Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Lake Titicaca. Peru.

Lake Titicaca is just at the bottom of my road, but I haven't got the energy this morning to go further than the chemists!

The sprawling city of Puno at the north end of this famous lake, sits at staggering 12.500 feet above sea level.

It's fairly inevitable that at some point in a journey one's body will rebel against all the changes it's having to cope with.
This is what is happening right now with mine, today.

After a sleepless night, finding it very heard to breath, with two drunks shouting beneath my bedroom window at 2.30 am ( for almost an hour),I read the symptoms on the Internet this morning for altitude sickness. I am not a severe case. Thank God. I am just a poor patient. I don't have much patience with myself when my body is in discomfort, and a wee bit of panic tends to rear it's head.
At 3.30am (this morning) I got dressed, went onto my balcony, and asked very nicely if the two ' chicos '( young men) below could do me a great favour and finish their conversation further down the street. They immediately agreed and staggered off ! Beautiful silence ensued until the torrential rain started lashing the window, followed by the early morning traffic gearing into action.

Leaving for Copocabama this afternoon by bus. Hopefully the lower altitude will clear all the symptoms.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Unexpected adventures.

I've been here in Ollantaytambo in the Cusco region of Peru for nine days now. Every day has been jam packed with leaning, love, and challenges !
There is so much to share and as I type so slowly I think I'll just share some 'headings' with you and then see what calls for more sharing.
Thank you to all my friends for your messages in Facebook. This is the very first time in all my years of traveling that I've had a laptop with me. WHAT LUXURY. No more searching out grotty cyber cafes in the rain or the heat.


I arrive in Ollantaytambo to discover my young Peruvian family are in crisis. They have separated. The young father with whom I have set up an aid project here in the mountains, tells me what he wants for his son is that he grows up to be a noble soul, with or without him at his side. His son celebrates his fifth
birthday the next day.
We meet later the same day having arranged to visit Julia, an old abandoned woman he introduced to me last year. She lives in pigsty a few miles away. I have had her in my heart and prayers every day since.


We meet Julia and after a while she remembers me. Her photo is at the top of this post. She now lives in a derelict house, in one room with a padlock on the door She wears the key around her neck. Her clothes as always are filthy. She has no inside cooking facilities, no bathroom ( of course), and for light, one candle. All her five children have died and her husband went off with another woman years ago. She has the most wonderful smile in the world.

We go for a walk and stop in the playground in front of the village school. I watch the children play. On the football field the older children are playing football, and the younger children are playing tag. They just run around each other. There is no problem that two games are taking place on the same piece of land at the same time.

Julia looks up at the mountains and as always has one hand wavering in front of her mouth.
All of a sudden she gets very excited.
'Tu papa' she says in Quechua ( she doesn't speak Spanish).
'Tu Papa...'

The most extraordinary 'thing' then unfolds.
My young friend translates.

Has your dad died he asks me?
I say yes, almost certainly, but I never met him. I was adopted.

Julia says his spirit is here, up in the mountains. Julia is jumping up and down pointing at the Andes.
I can't believe my ears.
'Your dad is here,' she continues, 'He is always with you when you travel. He is very happy for you. He says you are here to accomplish something, you have a job to do here, and he will help you.
He is very happy for you.' She keeps repeating this.
Then Julia starts to dance.

My young friend says she is experiencing my dad's happiness that I am here. Julia dances and smiles and keeps repeating the word 'Papa, Papa,' pointing at the mountain tops, looking at me in the eye.

I am overwhelmed.
'Look' says Julia pointing at the summit of one of the mountains, 'a condor.'
I can't see it, but my young friend can. He reminds me that the condor was- is the symbol for the connection to other worlds here in Peru.

We walk back to Julia's room.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I thought I was coming to give her a little bit of support, but I am the one who is receiving a gift. She has given me something priceless.
Never have I felt so charged with spiritual energy.

The Prison

Another young Peruvian friend is in prison again in Cusco.
I can't remember if I offered or was asked to visit him. Either way I am very willing to go.

But First...

The charity I fund raised for and support here are very busy organizing the Chocolatadas. These are hot chocolate fiestas for children living in remote settlements in the mountains near Machu Picchu. I am going to take part in six days of these.

I join the team for my first Chocolatada on Friday. They have already done three. This year they have employed two clowns to come with us. We visit about three or four viilages each day. The clown's baby comes too!

The first Chocolatada is in a remote village above Pisac. We are not allowed to take photos. The village is supported by the work of an English woman in her late 70's. Afterwards we visit two lagoons above the village. We are at high altitude. It's a mystical place the Peruvian nurse who has been with us tells me. Meditate here she says.

The journey to the prison

On Saturday I am advised to go to spend the night in Cusco. Visiting at the prison starts at 8am on Sunday morning. I am two hours from Cusco.
I leave at 5pm , negotiate a fare in a taxi, and very soon we meet the landslide which completely blocks the road to Cusco. The rocks are gigantic. I seriously wonder if this is a sign I should turn back.
Never mind says the Taxi driver grinning, we'll take the Inka trai!. So we hurtle back towards Ollantaytambo, crawl over a very primitive bridge, and then driving on the other side of the river, follow on the old Inka trail till we come to another death defying bridge which takes us back onto the main road.

I am determined to go to the prison without fear. I am sure my father's spirit is with me. I will be safe. I have no doubt, albeit a few wobbly moments before leaving for the prison on Sunday morning.

The horror stories are terrible, the worst being there are no guards inside the prison. This turns out to be not true. There are a few. I go with a friends cousin ,she knows how things work there she tells me.

All will be well.
My heart is so full for these women ( Sunday is visiting day for women and children), I feel very calm.

After almost two hours queuing outside the jail, in the heat, two women close by us start fighting. One stabs the other with a knife. The guards are quick on the scene.

For a moment I feel very frightened. I'm not sure I want to go through with this now. Then calm returns. My father is with me. I have a job to do but I don't know what it is yet. I can't stand the sight of blood my young companion tells me. I didn't see the blood or the knife. It happened so quickly.
After more waiting and many, many formalities, slowly moving though a series of locked doors, we are finally inside. We've had to rent skirts and flip flops from a seller outside the jail. Women are not allowed in in trousers or shoes. I feel strange wearing somebody else's long black skirt and wonder who was in my flip flops before me.
I have to hand over my passport. Next we have official stamps stamped on both wrists, plus a number written in felt pen. Mine is 177-7.
My lucky number.
We are then strip searched.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

La Chocolatada

La Chocolatada (a hot chocolate fiesta), our third fund raiser, has been a huge success.
I think it will now become an annual event in our community here in southern Spain. Next year we'll have it on a Sunday, so the supermarket owners and other shopkeepers who so kindly donated produce and gifts for the raffle can come too.
Isn't it extraordianry how something can start as just a tiny little idea in your mind one day, and then hey presto, it manifests into a huge group activity, involving a few hundred people. And then magically, something gets triggered in the hearts of others, and good will flows freely, abundantly, and beautifully.

