Thursday, March 7, 2013

Authentically PERU

Amazing desert sunsets in Huacachina, Peru.
How did I end up here? 

That's what I found myself thinking for a lot of the last week that I spent in Peru.You'd think that sentiment would've come to me often throughout my journeys, but really only until the last week did it seem so real and so true... so mind blowing and surreal were the locales and situations that I put myself in.

I had been in Arequipa when I knew that I wanted something more, that something else in my voyage was still calling out to me.  I only had about a week left, so whatever it was I knew that I needed to figure it out with expediency, clarity, and an ability to act. 

Huacachina from high up in the deceivingly massive dunes.
And so I did. An overnight bus and a motortaxi ride later, I found myself out of rainy and pleasant enough Arequipa and into mellowing into super tranquil and serenely majestic Huacachina- 'the oasis of the Americas'. A must see and something I knew I would experience before leaving Peru. I'm glad I followed through.

Pure fun, sand dune buggying.
Desert sunsets are among the best and in my one night there I was fortunate enough to experience one of the most incredible sunsets I've seen in South America to date.  During the day I was happy to try out dune buggying- like the best roller coaster ride you've ever been on, but longer, more adventurous, at times scarier, and with the addition of lots of sand boarding opportunities. You can ride down the sand like snow boarding, or fly down it on your stomach if you like. Every single time I went speeding down the ginormous dunes I heard myself laughing out loud and was filled with pure joy. A very freeing feeling and a welcome release of happiness and enjoyment.

Desert sunsets really do amaze.
My whole experience in Huacachina actually felt like the Universe enveloping me in a great big hug. A comfortable hostel in a warm, lush climate, a good restaurant, free computers with internet access and Skype?! Friendly, happy people with a wonderful blend of travelers from afar as well as Peruvians getting away for a day or so.

But that's only a part of what the action and planning I did in Arequipa had brought me to. Without even consciously meaning for it to do so, my desert oasis time was like a great big hug of comfort and zen before launching myself into the most remote and untouched parts of South America I have been to yet. I had been beckoned to one big last hurrah of adventure and journeying, whispering promises of the missing link to my PERUsing explorations being fulfilled.

So further I went. A six hour bus ride to Lima, a 2 hour terminal wait, and one LAST windy overnight bus ride later and I found myself tired, exhausted, and spent. In less than a week's time I had travelled in 3 different times zones, 2 different border crossings, 4 overnight bus rides, and a seemingly endless amount of travel and on the go. And for what?

Windy yet breathtaking roads, crossing the Andes from Huancayo to Lima.
To end up in Huancayo, Peru.

Why Huancayo, you might ask? Believe me a lot of Peruvians did too. It was complicated. Part of it was the chance to connect with the very first friend I made in Peru. I met Diego at the eco-village I started my PERUsing adventures with. And when I told him, yeah, just maybe I'll come visit you in your hometown of Huancayo, I certainly didn't think it would happen on that particular voyage. But as with visiting Leah in Oaxaca, Mexico, sometimes just being open to the possibility is all it takes to watch it to come to fruition.

I also wanted to get off the beaten path, to explore places that aren't on your typical tourist route, and to see parts of Peru that just seemed more authentically Peru. 

And my first day was rough. After an endless night of going from sea level to yet again about 11,000 feet, having literally crossed the Andes, no wonder my last overnight bus journey was a sleepless one. I'm sure my already worn out body was just screaming for oxygen, not to mention my yet again upset stomach and sore back from all the uncomfortable travel and moving around. To make matters worse, the first item on our agenda was heading to the vet's office, a stark ordeal. Pair the cold, dark, rainy outside, my exhaustion and nausea, with a vet performing all the procedures right there in front of my eyes, no separation between the waiting room and the examination/operation table, dogs walking all around you, and I was about ready to jump up and run home!

But the beckoning was still there and I knew I was there for a reason, so I pulled through and ended up seeing this area for what it is and what it has to offer. Culture, history,  and experiencing the Peruvian side of life that isn't all about thriving off of and acquiescing to the tourists from afar. 

Diego trying on traditional masks from his land.
Diego was a superb host. He showed me around the city and his love for where he lives is very endearing. He took me into the hills, small little villages, showed me plants, and displayed his love for his country. He was a beautiful plethora of information and is one of the most gracious people I know. I am eternally grateful, especially for him answering the vast number of questions and ponderings that came up for me. For one, I asked him how he knew so much about the local plants and their properties, their healing, their growth, their life. He told me his grandmother grew up in a very small, remote Andean village a few hours away and she had taught him much of what he knew. It fascinates me the people who grew up the way his grandmother did, their native language still Quechua, their harmonious nature with the land second nature.

