The Undying Eagles of Coastal Peru

A tale told true from the margins of a dusty travel journal

I spent the last summer of my youth in a monastery, tucked away between grim sand dunes on the Peruvian coast. One of my teachers there told me the story that I will tell you now.

Out in the dunes there live eagles, bigger than the ones we know, that live for 70 years or more. They grow old like men. When they feel their bodies fail they use the last of their strength to fly inland, to the highest peaks of the Andes. They perch on a mountaintop and sit for three months without eating or drinking.

The old eagles waste away in their austerity. Their talons grow and twist into the fleshy pads of their feet. Their beaks curve inward. Their feathers slip out from their skin until they stand naked, quivering under the sun. They experience immense pain.

At the point closest to death, the eagle breaks its beak against a rock. It sleeps, deeply. New feathers, a new beak, and new talons emerge from what remains of its body.

The eagle flies down again to the coast, with 30 more years to live.

That was my teacher’s story, there is nothing else.