Of course on the big day there were small things that could be improved, and they will be next year. These were nearly all my little blips ! I forgot to assign a team to make the hot chocolate! It was on my list, but it didn't get ticked. How could anybody be so forgetful ? I mean, a hot chocolate morning and no hot chocolate makers !!
Trooper-Piluka came to the rescue and told hair raising tales afterwards about running in and out of the restaurant next door to use their hot milk machine.

But overall, everybody seemed to have had a really great morning, and we made over 3000€.
Piluka , if somewhat frazzled, and her stoic assistant Mabel, lived to tell the tale.
Why not make it all day next time somebody said.

My intention was just to create a bubbly fun family type morning like last year, and whatever we collected money-wise would be a help in Peru. But with a new team of helpers this year, the event quickly took on a momentum of its own, and when Diane joined the team ( a recently retired professional fund raiser), we seemed to rev up a gear, and soon got talking about money spinners !

On the day, which threatened to rain but didn't, Fabio the young Brazilian clown, Gym the accordionist, and Tina and Dave the jazz duo, charmed both kids and adults. The Ecuadorian flautist arrived late but added an wonderful flavour of South America to the event, especially right at the end, which helped the clearing up become a delight rather than a chore.

The auction of favors MC'd by Chris Stewart was a huge success. The favours included riding lessons; a delicious meal for two cooked and brought to your door; a weeks free dog accommodation; a geopathic stress evaluation for your house; a reflexology session, and more. The auction drew great enthusiasm from the crowd, and the goodwill on behalf of the donors of the favours was overwhelming for me. Such kindness, such generosity, such big-heartedness, all to help thousands of little children living in dire poverty in many mountainous pockets of Peru. This was my dream to help these forgotten wee ones. How lovely it blossomed so vibrantly.

There were fantastic prizes for the raffle, including a long weekend in a beauitful sea side flat not too far away from our local town for a couple or a family of four; a stunning pastel drawing by local artist Ainsley Platt; dinner for two at the acclaimed Limonero restaurant, and many more prizes donated from local businesses.

I mustn't forget to mention the hundreds and hundreds of mouth watering cakes people brought to sell; the home made jams and chutneys; Sue's relaxing hand and on the spot head massages; and Glyns Aladin's cave of goodies. Also a 'guess the weight of the squash' stall brought in many euros. We had planned a 'human fruit machine', but this got forgotten ( by me) in the chaos of the lack of hot chocolate makers!
There were wonderful games carefully and thoughtfully organized for the kids by two young mums, all of which made for many smiles, a lot of money, and a real feeling of community.

And thank you to everybody, including all the stall holders, makers of bunting, bringers of flowers, and all the unsung acts of kindness which may have escaped mention here. I feel I need to wear a badge every time I come to town saying thank you for helping, I so hate the thought of forgetting to thank people.

So, here we are now, two weeks on, almost in mid November, and this should be day one for me of a two month trip to Peru. I wasn't on the Lima flight last night. Luckily, on Saturday I managed to change my booking just before the internet crashed for the weekend. I'll leave in almost three weeks time. This will be plenty of time to recover from the counting house incident.

The counting house incident.

After the fund raiser, I had a large stash of notes, and five boxes full of coins that were so heavy I could barely lift them. Eventually,I had to take them to the bank in the shopping trolley, but first they had to be counted.
Just over a week ago ,late at night, I sat at my kitchen table and started to count the hundreds of mainly small brown coins. I felt like the queen in her counting house. I have never ever seen or touched so many coins in my life.
After a few hours I was exhausted. I washed my hands quickly, had a snack, and fell into bed. A few hours later the stomach pains and headache started, then just like thunder approaching, the tummy rumbling arrived, then the rest I won't go into.
I obviously didn't wash my hands well enough, and the filthy lucre attached itself to me. The rest is history. The next four days were not pleasant, and since then my strength has been so depleted I feel like I've had a major operation.
The doctor said I would be very unwise to travel. I knew I couldn't, but part of me was determined to go.

I think Pluto squaring your Neptune indicated you driving yourself beyond good sense for the sake of your ideals - which worked of course, but then you had to pay the price.

This was my wise astrologer friend Pam's response to my question, why did this have to happen?
So, I surrendered, learnt my lesson, and felt huge relief.

I am exhausted yes, but not just by the fund raiser. Having three retreats guests in a row, one right after the Chocolatada was stretching myself too much. I know, I know. All the money I earned from these retreats will go to two other wonderful projects in Bolivia and Peru. This makes me forget about myself, this makes me 'work' without remembering to exercise and look after my physical body. But it's what makes my heart sing on all levels, and sometimes I pay the price with tiredness. A vision without a task is a day dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. And a vision and a task are the hope of the world. And finding balance in all of this is the key to keeping healthy.

Huge kindness and generoisty have been flowing in our area these past few weeks, and I've experienced once again what somebody said to me after the first fund raiser I organized.
'When you help somebody else it puts a smile on their face, and a glow in your heart.'

Yes. Tired, but glowing with gratitude.

Thank you everybody out there.

And get well very soon Val, we missed you very much.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

La Chocolatda. Bringing hot chocolate and presents to thousands of children and the frail elderly in the High Andes at Christmas.

This little girl in Peru is enjoying a mug of hot chocolate, a sticky sweet bun, and the plastic doll on her lap has been a present from the charity

This year I will be working with a different organistaion called My Small Help ( We'll be taking her hot chocolate again (and to 4000 other underprivileged children in remote mountain villages near Machu Picchu), but this year she will be given a beautiful fair trade toy made in Peru.

My life has suddenly been taken over by organizing a third fund raiser to help this Christmas project happen.
Such generosity comes out of the cupboard when people get involved in fund raising. More stories of this coming soon !

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Amarantha. A fable.

Throughout history patron saints have been chosen as protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches , countries, places, causes - anything that is important to us. The earliest records show that people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs as early as the fourth century.

'Yes, you may photograph me.'
Amarantha, the patron saint of this small Spanish river valley agrees graciously. Today though, she is invisible to all but a few.

The taxi driver smiles and photographs the river. He doesn't see Amarantha sitting on a rock, red poppies in her hand. His gold wedding ring glints in the afternoon sun. She smiles. He loves the river. He knows it well. He got married here three years ago.

'That's a great shot' says the thin man on holiday from Germany, nervously testing each unsteady rock beside the fast flowing blue grey water. His nicotine stained index finger clicks on his new Canon camera. Amarantha's attention is taken by a tattoo of a butterfly on the foreigners scrawny wrist.

Another shot, this time of the lagoon.
'Sehr gut.' he says. 'We leave now?'

The German is hungry and says he's thinking about food. He knows this is an excuse. He can't stand still. He says he didn't have lunch. He looks all around, as if expecting an ambush. He doesn't see Amarantha, smiling.

'Tranquillo' says the taxi driver. 'Chill !'

'How on earth did they find their way down here?' said the frog to his wife.

Butterflies continue to play around Amarantha's head. She waves her hand and pouting with her mouth, exhales a long 'shoo'. Her breath has the power and the feel of a cool breeze.
'God it's chilly' says the German to the taxi driver.

