Peru

Ollantaytambo, a Game of Thrones and Authentic Andean Fayre...

I love reading Game of Thrones whilst i’m travelling. I am, unashamedly, a Game of Thrones geek. The books have my heart. They have been a faithful, easy and strangely appropriate travelling companion constant on my kindle since July 2012. 

Whilst the stories traverse a wide range of continents from the icy cold winds of the North to the soft flowing silks and spicy foods of the Southern isles so do I on my own adventures around this beautiful globe of ours. From Cersei drinking her honey sweetened wine at Kings Landing  to Arya selling baked clams in the shell down the Saltpans, its a fitting parallel for my own travels. 

 Down from the mountains for market day, Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Down from the mountains for market day, Ollantaytambo, Peru.

One day, i’m sitting on the muddy coloured coastline of North Peru picking at ceviche, morsels of raw fish marinated in lime, the next surrounded by the billowing green hills of the Andes. That’s where my story starts today, in Ollantaytambo  - a small town nestled against Pacha Mama’s bosom at the heart of the start of the sacred valley; watching the women come down from the mountains for market day, carrying bright, pink blooms in their caps and the strange, soapily scented bundles of freshly picked herbs from the hills on their back. 

 Ollantaytambo is a tranquil, little town that would give Riverrun a run for its money; surrounded as it is by the gentle rolling hills of the Andes, and flanked on all sides by rushing water, from the rivulets that run down the Pre incan waterways to the foaming, green waters of the Patikancha and Urubamba rivers.

Once the royal estate of the Incan emperor Pachacuti and then the home to the leader of the resistance at the time of the Spanish invasion, these days Ollantaytambo is mostly used by tour buses depositing tourists to view the ruins for an hour or two or for people wanting to take the train from the local station to Machu Piccu.  

However if you can, I recommend stopping and staying a few days in this sleep little town.

One of my favourite things in Game of Thrones is seeing how the temperature, tundra, fashion and most of all foods change from land to land and its my favourite thing about travelling too. 

Here in the Andes the fayre is hearty and comes with some serious carb loading. It’s said to be the birthplace of the humble potato and that they have some 4000 different varieties.  The word Papa (meaning potato in Spanish) is a Qu’echua word meaning “tuber.” Plates often come served up with rice and chips and sometimes a side helping of corn or potatoes too. 

Unsurprisingly the female figure of the Andes tends to be short and large of hip. They need their strength to walk the mountains at this altitude. Quinoa is the other superfood native to the Andes full of energy rich nutrients and minerals. It appears in thick jugs of drink served roadside and soups everwhere. Down by the Urubamba river it grows wild amongst the ruins in great flowing  long stems, the little rusty red stars of its grain just ripening on the stem. 

  Quinoa growing wild, Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quinoa growing wild, Ollantaytambo, Peru


My first night in town is spent at  Andean Moo hostel. 

“Our rooms are $40”  a teenager at the front desk says confidently.

“I want to pay $10” I tell him. 

He agrees. 

Outside my door is  a little spiral staircase going up to a roof terrace so  I take up a cup of coca mate and plonk down in one of the wicker chairs and watch as the sun slowly sinks behind the hills.

The village sits at just over 9000 ft making it considerably warmer and more clement than Cusco. The novelty of no longer having to go to bed fully clothed with a hot water bottle will take a while to wear off.

When I wake in the morning the sunlight is just cresting the peaks in an ever mystical light. The wind has picked up and the energy from the rushing water that surrounds the town is palpable. 

I spend the morning climbing the free ruins called Pinkylluna and then make like a local and head to the mercado (market) for a 3 soles ($1) fruit juice and lunch.  

The ground floor is where the fruit stands, grocers and odds and sods stalls are set up. Its also where the butchers lay out their wares. Today the animals have just been cut up and the counters are awash with blood and  thick, fatty hearts, lungs, tripe and every other conceivable body part.

