Friday, January 4, 2013

Viva Peru!


Already light at 5:30 a.m., Cuzco shining outside the corner-room windows, it’s time to do the final pack and bid farewell to Peru. This the 59th country of my travels and one that has earned my affection. I think I’ve finally stopped the search for the country and culture of my dreams. Doesn’t exist. That culture lies within the individual heart and mind and in any group of folks who share a collective dream about how to work, play and love together. But that frees me to enjoy just simply “what is” in each place and take a piece of it back to my own community.

So a fond farewell to Peru. To quinoa soup, ceviche, grilled trout, pisco sours, chichi morada, coca tea, potatoes, potatoes and yet again, potatoes, to cuye, the guinea pig delicacy none of my fellow travelers (thankfully!) tried, to cow’s heads in markets, licuado fruit shakes, Brazil nuts, round white bread. Goodbye to red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets, to Inca ruins with mortarless stone work, to town plazas and women dressed in their distinctive hats, colorful skirts and blouses carrying baby alpacas for photo ops.

Goodbye to the constant presence of the Andes, thin mountain air, morning mist, rain, rain, rain, and then the gift of sunshine. Goodbye to llamas and hummingbirds, friendly dogs and the condors I never once saw. Goodbye to the restaurant and bus recordings of Andean music, with its formulaic major to minor chord changes, to The Condor Passes song that Paul Simon made famous, to the non-presence of live Peruvian bands on street corners because they’re all in London, Paris, Madrid, Athens, Moscow, Bangkok, Beijing, Tokyo, San Francisco, you name it.

Goodbye to Tupac Amaru, to Hiram Bingham, to Pachamama, Pizarro and the Conquistadores, to paintings of the Virgin Mary nursing Jesus with her nipple showing, of the Angel Gabriel stomping on the Devil who is sometimes red and sometimes black, of the Last Supper with guinea pig on the table. Goodbye to markets filled with alpaca blankets, ponchos, sweaters (I bought one for granddaughter Zadie!), hats with pigtails, clay ocarinas and more, to bargaining, to slightly torn dollars rejected at the money changers, to soles coins, to Visa cards that won’t work when the Internet is down.

Never delved much into recent Peruvian history, but the last thirty years seems the archetypal volatile politics of South American’s reputation— murder, mayhem, Shining Path terrorists, bribery, extortion, an ex-President in jail and more. Not to mention the coca trade exports to Colombia and beyond. But also an indigenous President and Truth and Reconciliation Hearings to heal some of the grief and loss. Things seem to be better now and one can only hope that the scales will keep tipping towards justice and genuine democracy.

And of course, a final farewell to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, where my body, mind and heart were put to the test and barely passed. But there was glory in the effort, pride in the achievement and some soul-stirring photos to keep me company when things feel too easy or bland.

So thank you, Peru, for a marvelous two weeks. May the best of the Inca spirit carry on and Pachamama move you forward into the 21st century with one foot in the best of the past.

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