Peru summer 2017

The other night my dad invited me to a reading from someone at the Mennonite church that had just published his memoir chronicling his life from his birthplace in Paraguay, retracing ancestral roots to Russia and persecution there and extending the roots that he himself had stretched into North America at the age of twenty years old. His friends and mentor introduced Erv and then he read a few excerpts of his story. Lastly, he had each of his family members present–children and grandchildren–read stories that they most identified with from his book. I found the whole presentation very touching and an exercise in modern-day storytelling that I had never seen before. Each of the voices took it’s own shape, but through the framework of Erv’s original story.

Our Focus of Inquiry for our Peru six-week course this summer was storytelling and communication. We heard and experienced so many stories during the oh so short time we spent together. Stories of hardship, of trauma, of joy, of love, of privilege, of gratitude touched us from within our group of travelers. And stories with these same themes touched us from outside our group of travelers. Stories have come to us about the magical place called Peru from the high snowy peaks of the Andes, to the dense green forests of the Amazon, to the citadel of mystical Machu Picchu. We learned from people who inhabit all of these spaces, and thus learned a bit more about what it means to be a human in these often broken, bewildering, and besieged times.

I’d like to share with you now some of our time together and I will try to punctuate opportune times with pictures for your enjoyment and increased understanding of our wonderful experience together.

Our adventure began in Lima where, after excited and nervous introductions in the airport, we traveled to our orientation destination in Caraz, a beautiful permaculture eco-lodge called Apu (or Mountain) Eco-Lodge with a view of the Cordillera Blanca. In our three days there, we built a supportive group culture, started learning about Peruvian history and culture, and outlined different course components so that students would be familiarized with our learning goals and outcomes. This course mostly focused on the focus of inquiry outlined above, as well as rugged travel, trekking, home-stays, and developmental studies.

In the map above you can see most of the places we went to. Cities of interest are Lima where we landed. Caraz->Huaraz->Parque Nacional Huascarán->Pucallpa (in this map right next to Yarinacocha)->Cuzco->Machu Picchu
Short walk outside of Apu Eco Lodge one of the crops is carnations.
At Apu Eco Lodge playing a team-building activity.

From orientation we went to Huaraz, where we spent two days preparing for our first trek. We went to the mercado and stocked up on supplies and met with the trekking company and our guide to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the mountainous land we were about to trod. Then we traveled to Parque Nacional Huascarán by bus, enjoying the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca glistening and grand, through the dusty bus windows. Huascarán National Park is the highest tropical mountain range in the world and holds close to 660 glaciers and 300 lagoons. We (instructors and students alike) were a bundle of nerves that didn’t know how to diffuse. So as the bus bumped along the road our nerves jostled along as well and we sat in nervous anticipation of what lied ahead.

View from our hostel in Huaraz.

Upon arrival to Pomabamba we stayed overnight in a friendly and spacious hostal to be greeted the following morning by our three arrieros (Agustín, young and timid, Geraldo, silent and somber, and Zenón, our all-knowing hero), fourteen mules, and trusty emergency horses–Mono and Juan. During our rugged and isolated trek through the park, students learned the basics of trekking, philosophy of Leave No Trace, and how to keep safe (although we did have a few close-calls with symptoms of altitude sickness and some kind of bacteria that most of the group got halfway through our trek) and warm in the high Andes. Students also got the chance to practice camping behaviour by setting up and tearing down tents when time allowed, cooking food, and learning about the park through our guide and mountain enthusiast, Eduardo, and our trusty and steadfast arrieros.  We crested mountain passes over 4,800 meters, enjoyed the cool of glaciers, and looked with awe into crystal lagoons. After hiking for a week we concluded our expedition to the park with a short bus-ride back to Huaraz to relax and recover from our rugged adventure in the snow-capped Andes.

The above map shows the whole Cordillera Blanca. The trail that our group did, Los Cedros, is the red dotted line going up and down on the far left side starting in Pomabamba and ending in Hualcayan.
Meeting our arrieros and mules and doing some last minute preparation for our trek.
First view of the Cordillera Blanca while on trek.

Our first campsite was right at the foot of this glacier. Picture really doesn’t do it justice.
Second night we set up camp right next to an alpaca herd. Here’s a couple of them left in the morning when we set off.

 

One of many mountain passes, highest of which was 4,880 meters.
Laguna Cullicocha

Our last campsite on the trek–Wishcash. And let me tell you, when I rounded the bend and saw this campsite it was definitely a wish come true.

After a day and couple nights in Huaraz we changed our surroundings dramatically during a 20+ hour bus ride to Pucallpa, our entry point into the Amazon. We took a short boat-ride down an estuary of the Amazon to arrive in a Shipibo community called Santa Clara where students spent four days and nights in homestays with families who had only this year been catapulted into modern times through electricity and running water. Many families spoke limited Spanish and the cultural exchange was even more meaningful by the fact that houses were normally built with the surroundings in mind, sometimes only three walls enclosed participants from the forest along with their thin mosquitero or mosquito netting. We partnered with an agency based out of Pucallpa called Alianza Arkana, roughly translated as The Shielded Alliance, that collaborates with many indigenous communities of the area with a particular emphasis on the Shipibo people. One of their main projects in Santa Clara is a permaculture project that will eventually reforest the deforested region around the town and provide one meal a day for the local children that attend the elementary school in the village.

