Grounding in Peru: A Trip to Peru Part 1
by Michelle Katz
On July 14th, I landed in Peru, it was 6am and the whole city of Lima seemed to be buzzing and busy already. The rain was soft, sweet, gentle, but cold. I felt winter and the world of the southern hemisphere seep into me in sharp contrast to the summer of the high alpine Santa Fe desert. The city of Lima felt strange as I grabbed a taxi to a get to my hostel and felt incredibly aware of how ignorant I was to the language of Peru. I felt my fear around speaking the very little Spanish I had studied in the months before, knowing my pronunciation was incorrect and my accent was all wrong. I experienced the struggle of communicating. I thought about the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the mythology hit me as I was so mindful of how I could convey what I was trying to say without words. All while being aware of setting foot on Inca land, the land where seemingly inconceivable and entirely man-made sophisticated and elaborately detailed monuments to the Sun God, Inti or Apu-punchau, were created. I felt myself grow in my heart, as this was the only place I could truly speak from, this is our universal language.
The city felt like a hard landing for me. The hostel I booked reminded me that I am not in my 20s anymore and I made quick moves to find my way to another hostel, in a oceanside neighborhood, where I can feel myself again. I longed to find myself in some quieter remote places of this county, as it was truly the land that called me here.
The next day, I woke at 5am to an already awake city. I hopped into cars and buses with utter strangers, ready for my first of many Peruvian adventures. I was on my way to explore the ocean landscapes of Paracas and the desert oasis of Huacachina. The long bus rides through the countryside had me fall into my imagination of what it would be like to live in each landscape we drove through, much of it poverty stricken, houses left disheveled or unfinished, dog running around seeking their next meal. But the colors were more striking, mountain sides, painted walls, and the people they seemed to be brightest of all.
There is much to be said for the great contrast of this day. The movement from a bustling city of 11 million to the countryside towns of sparse population, from the aliveness of creatures of the coast to stark and openly expansive desert sand-scape. Even on a body level, the experience of cold that had strangers snuggling up next to each other making quick friends out of the necessity of warmth followed by the heat, only a few hours away that had me barefoot and in a tank top dancing in the sunset.
I felt the importance of coming out of my general day to day life, how it challenges me, has me face my edges, and in that, helps me feel alive! A revealing of Self can happen when when we not in our normal range of comfort.
I felt this the most in the desert. I suppose that is why the desert has always called to me as a spiritual sanctuary for getting to really know who I am and how much is inside me. It is a landscape that is so open, I feel I have space to fill it by being fully myself. The town of Huacachina is built around a small natural lake in the desert. It is quite literally an oasis. It attracts tourists for the the adventure of dune-buggying and sand-boarding across the massive sand dunes that stretch over several feet high.
Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess removed her clothes to bathe, but looking into a mirror, she saw a male hunter approaching her from behind. Startled at the intrusion, she fled the area leaving behind her mirror which turned into a lake. Other versions hold that she fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her clothing, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid. The legend holds that the water and mud of the area are healing with curative properties for certain ailments. It was a magical place to land. Given some time before the activities began, I found myself walking around the mirror waters of the lake, quiet and thoughtful and connected. It was then that I realized that something essential in me, had finally arrived in Peru. I walked slowly and mindfully along the sand, I touched palm trees that seemed to emerge from nowhere, I placed my hands in the still and reflective waters with a prayer.
Then came the time for the adventure. I found myself in a dune-buggy on a rollercoaster of a ride across the vast expanses of this desertscape. Moments of whiplash didn’t stop my laughter and joy of this entirely unique and new experience. After some time of wildly bumpy, unpredictable, exhilarating and terrifying, anticipation building, laughter ridden riding, we stopped. In my dazed dizziness, I tumbled myself in the sand, feeling the sweet fine soft texture on my bare feet, sinking my body into the earth that held me still in that moment. I looked out into the vast distance with a feeling of gratitude and humbleness. The mountains that surrounded us in the distance were stunning and comforting as the desert outstretched in every direction with unbelievable ranges of texture and stature-- each pinnacle-- mountain and sand-- mystical in its own right.
We were soon asked to get on board the dune buggy again, riding off into the dunes madly and with haste. The language barrier was present between guides and adventures, but no words or explanation would have prepared me for this next part. When the dune-buggy stopped and we stepped back onto the sand, we were handed a large board and directed with gesture alone toward the great drop offs. The guides assisted us one by one down the first dune but then drove off leaving us to navigate down the dunes on our own.
My fear of heights made its first of many appearances on this journey. The fear had me saying “no” to the question of sliding down each dune. Friendly and kind persuasion does not require a common language, my Peruvian guides flung me into the sandy steep abyss. My screams becoming laughter midway down each time. The sand was felt everywhere across my body. And though I was moving at rapid speed down the dunes, though I was scared of the height and felt out of control all the way down, there was something incredibly powerful about placing my body on the earth in this magical place, I was connected to the land, my belly and heart close to the belly and heart of the earth in this place. There was something wild and fun, spontaneous and courageous, real and present about the day.
The day ended with the sun setting across the dunes, the sky alive with every changing color, the sun hungry for the earth, the sand cooling, the shadows inviting me to dance. And day with this landscape had me meet myself and Peru at last.