 

On the first floor are the Jugo (fresh fruit) counters.  I order a “mixto" for $1. A mixed juice combining, apple, papaya, mango, melon and banana. When I query the long soft spikes of Aloe Vera sticking out of a tub, she offers me some for free deftly slicing off the dark green skin and wobbling a shivering, transparent triangle into the blender. I proceed to the second floor for a  $2, 2 course lunch. A thick ,gelatinous soup with bits of vegetables and then rice and chicken.

For my second night i’ve found a new place to stay, Casa De Wow has an enormous dream catcher hanging in the reception and beds made out of huge tree trunks. Patricia an American volunteer from Chicago greets me at the door and offers me free lemon and honey for the cold i’ve picked up. I spend the rest of the afternoon curled up in bed amongst piles of huge Incan rugs.

Ollantaytambo, Peru, Guinea Pig catching

The following day Patricia asks if I want to see some guinea pigs. Chickens, horses, pigs and cows were only introduced to Peru at the time of the Spanish invasion in the sixteenth century. Prior to that the people got their meat from their native species, alpacas, llamas and guinepigs. 

The latter are  called Cuy in Peru - another onomatapoeic Qu’echuan word that mimics the animal’s high pitched squeak.

She takes me right next door where an old Peruvian lady Juliana and her husband sit at a table shelling corn.  We take a peek inside their home, which has dirt walls, a smokey fire stove cut into the side and grass on the floor. Around the perimeter dart several blurs of white and orange fur including one tiny little baby that stops and shivers in the corner. 

“Oh so they have them as pets here?” I ask Patricia.

“Oh no” she says,

“they’re keeping them to eat them.” 

 Ah well. - they better run fast. 

My first and to be frank last taste of Cuy was 5 years ago when I was first in Cusco, it tasted greasy with a strangely, pungent flavour. On public holidays you can see them burnt of their fur and spit roasted whole, propped up in displays with carrots and tomatoes wedged between their rodenty front teeth. It doesn’t make them look more appetising. 

After a 3 hour trek into the sacred valley to see some alternative Incan ruins - Puma Maka i’ve built up another appetite. 

Ollantaytambo, Peru, Mountain Trout Ceviche

Down towards the train station by the river there is a cafe where the waitress (a surprisingly smiley young woman) recommends the ceviche. Its probably wise to save ceviche sampling for beachside resorts where the fish comes fresh from the sea but here the gamble pays off. The trucha is mountain trout and native to the Andes. It comes served rustic Andean style in thick, pink, meaty chunks atop slivers of sweet potato and accompanied by cancha black corn kernels. Its delicious. 

For my final night I change accommodation again and find a hostel on the way out of town that has prettily tended gardens, with hammocks by the river. The dorms are the same price as most single rooms in town but the views are worth it. 

I spend my morning breakfasting in the sunlit gardens and reflecting on my short little stay from my hammock.

I had been feeling low again at Healing House. My intention when I first arrived in Peru was based around getting warm, healthy and into nature and yet that somehow slipped by the wayside. After a month or so  my days seem to be spent huddling against freezing temperatures, avoiding the constant influx of new visitors to the house and comforting my sorrows in a seriously bad habit of daily coffee and carrot cake. I decide to take action  and  I’m so pleased I listened to myself and brought myself somewhere sunlit and tranquil.  It might not sound much but listening to and then prioritising what I need and want in any given moment is such a new muscle right now that i’m training. 

From sitting on the roof terrace with a cup of mate watching the sunset, to shooting star gazing from an Incan throne at midnight, to breakfasting in riverside sunlit gardens, to ceviche and sopa, I’ve really managed to sample the best of all worlds for my short little stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Traditional Incan Ceremony for Pacha Mama

 

Her Hips Don’t Lie

A beautiful green humming bird hangs off a fuchsia stem, the lights are coming on all over the hills and a fire still smokes in the garden of Healing House - the dying embers of an indigenous Incan ceremony to honour mother earth. 

The feminine shapes of the continent have been inspiring poets from Chilean Love Master Pablo Neruda to El Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) to Shakira. But its not the tiny Colombian hip shaking temptress that is worshipped in these parts. Here there is only one woman to rule them all.  She lives in the Andes and her name is Pacha Mama (the Peruvian cosmic Mother Earth goddess.) 

