousand and this was an event of significance. We had never known anyone that had had a Hemi. Though it was long ago, I think it was Breezo Davis that first had a Hemi. He also had cigarettes wrapped into the sleeve of his white teeshirt. He was older than me, no one was more cool.

I was raised with many privileges and enjoyed many learning experiences, automotive science was not one of them.

I was dreadfully becoming analytic and knew frightfully little about cars and continue to know as much.

I have come to develop relationships with auto mechanics. I pay them money and they assure me that I will most likely travel down the road with little concern. Most often that has been the case.

As my buddies eyes grew wide at the sight of seeing their first Hemi. I was looking into the engine compartment thinking…….this would be the motor. The Hemi must reside in here,in some form? It was not a super natural deity or some superstitious mojo, however It seemed to be some mystical device that made people larger than life, it made them… exceedingly cool. The Hemi was the ultimate “Babe Magnet”. I stared under the hood and saw the emblem, not having a clue as to what it might do. However, I knew that if I had one of these, a dozen pretty girls would stand in line for a date with me. Since I already had a girl friend, I brushed aside the fact and decided I didn’t need a Hemi.

Life wandered on and my interests strayed further and further from automotive science. Last week I happened to attend a car show. I like art, design, and its relationship to transportation. The car show was a spectacular event and then, out of nowhere…..there was a car with a Hemi.IMG_3737

I have always fancied language and word origins. Enough time had passed and my confidence level has grown. I want to understand the origins of the known Universe and I want to know what is a Hemi?

So……….HEMI is short for HEMISPHERICAL! Automotive science and their minions believe that when the upper portion of the combustion chamber is flat, you get a certain amount of compression in your engine. When that upper portion of this combustion chamber is made to be HEMISPHERICAL, it is purported to increase the amount of compression. It has been used for centuries in cannons and things that explode. This is a fact left to the world of automotive science.

I take some comfort in knowing that a Hemi is not just for attracting women. It has a function in this world. I can walk with greater confidence at car shows knowing this fact and if I was not happily married I would most certainly be looking for a Hemi.



Quite some time ago I got to attend a rather exclusive event called International Guitar Seminars. It was held in NYC at Columbia University. The founders of this seminar were well regarded in the field of music and guitar playing. One founder went on to be given the World Music Guitarist of the Year Award-by the BBC. The other founder is a well known, Julliard trained musician. It was rumored that the movie “Crossroads” (life of Robert Johnson) was taken directly from his life. The historical character was actually Rev. Gary Davis and not Robert Johnson, so goes artistic license.

It was two o’clock in the morning and I wander from my dorm room. In the hallway are my new found friends. They are shouting at each other. My friend John Cephas is one of the music instigators and he yells at the student. “What has your God ever done for you!” Being from upper midwest I find this kind of confrontation rather alarming. The poor student had recently lost some of his motor skills because of a small stroke. I quickly realize that both of them have had to much to drink and I usher them off to their rooms for a night of sleep.

The following morning I talk to the organizers and founders of this amazing seminar and I explain to them that emotions were running rather high last night. They assured me that no harm was done and that John was a devout Atheist and had some strongly held beliefs, as strong as his Hindu student.

This was my introduction to New York and the Columbia Univ. dorm life. Forty to fifty national and international students would attend each year. My days were spent at various seminars, some were held in class rooms and sometimes we performed at various venues around campus (Jefferson Hall of Journalism). Quality sound equipment was on hand for creating an above average setting. On one particular warm and sunny day we all went outside to have a lesson. Passers by would recognize some of the more well known instructors and a crowd would gather to listen to their music and instruction. If the uninvited crowd got to big and effected the lesson, the music seminar instigators would unceremoniously tell the crowd to move along.

Music and practice was encouraged throughout the week long seminars. After the day was done music was played long into the night. World renown musicians jamming with not so renown musicians. Everyone had high regard for each other and their abilities.

