I love me some podcasts. But it is only recently that I’ve reincorporated talk radio back into my daily routine, and it’s an interesting thing to see how it folds itself into my life, on a bike, wandering through South America.
I especially like listening to these programs while climbing up hills. My mind is NOT focused on the monumental success of every rotation of my wheel, and I’m at the summit before I know it (if “before I know it” can include hours and hours and sometimes days).
Yesterday I was listening to one of my favorite programs, On Being with Krista Tippett, with an episode entitled ‘Science That Connects Us to One Another, Exoplanets and Love.’ On this episode, she interviewed astronomer Natalie Batalha, who works with NASA’s Kepler Project.
It was a great interview over all, talking about love as energy, the joy of exploration and discovery, and her belief that it is a ‘when’ not ‘if’ that we will find life on other planets, and that it will be a chance for us to explore new ways to connect.
Explorations and new ways of connecting is what this trip is all about! I am not traveling to other planets or communicating with other species, but I am exploring this continent and its ecosystems- all foreign, exciting and new. And the people that I’m sharing my days with have lived lives and experiences that are equally new and mind shifting.
They asked the question: What does it mean to be human? In response to this question was a quote from Natalie:
I am aware of the billions of years that it has taken for the atoms to come together to create the portal of the universe that is my physical self.
I love this quote. I have this gift of life, having come together slowly after billions of years, created specifically as my unique portal- entrance, lens, jumping off point- to explore my world. Got it.
And she continued by saying,
It’s real… And why that exists, I don’t know. I don’t know if there is any meaning. I don’t know where I’m headed, I don’t know why we are here, I don’t know why we are observing the universe and making this record, this impression of the universe in our brain, this thing that is our brain. But I know that it’s leading us someplace. That we do have this innate curiosity, this drive of using this portal to the universe to observe and to learn and its taking us some place. And along the way it’s changing us.
This drive, this curiosity, drives me up these hills and gives me patience to sit with rambunctious boys and chitchat with little old ladies.
Before I even began this bike trip, I wrote a blog called Listening is an Act of Love and I knew it to be true. After nearly 10 months on the road, it continues to amaze me in its truth that I share and is shared with me. And I don’t know why or how I’ve found myself in the places to hear these stories, but oh my God, they are leaving huge impressions on my soul. I have absolutely no idea where I’m going, or where I’m taking them, but I know that it’s changing me.
And I’d like to share some of these stories and their faces.
This is how I found Adelina. I was zipping around a wonderfully long down hill stretch and I see her surrounded by her cows, on the edge of a cliff, sitting with an old piece of tire I imagine her encouraging the cows along with. As she looked up to see me coming, her little hand started waving me in. How could I not stop?
She was all smiles. Started with the obvious string of questions; where are you from, where are you going, don’t you get raped, where do you sleep, etc.
I asked her about her life. She grows cereals, wheat and barley, along with potatoes, “Enough to eat” she chuckled.
I continued through my turn and my string of obvious questions; where do you live, are you married and how many children do you have. She lived just around the corner and took care of the house all by herself. Just a year earlier, she had gone to town to run errands and returned to the house to find her husband shot dead, presumably from a burglar, or ratero as they say here. That was so heartbreaking to hear, but worse was next. She’d had 10 children, but all of them had died from sickness, with the exception of one daughter that lived in town. Her daughter had married a bad man that had influenced her horribly. After Adelina’s husband died, her daughter and her husband tried to take her land, and unsuccessfully doing so, ended up taking many of her small animals. She now has a lawyer to protect her from her daughter.
We talked about how love is crazy making. It actually makes you go crazy! But that its what we all want. She then continued and said, with a smile, “But I have God. He is my father, my husband and son and He is always with me.”
This last photograph of her smile was taken as I was saying good bye. That so much hardship can come your way, and that this little woman can still find love and curiosity in her heart to chat with a stranger, made me so happy. Life is hard, but it is what it is, and we continue finding love and connection when and where we can.
I met Catalina at the end of my day, looking for a place to stay. “A woman traveling alone? Stay with me.” And that’s what I did.
She sells tea and rice and flour, but she also sells potions. A man came up and said that his son was been having nightmares, so she went to a wall of shells and powders and leaves and gave him a bundle that he was to burn and walk the smoke around the whole house.
She married her husband young and poor and together they went to the jungle to try and make money to begin a life together. They both worked with lumber and mining for gold, and the stories reminded me of pioneer stories, exploring the unknown, lost in a jungle. Of the ten children they had together, five died in the jungle, from insect bites and diarrhea. She said this as a matter of fact, as it was just a fact of life for most of the people she knew.
Her husband eventually started making money, and that money he slowly stopped bringing back to the house, drinking it away. The situation got worse and worse, but it wasn’t until a run-in with the police (another long story) that she was able to make a break. I saw in that an incredible woman, 30-40 years ago, starting from scratch and working hard as a single mother of five. She proudly told me that she is strong and happy and single.
