If you sit with the elders from Paracas and Nazca, two of the oldest coastal human settlements from southern Peru, you will certainly listen to many of their stories about the sea. The Pacific Ocean in this region bathes the desertic coastline with indomitable spirit, eroding and transforming the arid landscape but ironically also bringing life to one of the richest regions in marine biodiversity of the planet.
They would talk for hours about their most memorable fishing journeys, describing vividly species and weight of heroic catches, even detailing the weather conditions of those auspicious days. Anecdotic recalls of pranks played to legendary friends, most of them long gone, would make their flat bellies rise in hysterical laughter. And then, coming like one of the frequent wind storms of the region, out of nowhere, an air of seriousness would shift all the faces. You then knew they would talk about those who were claimed by the waters.
'The spirit of the sea is a jealous wife', said Don Zacharías. 'She will not tolerate another love in your life when you are with her. For us and for our fathers, this is the way it is and has been. The cult for the ocean, for she is divine and provides with life'. With melancholic eyes, like the sunset that was about to fall that afternoon, he proceeded: 'It would be a too dark place to go to recall all the ones she has claimed: family, friends, visitors, we let them rest in her waters. All of them had a second love, a second secret purpose when venturing into the sea. And the sea always knows, that's for sure'.
I kept my eyes focused on his as his stare began to get lost in the falling sun behind the waves. I felt like capturing a magical picture in my mind when I turned around and saw all of them, staring at the same point, lost in time and space.
How many spirits were marching in front of them in those eternal seconds?. I realized the silence had stayed for a bit too long.
'But well, we can always dream about an orca calling us instead!', exclaimed Don Zacharías, bringing a smile to his face again and breaking the mystical silence.
'Do you know that the 'gringos' call the orca 'ballena asesina' (killer whale)? I saw a movie with my grandchild in english, it had subtitles, it shocked me!'.
The relative silence broke into a loud chattering with all of them talking at the same time: 'it was the españoles' , 'no, the españoles got it right, they called them whale-killers' , 'the gringos got it wrong', 'somebody screwed the translation'.
'Nonsense!', claimed Don Zacharías, stopping the prattle. 'Boto is her name. All of our grandfathers knew her name. I call her Orca because I have become an 'modern' old man!'.
A burst of laughter halted the warm evening.
The smell of fresh fried 'Chita' (Anisotremus scapularis) with rice called us all back home.
After a brief round of see-you-tomorrow-s we started a slow walk back to to the line of huts.
'What happens when the orca calls you Don Zacharías?' - I asked, curious about the incomplete story.
'When you hear the call of Boto, the great orca, you will travel.' Pointing with his finger to the side of his head he continued: 'with your ears you will hear the high pitched sounds that will enchant you but she also sings a secret song that only your heart could hear...'.
'She will take you in a journey to distant and far away lands, you will leave everything behind to follow her, enchanted by her song but guided by a mysterious force. Her secret song carries a code, the map of all the journey, how far to go and how to return. This is how our fathers traveled the coast, but one of them had to hear the song of the orca first'.
No words came out of my mouth. Just a long sigh escaped my lungs unexpectedly. I had just turned 20 years old and thoughts use to take a longer time before becoming words back then.
It was a hectic Friday afternoon at the office. My 27th birthday was approaching and I was feeling like doing something different to celebrate this particular number. Ideas were popping up in my mind while I finished scrolling the list of emails done for the day. Looking through the huge windows of my office in the 13th floor of the high rise at the heart of the business district I could see the sun setting. Spring was coming and once again the sun could break the grey roof of clouds so characteristic of Lima's sky during winter.
'I should go home early', I silently stated to myself.
In Lima, going home early means actually leaving at the end of your working day, 5pm o'clock. For those days when my average working day was not shorter than 12 hours, it felt like such a great accomplishment.
Home by 6.30pm and it was dark already. The hour and a half drive in the chaotic traffic of the big city had exhausted me. 'I should lie down for a moment', I thought, tossing my purse onto the closest chair.
I started reciting a mental task list to follow up next while my body surrendered to my cozy sofa...'call my friend Sandra, call my mom, call Isabelle, call...'.
