Last year, I went to Peru alone. Here’s the back story: Machu Picchu is an obvious lure, and when I was in my young twenties I talked about going there all the time. When I met my best friend (see ‘about’) she had just been there. Lucky jerk! She raved about it and added that the Peruvians she had met were wonderful, warm people. So of course now I really had to go.
But life happens. It takes a lot of money and time to go to Peru. I had a steady job but I wasn’t making much. And although I had traveled to Costa Rica on my own (see travel tips), I wanted company this time. Peru is a bit more rural and mysterious than CR. For five years I tried to convince friends and family to go to Peru. Everyone was always busy or broke or just not that into it. I have to admit, I gave up for a while after that. Then my friend got sick and any money I had was spent on visiting her.
Then one day I just decided to go. Just like that. It was like I finally woke up to the fact that I just needed to freaking GO already. Don’t talk about it, be about it. I researched cheapest options and booked it. I invited the same ol’ people as usual but this time I didn’t care when they said ‘no’. I already had my ticket.
So skip to the good part: I’m on a mountain overlooking Cuzco. That part is unexceptional since the city is about 10,000 feet up and surrounded by mountains (more on altitude in travel tips). But I was at a cite of ruins that the Inca left behind; specifically, the local moon temple. It wasn’t much to look at at first glance, but I could see some carvings on the remaining flat stones, and the location was gorgeous (also check out photos gallery).
A guide came up to me and started telling me some basics about Inca culture. I politely told him ‘no thank you’ since I knew he wanted to get paid and since it was my last night there – I knew a thing or two about Inca civilization already. Then he launches into ‘special’ information and I get ready to roll my eyes.
But as he starts to point our carvings on the stone we’ve been walking on, I have to admit that I’m intrigued. I noticed the classic condor, but now I see the less-obvious snake, puma, and monkey. They each represent an Inca value, he tells me. Wisdom, love, strength, and nurturing. He goes on to explain to me the significance of each of these values to every Inca person. He tells me why a husband must be nurturing, and a mother strong, and so on. I’m a sucker for symbolism and good story-telling so now he’s got me hooked.
He goes on to discuss temple basics, some of which I know from checking out other cites. Simply put, Incas would find ways to ground themselves and refocus. I saw caves where people would bring offerings but also press their hands against the wall to feel the earth. My guide tells me that the animals are chosen for their virtues but also because of where they live. The animals become visual cues to remind people of what’s important in life.
When you see a condor, take a moment to feel the wind on your face. Remember that all living things feel the wind.
When you see the snake, feel the sun warming your skin and giving you energy.
The monkey reminds us to appreciate the trees and all that they provide.
The puma feels the earth beneath its feet and completes the food chain.
He continues, the Inca believed in balance. Every living thing must be aware of the world they share and must remember that they are just another being in it. And take a moment to think of all the others who came before you to share this same moment.
Feel the wind. Feel the sun. Feel the earth.
I had goosebumps when he was done. Of course I imagined my friend standing there doing exactly what I was doing, and it was like we were sharing that moment even though she was gone. And hey, maybe it was just the sun setting and the majestic scenery, but I swear I felt it. Whatever it was.
Then he handed me a tiny pebble and told me to take it so that I have my own reminder to stop and ground myself once in a while. A way to recall that shared moment. It doesn’t get much more Pura Vida than that.