What I liked most about this simple story was the intimacy of the situation. Her house was humble and welcoming and I was invited in warmly. I slept in her large and comfortable bed at her side. The last thing we did together before drifting asleep was to read a prayer from her Bible. Then the three of us, Catalina, the Bible and I, got under the covers and slept. I was up before she was, and I watched as her eyes popped open, simultaneously reaching for the Bible, and looked for the prayer of the day to begin our day with.
She started the fire and I sat next to it to tend and keep going. When the water was hot, she took off most of her clothes for her bath and continued with the story of her life. I washed her back as she told me about her daughters and sons scattered around the country, that come back to visit from time to time. She called me one of her daughters.
She fixed me breakfast and gave me some snacks for the road. I walked her up to her juice stand, where we’d met. Then we gave each other a big hug, and I thanked her for welcoming me in to her home as I biked into the new day.
This is a picture with one of my favorite Peruvian families! I love them.
I met Gerarldo while visiting the Maria Reiche Museum, where he works while getting his tourism degree. He’s also OBSESSED with Ms. Reiche, the German woman who discovered and dedicated her life to studying the Nasca Lines (which could actually be called the Palpa Lines, cause there are many, many more in Palpa). After meeting him at the museum, he invited me to stay in his home, in Palpa.
I met Deisy, his wife, at his house and after a long day for both of us. Mine was because of the daily ride and her long day ended after returning from a near-by town where she is studying to be a nurse. Both dirty and tired, we slowly came out of our shells to each other after a shower and a spruce-up, as I arrived to their town just in time for their Orange Festival! Oranges from Palpa travel the world, as far as Russia they told me proudly. With a new face and a clean shirt, so began our great friendship. And what was meant to be a night together, turned into a week.
That night we danced into the late night (ok fine, it was midnight, but I’d biked and she is a student/mother) dancing to an incredible 15 piece Salsa/merenge/bachata band. The following day, the family gave me a tour of their town’s own proud example of Nazca Lines. These include geometrical lines that are KILOMETERS long, and perfectly straight. Other examples are lines that are in shapes of animals and astronaut looking figures, that you cannot see from the ground because they are up to 100ft wide. And thousands of years old. If they were made for aliens or for an agricultural calendar designed by hallucinogen-taking Shamans, no one is quite sure. But the day was fun, and we instantly felt like family.
And so, I had to stay another two days and await the birthday party of her father, who I met and instantly loved with his gentle smile and mischievous side glance. We arrived early to help prepare the dinner, killing and plucking ducks (which are the biggest pain with all of their itty bitty teeny weeny feathers) and sauces for the 20 or 30 person small family gathering. I absolutely love family, and the importance of family of Latin America.
While dinner settled into a slow boil, I asked him to show me his farm land. I think he was honored to show me his land and pleasantly surprised to find a young woman with such interest. His land had been “a gift from God” he said, as it was only after a shift in the river that new, unclaimed land was made available. And so he has successfully acquired excellent valley land and farmed it the last 20 years.
He has several plots, some being dedicated to crops that he feeds his family with, including tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes- which they harvest and dry so that it will last up to a year in storage. His cash crop is his corn. And it was a beautiful, tall corn. Asking directly about his seed was not a strategy that worked, as the word transgenico (the term used for Genetically Modified) was not something he was familiar with. Only after a series of questions did it become obvious that those were exactly the seeds he was using.
He spoke of his “Crop Doctor,” or the man that comes and tells him how much and of which chemicals to buy. It made me a little sad that he was given no other example or opportunity as to how he could manage his land, and his own health- as he and his crops were not very protected from the chemicals he was using. But I was impressed that he had created a life that he could direct on his own, no longer traveling long hours to earn little as a farm hand on other large scale farms. For nearly 20 years he had built a home and maintained a family, so successfully that he had also bought land enough to offer a plot and a house to each of his seven children. Patience and persistence, a home, food and a family that loved him. He at one point waved himself off as a simple, poor man, but I looked at him with admiration and respect.
These are just a few examples of LIFE that I wanted to share that have sprung from this lil’ bike ride of mine. When people ask how I can manage to travel alone, sometimes I’m just absolutely speechless. In no way am I traveling alone! I am surrounded by people and with just a little effort from both sides, in a short period of time, I have friends that help me with food and friendship. I’m able to say that I have friends and family throughout the countries that I have passed. I didn’t have this path laid out before me when I started the trip, nor do I have any idea where I will go or who I will meet from here.
But I have a faith in this crazy universe that I didn’t have before. And it’s reaffirmed every day. I’ve heard stories and seen how life can be lived. It’s not all roses, no one ever promised that. But life continues. And with it is the perpetual potential to share and grow. For who knows what reason!
And that’s me, being changed.
P.S. Ok, so I wrote the rough draft for this a long time ago. But COME ON! It’s not the simplest thing to get a good blog up, with very infrequent internet. And truth be told, its even harder to sit my butt down in front of a computer, in a stuffy room, and type away, when there are people and places to know outside. Ecuador is where I am now, and its great, and I will share a bit of that later… maybe from Colombia