Gone fishing.
Our Shipibo family: Luz, Isabel, Gabriel, and Freddy.

 

Papaya plantation right as you enter Santa Clara from the river.
Enjoying the heat of the rain forest!
Walking on the dirt roads of Santa Clara.
Embroidering with the Shipibo women.

After our short but sweet time in the Amazon, we transitioned back to a bustling city as we made our way to Urubamba, a city in the Sacred Valley that is a stop for many people going from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. In addition to learning about Urubambin@s first-hand from host families, during our ten days in this vibrant town, students took Spanish classes daily, worked with local mentors on independent study projects focused on learning about Andean instruments, Andean spirituality, Permaculture, and Andean weaving.

Our time in Urubamba came to an end and we said goodby to our host families and new community partners as we transitioned into the expedition phase of our course where students prepared for a ‘mini-expedition,’ where they would take on most, if not all, the leadership and logistics. Student leaders took us on the three-day trek of Salkantay a sacred apu or mountain that is one entry point to the Machu Picchu ruins. Our expedition took us through the Sacred Valley where we delved into the meaning behind being a traveler versus being a tourist on oftentime crowded parts of our journey as we headed to visit the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.  We were fortunate enough to have Favian, a wonderfully joyful guide and spiritual leader.  Favian’s quena (Andean flute) playing floated through the air as we took one step after another on sacred ground. His music was a plea to the mountains to allow us to journey safely, purposefully, and most importantly, to secure an invitation to journey at all.  On the day we climbed from our campsite up the steps to Machu Picchu park and up more steps to Machu Picchu mountain, Favian taught us much about the quickly fading culture through an impactful pachamama ceremony, a blessing and sacrifice for pachamama, or mother earth at the Incan bridge.

Day 1 of Salkantay trek…you can see Salkantay on the right-hand side.
Favian and his quena.
Day 2 of our Salkantay trek.
Favian and my two trusty co-instructors (Jhasmany and Mateo).

We then returned to the outskirts of Urubamba, where we transitioned into our transference phase of program. We continued sharing our own stories and that of our time together and discussed how to translate what we learned and experienced in Peru to our lives back home. These final days flew by and we soon found ourselves in the heart of Peru–Cusco–basking in the light of the full moon as it sat over snowy Ausangate. In the light of the moon we offered praise, gratitude, and appreciation for the people we had met, the lives that had touched us, the places we had only briefly known, and the impact that it already had on our lives. After saying our goodbyes, we were ready to take our individual stories, now altered by the sacred apus and their inhabitants, out to our respective parts of the world.

Our group as well as our guide and arrieros after our first trek together.

Coming back from the place you started from and telling your story is always an interesting exercise that for me never gets easier with time. Hearing Erv and his family read his memoir gave me some hope about how storytelling can be more integrated into our experiences. I’m currently filled with a light mist of sadness because of the people and the places that I always seem to leave behind in a mission to keep moving forward with the tides of time. Sometimes the visibility through that mist is pretty good, but other times that mist clouds my vision and I have trouble seeing at all. I hope that through this account you can see some parts of my story during these last couple of months and I thank you for journeying with me.

On love

Yesterday I wrote a post on love. Today I would like to write another post on love and experiment by sharing more of myself in a way that I normally would shy away from. It is weird to put out information of your life into the world for anyone and everyone to read, but at the same time, in my commitment to be more vulnerable and open, I think it makes sense to share more of my story, especially around the particularly important topic of love.

Love, when I was a child, was given in the form of time. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and I think this has led to the fact that now, my love language, so to speak, is that of spending quality time with folks more than anything else. In addition to this, as a baby, I was privileged enough to bask in the touch of others, more than I probably would have had I grown up in the United States. I was born in Botswana and spent the first year or so of my life in a rural village with many people around me, not related to me, but part of a close-knit community. Whenever my family (at that time just my parents) were out and about I was passed around like a really interesting souvenir from a foreign land—and as a white baby, I was. Getting exposure to so many sets of laps, arms encircling around me, and mouths uttering baby talk in languages and dialects I certainly didn’t understand, probably set the foundation for the reality that now-a-days I am easily adaptable and can really be comfortable and content in most settings. At the same time, this experience as a baby, more likely than not, primed me for the desire to be touched, even by strangers; if the intention was genuine, I was happy to receive it. This touch however, mostly did come from people outside my family circle because my parents really aren’t the touchy-feely type.

At this point in this short autobiography of the thing I call love, it might be helpful to mention that by the time my family really settled down, my thirteenth birthday had just passed. Before the tumultuous years of teenagerdo[o]m I had lived in many places around the world. (If you are interested in this particular story and timeline of my life please let me know and I’d be happy to write a brief synopsis or just give you the 411 on the many places I lived and homes that were created as a result).

