On The Inca Trail – Inca Trail, Peru

On The Inca Trail

Walk Calle Quilca at sundown watching clusters of men debating and listening to exhortations on such emotive subjects as the cost of coca to el presidente Toledo. Down a pisco sour at La Noche after buying Cesar Vallejo’s Complete Poetic Works from the small bookstore crammed into a tiny crevice beside the café. Then wander farther down the dark walkway to witness the flaming murals painted on dreary brick walls by passionate artists who gather at El Averno to plot and to paint revolutionary art on the streets and alleys of Lima.

Stroll around the block to where the girls are working the street and the chicken is being fried with the potatoes. Go to La Plaza San Martin, where the bronze liberator is sitting elegantly on his horse. Visit the baroque churches with their gaudy statues and sodalities. See the Blessed Virgin and her son bathed in blood, skewered to the cross. Visit the tomb of St. Martin de Porres, the only black saint I knew as a child. Venerate his skull preserved above a side altar.

Travel south to Chincha y El Carmen where the Afro-Peruvians keep the rhythm alive with los cajones, tambores, percussion under the wheelchair-ridden-watchful godfather of Peru, Negro Amador Ballunbrosio, and his loving wife. They keep the African tradition alive.

I sit on the patio in Arequipa sipping matte coca, eating bread and jam as a wispy cloud lingers on the summit of Mt. Misty until white vapors dissolve in sunlight and blue sky. In the afternoon I walk the street cobbled with stones to Convento de Santa Catalina, a community of nuns once divided by caste – the rich Spanish, the middle-class mestizas, and the poor and lowly Indians who waited hand and foot on the privileged. A reforming pope forced the convent to live like a society instead of a walled wealthy female town in the heart of Arequipa.

I visit the frozen face of Juanita whose young life was sacrificed on a mountain top by Inca priests in propitiation for the sins of her people and to please Pacha Mama, Mother Earth.

After dinner and pisco sours, a linda senorita gives me the word.

Mira Tomasito, aqui? las chicas somos un poco lentas.
Esperamos que primero ustedes den el primero paso…
Y luego uyuyuy!!! Ten cuidado!!! Por algo somos Latinas!!!

A lonely white wisp lingers over the summit of barren brown Mt. Misty on a sunny Sunday morning in Arequipa. I sip my matte coca until only leaves are left in my tea pot and a cool breeze blows my muse off the mountain top.

Puesta del Sol
As the sun sets and the river rapids rush headlong over steep smooth stones to the sea, she scurries like a sprite through a low archway in the stone banister in search of scraps of food and reusable plastic left on the hilltop.

The urchin squats on the ground in the shadows picking and then chewing fragments of cotton candy left on a stick by a stranger. She doesn’t see me watching her in wonder when she rises and runs back under the banister to join her mother holding a tattered sack.

I collect smooth stones on the sandy shores of Lake Titicaca, womb of the Inca world. Drink matte coca to revive flagging strength in the thin air of El Altiplano. Sail to Isla del Sol where I trek with Aymara and Quechua spirits on rainbows arcing across the island. Sleep in silence of grazing llama and alpaca.

On the way to the carnival in Cusco, the caravan is halted by a blockade of large rocks placed on the main road by angry Aymaras protesting government policies that leave them unemployed and hungry. A sturdy elderly woman wearing a small Peruvian hat sits on a large stone in the road, knitting a wool scarf as she defends their cause against angry truckers.

Inti Raymi
Crowds of pilgrims gather on the granite grandstand overlooking Sacsayhuaman on a grey and cloudy day to witness the sacred rites of the ancient Incas celebrating the Sun and the Winter solstice.

The heavens weep over Cusco as the procession begins with the blowing of conches followed by Boom Boom, Boom Boom, Boom Boom, Boom Boom, of ceremonial drums. Then the wooden flutes begin to play and legions of colorfully clad Inca soldiers, priests, vestal virgins and nobles file down from the opposite hillside onto the sacred plain. Next comes the Inca’s principal wife attired in white carried on a throne, followed by the Inca king borne on his golden throne. He holds his golden staff, sits on the elevated stage in center field with his head shielded from the rain by a feathered servant holding an Inca umbrella.

The sacred rites are performed and prayers are recited in Quechua while hundreds of maidens dance around the stage, as rows of rainbow banners waive on the hillside. After the symbolic sacrifice of the llama, the flesh is carried by a priest to the sacred bonfire where it burns with the wood and rises to Hanang Pacha with the Condor who soars skyward as the clouds part, the sun shines and a rainbow arcs over Cusco in honor of El Inca.

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