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!

Machu Picchu, a photo essay.

May 21, 2012–I remember standing here and turning from one direction to another and realizing that every angle was a photo opportunity.  I even took pictures as I rested flat on my back in the grass.  My senses were heightened to such an extent that I consciously reminded myself that I wanted to remember this experience forever.  I could not help but feel as if I were on holy ground.  I thought if I took many, many pictures I would be able to go back to that place in my mind, and the sense of wonder and awe that I felt there would still be with me.  The Inca engineering feat that is Machu Picchu and the unbelievable Andes Mountains that are God’s creation overwhelmed me that day and will for the rest of my life.  Enjoy!

Cusco to Aguas Calientes by train.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have about zero experience with train travel.  I have also commented about how much I love the colorful Peruvian textiles.  Imagine my delight when the attendants on the train set our little tables with these wonderful table runners.  The ride between Cusco and Aguas Calientes is approximately four hours.  One goes to Aguas Calientes in order to access Machu Picchu via bus.  We spent the night in a tiny hotel called RupaWasi in Aguas Calientes.  Attached to the hotel was an outstanding restaurant called The Tree House.  Both the eco-hotel and the restaurant are very high off the ground and we had to climb many steps to get up there.  (No elevators.)  The rooms were sparse, but charming.  The food was the best we had the whole trip, in my opinion.

We arose very early after our one night in Aguas Calientes in order to catch an early bus and sunrise over Machu Picchu.  It occurred to me that I should get a photo of the steep stairs we had to navigate so I took this one.  That’s fellow traveler Jan at the foot of the stairs with a smile on her face as she anticipates the day ahead of us.  She wasn’t disappointed.  Nor was I.

Below is the first picture I took when I arrived at Machu Picchu.  It might have been a better shot with a better camera and a better photographer, but I love it dearly just as it is.  It was breathtakingly beautiful. The sun was just rising and had not yet burned off the fog and vapors that usually accompany mornings in the mountains.  If you look lower left in the photo you can see a little of Machu Picchu.

The photo below makes me grin.  This stone monument is a place that Shirley MacLaine mentioned in a book or maybe on her website, or maybe both.  According to Ms. MacLaine there are sacred sites in various places around the world, and this spot at Machu Picchu is one of them.  I think you’re supposed to get some sort of energy or vibrations from it and that’s what all these people pictured here are trying to feel.  There was such a crowd around it that I didn’t try to feel it.  It’s now roped off.  I guess that’s to keep one person from getting all the vibes.  🙂  It was interesting to hear the comments.  One person said, “Well, I don’t feel a thing!”  Another person’s comment was, “Oh, man!  Feel that.  It’s amazing.”  I couldn’t help wondering if the latter was getting a call on his cell phone.

Here, as everywhere, I found myself people watching, and listening.  My very unofficial tally told me that the tourists in Peru sounded as if they came predominantly from The United States, the UK and Japan, with a fairly large number of Spanish speakers whose nationality I could  not discern.  I have not done any research to verify or dispel my theory

Here we are back down in Aguas Calientes and ready for refreshment.  You can see by our smiling faces that we had a good day.  The one brave male who completed our little quartet is noticeably absent from this picture.  It wasn’t because he photographed the three of us sitting here.  A restaurant employee did that.  He was probably seeking refuge from the rest of us.  I have to admit that I’d had enough togetherness at that point, too.  I imagine we all had but I must say that it was nice to share the wonders we encountered that day with other human beings.

 

 

When can I go back!?

Saqsayhuaman aka Sexy Woman.

The first ruins we visited in Peru were at a site called Saqsayhuaman.  There are several spellings of this word.  It’s Quechua and not easy to spell or pronounce.  I read somewhere that when the Spanish arrived they couldn’t manage the Quechua language  so they adapted it to spellings and pronunciations that made it more Spanish.  I’ll refrain from commenting on their arrogance until a later date.  As you can see from the title of this piece, if you apply the phonetic nature of Spanish to the name of this site, it does sound rather like Sexy Woman.  It seems that everyone is in on the joke because even some of the indigenous people would call it that with a big grin.

I took the photo above from the highest point at Saqsayhuaman.  It overlooks Cuzco.  Notice the Plaza de Armas in the foreground.