At the time I knew little of this fellow named John Cephas. Everyone else was well aware of John and his musical duo called Cephas and Wiggins (Wiggins is the harmonica player). John grew up behind a mule and a plow in the tobacco fields of Virginia. He became a master & pivitol player of Piedmont Blues. Piedmont is a geologic term that refers to the foothills encompassing the Appalachian Mountains to the coastal plain. A very specific type of blues music was created in this region. His abilities drew him much fame and he was asked to do world tours for the U.S. State Dept. Late in the night we would talk geography. He had traveled for years in Europe, Asia, Soviet Union, South and Central America. He was proficient in his geographic knowledge and in some ways during these travels he missed out of some of the “blues scene” in the U.S.A. He had earned a name in places other than the U.S.A.

Unbeknownst to me his good friend was B.B. King. They were about the same age, they both grew up in poverty. They both had diabetes and they both played blues with a high degree of proficiency.

The times at Columbia were demanding, we played music all day and all night. There was no curfew and people played and jammed into the wee hours (1,2, 3 a.m) I was really ready for some sleep when John Cephas told me that B.B. was in town and that we should go down and sit in with him at his nightclub. At this time I did not who John was and his connection to B.B. King. New York City is a place that causes me to go the wrong direction on subways. It was already 9:30 p.m and I didn’t want to fully put my trust into my new found friend and wander off in the subways of NYC looking for B.B. King. I declined his invitation, after all, he was the fellow that had to much to drink the night before. I pondered this possibility and went off to bed and had a good nights sleep.

Two weeks later I had returned home and was watching a public television special. It was called blues for the President of the United States. There was B.B. King and my friend John Cephas playing at the White House for the President. John was neatly dressed in a white suit and white hat and the two of them stole the show. My son was sitting on the couch next to me and I told him that John was my next door room mate and that I had declined to go jam with B.B. (my claim to fame)

The following year , when I last saw John Cephas he had had more complications with his diabetes. They had amputated his big toe. To this serious whittling away of his parts, John stated “I’ll see my toe in Heaven!”



Seek No Further – Guinea pigs, Shamans and the Supernatural.

We are traveling to the hilltop Chullpas of Sillustani known for pre-Inkan circular funerary towers built of basalt and frozen in time. They are a product of arrested development, late in their building a group of explorers from Spain made landfall. The stones lay precisely where they had cut and placed. They went to meet this group of people coming into their lands, they never returned to their building project of Sillustani.

While traveling with our personal guide I was able to broach the subject of shamans. She looked me in the eye and said “guinea pigs and shamans are used throughout our culture.” I asked if she would tell me more. The story unfolded that live guinea pigs are placed in cloth bags and placed on various parts of the body.

The struggling and scratching guinea pigs are thought to possess special curative powers. Once again, my eyes grow large and she looks me over and believes I am receptive to her story. “Many, many people in my country use Shamans” I ask, “how many?” she smiles and tells me “ninety percent.” She goes on to tell me the important place that the guinea pig plays throughout Peruvian religious rituals. I thanked her for her frankness and forth coming.
I had a lot to ponder, do I believe that Guinea pigs have super natural powers or natural curative powers? I was reminded that most all world religions have a belief in some pivotal super natural event. I ponder my own upbringing.

A few days later we were back in Peru. It had been a long day and we were tired and in bed. Our friend Marcy was on the phone and wanted to take us to the Shamans Market in downtown Lima. I explained that I was in my pajamas and that we had had a wonderfully full day and needn’t see another market. At her insistence she said “I will be at your hotel in a half an hour and you can go in your pajamas” she hung up and we got dressed!

Marcy assured us that this market was the place where native Andeans living in Lima come for food and healthcare. Marcy smiled at me and said boldly “they have never seen a white guy from Minnesota at this market!”

It was a rambling ride through the depths of the city and it was dark and late when we arrived. A big white circus tent (100 yards long) was ablaze with and smaller 10 x10 tents inside. As we entered the loud and festive atmosphere, all eyes turned toward us. Not a casual glance, but a deliberate watch was placed on us. Most certainly, they were not used to fair skinned Minnesotans. We could sense that they were wondering what we might be doing here?

