Monday, November 19, 2012

Southern Cross

I got to see the Southern Cross.  Know what that is?  If not, click here.  It is a constellation that can regularly be viewed in the southern hemisphere and nowhere in the USA.  I like looking at stars.  My Dad always talked to me about constellations - his Dad knew them too.  My Dad was born in Alaska and his birthday is the same day that Alaska became a state. Alaska's flag has a significant constellation on it - the Big Dipper.  Every time I look at the stars I look for the Big and Little Dipper.  After moving here my Dad asked me if I'd seen the Southern Cross and I responded with "What's that?"  He was appalled.  

And then I saw it.

I haven't really traveled to too many places in my short 30 years on this planet.  At least,  not compared to many of my co-workers and people I've met since in Peru.  I've been to a lot of places in the USA, touristy spots like Cozumel, Canada (which don't count) and to Hong Kong and Nepal.  When I was in Asia, I was really just soaking up the fact that I was in a foreign country and focusing on a Heifer assignment.  Here is different.  

My second day and night in Puno were the very best 24 hours that I've experienced since I have been in Peru.  I mentioned before how I crossed Lake Titicaca to Soto Island on day 1 of my trip to carry supplies and prepare for the group's visit.  On day 2 we made the trip across again.  Remember when Forrest Gump says "They invited me to the White House.  So I went...again.  And I met the president of the United States...again."  That's how I was saying it in my head.  "So I had to cross Lake Titicaca....again.  And I had to meet a bunch of awesome people...again.  And I had to take a nap in a boat...again."

Yeah, I was totally digging my job and my life.

We arrived on another part of the island where the official "port" is.  We were welcomed by members of the community in a beautiful ceremony.  It was so lovely and kind.  They offered us blessings and prayers and gave us beautiful floral wreaths to wear around our necks.  They gave us coca leaves to chew on so we wouldn't feel sick. We went inside their community building and had some breakfast. 
These people were wonderful.
Our blessing and coca leaves.
Our lovely welcome
Inside the community building.
Quinoa pancakes

I can't remember the name of this tea, but it was so delicious.  
Then, we all got back into our boats and headed to the camping spot.  The ride from the port to the other part of the island was so bouncy.  It was awesome.  The boat was probably bouncing 6 feet in the air at the bow.   I was right there hanging on for dear life and loving every minute of it.  Mom will be furious for this, but here's a video of the ride and me bouncing around.  
(WARNING:  Half-way through the camera gets turned sideways so you'll have to turn your head.)

With my lovely flowers.
Finally one of the women in the boat asked me to get down because I was making her nervous.  After arriving on the island the group starting doing their filming and documenting while the other staff and I met with the community and set up for the evening.  The community members cooked us lunch and we all sat around on the ground and had tuna, vegetables and potatoes.  Dee-lish. 

Lunch with some some folks in the community.  
Set up was fun and hard.  The air mattresses needed to be blown up for the night so I started that - using a hand pump.  Fifteen of them.  Yeah.  What was hard was hand-pumping 15 mattresses, but what was fun was that some of the men from the community were totally fascinated with the mattresses and the pump.  They even offered to help!  So I let them.  And then after about 25 pumps, they were like, "This is hard!"  I was like, "I KNOW."

Then I started "helping" the cook.  I don't really know if I was actually helping, but I like to think I was.  Johnny was the name of our cook and by the end of the trip had earned the name "Johnny Rocket" for all of his culinary creations and general goodness.  He made us pancakes and smeared chocolate cream on them for a snack.  I think I ate like seven of those things.  I'm glad pancakes are in Peru.  The below picture is me grinding some cheese on a rock.  That's right.  Grinding some cheese on a rock.  Just another day at the office.
This rock was found in the lake and has been used for generations by one of the women in the community.
Peruvian pancakes with manjarblanco cream.

All the setting up was strenuous.  Just like when you go camping in the woods in the Ozarks.  Lots of prep and lots of work - all just to eat, sleep and use the bathroom.  But man, it was great.  I was sweaty and tired and a little dizzy from the altitude but for some reason, it felt so good.  Like my body needed me to push it a little further after weeks of sitting at my desk.

