Saturday, April 12, 2008

Familiar and Foreign

Home-sweet-home. I open my eyes to morning light, but know I must not be awake. Blinking, squeezing my eyes shut. Time to wake up....I see oak trees outside the window: racking my mind, what country am I in? My mentality is a long time in coming home.

Our last few days abroad were spent in the wonderful bohemian area of Lima, known as the Barranco district. Situated on the coast, just South of the Miaflores, was our comfortable home away from home called One Hostel. Here, I met Melissa. A well-to-do Peruvian beauty with excellent English. We spent a night together out on the town at the new Water show attraction in the center park. Immersed in a gathering of Isreal-ly chicos, eating cinnamon rolls, and luxuriating in the wonderful jibberish of a language I understand nothing.

Mauel and I caught a cab to the aeropuerta at nine in the noche and faltered around paying $60 airport taxes, and using the last of our soles for bakers chocolate, and a tremendous credit purchase of my own. Designer alpacha is worth the expense.

We had a connecting flight to Sacramento from Houstin, Texas and I wandered about the airport blubbering Spanish with a dollar bill concealed tightly in my palm. I needed change to call my Mother. Habits die hard, and it was shocking to hear a nice couple reply that they didnt have change for a dollar, but they may have two quarters. No- nobody wanted to rob me of my 100 centavo bill. I continued in my search at a nearby coffee stand. "Permisso..." I began. Ingoring the blank stare, for I didnt comprehend what it was for "....Tienes cambio para un dolar?" A little laughter from behind the register.

We arrived into Sacramento at 12:40 midday. A scurry for our luggage and brief reunion with my mother, then a shocking catapult into Auburn at 70 MPH along cuatro laned I80, and then a perfect little cafe, Marie Belles. There I was served my fantasy of French toast, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Something that can not be ordered in Latin America: "Desayuno Dulce, porfavor, con tocino y huevos revueltos" blank stares, then "Quieres omellet?"

Our return to Nevada County, California was on a warm spring day. The trees cast their oak, pine, madrone shadows over the winding country roads and Manuel's Incan-beatles cover Cd played over the stereo. Daffodils took lingering dry refuge along the freeway, and the air smelled Oh So Good. It smelled of my life, of my memories, and the shocking reality of familiarity all around me.

Later in the evening, I decided to head into town and see what everyone was up to. I was hassled by bratty teenage girls, "No hablo espaniol," I said to their snickers and confusion of my foreign tongue. I was delighted to find that I could order my tea just the way I wanted it, with my superb comprehension of the native English language. Katie, behind the counter, was very obliging and interested in my knowledge of properly brewed tea at an adequate temperature. I sat a table in the midst of a familiar place, crawling with highs schoolers and older classmates of my own. My nerves were whacked. My heart thumping loud in my chest, my mind reeling with all the understandable conversations nearby. The presence of so much clutter, chaos of American consumption, silly superficial slurs wheeling around me. My hands shook as I tried to drink of my cup. I ran back into the night air, regained possession of Morgain (my blue green Honda Accord) and sped through the night air with fondness for control of the wheel, and deer munching late night snacks at the edge of headlight.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Rounding the pinacle

Machu Picchu. Land most recently inhabited by gringos worldwide. Formerly one of the last standings of Inca culture. A peoples, it turns out, who are not so far removed from my own spiritual awareness inherited of the cascading Yuba River and her granite bedrocks. Each of these pre columbian ruins are built primarily of granite. Wall of endless wall, staircase, castle- massive constrctions of this magestic stone. So unimpressed was I, at first.

We began our trek from the town Aguas Calientes, on a rainy morning, and spent two hours climbing above the beautiful River Urubamba upon stair after stair of ancient purpose. The journey was constantly interrupted by buses zooming past on the road, which cuts through the Andean jungle in dusty switchbacks of exhaust fumes. No wonder the sweet Quechua woman, Sabrina, at our Hospedaje Wayana Picchu, insited we should leave out at 4 am rain or shine. I wish I had taken her advice.

As we succeeded the final flight of stairs, we stumbled into a shopping haven of tourists, parking buses, jewelry store and front entrance to the park. Closing my mind to the dispicable circumstance of clashing our steep jungle journey to this lazier, privelaged class, I stampeded to check in. The ruins were overwraught with brightly clad touristas of every nationality. Pulsating tour groups sat at every wall, and the entire middle day was spent in frenzy of annoyingly loud people with a lot of bug spray and little known intelligence. Tour groups edged up on us just as I was about to compose an angelic shot of photography. Tour guides made an example of me by firmly instrcting to stay off the walls. What good is it to visit a ruin if you can not climb around on it? We saught refuge in an area of the park where they only allow 400 people per day. I was number 243 at about 9:45 AM.

