May 2014 – Peru

May 16, 2014

Dear Friends:

Got back from Peru last Saturday May 10. From Newark Airport I took the bus home to Easton, unloaded my luggage, and drove to Middletown, DE for the Arts Weekend at St Andrews School. Granddaughter Isabel, 16, is a junior there now. She had a few oil paintings in the art exhibit at the gallery, a stint in the chorus in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (one rare production by a high school anywhere in the world, I believe), and a small role in the drama “A Guest in the House.” She also plays trumpet for the school orchestra but I missed their performance on Friday night. Her sister Ava, 13, is a nationally ranked epee’ist and won a gold medal in team fencing in the nationals in Memphis recently. She travels with Al, her dad, to different competitions in other states. I try to take the time to attend her local tournaments, too. Sometimes, it could get frantic, scheduling different activities in different places, putting my own writing on the back burner, but I do not like to miss being a part of their young lives. So here’s a blog that is late.

Peru was an incredibly powerful and varied experience. Everything, except Lima and Cuzco, was gratifying and transformative. There are exceptions, but I don’t very much like visiting churches and catacombs. I did that in Rome 4 years ago. Like the churches in Lima and Cusco, the basilica of San Clementi was built on the ruins of an old pagan temple. Our group went two levels down where a cavern held the remnants of an ancient temple dedicated to a prophet. There are different versions of his life. It is said he was born of a virgin on Christmas Day, attended by 3 shepherds, preached love and compassion, had 12 disciples, was called the Light of the World. Before his death, he had a last supper at which bread and wine were consecrated as symbolic of his flesh and blood. He died and was resurrected on the third day. He was born 500 years before Jesus. His name was Mithra.

The truly funny scene in the church tour in Cusco was seeing the painting of the Last Supper with a grilled cuy/guinea pig on the table. Was that perhaps a bottle or a glass of pisco sour waiting to be finished? I did not eat a cuy. A friend who has taught in the Andes recommended it. I had soups – quinoa, asparagus, potato, squash – and meat (alpaca, beef, lamb) and trout instead. I avoided alcohol, except for pisco sour, and coffee. I had the apparently obligatory mate de coca regularly that simultaneously relaxes and energizes.

When a Filipino friend, a writer now living in the Philippines, received my photos of Peru, he said that traveling to Machu Picchu was something he had dreamed of since he was a child. I can understand it because as a young kid growing up in a small town, I had never left the island, was awed by big cities and distant places. I was in a real sense from the boondocks – from the Filipino word “bundok” or mountain – now a disparaging reference to a hick in the US. Along with Egypt, this Peruvian destination was likewise on my bucket list since I cannot remember when. Although I traveled to different provinces in the Philippines to attend student writers’ and leadership conferences, it wasn’t until I was 30 that I traveled outside the country. The last 30 years I have seen Spain, England, Scotland, France, Egypt, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Iceland, Brazil, Argentina, Laos, Slovenia, Croatia, Indonesia, Turkey, Greece, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, Taiwan, China (many times), Mexico. Quite a few of these countries have sacred places, with an ancient tradition of spirituality and energetic power. I visit them not just to see but to “connect” to the power vortices through my Daoist practices.

Carrying a Philippine passport, like I do, it is more difficult to get a visa to some European countries, especially those on the Schengen list, because they require many documents – income tax returns for the last 3 years; bank account the last 3 months; travel insurance; itinerary with the names and addresses of the hotels and the travel guides; medical insurance; credit cards; and a personal interview. Sometimes I cannot help the feeling that their consulates and embassies are unnecessarily stringent in granting visas especially to Filipinos.

Now, at 73, egged on by that old wisdom — If not now, when? — I decided it was time to do it. So I dipped into my IRA, something I often do now to fund my travels. I did some training in the gym to develop my stamina, breathing and my legs. A student who saw my photos of Peru confessed that she was envious. I told her that the way I have been spending, I’ll probably die broke.

