A cloud floated over Lake Titicaca near the island of Amantani and led me to these words. I was near the end of a journey to Peru. I am back home now, sitting in my chair, watching phrases form to describe what is closely akin to an "out of body" experience, only in this case, it was an "out of myself" experience. This is what journeying to another land is about - leaving yourself, separating from the familiar to experience yourself in relief against the light of unaccustomed culture, climate and geography, and thus breaking down crystallization formed of habitual patterns.
As we flew South from Miami in early December, 2002, our pilot described the route of our flight along the coast of South America. In my mind I traced the boundary between sea and land, and intersecting imaginary lines denoting places called Panama, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. There was something in the air, that was us, and there was something in my mind, and that was imagination based on pictures of maps I had seen, a pleasing diversion to the anxious excitement at the start of the journey.
From Lima we bounced over the Andes to Cuzco, banking sharply around a mountain into the valley of the Inca lords, now covered with red tiled buildings of rich and poor alike. The first thing apparent in Cuzco is that hordes of people want to sell you something. Outside our hotel we were immediately befriended on a first name basis by women selling an array of goods. They were willing to be patient with us and wait for the next day to close any business dealings, but within a few minutes it was clear that the introductions and offers of patience were rote recitations that each of these vendors had memorized in English. There was nothing more to them, unless you spoke Spanish, which only our leader did.
Speaking of our leader, a comment is apropos. Chamba Lane is a 62 year old single man who traveled the world as a youth. Despite being Jewish, he lived for years among the Arabs during the 60's. When asked about this, his reply was simply that no one ever asked him his ethnicity. His red hair, boldness, ease of gab and ability to live close to nature surely facilitated his remarkable excursions into what should have been forbidden territory. Despite stirring experiences in the Middle East and North Africa and along the Silk Road from Afghanistan to the Himalayas, it was in Peru that Chamba felt ancient energies were most accessible to the modern seeker. As a result, he organizes small parties to visit what he characterizes as sacred power sites in the Andean region of Peru and Northern Bolivia.
Chamba's idea is that sacred sites were particularly understood by the Incas and their many ancient forebears, as these sites act as antennae which transmit cognizable energy from Pachamama, the living Earth, to its surface, and perhaps from the other direction as well, from Pachatata, the celestial spirits. Such sites were located in millennia past by these people, who used symbolic and functional carvings fashioned out of stone to focus not only the energy from Pachamama, but the energy transmitted from celestial bodies and from human participants as well, the humans thus giving back and re-energizing the site. The solstices and equinoxes were particular times of the year when these energies from above and below intersected and produced powerful confluences. A key purpose of our trip was to experience such confluences of energies.
Our group consisted of seven people, including Daniel, a professional astrologer, and his colleague, Carolyn. They brought both a compass and a passion for ascertaining the geometry of these energetic confluences as well as experiencing them. It was Daniel who provided the added attraction for the excursion for at least two of the other members of the group, namely Virginia and Annie, both familiar with Daniel's astrological work, called "Shamanic Astrology." KC, the fourth woman in our party, was a hardy traveler with an interest in exotic locales who had stumbled onto the tour via Chamba's enticement on his web page, ancientenergies.com. Why was I attracted to this trip? I had been in the jungles of Peru in 1997 on a shamanic retreat. I had missed going to fabled Machu Picchu then, so when Chamba told me early in 2002 that he was going there, I immediately volunteered to accompany him, without knowing what to expect beyond Machu Picchu.
Our first sacred site seemed ordinary enough, a place called Tambo Machay, consisting of a stone edifice with a stream of water rushing from a hole in its rock face. It was there that I received the first inkling of what our trip was about, as Carlos, our Peruvian guide, gave us the tourist talk about the site, and Chamba followed with his interpretation. This theme would continue throughout the trip as some guides would tell us an alluring but fabricated story designed to titillate the tourists while Chamba would give a metaphysical explanation that made more sense given the facts our senses perceived. Having no background in relating to sacred sites, I was curious to see how my connection with such sites would develop. The first thing I noticed about the site was that it was being visited by a swarm of school children from a distant location, a sign to me that official Peru was attending to its cultural history and that the economy had improved slightly since 1997, when I had been dismayed by the poverty in Peru.