I asked him to tell me about el Sendero Luminoso, the terrorist group that reined supreme for about 10 years, ending in the early 90s. I wanted to hear it from a Peruvian. From someone who knew, and  knew firsthand. He told me it started as a group of people who could stand being in utter poverty no longer and decided to take action in creating a better living for themselves and their people. The government was increasingly wealthier and wealthier, the natural resources were abundant, and yet the vast majority of Peruvians were still living in sheer poverty with no end in sight. 

So the Sendero Luminoso decided to do something about it and created their own guerilla movement, hoping for cultural and eventually world revolution (pure communism). But unfortunately the tactics they employed entailed pure terrorism, going through the villages and brutally murdering anyone who didn't support them, and putting the fear of death in those who did. It was 10 years of pure terror for much of Peru, especially through the rural, peasant villages found throughout the Andes. 

I found myself in just such places, areas that a lot of the Sendero movement had been based in (Huancayo, Ayacucho, and the surrounding mountain towns). It was surreal to have Diego walk me around, explaining all of this, while emphasizing that the very village we were walking through was a perfect example of a place that was under the Sendero regime. He painted a very descriptive and accurate portrait that left me a bit shell shocked- an experience I don't think I will ever forget and honestly don't believe I will ever be able to truly grasp, as much as I do try to understand and wrap my head around what happened.

One of the small faming villages we walked around in.
When Abimael Guzmán, the Sandero Luminoso leader, was captured in 1992, much of the organization's activities declined. Peru was given a chance. And for the most part it is on the up and up. But Diego also believes that a lot of the same sentiments are on the rise again. A vast amount of Peruvians, primarily those with indigenous descent, are still living in despair (the rural poverty rate is about 50%) and no means of improvement seems to be in their immediate future. Diego did however mention that he doesn't believe that such extremes to ameliorate this will be taken by the people, as it became very obvious just how much the actions of the Senderismo movement were only harming their own nation.

Village living.
I asked Diego about the state of Huancayo since the decline of the Sendero movement and he said that it was about 5 years ago that things started to improve. Prices had indeed increased greatly under the terrorist reign, but after time to recover, and finally opening up to foreign markets, the people in the surrounding areas have been able to take matters more into their own hands (as opposed to pure government or terrorist intervention) and see some real changes.

So they've opened up their lands and are now selling their abundant natural resources to markets and places far and wide and it seems to be doing well for them. There was a subtle sense of peace and relief in Diego's voice as he told me this, even a quiet tinge of pride that it evoked. And what are their precious natrual resources you may ask? As I of course did. 

Well there are many, but the primary ones are lumber, logging, and cattle ranching. Yikes!!! How many years is it that we've read about the horrid destruction of South American ecosystems, habitats, and ways of life all for hardwood, deforestation, and making room for cattle to roam. It's the most typical, destructive story you hear happening throughout South America over and over again. The environmentalist in me just about wanted to scream!!!

It's common to have cuy, the guinea pig you eat for dinner,
running around your floor during the day.
But the sociologist in me saw things from a very, very different point of view. As soon as the thought came to my mind about how aghast I was to hear all of this, it was immediately replaced with 'WHO CARES? These people deserve a chance.' And if this is their way to it, well then so be it. I was given the opportunity to see first hand what living conditions can be like there, and it's not pretty. We can sit in our comfortable, heated, air conditioned, luxurious environments in the States or elsewhere and say how could these people sell their land to the MAN?! But after having been exposed to their situation, and getting a mere glimpse into what these honest and deserving people are desperately trying to pull themselves out of, I get it, and I certainly can't say I blame them.

One of many wonderful breakfasts in Diego's home.
What do y'all think? I was utterly fascinated and grateful for experiencing the realities of the situation. I say how much big cities drain me and I emphasize living with the land, the herbs, the animals, keeping it all intact, but the rise of massive urban migration can no longer be a surprise to any of us. Diego's grandmother is a perfect example. At the age of 14 her father died and left all 10 of his children with no one to run the family farm, no way to live. His grandmother was fortunately able to escape to Lima and make a life for herself. It took learning Spanish (as her native tongue is Quechua) and leaving everything and everyone she knew- but it proved worthy. Her descendants are now well educated, have a decent lifestyle, and are able to have their needs taken care of in a way that enables them to really strive for happiness and depth, not just mere survival.

