Tuesday, August 30, 1988

Lima


LIMA


“When you no longer see any trees you will be in Peru.”
—Simón Bolîvar's boat pilot, 1823


From the air, the outskirts of Lima, even the multitudes of red and white Peruvian flags fluttering over the pueblos jovenes, the shanty settlements don’t hide the smoldering heaps of garbage lining the dry banks of the Rímac River. In Quechua, the Inca tongue, Rímac means talking, or singing river.

If the river could speak, it would not have much to commend during the 400 turbulent years of European settlement. Twelve degrees south of the equator, Lima, the capital of Peru, is situated on the great coastal desert, the driest in the world, where precious rain is measured in millimeters a year.

South America’s Gran Liberator, Simón Bolîvar described it in letters as “the land was almost impossible to believe. Along the coast it was not only dead— for dead implied having once lived— it was unlacing, desolate, without trees, grass, or even cactus. The air was chilled; a cold ocean current prevented the fall of rain, and transformed a thousand miles of coastline into an utter wasteland.”


Though the explorer Pizarro is credited with the founding of Lima in 1535, there are huacas, adobe pyramids that predate our current calendar (Año Domini) by 1000 years.

For 400 years Spain generously suckled riches from Peru’s golden breasts until there was nothing left. I imagine most of that melted gold still slumbers in the tombs of numbered Swiss vaults.

Some Peruvians claim the Incas, with subtle revenge in mind, suggested the site to Pizarro, because, unlike the rest of the coast, it was so gloomy and cold five months of the year. Perhaps the Inca’s best revenge is that Pizarro's mummified body is on permanent public display.

Because of the Arctic Humboldt current, Lima is blanketed with heavy fog, the garua, which lets in little sun from June to October. In 1823, Liberator of Colombia, Simón Bolîvar described Lima— once considered the Paris of South America, “Lima had a down at the heel look. The avenues were filled with filth and the water which ran down the gutters in the centers of the streets was dammed with a concentration of litter.”

Bolîvar wrote “inside the city walls Lima had the air of a sensuous Seville; Moorish balconies carved in arabesques overhang the cobblestone streets, giving it much of the atmosphere of cities of southern Spain.”

Colonial buildings with centuries of grime, narrow streets choked with perpetual traffic jams—this is the birthplace of the New World’s first and only female saint, Rosa de Lima. Rosa de Lima lent her name to our city of Santa Rosa— in fact, all the Santa Rosas of the New World.

In an urn on one of the altars of Santo Domingo rest the remains of the Flor de Lima, Rosa (1586-1617). Beside her on the altar, the other new world and only Black saint San Martín de los Porres. August 30th, her feast day is the day our own Santa Rosa was founded, so the story goes.

During my travels to Latin America, I have visited many Santa Rosas. On and island on Lake Titicaca, in the tiny village school of Santa Rosa de Amamtani, we told students of our Santa Rosa de Sonoma, California. Somehow we’ve lost the other half of our city’s name. Surprisingly enough, many people have heard of our Santa Rosa.

Born of the aristocracy, blonde-haired Rosa was expected to marry brilliantly, not become a healer and champion of the poverty stricken masses. If Rosa could see Lima now, she’d notice not much has changed. “Everything in Peru was chaotic. An issue of paper money had depressed the currency, and prices were astronomical.”

Regardless of the century, it seems some things remain the same. Bolîvar was describing Peru in the middle of civil war. It still holds true today. Instead of Royalists and liberators, we now have the Maoist guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the middle class APRAistas and ultra righting military police embroiled in civil war.

As always the campesinos are the ones who pay with their lives. Our friend in Cuzco, Santa Rosa Kaiser nurse, Rae Pieraccini, writes to tell us inflation has gone up 1500% in six weeks and there’s no food to be had on the streets. “We have daily riots and looting with lots of tear gas and the military waiting in the wings.

The President, Alan García made a statement that he is now aligned with the military. Grim. The next few months will be much worse and anything can happen, and it will, soon, I fear.”

Peruvian Independence Day, July 28. Soldiers and tanks marching through the Plaza de Armas. I take a photo of the presidential palace and am barred by an uzi toting soldier.

While sightseeing along the gray garua coast at Chorillos with Peruvian poet Carlos Orellana, we are among the first to come across a crumpled body in front of the tunnel facing the sea cliff.

The night before, prominent left-wing lawyer, Manuel Febres Flores, who successfully defended and acquitted Osman Morote Barrionero, the number two comandante in the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path— the revolutionary Maoist guerrilla army with its base in the highlands near Ayacucho), went out to get a newspaper and never returned. No less than three right-wing death squads claimed responsibility.

Executed by a tunnel, his legs akimbo on the curb, torso and blood pointing out to sea, his only crime was that he was a good lawyer working within the boundaries of a democratic system—the same newspaper he bought, now covering his face.

Our friend, with a sure urban instinct, mutters, “don’t look. It’s got to be a car accident,” and we sped off through the tunnel like Alice in Wonderland to the safety of the Miraflores suburbs. This is our introduction to Peru.

Later we will sip Pisco brandy by candlelight and talk of poetry and politics. Terrorists have bombed the power stations. At the restaurant we dine by candlelight. Red and white Peruvian flags fly from every window. Firecrackers and gunshots punctuate the foggy night.

This civil war has claimed over 15,000 lives in the past eight years. Almost daily, the youngest Latin American to be elected President, the handsome 35-year-old Alan García, once viewed as the Kennedy of Peru, is asked to resign. Carlos who went to school with García, thinks García won’t make it to 1990 elections.

On the TV, the President made an address to the chamber of Deputies, asking for harsher anti-terrorist measures. A new paramilitary group, the Commando Rodrigo Franco claimed responsibility for the lawyer’s assassination.

Franco was a local official of President Garcia’s own social-democratic APRA party, who was tortured to death slowly, in front of his family by Serndero guerrillas. There was clear implication that responsibility for the murder of Febres Flores led somewhere high up in the government party.

In the month we were there no arrests were made. To make matters worse, involvement with the coca industry is igniting flames in the jungle region near the important provincial town of Tingo Maria.

As we prepared to leave, the Sendero Luminoso was enforcing an effective general strike in Tingo Maria, and had overrun the Civil Guard garrison at Pucallpa, a jungle town where we’d planned to go on a river expedition to see rare pink dolphins. We had to abort plans to visit the highland villages of Ayachuco and Huancayo, the Sendero’s peasant base, when we learned that mass graves of campesinos were being uncovered, killed by the army in anti-terror terrorism.

There are skirmishes between the government, The Senderos and drug enforcement officials. “Almost every day bodies are found here,” said one news broadcaster. When the talk turned to politics, Carlos was asked what he thought was going to happen. “I think the Sendero's going to win,” he said simply. “Nobody else has any energy. Oh, they probably won’t like me much. but maybe they’ll mellow a little in the process of achieving power, quien sabe, who knows?” Life goes on, in spite of it all.





Note Bene: I transcribed these journal entries in 1988 - 1990, hence the variable dates. (I'm moving them all to 1988, journal entry date, not transcription/revision date). We were in South America during the summer of 1988. I was trying to publish these stories, or at least find a home for them. I've a vague recollection of the Machu Picchu piece being published in The Paper.