Our confidence level was not hindered, because our host (Marcy) set forth and began to show us around seemingly unaware of our apprehension. Language is an important device to communicate your standing in Peruvian society. Lima is a large community of perhaps nine million. It was understood that by her command of the language, Marcy was now the premier tour guide in this arena. Her abilities gave us complete access to this entire village of mountain people living in the city.

Each booth space had a curtain dividing it in half. The front half displayed all sorts of glittery and unknown products that might cure you of something. The back half of the booth housed the Shamans.
People were sitting in chairs in front of each tent, awaiting their time with the Shaman. Many, many tents and many, many Shamans.
I had had a conversation with Marcy’s husband about this and I was a bit alarmed when he explained to me that they could very well spit some herbal potion on you to make you better. Early in our vacation I had told him that I didn’t want to go anyplace where someone was going to spit on me…..and here I am?
Marcy explained that I was safe, because you have to pay them if you want to be spat upon and be cured. Well, I can now walk around knowing that I don’t have to worry about somebody else s bodily fluids.

Throughout the year we travel with a wide group of friends.  A native American (North American) we know had a incurable debilitating illness and went to South America, the deep rain forest.  He had a Shaman blow some unknown substance up his nose, probably dried blowfish and some other psychotropic concoction.   Upon his return he seemed a little less sentient.

The Shamans Market tour was a fascinating and curious place, bright lights, tinsel like products everywhere. Friendly smiles and a world class interpreter at our side.

Marcy knew full well that I was a complete skeptic. I place my trust in modern medicine and I view this as aboriginal folk cures, cures that have limited credence in the New England Journal of Medicine.  I do understand that the synthesis of herbal products have been of great benefit to society, in scientifically measured and quantified amounts.

No longer being able to contain myself I asked Marcy “If I had appendicitis am I going to show up at this witch doctors tent?” With some sort of compassion and understanding she calms my alarm and tells me this. “Bill, most Andeans trust modern medicine, but when a women loses her boyfriend or lover, they will come to the Shaman.” “The Shaman will either cause her boyfriend to return to her or he will do something bad to him!”

The Shamans Market now seems more understandable to this inexperienced tourist. The bright lights still cause the night visitor to squint as they enter this curious realm of the supernatural.
Billkeitel UnVarnished Essays – Road Notes January 2015


Trains, Planes and the Altiplano part 3.5

Our first train ride took us to Augas Caliente. We were seated with students from Galudette University. When we were seated across from them we realized they were deaf. My wife had the presence of mind to sign to them a greeting and her name. They realized we spoke english and were from the U.S.A. The bond was immediate. My cousins daughter has an affliation with Gauledette Univ. and we started texting one another in rapid succession. They were international students studying at Gauldette. They were from China, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Korea. The adventures we shared were kindred, most of which was made possible from a simple devise….the text messaging on our cellphones. The spirit of adventure was shared by all of us. I  admired their daring do. By the end of our short train trip hugs were distributed all around. The world is most certainly a better place than I sometimes envision.

Our second train trip was living larger than our normal lifestyle. We usually travel a step or two above hitch hiking. We had booked our travel as a package deal and this was the benefit. The Andean Explorer is a train ride from Cusco to Julica and Puno. The train consists of two passenger cars and an entertainment car. It is for all practical purposes….a private train! Our job was to sit and enjoy the culinary delights, the entertainment and the view. Our other job was to aclimate as we gained serious elevation rising up onto the altiplano, the highlands of the Andes.

Our “fancy” train starts its upward journey through the gritty neighborhoods of Cusco. We are already 11,000 feet above sea level. It is an eleven hour ride that gives us sweeping vistas. Free ranging herds of llamas are miles from any roadway or house. Always within a few hundred yards you can spot a herder nestled into a bush or crevice tending his animals. I ponder the lifestyle of the Andean as he spends day after day watching llamas grow wool. We stop at a Catholic mission outpost, one of the highest points on the train journey.

