I’ve been back from Peru for just over a month and it’s starting to feel like a distant memory. Much happened there and it has taken me weeks to ponder, process, and find the words to write about it. I experienced something deep and profound on that trip and if I had to sum it up with a few words, I’d say the trip was full of dualities, healings, openings & understandings, and joy.
Dualities: I am becoming aware that I live more and more each day in a state of duality – recognizing concurrently the joy and sadness, the light and dark, and the trials and tribulations that surround each of us all the time.
What struck me most about traveling around Peru was the poverty and third-worldness of the country. With the average salary being approximately $400 USD per month, the majority of the rural peoples are cash poor, living in mud-brick houses without flush toilets, often without hot water, and without the modern conveniences to which we are accustomed.
Lima, the capital of Peru and most populous city with eight million inhabitants, had a cosmopolitan feel, especially the neighborhood of Mira Flores. There we stayed in fairly nice hotels, ate at great restaurants, and perused the sights and shops. But people don’t go to Peru to stay in Lima; they go to see the vast and beautiful countryside and to immerse themselves in the rural cultures and peoples.
We flew to Iquitos and spent time in the Amazon; we flew to Cusco and spent time in the Sacred Valley, in Urubumba, Machu Picchu, and finally to Puno and Lake Titicaca. These smaller cities seemed overcrowded and chaotic – the crazy motorbike and bicycle taxis and dilapidated trucks and buses all competed on the bumpy roads while we observed the goings-on from our air-conditioned and modern tourist vans.
In Iquitos, we walked through the crowded large outdoor market, lined with fruits, vegetables, and lots of raw meat sitting out in the 90 degree (F) temperatures. What was perceived as gross to us tourists, was normal and perfectly acceptable to them. We were counseled not to eat any of the fruits/veggies/beverages from the markets as our delicate digestive systems were not likely to be equipped to handle nasty bacteria which with Peru’s often unsanitary conditions would not have been hard to contract. However, fried grubs (called suri, the name of a palm weevil found in the Amazon) were okay, and Bruce took the plunge and ordered up a skewer of weevils! We also enjoyed tasting and subsequently buying the vitality boosting liqueur (ie libido enhancing love potion) called 7 Roots (7 Raices) which is made from the barks, roots, and stems of Amazonian jungle plants. Hmmm, delicious!
Despite the hardships we witnessed, the people we met, in all the villages and towns we stopped at, were friendly and overall seemed very happy. I asked Pepe, one of our Peruvian tour guides, about my observations and he agreed that the Peruvian people were generally a happy lot. Most people had the basics: shelter, water, the ability to grow food, and the ability to make textiles and clothing from the ample supply of llama, alpaca, and vicuna fleece. They had community, ritual, and a connection with nature. Simple things. A little research revealed that Peru ranks 25 out of 150 on the 2012 world’s happy planet index (HPI), well ahead of the United States which ranked at 105 (New Zealand was 28th).
One of the most unusual and striking peoples/villages we visited were the Uru people who lived on the floating islands of Uros, found on Lake Titicaca. Now a popular tourist destination, we were treated to a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these people and their culture. Everything from the island to their huts and boats are made from totora reeds. The islands have been around for centuries and as the reeds decompose, new reeds must be laid on top, often a laborious process. Over 40 islands and upwards of 1000 inhabitants make up the Uros colony which now depends on tourism to help maintain their living standards.
I witnessed lots of contrasts as we traveled around the country, yet I could experience both hardship and freedom simultaneously; it all just depended on which lens I chose to look through for the creation of my reality.
Healings: The draw of Peru was to go on a small tour touted as an enrichment and self-discovery program which was to include visits to several sacred sites and participation in workshops involving psycho-navigation, shamanic journeying, and healings by shamans. Aptly named “The Art of Being – Journey of Heart and Spirit”, we did just that – opened our hearts and delved into our spirits.
Our main Peruvian guide was Ruben Orellana, shaman, former chief archaeologist of Machu Picchu, anthropologist, and owner of Kamaquen Healing Center in Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley. With over 30 years of experience working with Andean culture and the indigenous sacred plant medicines, Ruben was a wealth of information, often imparting his wisdom in little bits and pieces.
We participated in many types of healings over the two week period. In Machu Pichu town, we were treated to a sound healing by Don Herbert where he chanted and played a wide variety of instruments while the group sat or lay with eyes closed. In both the Amazon and Machu Pichu town, we had water healings with Ruben. By far, one of my favorite experiences was the evening we spent at the hot springs in Aquas Calientes. Sitting in a hot pool in the darkness with the rain gently pouring down on our faces, Ruben was shaking his rattle in the water as I lay floating on my back, listening to the sounds of the rattle and of the nature all around me. Suddenly after a clap of lightening, the town lost power and the lights went out, yet as we looked beyond at the mountain which looms over the village, several of us could see gentle streaks of white light periodically flashing up the mountain. We were told that the mountains around Machu Picchu town were full of crystal, and what we were witnessing were the energies of the crystal. Hard to wrap the rational brain around such a concept, yet many were witness to this illuminating event.
