Lima, Machu Picchu,
A Look Back
By Brom Wikstrom
invitation came by post. I thought it was junk at first and stacked
it with the rest of the mail until my wife Anne came home for lunch
from her dental office. A handsome brochure touting the attractions
is included along with a letter describing the dedication of a group
sponsoring a conference on art and disability. I cannot determine how
my name came to their attention but recognize this invitation as the
chance of a lifetime and speculate for a couple days on how we might
manage to afford the trip.
It will strain us financially but an adventure of this
nature is too good to pass up and we are excited about the prospects
of meeting artists and experiencing a completely different culture.
A couple weeks of arrangements by phone, fax, e-mails and letters go
by and we are booked and registered. Annes employer has given
us the name of a colleague in Lima where the conference is taking place
in case of an emergency.
Anxious weeks go by as we await our departure and research
Inca history that we are certain to experience. We wont require
inoculations but are uneasy about encountering Shining Path guerillas
or bandits of any sort. As we approach our departure time we feel as
prepared as we can be but do have apprehensions about the unknown.
Its a long flight to Lima and were unsure
what day it is when we finally touch down but know that its late
at night and with little effort we get through customs and locate our
transportation. Its apparent as we try to communicate with the
cab driver that the language barrier is going to cause difficulty but
fortunately we connect with delegates from Tucson who speak the lingo.
Frank is blind and an accomplished singer and musician and his companion
Marcia operates a theater company and is associated with VSA Arts.
After a few hours sleep, we rise for a quick bite in
the hotel café and link with Frank and Marcia and volunteers
from the sponsors for a tour of the city. We arrive at Plaza de Mayo,
the main city square where the changing of the guard is in progress.
Its a ritual that doesnt interest us much and were
satisfied to tour a few shops and listen to the street performers. Frank
tries out a flute and joins one group briefly for an impromptu concert.
We load into cabs and drive to the district of Miraflores
and a large outdoor market. We are stunned by the vast assortment of
items for sale and the high quality of the material. Some serious shopping
ensues and I pick up a couple of items to add to my collections including
a marvelously etched gourd.
We walk back to the hotel along Arequipa Avenue that
is a wide boulevard that shows the flavor of the city well.
The congress is taking place at another hotel that is
close enough for us to walk to and we enjoy exploring the neighborhood
and getting our bearings while making our way there. The main thrust
of the conference is theater arts and Im thankful to be able to
represent a visual component along with a talented artist from Cuba.
Delegates gather and we meet many of the participants including Sharon
and Laurel who are disabled travel agents from the U.S.
They introduce us to a local guide named Pepe who assures
us that it will be possible to take a side trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu!
It will further tax our resources but were game for the adventure
and put our faith in Pepes company, Apumayo Tours.
The conference consists of a series of panel discussions
that are informative and compelling and describe programs offered locally
and internationally for people with disabilities to become involved
in the arts. We are pleased to contribute to the proceedings and share
our experiences. Our evening is capped by a series of wildly confusing
but very dramatic performances by conference artists at a theater in
another district. The language barrier is formidable but we enjoy the
show nevertheless and continue to meet other delegates including Jose,
an artists agent who has a special treat for us tomorrow.
First we will again attend conference sessions but soon
rendezvous with Jose, Sharon and Laurel at a local restaurant for lunch.
There we taste the national drink, Pisco Sours that resembles a margarita
with a froth of egg white and sprinkled bitters. Jose is post-polio
and gets around on crutches and upon concluding our trip we will ship
him a sports wheelchair that I was no longer using.
Our cab follows his car to the Callou District that
overlooks the Pacific Ocean and enters a fairgrounds park that is between
events. In a secluded area we get out to tour a large studio with an
amazing collection of life casts of North and South American Indians.
Dozens of the sculptures line a long gallery and a workshop demonstrates
their production. Our private tour is also highlighted by a visit to
the personal menagerie also maintained by the absent owner who is a
friend of Joses, a certain Mr. Filipe Lettersten.