Andeans set up a quaint market to sell their woven goods to the tourists that stop once a day. I can see five to ten miles in every direction. There is not a house, not a telephone pole, not a fence and not a pathway in any direction other than the rodeway and the train track. The market consists of a mission church and wooden racks on which to drape your wovens. Our tourist dollar means a great deal to these industrious people, I regret not purchasing more from them.

The train whistle blows and we travel on. After a few more hours on the Altiplano we enter the city of Julica at eye level. Hundreds of vendors booths are within five feet of the train window. They blur past until we slow down. Since we are in a train our evevation is at their roof level. We can look down into their booths or we can look up on their roof tops. On the sheet metal roof tops we spy many drying fetal pigs or else guinea pigs……I’m not sure which? I decide to use caution and keep my dietary habits simple and cooked. We experienced no intestinal problems while traveling, we ate only cooked foods and vegetables and did not drink tap water. We were not inconvenienced by this regime. Puno is a big bustling city, it is the port of embarque’ if you want to visit Lake Titicaca, Uros, Isle Taquile’, Bolivia. Thor Heyerdahl brought great attention to this region forty five or fifty years ago when we built an ocean going raft out of the reeds that grow in this lake. It was his intention to show that South Americans could have been expert seafarers and populated the Southern Pacific with their seamanship. (Do the research yourself) The island of Uros is an island comprised of reeds. The people that live here are obligated to buoy their lifestyle by adding layers upon layers of reeds to keep their lifestyle afloat. We arrived after a two hour boat ride and the inhabitants were ready to greet tourists. In the past year they had built a boat they called the “Mercedes”.

It was one step above all the rest, they had painted the bow of boat yellow. This is marketing at its simplest, build a bigger and better boat and you can capture more tourist dollars and better your lifestyle. It was a tasteful and in keeping with their native craftsmanship. It was a treat to ride and appreciate the efforts of boat building. Consider the history behind this type of craftsmanship, consider these reeds are quite similar to the reeds that hid Moses from the Pharoh.

The people of the floating islands are quite gracious. Tourism is an industry for them, but it also creates the burden of public relations on people that are trying to go about their daily lives.

They do it with grace and dignity. Uros is an island that has meaningful interaction with the outside world.


We board the boat and head off to an Isle Taquile’ the island is reknown for the very best weavings. It is an upward hike of hundreds of feet. This would be of no concern but we are already at 12,500 feet and now we experience shortness of breath. It is time to saunter rather than quickly walk along the pathways that lead toward the city center. There are children, women and old men weaving in every nook and crevice.

Some actively wanting to sell and others just intent on doing their weaving.

We motor back to our port city of Puno ready to ponder the days events. Puno is a big city with twenty four hour activity. We ventured out late one evening to get more altitude medication. The pharmicia was a block or two from where the taxi had dropped us. I struggled blocks to find the pharmica and I struggled through a crowd of humanity just to reconnect with the awaiting cab driver. All went well and no ill effects were had by us “flat landers”. The days spent in Puno were beautiful and breathless. They were puncuated with late night gasps, at 12,500 feet we awoke, alarmed that we needed oxygen. A quick plane flight back to Lima deposited us at sea level and left us feeling like we had left a dream world. Billkeitel UnVarnished Essays-Road Notes (final essay-Waning Days of Peru)

Waning Days In Peru-Communique’

The last day spent in Peru was the highlight. Our host invites us to his silver factory.   This is the culmination of years of friendship.  We have sold their silver jewelry in our store and now we are able to see where it is born! We find our way down the twisted streets of Lima and wind up at a nondescript building that is three or four stories tall. The security camera’s validate our presence and the doors electronically allow us passage to the inner sanctum. Sunlight beams into this building from the open air above. Part of the building is shielded the elements and part of the building recognizes that this part of the world is a particuliarly beautiful environment and lets the year around warmth into the workspace.

We are immediately welcomed by Alphonzo, the Pader Familius of the Delapina Silver Factory. His daughter Marcy gets ready to translate our interactions. Alphonzo will have nothing of it! He explains to Marcy that he wants to give the tour and she can act as the professional interpreter! Alphonzo invites us into the building and the first object that is encountered is a very large bar of silver that lies on the floor. He invites us to pick it up and take it home with us.