I was readying several of these Peru pieces pieces for an anthology, House on Via Gombito: Writing by North American Women Abroad. I also wrote Bill Truesdale, the editor for New RIvers Press, St. Paul, MN, a rather zany letter about my travels across the USSR. He took the letter, and not the stories.

After an incredible journey through South America, John Oliver Simon broke up with me, left me for a young blonde former student of his, and it took me nearly a decade to recover from the horror of it all. Going to the USSR in 1989 was my salvation—and still John was trying to reel me back in. Or maybe he was doing the AA thing, in his case, the SA 12-step thing, atoning for his wrongdoings. By that point, I wouldn't even give him the time of day. Ironically, we managed to heal the gap nearly 35 years later. So it's fitting that these pieces finally get to see daylight, after languishing in darkness for so long.   —Maureen Hurley 2/26/2014

I've very few photos transcribed over to the electronic medium, another project. Here are three small albums.

Machu Picchu
Peru
Galapagos

Sunday, August 21, 1988

Letter to Luis Kong, from the Necropolis, Paracas, poem


LETTER TO LUIS KONG FROM THE NECROPOLIS, PARACAS 8/21/88
(RETURNING FROM PARACAS)

In Paracas where it has never rained in living memory, literally nothing grows. You told me there was nothing here in this place of your birth. I didn't understand what you meant. This place I've waited a lifetime to visit.

The garua, or coastal fog, rolls back each morning to reveal distant purple mountains, the Andean foothills, contrasting with the eroded bright ochre and red coastline of sedimentary rock turning back into dust once again.

Dust with its airiness is the wrong word to use. I want to say mud or earth to imply something of the weight and adhesion of this "dust." What is left is heavier than dust.

From countless jailed lips, the word Paracas has escaped—an eager storm of Inca doves bursting into sky, or slender serpentine syllables seeking shelter, and like pigeons, the sound returns home to its toothy origin only to find the speaker gone; a skeletal utterance, the word itself meaning dust storm.

Heavy with silica, the drifting sand dunes march in crescent-hooved formation over hills and plateaus, swallowing cities of the living and the dead. Above the buried necropolis, fossilized shells raised above the surface of the matrix, escape from stone prisons.

Sun, wind and time erodes this place. Fragments of quartz, venial intrusion once separated two layers of mudrock; thick milk glass shards strewn across the surface; the parent rock long since scattered by the four winds.

I crumble silica crystals between my fingers as if it were made of sugar or fake windows of a Hollywood stage set. Lit by morning sun, translucent alabaster "fish" swim in the sky.

Strange, unbroken ridges fall at the angle of declination to the coastal plateau. Rusted metamorphic pebbles erratically eroded by alluvial action, not water, glaze the slopes like chocolate "fleas" on a cake.

I wander between large shell mounds, each separated by species, clams, purple scallops and snails; worn pawns in a gigantic game of chess. The Paracas Indians were the first to fall to the Incas, who in turn, fell to the Spaniards. And so on. From flamingo carcasses, crazy pink feathers tumble across the desert.

Velvet crunching of brittle powdered rock, rich ochre earth clings, powdered pigment—rare fuller's earth on my boot. On the guano-capped rocks, only the diminutive tropical penguins turn their backs on the frigid sea.

The centuries-old "candlelabra" tree etched into the dune, visible only from the sea or space, is scarred by the twin tracks of tires. As are the geoglyphs and geometric lines on the Pampa Colorada de Nazca, the altiplano undisturbed for eons, only to be mutilated by cars. The Lizard, cut into two by the Pan American highway, no longer dreams of constellations.

I gather small rocks to bring home a piece of childhood for you. You said we can ignore obstacles caused by distance. Paracas is a piece of fallen moon. I gather stars, red dwarfs and blue giants, remembering to keep the right angle of the Southern Cross over my left shoulder as I face west. Mars flares bright and comes closer for a better look.

The sea floor is made of basalt, the same substance as the moon. On the shining path of the sea, it is hard to ignore the moon under dim stars, and cryptic fossils rising up from the rocks still feel its influence. Here, it is harder to remember this country is torn apart by civil war.

One expects to see camels at the palm tree oases. And you can literally smell the sudden moisture in the fertile river beds sprouting corn, cotton and oranges. The odor hits you like a wall. Precious water is carried in subterranean canals for miles from the highlands, where herds of alpacas and llamas browse on ichu grass.

The Spaniards thought alpacas were long-necked sheep, not camelids. The Indians thought the Spaniards on their horses were six-legged gods, and the invincible Inca empire fell.

The horse and the camel, both new-world creatures, became extinct here when man crossed the Bering land bridge. Not much has changed. Entire species succumb every day to our voracious appetites.

The elements never cease their relentless sculpting. Andean condors resume their endless circling on the hot updrafts. Who will pick their bones clean when they face that final extinction?

I tried to describe to the taxi driver who has never experienced rain, the violence of the Russian River leaping its summer banks by 50 feet. Whole orchards underwater. Houses became arcs floating out to sea.

I cited facts from newspapers: 800 square miles of sweet water pouring into the sea at 100,000 cubic feet per second. Statistics in feet and inches mean nothing to him. He compares it to the tsunami waves that strike this coast.

I told the taxi driver: Now, three years later, there's a drought back home. He said, "Ah, but there is something much worse, the child of rain, El Niño. When he comes, the fish die, the pejerrey no longer fill our nets and there is nothing but sand for our bellies.

A remolino, or dust devil funnels dust up the spout of the sky. Sky the color of sand.

"Torrents of rain fell near here once," said the taxi driver. In Ica, to the south, a city swallowed by sand, there was once cloudburst and it caused utter devastation. No one had ever seen rain before and they were unprepared for the huge rivers of mud that overran the town on a race to the sea.

After four centuries of neglect, the huacas, the enormous mud brick pyramids are eroding into furrowed mountains. Detritus of of a lost civilization collects at their bases.

When I return from this driest desert of the world to the summer inferno of northern California, I will be amazed by how eons of water have shaped our mountains and valleys. Golden coastal hills with dark myriad crotches, where water pools before it begins its journey to the sea, will seem so flattened after seeing the soaring eroded heights of the Andes.

How could it be, the steep hillsides of my dreams where I ride my horses are not of home, but another continent? Stuttering ghosts repeat to themselves an idea in a language they don't understand, déjà vu. I cannot send the postcard to my dead grandmother so she visits me at night, she who wanted to come here.

I've forgotten the rich, loamy odor of damp soil—watering the garden on a summer evening. Sudden pungency of mint and hint of a darker mystery. I learned the meaning of bone-dry walking the dunes. Bleached bones scattered everywhere. A seal skull. A small carnivore--perhaps an otter. Lobos del mar y nutrias.

The fragment of jaw in my hand, disturbingly familiar. Healthy unblemished molars. A spinal column. A bit of cloth. Human hair. I drop my jaw, I'm standing in a looted grave. 7,000 years of Paracas culture escaped the gold-hunger disease of six-legged gods only to be exposed to 20th century collectors when the veil of sand was pulled back by the wind.

A femur with desiccated muscle still attached, I am reminded the Spanish borrowed the Quechua word for dried meat, charqui or jerkey. Irreverently, I find myself singing "Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones got to walk around. Now hear the sound of the Lord."

