Little altars everywhere…to Pachamama.

Pachamama is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes.  Pachamama is usually translated as Mother Earth, but a more literal translation would be ‘Mother World.’  ~ Wikipedia

As I was grinding the last of my Pachamama coffee beans today my mind took a little side trip and revisited Peru.  I started to remember some of the references to the goddess Pachamama in the towns and cities of the Andes.  Many companies have chosen to use her name on their products; obviously it’s a good marketing tool.  The divine Ms P is everywhere.  Here, of course, is the coffee package.  I also remember seeing chocolate, tea, clothing, shoes, pet supplies, “health foods,” even musical instruments.  Many fair trade and organic items carry a Pachamama logo of some sort.

I love the idea of goddesses.  Pachamama is the goddess of fertility according to Inca mythology.  She oversees planting and harvesting.  After the Spanish conquest, and because the Spanish forced Catholicism on the indigenous peoples, the images of Pachamama meshed with those of the Virgin Mary.  (Paraphrased from Wikipedia.)  I suppose it was a predictable merger since both are considered “good mothers.”  ( The image of Pachamama on the left is also from Wikipedia.)

As I was reviewing, on the Wiki site, what the guides told us about Pachamama, I remembered the photo at the top of this piece.  Our guides had told us that there were celebrations on the summer solstice and the local people made altars and offerings  to the “good mother.”  I wanted to remember the altars so I took this photo.  I couldn’t get everything in the picture, but above the village on the mountainside I could see some of the famous terraced gardens where crops are grown.  The ancient people terraced the steep land so they could farm it.  We saw numerous terraces as we rode the bus up to Colca.  Here’s a better shot of what they were like.  I still get a sense of awe and wonder and history when I look at this.  Wonderful!

As I looked at the stacked-stone altars I realized I must make one of my own even though the summer solstice was still a month away.  Mine was tiny, but built prayerfully, and with a pure heart, I think.  I have to admit, though, that the first thought in my mind when I saw all those stacks of stones was: “Little Altars Everywhere.”  I even said it aloud several times.  After thinking about that for a moment, I realized it was the name of a book by Rebecca Wells.  It’s the first of the “Ya-Ya” books.  I reread it recently.  It’s a good read — and proof that not all “little altars” are good things.  But that’s another story for another time.

Do you have altars?  Is it human nature to make altars?  I took a stroll through my house while I was writing this post to see what my “little altars” are.  I have several.  I hadn’t thought to call them altars before but that’s what they are.  They are usually images of people I love or things dear ones have given me.  The photo below is one of my favorites.  As some of you know, I have nine grandchildren.  Only two of them are boys.  These are photos of “my boys.”

Somewhere between Arequipa and Colca Canyon.

Somewhere between the city of Arequipa and Colca Canyon I looked out the bus window and saw this beautiful sight.  I knew I had to snap it even though conditions weren’t ideal.  The weird segmented “creature” in the water just left of center is a reflection of my watch band off the window.

On the right side of this photo is El Misti, Peru’s best known and most active volcano.  Its proximity to Arequipa (about 16 kilometers) would mean a major disaster for that city should it have a major eruption.  It’s had many rumbles over the years but no major eruption in about 2,000 years, although our guide kept making reference to a big one about 500 years ago, and I did find data to back that up.  As usual, internet “facts” are only as good as their source and I’m not skilled at weeding out the bad info.  Nor am I so inclined today.  If our guide is any indication, the citizens of Arequipa take a rather fatalistic attitude about El Misti’s ability to wreak havoc on their beautiful city.

High in the Andes we were able to observe the vicuña.  How high?  I’m not sure.  I know that we stopped a little later and were at 16,000 feet, so this wasn’t much below that elevation.  The wool of the vicuña is the softest, most desirable, and most expensive of all the Peruvian wools.  Our guide told us that one sweater from the vicuña yarn would cost $3,000 to $4,000 in American dollars.  One factor is that this beautiful, graceful animal can be shorn only every three years and must be caught from the wild.  In the days of the Inca, only royalty could wear this superfine fabric.  I suppose that would be true today as well at those prices.

The photo on the right shows local vendors hawking their wares at the highest point we achieved on this magnificent journey.  This is the spot where we stood at 16,000 feet above sea level.  When we first got off the bus I felt a little light-headed, but I acclimated quickly.  We had stopped along the way up to drink more coca tea, and we had coca candies to munch on all along the way.  I have never suffered from altitude sickness, soroche, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I followed the advice of the guides, the literature, and fellow travelers.  Altitude sickness can be quite dangerous and is not to be taken lightly.

Here I am hale and hearty.  Our guide took my picture so I could prove I was there.  Unfortunately, the marker doesn’t give the elevation.  This moment felt like a huge accomplishment.  I don’t know exactly why.  I hadn’t hiked up or anything astounding like that, but I felt as if I were on top of the world, and ready to conquer whatever else I might encounter.  And so we’re off to eat lunch; then on to Colca Canyon Lodge where we will spend the night and partake of the wonderfully soothing natural hot springs.  I’m pretty sure I can “conquer” a bit of food and some hot springs.  🙂

El condor pasa.