Its only a short walk from San Blas,the arty ‘hood in Cusco where I’m staying to her domain. Steep steps rise ever upward towards Cristo Blanco; the white statue of  Christ  on the hillside that overlooks the town;  the surrounding Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced appropriately, Sexy Woman)  and the gentle rise and fall of the surrounding fields. 

The mountains of the Andes are extraordinary: soft, undulating waves of palest green that loom high into tall slopes only to drop away again in pleats and folds. 

So far i’ve explored her generous curves via horseback  (on a “trusty steed” ironically named Peregrino - Gunpowder) and even attempted to rock climb one of her many faces. I’ve sat on the grass, with my woollen alpaca socks off, soil under my soles, cradled in bird song and the lazy humming of bees, outstretched and embraced in the comforting folds of Mother Earth’s arms. 

The Q’ero People

Earlier today under a bright blue sky and fierce mountain sun, the residents and staff of Healing House run by Nicky, have been joined by three indigenous Que’ro people from an inidenous tribe in the Andes. They have come down from the hills into Cusco today to share with us a ceremony where we will offer up a “Despacho” or gift, to Pacha Mama.

The Q’ero people live in one of the most remote regions of the Andes up to altitudes of 4500m in small, humble one room dwellings without access to electricity or running water. 

Their mythology states that they are the direct descendants of Inca Priests living before the colonisation by Spain. Their story speaks of a premonition of the invasion and a forthcoming dark age. They sent representatives from their tribes far away into the mountains to preserve the wisdom of the Incan way of life.

The Incan Empire was eventually defeated by Spanish conquistadors who built Catholic churches on sacred Incan sites but somewhere in the cool, dark hills of the Andes the mystical Qe’ro people lived on, passing down from generation to generation the magical rituals and their reverence for their cosmic goddess Pacha Mama (mother earth) and a whole host of other mountain spirits - the Apus. 

Juan and his brother have been invited here to host one of their sacred ceremony to Pacha Mama.  Decked out in brilliantly bright pink, red and black woven garments, they are joined by wife and 4 year old daughter Senticka who are clad in traditional female Quechan dress  of big, bunched skirts and brown felt hats.

A Despacho Gift

We sit in a semi circle and lay out our own sacred objects and ornaments to be blessed as part of the ceremony.  I take off the necklace i’m wearing, a gold plated tantric star representing the divine masculine and feminine.

This concept or yin and yang is present in the Quechan traditions too and the masculine and feminine here will be represented by offerings of red and white carnations whose petals are carefully laid out along with along with llama fat (a sacred animal to the Q’ero communities) coca leaves, incense, money, sweets, some candy in the shape of ears of corn (another valuable commodity) money and even some pink wafer biscuits. 

 “Despacho” is quite simply and literally a gift for Pacha Mama that will contain wishes for abundance and prosperity along with all of our own individual wishes and blessings. Juan places all of the items in an intricately laid out pattern onto sunflower patterned wrapping paper along with two ribbons, one red and one white that represent our path in life. Grain with raisins on top is also placed into the offering, representing negative energy with the sweetness felt when the heavy energy is displaced. The Q’ero believe that we can offer up all of our heavy energy to Pacha Mama. She’s a sturdy broad. She can take it. 

Juan and his brother cleanse their hands with Aqua di Florida, a scent made out of flowers and alcohol and popular in Shamanic ceremonies. The bottle is passed around along with a bag of coca leaves, we take six each and whisper our wishes into them.  One by one we then go up and kneel in front of the Qu’eros whilst they bless us, taking our leaves and blowing blessings through them onto our bowed head, chanting in Quechan. When they have finished our leaves are also carefully placed in the gift wrap along the ribbons.

Juan continues to bless the package, chanting in Quechan and ringing two clear bells and splashing more Aqua di Florida over our sacred objects which are also blessed.  Once the final chants and blessings have been made we take back our objects before the gift for Pacha Mama is wrapped up in different coloured cotton string that represents the rainbow, a sacred national emblem of the Cusquenans. 