After the next days congress we make our way to
the Lima Museum of Art. It is located in a lush park and I only need
a little help up five steps to access the galleries. The permanent collection
of paintings and sculpture is nice enough but the abundant archeological
treasures blow us away. The age and condition of the ceramics and textiles
of the pre-Incan cultures demonstrate a high degree of proficiency and
were hard-pressed to think of these artisans as primitive in any
The Chancay society is featured in a special exhibition
that is dominated by a huge unwrapped funeral bundle that must contain
many priceless personal effects of the owner. Our afternoon is capped
by a return to the market in Miraflores and gift purchases for loved
ones at home.
The evenings performance features a deaf mime
from Germany and an incredible piece by a group from Spain whose energy
and colorful costumes delight and inspire us all. On our late-night
drive back to the hotel young beggars at a red light descend upon our
car and thrust their arms into the car for a handout.
The last days sessions are short and sweet and
we take our time saying farewells and exchanging gifts. The many volunteers
have been extremely helpful in making our trip easy and I give out many
lapel pins that I have had made with an original design. Our next stop
is the National Museum. It is a rather ugly, totalitarian looking building
but within are delicate glories that span time and space. The exquisite
gold and turquoise carvings are incredible and the variety and richness
of the ancient material is truly astounding.
We are obliged to get assistance up several flights
of steps to the main galleries since its a Sunday and the elevators
are inoperative. The trouble is well worth it as the special exhibit
on the Lords of Sipan is incomparable and even features real skeletons.
The collection now has its own museum near the site of the discovery.
Early the next morning, we rise and load into a cab
that takes us to the airport. Our short, first class flight to Cuzco
crosses magnificent scenery of deep, jungle ravines and high, mountain
plateaus. It is a fabulous scene and we are amazed at our good fortune.
We touchdown in the Inca capital and immediately are
ushered to a nurses station in order to check my blood pressure
for signs of altitude sickness. No problems are detected and we meet
with Pepe who introduces us to our porters and tour guide. Edgar is
a full-blooded Quechua Indian and relates many facts about his proud
Im loaded into a van and begin with a tour of
the city. Flute music issues from shops on the Plaza de Armas where
we stop and have our first taste of coca tea. This beverage will aid
in our adjustment to the altitude and the required ritual lends a spiritual
aspect to its consumption. Blowing the vapors to the winds and sprinkling
a few drops will appease the ancestors and we begin to realize the depth
of faith exercised by the Christianized Incas.
Anne explores some markets and I chew on coca leaves
and admire the Inca stonework that serves as the foundation for Spanish
style architecture. The number three figures prominently in the ancient
culture and is evident in the steps and recessed doors of the buildings.
It is also reflected in the tenets of proper living as described by
Edgar; Dont be a liar, Dont be lazy, Dont be a thief.
We drive out of town and stop briefly at the enormous,
stone fortress of Sacsahuman and Tambo Machay with its cascading waters
that only the nobility could use. Edgar points out the terraced mountain
fields that the Inca had constructed into the shape of a condor on our
way to the small but historic town of Pisac. We purchase some modest
souvenirs and continue our drive into the Sacred Valley to our hotel,
the Posada del Inca.
The altitude is getting to me a bit and I am pleased
to lie down for a nap before a light chicken and rice meal. We are pleased
to visit a small chapel on the grounds and later are treated to a fireworks
display ignited in celebration of tomorrows Feast of the Immaculate
Later that evening, we visit a ceramic studio and meet
the English-speaking owner. The work is wonderful but a little pricey
and we really dont have room in our bags so only purchase a small
plaque. We are too excited about tomorrows adventure to get much
sleep and will have to rely on adrenalin to get us by.
I enjoy a hearty breakfast and feel prepared for the
day. It is a glorious, sunny day and we load and begin our drive towards
the train station that will transport us to the Machu Picchu station.
