This is a pic of our group before we dispersed on our own to explore the magical ruins atop the large and beautiful mountain overlooking Pisac. Our instructor Sarah brought us there to make observations about the landscapes, and let us roam free for three hours, with a choice to stay on and in the ruins, or trek down to the town and explore that. My friend Zayd and I decided to stay in our cliff perch overlooking the whole side of the mountain, one of the highest peaks that we could see. We sat down with our lunches of avocado, rices, fruits and vegetables from home and overlooked the rolling fields and scattered mountain villages. From there, we could observe the whole mountainside, the landscape mosaics with its different colors and different textures, and the little roads, snaking up and down the side of the valley. A big observation that you could not miss were the straight lines of bright and dark green Eucalyptus trees. Our teacher told us that those were not natural or indigenous forests to that land, they were planted on purpose for the benefits that these trees produce: timber, for construction, medicinal purposes and oils among other things. It was interesting to see the stark, man-made forests that popped out of the hillside with no natural-growth forests to compare it to.
What an interesting thought. The differences of a forest manmade, how inorganic, how sterile, though nature, it is a cultivated pattern on the landscape. Thinking back to the forests at home, or in different places where tall pines and evergreens and oaks naturally grow everywhere, the natural, wild, and lush growth is very different. The slopes of the Peruvian Andes are not forested because most are above the tree-line, which is a point in the elevation of mountains where the trees are replaced by low growing shrubs, herbaceous plant life, and other hardy, high-dwelling plants. There is also a history of extreme deforestation in the Andes which of course affects forest and tree growth incredibly. Eucalyptus trees have been introduced to this landscape because they are fast growing and provide fast firewood. They have been criticized however, because the downside to these plants is that they suck much of the water from the soil, leaving it dry, stripping the Andes of moisture in its already dry climate. Zayd pointed out that most of the Eucalyptus trees grew next to the creek line, or water sources for the most part, and this makes a lot of sense as I learn about the pros and cons of these trees for the community. It amazes me to learn about these sorts of things. The fact is, is that most of the time I will not think about these factors of life and ecosystems when I look at a place, I will pass by it with my eyes and most of the time not think twice. I enjoyed this prolonged time to sit and observe, as we are doing in both our anthropologic oriented, ethnographic-centered and ecologically enlightening classes.
The relationship between plants and people is a greatly important one. It is a symbiotic relationship, a malleable one that shape-shifts with the different weathers, seasonal shifts and demands of culture, people and land. As I observe more and more, I realize deeper that everywhere I look, at least here in Peru, life is centered around the relationship that people have with the agricultural and earthen environment. This was obvious in the Ruins we were able to sit and be with. The relationship with people and plants were so important, that the ancients who built the ruins here wanted to embody that themselves. To explain farther, and in the words of my instructor Luis, “On one side of the mountain, the peoples planted their sacred seeds, to grow the important crops that their lives depended on. On the other side of the mountain,” he said, gesturing to the rocky hill that rose in the background of the epic ruins, “they planted their own bodies as seeds, the seeds of the people.” He pointed towards the small holes and paths that dotted the side of the mountain saying that these were the burial ground for the people who lived there.
What a powerful, goose-bump inducing thought. The bones of those who made these ruins with their own hands lay sleeping within the heart of the mountain, everything they had when they were alive was given to the cultivation of this land, and even as their souls transcended, their bodies were useful tools to giving back vitality and energy to the moutain-side and life that thrived there. A full circle. This is how life is. We are meant to live in service of that which growths and cultivates around us. And when we go, our bodies must contribute to the growth and vitality still. What a silly thing to think we can protect our life, keep it from death a little while longer by encapsulating it in a wooden box and not allowing it to dissolve within the hungry, waiting land. I wondered if the hoards of tourists running around with their cane-like selfie sticks and Patagonia jackets knew the depth of the mountainous ruins, the ancient meanings, the important, life or death relationship these peoples had with the land, their seeds and their own souls.
I didn’t even know what these things meant fully, but I was grateful to those wiser around me willing enough to tell me the secrets. I wonder when these sacred temples turned into a touristic attraction and commodity, and though I am one of these foreign bodies, with my different shoes, different clothes and different customs, different skin, similar bones, I respect that our program, and those who are leading it, want to give us the full stories, the unedited, deeper rivers of thought that run through everything in this sacred land. The Spirit of the Andes. I think back over the last three weeks of this wild adventure, and my heart swells with the fact that I feel the sweet taste of that spirit in my mouth. A faint taste. There is so much left to learn, and yet I feel that I have seen some things I would never know how to get to or even start to learn about if I was on my own.
There is an importance in entering with reverence, in laying your heart down in surrender, and most of all your head, to lay it all down and witness things from a great humility. There are things I will never know, and try as I might, perhaps never understand. There are secret, mystical things of this world that will never be spoken in a human tongue, seen with our material eyes, and my bones know this. That is why experiences like this, of sitting atop a mountaintop for three hours observing what I think, feel and see is so important to me. To sing to myself atop the great mountains, letting my voice be stolen by the wind, carried down to the potatoe fields and tall Eucalyptus trees. To let the harsh, hot sun sink into my skin. To feel the tierra, the pachamama below me that has held the footprints and stompings of ancestors before me, and will hold the mark of my predecessors in her muscle memory. There are things I can educate myself on, like histories, and plant varieties, and why things are the way they are, and why they look like that, and things that one must feel. Like the thousands of steps that came before me, and will come after me.
The bodies of the ancients are imprinted in my mind through the feeling of them, through the awe I feel looking at their genius structures, with perfectly cut rocks, and thought through structures to withstand the test of time, each rock fitting into one another impossibly perfect, not able to be replicated or copied. I see them in their predecessors, the ones with the beautiful red and brown, sunkissed and sunloved skin, open and broad arms, and beautiful faces. I have an image of the ancients through the feelings that their remnants give me, the growth of their seeds, the imprint of their feet, the taste of spirit that I faintly get to know.
I am hungry to know more, to observe more, to experience more, to see more. I am hungry, but also in full awareness that I must be patient and see what this land is prepared and willing to show me.
Gracias pachamama and all those who live here in her green, fruitful, earthen womb.