Gleaming lakes of lustrous pearls lay upon the mesas, surrounded by glittering diamonds – glacial capped peaks of the Andes Mountains, between which sits the jewel of the Andes, Cusco. As it has always been, llamas browse through the stubbled fields of already harvested corn that grow amidst adobe built houses, roofs tiled and red.
The first breath that comes with the first step off the tarmac, and into the ancient city that sits two and a half miles above the sea, is drawn tentatively, thinking that it is the elevation in its rarity that might cause a taking of the breath. It is not. It is not the rarity of air, it is the first breath of air in a world that does not abide the Known from which we have flown.
Met and greeted by the family I’ve come to know, awaiting with smiled remembrances and portentous dreams, we slip into the van that carries our weary bodies and awe filled minds, already saturated with sight and sense of a place to which we can only reach, falteringly, to grasp, as being in the same plane of reality as that from which, a scant 10 hours before, we had been birthed. Surfing down the slices of highway carved from sheer mountain cliff, we come up for air in Urubamba, a city that threatens, lovingly, to be overtaken by flowers: blossoms drape from every wall, madly surge forth from every available bit of earth, bursting parameters so neatly set aside by human design. However, it is not to this place we come. Here we first lay eyes upon the river roiling and tumbling amidst raw granite boulders already, at it’s beginning, in the newness of the Sacred Valley, the roar of the Urubamba River. We must follow it now, be swept away into deeper tropical regions that emerge, imperceptibly, from Andean schist and adobe, cactus and eucalyptus into banana and mahogany, coca and cacao.
Ollantaytambo, the Spirits had whispered your name, “Oh-yahn-tie-tom-bo! Ohh-yah-h-hn-tie-tom-m-m-bo-h-h-h!” when I was so young a child. And I have heard and I have listened and I have come. Oh, to this sweet land I have come, come home. And to the village of Ollantaytambo I will return. But for now that train whistle blows, and aboard we climb, seated beneath vista windows curved above our heads, a view to all the mountains towering above. Snick-snick-snack, down the track, to the end of the line: Aguas Calientes, your warm water pools once called the likes of kings and priests, Tupacs and MacLains.
From train to room and room to the very desire of every sojourner’s Peru dream: Machu Picchu, hidden, standing still for all to see. From its precipiced edges the mighty Urubamba is seen to wrap its serpentine coils around the foundation of the Secret City’s footstool, rushing to its destiny a thousand miles away as the Ucayali River, of Amazonian Dreams. Cast wonders of below and beyond aside. There is more than enough mystery to last a genius a day, the openhearted a life’s quest. Stoneworks abound, ancient and megalithic. Shaped and placed by hands of Inca and those who came before, temples and towers, altars and grottoes, stepped and terraced, terraformed to the design of sacred visions forgotten in the passage of time. And yetŠ alive. Vortices of power, cool caves of rebirth, walls and passageways all formulated for purposes that only the individual, in peaceful meditation, might grasp and understand. Green, so very green, this tapestry of stone and earth, lawn and forest, window and wind. Sun Stone, Inti, Hitching Post of the Sun it is called, defines by shadow’s shape season and solstice, sacred and profane. Solstice, when the Sun stands still, hitched to the Inti, its rope run taut, caught, to swing north once again. On this day, this very hitched-to-the-post day, we gather and bear witness that the prophecy is true, unfolding, when the Eagle of the North joins with the Condor of the South, as the Sun is released to its sojourn, slung, so then are the ancient promises of Andean Mystery Teachings released to the World after 500 years of silence and hiding. The time, nay, the moment, is now. We are the Eagle, we of the North American continent, our hosts, they of the South American lands, the Condor.
A night’s restful sleep, having feasted upon artful cuisine, the sounds of strollers and lovers whispering in the square below, comes easily. Up early or up late, coffee elixir and tropical fruit breakfast taken in, a walk to the bus that once again carries us to the towers of mystery above. Kucho, Andean Shaman and our guide, speaks of history not revealed by anthropologists and ministers of state. Walking to hidden sites within Machu Picchu, sharing histories of caves of bears and the alignment of stars made manifest as structures made in stone, and mountains marked in monument to ancestral deities. Llamas graze and nuzzle their young. Upon Machu Picchu the song of Life is sung.
