By Sierra Michaels
Our adventure in Peru began in the capital of Lima. After a 6:00 a.m. arrival at our hotel and a long nap, a guided tour of the historic capital awaited us and fellow Gate-One travelers. The highlight of the tour was the Convento de San Francisco, a Moorish style colonial-era church with underground catacombs. One of my favorite rooms was the library with old yellowing books lining the walls from floor to ceiling, falling apart and turning to dust in the musky forgotten time-capsule. Mostly written in Latin, it was a paradise for a colonial-era researcher whom could read the nearly dead language.
I secretly hoped someone would transcribe and preserve the important documents the library held. Natural light beaming from skylights and windows, along with humidity and time, would destroy books holding crucial information by the end of this century. Two enormous music books the size of a standard suitcase were the focal point of the room. We later learned these were exhibited on a thick rotating cedar music stand for the entire choir to view during mass, while a boy stood turning the page.
The catacombs took us deeper into the belly of the cathedral. As we followed groups of tourists, my thoughts drifted toward earthquakes and how Lima had many great shattering quakes through time. “It’s the last and the worst place I’d want to be during an earthquake,” I whispered to my husband, lingering towards the end of the line. I needed plenty of room in case of an emergency. An extra benefit of this tactic was exploring rooms others mindlessly passed. We peered into a large circular well filled with hundreds of skulls, a scene straight from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. My eyes widened as hubby urged me to take a picture since nobody was looking. “No, I obey the rules as an archaeologist,” I shot him a sideways look, “Besides, I don’t want any bad Ju Ju.”
Catching up with the others passing rectangular ditches overflowing with large bones, mostly femurs interspersed with hip bones and skulls, I noticed many people covering their nose. It was dank, but not too different from the library. Perhaps the sight of numerous skeletal remains automatically caused some to cover their nose and face, sheltering the possibly contaminated repulsive air they breathed. I shrugged worrying more about an earthquake burying me alive.
The next morning we had a quick flight to Cuzco and longer bus ride to the sacred valley, the heartland of the Inca. Exactly twenty years ago I’d visited this region and fell in love with the otherworldly scenery holding snow-capped mountains, winding roads, idyllic villages, and green valleys filled with corn, potatoes, and quinoa, all of which ended up in our home-cooked lunch. The sacred Ollantaytambo ruins were farming terraces for the Inca gods, cyclopean in every aspect coinciding with the stars rising and setting during important harvest times. We separated, exploring on our own, meeting back at the bus for a brief ride to our living quarters for the next two nights. Surrounded by the Andes in every direction, the views were spectacular. An unusual hailstorm welcomed us during check-in, with frozen white pellets the size of M&M’s falling from the skies and the Inca gods above. “Priceless,” I whispered to the heavens admiring the lightning storm in the encompassing mountains.
Our group caught the early morning train on the fairly new Vistadome train to Machu Picchu, the star of the Urubamba Valley and the Inca Empire. It was first class travel with transcendent views of the towering Andes mountains leading up to one of the seven wonders of the new world. We were dumped into a tourist town that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Merchants, restaurants, and enormous lines awaited us. I was flabbergasted from the growth of tourism such a forgotten empire attracted. I took a break real sing the world was now aware of the beauty of Machu Picchu, and it was not such a bad thing as long as respect for the site ensued. Why should I be the only one to experience such beauty? I was certainly glad I saw it in my youth, prior to the crowds, permits, and limitations.
One thing about Machu Picchu, you could never visit too much. Always spectacular with something new to discover. I approach with new eyes and no expectations. No studying or analyzing with an archaeological mind, just unbiased observation. I took pictures from all angles but even a panoramic could not capture what it was like to experience Machu Picchu.
A perfect end to the day was pizza and beer after a rewarding hike among the giant civilizations of the new world.
About myself: I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and then moved to Los Angeles as a young adult. Because of my passion for culture, both past and present, I pursued a Master’s degree in Anthropology with a concentration in Archaeology. During my college years at UCLA, I had the opportunity to travel widely and study culture first hand. I realized that Los Angeles gave me a unique opportunity to observe the many subcultures within the city. It is one of these subcultures that inspired my novel Intimate Encounters.
My first novel: Intimate Encounters
At the university Cali is a star student trying to finish her master’s thesis on California archaeology. What the other students and professors must not know is that by night she makes money giving massage with a happy ending to strangers. At first, she truly enjoys working at the apartment, since it brings out the sensual side she lacks as a student. She forms a close friendship with two of the girls and a few of her regular customers, but struggles with the fact that she is doing something illegal, dangerous, and looked down upon in American society.
Visit Sierra here… http://sierramichaels.wordpress.com/about/