After the ceremony is complete the Despacho is unwrapped onto a fire and then burnt.  It is considered rude to watch the fire while it burns so instead the Q’ero sell us some of their wares, fine alpaca hats that feel authentically wrought and are decorated with condors, closely woven bags and bracelets. Apparently we only discover after if the Apu have granted our blessings. Here’s hoping.

How precious and sacred our access to mother nature is. How unconscious we are in our treatment of her throughout so much of the world. 

The myth continues that the Q’ero people would receive a sign when the time was right to come back down from the hills and share their wisdom and ceremonies with the people.

That sign came in the 1950s but at a time when the world feels at crisis point and warfare, terrorism, death and disaster seem to be escalating at a terrifying pace perhaps more and more of us need to be sharing the worship, reverence and gratitude that the Qu’ero people feel for mother nature and our dear planet, before it is too late. 

An appropriate thought for International Women's Day! 

 

 

Mrs Madrigal and Gender Bending in Cusco , Peru

Healing House, Cusco

Did you ever think in a million years, you’d end up at a gender bender party in the mountains of Peru? 

Asks Aimee a fresh faced, 22 year old Aussie with blonde hair and mountain tan.

People. I can honestly say… not.

We’re sitting in the sunlit gardens of a placed called Healing House in the arty San Blas ‘hood of old Cusco town in Peru. 

At 10,000 feet high, Cusco is the pretty little village in the mountains where travellers arrive to to acclimatise before doing the Inca trek or similar to Machu Piccu. 

I was last here 4 and a half years ago. 

When the Bug Bit

Peru was the place where the travel bug bit. 

I remember waking up in Lima and wandering the streets enchanted by the bright yellow churches against a cloudless blue sky. I couldn’t believe how relaxed and comfortable I felt in this most foreign of places watching old Peruvian grannies with their long dark plaits boiling quail eggs on street corners

And now finally, after almost 5 years I’m back. 

Less than three months earlier i’d been lying on my couch of my south London apartment feeling flat, hopeless and completely depressed. 

Being back home in London after travelling for the previous 19 months had been painful. I’d developed a skin crawling anxiety about being back in the neighbourhood where I was born and repeated  all the same old destructive patterns I thought i’d managed to kick to the kerb. Another long distance relationship with an emotionally unavailable man and another marketing job that gave me no time to myself had left me questioning how I had managed to so swiftly rebuild all the old bars of the cage that had kept me captive in the corporate world before. 

Escape #2

 I decided to extricate myself with a one way ticket to Peru. 

Realising how lonely it had felt living and working by myself in the big city all I knew was that I wanted to find an intentional community in the mountains, near nature, where I could continue “the journey.” 

I landed at a hostel called Pisco and Soul  Pisco being the local grape fuelled liquor that makes the national cocktail Pisco Sour  - with absolutely no plan or onward itinerary. Down the street I find a building with a bright yellow sign attached called Healing House. An intentional community for people to raise their vibration, a yoga studio and accommodation all in one. I decide to check it out at their donation only yoga class on Sunday followed by brunch cooked by volunteers in the house. 

Healing House. 

The walls of Healing House are a bright sunshine yellow and the yoga studio and accommodation is built around a shared kitchen, herb garden and  communal lawn for sunbathing. 

The girls who’ve volunteered to make breakfast bake fresh banana bread, oatmeal with stewed cinnamon and apples and brew pots of deep, dark Peruvian coffee for the brunch while I soak in the sunshine, listen to the sound of the wind chimes;  watch the rise and fall of the dark green hills of Cusco in the distance and admire the bright orange star bursts of marigolds, tiny purple borage flowers, mint, lemon verbena, and feathery fronds of the fennel tree in the herb garden.  

 

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Nicky, a lean, tanned and toned athletic American has run Healing House for the last four years along with her partner - a gentle Peruvian called Alvaro.  Her intention is to create a space for conscious people to come and raise their vibration. A Vinyassa yoga instructor and Reiki Master,  she practises what she intends with strength and kindness. 