It is a ploy, because it weighs one thousand ounces and we can not lift it!

I reflect on my four decades as a leathersmith and realize that he has spent the same amount of time as a silversmith.   We both have pursued  ancient artisanship.  We have both trusted in craftsman’s way of life, command over materials, tools, processes that keep alive the pride in cottage industries of the Americas. This is precisely why we share such a common bond.

We tour the factory from floor to floor. His sons are production managers and international sales managers, daughter Marcy returns home to Peru to design new jewelry for the company. It is detailed work that all starts with professional drawings, weights, measures of each project. This assures that when she has left Peru the attention to detail will be observed by the many artisans that will create the final products.

We are introduced to life long dedicated employees, they work in the factory by smelting & drawing the silver into products unimaginable. Women are soldiering silver chain, link by link.

The small furnace roars melting silver before our eyes. His employees are also an integral part of his business, they move and work with a sense of pride. They are his extended family and friends. Working in precious metals involves trust, these craftsman have been awarded that honor.

They emboss and deboss the flat panels of silver, they draw the delicate silver wire into chain. All of this is done by simple machinery and all by the hand of man (women also). At the end of the day sweeping and dusting catches the excess silver and it is smelted back into the products that grace the showrooms throughout Lima and the world.

When the tour is nearly over we are given privilege to the exclusive showroom. This room displays many of the products that are currently in production and also many one of a kind pieces. As we enter the room we encounter a near legendary piece of work by their company.

They were commissioned by the government of Peru for the Queen of Spain (upon her specific request). The Queen had inquired if silver craftsmanship was practiced in Peru as it was in past centuries? The result was a four by eight foot panel produced by Alphonzo and Delapina Silver Factory. The Queen was overcome by the craftsmanship. Delapina Silversmithing has earned a point of pride throughout the America’s and beyond. We were beholden to have had the opportunity to tour this place of historic silversmithing, silversmithing that has endured the ages.

Our time in Lima & Peru has been well spent, our host family has tended to our every need and we feel priviledged to have made this most kindred connection.

Bill Keitel/UnVarnished Essays-RoadNotes 2015


The Sacred Valley of Peru-Communique’

We leave Lima and catch a plane to Cusco. We will acclimate for a few days in this city of a million people. It is two miles high and at this elevation it will help us with our endurance in the coming days. A long awaited trek, to Ollantaytambo is up the roadway in the Sacred Valley. It is approximately forty five kilometers as the condor flies. We travel in a bus and dodge small herds of sheep and pigs, donkeys and chickens as we watch teams of oxen plow the potato fields. The verdant mountain tops are sunlit with scattered clouds, clouds created by the proximity to the Amazon. We are entering a biome called the cloud forest. At this elevation the mountains in North America are treeless and we would be above the tree line. However with this high humidity we are instead in a cloud forest it is heavily vegetated and there are terraces in every direction and at every elevation.


The oxygen gets mighty thin at this elevation and it seems to decrease exponentially with each thousand feet of elevation.


We hiked to the upper level of this religious plateau, taking forty upward steps at a time. Our hearts beat louder with each step. We rest for a minute and then have another go. Our new found hiking partner from Greece, he is a fellow windsurfer and is twenty years our younger. As we hike upward we contemplate altitude sickness, we have taken some preventative medication that was suggested to help us cope. Understanding altitude sickness is curious, it knows know age group or fitness model. The following night we get an alarming phone call. It is our Greek friend Alex, he is desperately sick. Alex wheezes “I need help, I am vomiting, dizzy and can’t catch my breath.” We find his hotel room and share our altitude medication and he is given some additional oxygen supplied by the hotel staff. Morning arrives and we receive a phone call from Alex. He has made a complete recovery and he tells us that we have made a friend for life! It makes us realize anybody can be at risk.

Early mornings in the Sacred Valley are meant for hiking. Ollantaytambo is a magnificient religious plateau. Ollantaytambo has a vista so sweeping that it seems to have a view of the entire world. It is indeed a view of much of the Inkan world.

