Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day 119 Calling all pilgrims...

Calling all pilgrims, Peru is a great place for an adventurous foot pilgrimage, for Spanish or Quechua speakers, in really good physical condition, who can comfortably divorce themselves from giant yellow arrows, and can come to enjoy/endure the ubiquitous bone-in guinea pig that appears at every meal. (Describing without cultural judgement: these guinea pigs are generally raised in the kitchens, free-range on the packed mud floor, reproducing at will, dozens scurrying around, pooping, cooing incessantly, nibbling grass strewn about twice daily, and suddenly, a few are missing and it's time for dinner...)

This region either side of Cusco stands out from all the other places I've walked because there is a sufficient number of villages for periodic rests and reliable potable water supply, the people are kind and welcoming (though not so inclined as to offer refreshment without first being asked), and the history and culture rise to meet your feet.  The altitude and daily elevation changes add challenge.

Before the pilgrimage, I had the idea that Peru in particular would be a place similar to Mexico, since they share a common history of having a strong empire and complex culture in place when the Spaniards arrived - the Spanish colonials arrived in Mexico City in 1521 and in Cusco in 1531.  However, other than the similarities of the general appearance of the colonial-era towns, they're quite different from each other.  I have the sense that the divergence of the Spanish cultural impact was the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The experience of the Native American, baptized as Juan Diego, in 1531 in Mexico City sparked a mass conversion of the natives.  Once converted to Catholism, the Spaniards intermarried and established a firm mixed culture.  In Peru, there were several apparitions in diverse localities before the end of the 16th century, but none had the widespread impact as OLoG.  While the work of the missioneries resulted in many conversions, there wasn't the emotional devotion in Peru as in Mexico.  Today, not many people in Peru know who OLoG is, there are relatively few practicing Catholics, few shrines, annual feast days aren't centered around a patron Saint.  The present culture of Peru is fascinating and diverse, but not as similar to Mexico as I had thought it would be.  Interesting.  And for this reason too, a particularly savorous place to make a village-to-village pilgrimage.

Walking village to village as I do, without a map to speak of, I tend to show up in unexpected places to the shock and amazement of the locals.  I ask the shepherds for the footpaths and sometimes just take their vague advice - 'over the next mountain is another mountain, over that mountain is a stream...follow the stream down to the village, there you can meet my cousin and stay in his house for the night, or better, rest there for a week'.  Though in this sea of mountains, over every mountain in another mountain, but good enough direction for me, and off I go - the worse that can happen is not so bad.  Often enough I find remnants of the Incan trail - a properly engineered path wide enough for two to pass, zigzagging up and down the high mountains.  Sometimes, though, the non-Incan paths aren't engineered beyond a hoe-scraped line traversing a steep slope making for a rather daring passage.  Don't look down.  I climbed one a few days ago, in a light rain, passing a young goatherd... the little boy and I had to take hold of each other as we delicately passed so neither would risk the 1,000-foot can't-see-the-bottom deathdrop - ok, so on the list of quals for the appeal to pilgrims above, add that it's not a place for acrophobes.

And I walk with joy and happiness...

Oh, and just when I'm comfortable speaking Spanish without having to think about it first, I'm now in a region where Quechua is so engrained that not everyone I meet during a given day remembers their Spanish from their schooldays...I'm picking up some words, can ask for water and almost discuss the location of paths, but to my dismay, the language apparently lacks a word for 'pilgrim', so it's not possible to say 'Hi, I'm a pilgrim!' in the local idiom.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you are on the Inca trail - I didnt know of it and then just you mention you're on it, and also on a French TV channel there is a film of a young couple walking the Inca trail in its entirety, over about a year. At one point they bought two lamas as pack animals but gave that up as the animals got too tired to do long distance. The trail went pretty high too, into treeles grassy heights.

Glad you're still walking with joy, and I laughed at the reference to forget about yellow arrows!

Anonymous said...

LOts of mistakes on my post -cant edit-sorry!

Sheila Phelan Wright said...

Such a great, detailed entry. Sounds wonderful, filled with beauty of people, place and purpose. Not everyone can go yellow arrowless! Take care.

Amy R said...

Hello and so good to hear from you. I like understanding Peru through your eyes. St. Martin de Porres (16th-17th c.Lima) was the first saint I ever read about, and he is still one of my absolute favorites.

Anonymous said...

Alcazaren says

Amy - forget about saints as you would the tooth fairy.

Isnt this woman a powerful walker? I used to walk as fast, for short periods, but not now, and not every day. I have to sleep out somewhere and cut the daily distance in half.

What do you find as age sneaks up?

Anonymous said...

YOU are incredible.
My sister and I got lost several times on our recent drive from New Bern, NC to Key West, despite our GPS, iphone and my navigational "skills".
Enjoy the GPSs, the Good Peoples and the tasty Guinea Pigs!
Andrea of Denver

Anonymous said...

YOU are incredible!

My sister and I got lost several times on our recent trip from New Bern, N.C. to Key West despite a GPS, an I-phone and my navigational "skills".

Keep enjoying the GPSs, Good Peoples and Guinea Pigs!

Andrea from Denver!

Anonymous said...

You are incredible!

Andrea of Denver said...

You are incredible!

ksam said...

Glad to have read your description, especially of the heights! Saved me from being found at some later date, clinging to the mountain, unable to move! Took me a few minutes and a cup of tea to get my breath back to normal, here at sea level!

Petra Wolf said...

Hi Winter Pilgrim,

I just found your page with all your amazing pilgrimages. In 2001 I got my first pilgrimage call to walk from Konstanz. Germany, to Santiago de Compostella. In Ponte de le Rheina I met my husband Mike. He is American. Since then we have walked some more miles or km. The last one was from California to Jerusalem. As part of it we walked from our home to Santiago (yes, plane NY to Lisbon). When you come back from your winter pilgrimage I would love to meet with you. We are now in Santa Fe. I like your idea about the 16 pioneers to set up a trail from Denver to Chimayo NM. I read some of your blog from Santiago to Jerusalem. I liked it a lot!! Thank you so much!
If you have time check out our webpage.
I will follow your pilgrimage and see when you are home.
Buen Camino and a lot of love.

Petra Wolf

P. Roosvelt said...

Hola Ana: soy el padre Roosvelt, saludos desde Acobamba - Peru, te seguimos por este medio y te acompañamos con nuestras oraciones, no te olvides de rezar por nosotros.

Gene McCullough said...

Hi Ann-

As always for you, an incredible journey of the body, mind and soul. A quick note: When you get to Ecuador you'll see U.S. currency in circulation including widespread use of the U.S. $1 coins. Ask people if they know who the woman and child are on the Sacajawea coin. When we did this of course no one had any idea who she was and when told a brief version of her story they were quite amazed at the tale of this indigenous woman (indigena) and her place in U.S. history. Good travels to you!

Gene McCullough

Anonymous said...

Gene - for sure those colorful Ecuadorian people couldn't wait to be told about a detail of a coin from a foreign country. What politeness they showed you too!