When you come upon a scene that is completely unexpected and enormously outside your personal experience, incredulity rises to protest. How can this be? In the midst of your amazement, lies the small shape of your own world. Sacsayhuaman, with rounded, eighteen-foot stones that meet the eye in staunch solidarity had stretching walls which undulated in ancient defiance. Uncannily, I thought of my father as I stared at the phenomenal ruins.
Miguel Ángel gave us a brief history of the site: originally settled around 1100 AD by the pre-Incan Kilke culture, Sacsayhuaman was said to be a fortress. “You can’t even slip a sheet of paper between the stones, they fit so tight,” he claimed. Leaning against the giant stones, I sensed my own, tight self, yearning not just to make things right with Miguel Ángel and his family, but also to make something right deep within my soul. Why was it that the image of my father was invoked at the strange, haunting ruins? I thought for a moment about how Miguel Ángel had compared its spiraling shape to the ruins of Native American Kivas in New Mexico, each formation imitating the interior of a corncob when it is cut in two. My father, the corn breeder, would have liked that comparison.
After Miguel Ángel left, promising to send a taxi our way in an hour, Diane and I strolled through the countryside, each of us contemplating the pastoral scene set against the hills which rose up in green mounds behind the rock fortress. A couple of children herding goats drifted by, and Diane chatted with them while I sat on a flat rock, gazing up at the scintillating sun. Tomorrow we were planning on going to Machu pichu. What would we discover in those ancient ruins, whose history has embodied the essence of Mystery since its recent, twentieth century discovery?
Por Fin, Machu pichu
We took the train to a little town called Aguascalientes, and stayed in the largest youth hostel I have ever seen. It reminded me of a big, cement YMCA dormitory. Because we wanted to beat the tourist buses, Diane and I woke up at dawn and walked the two miles to the ruins, following the railroad tracks and the rising sun.
To be able to walk about in such antiquity alone, accompanied by the silky breath of wind and caressing sun, is an undeniable privilege. Although I’ve been fortunate to visit several pre-Colombian ruins in Latin America, only a few have evoked a strong presence of God. Machu pichu is one such place. Even though I’d read that the city was a sacrificial site where virgins were tossed off Huayna pichu, the jagged mountain that gazes down upon the ruins, I still felt a spiritual pull within. Machu pichu was the perfect place to contemplate the whys and the hows of my very presence in Peru. I knew that my role as Winnie’s messenger to her son was only a pretext, a reason for looking at my own shakey relationship with family. Why, for instance, had I decided to come to Ecuador in the first place? Did my psyche require thousands of miles to feel safe from their understated critiques of who I was? When I sayed at the Santa Clara pension in Quito I frequently met young people who traveled all over South American, accumulating one amazing experience after another, stories of risk and danger and admirable feats. Was I destined to be such a person? More importantly, is this where I wished to place my fragile self-esteem, seeking the approval my family would never render in the admiring eyes of a more pubic “family”?
At one point I went directly to the most sacred area of the site, which was a kind of altar/sun dial, and, ignoring the knotty rope that warned tourists not to approach any further, I sat down in the center. I did this not because I was trying to be funny or rebellious, but because an unfathomable force drew me to its core. It was as if I had been asked to enter into a prayer.
“Well, are we going to do it?” I asked Diane, as we both gazed up at the towering Huayna pichu.
“Corinne, how can we not try and climb that mountain? I mean, y’all know if we don’t, we’d always wonder what it would be like to stand at the top.” I looked at Diane with open admiration. She’d already explained to me about the weakness of her lungs, due to her mother’s history of smoking while she was pregnant. The fact that she was so willing to attempt the climb inspired me greatly. I already knew that part of the trip entailed holding onto swaying ropes as you pulled yourself up the steep side of the mountain.
“Vamanos! “ I exclaimed, and we set off to climb Huayna pichu. To this day, I am grateful for the adventuresome spirit of my colleague. One of my most cherished photographs is of the two of us, grinning as we sit on the edge of that great mountain. I am wearing and a red and white striped t-shirt, as well as a black felt hat, typical of the Andean natives, with a colorful band circling the rounded top. Diane has a luminous smile that seems to stretch clear across the photo.
We took the train back to Cuzco that evening, and arrived to the Altiplano Holel exhausted but content. I didn’t once think of Miguel Ángel during the two days, except to acknowledge, with some surprise, that he didn’t make an appearance. However, after one more day in Cuzco, I began to think about him with renewed interest.