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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Seligson

Journey to Peru - Part 2

Updated: Apr 25

The first week of our Peruvian adventure through the Amazon jungles, the monkeys, alligators, sloths, pink dolphins, bats, anacondas, and about five hundred sorts of birds, is over. New adventures await but I am heartsore. I just want to wander and float on the tiny skiffs through the lush and massive tropical foliage forever, seeing no other people than the 30 or so citizens of our ship, the tiny villages scattered along the water, the local fishermen, the children.  Where we see no other cruise ships, no ferries or tankers. Not here, not in this remote world that I have fallen in love with over the past week. I cherish being on water; that’s why we live on the beach and have loved sailing and cruising trips.


But sorry to say, we are too soon en route to the most significant sights in Peru, the sights that tourists schlepp all this way to experience. And these all are on land, in the mountains, the small towns and villages, on the farms. Friday is a fierce travel day, beginning with the reality that we are unnerved by honking autos and tuk-tuks (small carriages propelled by a guy on a motorcycle). We take busses, 2 planes; we all feel overwhelmed by other gaggles of tourists and the logistics of noisy and confusing travel.  Exhausting, discouraging, annoying. Finally, we arrive at a splendid hotel in the Sacred Valley, the heartland of the Inka Empire. I love saying and writing “Sacred Valley”, it just seems sacred. The valley is situated in the Peruvian region of Cusco, a fundamental tourist destination, a home to archeological sites and somewhat  modern towns as well as the magical llamas and alpacas from which all blissful sweaters are created.


Saturday: A much-heralded day of rest; several of us (me included) are having belly problems or lightheadedness from altitude pills needing to deal with yes, the altitude.  Carlos, our perfect caretaker guide, notices me swaying wobbly from side to side, and hauls over his traveling oxygen gismo.  Six minutes later after inhaling, all is well with my brain. Loveliest part of the day’s retreat is strolling through the hotel’s massive farmland on a riverbank, while we’re prepared a massive five course picnic lunch by the river. Ah, yes, I’m on the water again.  I always wonder, with the gargantuan size of tourist food portions, how many of these calories do the local folks eat?  I feel guilty and even guiltier about leaving anything over on the plate, which I often do.


In the afternoon, I wander onto the front patio of the beautiful hotel to see three enchanting baby llamas reminding me of puppies, allowing us to feed and stroke them.  I want to take one home.

Sunday we visit an area where the local women demonstrate making colorful cloths out of plants picked from the earth. The saltwater samples that they unearth change readily to black and then to red, altering their hues constantly to keep the extravagant colors shifting and flowing into what will be made into all kinds of garments. Sandy, one of our group, is astonished as are we all, and she marvels” this is like a theatrical magic show.”  It is certainly a culture of otherworldly beliefs, practices, legends and stories.  Everything sprouting from the earth is used, nothing is wasted or discarded.


Monday: Machu Picchu, the peak of all Peruvian land sites, the 15thcentury sacred citadel of the Inca Indians, who regarded this “city” as the center of the universe.  It’s now considered one of the seven modern wonders of the world.


When I first visited Machu Picchu, more than forty years ago, I was on a writing assignment for Life Magazine.  A group of us, a dozen thrill-seeking hippies, traveled to Peru to explore the work of the shamans who were revered for their mystical wisdom.  We hiked up and down the million steep stone steps of the area, with no railings, gasped at the views of the hills and terraces, and sat on cliff edges staring into the mountains that some Peruvian cultures believe were inhabited by visitors from space.  There were no tourists, one funky small hotel and no place to buy lunch. Caves, ancient stone temples and walls, llamas and alpacas, more magic than I could absorb into my reality.  It was silent and breathtaking.


Carlos our guide warned me, “don’t be shocked at the crowds and tourists, it’s overrun. Prepare yourself.”  He also told me that as recently as 2014, nude tourism was a trend in Machu Picchu, but the Regional Director of Culture stopped the practice. “These days UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its list of World Heritage sites in danger” he reports with sadness.  Danger of too many noisy tourists, I assume.  My first sight of Machu Picchu is of at least twenty huge buses in the parking lot and dozens of travelers waiting on long lines to enter. It’s bursting with shops and a snack bar.  A few of our gang sit out the escapade and hang around the bar because of bad backs or weak knees.  Several of our younger cohorts climb to the peak.  I join a group with a guide climbing about halfway up, moving out of the range of the masses passing us by, their numbers making the narrow walkway routes ominous. Despite Carlos’ warning, I was not ready for the onslaught of so many humans.


I had tried to prepare myself but my memories, even from so long ago, are today clear in my brain. It was then and still now a riveting experience, learning more from our guide of the history that I’ve not recalled from my last trip.  And the site is indeed breathtaking.  But I’m not sad to leave and head down the mountain to lunch in a local bistro where hand-crafted art covers all the walls.  Then on to Cusco, the city often dubbed as the “Rome of America”, with over two million visitors a year.


Tuesday: In Cusco for several days we stroll the steep stone streets, occasionally pause at one of the colorful markets where I am inclined to buy everything but keep walking.  We visit a huge cathedral with our knowledgeable local guide, who tells us that the cathedral (which seems covered in solid gold—a fellow traveler comments that it looks like one of Trump’s homes), is actually just gold plate. Here’s a fact: The centuries’ conflict between Catholics and Incas is marked by one Christ head statue turned to the left, and the Inca Christ head turned to the right. I always treasure that sort of bizarre information, thinking about it long afterwards.

We visit a market where Carlos challenges us to a “game”.  He gives each of us twenty sols – the equivalent of four dollars – to shop for as much food as we can in twenty minutes, using our newfound bargaining skills, a common interaction here.  Tom and I run around, buy cheese, bread, chocolate, nuts, sausage until we run out of money and time. We have no idea what the winner of this contest will get.


Then Carlos leads us outside to the plaza and tells us the truth of his assignment:  We will walk to the vendors on the sidewalk, with their tiny stands for selling food, spices, soda. Carlos will inquire, politely and with caring, about their stories, and we will give each of them some of our food until we run out. We approach a woman selling orange juice from a ragged wagon.  He finds out, and translates for us, that it takes her two hours of walking, each way, every day, to get to her space on the plaza.  Another fellow is selling matchbooks from a bicycle. He tears up when we give him a supply of bread and cheese. An immensely powerful experience, I’m once again reminded of our privileged place in the world. The next day we leave Peru for home.

MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore.

Check out my website and blog for stories and more:

“Marcia Seligson is one of the funniest, most original, and irreverent people I know, and her book carries all those qualities. She can make anything funny, from a Peloton bike to a 40-hour brisket cookery. And she can be touching, deep, and bracingly honest. My advice to readers is make sure you have unbroken time ahead when you pick up this book. Each time I did, intending to read for ten minutes, an hour went by before I looked up. And I’d laughed out loud at least twice.” Sara Davidson, Writer NY Times bestseller Loose Change, Head writer for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman 

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1 comentário

24 de abr.

My husband and I were on Part One of this journey but had decided from the start we didn’t want to go on to Cusco and Machu Pichu. Your blog makes me both happy and sad that we made that decision. Machu Pichu does not sound enticing to me, but I would have loved the rest of the experience as you described it, especially the final challenge of hearing the stories of the local people and rewarding them with food for sharing their stories with you. That part would be right up my alley! Thank you for this blog. It makes me miss you all the more! (By the way, if you haven’t read Marcia’s book My Mother Would Hat…

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