Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Follow your Dreams...



One of the few pictures I was able to take...

Being there was a strange experience. I expected a huge rush of emotions and joy, a real sense that I was going to learn something from the rocks and the corridors of the old city. I was so exhausted from hiking the Inca Trail. I found a beautiful grassy corner to relax in. I discovered, the most beautiful parts of Machu Picchu go largely unnoticed by the 3,000 tourists a day. While they push over themselves to touch the magnetic stone, clearly marked "don't touch" there is peace and sunshine and trees and bugs and flowers and sweet smells on the wind to slowly absorb. I lay down in the grass for an hour. No one came near what I thought to be the true gem of this place.

In its day Machu Picchu was home to 750 people, mostly women. Machu Picchu, according to tour guide Victor Torres, means "old mountain" in Quechua. It is the only Inca city with a traditional name today, because the name was legendary enough to survive colonialism. All of the other nearby Inca cities were named by local guides last century at the time they were rediscovered. Today, the footfalls of daily visitors are vibrating the walls down. It is uncertain how long this 600 year old city built to withstand earthquakes will remain standing.

I did learn a few things. Getting there was more thrilling than being there. It took four days to walk from km 82 to the old sun gate above the ancient city.

My camera didn't work for much of the trip. I had trouble accepting that at first. I was sad that I would not capture as many memories as I had planned. Being a deeply spiritual person I asked "Patchamama," (Mother Earth) if she had any message for me. She responded by killing my camera. I took this to mean what I guess I already knew in my heart. Getting there and being there wasn't about the pictures and taking home a big bag of local crafts. It was more about the five dollars you pay for a cup of instant coffee at the concession stand. A cup of instant coffee at the top of a mystical mountain in Peru simply costs five dollars, because somebody had to carry it there.

The measure of the height of a mountain is different for everyone. In a manner of speaking, I have been climbing Machu Picchu all my life. Being there was an incredible experience that made me look back at the long hard journey of my life and measure it in a way I never did before. On the last day before I made it to the city my body was so hurting that I got angry. That anger brought up unresolved hurt from a life time of painful feelings I could never accept before. Being there for me was about accepting myself, that I haven't had a life of privilege and encouragement, that I had continued to speak to myself in the voices of my oppression, that it was time to forgive and let live. It is time for me to tell "my" painful story, because I actually have one to tell, even if it is one that I was trying to escape for so long.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the climbing of a mountain, literal or metaphorical





Its official! I am going to Machu Picchu, and I will be hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over four days, before, during, and following the Southern Hemisphere's Spring Equinox (September 22nd this year). That will be two vernal equinox's in a row for me. Next March, back in Toronto will make three. I am so lucky!

No, I am not as passionate about animation as I once was. Pursuing a career there saw my professional and domestic life begin to fall apart. Trying to recover saw it finish falling apart. Everything flew dramatically out of balance. And so for the time being I am regaining my strength and pizazz for life, and I am writing a hell of a lot.

I have taken Joseph Campbell's advice, "follow your bliss." I'd spent the last few months poking around deep in my personal mythology and found that advice to be soothing. Jack Kerouac really spoke to me, as did the Sun. So, when life was not going well and the world was not conspiring to set me on my way, I thought it was time to take to the road and find an adventure. But where would I go?

I always drift off on a wonderful daydream whenever I see a picture of Machu Picchu. Peru, the Andes, and the Amazon have been calling me for decades. One frigid January morning on my way to work at 4:30 a.m. I saw a bus shelter poster of an Aztec Pyramid and remembered my calls to Peru. Kerouac's mountain (Dharma Bums) and Gary Snyder's (Ahem! Jaffy Ryder) zen poetry fresh on my mind along with a little advice from my favourite astrologer Rob Breezney, something about climbing literal and metaphorical mountains, I made up my mind right then and there. It is time for me to go to Peru. That would do my mind, body and spirit a heck of a lot of good.

I do love a good adventure.

It started with wilderness and jungle adventures on television. As a kid I loved lazy Sunday afternoon monster movies. I watched "King Kong (1933)," Johnny Weissmuller "Tarzan" movies, "Godzilla," "Mysterious Island (1961)" and "the Lost World (1960)." I loved the "National Geographic Television Series," "Leorne Greene's New Wilderness," and "Wild Kingdom." I dreamed of living my own version of "Swiss Family Robinson (1960)," and "Mountain Family Robinson (1979)." I wished "Grizzly Adams" was my long lost Uncle, and I spent countless hours in the ravine behind my home pretending I was Sam Gribley in "My Side of the Mountain," a book by Jean Craighead Goerge.