The frogs wife leaps into the river and swims strongly beside her husband.
'I believe they're here to celebrate something special. Why else would Amarantha be here?' she splutters.
'Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows ?' mumbles her husband, springing elegantly back onto dry land.

Butterflies, dragonflies and turtles watch as Amarantha stands up. On the opposite side of the river a farmer is sitting in his tree, picking oranges. He waves to her.
'Thank you for coming today Amarantha,' he calls.'We need your blessing. Winter has changed the course of our river. The pools are too deep. We might loose some of our children.'
He didn't need to say another word.

Amarantha wades into the middle of the river. Lifting her arms, her ancient face glows, and out of her mouth flow the sweetest of sounds. It is not a hymn that fills the air, nor a song. If it is like anything at all, it is like overtone chanting, perfuming the late summer afternoon with pure alchemy.

The river spirits rest on stones and branches and listen, time stands still. The breeze suspends it journey, the sun dims, the clouds gather, the eagles overhead swoop, and the small land creatures gather together mesmerized.
A few drops of rain fall.

'Swim?' says the taxi driver pulling off his shirt.

The German looks like he's seen a ghost, but slowly , he strips down to his green stripped underwear. Then with a terrible yell, he plunges into the lagoon, unaware that Amaratha is only a meter away.

Soon the two men are splashing about like five year olds.

After a while, the German stands up and grabs the taxi driver's arm.
'My son drowned in a river accident ten years ago' he says. 'He was three. It was entirely my fault. This is the first time I've been in a river since then.'

The taxi driver can't find words.

A cool breeze touches both of them.
'God it's cold' says the taxi driver.

Amarantha's 'song' gets louder, but they cannot hear her.
'It doesn't matter,' agree the tall wise bamboos swaying by the banks of the river. They will feel her energy.

And as the men dry themselves with their shirts, back to back, Amarantha begins to whisper:

"May you arise each day with the voice of blessing whispering in your heart.

May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.

May you know the eternal longing that lives in the heart of time.

May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.

May you allow the the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.

May you know where you truly belong."

Now dressed, turning to face each other,the taxi driver puts a gentle hand on his passengers shoulder.

'We're done' he says.

'Yes' says Amarantha, merging into the spray of the waterfall, becoming one with her river.

'You're done'.

And the butterflies and the dragonflies and the frogs and the little creatures of the fields knew she would come again, when she was needed.

She never needs to be asked.

The Spanish name Amarantha means 'rare,' and is derived from the Greek 'amarantos' meaning 'unfading'.

Amaramtha's 'song' is from John O' Donohue's poem Belonging,
from his book To Bless This Space between Us.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Prayer for Strength

May I live this day
Compassionate of heart
Clear in word
Gracious in awareness
Courageous in thought
Generous in love.

From John O' Donohue's Matins
(To Bless this Space Between us)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A Historic Day in the pueblo

Today is a truly historic day in our village, at least for three of us. Many of us are not bothered, life will go on just as before.

Jose, the handsome middle aged Argentinian WiFi man arrived this morning with his young assistant Marcus.
They sweated a lot and drank gallons of iced water.

Three of us in the village are now connected to WiFi, thanks to Jose, Marcus and an initiative by the local town hall.
Before, it took anything from 9-20 minutes just to enter Yahoo.

I have been waiting for this day for the last eight years!

All I can say is Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Goodbye Juan

It's my birthday.
Between breakfast and lunch I have two unexpected visitors. The first is elderly Manolo who reminds me I reversed into his son's new car a few days ago and scraped its shinny bumper. We'll all have a chat about it at the weekend he says. He's being very nice about it.
A few hours later a young man in a grey and orange uniform arrives and tells me I need a certificate for my gas installation. He says it's a new law, and can I read Spanish. Yes, I say, and I read some of the three pages he hands me. I am then easily conned into parting with 138€.
It's a scam my neighbors tell me later.
Why didn't I ask them before I paid up?
I wasn't expecting to deal with 'life' on my birthday, and, I've never heard of anybody being conned in our village.

It's evening now after a day with too much heat. Here in southern Spain, summer has sneaked in. We've been sitting for hours in the patio of our favourite restaurant, El Limonero. The owner is Wes, our friend the Canadian sculptor. He's created dishes for us that we've shared with the delight of eight years olds. I speak for myself. John's appetite after his chemo is small. When the deserts arrive, they're works of art, and as we dip into chocolate a rum cake, meringues with cream and blueberries, and a little mountain of cooked apples for John topped with a flower,fireworks explode outside.
Spain has beaten Germany.
Out little town goes wild with excitement.

I walk back to my car. The main street in Orgiva is alive with a group of young boys enjoying themselves recklessly, each one shouting and brandishing the Spanish flag . They run in a pack into the middle of the road as cars approach, shouting madly, VIVA ESPANA, VIVA ESPANA! The drivers respond by hooting their horns, their passengers yelling out of the windows, flags waving everywhere. It's a riot of delight, and it's a miracle nobody getting run over.
I stop and watch, momentarily overwhelmed with huge emotion. Real tears of allegiance to my adopted country take me by surprise. I love this country, and I love these people.

As I start to drive home, every car I pass blasts its horn at me. ' VIVA, VIVA ESPANA !' they all shout.
'Viva Espana', I shout back as loud as I can, and blast my horn for the next next ten minutes.
Imagine being 65 today,having meringues and blueberries, being with three dear best friends, and blasting your horn for ten minutes in the city center, well, the village center.

I'm very tired half an hour later when I park my car in our mountain village. It's a five minute walk to my house. The olive and mulberry trees always look beauitful at night lit up by the old fashioned street lights. There are many stars in the sky, Venus is especially bright. The frogs in Josepha's pond are in full throttle. All over Spain people will be celebrating, and blasting their car horns. I'm listening for the song of a nightingale, but instead I hear the sound of many subdued voices. As I approach my house I see a large group of neighbors huddled together in the lane under Juan's vine. Before my tired mind can work out what's happening, Fina runs down the slope and grabs me by the arm.

Juan's died she tells me. He died this morning. We came to tell you, but you weren't there.
'I'm so sorry,' I say. 'I'll just put my bag in the house and come up.'
This is the tradition in Spanish villages in the south. The villagers arrive to support the family. Some will stay all night. 80 year old Juan will be buried tomorrow at six.

I join them. I search the faces for Mari Carmen, Juan's daughter -in-law. She's looked after him with expertise and care for the last four years. She hugs me tightly and I tell her I think she's been a really wonderful daughter in law. I mean it and she knows I mean it.
She smiles. We're standing under the ancient vine. At last the air is cool.
She's in a state of shock. I know it hasn't been easy for her.

