The Sacred Valley is a magical, powerful place. The mountains and splendid game of clouds gather around your soul while you walk through the silent land. Upon arriving, you are welcomed into an unimaginablely simple life, one filled with dignity and resolve. Under a burning sun, and with scant oxygen in the thin, cold air, you find shepherds herding alpacas, llamas and sheep through the highlands. Meanwhile, children help to work the land while also playing around. This is the characteristic mix of simple pleasures and harsh pain that define the valley.

Wandering through the Sacred Valley gives you a clear idea of the strength of the descendants of the Incas in these highland communities. Despite great pressure, these people continue to protect their land against large mining companies. They invest great care into preserving their legacy and their culture through an appreciation of the ancestral knowledge and language.

Despite all of the contemporary pressures, the people hew to their traditions and, most importantly, to a system of cooperation that is the heart of their community. In our world, equitable rules of co-existence and co-ownership are rare. But here, in the valley, the land is theirs and it belongs to all of them as a group. The logistics of shared agriculture, of communal work and harvest are fair and admirably enforced.

In sum, these modest shepherds and potato pickers are proud people and I found their humble existence and innocent smiles to be a gift to my soul. The silence of the impressive landscape and the miles of solitude consistently brought me back to my own self. The experiences I had there were essential in my search for a silence that I had somehow lost along the way.

—Sandra Pereznieto

Editors’ note: Sandra Pereznieto is one of the 31 winners and finalists of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2015! LensCulture is proud to present this work which shows us, each in its own way, why street photography remains as fresh and vibrant as ever!