“It can be painful…awakening…”  she says,

“But you’re here now, you don’t need to do it alone.” 

I try and avoid bursting into tears in gratitude. I’d like to keep the cool Brit facade (if i ever had such a thing) intact for at least a few more days!  

I move in for a month and have fallen in love with my new bedroom. walls and a large skylight that the sun streams through.   There are gold sun shaped mirrors on the wall, a little writing desk and a table laid out with candles and Pablo Santo, a scented wood  native to the Andes that the locals burn to cleanse the air.

How I Live Now

The days roll by effortlessly by. I pick fresh flowers from the garden (asking permission first) and make teas with the herbs. 

The  yoga studio weekly schedule includes daily hatha and vinyassa classes,  kundalini and workshops in sacred dance, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Vipassana meditation. All of which are discounted to 10 soles (£2) for residents. 

Sunny days are spent lolling on the grass sunbathing watching the girls soak chia seeds and shell cacao beans. 

Outside on the steps of Healing House Placida and Juliana, old Peruvian ladies in traditional dress with long dark plaits and sun weathered skin, weave belts for passing tourists. 


 

One day a week the “yoghurt” lady comes to ladle out thick, white chunky freshly home made yoghurt from a big bucket; other days the “peanut butter man” swings by offering a highly addictive paste that i’ve taken to eating straight out of the container. Food freshly made with no use or sell by dates.

Meals in are simple affairs, often I just scoop out the soft flesh of an avocado (a different beast to the impenetrable hard, green ones of my British supermarket)  and smear it on freshly baked bread with olive oil and salt and lime with produce bought fresh from markets in San Blas and San Pedro. 

Meals out often gravitate towards La Boheme, a French cafe with hostel attached that does devilish crepes such as salted caramel and dark chocolate and mango and a great glass of red wine. Greenpoint,  a Vegan cafe whose set menu of freshly made, organic salad bar, homemade bread, soup, main course and dessert for 12 soles (£2.50) is the best value in town is always  a popular lunch option. 

On Tuesdays at the house there is a meeting for residents and staff to discuss, share or offer their news and a “pot luck” lunch where everyone brings a dish. Normally the table heaves with pasta, salads, quinoa (the magic grain local to the Andes ) and fresh mango and chocolate brownies. Although someday pot luck means 7 different types of bread. 

Afterwards the house offers a  free health clinic for Local Peruvians where I get to practise my reiki on unsuspecting Cusquenans. 

Peru’s answer to 28 Barbary Lane

Gradually I get  to know the cast of characters in this little intentional community.

There’s Maria the dark haired wise cracking west coaster. She’s the House Manager who plans to retreat beachside in Belize to avoid the Cusquenan cold with her Peruvian husband Alejandro, who she married after 2 month whirlwind courtship. Ricky, an ebullient Aussie who bursts into Healing House in a  blur of coloured wraps and shawls, manages the website and schedules. Stephanie, a rosy cheeked German brings a gentle sensitivity to my favourite yoga classes in the morning and Larissa a salty, west coaster has me intrigued with talk of her Shamanic soul integration journeys. 

Often seen soaking up the sunshine in the wind chimes and marigolds of Peru’s answer to 28 Barbary Lane, is Healing House’s very own Mrs Madrigal.  Michael Michelle, a transvestite Kundalini teacher with a penchant for purple.

And finally there’s Aimee of course.  Part time tell it like it is , laugh out loud Aussie part time Barbie girl whose past life of Champagne quaffing in body con party dresses complete with bleach blonde blow-dry and luminous pink lipstick seems a million miles away from the make up free, fresh faced traveller i’m used to chatting to now. 

Despite the 17 odd years in age difference we seem to share the same silly sense of humour, inept awkwardness around men and a past punctuated by the dark clouds of depression and anxiety. 

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Gender Bending in Cusco

Today’s Sunday Brunch is in honour of Michael Michelle’s 51st Birthday. He is  residing over today’s proceedings resplendent in a tight leather purple pencil skirt  matching lipstick and manicure. To celebrate we’re having a costume party with the theme of “experimentation in gender.”

