|An account of an initiation into
ancient Andean spiritual traditions
during which we learn to tap into
and work with the natural energies
of the earth and the universe.
Hatun Karpay Initiation in Peru
THE TRAIN, THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THE WEATHER
Then we took the long, long train ride back to Cuzco. Each car of the type of trains that run in the Sacred Valley from Cuzco to Machu Pikchu seems to have its own built-in diesel engine. The train we rode on both ways was the first class tourist train. They say you really don't want to ride the 'chicken' train! Aptly named, this slower and less expensive train gets crammed full of people, chickens, pigs and other animals the locals want to transport. I guess it can get rather stuffy and smelly, to say nothing of perhaps being exposed to flea attacks!
The tourist train is fairly clean, has reserved seats, a TV set at one end of each car and hostesses who serve drinks and also sell books and a video. I bought several books in English about the Inkas and Cuzco, and the video they showed of many of the ruins we'd either visited or would be visiting. They had one copy of the video in VHS format. The prices were very inflated, but I paid them anyway, as I hadn't brought a camera and didn't plan on trying to find a bookstore in Cuzco.
Although the majority of our group slept on the way back from Machu Pikchu to Cuzco, I kept my eyes pried open, not wanting to miss a thing. I observed changes in the mountains as the train wended its way along the river. Out in the valley proper away from the mountains the river slows its flow and meanders quite a bit. So the Inkas re-engineered the river's channel, straightening it in places and then taking advantage of the fertile soil to plant crops. The Inkas controlled the flow of the river, so that the crops wouldn't get flooded and so they could channel water to the crops when needed. Remarkable!
Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, the train began climbing up a mountainside and ran along it for quite a while. Eventually it came to a switchback! It backed into the switchback, then went forward again on the next section of track at a different level. We switched to a higher level going from Machu Pikchu towards Cuzco which is at a much higher elevation than Machu Pikchu.
We passed the ruins of many farming terraces built by the Inkas. These terraces are carved into the mountainsides, and at some sites extend far up the steep slopes. When the ancient Andeans and later the Inkas built the terraces for agricultural purposes, they built the walls of carefully cut and fitted large stones and boulders, and lined the bottoms and walls of each terrace with a special clay that when dried, is impermeable to water! Then they back-filled with soil. Carved stone water channels run along the side edges of the terraces. In this way they watered their crops using a minimum amount of water that flowed along the special channels and entered each terrace, permeating the soil by osmosis before collecting back into the channel again at the slightly lower end of each terrace and flowing to the next lower channel and terrace! Such an economy of water use in an area known for its paucity of water demonstrates the sheer genius of these ancient people for getting the most from the various natural energies by cooperating with these energies! The modern world's societies could learn much from these ancient people!
The train trip was supposed to be only 4 hours, but it was more than 5. We had to make some unscheduled stops, as there's only one track and the local 'chicken' train ahead of us was running late. As our train approached Cuzco from high above along a mountainside, it was almost dark. We appreciated the beauty of the city's lights sparkling like jewels in the fairyland valley below. This reminded me of the story told about how the first Spaniards approached Cuzco over this same mountain. But instead of light glinting and twinkling in the dusk, they were almost blinded by the bright sunlight glinting from all the gold and silver statues all over the city!
It must have taken the train at least half an hour to negotiate the descent along the mountainside using at least seven switchbacks. I lost count. And what a contrast to the illusion of a fairyland of lights greeted our eyes now! This approach to Cuzco goes through the tenements of the very, very poor Q'eros native people, more commonly refered to as runas.
Runa is a Quechua term that formerly meant simply "the people." But now it's used in a derogatory fashion by the dominant white Spanish population to refer to the Q'eros and other indigenous Andeans. And the latter use the term to distinguish between themselves and the white wiracochas. How this term, which also refers to the Andean concept of the Creator God, has come to be applied by the indigenous people to the dominant whites seems to stem from the ancient Andean belief that their Creator God is white and also the original man and woman who became the first Inkas were said to be of whiter or lighter skin than the indigenous population.
Please understand that I respect the indigenous peoples very much, so when I've used the term runa here, it is for educational purposes only. I would never call them runas face to face, as this would only bring about their possible misunderstanding of my intent, nor would I use this term in conversation. They, and they alone, have the right to call each other runas--the people. And also, I generally use the terms indigenous peoples, Andean peoples or Q'eros or other tribal names when talking about these beautiful people who have every right to feel proud of their heritage.
The tiny homes we passed are slapped together with adobe brick walls and thatch or corrugated metal sheets weighted down with rocks for roofing. Many had no doors. The ones that did have doors might as well not have, as the wood was splintered, unpainted and falling from the hinges.
All along the tracks the people stood or squatted. The women wore rags and tatters of formerly brightly colored long fully gathered skirts, blouses and mantas or shawls slung over their shoulders. Many also wore hats of various styles. The kids looked about as scrungy and dirty as they could, but then this was the end of the day and they don't have grassy fields in which to play. I didn't see very many men. Most of the kids and adults were barefoot.
In Cuzco the contrast between the well-to-do and the very poor is very great. We had taken a bus out into the valley from Cuzco on our way to Machu Pikchu so we could do some rituals at sacred places along the way. We had stayed at a lovely hotel, the Sonesta
Posada del Inka at Yucay in the valley overnight and then had caught the train to Machu Pikchu from the little town near there. So we hadn't seen this area of absolutely squalid poverty until returning to Cuzco.
Daylight happened at about 5 a.m. and darkness descended around 6 p.m. During mid-day, the sun stood practically overhead. I couldn't remember whether the sun would be in the north or south at this time of year (October) a little south of the equator, so I never knew which direction was which, unless it was early morning or late afternoon!
The sun is deceptively burning from about 9-3, so when you go, slather your exposed skin with plenty of sunblock. The wind makes it seem cooler than it is, but the wind doesn't blow away the sun's mighty rays. One of our group got sun poisoning, so Juan had to take her to a doctor in Aguas Calientes. She spent the next few days with her forehead, nose and cheeks slathered with special medication and covered with gauze bandages. This made her look like she had on a white mask.
Insects were not much of a problem in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. But at Machu Pikchu, lower in elevation and near the jungle, those who wore shorts, even though they'd slathered their legs with bug repellent, got dined on royally! I wore long pants and didn't use much bug repellent. My exposed arms didn't get bitten. For some reason, the Machu Pikchu bugs like exposed flesh lower toward the ground! Since this was spring, I wonder what the bugs are like there during Peru's summer.
The areas of Peru we were in have basically a wet season and a dry season. The winter is dry, the summer wet. Spring and fall are very iffy. While I was there it rained during the day only a couple times. Fortunately we were in the bus. We endured a vicious hail storm one day, also while in the bus and a restaurant. But most of the rain fell at night while we were snug in our beds.
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19 - Musings ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Florence W. Deems
© February, 1999;
revised May, 2002; November, 2002;
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