An evening’s walk through Aguas Calientes brings sights heretofore unconsidered. Children play noisily in the plaza without adult supervision. Fear is nowhere to be found. All eyes are the loving protectors of the young, here. And where, you wonder with sudden realization, are all the cars? None. A town without automobiles. None. Air fit to breathe, a town’s streets safe to walk upon. Has Paradise been found, or have we, in our hustle to progress, so easily lost it? Will our children ever know such safety as to run free? And should we not expose them to this freedom, that a remembrance remains? And our Elders, shall they pass this world never knowing the joy of a community in peace? Is perhaps Aguas Calientes the sacred city, and Machu Picchu only the legend? Questions always emerge, here in the mountains of Peru.
A leisurely day, so we return to Machu Picchu, or stroll about the markets rich in woven tapestries, alpaca sweaters and handicrafts of the local Indian people? Indians you say? Ah yes, these Andean people are Native American Indians, the Aymara, Quechua and Incan. Once conquered, they bid their time and swallowed the conquistador culture whole, integrating its language and surnames, festivals and religions, and emerged Indian after all. Indian people living Indian ways. Still.
The train departs, we, seated at windows to view the jungle become forest and farm once again. Jutting peaks 22,000 feet tall peer down upon us from above. We are in the Andes. Yes. We are in the Andes! Ollantaytambo is ahead, and our next two days of exploration, healing and peace. We arrive, a bluster of activity in a village of quietude. A short drive brings us to the Healing Center of Hampi, cabins prepared for our honored visit. Julia Flores, my Quechua sister, herbal healer and hostess/proprietress of Hampi flourishes her wonders in the kitchen and in sacred service to our ailments needing attention. Amidst floral gardens and pastoral mountainsides we rest, chat, laugh and play.
Morning, as the sun rises from behind towering peaks, we also rise and set forth into the village. Up into the splendor that is and can only be Ollantaytambo, stepping up and up to the hilltop, breathless wonders to be seen. Massive pink granite building blocks weighing 120 tons, unmovable with today’s best engineering cranes, stand erect and mute, having been brought from ten miles away across the chasm of the Urubamba River. Remains, only remains of a once vast structure that towered into the sky. Set upon solid rock, a platform of stone that is even still called the Landing Place of the Gods, testament to the flying craft that the gods of eons gone by flew about the world. Carven faces of mountain walls exhibit geometries unfathomable to our eye, yet the experience of resonant power remains potent. Sitting in the crevices carved, laying upon the platforms cut into the sides of the mountain, visions come, visions of what once had been done here, and what might still be.
Hot is the day as we walk back into the village. Mmmmm! Freshly squeezed tangerines yield a succulent juice for 30 cents US a glassŠ how many will you down, to quench the thirst, only to understand that it is Knowledge only that can slake this thirst that has arisen with a visit to Ollantaytambo. Sitting in the shade upon benches which are themselves carven in place millennia ago, outside Café Rita, coffee, hot chocolate and pastries are ordered and savored. Estela is there to say hello and serve our drinks. Rita and her husband Elvis, son of Julia Flores and her husband Ascencio, they are all there. My family of Ollantaytambo. Yay! Reveling in the embrace of such beautiful people, warmth of heart, I am sated. Ahh! More perusal of market goods (they abound throughout Peru, every area having something unique, gotta keep the eyes open for their specialty). A quick check of email at the Internet above Café Rita, an espresso to awaken the senses, then a ride back home.
Hampi greets us again, serenity is its name. Beauty before us, above us, all around us. Julia meets with us each to diagnose our ailments, administer herbs, and recommend floral baths and dietary alterations along with her spiritual insight, she being a Shaman of note. Later, dinner is served at the long tables, specialties of the house provided for our enjoyment, a meal typical of Ollantaytambo, no tourist fare here. A pot of minty munay tea provided for digestive ease is offered as we sit chatting and laughing. Life in Peru, it is good.