Chamba performed a purification ritual by first facing the stone wall, arms spread wide, then dipping his hands into the stream of water and moving his hands lightly over his face and hair, down his arms and body. He ended with his hands in prayer position. Each of us copied the pattern, which would be repeated often over the next three weeks. From Tambo Machay some rode in the van while Daniel, Annie and I walked over the hill through a village to the next ancient site at Qenko, an effort we felt appropriate to conditioning ourselves to the altitude which was over 11,000 feet above sea level.
Qenko was the first site to seize my attention, primarily due to the carved rock caverns that were constructed for ritual sacrifice according to the tourist version of history and for meditation connected to the vibrant energy of the place according to Chamba's interpretation. Above the caverns was a fascinating carved channel in the form of a wiggly line, a metaphor for the serpent, symbol to the Quechua of the lower world. This was the first of many symbols of archetypal energy we would encounter on our tour of sacred sites.
Night was falling, so we had to forego the monumental stone walls of Sacsayhuaman for a time, as we were scheduled to arise at 5 am the next morning to catch the train to Machu Picchu.
I am a photography collector and dealer, and Machu Picchu is a site that was photographed by its American "discoverer," Hiram Bingham, in 1911, and by an accomplished Peruvian photographer named Martin Chambi who was based in Cuzco in the 1920s and 30s. For various reasons, I was familiar with the site from these photographs. The site had always attracted me. When I first glimpsed Machu Picchu as it loomed between openings in the mountains on the bus ride up the mountain, I was confirmed in my expectation that this was indeed a sacred site and as beautiful a place as there is anywhere.
The first thing I noticed was saturated green, as if the scene had been highlighted by an artist using the brightest green on her pallette. It hadn't dawned on me that this was mountainous jungle, but it surely was, so the stone walls of the site were a perfect blue-grey offset to the luscious green of the jungle foliage. We were met by Chamba's friend and our local guide, Kucho, a small, very brown Quechua who owned the modest hotel we booked into in Aguas Caliente, the village on the swift Urubamba river at the base of the mountain.
We soon found out why Chamba and Kucho were bonded as both revealed over the next three days their knowledge of the wonders of geologic geometry, astronomical intersections with the geology, and historic myths and legends that certified the mystique of Machu Picchu. It was here that I finally "got" what a sacred site was all about. After surveying a number of points around the grounds of the ruins that constitute its sacred geological geometry, we approached a large flat stone outcropping called Pachamama Rock. Kucho suggested that we embrace the rock, so I took the bait and walked to it with arms outstretched, flattening myself against its rough surface. Before I had time to feel silly, I felt the rock moving, and this rock was as big as a small house, at least the part you could see. How deep it went was anyone's guess. I held my position while my brain surveyed the possibilities of a trick, but there was no trick. The damn rock was moving in some subtle yet undeniable fashion. I thought, "This feels like a low grade earthquake, almost like Earth is breathing!" As I stood there entranced, I remembered the esoteric theories I had studied for years about the Earth as a living being, and now I was verifying the life in Pachamama, the Mother Earth.
My moments at the Pachama Rock were worth the entire trip to Peru. I had this experience three more times, twice at the nearby ruins of Winya Wyna and two weeks later at the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, but nothing could match that first experience of feeling the breath of our Earth.
The next day was the time scheduled for a hike to Winya Wyna, an impressive if less grand site than Machu Picchu. It was here that we planned to camp out overnight and participate in a ritual led by Kucho involving the psychedelic cactus, San Pedro. We paid the guard for the privilege of staying in the ruins after dark, and Kucho took us to various places around the site for a series of rituals involving water, meditation on a precipice, and other contemplative activities. Finally, we settled at the bottom of the ruins under a large stone monolith somewhat similar to Pachamama Rock. It was here that Kucho performed a ceremony which created a safe and sane environment for the ingestion of the sacred medicine of San Pedro. The dose was mild by my standards, so as night fell and the mental plane shifted, my visions were fleeting but interesting as I experienced time as a dimension moving perpendicular to space, confirming another theory from my esoteric practice of years past.
During the night the tropical sky began emptying its water on us. As I lay there in my bag under a poncho, Quechua porters in sandals and heavy loads ran past in first light down the Inca Trail, wide eyed when they noticed us in our sleeping bags under the monolith. Soon after day break, we arose and began the hike back to Machu Picchu along the same mountain trail. The hike was wet but beautiful with fog and low floating clouds providing visual delight against the green mountain backdrop.