The whistling breath of Paracas. From the sand, I pull strands of long black hair bleached to fire by the sun. In the breeze, scraps of death shrouds, like prayer flags, flutter and tumble to new horizons. I fall into a trench left by grave robbers slowly filling with sand again; water seeking its own level.

The dead have no writing. One can begin to make out the patterns on the burial shrouds, heavy white cotton and delicate knotted lace. Looters took the colored tapestries. The weavings and knotted quipu strings were their records. In this most barren of places, the best weavers of the world were buried along with their textile skills. The stories are lost, swallowed by the desert.

Later, I will buy "dolls" dressed in ancient cloth looted from graves, replicas of "families" buried with the dead for company; they will whisper and order me about the whole night long. I will be exhausted by morning.

Ama suwa, ama llulla, ama k'ella. Don't be a robber, don't be a thief, don't be lazy. This is how the Inca people still greet each other. Inca isn't the right word. An Inca is a ruler, a chieftain. These are the native peoples of the Andes.

The Incas turned this whole coast and the Andes into a vast empire, bigger and more sophisticated than anything in Europe. Both the sun and the first Inca was born on an island in Lake Titicaca. Far from here.

Cuzco is the navel of the world. Paracas is a more ancient story on the knotted quipu string. The sad colonizations that followed have little to do with the timelessness of this place.

In the museum I encounter rows of bleached skulls, stripped of expression and flesh, save for the maniacal grin of death. Thousands of years of frozen mirth. Most of the textiles and pots are gone. Sold by curators and robbers to the highest bidder.

In a basket, a severed mummy hand. Long, delicate fingers, tapered nails. The revered hand of an artist or of a punished robber? Fishnets made with human hair cast out under stars haul in pieces of the moon.

In Paracas, where exfoliated rock enters into a second childhood turning back into sand and earth, where the rich build their empty houses on top of cemeteries of the long dead, where nothing grows, underground rivers soothe the thirst of mummies. Jawbones, human ribs arching up, pre-architectural.

Deformed skull, trepanned, delicate surgery to relieve the pressure of water on the warrior’s brain. The sand that swallowed the city of the dead for centuries, protecting them from looters, is receding and the dead have no rest. Grave robbers desecrate the long-buried, and sand scours bones white again.

The rich endure this desolate beauty a few weeks of the year. In the empty houses, ghosts sun themselves. Hummingbirds dip and sway in benediction beneath each unnatural flower. Hibiscus, marigold, jasmine, roses—Flor de Lima, the daughter of wealth, who helped the poor and was sainted for her efforts.

Santa Rosa de Lima, how you would weep to see it now. They are smuggling in food for those who can afford it from Ecuador. The campesinos eat potatoes and rice. Rice from China, papas from Peru. The verb to eat is papaer, to "potato."

I remember you telling me when you were young, you'd sneak into the blue eye of the swimming pool at the exclusive Hotel Paracas. How alien it must have seemed. From China your family came to fish in these waters.

You say Paracas is a bowl of historical dreams brimming with landings and sufferings of Indians, Africans and Chinese who spilled their culture and lost their dignity. This is why you write in the languages of your adopted countries.

At the Pisco bus station a Black woman shuffles and sings for spare change. Poverty too is dressed in a cloak of dust.

Ochre velvet earth like ichu grass of the Andean highlands or the golden hills of California. Tied to a palmetto, the resident lawn mower, an alpaca clipping the crab grass lawn is wary of human contact. Here, they plant crab grass because it grows where nothing else will.

This place even evades my camera. The rolls of photos I take of your family and this landscape disappeared, blank unexposed film. The gods jealous of the wealth of silver bromide erased those graven images. I bring you a chuspa filled with small rocks, jasper and quartz from your desert.

The sapphire ocean whips a froth of lace onto the beach, golden skin of Pachamama, mother earth. Someone left a pile of river stones to invoke rain and snow in the distant Andes so the water would come back home to the sea. They sent runners inland with sea water to sprinkle on the tops of nearby ridges and smoke into the clouds to remind them of their duty.

Finally I begin to understand why you who fled the Paracas of your birth for the material comforts of El Norte meant when you said there was nothing here. It wasn't the poverty. Not one tree, not one blade of grass, not even lichen will grow here willingly—though the thick fog rolls in at night five months of the year.

Searching for the right word, you meant that by confronting the vast emptiness, it stirred something inside you, freeing you from yourself. I walk into the dunes until I can see no disturbing traces of man, ancient or otherwise, and I want to keep on walking to see the mystery behind the next horizon, the next set of dunes.

Distant dunes draw me farther in, where there is nothing left to confront except sand, rock and bone. The riverbed is lost, buried in sand. The shards of clay pots scattered. Pachamama keening in the wind.

Paracas, caught in the blinding net can only dream of distances. Yes, the dust is everywhere. Dust in my mouth, grit in my eyes. Relentless wind hammers me down to get on with the business of burial.

8/21/88




and what happened to the poem version? DamU ASCII!





Friday, August 19, 1988

PUNO/AREQUIPA Festival of Santa Rosa de Lima



PUNO/AREQUIPA Festival of Santa Rosa de Lima 8/23/88


The Puno train station along with the Arequipa train station is amongst the worst in Peru for thievery. Thieves especially favor the evening and early morning trains….but there aren’t many other scheduled trains to pickpocket, so it makes the thieves all the more dangerous and desperate.

As a successful thief deterrent, I’ve found the best result is to play “bopper car” with my backpack. If anyone comes too close to me, sidling up to slash my pockets, they get bashed by my swinging pack. This makes for a silly walk ambulating with a sideways drunken twisting motion—Monty Python style. The ladrinos keep clear of me—I'm an unpredictable gringa.

8/19  Today is one of the few days I actually know what day it is. I've had no sense of time. South of the equator, my internal clock and equilibrium are so thoroughly sprung by the extreme northern winter sun, I can't seem to find firm footing. At night I can't even get my bearings by the stars. Familiar constellations are canted too far to the north. The Southern Cross is my guide. Only the moon and the sun remain constant.

This is the year of Año Marina. The Year of Mary parade. Today, they bring Máría out from the church, they air her out at twilight. She's beautiful, this gilded lace Mary of Chiapi—she rides on an extraordinary throne flotilla of flowers— marigolds and roses and carnations. She's paraded clockwise around the Plaza de Armas at sunset amid much fanfare and drums. The air and light are translucent. Crepuscular. Máría arrives back from where she started at the steps of the Catedral de Arequipa. her luck and grace dispersed, her journey done.

Young boys march in battle formation hoisting banners of Santa Rosa with California written on them. It gives me a start to see Santa Rosa de Lima with California embroidered on the banners. We are so far from home from our Santa Rosa, California—Alta California norte. What is the likelihood of those two names appearing on a single flag in South America? Apparently we do not own the name.  And who in Northern California even knows that Santa Rosa is named after the first New World woman saint?

I've a sudden pang for natal ground. Homesickness. A strange coincidence. We ask, Why California? It's a district in Arequipa, the taxi man tells me. A plausible reason ordinary and mundane after all. A cardinal dressed in red stands at the front gate of the church to welcome Máría home. Dignitaries mount the steps looking grimly important. Respite during a time of war. Sendero Luminoso are on the move. The country is at unrest. But for a moment, the clocks have stopped to honor Máría, Pachamama in Catholic dress.

