Friday, December 5, 2008

Peru! Machu Picchu! Incas! Oh, My!

Me at Machu Picchu, Peru, November 2008

November was truly an extraordinary month. I spent the first week in Alaska soaking up its natural beauty and weeks 3 and 4 in Peru. Sadly, as I mentioned in earlier posts, my grandfather died on November 17, and I went home to Ohio to spend a few days with my family, watching the snow fall and reminiscing about my grandfather with my parents.

I've been lucky. I'm 31 years old, and it's only been in the past 14 months that I've lost part of my family -- both my dad's parents. My mom's father died when I was 2.5 years old, but I don't remember his passing and my mom's mom is still going strong. So, other than a turbulent time in high school when several people in my class died from either cancer or suicide, I've been largely free from serious grief. But my grandfather's passing really hit my heart in ways I didn't expect or foresee. I feel myself craving family these days and want to hold those I care about even more tightly in my heart. I also find myself wanting to add to the world in extraordinary ways and to leave a positive mark behind. Maybe in the form of a family of my own one day.

Hm. I think this is one of the positive aspects of death and grieving. You see your life more clearly and that which you want crystallizes with clarity rather swiftly.

Machu Picchu Views, November 2008.

So, Peru! What a dream come true! Those who have known me for some time have known that Peru & Machu Picchu have been life long dreams for me, and, voila, the opportunity to go magically presented itself to me right around the 1st of November. I couldn't believe it. Still can't! While I was there, I toured Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and several other Inca sites and small Peruvian villages. I ate and drank all kinds of interesting things (guinea pig -- a local delicacy -- cantaloupe melon juice and pisco sours). Oh, and the fruit alone! I don't think I got enough of its delicious ripe fruit spreads at breakfast -- globe grapes, mangoes, papaya, strawberries, figs, passion fruit, etc... I began ordering globe grapes for dessert at every meal and would linger at the table, enjoying their plump sweetness while I watched those around me. I definitely drank in the scenery, loving the rural areas better than Lima, and feeling inspired to craft a few poems along the way.

Stunning sky on the way to Chichero, November 2008.

The Peruvian people were among the most hospitable people I've encountered in the world so far. The kindnesses I was shown rival those I witnessed in Jordan back in 2000. The Peruvians strike me as being gifted artists (incredible textiles, ceramics, jewelry and other crafts) and intrepid explorers who revere family and religion above all else. Shaman are still respected and the Catholic Church continues to have a large presence in its cities and villages. Numerous Catholic churches have groups of men and women who adopt chapels and decorate/adorn them weekly with fresh flowers, candles and other offerings, which made touring these churches all the more impressionable.

The road from Ollantaytambo to Chichero, Peru, November 2008.

Peru's physical landscape is stunning. When I arrived in Lima, which sits on the Pacific coast, I drove along breathtaking cliffs adorned with hanging gardens and beautiful parks through which people exercised or strolled. There are three zones in Peru: coastal, mountain (the Andes), and jungle. Machu Picchu sits at the beginning of the jungle and is situated in the Amazon basin, which makes it very lush and verdant. Apparently, when Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, it took him 4 years to clear away the jungle which protected it for hundreds of years!

Inca remains at Ollantaytambo, Peru, November 2008.


as she descended into peru,
she was greeted by a lively confectioner
who was handing out gauzy clouds
of pink cotton candy that
shimmered magically in the morning sunlight.

giggling, she sat at the
edge of her seat,
anxiously awaiting the first act.

the curtain hesitated, then parted slowly
to reveal little islands of earth
peeking through vaporous air
and acting as mysterious as magicians on stage.

and as the land of shaman and a revered people
drew nearer, she couldn't help but
draw her breath and wonder
what was in store for her during her
much anticipated stay.

Peruvians, the Sacred Valley, November 2008.

I found myself entirely fascinated and captivated by the local Peruvian women. Here they were, working hard in the fields and carrying heavy loads on their backs to and from, largely doing the tasks of men but somehow finding ways to retain their femininity in the process. I loved their dress -- large brimmed hats, hoop skirts that came to their knees, thick stockings which ended before their ankles, sandals, sweaters and/or shawls they made themselves. All bright with color and adorned with flowers. Even their animals sported decoration. I saw some llamas and alpaca with flowers or ribbons tied to their ears and I like to imagine they enjoyed flouting themselves because of it.

Chinchero, Peru, November 2008.

It's not uncommon in Peruvian villages to see mud brick homes. It costs s./5000 to build a mud brick house in Peru and another s./5000 to cover its roof in ceramic tiles. Currently, the exchange rate is 3 nuevos soles for 1 US dollar. So, one could literally buy a mud brick home in Peru for approximately $3,333. In the rural areas these homes are ubiquitous and can often be found with surviving Inca ruins as foundations, as seen in the above picture. I watched people build the bricks and leave them to dry in the sun for several days -- future building blocks for someone's home and hearth.

Inca wall, Sacsayhuaman, Peru, November 2008.

One of the most fascinating things I saw in Peru was the remains of the great Inca wall at Sacsayhuaman. What made it so intriguing is that the Incas embedded local iconography within its masonry. Look at the above picture. Can you find the puma paw?

I think that if the Incas existed today they would be characterized as diplomatic Greenpeace volunteers with a bent for vegetarianism. Not only were they able to bring together different tribes and utilize the best of those indigenous cultures, BUT they also believed the universe could be broken down into three aspects, each ruled by an creature of the planet. The condor ruled the heavenly realm, the puma tended the earthly realm, and the snake looked after the underworld. It was not uncommon to find elements of all these animals at the Incas' sacred sites, like Machu Picchu where there is a sacrificial table (for llamas NOT people) in the shape of a condor.

The Incas revered the heavens and had a great interest in astronomy and the observation of other natural phenomena. Even the names of towns and villages bear their passion for the natural world. For example, the pretty little village of Chinchero was believed to be the birth of the rainbow!

Oh, there is so much more to say about my trip for Peru, but I think I'll stop here for now and add more in the future.

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