Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Christian is free.
He has left Cusco jail.
I don't know any details. They don't matter anyway, now. It's over.

After three months locked up in a terribe jail, this 20 year old Peruvian man will soon get back to working as a gardener in the Sacred Valley which leads up to Machuu Picchu. He loves plants and is knowledgable about them. He is also a talented photographer.

Wendy and Jose will have their big brother to play with in the evenings.

Teresa , his mother, will be cooking for him again. Thick vegetable soups. Rice puddings maybe.

His friend Carlos will give him counseling and CCMBA healing.

His ordeal has touched me deeply. I'm not quite sure why. The story, what I know of it, is ugly and sad. Very ugly. Very sad. Ugly is a word I rarely use. Sadness can be a doorway to wonderful new ways of being.

'God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.'
( also Rumi).

Suerte young man, y vaya con Dios.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A surprise

"I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding."
— John O'Donohue.

I do love to live like this.
Carried by the surprises of each day. Not knowing where any hour will lead, but trusting all is an adventure in learning more about how to be in the moment, how to love more, how to be compassionate towards everybody , and how not be be attached to anything. What follows covers all of the above !

I had wanted to share some of the stories of the Chocolatadas (the hot chocolate fiestas here in the mountains around Machu Picchu) but yesterday's surprise is still with me, an unfinished experience, so the chocolatadas will have to wait.

Yesterday (Thursday 6th),was the festival of the Tree Kings in Ollantaytambo,Peru, a little town well known for it's Inca ruins, and it's train station. Most people visiting Machu Picchu will catch the train here. This anual festival takes the form of groups of traditional dancers wearing elaborate costumes and masks, dancing around the ancient Inca streets, accompanied by small brass bands and large loud drums.Each group of dancers has it's followers. Infront of each group, sombody will be carrying a baby Jesus in a basket or wooden box. There's lots of parading up to the little chapel at the top of the village, and lots of eating and drinking. Lots. For three days. Unlike the custom in Spain when the three kings enter all major cities and small towns and often villages bearing presents for the children, here in Peru presents aren't involved. Many people from the high mountain villages come down for this fiesta. The town bulges.

Early on Thursday morning, a smiling face caught my attention as I went looking for the dancers. Who was she ? Suddenly I remembered. It was Teresa, Christian's mother ( Christian who I visited in jail in Cusco).
She hugged me warmly and introduced me to her two younger children, Wendy aged 8, and Jose aged four. Jose was whinging and whining.

A man was selling bread and biscuits nearby, Jose was hungry. After buying biscuits and sweet bread, we headed for the plaza. Jose cheered up condsiderably.
There, there were a hundred and one things to buy and eat. The four year old was still hungry. We had ice cream and then a man selling bubble mixture captured the children's imaginations.

The dancers arrived. The bands played loudly. A huge crowd of local and mountain people gathered. There were few foreigners. The music stopped and the speeches started. It was hot. I sat down on the steps and Wendy glued herself to my hip. About twenty other people were also sitting on the steps. There was an enpty space on my right. I vaguely remember a large local lady wedging herself in beside me.
We bought flimsy blue and yellow paper hats to shade our heads from the scortching sun. Every time the wind swept through the plaza the hats blew off.
We were all having fun. It was deeply touching to see Christian's sad mum enjoying herself.
I took a few photos.
The colours of the costumes were dazzling: scarlet and fuschia, oranges and purples.

Jose called me Tia ( auntie).
I bought Wendy the bubble kit.
It consisted of a small plastic bag full of pink washing up liquid, a small plastic saucer, and a little implement for blowing the bubbles through. Wendy carefully emptied the raspberry coloured liquid into the saucer , dipped the hoop into the mix , and produced huge, beautiful, bubbles much to her delight.
Jose wanted the same.
Being younger, he was not so quick to master the technique. I leant over Wendy to help him. The bands started up, the procesion began again. We walked up the hill behind everybody else, the two children blowing huge bubbles and filling the day with screams of delight.
Jose didn't always manage to make a bubble, but when he did , his little face lit up. When he didn´t, I said " Casi" ( almost). " Casi, casi, casi " he repaeted a hundred times.

At the top of the hill the band and dancers stopped infront of the chapel. Teresa wanted to buy candles. We bought candles. Inside the chapel, the family lit theirs then placed them in the three tier metal candle holder.
I was thinking about Christian and wanting to light a candle for him too, but there wasn't room for any more. The church was full of local people.