The last time I saw a bishop was when I was confirmed. I remember kissing the square cut pale green stone, watery as his eyes. All the medieval pageantry nonsense disappeared. There was only me and him after all. I said the name I chose was Johanna, in memory of my best friend's mother who died in the fire. The bishop confirmed me Joanne. He said Johanna wasn't a saint's name. But Johanna, martyred by McCarthy, died at the stake for speaking a mother tongue.

Pale pigeons with sunset eclipsed on their wings. The first star, Venus on the horizon, The Southern Cross blessing us in a primal benediction older than Christianity, older than Man...



Wednesday, August 17, 1988

Amantani, Lake Titicaca, Peru


AMANTANI, LAKE TITICACA, PERU     8/17/88              

In the heart of the Peruvian Andes, Lake Titicaca, a deep blue inland sea intersticed with umber and sienna, reflects the sky and desert hills surrounding Puno with a vengeance. Horizons shimmer with lapis lazuli luminescence—the refractive quality of light on the altiplano so different at this great height.

An Indian in our boat plays a thin, atonal melody over and over with his quena flute, a bamboo penny whistle. "No, he corrects me, "it’s a piruru.—carved from a condor’s wing feather shaft  My perception begins to waver as he repeats the simple notes over and over. Or maybe it’s the thin air above 12,500 feet that’s affecting me.  

A channel wends along a wall of reeds; miles and miles of reeds; serpentine hissing, like pines in a high wind. Small mats of vegetation, algae and lakeweed carpets undulate, and constellations of bubbles escape from the shallow floor.

Uros fisherman

As we approach the land of the Uros nation—floating reed islands—giant Andean coots honk and scuttle among fallen tortoras. Ripples divide an Andean gull’s reflection  into four parts, a broken mirror, the four corners of the earth. “Reeds tied together in a clump mark the edges of the channel,” says the old boatman in halting Spanish, as he polled the reed boat with slow measured movements. Tortoras—everything, even the floating islands are made from the tall reed. We debark onto a bowed wooden plank. The islands make a rollicking motion beneath our feet, like walking on a huge waterbed.  


An Uros fisherman, perhaps the village idiot, repeatedly shakes our hands, pats our shoulders and peels a reed for me to eat. He strips off the outer bark and hands it to me, “Para comer,” he says, with a decayed smile, “Eat.” And stares. I hesitate, hoping that the reed has filtered the raw sewage pouring from the open gutters of Puno—a desperate town if ever there was one. It tastes mallowy, of dank, white underbelly, like the insides of the river elder stem.

A tethered pig roots and squeals when I approach. Uros is a landless nation. Soon, the pig will root his way through the island and drown!  Grubby children sell replicas of reed boats. The women hawk crudely embroidered wall hangings. We buy nothing and feel saddened by the children begging, it’s much worse here than in Cuzco.

At least in Cuzco, home to more than 3,000 street children, there are more tourists to beg and steal from. We escape to the boat, it becomes a refuge from this poverty and bleakest of lives. We have no words in Aymara to say hello, goodbye or sorrow, for that matter.

I watch the young ones play at the water’s edge; they are like children anywhere. A rotting reed boat with someone’s bundled manta inside, plastic litter, a charcoal brazier—pathetic remnants of a way of life that’s no longer viable. Soon, they will be all gone.

The Uros language is all but lost. Most Uros islanders have intermarried with the Aymara Indians. Anthropologists speculate that like the Pomos of Northern California, where I'm from, the Uros are among the oldest native peoples in South America. Persecuted by the Incas and by the Colla Aymaras for centuries on end, they took to hiding in the reeds. This way of life among the reeds became their culture—like that of the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. 

We bear witness to the last breath of a dying nation that so vividly captured the 1950s imagination of my youth. The Lake Titicaca of my dreams held vast ornate cities and large floating islands—not these small barren straw bale outposts of civilization, if you could call it that  More like subsistence survival.  Where were the big-breasted women in grass skirts posing in reed boats I'd seen in back issues of National Geographic?

We head for the island of Amantani because the boat happened to be going there to drop off supplies, our original destination was the more populous island of Taquile but there was no scheduled boat. It’s a grueling four-hour boat ride to Amantani and onto yet another culture. This is the seat of the Quechua Incas, the Inca conquerors who built the fabled stone cities we'd made pilgrimage to: Machu Picchu, P’isac, and Sajacmarca.

Lake Titicaca is a desert lake the size of an inland sea situated more than two miles above sea level. I keep looking for seals and test the air for the familiar salt tang. It smells more of the earth, dank cellars or moldy grain.

The barefoot men of Amantani wear thick black wool pants, white billowy shirts and vests, knitted hats with long tassels and earflaps. There is such rivalry between the island people of Amantani and Taquile, they won’t even intermarry. I imagine a Quechua version of Romeo and Juliet set in the weaving and textile capital of the Andes. The indio says “Amantani  es mejor. Hay muchas ruinas.”  He tells us the island of Taquile has none...

But later I find out that the island of Taquile, the more popular tourist destination, too, has many ruins. I am saddened by the boatman’s zealous misinformation. When will I ever have the opportunity to come here again to bear witness to this place? 

These ancient cultures we seek are swiftly dying from the vicissitudes of tourism. We too are part of the problem, but our varied and sullen art helps us document what we see. I am traveling to the underbelly of the world with my boyfriend, poet and translator, John Oliver Simon—we are on a quest in search of the poets of South America.. This is a side trip. Kavafy's Journey, not the destination.

Small trout and gorgeous large, gold-headed fish swim among the aquatic plants. I sense the movement of something large under the water—what loch monster lives in these depths? The suche, the world’s largest freshwater fish, lives here along with sweet water mackerel, or the pejerrey. Are they truly mackerel? or are we having a cross cultural linguistic conundrum? How did ocean-going fish get into this lake two miles above sea level? If they're really mackerel, an ancient lake, or perhaps even a sea, Titicaca must have risen up from the sea floor with the Andes themselves.

“We use small nets, fishing only at night, we fish under a full moon or at dawn—and still we catch nothing,” says a fisherman. “The water’s too deep and cold here. There is better fishing there among the reeds.” This highest navigable lake, as all the guidebooks proclaim, is the largest navigable lake above 2,000 meters in the world. Higher than Lake Victoria. Bernardo O'Higgins launched his dream of the Chilean Navy from here.

Vital statistics in feet or meters mean little to me. I have to experience it though my senses. At nearly 12,600  ft. above sea level, Lake Titicaca, with its 36 islands, not counting the artificial islands of the Uros, is 105 miles long. We’re in open water, buffeted by offshore winds. An incongruous red lateen-rigged sailboat on a long reach makes it seem like we’re in Egypt instead of Peru.

The fisherman talks of the  fierce winter storms that ravage this place and how huge waves mercilessly pound the shore. We watch the steamship from Bolivia belch thick black ropes into the painfully thin blue air.  No place for pollution to go in a fragile ecosystem perched at the ceiling of the sky.


