In the mountains of Peru, people cling to the sides of great green cliffs. Towns have been created in the valleys where rivers have carved out enough flat land to build a series of dwellings and shops. Just above the small strips of metro, campensenas and cement block houses perch like magic on the hillside. I watch the cambis clunk up the rocky road roads, looking like paper cutouts someone is moving across a picture book. The hills and mountains are not a horizon – they are walls, straight up and down. To travel out of this town is to travel up, down, and through.
Sitting on a bus, driving out of the city we carve through the mountains. The roads that zigzag along become fewer, but the farms and homes still cling to the mountain sides. The roads have been replaced by foot trails and people appear along them, usually accompanied by sheep and dogs. The women are easy to spot in their colorful skirts and wraps. Slowly climbing, climbing. I feel breathless imagining their steep ascent. The men are harder to see because their brown hats and rock colored clothing camouflage with the dirt paths. They carry bundles of herbs on their backs and swing sticks at the sheep as they hike along. It seems these people have been born from the cracks in the mountain.
Before the great rivers bore out the sides of these mountains and hills, the people of the Andes were forming inside the earth. As the rivers shrunk and the peaks became higher, the people emerged from the crevasses. Short, sturdy, and the color of rocky soil. The people were designed to walk on walls and stay close to the earth, while still being able to touch the sky.
I sit on a bus barreling through narrow mountain passages and make it a game to find people on the mountain side. I spot them and imagine a life for them. Where are their families? What does the inside of their house look like? What do they make for dinner. I assign them a simplicity that I only slighty recognize from my brief and sparse interactions with the country people of the region. Situations and people do not carry the heaviness that comes with complexity western cultures try so hard to cultivate. Things are not hard, they just are. To change mountains with just the hands of men, they must be moved rock by rock. Slowly, patiently. Years of moving mountains have made these people easy- quick to smile and always ready to accept. Persistent and subtle, lifting rocks one by one.
I am on a bus to Chavin, an ancient ruin where a pre-Incan civilization built a great temple. The Chavin would travel great distances to study and worship at this compound of ceremonial arenas and maze like passages. Complex irrigation and ventilation systems run through the site, along with structures built to withstand earthquakes and still be standing 3000 years after construction. Archaeologists have found Ecuadorian trumpet shells they believe were used in ceremonies where priests used mescaline to induce visions. To travel from the Galapagos to what is now central Peru is one thing, but the rocks used to build the structures of Chavin come from the Cordillerra Blanca mountain range, hundreds of miles away. When visiting the site, one can look up to the cliffs and see narrow trails. How do you move a mountain? Was every stone brought by llama cart or on the backs of humans? Did it take hundreds of years or just hundreds of men? Rock by rock, hand to hand, slow accepting.
The Chavin disappeared but their mecca stands, almost completely intact. Only people born from the center of the earth could build their own mountain.