(Note: the Wi-Fi has been out for more than 24 hours. It has to go through seven towers to get here and people steal the antennas. So I will be doing several posts in a row to catch up.) This morning, Karyn taught her first yoga class for our newly arrived community, and after breakfast, we met as a whole group to get to know each other better and to set the container for the workshop. But before we did that, we had Gonzalo come in and tell us more about Sach’a Munay. He shared some of the legends of the mountains and told us about the mountain spirits, the Apus. This whole area was once burial grounds, even pre-Inca. “That’s part of what makes it special.” Gonzalo told us that Sach’a Munay can be translated in many ways in Quechua, the local language. It can mean “beautiful ... [Continue Reading]
Virtual Vacation: Peru
In which Laura and Karyn and 18 writers explore Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of Peru.
I’ve always loved string figure games. I grew up doing Jacob’s Ladder and playing Cat’s Cradle. String games are kind of like riding a bicycle—once you learn how to make them, you never forget. It’s muscle memory—cellular intelligence. When our kids, Eli and Lizzy were in elementary school, they went to an alternative elementary school in Aptos, California called Orchard School. There were 60 kids in the whole school—kindergarten through sixth grade. The campus was 12 acres and each subject was taught in a different building. Fort building and playing in the mud—and being in school barefoot were major activities. Instead of traditional physical education, they had circus arts. They learned to walk on stilts and rode unicycles all over the campus. It’s how they got from class to class. ... [Continue Reading]
I was up this morning at 3:30 AM with a headache. I’ve had a headache for some part of every day I’ve been here and the day we went up to Cusco to pick up our students, at 11,000 feet, I felt like my head was in a vise the whole day. As soon as we came back to Sach’a Munay and 9000 feet, that intense pressure lessened, but I’ve still had a headache everyday for at least part of the day. I’m sure the advil I’ve been taking on a daily basis can’t be good for my gut, but it helps. I would say my discomfort has been at a 4. I’ve been able to do everything—teach, schmooze, take part in a sacred ceremony, even hike, but that pressure in my head is always lurking. Each day I think, “Oh, tomorrow I’ll adjust.” But I’ve already been here for almost a week and I seem to be one of those people ... [Continue Reading]
On almost all of my travel trips, we spend one morning of writing class doing an exercise in deep observation. Paying attention is one the most important qualities a writer can foster, so this morning I read my students a story about deep observation in a scientific setting, and then sent them out, dressed in jackets and rain coats (to sit on—the ground was wet from last night’s thunder and lightning storm) and told them to sit for half an hour in silence, studying 12 square inches of something in nature that wasn’t moving (like a river), but a 12 inch square that initially felt static, like nothing was happening: maybe a stone wall, a patch of grass, a tree, some flowers. The instructions: half an hour of silence and deep observation of what was happening in that square foot.
After writing class today, we took an afternoon field trip to Moray, the ancient archeological site built by the Incas. A local guide from Urubamba, the next province over, joined us on our excursion today. Valentin grew up high in the mountains, the son of farmers. “The soil is very fertile with the good weather,” he told us. “It is a very good place to grow things. Our main crops were wheat, barley and potatoes. Potatoes like high elevations.”
When we started this retreat, I asked everyone to take a risk today and last night at dinner, I watched Michelle, who was sitting beside me take her risk. She picked up this strange-looking unfamiliar fruit, cut it open and scooped some of it out to taste it. It looked kind of like a lemon, but it had a hard yellow skin and a greyish-green goo inside with black seeds suspended in it. She put it on a spoon and tentatively approached her mouth. We egged her on while I took pictures.
When I posted the picture of myself with oxygen and told you about my headaches, a lot of you wrote back worried I’d have a blood clot in my brain or that I had terrible altitude sickness. Even my son Eli wrote me and said, “Take the fucking medicine.” Some of you told me I should just rest for a few days—yeah right…and who exactly would teach my class and run this retreat? I’m not that sick. I want to assure you I don’t have serious or dangerous altitude sickness. I’ve continued to have headaches on an intermittent basis since I arrived in Peru a week ago, but I have none of the signs of severe altitude sickness: “severe shortness of breath, confusion, difficulty concentration, lack of coordination, a staggering walk, extreme tiredness, severe headache.” However, I did email my ... [Continue Reading]
On our bus trip yesterday, late afternoon stop was just outside the town of Maras. When the bus stopped it was cold. We all put on layers and windbreakers and piled off the bus. Down below us was a vast interlocking series of white pools. It is where salt has been farmed since the time of the Incas. As our guide Valentin explained it to us, “There’s a massive solid layer of salt underneath Maras. Millions of years ago, the ocean was here. This salt is the remainder.”
At the opening orientation for our group, I gave people permission to skip an activity—to pace themselves, their energy, their body’s response to the altitude, and their need for down time and solitude—by sitting out a scheduled activity on an as needed basis. I asked that everyone come to writing class if at all possible since a writing circle can’t build intimacy and trust on a drop-in basis—but many days we were also going to have an afternoon outing to explore an archeological site or a group of village weavers or a city, to visit a local school or a family farm —and that during those activities, people could opt out and stay behind to rest, get a massage, go for a hike or have a solo adventure. I told the group that the main thing that gets in the way of people taking care of ... [Continue Reading]