The two months in Europe came to an end. I scheduled a flight back to South America while Paul stayed in Spain. With two weeks to spare, I wondered, what would I do when I returned back to South America? Between my plane landing in Guayaquil Ecuador, and the bicycles stored south in Lima, Peru, there was the long, overcast coastal stretch, that I was not willing to see again for the third (or fourth?) time. I fancied a alternative river route through the Napo river.. although there would have been the humid heat, mosquitoes and delayed boats… perhaps not this time. I felt the need to rest and catch-up with my friends online.
Then serendipity arrived…
Whilst waiting in the terminal at my connection flight in Colombia, I logged online to see if I could make a call to my dear friend Daina. We both lived in Detroit in 2011, and it had been since my departure (in 2012) was when we last saw each other. For months, we missed Skype appointment calls. This time, in the reply message, she too would be available for 8 hours, at the airport. “The airport?” Coincidentally, she was flying somewhere too? Hmm…
Come to find out, she was on her way to Cuzco, Peru! Daina was going to Cuzco for a two week Buddhist retreat. She had no idea I would be back in Peru at this time. On the evening that I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, she proposed a plan. Daina was inviting me to the entire retreat, however, according to the guru, Domo Geshe Rimpoche, participation would only be possible, if I were to arrive by Monday. It was the beginning of the weekend, so the availability of buses were short, but I managed to board all the connections consecutively. First, a morning to the Ecuadorian border; following the (re)entry to Peru, an overnight bus to Lima; and from Lima, another overnighter, to Cuzco. In the couple restless days riding down that dreary coastal route and winding though the Andes, I made the arrival by Monday evening, to Cuzco.
I must mention a warning to anyone taking a bus in Peru- or any bus in any country. If you have to stow you luggage in the compartment below, take all valuables with you on the bus. The risk of stolen items is notoriously high on the night buses in Peru. In my case, I went with Flores, a middle-grade bus company. I took out most of my electronics, except my laptop charger on the top pocket of my large backpack that was going into the storage. I asked the guy in Lima luggage control, if the bag would be secure. He said yes. Yet, at the Cuzco terminal, the charger was missing. The driver and luggage handlers in Cuzco, concluded that it “could have fallen out of the bag”.. or, it might have been the Lima luggage guy, but “they have no association with the guys in Lima, so they couldn’t do anything about it” Even after complaining with tears of frustration, they gave a measly phone call, just to confirm that no one knows about the charger. On the same line, Paul had an electronic stolen and some other passengers had their values stolen, as well. If you ride the overnight buses in Peru (here’s looking at you- Flores-Lima to Cuzco-line) take all valuables and if you can take the bag on board with you!
Tuesday, I began my two week retreat with the White Conch Dharma Sangha. Jumping into meditation practices was a bit abrupt, but the transition was quite easy in the relaxed and welcoming environment. Everyone gathered for breakfast, and following was morning meditation. Domo Geshe Rimpoche arrived before noon to give teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, in western context. There were arrangements for the Sangha to participate in the ‘day trips’ which were included in the touristic ticket, otherwise known as a BTU, in Cuzco. Thanks to Daina, the Sangha, and Yury our guide, I was able to participate in the trips to the sites around Cuzco and in the Sacred Valley.
Then there was the most expected Inca ruin trip; to the site of Machu Pikchu. Most of the Sangha boarded the train in Oyalltatambo. A handful of the members took on the Inca Trail trek and met us at the Machu Pikchu ruins. There was lodging in the town, Aguas Calientes, below Machu Pikchu. Of course at a town name “Aguas Calientes” there were… hot springs! We enjoyed the pools after the couple days of scrambling over the ruins and on the Wayna Pikchu trail. The Wayna Pikchu is a 2,720 meters (8,920 ft) mountain neighboring the MP ruins. Many of the members bravely made the trek up and down the steep mountain congested with visitors. At the summit the clouds rolled in, yet most of us were lucky to catch the view overlooking Machu Pikchu.
After the morning at the ruins, and after a spiritual tour lead by Rimpoche, everyone was exhausted. Yuri still had arrangements for an afternoon tour. I still had some energy left in me, so I took the tour. My own private tour! My guide walked me around the ruins and presented each site with archeological background. It was fascinating to see the example of complex construction- polygonal blocks assembled in the fashion of the pieces of a puzzle. There were so many examples of the Inca cities designs aligned with the cosmos. In addition to astrological observational sites, there were many ritual and ceremonial sites in the city. It was nice to explore Machu Pikchu late in this day, because the sun was fully out and the droves of SLR-handed visitors left.
Returning to Cuzco, we ended the last days of retreat according to the usual scheduled. It was enough time that good memories and new friendships were gathered in heaps, much like their souvenir bags, but was also time for everyone to say goodbye and return to their abodes.
Daina and I spent our last days doing what we became accustomed to; lunch trips to the Hare Krishna cafe or to the peculiar A&Ω ‘comedor’ that sold a hard-to-beat-dollar-25-cent lunch meal, some additional shopping for Daina’s farmers market project, and being silly, although we tried best to be “zen” for the duration of the retreat.
I can’t thank my dear friend, Daina, enough for inviting me into this special retreat, and for the accommodations. I also thank Domo Geshe Rinpoche for allowing me to participate in such short notice and I enjoyed the talks and exchanges we had. Thank you Rinpoche for this introduction. Additionally, many thanks to the entire Sangha and Yury; those who worked hard to organize an enjoyable trip for all, and the rest whom I had wonderful and endearing connections to. Thank you, danke, merci, and gracias, all!