We just completed the hop from the rarefied air of Cusco down to the muggy coast city of Lima and, after a ridiculously filling round of salads and milkshakes, are sitting together in a hotel lobby wrapping up the month of exploring Peru with final writing prompts, debrief, and a Lucha Libro (story writing competition indigenous to Peru). The opportunity to contemplate, reflect, and make conscious lessons learned from shared experience is such a remarkable part of this approach to education.
In departing the high country, I was contemplating why I love mountain
people and cultures so much. Part of it, I think, are the common
threads of humility, simplicity, and joy among those that live among
the atmosphere-scraping peaks of the world. I’ve found that mountain people see the power and presence of the Divine at the center of all things, and don’t subscribe to the common egocentric western cultural view of themselves as the center. Mountains inspire balance, perspective and again, humility. Each time I have the opportunity to travel among the Quechua of the Andes or the Tibetans of the Himalaya I am challenged to reprioritize how I approach my day to day life and to see things differently.
The other day I had rung the buzzer on the gate at our hostel in the Sacred Valley after an early morning run and waited for the latch to turn and the gate to swing open with a “buenos dias” from the other side. But that didn’t happen. I waited five minutes and buzzed again. Nothing. I waited 10 minutes and buzzed again. Nothing. I waited 15 minutes, spent the time in quiet prayer preparing for the day, and then came into mind, “look differently.” I turned and looked at the door. There, right in front of me near the buzzer, was a tiny string coming through a hole in the door. I pulled the string. A bell jingled. “Buenos dias señor,” came through the gate as it swung open. After some weeks among these beautiful, humble people who live with great simplicity and joy, I am learning a little more about how to look differently.
This morning in the dawn hours before we headed to the airport, I ran up to the top of the peak above Cusco for a final look out across the city. On the descent I saw a Quechua woman come out of small hut on the hill across from me and could hear the baby on her back, wrapped in her traditional red alpaca manta, cooing as the woman began trotting down the mountain on the trail to town a few miles below. Our trails merged a few minutes later, and we smiled at each other as I crossed in front and continued my descent. I thought I recognized her as one of the vendors on the main square selling “100% maybe alpaca” hats and knick-knacks to the hoards of travelers like us. A mile or so later I heard something behind me and looked over my shoulder into the eyes of the baby who was still cooing and had just caught me on the back of his mother in her traditional hat, sweater, shawl, multi-layers petticoat skirts, stockings and black leather clogs. Not only had she caught me, the impish grin on her face made it clear she was ready to pass. The trail split ahead. I went right, she went left, and the race to Cusco was on.
I could see the woman gaining ground on the trail across the ravine. She checked regularly and knew she was putting distance on me. I have to assume the baby was into this as well. When the trails came back together, I looked up from the stones and could see her 100 yards below me and descending with a fluid grace. At the next trail split she went left again, I went right again, and she gained ground again. We were in the outskirts of Cusco and onto the back roads. No longer able to see her, I resigned myself to having been outrun, outfoxed, and out-joyed by this grinning mountain woman. But nope, there she was again, right in front of me coming out of a side alley. In an all out, 12,000 foot high sprint, I caught up to her and laughing we smiled together at the impromptu joy of running down the mountain in the early morning quiet.
She turned towards the Plaza and I towards our hostel. Joy, simplicity, humility. I’m learning a little bit at a time from these fine people about how to look differently.