The precision stone work (dry stone masonry) that we find on this mountain top is stunning. It is found throughout Peru. Today very few stone masons could replicate this craftsmanship. It is made mostly of basaltic materials and is labor intensive. The amount of terraces and stonework in Peru suggests that this region was heavily populated with industrious, organized natives that understood the value of level growing surfaces.



I have marveled at stone work in Italy, Stone Henge in Great Britain, and many Cathedrals in Europe. South American stone craftsmanship ranks amongst the best in the world. It has lasted centuries perfectly intact. Their building techniques and engineering are unmatched. The walls have a very diagnostic feature, they are canted toward each other at approximately 13 degrees. This technique allows gravity to play a more critical role in stabilizing formations by leaning the wall slightly toward each other to provide mutually applied pressure. This advent in building techniques creates structures that tend to be seismographically more stable, ie; earthquake proof! This is something that U.S. society has started to consider in only the last century.

The road get bumpier and the bus on which we are traveling seems to have taken the suicide pathway. As the road narrows and we stop abruptly for on coming traffic. It is a one lane road with very few turnouts, the traffic going uphill has the right of way. It is a test of faith and courage to consider backing a tour bus up this worn and beaten pathway. The drivers do it many times each day. I try not to fixate on their job and look out over the valley and spy a treasure. Staring directly at me, at eye level, I am face to face with an Andean Condor soaring two thousand of feet above the river below.

The Condor is considered the largest bird in the world with a wingspan exceeding ten feet. In my formative years reading about this bird sparked my interest in reading, nature and geography. A twenty second close up glimpse of this bird made my trip to South America complete. It is one of the animals revered by the Inkan culture. The condor carries prayers to heaven.

The following day we are approximately 200 miles from the Pacific coast line and hiking up the trails toward the fabled temple of Machuu Pichu. The fifteenth century temple was built for the Inkan royalty in an incredibly short period of time, suggesting tremendous amounts of skilled laborers.  Below us is the Urubumba River, this river flows around the base of this mountain. Amazingly this river does not flow to the Pacific, it flows into the Atlantic Ocean approximately 2,700 distant. This river threads its way through the Andes into the amazonian basin and begins it journey eastward.  Along the river bank (a thousand feet below) you can see a small pathway, it is the Inkan trail. If you happen to be the ruler of this Sacred Valley you have access to eastern and western watersheds. You can request fish from the Pacific Ocean and some rainforest delicacy from the Atlantic side of the mountains. You have cultural, economic and spiritual communication with greater populations other than your own.


Once again, consider the terracing, it is the obvious tourist fascination and each terrace is called a pata. One pata, two patas equal patapata and so on. On these patas potatoes are grown and some linguists/people surmise that perhaps this is where the word patato or potato begat. I suspect this is linguistic conjecture. On each pata the elevation creates a small variation of microclimate. Rain fall and temperature varied at each level and to stave off starvation you would want many small fields at many different levels. This understanding of farming one or two dozen different plots assures your continued existence because crop failures at any given level were common place.



The lack of flat and tillable land made for the creation of these labor intensive terraces. Each generation took on the task of going further up the mountain. Looking at the mountain side you can envision an entire family lineage, their life, their work, their sustenance.

Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago their ancestors crossed the Bering Sea Land bridge or else followed the Kelp Highway along the coast. In a blink of time they are creating new societies, religions, arts, crafts, economies and studying astronomy.


During the height of their short empire boats from Spain arrived. The Spanish had arrived at incredibly opportune time. A civil war had recently weakened the entire social fabric of South America and then came a European disease. Small pox traveled faster than any explorer. It decimated entire populations of native South Americans long before the news of the Spanish arrival. They had no resistance to European germs.  

We have a place to sleep, we continue in the morning.



UnVarnished Essays-Peruvian Travel Communique’

I press the GO button. We’ve been to numerous Caribbean Islands and we’ve been to the middle Americas.   The chance to go to Peru has loomed large the past few years and at long last we’ve determined that it is time to go.

