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.