The Andean condor is said to be the largest/heaviest flying bird on earth.  We took a sometimes bumpy mini-bus ride up to Colca Canyon in the hope of seeing them as they rode the thermals up and out of the canyon.  The locals and guides know almost exactly what time they take flight on a day-to-day basis.  We followed our guide’s plan and left the lodge early in order to take in yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We weren’t disappointed.  As if on cue, those magnificent raptors accommodated us tourists much as the local Andean people have learned to do.  The birds soared.  The people put on their magnificently hued traditional costumes.  The people don their costumes to earn a few Peruvian soles.  We tourists happily provided the required tips for their trouble.  The condors soar because that’s what they do.  No tips required.

Almost every tourist on the mountain had a camera hoping to get just one decent photo of one huge soaring bird.  The truth is it would take a better camera than mine and a photographer much more patient than I to get a good shot.  The locals have this knowledge in advance so they are at the ready with magnificent photos taken by some professional from who knows where and they sell them to people like me.  I don’t mind telling you I was glad for the opportunity to buy them.  I would love to give credit to the photographer(s) but no such information came with the pictures.  I tell you this in order to tell you that the shot above and the two below are pictures I took of photographs I purchased on the mountain top.

We didn’t see any condors up this high.  The cross on the right of this photo is up on the rim of the canyon where we people were.

The shot below is very much like what I was seeing and might have been able to snap if I were a real photographer.  The fact that I didn’t shoot either of them doesn’t bother me.  I’m grateful that there are talented people who are able to capture them for the rest of us.  Thank you, whoever you are!

I did take the photo at the bottom of the page.  It’s a little like the “Where’s Waldo?” books some of the older grandchildren used to beg for when I took them to the book store.  You may have to look hard to find the condor, but he’s there.  Happy hunting!

Do you remember back in the early 70s when Simon and Garfunkel had a hit song called “El Condor Pasa”?  I loved the song at the time.  Still do for that matter.  I did a little research and found several conflicting stories about Paul Simon’s acquisition of the song.  I have no idea what the truth of the matter is so I won’t comment except to say that I have no doubt about Simon’s integrity.

Daniel Alomia Robles wrote “El Condor Pasa” as a part of a zarzuela, a Spanish operetta.  Simon and Garfunkel made it famous and now it’s the best known song in all of Peru.  We heard it everywhere we went.  If you would like, listen to it here.  I chose this version because 1) it’s beautiful, and 2) this one gives an incredible slide show of Peru, mostly places I saw while I was there.  Wonderful!

As the mind wanders…

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~ Mark Twain

I know there’s such a thing as adult ADD but I’m wondering if it gets worse as we get older.  It seems that I can’t focus very well these days.  I’m getting excited about my upcoming trip so I know that’s a factor but I can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time lately.  What’s going on?  Hell if I know!

If you read my blog even occasionally, you probably know that I’m going to Peru soon.  I’ve been reading until my eyes are bleary.  As you can see by the title of this book, I’m trying to learn as much as possible about Machu Picchu.  A friend who’s going with me on the trip told me about this wonderful read. The moment I heard the title I thought, “Now this guy is funny.”  Happily, I was right about that.  He’s very funny indeed.  It isn’t often that one finds a travel book as entertaining as this one.  Ah, but I’m not writing this post to sell books.

I’m laughing at myself as I try to figure out why I am writing it.  I have found these past two years that if I write it out, whatever it is, I can begin to make sense of what’s going on in my life.  It’s rather like thinking aloud, but in print.  I hope it still works.

Back to Peru.  Most of my life I have wanted to see Machu Picchu.  I saw a photo of it in my Spanish book when I was about fifteen.  I think that explains why I have pored over materials about that particular site.  Now that the trip is coming at me like a downhill snowball, I realize that MP is only a small part of the trip.  It’s time for me to pay attention to Arequipa and Cuzco and the Colca Canyon.  I’m starting to get excited now about the magnificent textiles I’ll see and buy there, as pictured in the top photo.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  A feast for the eyes.  Heavenly to touch.  I’ll have to make some tough decisions.  I can’t buy all of them.

This will be my first journey to the southern hemisphere.  I must say my emotions are all over the map.  (Groan.)  You name it, I’ve felt it over the past few weeks.  I’m elated, nervous, a little scared, very excited–so many things bouncing around–no wonder I can’t concentrate.  I’ll be happy to get on the plane.  Then it’s too late to worry about leaving something behind.  That’s when I’ll let it go and relax.

And so I hope my wandering mind is calming down for the night and a good night’s sleep now that I’ve typed it out of my head.  One more thing I will mention, though, and that is that my grandson DW moved to a new apartment today.  He had stayed with me for the past two weeks while he awaited his “moving-in” day.  A couple of weeks doesn’t sound like enough time to get settled in and I doubt that it was for him, but I became accustomed to having him here and I miss him.  I guess I’ll set the alarm tonight since he’s not here to accidentally set it off.  He was three years old in this photo.  That was twenty years ago.