'Where's Joaquin ?' I ask looking around for her husband.
Inside Juan's small house a room has been cleared of furniture and his tiny coffin sits on two supports. Behind the coffin is a tall silver cross with electric 'candle effect' lights.
Joaquin, aged forty, Juan's younger son, stands by the door facing his father's coffin. I kiss him on both checks and say
'Lo siento mucho,' which is what I've been taught is the right thing to say.
He looks extraordinarily beautiful in his grief. His serious weatherbeaten face is somehow softer, without defenses now, and he is wordless, guarding his father's small body. Three village women stand beside the coffin. I edge towards it. I have never seen a dead body. I want to say goodbye to my friend. Elderly Ariseli says 'Happy Birthday Margarita.' Carmen says 'I wish you many more', but I don't hear her, so she repeats it louder.
'I'm sorry', I say, 'I.....'. I'm lost for words when I see Juan's face. His face is grey. It is so dear. And he's smiling. I've never seen him smile like this. The white silk shroud comes up to his chin.

I join the women in the next room until 1.30 in the morning. We are all ages, from 14 to 80.
Somehow, maybe as a result of the intensity of the situation, the conversation veers off towards my encounter with the rip- off- agent this morning. Before I know it, all the women are grinning and laughing. It doesn't quite seem right that we should be laughing so loudly with Juan just next door in his coffin. But on reflection, had he known, I think this gentle quiet man might also have had a little laugh. May he rest in peace.

Adios Juan y Viva Espana.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Corpus Christi

I nearly blotted my copybook with José our young Argentinean priest last night. I arrived early for mass for once, and Jose, who was lighting the candles, looking thinner than ever, asked me if I’d made an alter.
Madre Mia, I almost said out loud.
'I thought Corpus Christi was next week. Don’t worry,' I reassured him. 'I’ll run home and make one now, quickly. Everything I need is at hand.'

Corpus Christie is when in June we make outdoor alters around the village and then process from one to the next, singing. It’s an ancient custom here in Andalucia, but it's beginning to die out in places.

So I rushed home, got the tall green angel out of the meditation room, found the pink drapes, plucked the red Peruvian bit of fabric off the table in the hall,and collected ceramic baby Jesus from the top shelf in the pantry. This particular Baby Jesus is pure Kitsch , but gifted to me by a neighbor and absolutely obligatory for your outdoor alter. A plate with bread is required, and there should have been grapes too, but I didn’t have any. Also needed is a glass of wine, and a lighted candle, and lots of flowers in vases. The alters are made in the street, mine on the ledge below my front door where my herbs and empty flower pots sit at the moment. Flower and rose petals are strewn on the ground in front of the alter, surrounding a little cushion placed strategically for the priest to kneel on. I also brought out one of my two new Indonesian horse -candle- sticks which now stand regally and protectively at the end of the hall, beside the little chest of draws where the ceramic holy family sit. I wasn't sure if this was going a bit over the top.
When I’d almost finished arranging the alter, my neighbor Mari Carmen ,who moved to the big town three years ago but who still comes back to the village with her family for weekends in the summer, arrived splattered with paint to see what I was doing.
‘You not going to the mass?’ I asked her.
‘No’ she said grinning, pointing to her paint spotted legs. ‘I’m repainting the house.'

During my first years in the village, Mari Carmen’s alter was always the most grand, the most impressive. Hours were spent arranging and hanging the elaborate drapes, collecting broom and rose petals to scatter on the ground. All the significant props were arranged with thought and much discussion. In those days it was a communal effort with at least ten people, men and women helping. In those first years, 9 years ago, we had about 5 alters all around the village.

The custom is that after the mass, the whole village processes behind the priest, singing. The priest stops to bless each alter, and the singing stops and starts. Incense is waved over the alter. We say the Lords prayer. It’s very moving. Each year less people process, and this year there were only three alters, almost only two, had I not got the church early.

One of the most touching things about this traditional ritual is that after leaving the church and starting to process, there’s a moment where people decide who they will link arms with. This to me is such a symbol of neighborly and family love it touches me deeply.
Yesterday I had a moment of pure agony when I remembered how I had linked arms with my beloved elderly Angustia in the early years. How she had tottered, huffed, and puffed on my arm as we wound our way around the little hills and slopes of our village. Last night her small,orphaned,orange colored dog barked madly as we passed her empty house. I miss her too I said silently.
'It’s a miracle that dog’s still alive.' I said to Pili who owns the village bar.
The dog lives alone for weeks on end, feeding herself on dry food left in a shed. Pili wearing a glamorous beige tight fitting silk blouse with short sleeves said, 'Yes. Poor little thing.'
'She has a tumor the size of a grapefruit hanging under her belly.' I said.
'I know.' said Pili. 'Poor little creature.'
We tottered down the steep slope together, arms aorund each other waists for balance, she with her red sling back summer canvas shoes, me with my new white crocs.

The procession arrived at Carmen's house. The theme was blue, the alter beautifully assembled with huge pot plants of scarlet geraniums on either side. Mases of rose petals neatly surrounded the priests cushion. Carmen's fourteen your old daughter Amelia wearing new silver dangly earings and a blue top took many photos.

We sang a little breathlessly as we climbed the hill to the other Carmen's house. Her alter was the sweetest pale pink, assembled with immense love and charm. On the ground behind the rose petals, little baskets of sea shells and beach stones caught my eye.

I was so glad I had made my alter, even though it was put together so quickly, and was scruffy at both sides. I didn’t have time to hide the empty flower pots and there was quite a lot of mule shit on the track.

Loli , my dear friend of the beautiful blue and white house in the village, didn’t come, which means she was probably suffering from a terrible migraine. Her dad, Vicente, of very poor health but with a very large loving heart, walked slowly in the procession, often gripping the arm of Augustine. This alliance between the elderly man who lost his beloved wife 51 years ago, who then brought up his four daughters by himself, and my builder Augustine, a kind man in his 40’s no stranger to heartbreak, scorched my heart. It made me feel so privileged to know these people, my energy bubbled and bled, rose and tumbled, and finally settled into a state of indescribable bliss.

Viva Espana ! Viva Corpus Christi !

Wish Big

I sat on a mountain track above our village last week intending to read my wise friends letter once again, but a choir of at least twenty birds, bees and insects interrupted this intention. Nightingales, cuckoos, doves, blackbirds and many other tiny birds were right in the middle of their early evening-song, their vespers. It was one of those moments of pure surprise and delight. Split second bliss. I had anticipated being on my own in quiet contemplative silence. These joyful sounds of early summer surrounded me and with a smile on my face I offered them my full attention. Right in front of me was a clump of wild purple lavender, and beside it tufts of pale green sage and willowy wild fennel. The evening scent was heady. Many hundreds of feet below on an outcrop of rock nestled our magical village, the flat- roofed whitewashed houses strewn in the shape of a half moon . Behind the village, the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains were in full view. Large families of slim white clouds were racing each other home before sunset.
I'd come to think about the contents of my friend’s letter. I need guidance, and I need help to promote my book.

