Writing in the Jungle

23 Jul

After one of my friends (quite rightly) complained about the length of the last post, I’m going to: a) try to keep it down (or just blog a bit more often); and b) divide my posts into sections, so that you can skip around to the topic that most interests you. This is it:

1.  Got Twitter Now

2.  Escape to the Sacred Valley (video blog)

3.  Deeper Into the Jungle (writing Munay)



Watch out Twitters, Don’t Wake the Cat Up

What can I say. I succumbed in a moment of weakness. I couldn’t sleep and was weak from a nasty Peruvian stomach flu. Hah. That’s all cheap excuses. Truth is that reading about digital publishing, eReaders, Kindle, etc over the last week has really opened my mind to the digital world. I’ve been quite closed-minded in the past and now feel that I have missed out on a few interesting methods of networking. I don’t want to miss out anymore. It’s all about networking and communicating with the people who enjoy your art, after all!

Now the joke is that I don’t actually own a twitter-capable cell phone, neither here nor in Germany. So tweeting has to wait until my computer and I are in a WiFi zone!

If you want to follow me, then let me just say this first: I vow not to tweet all the useless little things I’m doing, like where did I leave my socks. I’ll be tweeting about my travels, how my book is coming along, sentences I’m especially proud of, where I’ll perform next, that sort of thing. I vow to make my tweets worth your read.

Follow me:  https://twitter.com/RittiSoncco


After a nasty case of gastro-intestinal-flu, without which a trip to Peru really wouldn’t be complete, I had to get the hell out of Cusco. The city was beginning to really get to me: the washed-up tourism, the hedonism. It seems that the majority of the tourists who come here don’t actually inform themselves beforehand (or during!) about the rich cultures around them.

Could be that I was feeling especially bleak because I was too weak to get out of bed for a few days. The stomach flu wasn’t what blackened my horizon. It was the realisation that something as simple yet basic as food could cripple me. Yet we all have to suffer it. Among travellers in Peru, it’s normal to tell each other about the state of your guts. None of that subtle: “Darling, I’m just going to power my nose.” You’ll never get the doctor’s attention with euphemisms.

I was also sitting in a dead zone concerning my writing. I rented a room in central Cusco for two days to write but the tourism in the center only annoyed me more. I had to get out.

I had only passed through the Sacred Valley when returning from Machu Picchu in February 2012. I remembered being especially taken by Ollantaytambo, so that’s where I decided to go. And give my gut a good listening to. If my gut said stay here, I would. If it said move on, fine.

Accompanied by two friends from Helping Hands, we found the colectivo to Ollantaytambo. The minute I was on the bus, I knew my gut had been right all along. Being on the road again, witnessing this landscape, was exhilarating.

Ollantaytambo is only 2 hours away from Cusco, and historically a place of great interest because it where Manco Inca escaped to after his siege of Sacsayhuaman failed. The Spanish followed him here and fought the Incas. Forced to flee further into the jungle, Manco Inca was said to have been carried off by his followers shouting abuse at the Spanish.

They left behind spectacular ruins.

Our hostel was directly beneath the ruins:

Immediately after throwing our backpacks into our room, we set off to climb the ruins. There are two sets: the ones which we climbed to, which are free; and Manco Inca’s palace, which can only be entered after purchasing a Tourist Ticket in Cusco:

But, my friends, the view, the lightning, the atmosphere was so uniquely spectacular that I decided I had to film it for you. It felt like a more special way of taking you with me and sharing the view as I climbed! I hope you the enjoy the Ollantaytambo Vlog:

A few impressions around Ollantaytambo:

“That’s the name of my book. It means the power of love combined with the power of will.” – “Oh, not pizzeria and snack?”

A memory: That evening, Almuth and I stood on the terrace of our hostel looking up at the stars. We watched the nighttime clouds shuffle quietly about the sky and become tangled in the mountains. We saw a cloth of cloud drape itself over the stars like a scarf, and become illuminated from behind by all the stars and shine like a translucent silver river.

We turned to look at the romanticism of the Inca ruins beneath the stars. The city cast a soft golden light on it, and I joked that this already was pure kitsch and if I painted the scenery, no one would ever believe that it was real.

Just as I finished saying this: a shooting star appeared from behind the nighttime clouds and fell slowly behind the Inca ruins.

It was a golden moment. I didn’t make a wish. I just watched in awe and felt happy that I had been staring in that particular direction at that particular time.

This time travelling through Peru really has me thinking about painting again. I used to paint a lot in high school, and took Art classes at a higher level. I studied Frida Kahlo for over a year and became somewhat obsessed. I think I’d like to paint my thoughts and experiences about Peru.


mural at the Parque Grau in Quillabamba

Ollantaytambo was beautiful, but you run out of space very quickly. The city itself was built as a tourist stop between Machu Picchu and Cusco, for people to visit Manco Inca’s ruins, snap some pictures, maybe eat a pizza, and then leave. With little else to be found, and also not tapping into the inspiration just yet, I set off deeper into the jungle. I had read Quillabamba to be the gate to the jungle, the “city of eternal sunshine”. After a month in the Andean winter, I was more than ready for eternal sunshine.

