Gelman, No Rules, and Peru

My sister and I, Colca Canyon-Condor Point
My sister and I, Colca Canyon-Condor Point

I´m currently reading Rita Gelman´s Tales of a Female Nomad, thanks to a colleague of mine, and in the first section of the book, she speaks on the idea that while traveling, you are no longer bound by the rules of your own culture, but you are also not bound by the rules of the local culture; you live in between. Essentially, there are no rules. And maybe this is why those of us who worship travel….travel. It isn´t just about escaping our realities, and embracing our freedoms; it is about finding that space in between. Our minds are so in charge, and sometimes, so consuming, that it is difficult to make sense of anything that matters. When you do get to that between moment or stage, the learning can be monumental, addicting….something that you can never get enough of no matter how hard you try.

My sister and I have just arrived in Arequipa after spending several days in the origullo de Colca (pride of the

Cabanaconde Local getting it done
Cabanaconde Local getting it done

Colca), Cabanaconde, Peru. It is a semi-remote village having an actual road leading into it; however, there aren´t near as many tourists in the mountains so it makes for a more authentic journey.  To adjust and prepare for the altitude change, we decided to start high, and work our way down in the southern region of the country. We did several day hikes in the canyon to “warm” up to the elevation change. While I was use to the elevation climbing that we were doing, I wasn´t use to it at that altitude! Did you know that  Colca Canyon is over twice the size of the Grand Canyon, and considered the second largest canyon on our planet? My attempt at describing  its beauty here would be an insult to the people, but imagine the most beautiful sight or thing that you´ve ever seen, add some huge Condors, and multiply that by fifty, and you just might have a comparison.

Condor at close range

Overall, I felt very good about how my body and mind adjusted to the extreme change and I was so proud of my sister for pushing through her own issues as well. While going through your own mind-body challenges is always a learning experience, witnessing someone else´s chapter is a whole new lesson. With a partner, you can feel the energy and emotion behind what another human being is experiencing-live, right then and there. There is admiration for doing something alone, and simply being with your own reflections; however, being with my sister in those mountains can never be taken from me. We were there with each other in a majestic place that will most likely never happen again. Epic. It is personal and real and what life is about. In a way, you are invading their privacy and they have no choice. You have been given an invitation to a private moment that they didn´t even know was going to exist in the first place.

Have you ever seen a Condor fly 10 feet from your head at eye level!? On the way up to Cabanaconde, our bus stopped off at a typical optimum viewing spot for these huge birds, and we did get to see them, but our grand finale came when we were hiking and viewing on our own that evening in the village. We walked to an overview called Mirador San Miguel, just left of the village, and the walk alone is something I could write forever on, but let´s just say that it was full of traditional Peruvian culture mixed with the ever popular semi-I-want-to-be-modern teen. America is everywhere, as you know. Anyway, back to those birds. While standing on the overlook, taking in the canyon, a Condor came from the left all of a sudden and we were the only witnesses; I quickly held up my camera (still learning about the speed burst capabilities of my camera) and took several shots! Spectacular. We then decided to wait for the sun to go down to see what that was like as well. This being our first day in Cabanaconde, I was ecstatic about our decision to go to the mountains and my sister practiced patience with my childlike energy that continues to this moment.

Pachamama Hostel Square
Pachamama Hostel Square

Our hostel, Pachamama, meaning Mother Earth, was also chocked full of good times. My friend circle already knows my tendency to use the term Mother Earth, for thanks, etc. and when I found this hostel, I have to admit that I was a sucker. The owners, a married Peruvian-Belgium couple, provide a warm atmosphere on sight as well as a fairly rustic dormitory for sleeping. Due to a recent week-long celebration for one of their saints, the town had just been “up 24-7” so when we arrived, our hosts looked pretty tired. As a result of this festival, there are many marriages in the village because family travels from all over to be there, and because this reunion is so rare, many decide to marry so that family can be a witness.  As part of a tradition and connection to the Inca culture, the locals practice a gift march, for lack of a better term, where they carry all of the gifts to the house of the new couple. This ceremony includes traditional music, dance, and attire. Even though it can happen as early as 9a.m., they are also drinking beer and of course, I have to respect that! Louie, our hostel host, was telling me that if they want to give the couple a car, they carry it. Of course, what they give depends on the financial situation of the people involved, but it was cool to learn about what the ceremony meant because right when Sarah and I arrived, we got to watch one in the main square of Cabanaconde and I managed to get some video of it. While connection requires participation, according to Gelman, I felt lucky to have been able to see that as we didn´t see another for the rest of our stay. Was I allowed to participate? Of course not. But, I still connected to their joy and celebration. I felt allowed to be a witness. In this situation, I´d have to disagree with Gelman.

I could go on with other highlights on Cabanaconde and the canyon: the cool people we met, much of which are

Cabanaconde Cemetery, circa 1759
Cabanaconde Cemetery, circa 1759

traveling “indefinitely” or “until the money runs out”, the food…more on that later, learning Spanish, and the other wildlife (you name a local animal that we were suppose to see up there, and we saw it), I´ll end with a final thought instead. My sister and I got to that between moment, and while I can´t write for my sister, I can say that right now, I am living with no rules and loving every moment. I hope it slows down. Don´t we all?

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