Aimee and I sit watching,  sweltering in heavy suit jackets and ties with painted on glittery moustaches as Maria strikes a pose in red sequinned hot pants and Marilyn wig,  Michael Michelle totters around in patent stilettos to top people’s drinks and Chris wafts past in full make up and a girls silky negligee. 

“ I mean honestly, did you ever think you’d be  here, at a gender party in the mountains of Cusco??”  asks Aimee again.

No i can honestly say I’d never dream it in a million years. But right now I can also honestly say, there’s also nowhere else i’d rather be. 


Valentine's Day in Cusco and the Meaning of Love (that's all)

Give Love...

In the side streets of Cusco a strange, vibrating energy is building. The street sellers have moved from touting tamales and ears of corn to red gladioli and heart shaped candy. The jewellery and painting people are out in full force: 

“Hola Mami, necklace for you? Not now? Maybe later, later??”

It is Valentine’s Day - called El Dia del Amore y La Amistad in Peru. The Day of Love and Friendship. I like the inclusion of the latter. As this year i’m distinctly and very happily without the former. The day also marks the start of Carneval so there are children running around with threatening looking barbie pink water pistols and teenagers chucking flour bombs. 

No one knows quite how long this phenomenon will last, although most agree it goes on longer than it should and gringos would be wise to wear waterproofs.

Love is something i’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Who doesn’t. Most of the time. But mainly because for the latter half of 2014 I decided to try and get this whole “self love” thing under the belt. 

Oh I thought I had this licked ages ago but yet another relationship where I fell for flattery instead of consistency and  words instead of action, and gradually relinquished my own boundaries and needs came at an age and a stage which left my self esteem in shards. 

One minute he was taking me on romantic weekends away, the next he was pulling away.  His words were amazing yet his actions told me i came somewhere between the unopened post and his weekly shop on his list of priorities.  I’d say, his morning coffee but i have a feeling that that  probably had the edge. Every time I withdrew, he came close. Words are the best friends of people like him and as I gradually realise… myself too. For those where the intimacy of, the commitment of action, has us running for the hills. 

But that’s what i grew up with. Words. Not action. Those three little words were wheeled out easy enough but always (and still do) come with conditions attached. I love you meant I need you, I want your attention, I reward you for doing something for me. They and any affection or attention that came with it was withdrawn in a sulky, obstinate haze when my needs, wants and feelings tried to take centre stage. 

The Stars and the Shadows Between

Incan astrology at Qori Qancha Sun Temple, Cusco, Peru

The Incans were great astrologers. They based their calendar around the moon and studied the starry froth of the Milky Way (which they called the heavenly river) for signs of rain.

Qori Qancha  - the temple to their Sun God Inti, on the  Avenida del Sol, was the heart of their worship before Spanish Conquistadors took their land and tried to suppress their faith by constructing the Santa Dominga Catholic Church atop.

It’s still one of my favourite places to visit. The lower levels are built around a cool courtyard with a mix of Incan stones and Catholic paintings. The upper levels shows the great gold plate they positioned in honour of Inti the Sun God and paintings that depict their study of the stars. 

As well as joining the dots of the stars to create shapes like The Plough they also worshipped the darkness between, forming shapes from the shadows between the pin points of light. 

Its a strange form of astrology, between the stars they see a serpent, llama and even a toad. 

It takes an entirely different perspective to come from seeing the light to the dark around the edges, a total refocusing of the lens.

Shining Light 

I didn’t want another heart break to stuff me up inside but somehow it did.  I wilted. I was frustrated at myself for not having listened to my instincts, the small, still voice within. I was angry at not standing up for my boundaries. I knew everything I should have done but didn’t. I shoulded myself within an inch of my life and I was so busy shoulding myself about what I should have done differently I didn’t have the focus or perspective to question why i’d behaved the way I had. 

