The Gifts of Peru
I bought a t-shirt when I was in Peru that pretty much sums up one of my deepest wishes in life - it says, “mas amor, por favor,” OR “more love, please.” When I look back on my recent two week adventure in Peru, my mind is awash in warm, loving images and memories. Whether it was clambering awkwardly up the steep and uneven steps of Machu Picchu, my knees aching and screaming at me, or marching through the damp aromatic jungle in the Upper Amazon, I remember kindness and generosity - hands always reaching out to help, and a remarkable local guide called Denis on the boat who kept saying, “mi amigos,” (my friends) with his irrepressible smile and twinkling dark eyes. There is so much else I recall: the catching of my breath when I again caught that first glimpse of Machu Picchu perched on the mountain of green earth surrounded by more mountains that shoot up into the sky - the perfection of those meticulously cut stones that spelled out a complex communal Inka structure the historians are still ruminating about, and then in the jungle there was the adoring gaze of the drowsy three toed sloth with her baby, or the electric blue Morpho butterfly dancing so fast through the air, over water and beyond trees that you might as well give up the idea of photographing it…. Other companions on the journey: the goofy and elusive pink (yes, really pink!) river dolphin who teased us endlessly as we cruised along on the river searching for wildlife, daring us to be quick enough to capture his brilliant leaps from the water….
We were taught so many things by the passionate Peruvian guides and naturalists working for National Geographic: about the vast wisdom of the Inka culture, their mechanical genius and spiritual mysteriousness, we were told about the horrors of Spanish colonization, about the Inka savvy when it came to growing food in beautiful terraces where the temperature of the earth changed from one level to the other, and through it all we heard their passionate defense of their land and the rainforest.. We were eager students most of us, absorbing quantities of information about the landscape, wildlife, history, and even instructions about making ceviche and Pisco sours! It will take some time for the dust to settle in this writer’s brain, but happily I’m in no hurry.
As I pour over the pages of my journal looking for some gems of understanding, I find one of these staring me in the face, an amazing piece of wisdom. As I sat on a skiff with about ten other travelers scanning the landscape for birds, I heard Javier our guide tell us that the Amazon rainforest has been called “the lungs of the world” because 40% of the world’s oxygen comes from this vast lush area that harbors over 500 species of birds, hundreds of monkeys and snakes, and thousands of fresh water fish, and which to many people’s surprise is a fragile landscape. To know this for the first time felt like a gift and it softened my heart. People in all territories across the globe are connected to this mysterious place through the air that they breathe. The rainforest is a vital part of our human survival no matter where we reside.
This landscape’s vulnerability comes about because of the rising and falling of the rivers which divides the year here into two seasons: high water and low water. Large numbers of trees grow shallow roots and because of this don’t live terribly long lives (200 years max), and so there is perpetual death of plant life here in the Upper Amazon alongside the explosion of bird and insect populations. The trees may look mighty but they are fragile. When the Andes glaciers melt each year, the area becomes flooded, the bases of these enormous trees sinking deeper and deeper in water, and then come June the water recedes, we are able to see the complex network of roots and all the plant life that was previously invisible in the deep dark waters. There’s something magic about that, I think. The landscape is truly impermanent, as it transforms itself every 6 months and forces all its living creatures to adapt accordingly. I learned a little on this journey about the intelligence of trees and their capacity to communicate, and more about the genius of ants, the daunting and magnificent tarantulas, and the reason the sloth is so sloth-like (doesn’t eat protein, therefore less energy). We humans do not have the corner on intelligence, I’d have to say, and for some odd reason I’m reassured by that.
What we do have, however, is the power to act in defense of this unstable and exquisite landscape, using the intelligence that we do possess. All who care about animals and life on earth should visit the Amazon basin to learn about the wealth and the precariousness of life here, and to marvel at its extraordinary beauty. As human beings we are connected to all animal life and it is in places like the African bush and the Amazon that we may see this relationship so clearly…
Another image I have in my head now is that of floating on the glassy green river water and feeling as though I were traveling back in time. On these waters I move farther and farther away from my familiar zone, and deeper into a maze of waterways into the unknown where the vast canopy of trees hangs elegantly overhead and the monkeys dart from branch to branch, and the white egrets soar above in groups of a hundred or more. Traveling on the water is immensely calming and meditative, and as I let this calm hold me, I had a sense I was suspended in timeless space, feeling connection to everything I witnessed: warm breezes, soaring birds, leaping fish, plump white clouds turning brilliant pink in the evening, my fellow travelers oohing and aaahing and sometimes holding hands …
I felt blessed to be in the midst of all this beauty and to share it with my beloved daughter and son in law. We smiled a lot, laughed, ate and drank our share, and frequently felt celebratory. Were we celebrating just being on vacation, or instead celebrating the fact of our own aliveness and connection to all we came in contact with? I recall gratitude arising quite frequently…. I can’t name all the numbers of birds we saw nor all the fish we were told about, or even the exquisite tropical fruits we ate, but I can tell you that this bounty of life transformed each and every traveler on the Delfin II, the beautiful little riverboat we called home for one week.
So I return again to love and our human hunger for it. There are so many places we can go to experience it … the high mountains all over the world that are enveloped in mysterious clouds, the endless aromatic bush country of East Africa, the wild and frigid waters of the mighty Pacific Ocean, the steamy Amazon jungle alive with voices, the cathedrals replete with gold and paintings, and so many more … places created of earth and by man. To reach out with our eyes and open our hearts in such places is to know ourselves more fully, see ourselves as players in the vast context of life on the planet, and to recognize love..