Summer 2019:

Rising Appalachia Tour Blog photo.jpeg

My face is sunburned, so sunburned that my lips are a bit swollen, but somehow it makes my eyes just a bit more blue. More rugged, more outdoors, more wild-around-fire and horseback, less around screens and automobiles. Less wires, less batteries, less electricity, less noise.
More dirty hands, more blisters. ahhhh yes.And the creases of my eyes are still white. So you can tell I was smiling the whole time. Its a strange looking token of joy. not that flattering, but certainly joyful. All 16 hours of riding. A smile line sunburn.That is truly a first. It still lingers.

I rode for the last 2 days with Kyd and her rowdy gang- both horses and women- wayyy up into the Peruvian highlands. Through fields of barley, and corn and quinoa. A new landscape, one that beckoned the images of Alaska and Switzerland more than the Peru I have seen so far. What a vast and wild country. We rode deep into the highlands and then stayed in a small village, with a community that has worked to present their way of life to travelers in a humble and off-the-beaten-track sort of way. This community decided instead of sending their sons to Machu Pichu to find work with various trekking companies that they would set up a small village arts and culture center, and guest house to host small groups of travelers. They only take 4 at a time.

We were 4.

They set up a paddock to feed the horses, and welcomed us in with traditional songs and dance, and even doted upon us the hats and things...a type of welcome that had me a bit embarrassed I must admit, wanting to stay subtle and more observant , until I caught wind of how charmed the villagers were by this spectacle. Then I submitted, red skirt, pink hat and all ;) I think it may have even been a bit becoming on me!

The next day opened into such a wealth of learning. They showed us the plants they use medicinally in their basic diet, for cuts, stomach ailments, pain relief etc. They have herbal remedies for everything and all live well into their 80's and 90's off the land and in their villages. And we had a demonstration on their traditional weavings and textile work. My favorite part was learning how to dye all the raw fibers. Eucalyptus, flower petals, pepper leaves, beetle shells, minerals, raw salt...Every item gracefully placed into baskets, turning their hand spun threads into rich and vibrant colors. Impressive colors. Perfect shades and variants that mock synthetic brightness- except so much better. Its no wonder that butterflies, and flower innards, and underwater scenes are always such surprising flushes of color- it is truly fully within the scope of the natural world to be absolutely gaudy and opulent.

We feasted on corn cakes and "cuy" (guinea pig. I tried it but could barely stomach the strange texture and little clawed feet poking out. I have heard that guinea pig is the most healthy and sustainable meat in the world, that it is the only meat that your body can process as an alkaline meat, and that it is highly totted among cancer patients as having curative properties...still. I think one small bite was all I could handle). Dark chocolate drinks, quinoa and blue corn pudding, toasted chocolo (Peruvian popcorn). We all told stories, learned little pieces of village drama and family legacy, and the incredible process they undertook to develop a cultural center in this tiny community in the highlands.

We slept in a little bunk house, made simply but comfortably, and thanks to their solar shower set up I had the first hot shower I had had in weeks. This tiny solar shower apparatus on their red tiled rooftop held more vigor than all the electric ones we have seen so far.

I slept deeply.

Sore legs, bug bitten feet, full belly, massively starry night.

Woke early,

to breakfast, and more discussions on weaving and medicinal plants and the landscape and the language. Quechua is called the language with honey on its tongue. Its incredibly difficult but everyone who speaks it always talks about the laden amount of kindness built into its structure. Coca, condor and poncho are all Quechua words.

I can see that. Every bit of this place seems to ooze sweetness, and a gentleness, and pride that mirrors very few places I know of.

Then after breakfast and its entails, we moved to music. They play flutes and drums, and the women sing in a VERY high pitched voice. It almost sounds Arabic. They scooped us into a circle and wisked us into their dance. Simple, 3 steps, not unlike every circle dance you have ever seen around the world. The universal language, I suppose. I think I have been dragged into these strange and slightly awkward communal dances at-least a half a dozen times in my travels. And then things got even deeper. You can gather with people all around the world as a "visitor" and there will be a show of various levels, hopefully one authentic to sharing our cultural differences or similarities, but sometimes just a show. BUT as soon as the cat is out of the bag that there is an option for any kind of reciprocation in this cultural sharing- that one of these odd travelers might have some pocket of magic to share themselves- then the captive audience reverses. It seems to me that the general stereotype is that tourists have no culture at all , and that all the poor souls raised in the West are simply attached to televisions and politics and bad food (not a complete mis-representation sadly) and that anyone with actual cultural practices is an enormous oddity.