This is Lourdes, our guide for the trek through the first of the ruins we would see.  I’m fascinated by ruins.  I’m much more enthralled by mother nature and her beautiful mountains here in Peru.  But it’s the people that I really love.  Lourdes is a well-trained and certified guide.  She told us she had to study long and hard to qualify and I believe it.  She’s also qualified for Machu Picchu but is not allowed to work there now because she is about six months pregnant.  She never really explained the reasoning that went into that decision, but if I had to guess, I would think it might be about her safety.  (Of course it could be the infamous Latin American machismo.)  The paths and stairs and ledges can be treacherous at MP.  I sensed that she didn’t like the decision but she seemed to accept it with grace.Reina Lourdes

Lourdes never seemed to tire or need a rest but she instinctively knew when we were ready for a brief pause.  During one such pause we put her in the seat of royalty, took her picture and called her Reina (Queen) Lourdes.  During one of our longer breaks she and I talked about the baby.  She would soon have an ultrasound and would learn the gender of the child.  I asked her if she would have the baby in a hospital.  She told me that twenty years ago almost all babies were born at home.  That is changing and she will deliver her little bundle in a hospital.  This is her first and she glows as so many pregnant women do.

This natural rock formation was begging for a child to slide down it, so this little boy came along and his abuelita allowed him to satisfy our wondering and his desire to have a little fun.  As we strolled on to the next marvel, Lourdes told us that archaeologists do, in fact, think that the ancients used it just as the little boy did.  We wondered aloud if it were the original ride in the original amusement park.

Early in the tour of Sexy Woman we saw a large group of teenage boys jogging toward the open area where many celebrations take place.  As some of you know, I taught high school.  Even though I’ve been retired from teaching for some time, I still find it hard to resist those wonderful energetic youngsters; so I called out to them as they passed and asked where they were from.  They told me, “Lima!”  As you can see here they were going to pose for this photo.  I learned that each school has a number.  Obviously this is theirs.

Here’s another view of Cuzco.  Saqsayhuaman was an enormous Inca military site built to guard Cuzco.  I keep typing the word Cuzco with a z because that’s how I learned it years ago.  Most modern literature shows it as Cusco to make the pronunciation more nearly like the Quechua version.  Makes sense to me. 


It was a marvelous day in a magnificent place and I’m glad we spent some time there.  I’m most especially grateful to have spent time with Lourdes.  Speaking of marvelous days, we’re having a glorious one here in North Carolina–mid-seventies with very low humidity.  A rare occasion which I welcome with open arms.

Starting in Cuzco.

We arrived at the Lima airport the evening of May 16, 2012.  I found it interesting that we were able to walk directly to our hotel from the baggage claim area.  In the US, when someone says they are staying in an airport hotel, it means they will have to go by taxi or limo or bus to the hotel.  This Ramada Inn is an almost-attachment to the airport.  It was very convenient to spend our first night there and walk over to our flight to Cuzco the next morning.

When we arrived in the city of Cuzco, the ancient Incan capital, we signed in at the Hotel Ruinas and then hit the streets to check it out.  The photo above shows an indigenous woman setting up her wares near the Plaza de Armas in the hope she will be able to sell them to tourists.

On the left is the Plaza de Armas  in Cuzco.  Along the outer edges of the plaza one can see vendors of all stripes.  There are even shoe-shine men who zero in on leather shoes like a moth to flame.  I have a very old pair of leather loafers, black and extraordinarily comfortable, whose dusty surfaces kept calling their attention.  I turned them away and vowed to my friends to wear sandals the rest of the time there.  And that’s what I did.

Legend has it that the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco was designed by Manco Capac.  Click here to read more about him.  Was he legend?  Was he real?  You decide.  It was in this plaza that Francisco Pizarro proclaimed that he had conquered Cuzco.  On the right, note the fountain in the plaza.

Here’s another view of the fountain; following are more views of or from the plaza.

This post feels rather disjointed to me because my computer is not behaving.  It’s very, very slow and I’m think I may have to take it to Apple Spa for a massage and maybe a mani and a pedi.  Not very good timing, Mac.  I spent all my money in Peru.  I hope you readers can make sense of it.

More about Cuzco later.