As we flew low over the Andes mountaintops into Cusco, I could only imagine what this journey would bring. My father, Jack Pearl, had taken me on my first overseas adventure to Peru when I was 12. Only two weeks before this adventure was to begin, he passed away. So he was going to Peru with me again, only this time in spirit. |
My dad had kept a journal of our trip, and for the first time ever, I opened its pages and began to read…
July 18, 1980
As we flew over the Andes Mountains, I wondered about what adventures we might have. I remembered my dad’s fascination with South America and how for so many years he dreamed of going there. He had spent many years instilling the sense of adventure in me, and now it was my turn to pass that adventure on to my daughter.
I would be touring with a small group of people from different parts of Canada and the United States. To my pleasant surprise, my dad’s wife, Maureen, decided at the last minute to join us. It would be a healing journey for both of us. Our local guide was Jorge Luis Delgado, an extremely knowledgeable, kind and wise man with a gift for sharing spiritual insights and detailed information about the Inca ways and Andean traditions. A Peruvian mystic and shaman, Jorge trained from an early age with the Kallahuayas shamans of Lake Titicaca, and he also studied with the Q"ero Elders of the Cusco region and other ritual specialists. As we would later find out, it was Jorge who rediscovered Aramu Muru"s Doorway, an ancient power spot near Lake Titicaca.
On the bus ride to the hotel, Jorge talked to us about the inner journey we would be making, instructing us to “pay attention to our intentions” during the trip. We were asked to focus on letting go of heavy energies, past hurts, guilty feelings, and anything that did not serve us any more. Through this letting go, we would realize our true natures and authentic selves. Jorge also introduced the three Andean truths: Love, Service and Wisdom. We would be making a healing journey on all levels, and I was up for the challenge.
Our first night in Cusco we walked down the narrow cobblestone streets to a wonderful restaurant on the Plaza de Armas. We enjoyed delicious, traditional Peruvian food, including marinated fish in lemon and spices, colourful salads with beans and roasted corn. I even summoned up the courage to try a small portion of alpaca meat, which turned out to be tasty, but quite rich. After dinner we were treated to the wonderful sounds of a Peruvian band. Traditional dancers performed for us and then encouraged some of us to join them dancing. Walking around Cusco at night was very pleasant. Young Peruvian couples walked hand in hand, teenagers were out socializing, families strolled, and it felt quite safe.
The next morning, we visited nearby Tambo Machay, the private fountains/baths of the Incan nobles and priests. We felt very privileged to be joined by two Q’ero Elders, ritual specialists considered to be the last remaining descendants of the Incas. We later learned they had been quite isolated in the hills above Cusco. It was only in recent years that they had agreed to share some of their knowledge, rituals and ceremonies with people outside their inner circle. Although the older of the two looked to be in his 50s or 60s, I was surprised to learn that he was actually 78! They performed a sacred ritual to ask the apus (sacred mountain spirits) to bless each person during their journey. Using the sacred water element Unu from the eternal fountain at Tambo Machay, we each went up to be blessed by the Elders with water and prayers. This represented a cleansing, energetically and physically, and we all felt it was a very special and important way to start our healing journey.
Our next stop was the Temple of the Moon, also known as the Temple of the Serpent. The serpent is the totem animal of the Ucu Pacha, the Lower World and you can see two snakes carved into the ancient walls at the entrance to this small cave along with the puma and the condor, totem animals of the middle and upper worlds in Inca cosmology. As we entered the small cave, light coming in from a small opening at the top illuminated a raised, natural stone altar. Jorge lit large sticks of sage as we connected with the healing feminine energies of Pachamama, Mother Earth. He encouraged us to let go of anything that was holding us back or blocking us from realizing our true nature and authentic self. Jorge led each of us through a short ceremony to release these unwanted energies as he touched our crown, heart and navels with his mesa, a cloth containing ritualistic healing stones. It was an emotional ceremony for many of us, and we felt reconnected with Mother Earth, as if, like the serpent, we had shed many skins.
When we emerged from the cave into the daylight, we saw the Q’ero elders were preparing a despacho, an offering ceremony to Mamapacha. With their sacred stones and amulets laid out before them on a ceremonial cloth, they poured small packets of various offerings into the cloth, before reciting traditional prayers to Mother Earth and blessing each of us.