The volcanic island of Amantani looms up, like terraced breasts. We manage a rocky beach landing and crawl up from the rocks like antediluvian ancestral ooze over terraces of bright green corn sprouting up like bamboo forests, and eucalyptus. We climb over tilled deep red earth and stone fences, panting from the altitude. No roads, not even a path. No horses, no carts, no automobiles.

We gringos are assigned to a family for the night. The island swallows us up like darkness. I spray our tortora reed bed and blankets with bug spray for fleas. They are busily feeding on my ankles. We take refuge on the wicker bed. But the bed’s so short, we have to sleep diagonally.

The outhouse on the cliff, with its raised (Middle Eastern) foot-rests, has a great view of the sunset across the lake. All the terraces are sloped at a 45 degree angle. Though the village of Santa Rosa de Amantani was founded only 20 years ago, the Quechua Incas still live a an ancient lifestyle untouched by the coming of white or mestizo cultures.

Amantani’s whole, like the town of Otavalo in the Ecuadorian highlands. No disease of dominant culture demanding conformity, has encroached. The thread of craft and  pride are unbroken. No electricity, no hot water. Communal water from the ditches. No litter! No usual toilet paper and the ubiquitous plastic, in pink and blue, that is so much a part of Peru.

Children play fúbol in an empty field. Rock arches everywhere. Magical doorways frame lake and sky at every turn. Adobe, brown on brown. A baby cries, its mother exclaims over it in Quechua. I gasp. It literally hurts to breathe up here.

Another woman in a full red skirt and a black manta, borrows something from a neighbor and hurries back with a white plastic bucket, to the kitchen, where earlier, I watched the cuy, the native guinea pigs destined for future dinners, whistle and scuttle into their stone houses beneath the hearth. One large black macho fellow, like an apparition with red eyes, stared at me coldly as I eyed his harem. That explains all the black hair in my tepid tea.

This morning, when John went downstairs again to check on the progress of our hot water for morning coffee (such as it was), he found, not the señora, but a sheep rattling around in the kitchen! We burst into paroxysms of laughter at the thought of sheep fixing us breakfast.

There are no cafes on the island. We make reservations with the señorita at the tienda to boil water for afternoon coffee. Ironically, coffee in Latin America is black gold, it is exported, converted into currency, then it is imported again as instant Nescafe. Real brewed coffee is rare—even in Guatemala or in Ecuador, where we’d just been.

I’m still queasy after yesterday’s meal and I’m worried about the cleanliness of the water. Nothing boils at this high altitude. The water has a sweet off-flavor, a manure bouquet masked by a peaty sheep dung smokiness. After finding cuy fur in my mug, I resort to adding drops of bleach to my coffee. I tend to get horrifically sick on the road. After a bout with bad sausages, compounded by a virus, I’d lost so much weight while in Lima and in Cuzco, my health was already compromised. I still had a chest cold and a ruptured eardrum wasn’t helping matters.

Our roommates, Helen McGill, a grandmother from New Zealand, and her  mountaineering friend, Greg, are very cheerfully sipping my bleach-infused beverage. How easily we gringos resort to swapping intestinal tales by way of introduction. They’re both suffering from severe chest colds too. He had pneumonia from exposure, from climbing above 20,000 feet, and he had frostbite on his toes. He shows me his  black-purple toes, and wonders if he'll lose them. I think gangrene. Their hoarse coughing keeps us awake—it sounds like a seal rookery late at night.

The local maté seems to be a type of pennyroyal--a sprig of herbaceous bush with leaves so tiny it makes identification difficult. Young Villen, our host’s eldest son, who stares longingly at our small cache of food with the soft eyes of a begging dog, brought us handfuls of maté with each meal. Soon our table was covered with piles of small twigs. Not much in the way of plant life—except the maté—manages to survive the voracious appetites of sheep. We also had to keep an eye on our meager stash of chocolate (emergency rations) whenever Villen was in the room.

Dinner cooks in earthen pots, the round ollas blackened by a sheep dung fuel and charcoal fire. With the setting sun comes the high altitude chill. The lake is an aqua-grey, fluxed by wind. Last night, a surprise rain drummed impatiently on the galvanized roof—a sign of wealth. A new economy comes to the island. The adobe houses where we gringos—with our coins—stay, all sport new tin rooves!

The separate kitchens still have traditional thatched reed rooves. Five girls dressed in full skirts of deep red and green, rush to the kitchen of the house, amid peals of laughter. When we can no longer see to paint and write, we head in for dinner.  More greasy rice and potatoes. At this altitude, the insides of the rice kernels are uncooked.

Our host asked us if we were ready to eat, using a new Peruvian-Spanish verb we’d never heard before, papaer instead of comer. This gave us a clue as to what to expect by way of cuisine. Papas and rice for lunch, rice with papas for dinner. It was funny, since I’m of Irish descent, and my ancestors survived the Great Potato Famine. Potatoes were a daily staple in my grandmother’s house.

Why do I only crave catsup when on the road? Future travel note: One should bring fast food catsup packages, cooking gear and food to this island—as well as offerings of fruit and vegetables. Candy isn’t a good house gift. There’s no dental care whatsoever here.

We couldn’t get gas cartridges for the Bluet stove and so we left it in Puno. Note: next time, bring a Primus stove that accepts many types of fuel. I’m sorry to say, I’m beginning to lust after those cuy. Potatoes and rice grow old fast.   

John and I spend the day hiking up to the ruins on the top of the volcanoes of Pachamama and Pachatayta. When I ask the old Amantani woman we met half-way up the mountain, what Pachamama a and Pachatayta mean, she pats both my breasts at the same time saying, Pachamama. Breasts. Mother. Twins.” She pats one breast, and then the other, saying, bridegroom/brother, sister/bride. “Pachatayta,” she says. I’ve been unusually blessed  by her hands. She asks for my turquoise hishi necklace the color of the sky, a gift from my beloved. She offers me her traditional hat. He watches with amusement as I struggle with having to say no.

From the heights of Pachamama, beyond the town of Juliaca on the mainland, we spy the lapis gleam of another lake set in a shimmering salt pan, and its twin mirage hovering in the sky. We penetrate the past with our bodies, we follow the path up the next mountain, passing through archways—each one progressively older and more primitive than the last. We raise a fallen stone lintel back up across the door of a shepherd’s hut.  We explore ancient roofless huts with moss-covered niches. We ascend the layers of a lost civilization.

At the top of a pyramid—a five-step ziggurat—we leave offerings. Coca leaves and banana ash. Water and bread. We offer smoke to the sky to remind it of the cycles.  

This is the last place I will make the sacred offerings to the dead: to Dave Evans and to my grandmother. It’s been a year to the day of the Harmonic Convergence, when we rode horses to San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, seeking, seeking; we drank aguardiente with the village elders, we offered up old coins with the head of Quetzocoatl to the altar box, we lit candles among the pine needles and rose petals scattered on the Mayan church floor, and we saw our likenesses reflected in the smoking mirrors placed on the breasts of old world saints.

In San Cristobál de las Casas, the Harmonic Convergence was anything but harmonic. Brothers Ivan and José Arguelles were way off on all this New Age stuff. Fending off something more primitive and  malignant, we sat up, terror-stricken all night on the roof of the hotel, waiting for the safety of dawn. Not only were the newly dead viciously haunting me, my grandmother and the small fish inside, something was trying to strangle me in my sleep. The hummingbird messenger of death arrived twice in the night. I recognized John’s friend, Kayla and my friend, Dave Evans, in the dreams. But some other dark entity from the bottom of the imagination rose up, wanting out—as if the gates of the Otherworld had opened. Crack between worlds.

