Jul 15, 2008

An In-Depth Look at Cusco

So, after arriving in Cusco early in the morning and exploring for awhile on my own, I had just enough time to freshen up and meet my group in the hotel lobby for our first official outing. Abelardo, our awesome guide, was ready to take us on a walking tour of Cusco. The fresh air felt good! I learned a lot about this ancient city and had fun meeting the others in our group! Did you know that Cusco is built in the shape of a PUMA?

I was fascinated with all of the history. As I listened to Abelardo tell us stories, I was intrigued by the blend of two distinct civilizations… the Inca and the Spanish. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire. The translation (in Quechua language) means “naval of the world.” Everything the Incas built was in accordance with the sun gods, measuring light from both the summer and winter solstice, and the sunlight of the fall and spring equinox. We saw a fountain that was carved from one piece of stone and used to mark what the Incas believe is the exact center of the 4 corners of the earth.

Let me bore you with some fascinating history: The Inca nation, called Children of the Sun, began its expansion in the early 1400’s, one of the greatest and most rapid expansions that has ever been recorded. After the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500’s, the city was transformed. We could see this influence mainly in the architecture. Inca temples became Spanish cathedrals. Inca masonry sat next to Spanish-style archways. Spanish language harmonized with Quechuan (the language of the Incas). During the Spanish Inquisition, one would be murdered if caught speaking Quechuan, yet somehow, the language survived! We walked through the small community of San Blas, and spent time learning of the Inca’s fascination with astronomy. It is speculated that a city boundary was warped to make it coincide with the mid-point in the Milky Way! Everything we saw and learned about had some relevance to astronomy. Definitely Children of the Sun!

We walked through and toured cathedrals and plaza squares. I sensed the ancient beliefs and noticed ancient traditions. The past and present all speak their own languages and tell the own separate stories. I learned the importance of the serpent, the puma, and the condor; past, present and future. While Christianity is the primary religion today, the Incas still believe in worshiping the earth, sky and the sun.

The history was expansive, extensive, and far too much to include here in my blog. What I can tell you is that upon completion of our tour… it hit me… altitude sickness. Oh my gosh! Here’s my recipe for disaster: 7 hours of sleep over the course of 48 hours; no coffee (I wasn’t sure the water in the coffee was considered ‘safe’ so I skipped my morning cup of java); an altitude of almost 11,000 feet above sea level, and an afternoon of serious tourism. The word ‘headache’ does not even begin to cover it. My new best friend, Curtis, bought me a nice hot cappuccino, but I was too far gone. I excused myself and opted out of our late-night welcome dinner. Instead, I soaked in a very hot… and I mean extremely hot bath. After an hour of hot bath-therapy, I crawled into bed and fell sound asleep. By the next morning I was feeling great - eager and ready for another full day of adventure!

Jul 6, 2008

First Impressions in Cusco

The plane landed and my luggage arrived in perfect condition! I noticed a booth advertising “OXY-SHOT” and wondered what it was. My flight from Lima arrived 2 hours early (I still don’t know why I left Lima earlier than expected) so I wasn’t sure anyone would be there to pick me up! I walked outside the airport and looked through a mass of signs with large black printed names. One by one they connected to their parties and soon there was no one left. A gentleman asked if I needed help and I said, ‘No’ trying to add a twist of Spanish as I spoke. I asked if there was a pay phone anywhere, using sign language to help him understand me. He directed me back inside. I admit I was flustered for the 1st time since I left home because I had not exchanged my money yet and had to rely on a phone card. My frustration grew as I swiped my card through the pay phone several times, only to discover it was actually my Harris Teeter grocery store gift card!! That was embarrassing but no one seemed to be watching! The directions on my AT&T card and the pay phone did not match – so I put my card away and went back outside. The air was quite chilly as it was almost the middle of winter in Peru! I decided to use other means of communication – called prayer! I asked God to guide me to my hotel. The nice gentleman saw me again and asked if I found the phone… I showed him an email I had printed with the name of our guide, our hotel, and ironically it mentioned our guide’s wife – Rocio, who, “…might have to pick you up.” The nice man began speaking fast (in Spanish) and whipped out his cell phone and made a quick phone call. He hung up and pointed to Rocio’s name on my email and said, “My seester!” Oh my gosh! Rocio comes running up to me and grabbed my bags and off we went in a little square car with a driver who must have learned to drive in NYC!

