I think the living Andean Landscape and ancient huacas made me an Inca.
Yo no sabía qué decir, mi boca
mis ojos eran ciegos,
y algo golpeaba en mi alma,
fiebre o alas perdidas
y me fui haciendo solo,
y escribíla primera línea vaga,
vaga, sin cuerop, pura
del que no sabe nada,
y vi de pronto,
Pablo Neruda “El Poesia”
Okay and now the actual post about the Andean Landscape
I was at 15,000ft and the bus smelled like vomit because of the car-sick passengers. There was no civilization in sight, only the Andes mountains still looming above us despite the altitude, and the 2 lane road cutting through it. It was cold and the sun was just coming up.
The bus came to a stop and a lady I estimate to be 80 years old walked down the aisle toward the exit of the bus. She had a with a load on her back that looked like it weighed about 15kgs (35lbs). She gave something to the driver and they exchanged some words before she exited the bus. The driver waited a moment before he left, I’m not sure why, but perhaps it was to be sure this lady was okay.
I peered out the window wondering where she was going and I saw a small hovel crowning the adjacent steep hill. I thought there must be another place she was going, there was no way she could walk up that hill. She walked straight up that hill. That very steep which was very steep. Did I mention it was steep?
That is when I fell in love with the Andean people who are descendant of Inca subjects. Anyone that could do that demands my respect and she did it like it was nothing. I imagine if she saw our commutes in the cities she would be equally amazed.
As a side note about Andean People
Normally I would offer a hand, but in the context, it would have been patronizing and would have demonstrated a lack of cultural understanding. This event is normal for Andean folk and they do not need a hand. A different time I was on a bus and an elderly lady sat in the mid-isle on a hard stool. I exchanged seats with her, I had a nice normal bus seat. She was very happy. When traveling in other cultures it is important to be mindful of when your assistance is acceptable).
That event that sparked my original book idea. Was it the mountain, or was it the lady? It could have been both of them, but an Incan mystic would have insisted they were the same.
Why is the Andean Landscape alive? And some refer to it as Mountain Spirits?
Traditional people that reside in the Andes believe the land that they live on to be living. That’s right, the Andean landscape below them is alive. You might agree with them if you listen to their reasoning.
They state that when the decomposed body of their ancestor becomes part of the mountain, their ancestor’s life energy passes into it as well; one life energy into another. Furthermore, the nutrients that a decomposed body provides feeds the plants that the living rely upon for nourishment. I can certainly see how one could assume that the dead are caring for the living from beyond the grave.
“When in Rome do as the Romans do.” So why not, “When in the Andes, do as the Andeans do?”
This is likely the reason why the Inca would salt the land after they destroyed a community.
The belief in a living landscape in Andean cultures extends to the belief that oracles can speak for the landscape, or that if you are in tune with it, it can speak to you. I know many people have been touched by specific places in nature and a lot of people have the one happy place in their mind that they go to during stressful times. For me, it’s either a wilderness area in the Western United States or pretty much any river
Has a Landscape ever spoke to you?
From my window when I was a child I could see beautiful mountains from my bedroom window. I looked at those mountains for hours and would tell them my problems. Doing so calmed me and they helped me through more than one difficult time. Perhaps the Andean landscape spoke with my soul as those mountains did when I was a child, I just wasn’t aware of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lady I watched exit the bus was an oracle for that specific place in the Andes.
I’m not related to these mountains as the Andeans are, I don’t have any ancestors buried there. Does that matter?
Huacas and the Andean Landscape
A huaca sits deep in Inca culture and many other Andean cultures. It’s a connection point between worlds that take the physical manifestation of anything abnormal animate or inanimate: a spring with particularly clear water, the joining of rivers, a large rock, a grand vista, an animal or human with odd development.
Certain huacas were assumed to provide specific gifts or maladies. Such places were given offerings in hopes that the huaca would provide their particular wish or hold the unwanted malady. The offering was meant to honor the principle of ayni, of giving and reciprocity. I will speak more about that in a later post.
Perhaps one of these huacas touched me without my knowledge and gave me the desire to write. Did I come across a sacred place where a mythical world of the ancient Andeans was able to touch me? Western culture would say no, but Incan culture would say most certainly so.
What was a huaca for some cultures was dismissed by others, such as the case for dogs.
Among the Casamarca cultures [modern day Cajamarca] they revered dogs but they were disdained by their conquerors the Inca. A universal huaca would be the wooden post that was at Pachacamac. That was revered as Mecca is among Muslims. But even Huaca wasn’t sacred among everyone. Sapa Inka Atahualpa ordered it to be looted and directed the Spaniard to it to avenge a series of bad predictions it made. One of these predictions was that the Spaniards were not to be trusted.
Do you have to be a mystic to believe?
I’m not the mystic type, but doesn’t the saying go, “When in Rome do as the Romans do?” So why not, “When in the Andes, do as the Andeans do?” I think I did that without trying and I found a life ambition that not even time, the greatest warrior, could beat.
No matter where the book idea came from I didn’t write it at that time, not at least for another year and at that time I only wrote two pages. They were a good two pages, in fact, I still have them, but they aren’t in my book. I thought it was the story I desired to write, but now that I read it, it’s my personal story of how the Andes struck me.
Another year passed and the story was still burning inside of me. I decided to give writing another try and this time it was meant to be. When I sat down to write I realized I didn’t know one thing about the Incan culture. I realized that my love stemmed from only this one lady and this one mountain.
A deep-seated love
One of the great authors of Colombia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote a book “Death in the time of Cholera.” It is about this man who fell in love with this girl yet only saw her once. He loved her erratically for his entire life. She did nothing to earn that love, yet he loved her anyway. The book is about the great lengths he went to prove his love to her and how it shaped his life. Perhaps the Andes is that for me. A place that I have no real connection except that they touched my soul on a level deeper than I can ever reach.
None of my early writing made it into the book as it stands today. Everything in the book except my love for the Andean people has changed. Much of the time since my commitment has been spent studying the Inca Empire. I’ve read tons of books and research papers, I’ve taken a special trip to South America for the sole purpose of research. But what struck me so much that sparked such a pursuit?
My writing is my offering of yanantin, of reciprocity to the huaca and the Andean Mountain Spirits.
I experienced first hand the touch to the soul that the Andes Mountains give those who visit. Ancient Andean Cultures believed that the land which they lived on was alive just as you and I and was an ancestor and part of their community. Furthermore, they believed in huacas which were portal like connections between the worlds where offerings were given in hopes of the gift that the supposed huaca had power over. Huacas were anything out of the ordinary natural or humanmade.
In Andean terms, my inspiration to write my book could have arisen from being touched by one of these living landscapes or huacas.
For Further Reading About the Andean Landscape and Huacas
Allen, Catherine J. The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. 2nd ed. N.p.: Smithsonian , 2002.
Marín-Dale, M. B. (n.d.). Decoding Andean mythology. University of Utah Press. 2016