Along the way, Edgar points out the way Inca women rouged their lips
with crushed cactus mites that generated a red substance. He also shows
us a whole mountain that had been converted into the form of a frog
with more stone terraces.
Folk artists offer us their products while waiting for
the train that will carry us along the banks of the Urabamba River.
Farmland gives way to ever-increasing jungle growth the further we go
and the gentle river becomes a torrent as we descend deeper into the
gorge. Edgar points out evidence of Inca civilization along the way
and describes the rail line as a previous Inca trail. Several passengers
get off at the halfway point to walk the rest of the way to the citadel.
The first of several obstacles greet us as we exit the
train at Machu Picchu station. Steep steps lead to the buses that will
take us to the park so we are obliged to traverse a long rocky trail
instead. My porters take turns and team up for the hard parts and manage
to get me aboard the bus that takes us up a harrowing twelve-kilometer
drive to the site. Edgar is clear in his correction that these are not
Ruins, and that Hiram Bingham was the Re-discoverer of the
He also makes a dramatic declaration about the mountain
that overlooks the city after we have entered the sacred confines. The
shape of the Puma Mountain becomes apparent and certain mysteries are
revealed as we delve deeper into the extinct civilization. The manicured
stonework is extremely impressive and our eyes take in the wonders with
A long flight of steps leads to the most sacred place,
the Temple of the Sun. While my helpers take a well deserved break,
we listen to Edgars description of the edifice. I decide to place
one of my pins beneath a stone and Edgar makes the gift worthy by raising
his arms and begging acceptance of the Inca. We ascend another long
flight of stone steps to the Sacred Plaza and take in the awesome view
through the Temple of the Three Windows.
This courtyard is the site of many ceremonial rituals
that I cannot begin to imagine and I express my sincere gratitude to
Pepe and the others who have made this remarkable experience possible.
The weather is hot and I begin appreciate why the sun and the shadows
it casts were of such significance to the Inca.
Anne is able to access other parts of the site while
I find a shady spot and let my imagination carry me aloft, above these
massive, unspoiled stones and into the cloud jungle. The large, ceremonial
plaza below is easier to traverse and Anne and I get a few moments alone
to reflect on the meaning for both of us. Too soon though, we rendezvous
and after some group photos, we begin our descent.
A mild shower cools our sunburned brows and gives a
shine to the rocks and cliffs as we move along the terraces that lead
towards the exit. We pass under an enormous stone outcropping that serves
as an effective barrier to this Shangri La. The bus-ride back gives
me a lingering view of the palaces and we feel as if waking from a dream.
We have a 3/4 of a mile trek along the rail line to the helicopter port
and eventually get hoisted aboard the twelve-seat helicopter for the
half-hour flight back to Cuzco.
The other fellows will take the train back and meet
with us over a congratulatory dinner at a restaurant off the Plaza de
Armas. We check into the Hotel Libertador, a luxurious place but not
very accessible and relax over a late lunch with Pepe and some Coca
tea. That evening on the plaza, we treat to a well-earned meal and express
our thanks for the crews hard work on our behalf. We stay up late
and review the experience over champagne in our room and say our farewells.
It has been an extraordinary day that we will never forget and were
sorry to see it come to an end.
Anne has a raging headache upon rising and even inhales
oxygen once were aboard our flight back to Lima. Our familiar
cab driver is happy to see us and takes us back to the Invertur Hotel
where I am pleased to rest in bed while Anne visits the shopping market
one last time and acquires several musical instruments.
That evening, Dr. Haro, a colleague of Annes boss,
treats us to a fantastic meal. He is interested in the work Ive
recently had done on my teeth and gives me a cursory exam in the middle
of the dining room to the amusement of the waiter.
The long flight back to reality is mercifully uneventful
and we are delighted to return safely. We share our memories with our
loved ones and present them with gifts that have much more meaning for
us and begin to re-assimilate back into the twentieth century.