The critical voice in my head came at me with cudgel and claw. Overnight my mind became one of the most hostile places to live on the planet, worse than any Rio favela or Mongolian desert plain. And there was no escape. What were these dark pockets of sadness, and anger and vulnerability that had so far stayed hidden, I was so intent on revelling in the starlight of work accolades, friendship or the beamed light from a beau.  

I never really “got” what people meant when they said shine a light on your darkest parts as that illumination will dissolve the fear.  What does that actually mean?  In practice?

It was a simple realisation in the end.  The light is love. Shining the light on those dark parts of ourselves we would deny is accepting and loving all of ourselves exactly as we are. If I can 

accept the strange and dark places within me, then a number of miraculous things happen.

Afraid of the dark

I can recognise with self compassion that those feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, shame, are in all of us to varying degrees.I become less judgemental of others too. I see instead, our own shared suffering as human beings and feel more connected to the whole.  

I think we’re all afraid of the dark to some degree. To expose ourselves to possible rejection or abandonment for who we really are. But it was finally by exploring those dark bursts that led me to pull back the curtain from the Wizard of Oz and see the scared, lonely, anxious little girl who had been calling the shots in so many areas of my life up until now. Instead of scolding and shaming her further I  started to learn to give myself what was missing before. To learn how to take action and lovingly parent those parts of myself with care and from accepting my feelings came a growing sense of trust in my own ability to know what is best for myself. 

Because as fanciful as Valentine’s day is and as romantic as the very best words are, love isn’t words. It is action. A lot of action that was missing from my life and actions that I needed to learn from scratch. 

Love in Action sign, taken at Findhorn, Scotland.

Love in Action

Love is support. A willingness to stand by and for myself when i’m struggling or working something out without judgement and with compassion. 

It is protection, it is taking right action to remove myself from people, places or things that would hurt me. It is saying NO.  I will no longer accept this behaviour from you. It is leaving that  and those which makes me feel bad and moving towards that and those who make me feel good.

It is a compassion, a willingness to put aside judgement and embrace the dark and the light, to remove labels  and see us all as human beings suffering , in pain and in joy as we struggle through life on our own journey with our own baggage and our shit and say that’s ok. This doesn’t make me less than or better than anyone else. This doesn’t make anyone else better or less than me. 

  • It is celebration and praise. It is saying i did this and I did this well.Well done me! and 
  • it is acknowledgement, and recognition for effort and even more importantly, simply just for being.
  • It is action through honouring. To say I listen to myself. I hear myself and my feelings and opinions count. I accept them as they are and validate them as is without trying to change them, alter them, ignore them ore renegotiate them to make others happy. I’m going to take the best action to get my needs met and have my voice heard. 
  • It is contribution:  It is saying here I am and this is what I am and what I have to give. It is valuable and worthwhile for the world.  
  • It is courage - whole hearted living and a commitment to vulnerability in the moment in spite of those who  may try and tear me down. To get up again and say there are still those out there that would like me to be courageous, to be me.For me i’ll be me, for them i’ll be me. It is sharing and learning to be intimate by sharing my inner world with those that I deem safe because I believe i’m worthy and deserving of being seen, whole, imperfect and loveable. 
  • It is soothing, nurturing, affectionate and caring. Its offering a hug or a cuddle or holding someone’s hand just because. It is allowing someone to comfort me or to ask for help and support and to not need to give anything back because I believe right in that moment that I am worthy and deserving of receiving their love.
  • It is absolute congruence and support to stand by what I feel, think and then do in spite of what others might think because my opinions and what I believe counts. I am valuable and my needs matter and I will do my best to get them met. I will speak my truth and allow it to be heard. 
  • As my first month in Cusco comes to an end so to does my reading companion for the first month The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and what better sentiment to express the unravelling into the dark and awareness of the light i’ve found: 

“Just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of colour across the sky - so the space where I exist… is exactly this middle distance; where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.”

I hold myself in compassion and do not judge the shape or darkness of my shadow, I recognise that it outlines my brightness, its what gives me depth and sensitivity, vulnerability and courage.

Maybe those Incans were onto something after all….for me too, it feels like just the beginning of the journey into love. 

Happy Valentine’s Day One and All.