We took a break and a few folks even took some naps on my mattresses.

Then I decided to just go sit on the shore of the lake.  I don't have a picture and I can't describe it adequately.  But for me, there is something about being by water.  Always has been.  I love it.  I love the sound and the motion and the smell and coolness you feel from it even when it is really hot.  Rick, the film maker dude, joined me later and we skipped rocks.  He was cool even though he is from Texas.  ;-)   

Later it was time to set up the tent.  Ever put a tent together?  If so, you know it's hard.  Ever done it alone? Harder.  (Mostly.  Sometimes putting a tent together with a person can lead to a pretty big argument.)  It takes thinking.  And logic with yourself.  And some trial and error and a few curse words.  I'm not bragging about being able to put a tent together.  What made this particular experience special is that not only did I put that damn tent together, I did it with FIFTEEN Peruvians watching me, closely.  Weirdest thing ever.  

The whole group had dinner together by candlelight and made fun of each other for all the crazy stuff we did during the day.  

The sunset on Lake Titicaca from Soto Island
Tent is secure, beds are blown up, bellies are full and the sun goes down.  We are at the top of the island and all you can see is the dark sky and stars and tree tops and all you can hear is the sound of the  lake crashing against the shore in the distance.  The sweetness of that sound - no car alarms, no neighbors, no traffic, nothing.  It's rare and difficult to find yourself in a place anywhere in the world (especially in the USA) where you can't hear any man-made noises.  I've only found it in a few places, ever, and here I was again.  I pulled my mattress out of the tent and just laid it on the ground and looked in the sky.  I saw FOUR shooting stars (and like, totally awesome ones that last forever) and then I saw it, the Southern Cross.  

This was a big deal for so many reasons, but two of the best ones are.... 
1.  I can't see the stars in Lima.  Too much light from the city and too many clouds all the time.  For this Redfield girl, stars are important.  I took them for granted when I didn't live in the city and seeing them at this altitude and enveloped by the silence calmed me. 
2.  At the moment I was gazing into the stars, I knew that  my Dad, the star guy, was probably also looking at the sky but at totally different stars.  See, my Dad was working on Pump Station Four on the Alyeska Pipeline above the arctic circle in Alaska while I was in Puno.  Alaska - where he learned to read the stars and where he "takes vacations to work."  Thousands of miles apart.  We were both situated under the sky, "working", and probably thinking about how good life is sometimes even when it's hard and we're away from those we love.  And Davis, we were probably both thinking about Davis.  

The calm I felt that night has stayed with me too.  There are a couple of places I "go in my mind" when I need a mental break - and now Soto Island at night is one of those places.

After it got just too dang cold to be outside anymore I crawled into the tent with Katia, Rosaluz and Rick.  Long night short - let's just say we all know each other a little bit better now.  We were woken up bright and early around 4:00 am by a lovely rooster.  We kept trying to sleep until eventually the sun was so bright (it gets brighter there earlier) that it pulled us out of the tent.   Do you know what I look like when I crawl out of a tent after a long/short night of camping crammed like sardines with three strangers after a rooster woke me up at 4:00am and I really just need to use the bathroom but am dreading it because I know that it means squatting behind a tree?  I don't know what I look like either, but my 15 Peruvians friends do.  The were gathered 'round the tent, staring as I crawled out.  

SOOOOO, bright and early.  We packed up all our goods and gear and left the extra food with the community and began hauling our load back down to the boats.  The folks from the community helped us and that was so nice.  One load per person.  We said our goodbyes, promised not to forget each other and climbed back in our respective boats.  Joining me in my boat this time was Augustina.  Lovely woman.  Somehow she and I managed to have a conversation.   She has 9 children to my one.  Been married 35 years to my 7 months.  She told me about the four different cultural groups on the island and how it is so hard to raise animals there.  

Everything.  The people.  New friends.  The Island.  The work.  The tent.  The water.  The stars.  Man, this is what I love about my job.   Sitting by women, riding on boats, pumping up mattresses, looking at the sky, and learning stuff about others - and myself - that you can't learn any other way.

1 comment:

  1. What a GREAT day Jessica! I feel like I was there. Thanks for sharing!!!