29 January 2009

Freed, Peru

After a few kilometers of deliberation, wondering whether I heard a legitimate voice of adventure or a complacent voice of reason blowing on the breeze, I came to a skidding halt on the rocky shores of a glimmering blue expanse, rid myself of all protective layers, and dove into the chilling depths. As soon as my breath returned, I roared with excitement, choked by the buoyancy of my stomach escaping through my throat. With that, I left Peru with no regrets.

As experiences accumulate in Bolivia, I´m sure to encounter plenty of acts worthy of regret, that is, if I believed in such feelings. But instead, I prefer to act impulsively and accept whatever consequences result - in this case - shriveled, breathless, and ecstatic.

28 January 2009

Tethered, Peru

The half-sheared ewe ran passionately toward the end of her tether only to be flipped hooves-over-head each time without fail. Her nose drove into the rocky soil each time the leash sprang taught, yet moments later, after gathering her senses and sneezing from the mild concussion, she bounded in the opposite direction, meeting the other end of the tether with the same, sorry results. Sadly, her young lamb studiously observed its mother´s valiant escape efforts and, consequently, mimicked her determination with its own dashing attempts at freedom. Of course, the rope and stake held. Its face was similarly squashed.

Crouched on the side of the road, I confusedly watched this spectacle unfold until finally, the tanned, crippled old woman carrying a bushel of weeds on her back came to chastise her incompetent stock, growing more incompetent with each leap. Once relocated to a less stressful, more padded patch of pasture, I began to reflect.

Like these sheep, I feel a certain desire to spring forth from the confines imposed by one tether or another. I don´t blame them for blindly storming certain defeat with reckless ambition because however deep the stake or strong the rope, there´s always the potential that, with enough determination, the tether might snap, leaving an unobstructed course on which we can bleat triumphantly.

For the time being, my tethers are limited to trivial guages of cotton thread, the likes of which are effortlessly snapped with no more than a slight pedal stroke. Others, including the majority of folks I encounter on this adventure, are bound by industrial-strength chains. Yet, even with such magnificent burdens, they run, headlong, to the end of their tether, each time coming up with dusty noses. Through delusional sneezes, they fervently pursue the other end with amplified intensity, only to be driven into the rocky soil, time and time again.

My insides sink to unfathomable depths as I watch this struggle from atop a comfortable, leather saddle. My sentiments are lightened only by a profound respect for incomprehensible determination. The greatness that I witness reduces me to nothing more than the dust on their noses. As the road winds on, I hope to be broken each time I see courageous people striving for betterment, one impossibly desperate leap at a time.

19 January 2009

Punchao, Peru

A particularly gripping facet of the Inca religion appears each morning with the rising sun. Instead of worshipping an object or effigy, the Incas paid tribute to a moment. The immateriality of their belief was unprecedented. The focus of their devotion wasn´t reduced to the imperfection and inaccuracy of interpretations like so many contemporary practices. It remained pure. Punchao, as they called it, signified the moment at which the first rays of sunlight broke from beyond the serrated horizon of the dangerously steep valleys and bathed the slopes in sharp, green contrasts. At that point, they observed an untainted clarity, worthy of reverence.

In order to preserve this moment of divinity, they fashioned an object, the design of which made possible the preservation of a fleeting moment. The center consisted of an enclosed chalice which contained the dough composed of the ash of past Incas´ hearts. Surrounding this relic were hundreds of pendants, dangling like leaves from a tree. When placed in the sun, it is said that the reflected brilliance produced by these medallions obscured the object itself in a splash of glaring sunlight. In this way, their worship was diverted from materiality, driven toward an intangible glow that signified ultimate divinity.

These days, the ceremonial sunrise still evokes a sense of godliness in the Sacred Valley. No matter how stifling the Conquest was, Punchao still reigns the terrain surrounding Cuzco. Nearing the end of the canyon, where the setting becomes too steep for vehicular traffic, the remains of the greatest Inca establishment perches high atop an infathomably challenging site.

Long before the sun rose, we squinted through the diffused moonlight on the winding trail to Machu Picchu. As the sky brightened, we entered the sacred grounds, still hours before the first direct rays. Nearing the base of Wayna Picchu, the sun burst from beyond the confines of the rugged horizon with as much strength and clarity as when the ruins were inhabited. At that point, at that place, the divinity of Punchao become clear. The warm embrace of the early morning sun comforted us like a thick alpaca blanket. The sharp shadows painted the ruins in deep shades of gray. Where the light struck directly, the stones practically glowed with life.

As the morning matured, the light flattened and Punchao receded until its next scheduled appearance forever thereafter. Later, the charactistic mist descended upon the ruins and shrouded the complex in mystery. We wandered the site with wonderment until the rain came and cleansed the constructions of the intruding tourists. Awe remained with us for the entire afternoon, seizing our attempts at description and interpretation.

Like Punchao, Machu Picchu supercedes materialization. To assign depictive descriptions to such an auspicious site reduces it to unavoidable imperfection when in fact, the ruins, when bathed in the glow of god, come closer to perfection than anywhere else.