"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."
The journey to Peru - Part 1
At the end of an incredibly long day I could hear the laughter and dancing of the locals in the late evening. Tiny huts were illuminated by fire glow and the flicker of dancing shadows. A reminder that even though there was great struggle, life was for the living. Peru taught me this without words.
Sometime in late April, 2008, Adam, a long-time friend, and I landed in Lima, Peru from Toronto. A conscious move that would allow us to travel slowly up to Bolivia, minimizing the effects of altitude sickness; what I've heard be described as a catabolic barf-a-thon that is very real.
However, it was the language barrier that we noticed first. I had learned enough Spanish to be polite. My first lunch out at a local dive would reinforce the fact that polite was pretty useless without words in between. I could say please and thank you, but couldn’t order a meal to save my life. However, I’ve always liked surprises, so pointing and saying thank you worked out about fifty percent of the time.
The second night in Lima, we stayed with Andrew, a friend who I had met in Las Vegas a year before - a solo trip that merits a post in the future. I had remebered him telling me he was thinking about departing to Peru to teach English. A quick email later and we were off to his humble apartment in downtown Lima. That night Andrew took us out for some great food and taught us some Spanish that would help Adam and I get by. Early in the morning we said our safe travels to Andrew, and hopped on a plane that departed for Cusco.
Cusco was the most tourist-rich of places we had been to in Peru. However, as we had expected, outside the tourism was poverty. Begging was something I never saw in Peru, unless there was something to purchase in their hands. Now that I think of it, the locals always had something in there hands. Whether it was baskets, bowls, dolls or drawings to be sold, homelessness was a luxury they couldn't afford. After a couple days of exploring the beautiful landscape and Incan caves, we jumped on a train for Aguas Calientes (Hot Water).
The little town that lay beneath Machu Picchu and the unforgiving, surrounding mountains is named, Aguas Calientes. It is a lush but dominating landscape. At about 2, 000 meters above sea level walking around felt fast. The next morning we were up at 4AM and gazing up from the base of Machu Picchu with rain coats and headlamps. We wanted to make it to the top by sunrise on foot, which was a steady incline for about an hour and a half. Adam had much better cardio at the time, so he dashed ahead, and we decided we would meet each other at the top.
The feeling was indescribable at the top of Machu Picchu. Adam was no where in sight, but it didn't seem to matter. I had an incredible calm come over me, as the silent, mysterious sunrise made its assent to keep me company.
When you're amongst such beauty and mystery, you become infused with it. It’s as if your surroundings have involved you in an amazing, and somewhat unexplainable harmony. Gazing outward only magnifies self-reflection. It’s incredible how that can happen. How beauty and awe can deconstruct the self, shattering what you thought you knew you. Reaching the depths of pure gratitude, that can only exist in the light. I recognized my attachments and shed my lingering, but relentless ego. I was small, but not discouragingly. Like a spark, the feeling brought hope to flame. My mind felt clearer for the first time in years.
After a thirteen- hour trek around Machu Picchu, and its bigger brother Huayna Picchu, we descended. That night as we ate dinner I looked out onto the street from the patio where we were sitting. A girl about four-years-old was across the street playing with an apple that seemed to be both her toy, and snack. She was facing the opposite direction of the street arrow sign above her, that read, “escape” - a sad irony I had to take note of.
That night we wandered out and could hear the sounds of dancing, singing and laughing. The locals had come together for a fiesta. Walking ahead we noticed we were the only two tourists around, but the looks from the locals were inviting nonetheless. The children ran up to us, their faces and gestures expressing curiosity in what we were about. They spoke in shy, but excited Spanish that was made even more inaudible by the music around us . A bonfire was lit on the stone streets illuminating the smiles on people's faces. The night filled with sounds of song, dance and laughter - a valuable reminder that even though there was great struggle, life was for the living.
Too be continued...