Finding a Piece of my Heart in Peru

I had a plane ticket leaving for Peru today, returning to the land and people that hold such a big piece of my heart. 

Instead, I perused sketchbooks from my travels there. Sketching helps me to notice details, and along with a few scribbled notes, each sketch brings back a sensory experience of being in that particular place and moment, complete with the smells, feel of the wind or sunshine, so many colors, and always, the smiles. 

While I am not leaving home today, I am feeling so much gratitude to all of the women with whom I have traveled. Our relationships are symbiotic; you have made it possible for me to make a living traveling, and I have hopefully enriched your experiences, often in small, behind- the-scenes ways. I hope this post sparks memories of our adventures in Peru, or inspires you in some way, perhaps to look through your own notes and photos, bringing back your own special moments. If you haven’t traveled to Peru yet, come in 2021!

And, I am thinking of the Peruvians, our beloved guides, and all of the workers who drive and feed, and serve and clean and provide lodging, and more, as well as the girls and families of Peruvian Hearts — many of these people live on an economic cliff in the best of times and are the most vulnerable during this world-wide health and economic crisis.

The Andean Cross holds rich symbolism for the Quechua people, as does Ayñi, reciprocity of giving and receiving, work for community, family and self. May all experience Ayñi in these times.

Cusco is one of my favorite cities in the world. The steep streets, winding with nooks and beautiful colors and people always intrigue me. I love revisiting my favorite places and restaurants, and especially my friends at Peruvian Hearts, a nonprofit organization devoted to girls’ education and empowerment. Many of my groups have visited their apartment for students or one of their family’s home, perhaps enjoying quinoa soup made by the girls for us.

Cusco is known as the “Navel of the Earth” and was the center of the Incan Empire.

Conquistadores built 15 churches and other buildings in Cusco from boulders ransacked from Sacsayhuamán and other Incan sites. The mix of Incan stonework and Colonial buildings make up Cusco’s interesting architecture.

The city is a wonderful launching place for hiking and cultural adventures throughout the region. My trips have included different itineraries from strenuous trekking, to writing, yoga, and shorter day hikes to archeological sites. Whatever the focus, each trip has included similar elements.

As a mountain girl from Colorado, the mountains of Peru capture my heart, inspiring me with their beauty, spiritual connections, and mountain people.

Walking into the first lodge on the Salkantay Trek and seeing this view from the lounge was breathtaking, especially since we were 12,690 feet above sea level! I had time for a quick sketch of the landscape we would be hiking through in the coming days; golds and greens framed the rocky path. Step by step we passed across a 15,200 ft. pass, dominated by the sacred peak, Salkantay.

On the same trek, I sketched from the Colcha lodge hot tub; the world’s best hot tub view!

Traditional weaving is a long process connected to rural life and the earth. From raising sheep, llama, and alpacas, shearing their wool, spinning, collecting plants and minerals for colors, and finally weaving intricate designs, full of meaning and beauty. My first-hand experiences watching, participating, and learning about these ancient practices from women, laughing and communicating rudimentarily leave me wanting more — more time with them and more money to buy their lovely weavings.

These experiential activities have been made possible in Chinchero by Nilda Callañaupa, who was at the forefront of reviving interest and skill in weaving through projects at the Center for Traditional Textiles. We have also visited the remote village of Patacancha through the nonprofit Awamaki who also helps traditional weavers and communities to connect with travelers.

Walking through or staying in small villages and meeting local people, and learning about their lives teaches me how interconnected they are with the land, their animals, and their communities. I absolutely love finding 5 or 10 minutes to watch daily life and illustrate it in a quick sketch. These two images are from the rural village of Huacauasi. I stayed here several times with Mountain Lodges of Peru, who has a community-profit-sharing model. They also have a women’s weaving experience in Choquecancha.

Visiting rural homes reminds me about the Quechua’s close relationship to the earth. Their indoor space is small and often shelters some of their animals, as well as their children and extended families. But the people here mostly live outside in nature; their home is spacious with the the sky ceiling and surrounding mountain walls.

Machu Picchu is the main reason most women sign up for our Peru trips. The mystery of the magical setting, and architectural beauty never disappoints. Each time I visit, I am more intrigued and inspired, and learn new aspects about this mountain top citadel.

The Temple of the Condor is my favorite place because of the sculptural beauty and symbolism. Dedicated to the Andean Condor, the stones of the temple spread like the wings of South America’s largest bird (their wingspan reaches 8 feet!)

I have pages of notes interspersed with rudimentary drawings from the nine times I have visited Machu Picchu, including once on my birthday in 2016 and my sister Margaret’s birthday in 2018. It has been fun to read and remember tidbits of information that bring meaning to the place.

It is believed the Incas used hematite stone tools and gave offerings to the earth, in gratitude for the use of the white granite boulders for their buildings.

My favorite time to visit Machu Picchu is late in the day, when the shadows are long.

I am realizing that this post is also getting long. So, I’ll share more of my experiences in Peru (and more pieces of my heart) in a future post.

In closing, this world health and economic crisis has affected so many. If you have the means to Donate to Peruvian Hearts, please do! The girls and their families are working so hard to escape poverty; yet they have lost so much. A donation of any size helps them to stay in school and have their basic needs met.

Tupananohiskama  — I will see you when we see each other again.

7 comments

  1. Our group adventure to Peru remains one of my favorite trips. Not having a creative talent of my own, your fabulous sketches made me so jealous. Wonderful memories, thanks Brenda.

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