We took a short trail past steep mountainside and found some unrecconstructed ruins. Laying there in the sun too long, mariposas floundering around us, birds dipping through the sky below us, and We, scanning the adjacent mountain peak, for lack of people, before we continued on to the temple of the Moon. After a hearty snack of crackers and avocado, we climed downwards, only to walk back up the steep main trail of exhasted touristas, decending out of breath and wantan with exhaustion. The spiraling staircase ascended far above the Macchu Picchu ruinas, high above the Mountain of our midday feast, and into the clouds. At the top a sign stated well over 2,000 meters, and it very well could have been that distance, since we left the Rio Urbamba earlier in the day.

Sweat dripped from our brows, dousing all vertigo veiws of the swirling valley below. One rock after another, small springs of water welling forth out of the earth, plants both familiar and new bursting from the craggs with bright colors of life and floral smells. At last, the familiar outlines of squared mountainside signified agricultural turf, and I flung my heavyily exhausted body onto the green grass, which far below made yummy meals for the llama and alpacha herds.

We trotted along crumbling cliff banks, snapping photographs with what remained of my batteries lifeline. Then I ran out of memory, so gave up the endeavor of charging batteries in our armpits, as we so often have to do. There were a couple of equally scraggly looking, most often blundering, and protrusely sweating males, who had paralleled our jounery uphill. With a bit of a visit before the final small ascent over large boulders to the cave shrine of La Luna, we discoverd that fates had crossed us far from our territories. These two tired, hard core travelers such as ourselves lived nowhere else but humble Humboldt County.

The day grew late, and we were forced to spiral back dowwards. A spiritual feast of high veiwed wonders below. Immense concentration on the steep staircase created a indelible sense of the hardships won on course to the top. Now a most tranquil, fleeting existence of facing habitual fear of height and dangerous circumstance of falling off the side a mountain, sustained in my mind. Then, I realised the true importance of this most significant site of interest. Machu Picchu was not solely an attraction to be gazed after, and speculated about ancient cultural daily habits. It was a living, mountain sized tribute to tierra spirits, and evidence of the earthly understanding of a Pre Christian peoples, who still connected and associated themseles with Mother Earth. This Mountain is an overlooked ancient altar. It was not demolished, for how could the Spaniards understand the significance of this place, without first comprehending the importance of natural ways of life. With all sacrifices, offerings, and pictorial- superficial characteristics unintact, this was an overlooked spiritual quest, and power source left behind. For anyone willing to look, Wayana Picchu holds secret to the most balanced and true form of living existance, the understanding of the trials of mortality and a tribute to the evolutionary circle of life.

I spent the remaining hours wandering among the village ruins, which were much more vacant now that the tour groups had bussed back to town. There were pikas, birds, lizards, moths and butterflies scurrying under, and over toppled rocks. As I, myself, climbed over a boulder, I found my foot unexpectedly and comfortably placed upon a ledge. Swinging my other foot over so that I was in sitting position, I realised this was one of many carved piedras, put to the double use of road cornerstone and resting place. In my mind I felt the smells, sounds, animation of a culture long past. It seemed playful, harmonious, creative, and furtile. The Incas, who possesed a most expansive knowledge of beauty and artistic forms were master carvers of the powerful granite, which was querried far below in the valley. It is unknown as to how strength was found to lift such bolders. Though, I suspect it had something to do with force of will, and ingeniuty of the labor force of creative minds.

Too soon did the park guards begin blowing their whistles. My palm lay flat against a large boulder which a wall had been built around, as I tried to close my mind to the coming evacuation. I stumbled to one side, then another. Whistles were blown at me in all directions. Disoriented- I didnt know my way out- I trodded along the maze of stone houses, peaceful animals, boulder piles-and peaked though windows. I was one of the last people out, and as the night was coming in cold to my fatigued body, we caught the last bus to town with the Humboldt boys and found ourselves an excellent tipica dinner, with salad bar and crazy adventure stories to share.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Incan roads

We set out for Machu Picchu by trail from a set of ruins just above Cusco. The walk to Qe ´npo was straight forward and short, and as we moved towards the fourth set of ruins our bags began feeling heavier. It was after we meandered away from these that we found ourselves content to be beating the tourist buses, and to rest whilst overlooking a vast landscape of hillsides, farmland, creek and ruins. ´Where are you going?´I asked Manuel. Then, I pointed towards some mossy piles of rocks in the distance. ´What does that look like to you?´Could be an Incan road he agreed. So, I picked up a stone for good luck, and we headed down the hillside, taking note of every surrounding in case we had to turn back- we didnt want to get lost from civilization forever.