The main square of Las Pampas.
The last reason I want to these far out locales of Huancayo and the nearby Las Pampas was to see about a motorcycle. My boyfriend Alex was guiding his friend David around South America when David became very ill and ended up spending quite some time in a hospital Las Pampas (which isn't even on the map). He was treated there until he was well enough to be moved to Huancayo, receive another surgery, and then be put on a flight back home to recover and see his family. To get a better idea of what this experience was like for David and Alex, the surgeries, or simply to see firsthand a bit more of what these areas are like, watch this video. The video doesn't go too far into it, but things did not go so well. After everything that happened to David in these stark conditions in Peru and elsewhere in life, he decided to take his own life upon returning to the States. 

So at the end of the video where Alex says David would be back for the bike in about 6 months time, it was not so. Instead I went for the bike. Not to continue venturing on it obviously, but to bring back all the things David had left. It was quite the experience and definitely added to the surreal nature of the places I was visiting. But it was the final clue in what I had felt beckoned to go do. And in exchange for the sadness of having to go remove items from the motorcycle in this way, I was given the opportunity to delve even further into parts of Peruvian culture.

The hospital in Las Pampas.
I experienced a place that most visitors never go. A place where you are as far away from the comforts of home as you can be, where you see no other gringos for the duration of your time there. The parts where I felt like a minor celebrity or an alien simply for being different (especially being a tall, blonde woman), I could do without. But the parts where I got to touch someone's life and have an experience that neither you nor the people you interact with will ever forget, well that makes for the worthy experience of a lifetime. Men were asking to take pictures with the gringa (again that I could do without) and fourteen year old girls were asking for bracelets of mine simply to remember the experience by- the girl who came from afar to find out about a motorcycle and made them feel special and appreciated while she was at it. (Maybe it had to do with all the crystals I was handing out...)

The beautiful family who is storing David's bike for him, a connection I will never forget making.
I say it was hard to get to this point in my trip, but it was so worthy. I spent the first part of my voyages understanding myself better, and the second part understanding Peru better. So many of my preconceived notions and ideas were broken and altered. I felt what it was like for the people of Peru, their suffering, their glory, their pride, their bounty of a beautiful natural country, their majestic lands, their plight at the state of a world in distress. Yet their knowingness and deep found spiritual beliefs lie beneath it all, and that doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Even Diego mentioned that now that he has found yoga (we did meet at a Hare Krsna yoga eco village after all), he has for the first time in his life developed a sense of peace, belonging, and confidence that he has never before experienced. Eternal optimist that I am, I can only hope. That the innate knowledge that so many of the people in South America contain can be combined with a better way of living. That things will start to balance out on a global scale, and that the beautiful connection many South Americans still have to their lands and heritages can be combined with a means for living in the modern world, happily and peacefully. And that we can cease destroying some of the most sacred and intact lands and cultures while we're at it.

My time in Peru is not over. How could it be when I felt so connected to the source every moment I was there?

My time in South America will be never ending. I am in love with these lands, these people, these languages, the feelings I have while I am in their countries. I will continue to be perplexed about what is going on as a sociologist, an environmentalist, an optimist, and an interested adventurer. 

What I've learned, though, is that you can't do everything, try to fix it all, or feel badly about what you can't do. What you can do, though, is think positively, be realistic, and do the best you can. I will continue to share my yoga as I have tangibly seen how it has helped so many and given people hope even in their darkest or most conflicted hours. 

And as Paulo Coehlo says, 'Don't try to be useful. Try to be yourself: that is enough, and that makes all the difference.' There is so much to be 'changed' in the world, so many people who need help or who have suffered. So many out there who want to change the world but just don't know how or aren't given the outlet. My advice, and Paulo Coehlo's- don't worry about changing the world. Work on yourself. On accepting, loving, and being open to making the changes when necessary. And in doing so, you will change your world for the better, and THAT is how we will change the world and bring it back into harmony. 

So look within, rather than without. Be honest. Be understanding. You will find the answers of compassion, direction, and acceptance that you seek. And in doing so you will find love, which can then be spread to those around you, far and wide. And our shared world will quickly be on its way to becoming a better, brighter, more harmonious, and enjoyable place to live.  I feel better already.

Expect to hear more here- further musings about South America, the States, social issues, adventure, travel, personal anecdotes, ponderings, and of course yoga
As well as gratitude, gratitude gratitude.

NAMASTE Y'ALL y gracias por todo.

Finding David's motorcycle at long last.

No comments:

Post a Comment