‘Imagine that you are not affected by flattery or criticism.
Imagine that in your presence all hostility is overcome by a profound peace’.
(Deepak Chopra)

I’ve been reading Deepak Chopra again recently. One of these two lines above has been gnawing away at me. Criticism. There’s this stealthy little fear creature lurking in my head which is feeding and encouraging the dread of being damned and rejected because I talk about things in my book that some people may find uncomfortable, embarrassing, or taboo. But also, I realise I am embarrassingly susceptible to encouragement. It’s nice. I am a magnet for uncomfortable thoughts right now.
Promoting your own book is extraordinarily challenging if you’re not a naturally extroverted kind of a person. The horror of being misunderstood by those on a different path is proving to be paralyzing.
So, after a lot of un necessary agonizing about how to start publicizing the book, and after re reading my wise friends letter many times, I decided to spring into action and take a young American friends’ advice. Send it to Oprah she said. I checked her website. Oprah is approachable and Oprah loves snail mail. I have a plan.
Deepak says all we need is clarity of intent. Then, if we can get the ego out of the way, the intentions fulfil themselves...we don’t need to become involved in the details- in fact, trying too hard may backfire, he concludes.

Apart from Deepak Chopra’s Synchro Destiny (harnessing the infinite power of coincidence to create miracles) I’ve been re-reading my Danish dentist wife’s book on the Law of Attraction. It’s one of those books that mysteriously comes your way exactly when you need it. At the back of her book, Else suggests 26 affirmations to kick start the laws of attraction into action. Affirmations are those punchy little lines you write for yourself that are guaranteed to change negative beliefs and bring good things into our lives, but frequently get forgotten after a few days. Ten years ago I created and remembered a brand new one. I mouthed it, silently chanted it, and said it out loud on and off all day for months. It worked.
'All that I seek now finds me.'
And that’s how I found my tumble down house in Spain, and my new life in the magical village.
One of my dentist’s wife affirmations is:

'I think BIG!' (She goes on to elaborate...)
I think big. I wish big. My imagination is limitless. I will accomplish my wildest dreams. I will focus on what I most want to manifest. I see only possibilities. I don’t have to know how my dreams will come true. The how is the domain of the Universe.
(Jeremiah 29.11. My addition.)

I like this enormously.
And why not think big?
Why think small?

My last (Good Grief) retreat guest left yesterday. His week went well. We had some wonderful moments, many shared laughs and some lovely walks. One day he remarked after a walk around the village that nobody was very friendly. I resisted telling him the reason. My last male guest four years ago came for two weeks, stayed for four, and did a runner without paying me !The villagers were horrified. But there’s more. He disappeared saying he was going to Granada to withdraw the money he owed me, and well, went on a bender for five days leaving his precious manuscript and all his clothes in my house. I left for a pre-planned short trip to Morocco and returned to find him living like a wild animal on the mountain behind my house. The women and children in the barrio were terrified. The men took him water and sandwiches. My neighbours were very worried about me and made me promise not to have any more male guests. Just think what could have happened Margarita they said.
During the last four years a few male friends have stayed a couple of nights, and I thought it was time to trust the Universe to send somebody honest who would benefit from the peace, the beauty, and the magic of our village. John left yesterday, and emailed the same evening:
I have returned with the best of souvenirs - a self awareness and an action plan to move forwards with my life.
I think that is priceless. Thank you.

One of the ideas John and I discussed was what we are, and what would we like to be a magnet for in our lives. Annie, my last retreat guest who got caught in the ash could drama and ended up in Madrid, says she’s a magnet for fulfilling moments. John decided he’d like to be a magnet for goodness. I think I’m a magnet for people with amazing stories. Last post, I didn’t get round to telling you the story about Annie’s heroic fiancé 20 hour drive from London to scoop her up in Madrid. And when they returned to London, the next day, he was back at work. That evening he was mugged and horribly attacked by four youths on his way home.

A composer friend on hearing this story told me about his would- be attackers. Twenty years ago, he sensed he was about to be robbed, possibly beaten up and dumped, by some youths who’d given him a lift. He was hitching home after a weekend’s ‘camping’ near Stonehenge. As the car lurched along, they asked him what he’d been doing at Stonehenge. When he started to tell them about the prayers he offered, the rituals he’d made, sleeping out under the stars, they feel into a state of awkward silence. Weren’t you terrified they asked? Stonehenge!! All those ghosts, and all that stuff? No, he said, and went on to elaborate. The energy changed between them. Suddenly he was interesting, no longer their victim.
Had Annie’s fiancés attackers known what intrepid adventures he’d had in Patagonia, what his dreams are, how he is a wilderness survival guide who can live for a week or is it a month with only a piece of sting and a knife, anywhere, well, how might their lives have been changed?

So Annie is a magnet for meaningful moments. John is a magnet for goodness. I am a magnet for amazing storytellers worldwide, and would love Oprah to be magnetically attracted to read my book !

What are you a magnet for?

Wish Big!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Pure Pink Mother's day

Driving home last night from Torvizcon, across the pitted,rutted and dusty dirt track road which is carved like a wobbly, ocher coloured line into the midriff of the mountain , I witnessed one of the most fabulous sunsets I have ever seen in my life. Streaks of deep, deep pink, and splodges of dusky dark blue-purple were splashed across the lavender sky. The scene was breath taking. I challenge any painter to reproduce that pink. It was like seeing this colour for the very first time ever, and it was the end of Mother's day here in Spain.

In the morning, Angustia's family had invited me to join them for lunch in the family home below my house. It's uninhabited now that Angustia's has died. Arriving in a possy of cars from Granada and Almeria, they told me:
'It's mothers day, come and eat with us!' It wasn't a question!

I knew they had come to remember and celebrate her. Nobody mentioned Angustia's name during the feast of barbecued meat, salad, and huge wedges of delicious water melon. I struggled with hot tears as I looked around the familiar kitchen noting her well used brown pots and pans with their matching lids hanging on the wall, just as before. The calender was a year out of date. Her blue and white pottery gleamed as always. The little sink in the corner seemed smaller than ever. The cement floor collected the debris from the meal. Everybody had brought something to share. Twelve of us sat around the table, they treated me as one of them. We were twelve people who had adored Angustia. Everybody, except me, talked a lot.
The poignancy of all the times I'd spent with my dear seventy eight year old neighbour in her kitchen, with her fog horn voice recounting fascinating stories of the old days in the village, silenced me.

After the meal, when everybody else had gone home and her sons were busy tidying up, her sister Isabel and I sat together. She told me once again, how Angustia had been run over in the street, by a car, going too fast. So quick, she said. It's almost a year now.
We cried together. She kept on talking, wiping her eyes with her blue apron. I noticed she'd lost a front tooth since I last saw her. Her hair is growing grey. We are they same age. I didn't reach for her hand nor she for mine. Ambushed momentarily by grief, we each knew how much the other had mattered to Augustia, and vice verca, of course.
It was a private, shared, moment, almost too painful bear.
Que vamos a hacer? She said at last. This is what they say here when everything else has been said. It translates something like, 'what else can we do'. It's the tone of voice they use to say this that implies an acceptance that is extremely deep. Life goes on.
Angustia's devoted sons and daughter will keep taking flowers to the cemetery on the Day of the Dead, and they will keep celebrating the wonderful mother she was, as long as they live. Her dear husband Miguel is very frail. They say he eats like a little bird now.