In normal circumstances I am not comfortable in groups, despite being a gregarious person. I can handle crowds and even enjoy them, but placed in a group context, I become impatient and yearn for solitude. On this trip, of course, I was inextricably bound into a group of seven. It didn't take long for me to feel the pressure. By the third day I was ready for a break, but Chamba had his heart set on showing me more sacred sites at Machu Picchu, and I'm glad he did. It was atop the highest monolith in the village (dubbed somewhat grandiosely, "The Cosmic Rock") that I made my first conscious mental snapshot of the scene around me. The rock we climbed appeared from every angle around the bottom to be pointed at the top, but when we reached the top, we found that it had been carved by human hands to be long, flat and comfortable for a person to lie down. Also, it lined up perfectly between Machu Piccu and Huyana Picchu, two of the mountains surrounding the lower, four pronged peak atop which perched the entire village of Machu Picchu. What I captured and kept in my mind's eye was the rim of the outcropping surrounding the entire village. It's hard to relate the mental picture, but envision being on top of an egg in a bowl, so you're eye level with the rim of the bowl. In this case, however, the rim is ragged rock, the scale is large and deep, so I had the feeling that I was in a magnificent natural fortress, which indeed I was.
That was my first conscious, mental picture, and it was soon after that I took leave of the group for two hours of aimless wandering through the ruins by myself. The experience was nurturing, the solitude healing. During this time I made two more conscious mental pictures, first of the village from above, with a mental overlay of what I imagine it may have been like when the High Priestess ruled a highly functional, self-sustaining community. The second picture was breathtakingly beautiful. A brilliant rainbow formed across the Urubamba Gorge, and from the Sun House at the top of the village, near where the Inca trail enters the site, I could look through one of the carefully designed and positioned vertical windows in the stone house and spy the rainbow framed by stone with the utter green of the mountain jungle as background.
A day later and for the next two days we traveled toward Cuzco along the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba. It was at the ancient town of Ollantaytambo that I absorbed my first lesson in Peruvian demographics. While the sacred sites and ruins were impressive, and a scene at the ruins was memorable when we were temporarily trapped behind high walls and a locked gate due to dawdling after the 5 o'clock closing, it was at a restaurant where I had my lesson. The restaurant was a relief, because it was late, we were tired, and the excitement of scrambling over a rock wall to escape the locked ruins called for at least two bottles of wine at dinner. We were delighted to find a quality restaurant. I noticed that the people gathered around the bar area at one end of the restaurant seemed different. The owner of the bar was the bartender. He was tall with thick, close cropped black hair and full beard. He could have been a conquistador, I thought, and then it hit me that unlike any of the places we had yet been to in the Andes, all of the people in the restaurant who weren't servants were of European descent, not Indian. It was simple, this was an enclave of non-Indian Peruvians in a Quechua region. I only mention this because the demographics of places interests me, and here I witnessed a subtle but distinct boundary, because clearly only a certain class of people gathered in this particular location.
It was in Ollantaytambo that we were met by the man who was in effect our host in Peru, Jorge Luis, owner of the Kon Tiki travel agency. My first impression was neutral. He appeared to me to be an ordinary middle aged man, portly, with a swarthy Quechua complexion and wavy black hair. Over the course of our visit, I became more and more impressed with Jorge Luis. He not only knew a great deal about the featured attractions of Peruvian ancient sites, he knew obscure sites that have been seen by few, and he explained traditional Quechua spiritual beliefs clearly. Of course, Jorge Luis is a travel guide, so one would expect him to know the sites, but in addition, he demonstrated a keen eye for collecting Peruvian weaving, silver, masks and other relics of Andean art. Also, he built and owned a large, well appointed hotel with excellent food and service, and he seemed to be a political force in the region around Lake Titicaca. Chamba is a good friend of mine, so naturally, I take him for granted, just one of the many eccentric old hippies living in the Nevada City area who happens to have traveled extensively and who has a radio show on the community radio station. Jorge Luis, however, was deferential to Chamba, as to a respected elder, and after awhile it began to sink in that my friend Chamba had acquired a fascinating store of knowledge as he had traveled the world seeking ancient energies.