An example of the care and touch that I got outside of my parents is an example from Argentina. When we first moved to Argentina we lived in the northernmost province of Formosa and I was just shy of four years old. We had a niñera, or nanny, named Andrea who accompanied us everywhere and gave us cariños and touch in a way that neither my mom nor my dad ever provided me. She gave us the warmth that so characterizes this region of the world and through her I was able to realize how touch could be a healing, caring, and nurturing force.

On the other hand, with my parents, love was provided in a different way. The way that my parents showed me they loved me was through the time my mom spent cooking a delicious and nutritious meal, día tras día… When she and my father read to me and my twin siblings, noche tras noche, sin falta.

I was reminded of this love and the nightly story-telling this past weekend. On Saturday, my roommate and I went to a Meetup in hopes to meet new people (go figure), experience something a little different from the Bay Area, and to get out of our comfort zones. We went to a story Meetup where people were encouraged to share true stories from their own lives, on stage, with the guidance of a few themes that as an audience we tentatively and timidly yelled out from our seats. A bundle of nerves, my friend and I decided not to put our names in the hat to be called to story-tell but we participated in the warm-up activity before the “show”. Afterwards, we mingled with people and shared stories in a more intimate way with folks.

As each individual’s name was called out of the moderator’s hat, the audience clapped loudly and then the storyteller would tell a pretty good story or a very mediocre story and then the audience would once again clap loudly and the next person would come up. It was a really great way of sharing stories and included totally novice story-tellers all the way to experts in the field.

This storytelling made me think of the tradition that my family had while growing up, of reading stories. Of a totally different variety than free-form but in any case, sharing stories in general is a powerful way of being in community, developing a literary repertoire, using your imagination, and appreciating that of others. Every night before bed, my mom or dad would read to the three of us kids. In this way we read the Chronicles of Narnia, The Little House on the Prairie (and all the books that came after), C.S. Lewis’ Lord of the Rings series, and other lesser known books like Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and books that we had photocopied and bound with plastic spiraling and pastel colored-covers (it was really difficult to find books in Argentina, especially books in English, at that time, so we would borrow books from other English-speakers or we would photocopy books like the Warton and Morton series).

We were always caressed by the words of short stories, tall tales, and wide volumes of prose carried in the bottoms of suitcases by people coming from the U.S. to visit the montes of the dry, arid, and desolate Chaco—the other province of Argentina that we lived. Riding on the waves of words to faraway seas and submerging in the expanse of love, as big as the ocean, my parents had for me, was something that carried me and washed over me, but the liquid waters left me wanting to explore greater depths.

My mom’s voice, reading to us, would be slightly tired from the other acts of love she had invested in throughout the day, but she would sit next to us and read nightly, like it was her duty. And then, my mom would tuck us in, sometimes offer a goodnight kiss and let sleep take over for the night shift.

My dad contributed some to these literary evenings, although many times he was away on trips and visiting the villages of the native peoples in the region. Because this was the case, when my siblings and I were really little, he would record books for us on tape and then we could listen to his voice at night on the black Sony stereo system, the closest thing we had to a T.V. Gently, yet steadily moving the plot forward with a cadence that drew back slightly at the end of each phrase (almost like that of a rider using the reigns to control the gait of a horse), his voice provided just the right speed to get the momentum for the next phrase. Y así, his canter could carry us through the story-line of our favorite cuentos and we would imagine his presence beside us, protecting us from whatever fear, yet at the same time leaving a vastness for us to be ourselves, however we wanted to be.

And in this way we would listen to stories like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and Tomi DePaola’s The Clown of God. It’s heart-warming to see how these traditions carry on, even though technology is certainly different now. My dad reads to my little niece, him in Indianapolis, Indiana and her in Quito, Ecuador. Her favorite story for my dad to read her is Little Bear. Through Skype, they share in the story, the rise and fall of my dad’s voice is as consistent and constant as it ever was.

And the love of my parents continued this way into my teenage years and now into adulthood…loving me at a respectable distance, never with too much touch except for sometimes a hug here and there after a long time away from each other. I feel like the core of my being, my spirit even, longed for the touch of love and the nonchalance that was provided me when a baby. And when all of a sudden I received this touch as a naïve and immature teenager, I had to learn a few lessons the hard way. And as a more mature adult, I still learned lessons on love in a way that hurt at times. But love always does. It hurts more than anything we have ever known, and it feels better than anything we have ever known. Sometimes all at once.

I think my current definition of love centers around trust. In order to really love someone I have to trust them. In order to really trust someone an emotional net has to be knitted, together, that connects me to them, and yes, this net serves as a way for me to cross from the intangible to the more tangible. From emotion to touch, from the senses to the sensual.  And this crossing develops and uncovers that my vulnerability will be valued and venerated.

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My sister and I, circa 94′ or 95′ (I believe). Enjoying one of our favorite pastimes together in a hammock strung between two trees. San Bernardo, Argentina