It wasnt long before we came upon another set of ruins, large enough to be encouraging, and also some Quechua woman washing in the creek. They apparently didnt speak any Spanish, and after I had tried to make our intrusion to their territory known in as peaceful a way as possible (by sitting on the hillside above and yelping, ¨buenas tardes...¨with a smile) they scamperd up the bank with the jibberish of their own tongue.

We continued up the next hillside for another hour, enjoying the remote scenery and subtly decomposing ruins at our sides. Then, there was no more trail, except we could see trails stretching farther on over other several other hillsides. Barley able to make out the buses on the road in the distance (about 6 to 8 km away) we made note of the direction by position of the sun, a line of Eucalyptus trees bordering the road to Pisac, and the cleft between hills of the tallest Mountains in sight. Crossing a the creek again, overstepping huge salt rocks, then mounting our chosen cerro, we took separate directions to scout each side of the hill for signs of the Incan road we had been faithfully following. I, unfotunately, didnt get the side with a trail, but stumbled into many ruins covered with various form of thorny flora (which Manuel had a great veiw of from his trail on the other side of the Mountain). Following our separation was a series of shouting back and forth to one another, ¨Ive got a wall here, and trail¨ ¨Im in some thorny briars!¨ ¨There might be a trail to your left!?¨ ¨No, that is a cliff¨

Eventually, I made it back to Manuel´s side, and as we scaled the cliffside towards the Incan trail, I was quite out of breath due to the extreme elevation.

The road was long, and we were happily encouraged by a solitary set of ghost footprints that had formed in a recent rain. The prints advised us from ruin to ruin, whenever we were in doubt of our direction, then eventually we found ourselves in a small little peublo. The locals were friendly, smiled with curiosity, and a particular gentleman pointed us the right way when we professed ¨Pukapukara¨

More kilometers of farmland, many fiending dogs at our ankles, a Eucalyptus forest, a terriotorial bull, and a few more hills later we found ourselves at the ruins with only a barrier wall to discourage us.

We spent that night in Pisac after catching a combi from our 7th set of ruins just across the street and up another hill form Pukapukara.

Exhausted, we discovereed the Pisac ruinas the following morning, early, before other touristas had gotten their breakfasts. These ruins were mightily tall, with steep staircases, archways, cascadas, a maze of buildings overlooking the Urubamba river, and an abundance of pretty flowers. Upon returning to the busy market center of Pisac, we decided to rest another night before continuing on to Ollantaytamba today. There was a showing of A Clockwork Orange in a nearby cafe, Mullu, that I can only describe all its artwork, ambiance and menu as ´posh´.

Ollantaytambo would be a wonderful village. That is, if it wasn´t infested by tourism buses, groups, dingy people uninterested in culture, travelers at my every side, gift shops on every block, and pricy hostels on every other.

These steets here are all Incan, as well as the foundation of each and every building, a good four feet of ancient stone masonary as well. The most unique tribute to this town, however, is that they still use the Incan irrigation system positioned amidst the central roadways. The ruins tower above central square in the surrounding mountains, and I look forward to rising with the sun tomorrow, to seek the past once again.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Turning Northwards

Chile proved to be a fantastic land of surreal desert ripped from Dali s imagination. We took a bus from Arica to the Peublo of Putre, higher in the Mountains and inland towards Bolivia. A dusty town, with lots of sun and bordering snow-capped mountains- just beyond the dry yellow, grey and red hills on the horizen. We hired a guide to take us to Parque Lauca (not having a guidebook, internet, or a better comprehension of the Spanish languge it was neccessary, as we could figure no other transport into the Parque Nacional). Fancisco was pleasant enough for a stranger, and we had him all to ourselves, so we didnt have to aim the camera shots away form other touristos profiles, and he bent to our every whim. We spent the day in the hilly mountain plains only 2 km from the Bolivian frontera (what torture! As we hadnt prepared ourselves with $150 visas ahead of time). I saw the object of my first animal report at age 6, the Pika (kind of like a large mouse-rabbit). There were also four types of camiliads who grazed along the roadway 11, and moved high into the hills by late morning. There were shades of flamingos, many other varieties of birds, and endlessly amazing reflections against the still pools of Northern Chile´s desert.