John O'Donohue the late much loved Irish mystic and writer wrote this blessing for the arrival of a child into the world, I'm quoting just a small part of it.
To end mother's day with this birth blessing seems apt, and in many ways it sums up Angustia for me. She was never fearful, never bitter, always kind.

May my eyes never lose sight
Of why I came here,
That I never be claimed
By the falsity of fear
Or eat the bread of bitterness.
In everything I do, think,
Feel, and say,
May I allow the light I am leaving
To shine though me and carry me home.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Pepe and the drowning boy.

The skies are full of planes once again. But not the sky above our village. It's strictly a flight path for birds, and always has been. Thanks to the incessant rain we've had during our very long winter, the wild flowers are now beginning to shoot through the soggy soil and cover the hillside with shimmering blankets of yellow and scarlet. Scarlet being the poppies.

Annie, my last retreat guest, soon to be married, joined the thousands of stranded passengers at Malaga airport last Friday, and turned her delay into a wonderful adventure. She said shelter,food,and communication with loved ones quickly became her priority. Her blackberry, and a brave sense of exploring the completely unknown served her well. Having been told it would be a week before she could fly back to London, she moved to Madrid where she fell in love with the Spanish way of life. We exchanged many texts. However, she very was disappointed to find that in the cathedral, they had no real candles for people to light. Just a money box which when fed, lit up electric ones. For somebody who works in an ancient English cathedral, this was a real disappointment. I had asked her to light a candle for our Miguel. I'm a little worried about his health. He's our 60 year old bachelor- goatherd, born and bred in the village. A few days ago as I drove home, he appeared on the crest of the ridge above the village. His six shy goats instantly shot down the ravine when they realized my car was stopping. Miguel had the bloodiest nose I've ever seen in years. He looked like an extra in a horror movie. But were were the rest of the cast? What had happened?
'I'm fine,' he said, smiling as always. 'Don't worry about it, the bleedings stopped.'

After my weekend adventure to Madrid to see Cirque Eloise, I've been asking myself the question, Why write a blog.?
I'm not traveling around South America any more, so why am I doing this?
Who's interested ?
The first and only blog site I've followed was called Open Veins: Life, Politics, and Friendships in Bolivia. I loved it. I would read more blogs, but my very slow dial up connection to the Internet doesn't allow this. The writer of Open Viens was a young journalist called Nick Buxton. My interest in Bolivia had just been torched by finding out about the work of Ivan Nogles in El Alto , the 'slum city' above la Paz. The extraordianry story of Ivan adopting seven boys from a boys prison (where he'd been working as a weekly prison visitor/teacher of circus skills ) had set my heart on fire with admiration. Nick's blogsite then filled me with the background information of this fascinating but wildly unstable country. I wanted to visit Bolivia, but couldn't quite muster up the courage. I was convinced I'd die of altitude sickness there. Nick's posts came to an end after he found love,and finally moved to California where his partner would give birth to their child. I didn't want them to leave Bolivia! I wanted to experience more of this extraordinary country though his eyes.

I'm continuing to write my blogsite because in telling Annie the story of Pepe and the drowning boy, I realized the importance of 'sitting under the tree' telling stories. Stories that touch the heart. As a grandmother now, I feel I can sit under my tree (my laptop!) and share some of the beauty and mystery of what I see, and have seen in the world . I'm giving myself permission. And if you experience a fraction of the pleasure I got from readings Nicks blog, great.

Pepe and the Drowning boy.
A true local story

It was New Years day, the year 2000. Spain. The scene, a small hamlet and hour south east of Granada.
Pepe, a farmer, was then about 70. The boy around 17. Pepe lived in a hamlet by a river, a beauitful place, but a place with dark secrets of the civil war. Pepe knew most of these secrets. He was and had always been a kind and a brave man. The boy arrived to drown himself having taken handfuls of drugs (for the first time) at a party the night before. He arrived with a friend who attempted , but wasn't able to pull him out of the water. Pepe took over. The friend was dispatched to tell the parents the boy was found. Pepe hauled the teenager into his field and sat him down under the old olive tree.
" Cigarette?" he asked the boy.
They sat together drenched to the skin, smoking silently for quite a while.
" You know," said Pepe, "if you ever want to talk about anything, anything at all, we can sit together under this tree. You'll know where to find me."

There are time when words aren't necessary, and times when they are. Grandfather Pepe knew the difference. His death last year left a huge hole in many of our hearts.
Thanks to Pepe, I learnd many things when I lived in his hamlet. The main one being: being part of each others stories, even a very small part, is what makes us matter to each other. Even if we start as complete strangers, we can soon become allies. My retreat guests and Miguel the kind goat herd teach me this constantly.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Disappearing mulberry trees and a broken toe.

There aren't many days in my life when I feel like a deflated balloon, but yesterday, Saturday, was one. It started on Wednesday actually, with two minor car accidents, but it took until Saturday for me to realize I was in bad shape. A broken toe, toothache and a feeing of uncertainty culminated in a bit of a nightmare. But as with all nightmares, we always wake up to ... in this case, to a bright new day ! !Si Senor! ( no little do- dah's or accents available with this programme, sorry Jeni!)

Peter Ustinov once said of his mother- in- law that "she didn't know what she thought until she'd heard what she'd said." I remember thinking at the time that I often don't know precisely what I think until I seen what I've written. Writing has become my way of burrowing out of confusion, or pain, or negativity. And I've had a dollop of all three since Wednesday! So, I decided to write to a friend about these misadventures, and out of that came this blog.

I've been so busy trying to get the house ship shape for my Danish Retreat guest arriving on Saturday, that I haven't been looking after myself properly. I had a minor accident in my car, two actually, the second on Wednesday, the result being my body went into a bit of shock. A lot of shock actually, though I didn't realize this at the time. I was too busy being busy to notice.

Also on Wednesday, I'd run out of wood so had to collect more in my car from our local town a half hour's down the mountain. Olive wood is the main source of heating for most mountain homes in this part of Spain. My usual source had dried up, well not so much dried up as seized up because the dirt track the woodman takes(with his tractor) to reach me, collapsed due to the storms in December.
So, on returning home from collecting the new wood, after a day doing 101 things, I tried to drive my car down the narrow track to my house, in the dark, rather than tip it all out at the top of the road and wheel -barrow it down. The wood weighs a ton. Normally I leave my car beside the church. I drive this track only about three times a year, it's so nail bitingly narrow in places with a huge drop of about 30 feet in some places.
Part of the bank on the right side of the track collapsed weeks ago bringing down the two beautiful ancient mulberry trees, but my neighbor still drives his car up and down every day, so it's passable.
Unfortunately, more stones had fallen onto the track during the day. I saw them, misjudged the space, and drove smack bang into them. An attempt to reverse made the situation much worse. The back wheel was inches from the six foot drop into the field below where Antonio's mule often grazes, and a new part of the track instantly collapsed right behind me.

I felt completely and utterly desperate for a few moments.

