Tales of a wandering lesbian

Findings at Machu Picchu

It was still misty when we entered the site of Machu Picchu.  The only real indication that there might be something different, around us was the sudden absence of foliage, which had given way to orderly terraces.

What we couldn’t see was the arching complex of building and walls, walkways and aqueducts.  It wasn’t until we walked out to the edge of a giant rock pulled, out the binoculars, and peered down into the mist, that the familiar shapes, filed in our brains from the pages of textbooks and travel programs, began to emerge.

While the mist thinned under the rising sun, we explored the upper terraces.

The irregular rocks were fitted expertly into each other, forming tall, solid terrace walls.  The only rocks protruding from the sides were there by design – steps to climb from one level to the next.  The grasses were short and thick, and scattered with piles of smooth black pellets, evidence of the llamas that inhabit the ancient site.

Before entering the lower site, we checked our packs, and looked for Kelly, our fellow-traveler who had stayed behind in Cuzco while LeAnna and I hiked the trail.  We’d planned ahead of time to meet at the main gate.  But we were late, and Kelly was nowhere to be seen.  After about 20 minutes, we checked with Odon, who called the tour office to check for messages.  Then we called the hotel.  Nothing.  I even tried to see if we could cross reference ticket numbers to determine if she’d already entered the site.  No luck.

I loaded a small pack for the 6 hours we’d spend inside the site, making sure to pack my binoculars.  They might be our only hope of finding that day Kelly.  Then we reentered Machu Picchu, the sun beginning to stream through the clouds.

The site was massive.  Odon served as our guide for the first two hours.  He took us through the noble houses, where the stones were smoothed from the rough-hewn blocks that made up the majority of the buildings, and then into the sun temple, where the stones were polished even further, indicating the deeply sacred nature of the space.

One theory about Machu Picchu is that it was the city of the Inka.  Like, THE Inka.  The dude in charge of the empire.  That this place was where the most sacred priests lived, and where the family of the Inka lived.  Nobody really knows, but there are a lot of temples there.  There was the Sun Temple, climbing organically out of a large rock base in the middle of the site.

The temple of the Condor, where blood would be fed to the condor through the little hole at its beak that leads to an underground cavern (the stomach), which would hold the rest of the offering.

The main temple,

with it’s sacred sundial (which was damaged during the making of a car commercial – for real).

Machu Picchu is home to a number of other sacred rocks.  Those that look like the actual sacred mountains that surround them.

The sacred rock is in the lower right hand corner, mirroring the shape of the mountain in the middle.

Rocks that, when lain upon transfer the energy of the earth.

And those that, by their energetic makeup are believed to impart power to individuals who touch them.

One such rock sits at the base of the trail to Huayna Picchu, the tall spire of a mountain at the back of the site.

The stone, which shows visible sign of centuries of human hands touching its surface, is part of a resting area, a meditative retreat believed to help prepare travelers for the difficult hike to the top of the mountain, and the Temple of the Moon.

Odon warned us against touching the stone.  “You have to have the right makeup – the right energy.”  He told us that the high quartz content of the stone could make you feel sick if you weren’t ready for it.

Nobody in our group saw the Temple of the Moon, not because we didn’t want to, but because the government has greatly restricted the number of people who can climb the trail each day.  In order to get a ticket, you have to be at the Machu Picchu gates around 5:30am.

So we were relegated to the lower site, with its llamas and terraces.

At one point, one of the llamas, who roam free throughout the site, stepped across the path, separating our group for a good 5 minutes, before it decided to move along.

One of the women in the group called to those of us nearest to just move past it.  The guy next to me looked over and said, “You go ahead.  I raise llamas.  I have no intention of getting kicked in the head.”  So we waited until we were allowed to move to our next stop.

While we walked, we were constantly scanning the site for Kelly.  She was there somewhere, in a straw cowboy hat, and a red backpack.  I was quite certain we could find her, if we kept the binoculars handy, and kept a steady eye out for her.  But the pure vastness of the place, with its sharp turns and steep angles made it difficult to see much.

To make matters slightly more challenging, Odon informed us that, very soon, 10,000 new visitors would be arriving, making it virtually impossible to find anyone.

Just as we were winding down our visit, deciding that we’d be more likely to find Kelly in the tiny streets of Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain, I spotted her through my binoculars.