Following breakfast we climb into the waiting van and set forth for the next destination: Casa de Milagros Orphanage in Urubamba. Here Mama Kia has given of herself in dedication to provide shelter, education, love and food for children who have come from the streets of Cusco and surrounding towns, children who otherwise would be abandoned to the mercies of the streets. Christmas is a time of celebration here, a celebration of life. No, not just “ain’t life grand”, but “I am alive! And somebody cares enough about me to help me stay alive till I can mange on my own!” An authentic celebration of life, and we are a part of the joyous celebration. A time when we can see how the blessings of the material world are utilized in the expression of love. When words like ‘gratitude’ take on significance. A night spent here is a night in a new view of giving. And such a night we will spend. Imagine spending Christmas truly giving, not merely exchanging mall-bought manufactured items. YES! This is why we have comeŠ to step beyond our known world and its complacent comforts, to find ourselves anew, measured in the light of compassion and acceptance, giving and gratitude.
Cusco beckons, and we heed the call. Cusco ¬- the embodiment of life in artistic splendor. Handcrafts, woven goods, jewelery, paintings and pottery, music and divine laughterŠ all abound wherever you turn in Cusco. We are here in Peru to partake of it all: the giving at Casa de Milagros to the dance of the senses in the world’s highest city. Cusco, 11,500 feet above sea level. Acclimated now through our slow progression in altitude, with the assistance of the local coca leaves, chewed to make the blood more accessible to the available oxygen, we walk the seasonally bedecked plazas, step to the sidewalk as a procession of Andean saints dances by followed by throngs of celebrants, a richness of color, lights and smiling joyous faces. This is not Kansas!
Sachsayhuaman sits like a crown upon the kingly brow of Cusco, home to the royalty of the Incan empire. But this crown is far, far more ancient than the Incan dynasties that swept through the Andes to impose their own form of harsh rule. Sachsayhuaman’s serpentine walls, built of black rock megaliths that dwarf our stature, stand in silent reminder to a time and a people (?) who had technologies far superior to our contemporary tools. Immense, these finely fitted bastions? Immense is puny compared to the stones of this crown. Hidden amongst these remains of an era long gone, living tradition awaits us. We have come to participate in a Despacho, an ancient and ongoing ceremony of blessing and manifestation of our heart’s desires. Jose, the Shaman of lineage who performs the ceremony, builds the prayers and offerings with care and precision that our prayers are made manifest with care and precision. He knows what it is he does, and he does it with devotion.
Days melt, twist and swirl amidst trains, planes, busses and vans moving us from one destination to the next. Traversing over high mountain passes, rolling along the Pacific coastline, pristine white beaches and tropical gardens slip into view, slide on past and reappear in the next town. Nazca awaits.
Nazca. The name rings up visions of vast desert stretches used as an artist’s drawing board. Displaying monkey and spider, ancient astronaut (or is it a shaman?) hummingbird and lines engraved in the burnt desert floor straight as a ruler, mile after mile, unfaltering over mountains and valleys. And not a bit of it is visible from the desert floor or hillside view. Only when one ascends to 1,500 feet into the air do any of the figures become discernible. The buzz of a small airplane sounds overhead, carrying a group of 4 into the air to pass over these zoomorphic figures.
But all is not over yet! Lake Titicaca is on the travel route. Mama Cocha, as the lake is known by the locals, is the world’s highest navigable lake. And the boats that course over her waters are simply unique. Lake reeds, wrapped in bundles, then lashed together to form boats with mastheads of the Peruvian tri-pantheon of serpent, condor or puma. These boats are pole-maneuvered by the peoples who live on the Floating Islands of Uros. The people of Uros compress the lake reeds into a living matt, and then weave reeds into carpets, homes and other utilitarian functions. On these floating islands the people live, fish, craft and trade. Further out in the lake are the rocky islands, temples dedicated to the Sun and Moon upon them, islands of farmers and weavers, islands in their solitude and beauty secluded from the world.
Having witnessed the impossible, all else might only be improbable, and what was once unimaginable is in the realm of the knowable. It is another world that we have entered, this magical mystical place known as Peru, a world that does not abide the Known from which we had once thought was the only reference of ‘how things are.’
Taste this mysterious realm through these words. But, alas, they are but my reminisces, and the flavor is born of mine own journeys. The fullness of its presence awaits that one all-important element to bring it to life: YOU.
~ Jade Wah’oo Grigori
August 20, 2006