Loli's twelve year old son came to my rescue. He phoned his mother who was at the bottom of the village visiting her beloved father, as is the family custom every single evening of the year, and she dispatched middle son Ernest aged 22 , who quickly turned into my hero. Within minutes Ernest had disentangled the car and reversed it with, I have to say, a few terrible noises. Then he drove straight to my front door, unloaded the wood, turned the car around, no mean feet, then drove her back to the plaza where she sat for the next 24 hours, no doubt as physically bruised and her owners emotions. I didn't go to inspect the damage.
It all happened so quickly that by the time Loli and her husband arrived on the scene, the drama was over. I was inside my house, quaking, making hot chocolate. The next day every single pebble, stone, and boulder had been cleared from the track. And the next day, unexpectedly, elderly, farmer Pepe arrived with a basket full of acelga ( it's like spinach), and later the same day Miguel the goat man arrived with a huge clump of wild herbs for me. My kitchen table was a sight for sore eyes, and my heart was truly warmed.

Then yesterday ,with the guest due in the evening, and so many things still to do, I jumped out of bed and crashed straight into my easel. I whacked my toes so hard on its base, that I've smashed one small toe. The poor little thing is now rigid, such a funny shape and the colour of stewed, red, plums.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, with everything ready for the Danish guest, I whiz down the mountain to Orgiva to collect her from the 6pm bus direct from Malaga. She's not on it. Nor on the next , nor the next.

The drive home is my worst ever experience,weather- wise. The mist although absolutely beautiful, sweeps down over the mountain peaks and hides the white guiding line on the side of the road. The mist gets thicker the higher I drive. A new aging problem with my elderly car is that mist (condensation) also appears inside my car on the windscreen from time to time, and this makes driving really tricky. There are some treacherous bits of the road due to rock falls, mudslides, and landslides, and there are places where the road simply has cracked open and fallen down the mountain, or created huge holes. I'm cross with myself because I don't know how this misunderstanding with the guest could have happened. I've a sneaky feeling I may have got the date wrong.

Back home,a quick check with the email and yes, it was my mistake. She's due today, Sunday, I got the day wrong. But, how could I ?

All of this means I now have a full day to rest in my very tidy house, enjoy the moment which is now stress free and calm, and send loving thoughts to my toe which wants attention.
The sun came out this morning as I stared to write. All is well now that I see the bigger picture. I'm reminded to practice what I teach: look after mind, body,and spirit, if we ignore one, imbalance brings its little teachers.

I'm thinking daily of my friends in Chile who are dealing with huge life changing challenges after so many earthquakes, they call them after shocks, but they're more earthquakes I'm told.
And Chile now with a new president,inaugurated during an after shock. My prayer is that he will cope creatively and compassionately like his much respected predecessor Michelle Bachelet.
I was going to write about Chile in the blog this month, about the epicenter of the quake , where I've been and have friends . I will write about it soon. I'm planning to post a blog once a month now.

Please forgive me for talking so much about myself this month; the plum colored toe,the absentmindedness, and the night the car got stuck where the old mulberry tree used to be. Out village is full of kindness. What a privilege it is to live here.

Happy St Paddy's day to everybody who loves Ireland.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Bolivian taxi driver.

The taxi driver picked me up outside my hotel which was just a stones throw from the famous Mercado de Hechiceria, otherwise known as the Witches Market. Yes, I chose it because of its location! The market is one of La Paz’s most visited places, and the concentration of pickpockets in the area I’d read, is extremely high. In the labyrinth of streets which make up the market, you can buy silver, stone, and crystal charms, beads, all kind of herbs, incense and llama foetuses, and much, much more. There’s everything and anything you might need to make your own personal alter or ceremony. Shamans sit on the pavements and read cocoa leaves for the local people. Bolivians will wait for hours (in the street) to consult their favorite shaman. This kind of oracle telling is taken very seriously by all Andean people. At this stage of things, day two in Bolivia, I was still in a state of overwhelm/altitude mal- adjustment, so hadn’t yet dared explore the market. A few days later, I’m sitting on the pavement on a tiny camping stool, having my cocoa leaves read. At first I couldn’t hear the shaman’s voice, he spoke so quietly. Then.... But that’s another story for later!

I’d read about Bolivia’s National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore with its magnificent collection of ceremonial masks, and that’s where we were heading. The price of the fare was agreed before getting into the taxi, as advised by the hotel receptionist. It was ten thirty in the morning. Sunny. Summer there, although early December

The taxi driver was middle aged, handsome from behind, and kept his eyes well on the road which was a good thing as the traffic was pure chaos and there were a million people sitting on every single pavement, or so it seemed. They were selling everything you could possibly think of, and things you’d never dreamed you’d see being sold, like the llama foetuses.

Alfonso, the taxi driver, and I quickly liked each other. I felt like I was talking to along lost relation. I’ve had these kinds of conversations many times in many countries, but this was different because he was the very first Bolivian I had spoken to. I was particularly interested to hear everything he could tell me about his country, as I’d been dreaming of exploring Bolivia for almost two years. Alfonso gave me a potted history of his country, his hopes, his fears and his beliefs as we sped towards the national folk lore museum. I was looking forward to seeing the collection of hundreds of ancient ceremonial masks in a building that dated back to when the Spanish arrived. I'd read the masks were displayed in darken spot lit rooms.

When he dropped me outside the museum, he didn’t have change. I said keep the money, and, could he come back in two hours later and take me back to the hotel? Sure, he said. No problem at all.

The museum was gob smacking. I'm sorry to use that word but it's perfect. It was even too much for my camera. It locked itself into movie mode and I couldn’t unlock it. A Japanese student tried to help but failed. It was like the camera didn’t want to miss a single thing either.

Apart from the collection of really incredible masks, the museum consisted of a series of rooms full of the most beautiful woven textiles. There were many faded, sepia, photos on the walls depicting the lives of weavers in the mountains. In almost every room there was a TV showing a video of the shearing of the llamas, people working in the fields and the valleys, and other aspects of the lives of the campasinos ( the country people). The videos were of days gone by, but for many, life is exactly the same today as it was 200 years ago.

I was in a state of awe watching these films, but every five minutes, the building had a power cut. So I'd be sitting entranced, then everything would go dark! Pitch dark. This was a little scary in the extraordinary hall of ceremonial masks; some of these masks would be very frightening for little European eyes.

Having taught mask making for many years, and having been fascinated by masks since I was about six, I was in heaven, even in the pitch darkness. The Japanese students giggled a lot during the black outs.

Two hours later, I’m waiting outside for my friendly taxi driver to pick me up, and yes, you guessed. He doesn’t show up.

Then followed some confused thoughts. The followed some strange experiences. I waved down a yellow taxi, gave him the name of the hotel, and he drove off, without me. This happened six times. This happens a lot in La Paz I learned later. I had a moment of upset when I realized I didn’t know which direction to start walking in, and that’s when a white radio taxi stopped and picked me up.

Back at the hotel, I mentioned to the receptionist that the taxi driver hadn’t returned as promised. No big deal I said, but I felt disappointed, I really didn’t want to think badly of my new friend.