Back in Cuzco for one afternoon, we took the opportunity to go to Sacsayhuaman where walls made of huge stones perfectly fitted together have engendered fantastic speculation as to the source of such engineering sophistication. Who were these people? Theories abound. And where is the golden sun disk conjured by the masters of Mu, the lost continent of pre-history? And what about the legends of the survivors of Atlantis populating these mountains? Ahhh, how fascinating it is to ruminate on what might have been before history was invented!
While the walls were astonishing, it was something invisible that penetrated me. Jorge Luis and his teaching gradually gained in power. His words seemed to be a synthesis of many beliefs, from Eastern to North American native traditions, but to my mind, they rang true. At a stone circle at the top of the site, Jorge Luis invited us to meditate in the center of the circle. It was there that I felt a deep connection with the powerful forces and people that had once dominated that location.
Jorge Luis's hotel is located in the small town of Chuchuito, just South of Puno, a large city on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Across the road from the hotel is an ancient fertility site with impressive stone phallic sculptures, a veritable penis garden. We had our own modest ceremony there after we arrived, but most interestingly, on Christmas day two weeks later, a small group of well dressed Peruvians were conducting their own ritual at the site of the stone penises. As Chamba explained to us, Christianity is a thin veneer over the traditional beliefs and values of the Andean people.
The day after our arrival at Chuchuito, Chamba cracked the whip, and off we went toward Bolivia in a minivan with Jorge Luis as our guide. Joining us was a handsome man in his mid-forties with long, black hair. His name was Raul, and he was introduced to us our "shaman," the man who would provide ritual guidance to us in Bolivia. The reasons why Jorge Luis could not go to Bolivia with us were murky, but my impression was that it was politically unwise for him to cross the border, which was another indication that he was a player on the local political scene, and on both sides of the border. Along the route to Bolivia, we were taken to several very special sites, one of which was perched high on a bluff with a startling view down a red rock canyon. It was here that Raul smudged us and we were instructed in how to do a flying visualization with Jorge Luis holding us by our belts one by one as we leaned over the precipice and visualized the flight of the condor, the sacred symbol of the upper world in Andean mythology. The scene may sound corny to those not present, but it was powerful to those of us who participated. Annie broke down in sobs, but she was quickly comforted by Raul.
At the border we parted from Jorge Luis, but he had arranged for a Bolivian guide named Pablo to escort us. Pablo spoke modest English and appeared to me to be in his mid-seventies. He was actually 59, my own age, so I was a bit stunned (as I frequently am) by the realization that I am old enough to look like a Pablo. He was a small man with an ample paunch. He always wore a red, v-neck sweater. Pablo was not too informative, but he tried, and he had a good heart, so we liked him.
Copacabana was our first stop in Bolivia. By Andean standards it was extraordinarily clean, apparently in a conscious effort to attract tourists. The prices in Bolivia were much lower than they were in Peru. The women in our group wasted no time in surveying every merchant in town, confirming my suspicion that the gathering aspect of primitive hunter/gatherer culture had survived within the female gender in the form of their finely honed shopping acumen. It wasn't long before we, the men, followed suit, making by far the best purchases of the trip. Shirt $6, bag $10, sweater $10, Piranha earrings for Cathie $4, abstract rug $10. It was fun. An internet cafe provided access to home and basketball scores, my touchstone to the "real" world.
From Copacabana we took a small boat to the Island of the Sun. Chamba cared for us like a mother hen, making Pablo find tape to close a crack in the forward window of the boat, "Very chilly with the wind blowing," Chamba emphasized to Pablo in halting Spanish. Pablo's inner voice was probably saying, "Stupid fucking Americans," but he politely asked the boat's skipper to comply with the request.
The boat rocked and we slept, and after four hours we disembarked on a large island with roughly built concrete buildings in a tightly arranged town area. Litter was abundant and pigs meandered freely, leaving their droppings on the lovely beach that fronted a series of small homes and farms. I found myself cringing at the squalor of the island, a form of culture shock I recognized, but annoying nonetheless. The ancient temple a few miles over the hills behind the town, however, made the trip worthwhile. Raul conducted a ceremony there around a large flat rock, which is the focal point at the top of the site. But it was upon a carved, stone platform that Chamba had intuitively located years before within the temple ruins where I once again felt the Earth breathing, although I had to differentiate the residue of boat rocking from the sensation of subtle rumbling, somewhat akin to quiet earthquakes. Chamba told me this site was the most powerful place he had yet found in his travels around the world. After sitting on the stone and feeling the movement, I could not argue with him.The setting was far from the splendor that is Machu Picchu, but the presence of the deep Earth vibrations made the place remarkable.
