Gioel Gio

Float - Travel notes from Peru.

There is a vast lake hidden behind this glass window blurred of rain.

I bought a pair of white wool gloves which leave the tip of my finger free to type on my phone. It’s cold, and I am remembering the cold like in a meeting with a friend I have not seen in a while – I’m trying to decide who I am with this cold rainy day. I’m in the back of a bus travelling from Puno and headed to Pomata, a town by the lake Titikaka where Kirsten’s grandma grew up. I feel deep into the thick of the world. Of course, it is just a silly perception: I always am in the thick of the world. It is a rocking exercise that of noticing who I am here in Peru while daring to observe the other and let the way people speak, smell, live, and smile allow to be a mirror.

Yesterday we took a boat to an indigenous community which lives on a self-made island made of straw. I had just arrived a few hours before to Puno on an overnight bus from Cusco – I felt out of it. I was completely shocked arriving to this land, as if I was in a dream so vivid and yet beyond my imagination.

The community was made up of 5 families that live together. They fish, make artisany to sell to tourists, and maintain the land. With ‘maintain the land’ I mean they literally build and restore the ground they walk on, barefoot, by adding more straw. This is the same material they use to make their homes, their boats, and the souvenirs they sell to tourists. Their boat has two faces in the front that look majestic and intimidating. They proudly called their boat the Mercedes Benz, and I could not help but wonder how they came up with this joke they are so proud of. I mean fuck, living on a self-made island.

When the ‘president’ of the community explained all of this I was with my mouth wide open as if I could not really believe what I was hearing and seeing, what was happening to me nor how I arrived to exist so to put my feet on this land suspended on a lake. He finished his explanation and there was a small moment of silence. Do you have any questions?

I asked how the five families get along. He said that they all work, so they all get along. When someone does not want to work they separate- they let the land float in the lake, and people can get together and form a new community. He added ‘this really happens’, to make clear this was not a joke. Some communities don’t want tourism, and they live more isolated. I’m still mouth open.

In the explanations I receive of the places I’m visiting, the word choices and sentence structures of Quechua and Aymara people leave me confused and in awe. Last night, I bought an old book from the 40s in a second-hand stand and I started reading it this morning. It is about a small town, a pueblo, and it is considered one of the first novel that manages to convey the feel of farmers in the Peruvian mountains in Spanish. In the prologue, I read that “the Quechua language contains in its syllables almost the material essence of things and the way in which through such syllables humans have extended” (my translation from the prologue of the book Yawar Fiesta). WOW.

I am so attached to language(s). The way my own self is able to manifest in this world through language causes me so much pleasure that I consider it almost inseparable to my human nature. Writing is like making love, a form of reproduction, expression, celebration, honouring of the divine.

So I am amazed and lost when I am told the Incas did not leave anything in writing. The amazement reached a peak when I visited Machu Picchu a few days ago. An entire city of stones built on a mountain. Each stone worked to fit the next like in Tetris, each one sculpted by hand, with hard stones. And now we get to hike up this mystical place and we know so little of it. We see something and have no sense of the knowledge that was held and carved here. And worst of all, it is so obvious that this knowledge is steeped in spirituality, a deep connection to the Pachamama, the mother earth, and an ability to exist within its aliveness. But of course today we are fascinated with the technical: They managed to build a city at the edge of a mountain, where it rains tons, by creating a draining system that slowly filters the rain back into the ground.

If we sit on it, the duality between western, contemporary ways of understanding reality and indigenous knowledge is in itself a mystery and a journey. The Incan culture was destroyed, they were called infidels, their rituals substituted with Christian practice, their artefacts robbed or destroyed. That’s not even that exceptional. As humans, we suppress other people, commit genocides, mix, cooperate, love, change, build communities in impossible places, pray all sorts of Gods, live with, transform and destroy the earth. I mean we are crazy and genius and evil and we are so many things we are beyond good and bad.

The whole power and mystery we sense outside, In the universe, we contain it all within us. What I don’t believe about us is that having consciousness is unique to our species. It’s a story that leaves us feeling exceptional and lonely and I don’t buy it. Instead, I feel we (and with we I mean everything, galaxies, stones, lakes and snails) live in our own unique consciousness and in our own unique form of awe that everything exists together and in a perfect sense that goes far beyond our common sense. In this way, we can contemplate our own chaos and see in its beauty and mystery while breathing into a sense of togetherness.

Meditating on all of this leaves me hanging, it overpowers my attachment to language. Our life itself is expression. And with an awareness of this, I don’t fully know how to continue my love affair with language while living in the space deeper than language. I don’t want language to filter my reality, like this window separates me from the horizon outside of this bus.

I’ll leave it here, suspended.