My Grandma introduced me to bird watching and to learning about the breeds of horses and dogs. My grandparent's house was decorated with paintings by my great uncle Sonny (Robert E. Lougheed). He painted wildlife, nature, wilderness and rural farm life, before moving south to gain recognition as a major contributor to the cowboy art genre. My grandparents also inspired me to draw.

I first saw images of the Amazon Rain forest in National Geographic Magazines. Grandma and Grandpa got them in the mail for decades. Flipping through them was one of my favourite things to do when I visited them, aside from watching "the Wonderful World of Disney."

I saw the "Making of" on television before I saw the movie itself, but I was a huge fan: Indiana Jones sought the Golden Fertility Idol in the Amazon in "Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)", the movie that inspired me to become a filmmaker.

Harrison Ford made a film called the "Mosquito Coast (1986)", which actually took place in Central America. This film inspired me to challenge every thing I knew about life and society.


That same year I read "Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad for the first time. The Francis Ford Coppola film "Apocalypse Now (1979)," another one of my favourites, was based on that book, though it was set during the Viet Nam War.

Sting put on a benefit concert in the early 1990's to raise awareness about the exploitation of rain forest and its peoples. This message helped to inspire me to go into Conservation Biology.

I absolutely loved "Medicine Man (1992)," starring Sean Connery. It introduced me to ethnobotany. After this I decided to pursue Environmental Science and Biology as a career, and I so wanted to visit a rain forest canopy catwalk.

I got another glimpse of the culture in the Andes from the Luc Besson movie "the Big Blue." I love the lively hearty music from that region.

While studying Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Guelph I read books by Wade Davis, E.O. Wilson, and Mark J. Plotkin just for fun.


Working for Digital Frog International as an educational software designer I reassembled media for their original title "The Digital field trip to the Rain forest," set in Belize. I knew that one day I would get to the Amazon.

And I will never forget when Dreamworks Animation was making good original adventure features like "Road to El Dorado (2000)" instead of dated spoofs like, what where their titles?.

*Sigh* So, much of my world travel has been a vicarious breed. I've yet to leave North America, but all of that is about to change. The reluctant hero of this little tale is ready to fly.

A small note about the Sun:

Raven steals the Sun often in my life. (Read "Raven Steals the Light: Native American Tales," by Bill Reid) With several years invested in career pursuits that didn't pan out, and struggles to keep an open marriage afloat, it is safe to say that the Sun disappeared in my life for a long time, again. In the darkness I set my sight on finding it again.

The return home

My journey to Machu Picchu, "the lost city of the Incas" (Wikipedia) began with a return home. Destiny brought me back to Toronto and sent me a tough way to earn the money I needed to get back on my feet and travel there. I ended up right back in the rough poor neighbourhood I grew up in.

This winter I carried mail on streets I'd walked countless times when I was young. It was a small world from which I came. The only hope I'd ever had as a kid of seeing Peru or any other exotic place in this world was on television or in magazines. People just did not go places where I came from. I never expected to leave "the building," where I grew up. But by some small miracle, I did.

So, I thought it was a cosmic joke that after all my education and time away I ended up delivering mail to the same doorsteps I had my paper route on twenty years ago. I haven't even lived in this city for 15 years. Trust me when I say I had left my childhood neighbourhood well behind me. And on the coldest blustery days when I had slipped on the ice and fallen on my ass half a dozen times I imagined myself carrying one piece of mail for every step between Toronto and Cuzco.

Suddenly working so hard in nasty weather didn't bother me as much. In fact, I was already walking there and training with heavy bags in all weather. Thanks to my life crises, I no longer cared to plan to buy a house or drive a car or invest in a whole bunch of other modern world consumerisms. I was free to live simply and stock pile some cash for travel. I gave it all up and decided to become a witch instead, to accept the responsibility of treading lightly on this beautiful Earth, and learn to nurture it back from the foulness of the last century.

Connecting with our world's sacred places is going to of tremendous importance in the decades to come.

It turns out that Machu Picchu is home to the the Temple of the Sun (Wikipedia), and has some real significance as a place of solar worship. It was a sacred pre-Columbian city. It survived relatively untouched by man for over five hundred years. For some reason it was abandoned before the colonialists arrived. Consequently, they never destroyed or defaced its architecture and monuments the way they did to every other Incan contruct. (Sun gods and goddess worship went against Christianity.)

I am really looking forward to being there for the Spring Equinox this September.

Peace! And don't forget your sunscreen!

*hugs*

RoBBiE

Copyright 2008 RoBBiE Van Vlaenderen