Westering days like beads, draw us backwards toward our existence.  Between the cleavage of volcanoes, unnamed birds fly before us—similar to yellow flickers, plovers or whimbrels—uttering a strange mournful cry of distress;  as if ancient people were trapped within the bodies of birds.

John’s deep into his journal, so I wander off to explore the ruin at the top of Pachamama, it’s a round fortress, but the entrance is blocked off with rocks. Something moves inside—a clatter of hooves and stone. As I climb through the opening, heart in my throat, a merino sheep leaps over the stone wall and  escapes, my racing heart blurs my vision. It’s nothing like I imagined it to be at this highest of lakes.

Inside the enclosure, I can no longer see the 360 degree meniscus where blue lake and sky struggle for definition, or dominance, this place where the sun was said to be born and the first Inca sprung from a hole in the earth.

The abandoned altars are not in the center, where you would expect, but off center in three concentric tiers within a hexagon. The red phallus at the southern altar seems out of place, an extra punctuation amid female forms. Pachatayta is visible through the gap. Like a gunsight. I think of the heelstone at Stonehenge.

I am the ageless woman lying within this grassy circle, offering smoke for the dead. I chew coca leaves; want to complete the ritual, but John comes in all business as usual. The unborn child who wore no face at all, travels with us still. He is unraveling us from within.

To pass the time, as John writes, I piece together some shards. A floral design emerges from traditional unglazed pottery stained with iron oxide, white pigment and ochre clay slips. After the chicha drinking ceremony, the Incas still dash pots against the rocks— the same way we throw glasses against a fireplace after a toast. Break the sacred vessel for luck. Pachamama has a terrible thirst and is easily offended if she isn’t offered a drink.

How old are these shards? Weeks, centuries? The old curandera at the archway told us that the Incas make two pilgrimages to the top of the volcanoes; on July 25th (Independence Day), and again on New Years Day. The local priest, the cura, does he participate?  Copious drinking, dancing and... I gather evidence by way of ribbon streamers and flowers.

As we leave Pachamama, I don’t remember placing a stone on top of the ancient stone phallus. Rubbing Priapus for good luck. But John records this event in his journal and he tells me to go back and hide my offerings from the elements.  

Pachatayta, the square temple, is in better repair. Stone gates are closed  off with more stones. Niches are filled with bleached snail shells and the cuy hearth houses show signs of recent use. Moss on the south sides of stones in the Southern Hemisphere reminds me of where I am. Tin-lined doors are reinforced with hand-forged hinges and modern rusted padlocks seal off shallow tunnels—the cuy minotaur’s miniature labyrinth to the underworld. There is evidence of recent ceremonial fires in the fire pit. Broken chicha jars. Button offerings made of bone. Years in the cracks of stones. We are trespassers in an ancient and alien world.

How many archways covered with flowers have we passed through to get here?  Each arch, the eye of a needle, once held sacred tapestries and gold for the Inca; the human thread polishing the stone carvings of Janus heads, llamas, whales and vessels. Whales??  Here? I scan the inland sea for signs.

The arches are a polyglot of cultures Roman and Moorish, korbeled and trapezoid. It could be the hillsides of Greece. Corfu  in the distance. Circular breathing. Phalli, crusted with the white splatter of bird guano crown the crest of each gate, garlanded with dried flowers at their bases.  

Pachamama and Pachatayta, Mother and Father earth is everywhere. Rae Pieraccini, a friend of Luis Kong’s, is a Kaiser nurse from Santa Rosa, California, who lives in Cuzco. Rae said when she first came here, she heard Pachamama crying in her dream. Crying for the children. That’s why she stayed here, to feed the children.        


Pachamama is crying. These stones, this offering; is it too late for the earth?  Have the Inca gods abandoned the top of this mountain? The terraces still yield gardens—annual stubble of wheat and corn. Dry irrigation. Harvest.

Despite the founding of the new village, Santa Rosa de Amantani, thousands of years of unbroken tradition remain. Tiny, dark two-storied houses remain. Generations come and go like the tide. It is hard to remember Titicaca is a lake, not an ocean.

The plaza is cobbled with black and white stones like the hand-smoothed ones I found on the path at the huaca. César Vallejo’s Piedra Negra. Black stone over white stone. More than meets the eye, these stones are arranged in a pre-Hispanic profane game of the dead; as they are in the ruins of the sacred city of Pachacamac, where I placed a piece of cranium on top of the stela. Black stone over white stone is the move of death said the poet César Vallejo who died just as he predicted he would in Paris on a Thursday in the rain.


 It is said the sun god, Inti, was born on an island not far from here. The  Incas claim this place to be their world womb. Either an older culture was settled here and the Incas took over, or this really is the birthplace of Machu Picchu’s stone builders.


Rough-split slabs with fresh chisel marks on them—this volcanic rock doesn’t make for good corners. At a cliffside quarry on Pachamama, stonecutters search for clear stone to dress, divide them with crowbars and hammers, the ringing of steel on rock reverberates on the opposite cliff. Hammer and tong. Not pneumatic drill and saw. Iron is the only new invention in the quarrier’s lineage.

There are so few modern touches here, it’s as if we stepped back in time. The island literally has no roads—just cobbled Inca paths shared with merino sheep and an occasional wayward pig. it’s like being in the Blasket Islands off the coast of Kerry. Only the boats are different. No oxhide or canvas curraghs, but reed or wooden boats. Sure, some of the wooden boats have engines. Otherwise it would take days to get to Puno or La Páz.

And we could hear a lone chainsaw whining out its days, readying the village for winter from various parts of the island and we imagined it to be communal  property. A teenager passes us with his ghettoblaster blaring music in Quechua.  We are back again in the 20th century.

At the weaving co-op, I tie bracelets I made from wool scraps onto the wrists of young girls gathered around me. In spite of the language barrier, we giggle in a mixture of broken Spanish and Quechua. I teach them the string games my grandmother and I used to spend hours playing: cat’s cradle, the ladder, lightning rod, the throne. At first they have trouble getting the sequence right, but soon they are able to play with each other. Will they share the game with others or will they forget the patterns after I leave?

The curandera again pats my breasts, shows me the symbol for Pachamama on a woven belt—a circle divided into six parts. Cardinal directions. Up and down. Hexagon. In this way I come to understand the seventh point is completion; the center of the self.


The weavers all greet us, shake our hands; we’re old friends after yesterday’s buying spree. Intent on a sale, the old woman dresses me in a vest and native hat. The hat, a nearly flat quilted disk with yellow, red and black felt flowers embroidered on it, was amazing and extraordinary, even by Peruvian standards.  But I felt funny buying someone’s best hat. Sacrilege of culture. Instead, I give her a silver ring from my hand and they finger my jewelry—especially the turquoise, the sacred stone of the sky.

The men and girls carry their wool spindles with them everywhere, throwing them down to the earth with a deft motion, mad dervishes spinning fleecy clouds into thread. Warp and weft of this continent.