Suddenly Christian's dad appeared. He recognised me and stared to cry. His sobs wouldn't stop. He was very drunk. He hasn't been to visit his son yet. He was given money to go recently, but he didn't get further than the local bar. We stood in the chapel, in the middle of the isle. I heard myself saying to him, you must be strong for your family, you must't loose hope that he'll be free soon.

Eventualy he calmed down and said to me, "Sit down, I´ll be right back." I sat down, he disappeared.

I watched the local families pose for photos infront of the three processional boxes. Each box is attached to a plinth, on stilts. In each box stands or sits a sculpture of one of the three kings. The chaple was recently built. In their glass boxes, surrounded by flowers, the three kings are proecessed around the village for three days, accompanied by the groups of masked dancers and musicians.

I looked around for Teresa to ask if she would like a family photo. I rummaged in my bag for my camera. We could send the photo to Christian in the prison I thought.
Where's my camera?
No camera.
I rummage in my bag.
No camera. I rummage a little frantically.
I can't believe this.

Then everything turns around.

I am no longer the one supporting Christian's family. They decide to help me. I am now the one with a problem, not them.
Christian's dad Alan decides we'll go to the local radio station and offer a reward for the camera's return.
Teresa aggrees.

We have to push our way out of the chapel, though the thick crowd watching the dancers. I take Jose's hand. His whinging again , bordering on howling.
We meet Ronnie, a young friend of mine from last year's chocolatadas. Hearing the story, he decides to be my knight in shinning armour and comes with us.
Jose starts howling for ice cream. Wendy is like a fire fly, sometimes I see her sometimes she disappears.
We stop a few times for Alan to tank up again. Teresa joins him. I'm also offered a beer. I decline, not sure why.

At some stage during the walk back down the hill to the radio station, it transpires that Wendy saw a woman stealing the camera, off my lap. She is a local woman and a neighbour of Teresa.
We'll go to her house right now anounces Alan.
We traipse to the womans house .
She's not there.

We traipse back to the plaza in the boiling heat to look for her. She's not there. There are masses of people eating and drinking everywhere. This is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Alan and Teresa decided to go back to the chapel to hunt for her. I decide I've had enough traipsing. Ronnie isn't keen on the stategy. Be very careful he warns me. The fiesta is a dangerous time. He tells me he'll ring Carlos and he'll surely help. Carlos is one of the organisors of the Chocolatadas, and a good friend.

We'll meet tomorrow morning Teresa says. Don't worry. I'm not worrying.
I tell them I will have to make a denuncia though, ( a formal registering of the theft) tomorrow, at the police station. I won't tell the police the whole story. I just need proof of the camera being stolen for the insurance back home. They understand.

So, this morning I set off alone to visit Teresa ,to see if anything has transpired overnight. Nobody's at home. Passing the neighbours house a young couple come out. They look at me with mistrust.
I head for the police station and meet Wider and Tatiana having breakfast in a cafe.
They are very upset to hear about the theft, I'm just baffled how I could have been robbed by a local woman, and baffled by my carelessness in leaving the camera on my lap while I was teaching Jose how to blow beautiful bubbles.

At the police station all is serious, slow , and slightly commical. I am told I have to go to the next town to a bank, and buy a voucher for 3 soles. This voucher is essential to making the denuncia.

I take a 'collectivo' to Urubamaba along with about 20 other pasengers, a chicken in a shawl, and a grat deal of vegetable produce. There is hardly room to breath. The rain lashes down. This is still the rainy season here
I buy the voucher, and return in another colectivo.
I go back to the police station to find the typed statement I made this morning has disappeared.
"Come back in a hour", I'm told by a young policeman. There is however an entry in the hand written log with my name beside it.
An hour later, after having my finger print taken, I leave with my denucia for the insurance company.

"My life is an indivisible whole, and all my attitudes run into one another; and they all have their rise in my insatiable love for mankind."

- Mohandas K. Gandhi

Goodbye Ollantaytambo.
I hope the eventual new owner of my camera will have as much pleasure with it as I had.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Special Moments

"Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition."
— John O'Donohue (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)

Today I had one of those rare acts of recognition. It happened by the river as I was on my way to visit a healer.
But first I want to share another moment of recognition that happened last Wednesday in Puno, beside Lake Titicaca.