While we were engaged in a ritual with Raul near the top of the site, a young woman happened by and asked directions to the village where we were staying. Her hair was long and protruding in puffy dreadlocks. She had an oblong, pretty face with large dark eyes. She did not have a back pack but carried something in a shawl hanging from her back in the manner of the Andean women. Her name was Sophia. She was from Argentina and was visiting the island much like we were, but not as part of any group. Her shawl carried her traveling gear.
Our next stop was the Island of the Moon, a much smaller island with only one small village but a temple purportedly for moon worship on one side of the island. After some discussion regarding logistics, it was decided that we would disembark and hike over the mountain to the other side of the island where we would find the temple Chamba wanted to show us and the place that he projected as a likely spot for another San Pedro ritual. Sophia joined us on the excursion at Chamba's invitation.
The village at the Island of the Moon was very small. It was clear that visitors were few. Our quarters were two empty rooms, one for each sex, with futons on the floor for beds. Fifty yards across a planted field from our rooms was a small hut open on the side and revealing two toilets, each lacking a seat. As we were unloading our gear, a woman in a bowler hat brought out a shower curtain to drape over a makeshift pole to give partial cover to those who put the toilets to use. I couldn't do it -too anal, perhaps, and isn't that ironic?
Soon we were hiking straight up a mountain once again, breathing deeply in the thin air. KC, the single mother from Toronto, was terrified of heights and was on the trip in part to learn to cope with her fears. At Machu Picchu and at other sites, she had indeed met her edge and had gone beyond it, but climbing steep trails along precipices was still difficult for her. KC was to receive yet another lesson on this excursion.
The Temple of the Moon was nothing special to me, but Daniel and Carolyn, like terriers stalking gophers, measured and plotted lines around the site as they always did. They determined that the temple was sited for special full moon influences according to astrological sequencing. While such discussions were taking place, the rest of us wandered about sizing up the niches and other features of the temple, and preparing ourselves for the San Pedro ritual soon to begin
As the day ebbed, Raul built a small fire and placed his paraphernalia nearby. We gathered in a circle and watched as he began. One object he placed on a bed of coca leaves was an embryo of a llama, a sacred fetish of the Quechua. At Winya Wyna Kucho had given us the San Pedro as a pre-prepared liquid, which we had watched him brew the night before in a kettle over a fire outside his hotel. Raul, however, dipped a film canister into bags of powder and mixed the powder with water on the spot. This was not the only difference in the ritual we had with Kucho, as we were soon to find out. As mild as the dose of San Pedro that Kucho had given us, the dose that Raul administered was strong - really, really strong! After two hours in the circle, the effects of the cactus had begun to be felt, but Raul then disbanded the circle. We drifted around the site aimlessly for awhile, but as night was falling, a massive, black cloud moved over us like a shroud from the far side of the island. With little warning, we found ourselves engulfed in a horrific storm. The temperature dropped precipitously, winds screamed, rain drove at us sideways in the wind, and there was no shelter. In addition, most of us were thoroughly stoned.
Raul, who was a debonair sort, had already affixed himself to Carolyn, so he became invisible to the rest of us. The two small women, Annie and KC, huddled with me in ponchos against the wall of the temple. Sophia started a fire which was a brief relief from the cold, but it highlighted the ferocity of the storm as the flames were repeatedly flattened by gusts of wind. The rain increased as lightning lit the sky and thunder clapped. We were paralyzed with indecision and cold when Sophia began insisting that we climb the mountain to the top where we had passed a simple shepherd's hut, as this was the only shelter within reach on the barren island. KC insisted that she could not move, lying in a fetal position in the niche of the temple. Annie and I insisted that she get up and go with us, so reluctantly she began moving with us toward the trail up the side of the mountain. Because the moon was full, we had ample light to make the climb, but the rain drenching the trail made it slippery, and KC's fear of heights made climbing slow. Lightning provided fireworks, and in our state, the retreat to the hut was intense. Once there, a local villager let us into the hut, where we gathered on the wooden floor in the dark under several blankets and rugs we found there.