A few kilometers west, at Sacsayhuaman, we saw some of the most amazing Inca architecture; walls made of giant megalithic stones, fitted together perfectly without any mortar! Cusco was originally laid out in the shape of a puma. Sacsayhuaman was its head, and the zigzag walls at this amazing site represented its teeth, as well as the path of lightning, a revered earth element for the Incas. The view overlooking Cusco was spectacular.
Later, we wandered through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, nestled between majestic snow-covered apus and fed by the waters of the Urubamba River. We travelled into the nearby hills to the ancient solar observatory at Pisac, entering the site through the ancient Temple of the Condor. The view was stunning, and Jorge asked us to invoke within us the power of the condor which has the gift of an overview, the bigger picture, the sight. We each had a chance to imagine flying out over the valley and connecting with the apus beyond, just as the condor would. Jorge then performed a short cleansing ceremony for each person, brushing two condor feathers through our auras for further cleansing.
We walked along a winding trail, rich with magnificent views of the mountains, hills and valleys below, up and down ancient stone steps, to the most sacred area of the site, the ancient Sun Temple. Along the way, we were serenaded by the hauntingly beautiful sounds of a young man playing the Peruvian pan flute. On arriving, we learned how the Sun Temple had been used for astrological purposes, as a sundial, to know, for example, when it was time to harvest, as well as for spiritual purposes. On the way back, Jorge pointed out dozens of ancient burial chambers on the sides of the surrounding mountains. The ancient Inca funeral rites enabled their dead to become part of the apus, living on as protective spirits in the mountains.
Below the mountain, the village of Pisac is famous for its traditional Andean marketplace full of colourful clothing, locally grown produce and freshly baked bread. Wandering around in the maze of stalls, we bargained for hats, sweaters, tapestries and other local handicrafts. Back on the bus, we shared stories of our experiences at the Temple of the Condor and what treasures we had found in the marketplace.
Travelling northwest toward Urubamba, we enjoyed spectacular, sweeping views of the distant, snow-capped apus, with layers of jagged brown mountains, hillsides and patchwork green, yellow-green and brown fields. Small villages dotted the countryside, and sheep, donkeys, cows and horses grazed as the locals worked in the fields. It was nearly Winter Solstice, and the fields lay barren, ready to be tilled for planting. In Urubamba, in a beautiful garden on the sacred Urubamba River, we walked a labyrinth. After this quiet, walking meditation, we sat and watched the river flowing while Jorge talked about the Andean tradition of Muni. He told us that the main purpose of life for the Inca people is to develop higher levels of consciousness of love. According to Andean tradition, you know when you have reached the highest level of consciousness of love when a hummingbird comes to you and tries to drink nectar from your crown. This is because the hummingbird radiates at the frequency of love. I remembered that in other traditions, the chakras are represented as flowers, so I found the hummingbird connection very interesting.
We continued to Ollantaytambo and the Sanctuary of the Wind, an Inca fortress and temple. After visiting the various sacred water elements of the site, we walked beside a gurgling river to an area that is not visited by many people, the Temple of the Condor. You can see the shape and wings of the condor in the natural outline of the mountainside. We stopped at a large stone slab that Jorge said was a portal into other dimensions. Jorge told us he and Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, had worked together at this site many years ago and activated the portal. I wished I could have been a “fly on the wall” witnessing those shamanic ceremonies! We ended our afternoon at the main altar area of the temple, before walking back down to Ollantaytambo and our hotel.
The train ride to Aguas Calientes travels through a dense jungle, alongside the wild Urubamba River, cut deep into mountain valleys. After quickly checking into our hotel, we rode a bus up to the eighth wonder of the world, Machu Picchu. We walked along a path through the rainforest, and when we got close to the top, Jorge had us close our eyes and link hands, an exercise in trust, as we were led several metres further. For a minute we stood silently, soaking in the beautiful and uplifting energy of the site, before opening our eyes. What lay before us was the most breathtaking view of Machu Picchu surrounded by towering mountains. It was truly awe-inspiring.