The minute the bus rolled off from Ollantaytambo to Quillabamba, staring out the window, Munay returned to me. For almost the entire journey I scribbled away in my journal, and whenever I looked out the window, this is what I saw:

A journey through the clouds! Perfect setting for the caravans travelling around the world, and that is precisely the section I wrote. I’m telling you this because when I start giving readings of Munay (the instant I get back to Europe – I’m planning it at the moment – more on that later), I like the idea that those who read my blog will easily recognise the sections I wrote while travelling here. Perhaps these images will float into your mind.

I fell in love with Quillabamba. It was a friendly, small city whose mornings were filled with an energetic jungle vibe, whose warmth extended deep into the night, whose people quickly looked for friendship, and from the amazonic river you still had a perfect view to the snow capped Andes.

Parque Grau

a delirious sight when you view the snow capped Andes while you’re sweating over 30°C

woman frying & selling anticuchos on the street

tribute to the natives of the area

during our hike to the Waterfall of Yanay

the Waterfall of Yanay

the waterfall and I

Standing beneath the waterfall was a beautiful and intensely personal experience. The fear, awe and excitement I felt while walking up to it, standing beneath it and feeling its power crashing down, brought several things into clear perspective for me. Apart from making me feel a bit like Pocahontas.

What I loved about Quillabamba was that I very quickly developed a productive writing rhythm. Reading, exploring the town, sitting on rocks in the river by day – and writing by night. I did a lot of writing for Munay. It was thrilling to finally be out of the dead zone. I had to learn again to let go and let the ideas lead me. Sometimes, sentences will come as suggestions and if you follow them, entire worlds can open up. In this manner I discovered a few details that would happen in sections I haven’t yet written. Seemingly-small things, like conversations that Anahata remembers having with Ti (which I haven’t written yet) or a shawl Ti gives Anahata before she runs into the jungle.

And I love that: discovering things about my book and characters, and realising that I am not one bit in control. I recently read another writer / blogger mention the exact same thing concerning her work. I know the concept of “being surprised” by your own characters must sound strange, but it’s a concept writers report on occasionally. Qayqa certainly did it with me, and now Munay is following suit.

What confuses me (as I mention in the Ollantaytambo Vlog) is that I am desperately trying to write chapter 1 and have instead worked on chapter 3. All I can do is go along with it. I feel myself being pulled towards the jungle, and viewing what I wrote in Quillabamba I see that Anahata is already there, waiting for me to write her. Perhaps the sections about how Anahata leaves her village and joins the caravans will have to be written later, much much later. It’s starting to look that way.

I know I haven’t included excerpts from Munay in a while, and I feel this is something I want to do soon. I’m also developing a few plans for readings of Qayqa and Munay when I return to Germany, and once they’re a bit clearer, I’ll talk about it on the blog.

Well, after three beautiful days at the gate of the jungle, I’m back in Cusco. I plan to head out to the Sacred Valley again in a few days. I’m curious about the unexplored corners. Being on the road, meeting other travellers, and witnessing these breathtaking landscapes certainly give my lyrical tongue fertility. I’m excited to write more.

Thank you to all the people who responded to my eReader questions, and who continued the dialogue by sharing interesting websites on digital publishing. I looked at all the sites you suggested; to be honest I’m fascinated by the offers. It’s amazing what you can do using the internet. So I’ve decided there will definitely be a digital version of Qayqa for your eReader, which is a thought that makes me very happy. I’ve just received some more pages of Qayqa in revised German, which I’ll now have to re-revise. Soon she’ll be complete in German! I’d like to get her out (both in book form and digitally) before the end of the year but that depends on the amount of time Mark needs for the illustrations. In any case, that’s the next great project once I return to Europe. And readings, readings, readings.

Now I’m off to enjoy the Cusco sun. Enjoy the tweets!


3 Responses to “Writing in the Jungle”

  1. friedrich glorian July 24, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    X-I-ting. i guess you know that in the yogic context, anahata is the heart chakra. In sanskrit the word anahata – means unhurt, un-struck and unbeaten. Anahata nada (nada is sound) refers to the vedic concept of unstruck sound, the sound of the celestial realm.
    have more inspiring writing aventuras.

  2. rittisoncco July 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Dear Friedrich 🙂 Yes, the choice of name for the main character was no accident. In searching for the appropriate name, I considered what the message of her story should be, and did a lot of research looking for the appropriate name. I know of a collage artist named Anahata Katkin, which was my first knowledge of the chakra as a name – and I kept coming back to it. I recently went back to my research on Anahata’s name and discovered that decisions made with the heart chakra are outside of karma – a fascinating concept that I have decided to incorporate into the novel, i.e., into her fates.

    Equally, the main character of my first novel, Damian, comes from the damiana plant. Its attributes (aphrodisiac, relaxing effect on the central nervous system) are characteristic of Damian’s personality. I chose a plant-inspired name for Damian because Ti (the cook and his friend) manipulates plants as she also manipulates him.

    Originally, I thought Anahata may have a “plant-name” but during my research I kept coming back to the heart chakra, for they depict her choices and fate quite well. I also like that it creates a little bridge between my Peruvian influences and India / yoga. Her name isn’t the only cross-cultural concept I am including in the novel. 🙂 I hope I’ve made you curious!

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