Everyone found out that I too was a singer, and a folk musician, and one also from a mountain rage deep and distant from their own...

{I grew up between Atlanta, Georgia, and Southern Appalachia, always hopping between the two to situate my families deep obsession with folk music and my mothers determination to learn every Appalachian fiddle tune she could before I turned 12. She brought all that music back into our home, where she worked as a day laborer for Delta Airlines, and my father held onto modest jobs wherever he could, but mostly stayed home with us girls (He was "house husband supreme". We ate beans and rice almost daily and drew on all house walls with markers when mom was gone ). But we were FED by their love of culture, music, travel and art. What we did not have of the "American dream" we had in the riches of story telling and imagination. And so with honor I hold a pocket full of old songs to share at any and every occasion, and a reverence for learning and uplifting people and places with their traditions intact. It is not a flawless theory, as change is an inevitable part of this world, and cultures need to know how to bend and flex, but the language of earth based folklore seems to truly be universal. And it is not always that a ballad is the most befitting offering in my travels, but I find that the vulnerability of being so far from home and carrying a piece of that tradition tends create an instant understanding between all people. We all have those sounds that take us home}.

So in one of the highest places I have ever stood I did my best delivery of the old ballad "Across the Blue Ridge Mnts" and the powerful rendition of "Caminando" both songs of land and place and honor. I admit I was a little rickety without any of my musical partners in crime, but I sang it hard and full all across these highlandsSo, high in this mountain community of Misminay we sat together and made music and art and told stories across every kind of cultural difference you could imagine, and we laughed over all sorts of mutual strange things.

Meet Kyd, the wild woman of these horses. wow, what a force to be reckoned with herself. 1 part tough, 1 part tender, 10 parts badd ass, dressed in flannel and a cowboy hat, with freckles and a dont-fuck-with-me vibe. She is from Canada by birth but has lived all across the globe, and now seven years in the Sacred Valley of Peru training horses (and women) to commune with this place... and as we circled at the end of our stay with the women and their songs, her big eyes welled up with tears. And she said in her perfect Spanish "thankyou for letting this be my work, and for creating such a beautiful place that I get to bring people to see you" , and soon all the women were teared up and laughing and hugging. Except me. Tiny perhaps, but teary is never an easily accessible floodgate for me. I stood with the men and passed out tissue paper ;) Its a brief stop to be welcomed into a village for a day in their lives, but a deep one. Such a long journey gets you to the doorstep of these magnificent and timeless people, operating in an older way, but just as sharp as any...It seems a more subtle exchange of essence is passed between souls, and to bear witness to this ancient and yet still thriving way of life is a kernel of wisdom to hold tightly too in this wrought time. We hopped back on our horses, and began the long trip back down the mountain. This time through the high plains across the Incan ruins of Morray, which look mostly like alien crop circles, but hold a much more provable story. They believe that this was an Incan agricultural laboratory and research station. Because of the design and shape of the terraces there is a difference of almost 30 degrees and that was used to test crops in different micro climates. fascinating.

Then off through more barley fields, and trekking by glaciers and rain storms and high rock outcroppings, and communing with the beautiful beasts that have been our companions. Ninja is my Peruvian Boo. We picnicked on roasted corn, hard boiled eggs, avocados, and yucca snacks, and just stared into the quiet abyss of land. Such vast and magnificent land.

I feel resplendent. My heart is full.

My eagerness for something of a different sort of pacing has at least subdued a bit... placated, maybe ;)

Honey in the heart. Now I begin to weave my way back homeward.

at least psychically.

There is nothing like the depths of a real immersion. The foot paths I didn't learn as well as I had hoped for, but the view off the back of a beautiful animal I learned well.

It is a great honor to be of this world.

-Leah Song

Paulina Freed