Our friend Marcy has family in Peru and they own a silver factory in Lima.   We handle their products in our store.  Her father has stopped by many times when he is visiting South Western Minnesota and seems to be intrigued with our buffalo leathergoods.   We neither speak each others language, yet through interpretation we enjoy each others company.  He came to visit this summer and told me “I am turning seventy and soon I will sell the summer home on the beach in Lima, come and visit me before it is  to late!”

We both share something in common, we both have earned our living in the smithy trades, by that I mean the trades of artisanship, silversmithing & leathersmithing.  I have a strong an abiding respect for anyone that dares to earn a living working with their hands, no matter where on earth they reside.   My Peruvian friend has a factory in Lima and employs nearly ten times as many artisans as myself.  I have no illusions that it will be anything like my humble workshop.

Their generosity of spirit is overwhelming.  His daughter tells me we will celebrate New Years like no other New Years.  It will not start until ten P.M. & we will party all night.

When the sun comes up over the Andes, we will lie like beached whales on the Pacific sands.  The past few years I’ve stayed up until midnight only because we were entertaining others,  an all night party seems a bit out of character for this fellow.

For a good part of my life I have been on stage playing the music, & watching other people dance.  Now it is time for me to learn to salsa and other latin moves!

 I ponder all of this and  I realize that travel is somewhat about “getting out of character.”  I am a late bloomer when it comes to international travel.   It has only been the last five or 6 years that I’ve intentionally left the continent each October and spent three weeks out and about.  Never once upon my return did a have a whit of regret and if I did, it was only that I should have stayed longer!

I have fond memories of late night street theatre in inter city London,   Gypsy Fairs in the Cotswolds.    Arriving in York  late at night, in dense fog, knowing the map I had memorized would guide us to that unknown doorstep. We hike  with our back packs for a mile  or two to the B & B.  The dim light thirty yards in the distance would signal our home for the coming week.    We hiked cross country through fields and pastures,  finding a dry stone mason that shared his trade/craft with us.  He was building a stone fence that went off over the hillside in the distance.  Three meters per day was his progress.  The industrial port of Genova found us hanging out dockside with deck hands of luxury ocean going yachts, as they readying the ships  to embark on the ocean crossings.  They were rowdy and nearly drunken, yet rubbing shoulders with the working class was precisely why we set foot.

We’ve visited and created friendships with common merchants like ourselves.  They  struggle to earn a living in the small cities and crevasses of the Cinque’ Terra region of Italy.

In most travel there has always been an aire of trepidation and anticipation.  Never once has there been regret.


Today we blink! and we are in the central plaza in downtown Lima we realized a inordinate amount of policeman are organizing, certainly hundreds.

There were forty to fifty on the plaza and many more strategically placed in alleyways in all directions of this beautiful area. They were hanging out of sight in case they were needed. There was a scheduled protest having to do with young adults and workers wages and it was planned to be a big national event. We also notice a tank a block in the distance.

The officers neatly fit the exact same demographic as the protesters. They were in the twenty to thirty year old age category.

As we wend our way through the city plaza our cell phone rang and our hosts tell us to leave the Plaza immediately.  It was a beautiful sunny day in downtown Lima and the atmosphere was upbeat and friendly. I spied a republican balcony that had been turned into a second floor restaurant and thought we might have a birds eye view of the event as it unfolded. Our friend and analytical traveling companion pondered whether tear gas rises? It was a wake up call for me to take my instructions seriously.

 We heeded their advise and left the Plaza but not before getting a photo opportunity. I was left with an impression that the police were exceedingly friendly professionals. They were not jack booted enforcers, but peace officers doing their job. We watched the protest on televison that evening and the plaza was filled with tens of thousands of protesters. The tension was assuaged by the calm shown by the officers. Both police and protesters had a role to play and nobody got out of hand. I can’t help but think the police demeanor played a crucial role in creating an atmosphere of considerate behavior by both sides. The event was considered a success by both parties. Our first forty eight hours in Peru……amazing!

I invite you to come along on this four part series of Road Notes/UnVarnished Essays.  Andiamo!   billkeitel