At the island school in the village, the children sit two to a desk on either side of the room. Peach walls, white ceiling ringed with rain rot. Natural light, no electricity. John, who is a bilingual teacher at Oakland Unified School District, gives a little discurso, a speech to the 4th graders on  his class in California, and on poesia y beisbol.  The maestra translates what she can into Quechua. We recite some student poems in Spanish, she gives up. They are all wide-eyed, these gringo strangers speaking to them is a real novelty.

The children sing to us in Quechua. We imagine it to be an anthem of sorts and they sing us another mnemonic learning songs naming the countries in central & South America. Goose bumps on my arms when they sing Guatemala. I’m moved to tears... their beautiful voices soaring up into the same air. I manage to sneak a photo but it’s very dark.

The principal comes in, he’s is a little miffed that we walked into his school without asking him first, but the maestra seems very pleased to have foreign visitors. I wonder if they even have any idea where California is. They may have heard of Santa Rosa de Lima de California, but that is a Limeño name, not referring to our Alta California, though both must share the same 15th century source, Garcia de Montalvo’s novella, "Las Adventuras de Esplendian."

We estimate the number of students to be about 210. This is an immersion school. Children begin school speaking native Quechua and switch over to Spanish by about 4th grade.  There is also a colegio, 7-12th grade as well, but most kids probably won’t continue schooling after 6th grade. Students attend school year-round, Monday through Thursday, four days a week.

The teachers, imported from Puno, are quick to head back to civilization for the three-day weekend. Hence the motor boats! The ridiculously low salary of about US $40 a month at the current exchange rate, made John’s wages seem like that of a millionaire!

Most families subsist on a yearly income of $15, or less. With inflation at 5,000 percent a year and rising, it’s hard to see how they survive. Here, the Maoist guerrilla group, Sendero Luminoso, seems far away. No riots, tanks or tear-gassing like in Lima, where, a month earlier, on Independence Day, we stumbled  upon the body of prominent Leftist lawyer Manuel Febres Flores, executed by the  right wing military in the Chorillos tunnel. Our Limeño friend, poet Carlos Orellano, said, “don’t  look” as we sped off to safety.

Here, there are no threats of general strike. Nor civil war. Or food shortages. They’re smuggling in powdered milk and grain from Ecuador. We learn somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 peasants have officially disappeared. Others whisper it’s ten times that amount. A skirmish in Ayacucho. A mass grave in Tingo Maria. Someone says, “that’s the army’s trademark; not the Sendero’s.”

Soldiers stopped us on the Cuzco-Puno train in the middle of nowhere and checked our luggage. It was then I noticed the carpet ichu grass was pale green, more the color of khaki than of gold. Presidente Alan García is losing his Kennedy-like image after nationalizing the banks and waffling on the national debt. There are rumors about his resignation, and of a military coup.

Novelist Mario Vargas Llosa announces his candidacy for presidency in 1990; he is stumping across the country with a vengeance. Our poet friends in Lima say simply, with resignation, “The Senderos will win. Hopefully, their politics will mellow with time.”

Here, the only shining path is that of the sun and moon on Lake Titicaca. Señor Bernardo C., our host, said there are nearly 4,000 people living on the island. Between the two villages, I would have guessed 2,000. They must all be related to each other.

Certainly, more sheep than people live on the island. A commute rush hour of diminutive merino sheep clog the paths as young shepherdesses guide them to forage among the rocks of the upper terraces. No more alpaca on this overgrazed island. Barely enough for the sheep to eat. I touch the backs of tiny babies as they trot by on delicate legs. No bigger than spaniels, the rams with their quadruple horns sticking up like the devil’s own, eye us suspiciously.

Isolated on this Island for so long, these sheep must be genetically similar to the first sheep brought by the Spanish--like the endangered Navajo chorro sheep at the genetic seed bank in Freestone, but more docile. The short furry pigs intermingle with the sheep. Do they know they’re a separate species? Evidence trots by in the form of a litter suggests they do know they’re pigs after all.

One hears the word ari often. In Quechua, ari means an affirmation. Almost like in Irish, where there is no direct word for yes, arra becomes a sign of yes. In Aymara, ari  means peace; in Irish, arra also means God.

On the way to school, Villen takes us down a different path, to catch our boat—the low road. I hum, a Scottish ballad: I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye. But me and my true love will ne’r meet again.... It’s hard to say goodbye. People greet us  with genuine warmth here.

Buenos Dias, or with an echo of ari anchu.  Like the women of Yucatan, the women here openly smile upon us—not with the open hostility that greets gringos most places we go.

I keep thinking of connections between unrelated cultures. The hanging  gardens of the mythological Irish, the Fir Bolgs, the bag men who carried bags of soil in leather bags—the Irish phrase sounding a lot like Guatemala. Mala. Bag. Another word for bag, bolsa, entered into the Spanish by way of the Iberian Celts, ancestors of the Irish.

With my camera I record polling technique of an Uros fisherman on his reed boat. Others also saw similarities  between unrelated cultures. Thor Heyerdal and the Ra. reed boats, classic design—like the boats of the ancient Egyptians, and the Guatemalans. I mentally add to that list of comparisons, the reed boats of the Ohlone, the Pomo, and the Coast Miwok Indians of California.

Villen has no ready answer when we ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. There is so much that culturally separates us. He’s never even left the island, let alone, been to the summits of the island to see the ruins of his ancestors. He has never been to Puno, nor seen a car, or watched TV, or read poetry by an electric light bulb.

We give him postcards of our home, the ocean and the California coast. When we ask him if he’d like to see the ocean, he can’t decide if he wants to or not.

His father is a worldly man. He’s been to Lima and to Cuzco; he has  traveled to the known world and its underbelly and he still he remembers the seabirds and the salt tang of the ocean after all these years. He has watched visitors from all parts of the world come to his doorstep and eat his potatoes. His father before him was a farmer who also grew papasPapaemos? Shall we eat?” Potatoes and  rice. More potatoes.

Through the floorboards, we listen to Villen chanting his times tables to his father until the candles gutter and fail. It’s dark as the backside of the moon. The crescent moon throws multitudes of its progeny across the waters of Titicaca. Villen tells me the word for moon is quilia, sobbing coinage in the deep pockets of the lake. We savor the sound. What good will those times-tables do him on this island?

His ancestor, the last Inca, Atahualpa, filled whole rooms with silver and gold, and still Pizarro severed his head when the sun rose. Their reasoning was, he got to heaven faster that way. When he asked if any of his friends were in heaven, the padres said no. He said, “then I choose hell.”

Last night the dreams converged, my horses came back, hidden in the hills  all these years, one last visit and they disappear. Preoccupied with the cardinal directions, each evening at sunset, I feel the loss of something unnamable. My grandmother chose to die dreaming towards evening when shadows form a bridge between the islands of the Otherworld and the now.

A silver crescent resting on the trees, a  shining phoenix. I dream John brings me a bomb for my birthday and I awake in a sweat. We are unraveling faster than we can weave—the pattern lost somewhere in the jungles of Tikal. We didn’t see the trail threading down to the village, steep enough to make us walk deliberately and with care, was a timeline, a metaphor waiting for completion.



