los andes

(machu pichu -- titicaca)

june 20

“arequipa! arequipa!"

"cuzco! cuzco!"

it's the sound from the bus terminals all over the cities of southern peru. announcing the incoming and outgoing metal beasts as they roll into and from the terminales. informing locals and gringos alike of which speeding or crawling bullet to board.

it's also wati's playful mimicry of the animated and amplified cries. "arequipa! arequipa!" she croons. as i automatically reply in flat gringo harmony, "cuzco! cuzco!"

as we wind our way from one infinite andean horizon to another. sometimes losing days or nights to the steady bump or groan of the mammoth's purr. heat, no heat, schedule, no schedule; lots of queso (cheese) sandwiches, bottles of agua purificado, immodium, gorgeous mountain ranges, fields of llamas, alpacas, sheep, vicuna, the most rare, expensive, & protected of all the mountain species. the red-brown sunburned faces of the indigenous children, posing for photos, 1 sole a shot. a kind, poor, smiling & enduring race. or so this condescending (?) big city new yawker-angeleno thinks.

machu pichu, the ancient incan ruins, a days' tour from cuzco – amazing! far greater than either the pyramids at giza, or the teotihuacan temples of the sun and moon outside of mexico city. sure, plenty touristy. but once inside, magnifico. coming out of the bone-rattling morning chill into the full sun of the glorious day, finding time & privacy amongst the hordes - no problema. my young, beautiful, slightly-bored indonesian wife has to drag me away at 3, having arrived at 8, awakened at 5 --there seems no better place to - just be. an ancient city dedicated to nobody knows exactly what. a summer retreat for the ruling inca, atahualpa? an agricultural and spiritual city of the religious elite? a sacred site of animal sacrifice? the fortified citadel of the inca? why then was it abandoned so suddenly - before the spanish - like teotihuacan in mexico city? one guide will babble a different story than the next. but the truth? nobody really knows. except the stones. and the terraces. and the animal imagery. all dedicated to the 3 sacred levels of human experience. the lower, middle, and higher worlds. the 3 animals here being - the condor above, the puma, here in this world, the snake, down below.

we stay in and around cuzco for over a week, in and around the sacred valley of the incas, and then finally wind our way up! to puno - on lake titicaca, "el lago navegable mas alto del mundo". the highest navigable lake in the world. we mercifully find a califacion (electric heater) for one blissful night - then wind still higher to copacabana, bolivia! where this time, it’s my turn for a touch of "soroche" (altitude sickness). splitting, un-relievable-by-ibuprofen, headaches, sleepless nights, shortness of breath – just walking half a block uphill. but enough cups of the ubiquitous cocoa tea, and we make it to the isle del sol, island of the sun, on the gorgeous lake surrounded by ice-capped dormant and active glaciers & volcanoes. awesome sight - seeing and fantasizing on titicaca.

how do you travel to these sites of the ancient mysteries and not just be one of the great hordes? a tourist? there are simply - so many of you. human beings. from all over the planet. europe, israel, japan, australia. backpackers, anthropologists, truth seekers, mystics, fat cats, fanatics, thrill seekers, innocents, contemplatives, college students, retirees, hustlers, touts, grave robbers, archaeologists, poets, cons, trekkers, liars, couples, families, la jeune, le vieux, tout la monde. yet here you are. machu pichu. titicaca. mixed in with the llamas and saponos . with the history and the myth. horrified by the commercialism and privileged with the opportunity. the chance to mix your soul with the incas. with time and space and all things we humans have so rarely realized or constructed to transcend the temporal. to reach beyond our suffering. our limits. our differences. our spanishness. our indigenousness. our outsiderness. our greediness. our smallness. our greatness. our self centeredness. machu pichu. titicaca. like magic. like music. the sound and rhythm of the native people of the continent. nestled in the mists of andes. hidden from plunder. still existent. like magic. like a magnet. like money. like god. and you? just there. small. humble. invisible in the crowds. a pen. a voice. a poet. a con. a speck on the landscape. a number through a turnstile. a joy. a release. an escape. a machu pichu. a titicaca. like music. like magic. like….

then finally dowwwn. to arequipa, peru's second largest city. with perhaps it's most pristine and beautiful plaza de armas, central square. the porticos, city hall, and cathedral all built out of white volcanic stone, like nowhere else in the world. the 400 year old "monasterio di santa catalina", a still active convent, where girls have dedicated themselves a dios for centuries, keeping their plain handmade clothes on when bathing and whipping themselves on their virtuous shoulders for any impure thoughts when not. still plenty of tasty restaurants and internet shops outside the monasterio’s walls for us happy indo & gringo tourists, along with bars, discos, and more sapono (traditional peruvian pipe) music.

then an overnight tour to the colca canyon, actually bigger than the grand, and home to the diving and circling condor, prehistoric bird of the canyon. too much bussing, but what scenery. waking again at 5. more bone-chilling cold. shower? no, gracias. shivering on the bus. bumping over the arid dirt roads from chivay to the canyon itself. trekking along the ridge with our faithful guide, ernesto. soroche battling with the cocoa leaves, this time we’re chewing them. still only a hundred yards at a time. rest. catch our breath. perch ourselves into the side of the canyon, looking for condors. who said it? george plimpton, the great pseudo adventurer and editor of the paris review ? that the one thing he wanted to do before he died was to see the great condor in its natural habitat. well, here she is. circling. gliding. in the wind. gusting itself in unpredictable, primordial wonder. under the great south american peruvian sky. we climb. take a peak into one of the many heavens on earth. the birds – indifferent to our human folly. protected by a rare moment of human concern. swooping. diving. gliding in the currents. free. powerful. another sign of our slight and humble membership into the origin of the species.

oops! mea culpa. enough poetics and metaphysics. gotta get on one of those aforementioned metal beasts for a 10 hour night roll to the next, stop, nazca, where the ancient natives have carved giant enigmatic "lines" into the sands of the coastal desert.

my girl's waiting patiently, having finished her own e-correspondence. need it be said, traveling with partner is more than a few notches up in the challenging department than traveling solo.

but we are working it out - as we speak.


hope your life is rolling along as well,

no longer don, just plain old,

enrique del bus