“No way.  She’s there!”  Climbing the steps to the main temple, Kelly’s hat and backpack made her stick out.  LeAnna and I ran through the site, (until we were stopped by guards) catching Kelly’s attention, ugly-American style, by jumping and waiving from below the temple.

“Where were you?  Sorry we were late!  We’ve been searching for you.”

“Didn’t you get my note?”  Kelly looked at us a little baffled.  “I left it for you at the bag check.”

Of course she did.  It was the thing that made the most sense.  And the one thing we hadn’t checked.  Brilliant.

As it turned out, Kelly, unable to make the three-day trek with us, had scored one of the coveted tickets to the top of Huayna Picchu and the Temple of the Moon.

We compared notes on what parts of the site we had seen, and made a plan that would take us through the rest and get us on a bus to the town in time for a final meal with our group.

Our last, winding walk through Machu Picchu was hauntingly memorable.  We found beautiful, framed views,

ancient rooms,

and amazingly preserved details.

Even so, Machu Picchu, with its temples and stones, revealed nothing of its secrets to us.  None of us became shamans.  None of us had life-altering visions.  But we did find each other.  Amid the mysteries, in a spot of sunlight, we saw each other, before the mist returned to blanket Machu Picchu once more.

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February 4, 2011   Comments Off on Findings at Machu Picchu

Arthur’s Pass

There are a couple of things that one must realize about traveling by campervan.  Depending on the kind of van you have, you’ll have certain amenities.  And you won’t have others.  Ours, for instance, had quite an adequate kitchen area.  The cooler stayed cool, and we were able to cook great meals on the camp stove.  We did not, however have any kind of bathroom facility.

During our two weeks on the south island, we had two showers.  That’s all, just two.  Neither of those took place on day two.   Even with the drapes pulled around our little bedroom, we woke with the sun, slowly and steadily working our way into a conscious state.

Krista, who had already been traveling the north island for two weeks, was in full-out adventure mode.  “I’m thinking about a bath in the lake,” she declared, beginning to strip down the morning layers.

Appalled, I crawled deeper under the covers.  I like being clean, but the idea of a morning dip in a glacial lake wasn’t the kind of adventure I was quite ready for.  I require a bit of warm before hurling my naked body into freezing water.

And so, from my warm perch inside the van, I watched as more and more skin appeared, and Krista walked out into the water.

(Yes, of course I took a picture.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of compromising shots of me…)

After a good shimmy and shake, she emerged, smiling and clean.  I shuddered, and pulled my hood up over my ears.

Day two meant that it was my turn to drive.  I was looking forward to the challenge.  The gas and brake pedals were in the same configuration as in the states, but the steering wheel was on the opposite – as were the windshield wipers and turn signal.  I’ll say that there were only a couple of moments when Krista had to yell, “wrong side!” to get me onto the right side of the road, and I only tried to climb into the other side of the cab a few times.  However, I activated the windshield wipers approximately 24 times every day, while trying to signal.

As we drove on, with an exceedingly clean windshield, we delved deeper into the beautiful New Zealand countryside.  We climbed higher, working our way to the pass.  Unreal landscapes presented themselves to us over the edge of the road, perched along the mountain.

Mullen, scotchbroom, water, mountains and lupine stretched in fingers below us, the foliage following the waterlines of glacier-fed streams that led from the distant, snow-capped mountains.

As if in response to the flora, and not wanting to be outdone, the fauna began asserting itself.

Kiwi bird crossing signs popped up, and while we were out photographing the landscape, a large, brown-green bird landed on the roof of the van and stuck its head inside.

“What was that?!” I’d looked up to see it land on the van, 20 yards away from us, up an embankment.  “Something big landed on the van.  I’ll go check it out.”

I scrambled up, wondering what I’d just seen.  It had appeared to be checking out the open window, but fluttered to the ground when I walked toward the van.

“No way.”  I was looking at something completely unexpected.

“It looks like a parrot!”  I yelled back to Krista who was now climbing up as well.  “I didn’t know there were parrots here.”  We both looked around at the mountains and then back to the bird.

He was friendly, and seemed as curious about us and our colorful van as we were about him.  He stayed in the shade of the van and turned his head back and forth looking at us.  One of the people Krista had stayed with on the north island was a zookeeper who had showed her something similar.  We were both excited to confirm what we were seeing when we hit the next ranger station.

