Sunday, June 28, 2009

We're back . . .

Ok, we've been back now just over two weeks, and I must confess to some jet lag. Rachel sent me to the supermarket to buy some flour, and I couldn't bring myself to choose. Did she want bleached flour or unbleached, organic or whole wheat, another specialty flour or simply baking flour? Or was it bread flour? Three shelves and 20 minutes later, I left -- without buying flour.

And we bought the new computer to replace the one that was stolen. But reloading my programs (and attempting to reload files from my back-ups) brought back a sense of loss and dislocation. Some picture files are truly gone. Priceless, as the ad says. But many pictures remain, some 1500 waiting to be named, organized -- and backed up.

The air everywhere is so clean. No buses belching carbon monoxide. No crowds of people darting across streets, striving to avoid becoming hood ornaments. We drove down from Spokane to the Willamette Valley. Our farms are so tidy, so well organized these early summer days. I don't see people working the fields. I don't see llamas grazing at the side of the road. I feel a sense of nostalgia for my temporary homes in South America -- Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, even as I appreciate the sunset here in the Willamette Valley, turning the sky pink, and to the west, the coastal mountains, layered shadows of purple.

We leave again on July 15 for the wilds of the American midwest, northern Michigan, by August 2, and then to Philadelphia by August 15, a quick drive across country, and then to Scotland for 6-8 weeks (Inverness, Edinburgh, and Orkney). Then back home to Philly and on to Costa Rica for 3-4 months, a settling down time in one place. Perhaps my jet lag will dissipate by then.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Goodbye Peru . . .

Just learned that Air Canada moved our flight up by 3 hours. Phew! And we haven't packed, but I'm not too worried. When you travel for six months with 5 changes of clothing, there's really not that much to pack! Except for the books. And the brochures. And maybe a few gifts. I'm taking a chance that Air Canada will feed us. We're used to stewards and stewardesses on busses, trains and planes here in Peru. On our train trip via Peru Rail to Macchu Picchu, we had a full breakfast on linen. I felt like it was the Orient Express.

Our last day in Cusco was the day before Corpus Christi, celebrating Christ's last supper, that seminal event when Christ distributed wine and bread, a service that has become the Eucharist for millions of Christians. Here in Cusco, the holiday is a major event. Hundreds of people crowded into the Plaza del Armas to see massive flowered floats carrying 17 saints parade throughout Cusco -- all day, accompanied by dancing and marching bands. Groups of people carry the heavily carved wooden floats in a rocking motion to show respect for the saints, visiting the churches in town.

Yes, I have some wonderful pictures, but no way to include them. One of the more interesting parts of this festival was the dance of indigenous rural people in colorful masks and brightly ribboned hats the color of the rainbow, each pair using whips in some sort of drive-out-the-sin ritual. As always, more research is needed. But this was a very colorful last glimpse of Cusco before we came to Lima for a short rest before hopping on Air Canada and coming home -- and perhaps to a new computer sooner than I think! Already Allen is asking me what's after Scotland. Should it be four months in the Carribean or Costa Rica?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Back in Cusco . . .

We are happily back in Cusco, staying at Hotel Corihuasi with its winding stone stairways and rooms overlooking the city (and lots of hot water). Today we spent walking around the town with Al, Pam and Kayla, seeing the city anew through their eyes. We taught Kayla how to say no politely in Spanish to the many street vendors, yet it's difficult to say no to the beautiful crafts here -- weavings, silver, caps, ponchos, finger puppets, sweaters -- all in such vivid colors, and all featuring themes from the Andes.

Just now everyone is visiting the main cathedral here. I'm resting a bit here at the internet cafe, catching up with the high altitude.

Later we'll walk down Lareto Street (a narrow street along what was once the House of the Sun) to admire the Incan stones still making up the walls here: their large geometric shapes fit so tightly together that even today, no one seems able to replicate their walls. Cusco itself, like many other sacred places, takes the shape overall of a crouching feline -- the puma. While we have visited museums here, we've mostly gained an understanding of the artifacts of the Incan culture, but the religion and ideas still elude us. Popularly, Cusco is known as the center or navel of the world, but in planning this city, Incan astrologers planned temples and reshaped hills to create the puma.

Tomorrow we'll visit the Pisac ruins, built in the shape of a condor, and Monday, we go again to Macchu Picchu, which is built in the shape of a llama. Understanding the link between the shape of these places helps me understand the Nazca lines, those mysterious and controversial lines visible only from the sky -- hummingbirds, monkeys, spiders, plants and other shapes. Perhaps once they held a sacred meaning, even as the crouching puma did once for Cusco, and for many, still does.

This mix of ancient traditions and modern struggles with poverty would take more than one visit to understand. Here in Cusco, I've read that about 1 million tourists a year visit. That's a prodigious number of people. What do they take home? Cusco, Incan culture, superimposed with the history of the Spanish conquest and colonial traditions cannot be easily captured in a single photo, a diary entry, or even a memory. The average Peruvian works very hard. Taxi drivers, for example, work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Farmers work their fields and harvest by hand. We pass road crews repairing cobblestoned streets, again by hand. Every job is important. Yet unemployment averages 50%. So our tourist dollars help support artisans of all kinds. Today I bought a finger puppet of a llama, beautifully hand knitted with little tassles for roughly 33 cents. Today also, police and protestors clash over how tourist sites are managed and developed. Violence is always under the surface of such a peaceful and beautiful place. I have no answers and yet I am glad we came here.