A Chameleon's Tale, Peruvian Meditations
The Peruvian Andes are pure magic! In 1977, I hitchhiked through them, getting rides on top of trucks carrying cases of Inca Cola to villages along switchback dirt roads that criss-crossed the mountains. This was adventure travel before that term became a buzzword; vertical cliffs on one side and 3,000-foot drops on the other. Mountain folk, barefoot and clad in colorful ponchos and pointed woolen hats with earflaps, were my only companions on these long, windy, dangerous rides.
On the back of many trucks was a colorful sign that said "Pasa Condor Pasa" which I found out later was a reference to the mythical "El Condor," the fastest and most courageous of all Peruvian truck drivers. When he was driving behind you, it was best to let him overtake if you valued your life. When the trucks came up to wooden log bridges on switchback corners, the passengers would get down, walk over the bridge, and then get back on the truck on the other side. I followed suit and asked why afterwards. Just in case the driver—who recited a few Hail Mary's in Quichua and made the sign of the cross—didn't make it across. A few roadside tombstones I had spotted were proof enough of the latter. One local explained to me that during the rainy season, when the logs became very slippery, it was all in God's hands whether the driver lived or died.
At any mountain village that appealed to me, I would stop and stay with a family for a few days. Often I would seek out trails from one village to another. The soothing sound of Andean flutes, played by herders to their huge bulls grazing nearby would echo off the hills and put me into a serene state of mind. In mountain streams, I would bathe naked in the ice-cold water and let Inti, the Incan sun god, dry my body while I perched on a big rock in the river, meditating to the sounds of flutes and cowbells and the mountain symphony. Mighty Nature, my one and only god since Kilimanjaro, was all I needed to be at peace with myself. More and more, using the techniques taught to me by Bapuji, I started meditating regularly. I understood better now the peace that he experienced in his early morning meditations at mosque in Kampala.
So, by the time I ran into blonde Norwegian, Hilde, who was sitting silently by a river on the outskirts of the town of Huancayo, I was already well immersed in the spiritual magic of the Andes. Turned out that Hilde too, enjoyed the serenity of river baths and meditations in the mountains. Since both of us were headed south to Cusco and Machupicchu, we teamed up to travel together. Hilde's smile immediately put me at ease, and we soon learned to enjoy each other's silence, neither of us compelled to fill it up with words, sometimes for hours on end.
At Cusco, once the capital of the Incan Empire, we explored the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, and marveled at how a civilization frommore than five centuries ago could have built walls from 300-ton blocks of limestone to such architectural perfection—without mortar to hold them together. For the trip to Machupicchu, the ancient Incan city perched at 2,350 meters, we opted for the four-day trek instead of taking the four-hour train ride.