When we described what we’d seen to the smiling ranger, he pointed, without looking, at a picture on the wall.  Sure enough, it was a Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world.  These guys are known for being social friendly, and mischievous, famous for removing the rubber parts off of cars, and stealing anything they can from campsites.

Along with the Kea confirmation, the ranger gave us directions to a couple of different walks that would take us into the Arthur’s Pass wilderness, and waterfalls.

The first was a towering two-tiered fall.  We walked the half mile up, seeing a couple of other hikers.  The falls were beautiful, and we climbed down to the pool below for a closer look.

Coming from Oregon and Idaho, comparisons were almost unavoidable.  The falls looked like Multnomah Falls, a well known set in the Columbia Gorge of Oregon.  We took our pictures and moved along.

Our next hike would take us further in, closer to the mountains, past alpine lilies, and a gorgeous tumbling river.

Soon enough we found ourselves facing a series of large rocks, falls and pools.

“Shall we cross?”  The question was barely out of Krista’s mouth before we were picking our way across the river.  Once across we clambered up the bank, working our way toward the larger pool.

“It looks pretty deep.”  The hot sun had me thinking about a bath of my own.

“It’s not.”  Krista’s time as a member of a swift water search and rescue team gave her the ability to tell whether we should be jumping into any rivers.

“Okay, I’ll start lower.”  Now, I’m not known as someone who will strip down and throw my naked body into a body of water with other people around, but my sense of adventure was growing, my body was starting to smell like 40 hours of travel, and the clear skies were taunting me.

I looked over to see Krista taking off her shoes.  “You coming, too?”

“Of course.”

While she waded in, I climbed to the lowest ledge of a boulder on the side of the pool.  It gave me maybe a 6 inch drop, but it was enough.  I much favor the sudden cold to a gradual freezing.

My feet touched gravel, and my head popped quickly out of the water, followed by the rest of me.  Krista was still splashing around as I stumbled from the pool.  She ambled out, and we worked our way over to the big, flat rocks in the middle of the river.  Sun-warmed, the rocks were perfect for drying off.  We threw our soggy bodies onto them, and closed our eyes, sighing happily.

I jerked a little when, ten minutes later, I felt myself sliding down the sloping rock.  When I’d plopped down, my wet body had effectively adhered me to the slab.  Now, as I dried in the sun, I was losing friction and moving slowly to the edge of the rock.

It was then that I looked up from my perch and realized where I was.  Naked.  In the middle of the river.  Fully visible from the trail we’d climbed earlier.  Startled, but laughing, I rolled off the slab and looked around.  There were hikers below, but it wasn’t clear whether they’d had a chance to see the enhanced view.

I laughed as I gathered my clothing.  It was entirely possible that the unwitting hikers would find a surprise if they looked closely at their pictures when they got home.

Well rested, cleaner, and sunned all over, we packed up and headed back, with one last look around at the towering scenery.

We repeated our routine from the day before, scouring the map for a campground and picking our way through the mountains to one that would give us a good start the next day.  Lake Ianthe was the winner.  While it was a much smaller camp site – barely more than a parking lot on the side of the road – it had running water, a picnic table and a dock.

It was here that we learned the true value of our van’s paint job.  While a little creepy to us, it was equally creepy to others.  In the small campground, we had two separate vans pull in next to us, only to move a short time later.  It seemed the van served as vehicle, home, and protective gargoyle, a handy feature throughout the trip.

The lake provided us with another delicious meal, another comfortable place to sleep, and another beautiful sunset.

We ate and watched, and laughed about the perfect moment on the rocks in Arthur’s Pass.

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January 5, 2011   1 Comment

Safety First

When I was little, my grandfather (who is a bigger kid than I am) got a big kick out of bringing my sister and me rock candy – you know, the candy that looks like pebbles.  It took us a couple of times to realize that we could actually eat the present.  Even so, I was never super comfortable with the idea.

This weekend, on a trip to the Gorge with friends, I ran across a gem and rock show at Cascade Locks.

Rock bin Cascade Locks

Among the bins of polished rocks, strings of beads, and great chunks of amethyst, we found this:

Gumball Rocks

Yup.  That’s one gumball machine filled with, you guessed it, gumballs, and one filled with rocks.  It seems the person who set up the machines sensed the inherent danger in this situation.  If you look closely at the label on the rock machine, you’ll see “do not eat.  is not candy.  it’s rocks.”

Do Not Eat Big

Yeah.  Good call.

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July 12, 2009   3 Comments