We settled into our enclave and the storm raged outside. It occurred to me that we were at the highest point on the mountain in a hut built on stilts, not the safest location during a lightning storm. Since there was no alternative, I said nothing as we huddled and cuddled for warmth. After awhile, Sophia leaped to her feet and insisted on fire. We were all in an altered state of consciousness, except for Virginia, our retired pastor, who had seen the flaws in Raul's program and had declined to drink his potion. When Sophia found a match and lit it under her face, we gazed up at her and saw her exotic, oblong face up lit by the flame, her dreadlocks' shadow dancing on the ceiling of the hut like a mad Medusa. The effect was spectacular, and I felt I was witnessing the presence of a high priestess of an ancient Andean race.
About an hour later, Sophia exclaimed in her accented English that it was only 10:30 pm, and that we must climb down the mountain to the village and our sleeping bags. It would get colder later in the night, she insisted, and in fact the storm was beginning to pass. KC was immobile, however, and insisted that she could not move, but the others bolted for the door when they realized their opportunity was at hand to retire to a warmer place. I volunteered to stay with KC, so I alternatively cuddled with her to keep her warm and then stood and walked outside, as the San Pedro overdose left me wide awake and restless all night. At first light a man came walking along the trail with a bundle of sticks tied to his back. When he saw me his eyes widened. I made gestures to indicate that I had been trapped by the storm and had taken shelter in the hut. He nodded and smiled a kindly smile, but kept on his way to an unseen destination on the barren end of the island. I rousted KC and insisted it was time to descend to the village.
Later, Chamba, Daniel and I discussed what we felt was our near criminal negligence in naively putting ourselves and the women in such a vulnerable position, but of course, Raul was our ultimate scapegoat. His response was that we had been given a lesson in chaos. No kidding, Raul! Frankly, there was little that was life threatening in the situation, except possibly the lightning, which would have been true in any case, and the possibility of KC staying exposed at the temple and suffering hypothermia. As time passed, the excitement of the evening was what we remembered, so it simply became a story that highlighted our trip.
The next day we returned to Copacabana where we caught another four hour van ride to Tiahuanaco and Puma Punka, locations of some of the most ancient sites in the Andes. It has been speculated that the ancient peoples of these places survived the Great Flood of Noah's legend, and that an unimaginable earthquake destroyed colossal stone structures linked together by ingenious silver or copper joints and led to the technology of the perfect fittings of massive monoliths and boulder sized stones that has been so well documented at Sacsayhuaman and other sites. By this time I had been well fed with such notions and felt satiated. Bed bugs or chiggers are what left the most indelible impressions of our time here, leaving me with red bumps itching all the way back to Peru. Perhaps, as Chamba smilingly suggests, these were "karmic bites" resulting from my fatigue and consequent indifference to such ancient sites.
We took another long ride back into Peru, leaving Pablo at the border. We checked in at the hotel in Chuchuito for too brief a stay, being rousted in the morning for yet another boat ride. This time our water route took us through reed villages that float on the lake, home to many thousands of Quechua. Finally, we landed at the intriguing island of Amantani, where Daniel, Chamba and I had a room in a family compound with a primitive wall fresco of a sky woman spinning her yarn, a representation, said Daniel, of the feminine archetype as epitomized by Spider Woman or the Sophia. People from around the world had stayed in our simple room, and their messages of appreciation were tacked all over the walls surrounding the master spinner.
The story of Amantani is that the villagers of the island agreed years ago that those families who so desired could join a collective and rotate in hosting visiting tourists who arrived to see the temple to Pachatata, the sky spirit, and it's magnificent sunset views. The system apparently worked quite well, as the organization and facilities of the island, while still primitive by American standards, were far superior to the rudeness of the Island of the Sun where I had been dismayed by the squalor. Chamba has commented on the brilliance of the idea in that by organizing in collective fashion it was insured that the tourist attraction that brought in money would be shared and avoid class stratification that afflicts so much of the world. Apparently, it works.
We hiked several miles to the top of the island mountain, and after viewing the sunset from the Temple of Pachatata with about sixty Dutch tourists, most of them wearing Andean hats with ear flaps that women were selling all along the path, we descended after dark down the trail to the village. Chamba wanted to be up at first light to visit the other temple on the island, the Temple to Pachamama, which was not heavily visited by tourists. Our guide, Miro, turned out to be the best of the trip (other than Jorge Luis, of course). He was a large, friendly young man who spoke well and had an active interest in shamanic practices. Chamba asked Miro to awaken us at first light, if it wasn't raining.
