PERU: Land of Portals and Stories

Peru is a land of portals -- openings that invite us to step through ancient archways and into the past. We lean against stone walls with both feet anchored in the present yet can almost feel the calloused hands of the builders reaching through time.

Pablo Neruda believed that when we touch an object with our fingers, we become part of that object’s memory. He also believed that all the stories he ever needed already existed, and that their inspiration could be found in simple things.

A few years ago, in Ollantaytambo (during the Weaving Words & Women retreat), we sat on a narrow earth terrace on the backside of the ruins facing the mountain from which these granite walls were quarried. Incan workers hauled mammoth chunks of stone across the valley below to this high place - an unfathomable endeavor that remains a mystery.

What stories, I had wondered, linger here? Does this place  now resonate with our presence too? There was snow on the mountain peak to the northeast, and clouds moving beneath a blue sky above the valley of tilled crops and cows, vacas,  grazing the old winter stalks.

Earlier, when our guide Huber was speaking to us about the mountain across from the ruins where the food was kept cool by the swirling winds of the three valleys, I watched three sheep trot across the empty plaza below us, moving toward a portal in the plaza walls that led to the green field beyond.

The ovejas needed no leader to find their way to the place where they spent their mornings grazing in the sun each day. Behind them, running to catch up, was a small Quechua boy.  The sheep, and then the boy, passed through the opening out into the field.

I wanted to know his story. I wanted to hear him call out to the sheep. I wanted to see his sister card their wool and his mother spin it into yarn.

"When they began excavating the ruins of Ollantaytambo," Huber told us, " they rebuilt the smaller rock walls to recreate the terraces where the Incas planted fragrant and beautiful flowers." He told us that the flowers of each terrace sweetened the air that wafted toward the Sun Temple.

As I watched the little boy below with his sheep, I thought of the women of Patacancha in the high mountain we had visited the day before, where the rain and snows gather to fill the river flowing into this valley.

Perhaps their ancestors had lived here. Perhaps their ancient grandmothers, young women then, had ground the dried bouquets of fall flowers into bright pigments with which they could dye their wool. Perhaps their sisters had tethered their sheep and their llamas to these very terraces.

In Peru, it is easy to believe Pablo Neruda, to believe that stories are found in simple things, that when our hands touch these stones, we pass through the portal of time and into a world filled with stories waiting to be told.


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