In the Sacred Valley, we participated in a beautiful despacho ceremony by Don Jose. The ceremony allows us to connect with the spirits of nature and to ask for blessings from and give blessings to mother earth (pacha mama), the mountains (apus), the wind (wayra) and other elements. As we all sat in a circle around Don Jose, the despacho was slowly created on top of paper, using things such as rice, raisins, confetti, cotton, and coca leaves, all the while reciting prayers and blessings. We were each given three coca leaves (the coca plant is revered in Peru and is used medicinally as well as spiritually for ceremonial purposes) to blow our intentions into. After each person passed their leaves to Don Jose, he, speaking in Quechua, would recite a special prayer for that person before placing the leaves in the despacho. When all the items were added, the despacho was wrapped and later burned in a fire where all of our intentions and blessings were lifted into the wind and carried up into the higher spiritual realms.
And in the Amazon jungle, we participated in ayahuasca ceremonies and in the Sacred Valley, in a San Pedro ceremony. Prior to the ayahuasca ceremony, we met with ayahuascero Don Maximo at his home where we got a brief introduction to the plant and then an individual blessing. As we sat before him, he rattled his chakapa (bundled leaves), blew tobacco smoke on us, and sang some of the icaros (songs) of the plants, all with the intention of healing and opening us. The plant medicine ceremonies themselves were quite powerful, intense, mind opening, and sometimes disturbing. There’s too much to say about them in this post, so I’ll write about the experience in another.
Openings & Understandings: As each day and each experience passed, with the healings and further exposure to the Peruvian healing traditions, I was slowly changing. It’s hard to explain, but I could feel some of my chakras (energy centers of the body) open more, some stress removed, my heart start to feel more joy. It was more than just being on holiday; it was because of the deepening connection to everything around us.
As we traversed the country, exploring the ancient ruins of Machu Pichu, Sillustani, Racchy, Sacsayhuaman, and Tambomachay, Pepe, our guide, explained the significance of the numbers of doors, windows, and openings with which some of the sites were constructed:
The number two represents the yin and yang, female and male, left and right, receiver and projector.
The number three pays homage to the three worlds: the upper (father sky, higher realms), the middle (the physical world and the present), and the lower (mother earth, lower realms).
And the number four pays homage to the four elements: wind, earth, fire, and water.
To see the stone work and masonry with which these sites were constructed centuries ago, by hand, or by some other phenomenon to which we cannot yet understand, was mind boggling.
Our time at Machu Picchu also allowed for openings. Mona and I had a chance to climb Huayna Picchu, the mountain standing 1000 feet above Macchu Picchu. With only 400 people allowed to enter the mountain per day (in two groups of 200), I felt blessed to have been able to make the climb to the temple ruins at its peak. Due to the altitude (8900 feet), we made the journey slowly, which afforded us lots of time to observe the flora, listen to the bird calls, and look for the rock spirits! And it allowed us to connect with Huayna Picchu mostly in solitude as the other 198 trekkers zipped by us on the way up and on the way down!
Ruben also facilitated a blessing we did in honor of my father. Perched at a particular spot in Machu Picchu, overlooking a steep drop and an incredibly verdant vista, Bruce, Mona, and I spread some of dad’s ashes while the rest of the group circled around. Ruben called the spirits of the wind (the wayra) to welcome dad and we said a few prayers and offered blessings. It was an opportunity to cry and heal and I felt a weight lift from my shoulders after the short ceremony.
Standing atop of Machu Pichu, I felt like a tiny speck in this infinite universe and my gratitude deepened for all that has come before me, all that is around me, and all that shall come ahead of me.
Joy: Our merry tribe of ten got along fabulously. Coming from many walks of life, ages, and life histories, we were all bound by a common thread – the desire for knowledge and understanding. We bussed, trained, flew, walked, and journeyed far and wide together, often on grueling schedules which would make even the most pleasant of persons grumpy, but I don’t think any of us got on each others’ nerves (at least not for too long) and we often found ourselves in fits of laughter, especially when one of us burst into song.
From day one, when the group serenaded me with a birthday song and cake while drifting in a small boat on the Amazon River, we were united by the common healing power of song. Belting out tunes from Gilligans Island (our Amazonian theme song) to a personally crafted rendition of You’re So Vain, sung as a tribute to our guide Ruben (You’re So Ruben), we became forever bonded by the experiences we shared over that two-week period.
We sang, danced, and drank Pisco Sours.
We shared our stories, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. We had no choice but to trust each other as we were in our most vulnerable states during the plant ceremonies. We opened our hearts and minds to new information and deepened our connection and relationships to ourselves, to each other, and to the Pacha Mama. And most of all, we had fun. And that, I suspect, would make Ruben proud. Thank you Teri for making it all possible.
Peru in 2013 anyone?
More photos can be found on my facebook albums here