After the sunset hike a mile up to the top of the mountain, I was tired and had little interest in arising at 5 in the morning for yet another hike up the mountain. I prayed for rain. The trip was in its 16th day, and I was ready for a break. We had not had a day of rest during the entire trip. But at daybreak, there was energetic little Annie in full gear ready to hike, so the rest of us followed her lead. I was the most reluctant. The Temple of Pachamama was walled closed with piled stones, but Miro and Chamba quickly removed them. We entered a space that had many of the geometric synchronicities that Daniel and the others found so fascinating, but by this time the repeated measurements and speculations had lost any resonance for me. I found it more fulfilling to gaze over the lake at the clouds. It was there that the seeds of the poem to the clouds were planted. Fatigue dampened my mood, however, and I felt a cold coming on. I trudged back to the rooms with KC, fortunately, as it turned out, because I never would have found it without her guidance. I fell asleep under the watchful eye of the Master Spinner on the wall. Too soon it seemed, I was awakened by the returning crew, and Chamba apparently had quite an uplifting experience which left him with a buzzing, frenetic energy.
That afternoon, we returned to Jorge Luis' spacious hotel in Chuchuito to find several groups of New Age practitioners engaged in massage, yoga and various other forms of centering work - at all hours of the day and night. It was on the evening of our return from Amantani that my general exhaustion combined with Chamba's agitated energy created a brief personal explosion over nothing, without which no tour would be complete. In other words, I lost my temper and screamed at our dedicated leader, producing the one black moment of the trip. After a day of cooling off, we tearfully reconnected, and all was well.
We spent Christmas at the hotel. It was an unremarkable Christmas, reminding me that without the hype, Christmas is just another day, blessed, however, for its reminder of the death and rebirth potential in all of us. It is only we ourselves who can feel the spirit that informs us. We are the only gatekeepers.
The day after Christmas we spent an afternoon traveling toward the airport at Juliaca, stopping at the ancient ruins of Sillustani to meditate inside the first chulpa, a large, cylindrical stone structure one has to enter by crawling through a tightly narrow passage. This was my final sacred site experience that penetrated, but this time by evoking my claustrophobia triggering a memory of being in the womb. It occurred to me that this ancient devise had been designed for exactly that experience. After exiting the chulpa somewhat hurriedly while the others continued their meditations, I walked to the edge of the cliff overlooking the lake and sat for a more mundane moment of contemplation. As I sat, I watched a woman leading a goat from far below along a trail that snaked up the side of the cliff. Slowly, she meandered along getting closer and closer. Finally, she emerged above the rim of the precipice with her goat trailing. She was young wearing a bowler hat. She carried flowers in her hand and sat a few hundred feet from me watching the tourists wandering around the chulpas. I watched her, wondering how different our lives were, and how much the same.
After arriving back at Lima, I said goodbye to my friends, as they chose to take a long van ride to the site of the unearthly Nazca lines, and I decided to see the famous gold museum and perhaps find a few antique shops where I might find old photographs for my collection. That night I took a valium I had bought in Puno to see if I could get a solid night's sleep in the stark hotel my tour guide left me in. I slept well and had a vivid dream where I found myself in large show room where I was supposed to be selling photos. I was having such fun, however, I had forgotten to set up my own table to sell my wares. I was intrigued by a stack of unusual catalogues that were being offered by a pretty girl. Her price was double what I would pay, so I said I would return later to make her an offer. I saw a line outdoors that was being served gourmet food, so I got in line too. When I approached the gourmet food, however, I was told I needed a ticket. I lost my place in line, so I could go purchase a ticket. I'm not adept at dream interpretation, but the dream reminded me of how I don't pay attention to details and assume too much from my preset notions, which causes me to lose my place in line over and over again. The teaching never ends, be it on top of an island mountain in a storm, sharing day long van rides with strangers, to dreaming in a flea bag hotel in smoggy Lima. Like the man said, "Sit down, shut up, and pay attention!" In this way, I learn why I'm here, and one might say, I'm avoiding the calcification that can result in emotional rigor mortis from staying too long in one set of routines. I'm also learning to stay open to the mysteries that unfold, such as the breathing of the great Mother Earth at sacred sites in the Andes.