My parents and I approached the front stairs of this victorian house. I counted four steps of some kind of polished white marble. My father pushed the doorbell button and made it rang with a loud and hoarse sound. While we waited for somebody to come I took a good look at my parents. My father was tall and elegant. His brown suit was implacably ironed. I noted he was wearing a black bowler hat that let some brown curly hair peep out. He also had a moustache, the funny type, with the the ends pointing up slightly.
My mother looked somehow fragile, fair and thin but with a distinguished bearing. She was wearing a white dress with some navy blue flowers. Some type of felt hat with white flowers covered her wavy and shiny blonde hair. And then, I took a good look at myself too. I looked like I was 7 years old approximately. My long light brown hair was done into two braids . Fair complexion. I was wearing a cotton-type fabric dress with multiple colored flowers. Most of them were orange and yellow and I felt I loved it. The dress was very soft to the touch.
A man with a serious face opened the door. He was the butler. He took my father's hat and said they were waiting for them. He glanced at me and his expression clearly showed that letting me in was not a good idea. My parents asked me to sit quietly at the entry hall and wait for them. There was a wooden bench there with a mirror in front. I could hear them talk for a minute, they had come to take a look a this house, They wanted to buy it. I understood my parents were wealthy and this was going to be a 'vacation' home for us.
They disappeared behind a corridor and I couldn't resist to explore. In a jump, I was going further into the corridor. Left and then right, I heard them talking and headed quickly the opposite way. Two skinny double sided wooden doors, left or right?. I heard noise on the left one, I also smelled something delicious in there. It was the kitchen. An old man was bending over a stove stirring a pot and another one was sorting out things on a table. It smelled like stew. They were talking to each other completely unaware of my presence. I sneaked in bending my torso so they wouldn't see my head. I continued to the right. A secondary room connected to the kitchen by a corridor and at the end a wooden set of stairs leading to a big opening on the roof.
In that moment I heard my parents calling me: 'I can't go back, not right now. They will be mad anyways'. And so, up I went. There was something there calling for me, I had to see it. As I approached the top, the warmth and brightness of the beaming sun made me squint for a bit. It was the noon hours definitely, no shade anywhere. I loved the comforting sun touching my skin. I came out to the most beautiful rooftop patio ever!. The floor had some red pigments on it, lots of terracotta planters around with red and pink geraniums blooming. But then, the magnet, the call, I heard a song, I could feel a song. It was coming from the far end of that patio. I approached feeling my heart racing, wishing my parents took long to find me. Closer to the white parapet covered with some kind of stucco I could feel the breeze, the ocean breeze, its warmth, and the singing. The parapet was too high for me to overlook to the other side but there was a convenient two-step stool next to me.
One, two... wowwww ! the magnificence !, the emotions ! ... the joy!...
It must have been a pod of around ten orcas, many calves, swimming and just frolicking on those blue waters. I could see they were so happy. Their playfulness was endless. Some jumps and turns up in the air made their shinny black backs reflect the sun like a mirror sparkling. And of course, there were the songs, the calls, the infinite and indescriptible love and joy. I was taking all I could into me. In those fleeting moments with some level of consciousness I made an effort to embed it in my memory, to carry all of it with me. My parents were closer. I turned around. I woke up.
The years that followed that night could make the pages of a book someday, but not today. What is true is that I did travel. The five continents (except Australia) in an unstoppable and life changing journey that brought me to the place that I call my home today, the beautiful city of Port Moody, in British Columbia, Canada.
We live very close to the sea and close to a sacred mountain in the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people. When I arrived here, I had a purpose and life has offered me enough proof that the song of Boto is still playing inside me. On my first weeks following my arrival my husband-to-be took me to several places and I could find my beloved orcas welcoming me everywhere in paintings and sculptures around the city. He of course, is a Vancouver Canucks die-hard fan.
The present moment in my life is just a resting place, my calving ground, as there are many dreams I still need to nurse and give birth to.
The final journey is still unfolding and I know for sure that when I'm ready, the traveler will come again for more adventures and dreams to experience, riding waves on foamy beaches, singing along with the orcas the ancient songs on the eternal return back home.