Since Machu Picchu was now the focus of my gypsy blood, I visited two days in a row: with a tour guide late in the morning on the first day/Sunday just when I had just arrived by train in Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley and alone by myself early at dawn on the second day/Monday. The temple complex was crowded on Sunday because, according to the guide, the local people were allowed to come in for free. Our small group walked the whole domain and I tagged along. I took pictures. There was no time to meditate. When I asked the guide about the shamans, I felt he dismissed my question by saying they were in the forest. On Monday, I woke up early at dawn, skipped breakfast and took a bus to a Machu Picchu covered with mist. I chose a feng-shui/geomancy spot in the triangulation of the Dragon and the Tiger that I thought was one of the vortices of the place and stayed there for my routines. I did my Daoist practice – Xing Shen Zhuang Fa, DragonWell Qigong, bits of Taiji.

From a distance, a white llama was taking glances at me while she was nibbling at the grass. Before I knew it, the llama was just a few feet away and was standing on the same flat ground. I chatted with her, got her permission to take a few photos, and then said goodbye because people were beginning to gather around us. I moved to another spot about 50 feet way. I did my practice there, too. I lighted an incense stick and stuck it in the ground. The same llama came up to me again. When tourists began crowding to take her picture, I told her to go.

The last important stop was LakeTiticaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12, 500 feet. I was picked up at the Juliaca Airport by Sylvia, a native travel guide. In the course of our conversation, part Spanish, part English, she asked me where I was from. I asked her to guess. She said, China, Japan, Peru. Peru? She said I have forgotten my Spanish. I said she is 40 years old, a shaman who studied with her grandmother. How did you know? she asked. Are you a shaman? I said, Perhaps you could teach me something if you have the time. She was supposed to be my guide for the 2 days I was going to vein Puno so it could be scheduled. But that night she called and said she was taken off the list and somebody else took over. Sylvia, it turned out, has been teaching shamanism in different countries – US and Australia and France. She gave me her schedule of seminars in the US: she wanted for us to work together. Another woman took over the tour of Lake Titicaca.

George Washington  (his real name) was the guide on my last day in Puno. He explained that the company he and Sylvia worked for was owned by a Señor Jorge Luis Delgado. I remarked that he wrote a book on “Andean Reawakening: An Inca Guide to Mystical Peru,” a memoir of his education as a shaman.  I received a copy of the book from a friend who had gone to Peru in July of last year. George took me to a graveyard/necropolis in Sillustani– a “Temple of the Dead” he said — on the way to the airport and explained a few things — the 3 Inca Rules (living a life of munay/love, llancay/service and yachay/wisdom) that define a meaningful life, the levels of consciousness the initiate achieves as he drinks the decoction from a 7 sided cactus as s/he is led by a chacaruna (a shaman who guided him in this journey he said), and the etchings on the floor of the square, an elaborate circle representing  the Chacana/Peruvian cross.  I had a background in the subject, of course, because I had read Senor Delgado but George also mentioned pi and its application to the Peruvian cross. I had a background in it, too, because I had studied books about Egypt, the measurement of the temples and pyramids and the concept of the Divine Proportion.

Just the same, I was struck by his knowledge. He talked about the “apacheta” (meaning “take it away” or “let it go”) – stones that carried heavy emotions or energy to be discharged to Mother Earth in the Andean ritual of exorcism and healing. He taught me how to say, “tupananchiscama, the Inca way of saying “till we meet again” in whatever dimension, time or world. He explained the alignment of the circle at Sillustani, the observance of the Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice on December 21 and June 21 respectively (opposite to the West) and the role of the Southern Cross (other countries in the West follow the North Star/Polaris). I wish I had more time to spend with him since he was quite knowledgeable for his age (25). The other guides were not as informative about the esoteric and mystical aspects of Peru, so this was something different.

George and I moved around the circle in Sillustani as we talked and did postures. He explained to me the imagery of the 3 Worlds and their representations — Snake for the underground and the past; Puma for the earth and the present; and the Condor for the spiritual and the future.