The huge snow-capped range, the Cordillera Real of Bolivia and the islands of the sun and moon, the center of the earth beckon. Three months on the Gringo Trail, time to head for home, he says, there’s always next year.  But next year never comes. There is only the now.

Inti sol. At the birthplace of the sun, Villen’s father collects  1,000 intis from us for each night we sleep here. The equation reads something like this: a thousand  intis equals one million soles, which equals one million sunrises, or 3,000 years of civilization, times two nights. How long have his ancestors lived in this island? What were our ancestors doing  In Europe 6,000 years ago?

The boat that takes us back to Puno and the 20th century has brass 20-centavo pieces nailed to the roof; the brass worth more as washers than as coinage. In port, the first mate poles the boat through streams of duckweed, pale green confetti. As we approach shore, tiny suns ride the crest of each crosshatched ripple the wind tosses back at us. One can see the undulation of the waves beneath the ripples. One pattern superimposed upon another—like the myriad cultures trapped within the imperfect geometric complexity of our lives.







Note Bene: I transcribed these journal entries in 1988 - 1990, hence the variable dates. (I'm moving them all to 1988, journal entry date, not transcription/revision date). We were in South America during the summer of 1988. I was trying to publish these stories, or at least find a home for them. I've a vague recollection of the Machu Picchu piece being published in The Paper.

I was readying several of these Peru pieces pieces for an anthology, House on Via Gombito: Writing by North American Women Abroad. I also wrote Bill Truesdale, the editor for New RIvers Press, St. Paul, MN, a rather zany letter about my travels across the USSR. He took the letter, and not the stories.

After an incredible journey through South America, John Oliver Simon broke up with me, left me for a young blonde former student of his, and it took me nearly a decade to recover from the horror of it all. Going to the USSR in 1989 was my salvation—and still John was trying to reel me back in. Or maybe he was doing the AA thing, in his case, the SA 12-step thing, atoning for his wrongdoings. By that point, I wouldn't even give him the time of day. Ironically, we managed to heal the gap nearly 35 years later. So it's fitting that these pieces finally get to see daylight, after languishing in darkness for so long.   —Maureen Hurley 2/26/2014

I've very few photos transcribed over to the electronic medium, another project. Here are three small albums.

Machu Picchu
Peru
Galapagos

Thursday, August 11, 1988

Machu Picchu: Hiking the Inca Trail (photos)


MACHU PICCHU  8/11/88


We hiked the fabled Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a forest fire hot on our heels. Every August, the campesinos set fire to their fields to enrich the soil, to send smoke to the clouds to make rain; every August the selva burns. Wildfires. 

Macchu-Picchu with smoke from massive fires
Peru has a policy of not putting out fires, not because they believe in a natural burn system, but because they don't have high altitude fire fighting planes, or chemicals to combat the forest fires. It's an attitude, a way of life.

Peru is famous for its corrupt government officials. Those in charge of the national monument either don't care, or can't enforce the no-burn policy in the park. Officials also say there's no money to fight forest fires. Canadian and French officials happened to be in Peru at the time of the fire and they put pressure on the Peruvians to do something about it. This, after 17 days of letting the fire burn up one watershed and down another. 

Huailabamba shrouded in smoke


When cloud forest habitats are destroyed, they don't regenerate. The Peruvian  cloud forests are rapidly disappearing due to increased colonization which follows after the selva burns. The rare and exotic plants will eventually be replaced by ichu grass for livestock. Meanwhile, the erosion will be tremendous.


The Andes are unbelievably steep. When the first rains come in September and October, torrents of muddy water will turn the Urubamba river into a conveyor belt of lost soil. Though many of the ancient Incan terraces are still used, sustenance farming at altitudes of 8,000 to 12,000 feet isn't easy. Also the rare plant and animal species are threatened by burning practices. 

The surviving rare spectacled bears, pumas—already threatened species lose their habitat. It's been dubbed an ecological disaster by the Peruvian Civil Defense Committee whose job is to protect the Sanctuary.

The thing is, this catastrophe happens year after year. This year's fire destroyed over 7,000 acres in 17 days and when we left Peru it was still burning. Soon, there will be no more cloud forest left. Each ridge, each valley supports different species—different and unique ecosystems. Every fire destroys and endangers species already on the brink of extinction.

Unless national and international pressure is put on the Department of Civil Defense, the burning will continue, even though it's illegal to burn within the Sanctuary. They have laws to protect the Sanctuary. They just don't see  the need to enforce them.

Of course, politically speaking, Peru is one hell of a hot spot these days. The leftist-Maoist Sendero Luminoso, the conservative APRA and other extremist political factions are splitting the country apart. Inflation is rampant—1500% in two months. There are food shortages. Black market powdered milk smuggled in from Ecuador was selling well. Food prices have doubled in six weeks. Those in power continue to gain wealth through these misfortunes. It's a matter of time before civil war and a distinct possibility of a military takeover.

The other sad news is the fabled Inca Trail is utterly trashed. The trail, a major tourist attraction is used primarily by Europeans. Since the 1986 bombing of the tourist train of Machu Picchu, few North Americans are traveling in Peru. The Inca Trail is the filthiest trail I've ever hiked. Toilet paper, plastic cans, Bluet gas canisters. All us first world folks are responsible for this mess. The latrine of Peru.

In a village nearby, there is a festival. The endangered condor, the symbol of the indios rides the bull of Spain to victory—will the Peruvians ever be free of the yoke of imperialism?
 
Mo & Paco, the Alpaca at Machu Picchu © John Oliver Simon 1988

Me & Paco, the itchy alpaca, el major poeta de la ciodad perdida. What you can't see  in the photo is that he's wagging his lips in ecstasy, I found the resident lawnmower's sweet spot.





 


Note Bene: I transcribed these journal entries in 1988 - 1990, hence the variable dates. (I'm moving them all to 1988, journal entry date, not transcription/revision date). We were in South America during the summer of 1988. I was trying to publish these stories, or at least find a home for them. I've a vague recollection of the Machu Picchu piece being published in The Paper. 

I was readying several of these Peru pieces pieces for an anthology, House on Via Gombito: Writing by North American Women Abroad. I also wrote Bill Truesdale, the editor for New RIvers Press, St. Paul, MN, a rather zany letter about my travels across the USSR. He took the letter, and not the stories. 

After an incredible journey through South America, John Oliver Simon broke up with me, left me for a young blonde former student of his, and it took me nearly a decade to recover from the horror of it all. Going to the USSR in 1989 was my salvation—and still John was trying to reel me back in. Or maybe he was doing the AA thing, in his case, the SA 12-step thing, atoning for his wrongdoings. By that point, I wouldn't even give him the time of day. Ironically, we managed to heal the gap nearly 35 years later. So it's fitting that these pieces finally get to see daylight, after languishing in darkness for so long.   —Maureen Hurley 2/26/2014

I've very few photos transcribed over to the electronic medium, another project. Here are three small albums.

Machu Picchu
Peru
Galapagos



2/2017 I finally scanned the rest of my South America photos, I still need to process, and upload them to Google Photos. If all goes well, the links above will work, but Google killed off Picasa, and left orphans all over the place. A nightmare for me, as I lost all my album prose, identifying people and places. To add insult to injury the photo albums also lost their creation dates, they were moved to the last edit date of the photo.