Monday, May 13, 2013

On the Precipice: Peru

I stood on the precipice overlooking Machu Picchu. It had been a sweaty climb to the top of the Temple of the Sun, but well worth it. It was breathtaking. The fog had finally dispersed over the Andes Mountains and views of the Lost City of the Incas were riveting, magical, and surreal. Here, we could see the symmetry of their walls, stone upon stone and edge upon edge slanting in the same direction, the building of an awesome civilization. Sacred geography. Water gushed along the crevices, an ancient watering system that still fed into the hot springs of Aguas Calientes for common folk at the foot of the mountain. The sun warmed my cheeks and I was an eagle, yearning to fly.

At the same time, I am afraid of heights. Beside me stood the man I loved. Little did I know we would part before the year ended. The path downward was infinitely more difficult than climbing up. The steps were jagged and broken, too narrow to contain a whole foot and people wound up tiptoeing sideways while balancing the gravitational pull to the center of the earth. I stopped and stared. I thought I was going to die. Gingerly, I stepped down and then tripped, hanging onto a branch for dear life. I trudged forward again and slipped, clinging to rocks for survival. Then I decided to descend on my reliable behind, muddying the seat of my jeans beyond recognition. I was never able to wear them again.

I often wondered what would have happened had I continued to climb up instead of down. There was another summit, a more beautiful and loftier peak Huayna Picchu, rumored to have been the resting place of a moon goddess. I wanted to keep going , but my companion warned me of the time and the litany of activities he planned afterwards. Plus, he needed to go to the bathroom. So I went down, on my butt.

Perhaps we must fall before we can fly. My life crumbled shortly afterwards and I remembered the image of rain beating down on stone, submitting it into the shape that it willed. I had succumbed to fear, to expectations, to the will of others. I had lost myself and I did not even notice until I saw myself in the mirror one day and did not recognize the person who was going about her daily business. Life may do this to you. Work may do this to you. Society may do this to you. The intentions of others, no matter how well-meaning and kind, may lead you astray if you are not true to your own heart.

Where was my heart? I embarked on a journey to find out. I am still on that journey. Many things are still uncertain. I still have dark, unholy nights filled with self-doubt. Yet there are flashes of truth and inspiration, spurring the genesis of my novel and birth of my blog. I know I am enough. When you find an inkling of yourself, your authentic self, you need very little else.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Love in the Lost City of Petra

It's easy to become intoxicated by atmosphere. In the lost city of Petra, rose-colored sandstone and scintillating skies render a hotbed of love, albeit the most unlikely love. Love flushes and blushes like a young bride in this wonder of world, brought to international attention by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Al Khazneh, the Treasury, stands as centerpiece of this architectural marvel, carved with beauteous colummns and friezes of a pink that seemed to glow. Instead of Harrison Ford flashing his famous whip, tour guides lead gentle donkeys bearing tourists. All the guides belong to the indigenous people, the Nabateans, a people ancient as the Bible itself. They are modern-day bedouins, shepherds who make decent money showing impressionable tourists around the city of their ancestors.

That's not all. Nabateans also have a particular way of wooing. They show eligible female visitors that this is where they grew up, where their grandfathers tended goats and where their mothers churned milk. They show the lofty monastery atop the mountain where they climbed as children, and iridescent walls where they hid from their parents. Then they show the women their tents, where they proceed to do the thing that men and women do. Afterwards, these modern and curious ladies (often American) decide to stay. No joke. They marry into the Nabatean tribe, and live their lives in shepherding villages. Apparently, it happens all the time.

Thank God I was with my brother. The Nabatean guide atop our donkey was young and as dusty as they come, save for the designer Tommy Hilfiger jeans he sported. My fiancee, he said, is an opera singer in Chicago, showing a photo of striking brunette on his smartphone. She already got me a ticket for the States, and then we will be back here to get married. We will live here, among my brothers and uncles. Any chance they will live in America? No, he shakes his head, most of the women who visit here stay here. They are happier.

Was it love? Or infatuation? Or the call of a simpler life? First-world luxury and conveniences somehow paled in comparison to the rough and tumble, sweat and grime of the Nabatean life. What was it that fulfilled these women to the point of giving up modern livestyles?

I never knew because I never went inside those tents. The sun began to set, casting a red light over the city and the stones seemed warm, alive. Then the wind blew and the sand swirled in glistening ruby-red speckles, the beginnings of a mirage. And I gazed through that thing of beauty, wondering if I was dreaming.