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The Line Between Heaven and Earth

Happy Thursday!

I don’t have much time to write this yak because i am meeting my host family for lunch in 20 minutes. So i will briefly recount some moments and share a few thoughts:

During our 5 day trek around Apu Ausangate, I witnessed the most beautiful views of my life and simultaneously experienced some of the worst pain. On the first full day, i experienced intense altitude symptoms, especially fatigue, nausea and extreme headache. As the group trudged through the final couple hours, i remember crying, screaming and laughing in the course of minutes. i remember thinking to myself, i am pain; pain is all i am. but the pain passed, and by the second day i fell into a rhythm and came to deeply enjoy the hours of walking. i reflected on the parts of my day, the aspects of my life, that i often look forward to at home, especially on an emotionally unfulfilling day: a hot shower, a good meal, my warm and soft bed. on the trek, each of those material comforts was completely unavailable, so to maintain happiness, i learned to look forward to, and take joy in, the walking itself. and to walk for long hours with purpose does indeed provide a singular peace and satisfaction. The Inca people who still live in the vicinity of Ausangate revere the mountain as a god. I understood the logic partially before the trek: the mountain provides water; water is life. But only on the fourth day of the trek did I really grasp it,through a conversation with our instructor Brian: it was snowing lightly and the summit was shrouded in clouds. From our angle the mountain looked a million feet tall. The summit seemed so close and yet completely unreachable and out of this world. I imagined living in the shadow of that giant for decades and seeing the summit everyday in all its glory but being incapable of touching it. I imagined some teenage boys climbing up as high as possible one day and maybe stepping one foot into the unreachable for a moment. The high parts of the mountain like a different dimension, and not unlike a realm of gods.

After Ausangate we began our first homestay in the city of Urubamba. The homestay has been my favorite part of the course so far. I stayed with a middle aged couple, Beti and Augusto, and their 12 year old son, Andre. Andre, like me, is an only child. Beti and Augu are teachers. They’re a busy family and they live in a small apartment on the Plaza Pintacha near our Spanish classes. In the mornings, Beti woke me up at 7:20 for me to get to our morning group meetings in the plaza at 7:30. Needless to say, I had the most convenient location. I was alone in my spanish class. My teacher, Reiner, is also a very skilled painter, and our classes took place in his fourth floor study, surrounded by his paintings and bookshelves and with a view of the red tile roofs and the surrounding mountains and glaciers. In the afternoons, I studied Cajon for my ISP. The cajon is a peruvian instrument, basically a box that you sit on and play like a drum with two different types of strikes, one higher pitched on the edge and one deeper in the center (see pictures in ISP yak). On the first day, Brian told me to go to to the seviche restaurant Pa Mi Gente with my cajon and ask for Cristian. I arrived at the restaurant and found some people watching the world cup in the back patio. Cristian turned out to be a 25 year old afro-peruvian man. He and his wife, Pati, are seviche chefs. They have a 1 year old son named Gael. At first my lessons with Cristian were difficult because I had trouble understanding his Lima accent and he had a very “just copy what i do” teaching style, and when a customer would come in and he had to serve drinks or help Pati with the cooking, he would make me keep practicing the beat and would yell corrections at me from other parts of the restaurant. Over the course of the week it got easier, and i learned a medley of 4 four typical afro-peruvian rhythms that he and i could play almost perfectly in unison by the end. I also started to feel like part of their small family by the end, given how many hours i spent hanging out in the restaurant, learning, chatting with Pati, and playing with the baby. Pati let me try spoonfuls of a lot of her dishes.

In the evenings, I played soccer in the street with five or six boys on the block and my host brother, Andre. I found that sports are sometimes a better way to bond than conversations, and I felt very close with all the boys after a few days. A couple times, we walked to the Charcahualla, a local field, and played soccer, basketball, a strange version of four square, and dodgeball (their name for which literally translates to kill people) with kids we didn’t know. I love sports, and I had so much fun playing four hours on end in the street. Having friends my age was also a bridge to the community. After soccer, Andre and I went inside and had dinner, played video games, and had strangely philosophical conversations. It was wonderful for each of us to have a brother, however short the time. I will miss them so much.