Last Wednesday morning, after a night with no sleep due to the alititude, I staggered to a chemist to buy some ibroprofen. It had rained most of the night, the pavement was wet.
Coming back, close to my hotel, I noticed a tall man maybe about 50 striding towards me. His eyes were distracted, one possibly with a catheract. His face was deeply lined and he was wearing the traditional clothes of the country people here. My first though was that he was from one of the islands on Lake Titicaca. But what was the drama, why the hurry ? He wore the familiar, local, rounded beige felt hat with red and purple ribbions waving like stremers on both sides, the thick short red fringed poncho, and black open sandles. No socks for country folk here, their weathered feet often look black.
He was unusally tall. I couldn't help staring at him as he came towards me.
Just as we became level, he caught my gaze and his eyes lit up. He grapsed both of my hands, and like finding a long lost sister, he pulled me around as if in a dance. I ended up facing the opposite direction. For a second he was elated and we both lauaghed. Then he became deadly serious and told me somebody had died. He asked me for one sole , that's about 25 centimos. I was so taken aback by this tragic story I wasn't able to take in the details.
Wait here I said, not allowing him to finish, I need to change a 20 soles note.
Crossing the road I bought a bottle of water and returned to the man with the change. I gave him five soles. He hardly looked at me , he was the picture of humiliation. Without a word he then rushed off down the street towards the lake.
Why didn't I gave him the 20 soles note ?
Why couldn't I hear the whole story ?

"Friendship is always an act of recognition."
John O'Donohue.
Money so often gets in the way.

This morning on the way to visit the healer I met an old woman by the river in Pisac. Pisac is a small village in the Sacred Valley here in Peru. It has fine Inca Ruins which draw many tourists.

By the river the sun shone and the brown water flowed fast.
I noticed a small figure standing by a signpost for a restaurant now abandoned. As I got closer I saw a fithy, tiny woman with a huge bundle strapped on her back. It seemed full of plastic sacks. Some cows were wandering infront of her, they ambled down to the river. I could see a man and a boy in the distance. The woman held out her hand and I greeted her. She couldn't speak and I think she was deaf. I pointed to the cows and she excitedly started to walk sideways towards them, still holding out the begging hand. I gave her five soles, and suggested we walk with the cows a little, I was early for my appointment.
At this stage she got more excited and started to mime something to me. I copied her mime and a small smile flashed accross her face. Still walking sideways, the same small smile coming and going, she continued to mine her story. How I wished I could understand it. Her dirty black dog got very playful with her . On his hindlegs he was almost taller than her. She brushed him away , now her smile was cheeky. I stopped, checked the time, and reluctantly realised it was time to go.

The desire to spend the whole morning, the whole day with her was so strong. What was her story, where did she live?

On this occasion money did not spoil the connection.

"Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition."
John O'Donohue.

I am grateful that my life is full of moments of love that don't need to be categorised, just lived, breathed and shared.

And I am eternally grateful for the wisdom of the late much loved John O'Donohue. His priceless gift of illuminating the often incomprehensible lives on.

Being with the Unknown

Pisac, The Sacred Valley, Peru.

Sometimes traveling is confusing. Illness or tiredness can blurr the vision of what brought one to a particular country. I have learned over many years that seldom if ever am I in a foregin country for the reason I think.

And so it's happening again.

What now ? What next ?

I have about two weeks left.

Exhaustion. Altitude sickness taking ages to wear off. Concerns about two young Peruvian friends who are in touble here, one in prison, the other separated from his wife and child. Christian's case will not be reviewed until April. The prison is grim beyound discription. My other friend feels lost to me.

Wonderful encounters along the way though with angels ( taxi drivers, steet sellers , clowns, ) who guide me to safe heavens.
The huge love I feel for the indigenious people here in Peru gets stronger and stronger. A nurse told me the childrens rosy cheeks are not just a sign of wind burn, but a sign of beauty. At birth the baby's cheecks are rubbed with the mothers blood.

Feeling very sad I haven't managed to get to Bolivia.

Confusion I once read is a good place to be. It's a thresholds, a stageing post, what has been has ended and what is to come is transpiring, finding a way to arrive, to manifest.

When the body and especially the mind is tired, the spiritual path can feel unreal. But I remind myself the bigger picture is always in place. It never leaves us, I am convinced of this. Jermiah 29.11. 'For I know the plans I have for you' says the Lord.

Often in these moments, hours, or days of not knowing what's happening, beautiful syncronicitous things can come our way, beautiful like humming birds hovering in front of us, or exciting like flocks of wild geese flying fast though a wild valley.

Wisdom is the art of being courageous and generous with the unknown.

John O'Donohue