Then, painfully, we headed back to the Peruvian nightmare border. We hitched a ride with our guide as the bus was not due until the following afternoon. Train tickets sold out, we decided to find a bus to Tacna, as this border is vast and uncrossable on foot. The station was a nightmare of untrustworthery persons who wanted our passports in their charge, so we hiked it back to where we thought there was the PanAmerican. We waited, tapped our feet, counted our meager amount of remaining Pesos, disdained the coming darkness, and saw hope in TACNA ARICA buses heading our way- in the wrong direction, yet we it ws a good sign we were on the right route. A bus coming the right way, too fast to read its sign clearly, was flagged easily enough. I popped my head inside, ¨Queremos viajar frontera...¨I explained. The driver motioned to hop in, ¨Frontera,¨I confirmed. Yeah- tough luck. He took us into the slums, away from the parallel line to the ocean. I jumped off the bus with matter- of -fact protest to not paying his fare.

We were lost.

The dark was flying overhead.

Cars rushing.

No guidebook. A small map of the city center from information in the happy- safe- bright- beautiful-joyful part of Arica.

We werent on the map.

$8 by Taxi to the border. Sigh of releif- but no. The windows are not marked salida or entre. There is frenzy in the air. Taxi drivers are waving papers in our faces, telling the immigration staff who knows what. We breeze faltingly around from window to window until one man makes a motion to give us an exit stamp. We are famished- tired and hungry. No he says- we need proof of transport first. A bus rolls into veiw, and a kind woman mentions no more than 800 Pesos in passing. GREAT. Thats all we got left.

Then- people are trying to rip our passports out of our hands, the immigration officer stops me from buying a ticket. I insist I have my passport. At last it is stamped, yet the bus driver has unsurprisingly raised his fare to 1500 Pesos each. Tears involuntarily stream from my eyes, Im trying to handle this, trying to hold it together and bargain him down. Somehow pity is given, and we are on the bus, fighting with the bus attendant in resist to his claiming our passports for entrance stamps. I WILL not give it to him. He is flaming mad, gripping the seat, yelling, other people are worried, chiming in- yelling at us, one woman (I tihnk the one who gave us the tip earlier) tells him its Our passport- leave us alone. We get it stamped ourselves, and then wait for the rest of the bus to reclaim their belongings. This is an impracticle thing. Chaos rules the immigrations- woman are clutching at their purses as they exit the scanner belt, officials are litterally ripping them from their hands, throwing it aside. Straps are tearing, people are wailing, suitcases are falling open upon each other into a massive lumpy pile, and then the citizens are released to sort through it all and find their belongings- hurridly stuffing it back together and panting. Our items roll through the conveyer belt and I hear, ¨No. Esta touristas,¨and it is thaknfully handed over peacefully.

Tacna, again. Why didnt we check back into our old hotel?

Then, 7 30 AM bus to Puno. It takes 12 hours ot reach the shores of Lake Titicaca. This is the hightest navigable lake in the world. We are tired, and unimpressed. We leave the following morning to the dock. A wait. W wait for a very slow boat to leave port, eventually, at noon. We are gliding over the dark, deep waters. We pass the floating islands of the Uros culture. I watch the duckings paddle through the watery reeds. Quechua woman sit indside performing their immaculate weavings in their full skirts and woven wraps. Dark, long hair with black alpacha tassles bulking at the ends.

The boat is having trouble. Actually, it stops. I look towards the penninsula. At least, where I think the penninsula is, and try to gage where Llachon is. I know I can swim it ( I remember swimming out in to the heavy waves of Carribean ocean. Everyone else turns back, and I am one of three people to make it to the San Blas island), but it is very cold, and deep- and I cant bring my belongings.

Eventually the engine is restarted, and after three hours in the open water we are ashore, wandering through the prettiest peublo in all of Peru. We are accompanied by Kuan who brings us home with him and his new door, which is lifted above his head. His beautfiul Quechua wife feeds us well, and we are warm, confortable, serene, and immersed in the beauty of a fully self sustained cultured with no need for money or the outside world aside from general curiosity. We spend a long time that evening chatting, laughing, learning some Quechua lingo, and I sleep well for the first night in a long time.

Now- we are in Cusco. The journey was long but forgivable as we had the help of Kuan and blessings of the nearby spirits. The city is built on Incan ruins, and they line the streetways. Our hostel is high up in footpaths and cobbled stairways. Everything is expensive, and I am looking forward to beginning our independent journey to Macchu Picchu in the morning. First stop, Pisac.