Soon we arrived at our hotel, the Picaoga Hotel in Cusco. A bellman took my bags and welcomed me to Peru. Another bellman escorted me through a beautiful courtyard and inside the hotel to a gathering room where the rest of my group awaited! Almost as quickly as I sat down, I was served a cup of water with leaves floating in it. I looked at my brand new travel buddies for guidance! This is PERU! This is coca tea! “It helps with altitude sickness and many other things.” So, I drank it! It had a most unusual flavor, and it became a part of my daily ritual. Anytime we went into the lobby, we drank another cup of coca tea! Soon, I’d learn even more about the use of coca tea in Peru… Coca tea consumption is used by many indigenous tribes of the Andes mountain range who also use the tea for medicinal and religious purposes.

Our first walking tour of Cusco would not be until that afternoon so after freshening up in my room, I ventured out of the hotel and through the streets of Cusco to take in my first impressions of Peru (without distractions from riding in the back seat of a fast little car)! I took in as much as I possibly could! I noticed textures – from brick walls and stone walls, to brick streets, cobblestone courtyards, and narrow streets. I noticed the housing on the hillsides and how poor everyone seemed to be. There were artists and jewelers and children selling everything from hats to water-bottle holders. “Please, Miss Jenny (I learned that morning not to wear a nametag on the street). I give you special price, Miss Jenny.”

I noticed the cars and how they were all little rectangles that didn’t appear to need insurance. I noticed their faces, from youth to elderly. I noticed a spiritual culture that combined ancient Inca beliefs and Christianity. I noticed an ancestry of Inca and Spanish cultures interwoven into a community of families, of spirituality, and of art and history. I could hardly wait for our afternoon tour to begin!

Jul 4, 2008

First Glance

It was pre-dawn as I was flying from Lima to Cusco. I took advantage of one last chance to get a short nap. I had been traveling all night and I had a full day ahead of me. Suddenly, I was awakened by a rush of excitement that ran through my body like an electric current! I looked around me on the plane and saw most everyone else sleeping. There was one gentleman reading a newspaper and a woman who was deep in the pages of a romance novel. I wondered where the rush of adrenaline had come from. Then I looked out my window. This would be my first glance at Peru in the daylight… a country that had been calling me to visit for the past 7 years. There it was… Peru! And the beginning of a new day! I love that time of day - just before dawn… anticipating the sunrise and embracing the opportunity to fill the day with wonder and adventure! This particular sunrise would be magical. This particular day was no ordinary day! Today I was waking up to a dream… and I was in Peru!

As the sun rose, we were flying over the mountains. It was so beautiful! I looked out and saw a sea of clouds nestled over the valleys; mountain-top islands sprinkled across the horizon. Glaciers were perched at the top of the mountains, sitting like royalty overlooking the kingdoms... and immediately, I sensed the mystical, powerful, spiritual energy of the ancient Andes.

My face and camera were pressed against the glass like a child looking at a Macy’s window display at Christmastime! I couldn’t believe it! We were actually flying right through (and in between) glaciers! I witnessed the sun greet these ancient mountains with morning kisses. The moment the light touched the face of the glaciers, they lit up – and so did my soul! Excited? No words could capture how I felt. My heart was beating fast and my breath was accelerated! It felt as though my body was adjusting or recalibrating to another place and time… to a new rhythm… to the drumming of an ancient culture. How could I feel so at home in a place I had never been before?

When we approached Cusco, the land transformed from glaciers to farmland. The plane descended, and I said of prayer of gratitude. I was most especially thankful to my friends who had made this trip possible for me. They were looking out for my spirit… ready to nourish my heart and soul. I was thankful for my health. I was thankful for my family, especially my husband, who graciously would handle ‘life’ for me while I was away. I was thankful for an abundance of God’s blessings. Up until that moment, my life had been full of highs and lows. The journey had been a bit bumpy, even for me, over the past few years. Yet God’s everlasting presence had never wavered. And now, I was here… ready and eager to learn and to listen to what God wanted me to know… I was eager to have the quiet time, the space, and the solitude to hear God’s voice.

Welcome to my blog! Fasten your seatbelt and ride along with me through the amazing, spiritual, numinous land of Peru!

Jul 3, 2008

Introduction to Peru - an Overview of my Trip

I can't explain why I felt so called to go to Peru. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I followed my heart. I fell in love with the land, the people, the history, the stories, the sights and sounds and so much more! I was blessed to travel with 21 others (including our guide, Abelardo, and our bus driver, Wilbur). Everyone was easy to travel with and fun to be with! I still haven't figured out how we did so much and had as many incredible experiences as we did on a 10 day trip! So, welcome and enjoy!