It was the end of my journey and I was going back to Lima for my return flight to the US, so I could not do much about it. I spent the last 2 days in the capital, took one last tour of an ancient temple – called Roma de Andes — outside Lima and waited for my flight. I had packed everything in the hotel, put my luggage in storage, and waited in the lobby. It occurred to me that I did not see my 2 cameras. I found one in the pocket of my vest, but the Canon G12 Powershot that I often used was gone. I tried to recall where I had last seen it. I knew I did not leave it in the van that took me back to the note. I knew I did not leave it in the room where I had just checked out.

I informed the hotel staff. They called the tour company, they searched in the room. Nothing. I looked inside my 2 pieces of luggage and my backpack. Nothing. On my way to the airport, I remembered I had wrapped it in a white plastic bag and tucked it inside the luggage. So I had one last hope that it was still there and I had just missed it. To make a long story short, I emptied everything on the floor when I got home and I did not find it. So most of my photos are lost. Perhaps the hotel won’t find my camera either. My suspicion now is that somebody stole it while it was in storage in the hotel. That was the only time that the luggage with the camera in it was out of my sight.

Here are the photos taken with my smaller camera.

I am sad and a bit angry with myself for not holding on to the camera. But how would I have foreseen that somebody in the hotel staff — the only possible culprit in this case — would do something dishonest? It is one of the hazards of travel. Important items are sometimes lost … or stolen. Sometimes it is in the airport when the luggage is with the baggage people or in the course of a tour when one leaves stuff in the bus or van.

I told the hotel staff that I don’t need the camera, but I do want the memory card back because it contains most of my photos. I left my card containing my contact info with them. But I am skeptical about hearing from them again. A friend who also travels a lot advised me to put a lock on my luggage. I guess I’ll do that next time. I’ve thought about the loss of the camera and the memory card. They were a record of my journey but they were not the journey: the pilgrimage I had taken is etched in my mind, spirit and body. That is something I am grateful for and could reconstruct and relive in my meditation. Perhaps it’s just as well that the photos were lost. They gave me an opportunity to let go.

What are the important lessons and valuable knowledge from my pilgrimage to Peru? Well, I was curious about where the gold the Spanish conquistador plundered eventually went. Have there been any attempts to return it? I also wondered if Spain ever apologized for the horrors that were inflicted on the natives. In restrospect, I should have chosen a tour that was led by a shaman or that allowed access to a shaman. I would have wanted to be part of an ancient Inca ritual. There are such tours advertised in New Age magazines. At the same time I really wanted just to be alone and receive whatever was coming to me at random in a kind of serendipity: To see the country on my own, do my own practices and wait for magic to happen. I was willing to be guided to some extent like an ordinary tourist especially in Lima and Cusco, cities that did not have much attraction to me. As far as the monumental walls are concerned, they were incredible, but I was not consumed by the huge structures that have intrigued and fascinated people inspiring speculations about extra-terrestial beings. After all, I had seen the same structural marvels in Mexico and Egypt. What I was looking – or prepared myself — for instead were mystical experiences in Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca through the ancient methods of alchemy, Taiji and qigong. Peru was another victim of Spanish colonization but it retained much of its ancient architecture and indigenous beliefs and its structures offer places of contemplation and ritual. I did find – or was gifted with — quite a few treasures during my 2 days in Machu Picchu.

Every journey one takes to a country like Peru offers, not just a travel, but an initiation and ritual. The rare access to the energy and traditions of the place, the iconography of the people and their history, the magic of transformation and alchemy, open gates to an ancient mystery that is still – and perhaps always – available to those who believe and are ready for it.

Blessings, always, and with love!

www. renenavarro. org

PS: (1) After writing the blog, I discovered when I received my Visa statement that somebody charged $156 for a ticket for a flight in Lima from my credit card a few days after I left Peru for the US. It was probably an inside job too. (2) If you are interested in a basic meditation in sacred places, please goto my essay “Opening the Body to Nature” Vol. 3 #4 in the August-September 2013 issue of Yang-Sheng Magazine on the internet.

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