Inca and Pre-Inca Mysteries-Part III


Inca and Pre-Inca Mysteries-Part III

Inca and Pre-Inca Mysteries

It's winter, and that is the dry season. Hardly a cloud dots the sky unless perhaps a small collection of little puffy white ones. The sunsets are short and brilliants, but afterward the air temperature can drop fifty degrees in less than an hour. By day, the sun remains hot through the thin air at this tropical latitude, in spite of the high altitude.

The lake is a deep blue/gray color, a little choppy from wind, but without any significant waves. There are numerous penninsulas and bays, so at any given spot on the lake, it might seem a lot smaller than it actually is. This gives the lake an intimate quality in places. Out in the middle, it feels more like an ocean without swells. The water is salty.

Titicaca has a great deal of lore to go with it, including its own little Bermuda triangle, the area between the snake pennisula, the frog island and the lizard island.

On Amantani (called the "frog island" because from a distance it looks a bit like a frog in the water) the locals welcome gringos into their homes, usually rudimentary mud huts with tin roofs. I stayed one night with Felix and Juana and their five children. The seven lived in one room big enough for a double bed and two chairs. The floor was nothing but the ground. A separate hut was the kitchen, with an open wood fire and earthen floor. A third hut was the pantry and a little ladder led up above it to the gringo room, clean and pleasantly washed in light blue, with three beds and a table on a plank floor exposing the pantry below through the space between planks. With Juana and Felix I ate quinoa soup and fresh potatoes from their garden and drank munia tea, a scrub weed that grows wild all over the island. The toilet was a pit in the ground out back. They had no electricity and no running water, hot or cold.

Felix and Juana speak about as much Spanish as I do, so our conversations consisted of just the basics. Their primary language and that of their children is Quechua, the Inca tongue. but we communicated in our rudimentary Spanish along with universal sign language. They were amazed that a gringo would want to eat outside on the wall under the stars instead of inside the gringo room at a table. They told me Pacha Tata was being kind that night -- it was a beautiful clear night with a waxing moon and many stars.

The next day I hiked to the highest point on Amantani, a large pre-inca ruin. The altitude made it tough, and I wished I had travelled lighter. The island has two peaks, both above 14,000 ft, and each one complete with a pre-inca temple, one to Pacha Tata and one to Pacha Mama. I pitched my tent at the temple of Pacha Tata.

The entire afternoon I spent alone at the temple, high above Lake Titicaca. In the distance loomed Illampu and Potosi in Bolivia, bright white peaks above 20,000 ft. against the deep blue sky. Around the lake not one village disturbed the even line of beige earth meeting dark water. Patches of cedar forest dotted the hillsides. No boats plied the waters. All was still, and except for occasional small gusts of wind, all stood silent. It was so quiet that I could hear my heartbeat and the blood flowing through my head. Time itself seemed to stop, as the hours passed one like the next, bright, hot, silent. I felt the timelessness of the temple, which had for hundreds of years remained there, quietly watching one tmieless day after the next.

This temple, although a ruin, is not deserted all the time. The people of Amantani still use it occasionally for ritual purposes. Often a family will approach a local paco (priest, or female paca) with a problem and the preist will make an overnight vigil at the temple. It was only by chance that my plans mirrored the paco's tradition, but the people of Amantani thought I must have some deeper purpose to stay alone overnight at the temple. Perhaps they were right, but I didn't know the knowledge I was seeking. Nevertheless, the Incas of Amantani all soon knew a gringo was trekking to the top for an overnight alone at the temple of Pacha Tata. As I made my way, everyone I passed wished me well.