Four hours later, with the altitude sickness kicking in (big headache, breathing tricky, and legs that don’t like walking upstairs) I head for the hotels little cafe where cocoa tea is provided for exactly this kind of thing. The receptionist calls me over and hands me a ten boliviano note. The taxi driver came back she said, and left this for you, your change. He said the police wouldn’t let him stop to wait for you.

I smile.

Now, you might not believe that was the true ending of this story. Could it be different?

A friend who describes herself as a cynic laughed when she heard this tale and said,

“No Meg. What happened was the receptionist called the taxi company and said if you don’t come immediately and repay the customer, we won’t use your.******...... taxi firm ever again”.

Did that thought cross your mind?

Actually, I never mentioned the money part of the adventure to the receptionist!

May we all be blessed with friends, acquaintances, and experiences that make our hearts glow.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Back in Spain

Jet lag, rain, grey skies, mudslides, snow, flooding, leaks in my roof, part of the track infront of my house collapsed , stories of extraordianry dramas of cars, caravans and bridges being swept away, and many lovely hugs from treasured friends were what greeted and enveloped me when I returned to Spain. It then felt like I slept for the next ten days .

And now three weeks later, parts of Peru are experiencing the same kind of flooding, but worse. Most of the villages where we went to distruibute the hot chocolate and presents are high in the mountains ,so they haven't been distroyed, but many settlements in the Sacred Valley leading up to Machuu Picchu have been. Machu Picchu is inaccesible.

Today I'm especially remembering the little girl on the bus I wrote about in the last blog who, as we were driving beside the fast flowing muddy river (which gushes right through the Sacred Valley) , told me that ten mermaids live in the river, that five of them are princesses and five are enemies. I wonder what she and her amazing imagination are making of all this? I hope she and her grandmother are safe.

That same river we drove beside has swept away all the bridges leading out of the valley, so everybody is trapped in their own village. Tourists have been helicoptered out of Machu Pichuu to Ollantaytambo where now there are food shortages. No tourists can get to Cusco, so everybody is stuck where they are.

And Haiti.
What dramas, what unimaginable heartbreaks, what feats of courage and endurance, and what golden opportunities for helping each other are happening world wide.

It was market day in Orgiva today and the sun shone and the sky was blue, and American Captain Jeem sat outside Gallindos playing his accordian as he often does on market day. A young woman traveller whith very short hair stood close beside him , revelling in his happy music , swaying and smiling and tapping her feet. And we who were sitting at tables nearby, sipping coffee and swapping news, clapped every time he stoped. I tried very hard to whislte with two fingers in my mouth, but failed completely. Unfortunately I haven't yet learnt that knack of appreciation but, if anybody out there can teach me, aged 64, I'm up for learning.

So as always, and with much gratitude, there are always reasons to smile whatever is going on on the inside and the outside of my life.

More soon about the adventures in Peru and Bolivia.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Happy New Year from Cusco

Hi dear friends,

Happy, happy New Year wherever you are .

I'm right on the last lap of this Peruvian adventure. Arrived back in Cusco this afternoon after spending New Year in Ollantaytambo with my young friends Wither and Tatiana and their four year old son Mauro.

New Year and last week are a bit a blurr !

I remember buying yellow flowers for my friends here (a Peruvian custom signifying good luck for your house) , resisted buying yellow knickers in the market for them, also for good luck (!), and I remember seeing everybody in the street on the 1st, covered with yellow confetti, a very important Peruvian custom for New Year.

I remember having lunch with Tatiana's whole family on New Year's day, her mum sitting in the corner of thier very humble abode making chici morada, a drink made from maize, and local mountain people calling in every ten minutes to fill up all manner of containers.

Our lunch consisted of roast guinea pig, roast chicken, rice, spagetti and mountain potatoes. There are literally hundreds of varieties of spuds here. After this huge lunch, which was followed by beer and other beverages, Tatiana and I went to the square to watch the annual skittels competition. This entails many of the high mountain village folk coming down for the day for this competition, to meet each other, and to generally have a huge fiesta. There were free drinks, lots of laughter, and it was a wonderful, fabulously colourful gathering.

Half way through this event, I rememeber being pulled into the middle of the square, given the six wooden balls, and told to knock down as many skittles as I could. I failed miserably! Not a single one fell down. Each skittle was a sawn-off table leg, decorated with a bunch of flowers tied to it. The wooden balls were not round, so they went all over the place, much to everyones amusement!

The New Year week blurr has been casued by altitude sickness, not booze!

I'm hesitating to share this horror story, but just to say my time on the islands in Lake Titcaca was very challenging healthwise (because of the very high altitude and strenuous hiking), and when I retuned to Puno last Tuesday evening, I thought I was dying. I just couldn't breathe!!! I had lots of oxygen. It helped while I was actually having it, but as soon as I staggered back to bed, I was gasping again.

Anyway, obviously I've suvived this but since then, I feel like my life energy has evaporated. Everything is a struggle. Walking uphill is impossible. Finally I went to the local doc and he told me my blood pressure has shot sky high and hasn't come down, thanks to the adventures (hikes) and high altitude on the islands.

Well, I'm sure I'll be fine very soon.

I really want to share a little jewel of an experince I had yesterday with you all. As I said when I started this blog, if it was your blog, I'd really want to know what touched you on your travels. This story touched me deeply. This trip has been peppered with little jewels like this one , in between the huge desafios ( challenges).

Yesterday after saying goodbye to Wither and Tatiana, I left Ollantaytambo in a bus for Pisac. Local buses here are very different from our Alsa buses. They are small, usually old and
battered, and work on the principle of never refusing a passenger, if at all possible. There was one part of the journey when we were totally chock-a-block, by that I mean the standing passengers were glued together and most seated passengers had at least two bodies leaning over their faces. The boy who was in charge of admitting passengers shouted 'Who'll give up their place for this old woman? She's ill!'

Nobody moved, so we left her by the roadside. I felt awful.

Moments later, the grandmother sitting next to me, with her beautiful granddaughter on her lap, dug her elbow in my boob by mistake! We laughed and then the seven year old started to talk to me. For the next half-hour she had me enthralled.

As we drove along the road beside the fast flowing muddy river in the Sacred Valley, she told me very clearly that there were ten mermaids living in the river and that below the surface there was the most beautiful, clean castle where they all lived. But, she said five of the mermaids are princesses, the other five are enemies. And so the story unfolded. At one stage a man who was listening made a rude remark and the little storyteller hid her face in her granny's chest and wouldn't come out. With some gentle coaxing, she continued. She then became unstoppable. Her story was pure magic! She was still talking as I stumbled though the mass of bodies when the bus came to my stop.

She'll be a writer when she grows up, I told her grandmother, and I tumbled into the street clutching rain jacket, back pack, water bottle and bag of gifts for friends. Grandmother only spoke Quechua, so she didn't understand me. But she smiled and kissed her granddaughter and the child kept on talking, waving to me through the window.

May we all be so wonderfully connected to our imaginations!