After a delicious buffet lunch we returned to a few sacred sites for quiet meditation and ceremonies. At one small, cave-like room associated with the Pachamama, we let go of things that were holding us back, or blocking us from realizing our authentic selves, our true nature. We went out to meet Jorge at a small balcony that looked straight out at the three sacred apus, Wayna Picchu to the left, Putu Cusi straight ahead, and Inti Punku to the right. Jorge led each of us in a short ceremony to open our arms and hearts to the apus, and once we were connected, to bring that energy back into our hearts and minds. We were one with the apus, the apus were in us and we could always be a part of that spirit. It was a moving time for all of us. Next we were led to a place where an arrow-shaped stone juts out from the side of the mountain, and we each lay out on it, as if having a bird’s eye view over the apus.
On our second day at Machu Picchu, four of us decided to climb Wayna Picchu, the sister peak of Machu Picchu. It was a beautiful hike, with steep stairs most of the way up, and the view from the top was spectacular, offering a different perspective of the ancient stone buildings and the surrounding valleys and mountains. We spent a good hour taking it all in before descending down the mountain, much quicker than going up! Although we arrived back at the main site at closing time, our adventure was far from over. We were going to meet the rest of the group and then re-enter the site when no other tourists would be there. We were going to have private, night entrance to Machu Picchu, and it would be like no other night any of us had ever experienced. The sky was starting to dim as Jorge and another shaman, Raul from Lake Titicaca, slowly led us along the path to the Temple of the Sun. Underneath it was a small area that once held tombs of the high priests. Here we connected with the Lower World and the Pachamama before moving to the Sun Temple above to connect with the Moon and the stars, the Upper World.
Slowly and quietly, we made our way to the astronomical observatory and sacred temples of the Intihuatana and the Temple of the Three Windows. It was fully dark, and Jorge pointed out the “black constellations” scattered along the length of the Milky Way forming shapes that the Incas recognized as the Llama, the Frog, the Partridge, the Fox and the Snake. It is believed that the Sacred Valley and its sacred river are a double or reflection of the Milky Way or “Celestial River” in earthly space. Those who follow tradition in the Sacred Valley make offerings to the river, which is projected in the sky as a river of stars, to complete the sacred cycle in which the men and gods communed.
Raul laid out his mesa cloth and other ceremonial pieces and prepared for the Wachuma ritual using San Pedro, a cactus that has been used for consciousness expansion by Andean shamans for thousands of years. I decided not to drink the San Pedro, as I had been ill the day before and Jorge said it would make my stomach worse. Following the Wachuma ritual, we held a special ceremony for my dad. Susan and Barbara saw a shooting star as Maureen read a eulogy and excerpts from his 1980 trip journal:
August 1, 1980
As we rode up the mountainside on the on the winding switch-back road, the view got more breathtaking with every curve... But when we got out of the bus and looked over the side, I was overwhelmed…many mysteries surround its origin and purpose, but the city itself is an engineering masterpiece... I went back to the site to start trying to capture this exotic, ancient city on film. I stayed until sunset trying to capture the mood of the ancient spirits that may still dwell here.
The picture that my dad took that day now adorns the wall of my office.
We scattered some of Dad’s ashes over the side of the mountain near the Intihuatana. There was another shooting star as I looked up at the southern cross, which Dad often talked about, and I knew he would be very happy, perhaps still imagining how the ancient Incas built this engineering masterpiece. He was an engineer after all.
The final ceremony that night was about letting go of the ego, usually the last phase of one’s spiritual journey. Each of us lay down on a ceremonial granite slab. The group supported with healing hands and symbolically swept the ego and any blocking energies to the West. Then facing the East with arms extended to the mountain of Machu Picchu, we invoked the apus to bring down a new light body to the pilgrim. Jorge cleansed with Florida water before placing our right hand on our heart and our left hand on our solar plexus. At last, he welcomed us back home with a big hug! The sky started to cloud over and there was a chill in the air as we made our way back down the mountain. Although we left Machu Picchu for the last time on this trip, we felt as though we were taking a part of the apus with us, that they were part of us now, and in some way, we were part of them, forever.
The drive from Cusco to Lake Titicaca was about 9 hours long, but the scenery along the way was spectacular. We travelled south along the sacred Urubamba River, through the Altiplano, or high plains, and crossed a high plateau at La Raya, the highest point on the highway (16,000 ft). I had vague memories of crossing this high pass when I was with my dad many years before, but the roads, if you could call them that, were in much worse shape then!
July 26, 1980
We climbed out of Arequipa on a set of switchbacks that went straight up the mountainside. The road was indeed rough with big cobblestones all over it, boulders strewn across it and occasional half filled-in washouts. I rarely was able to get out of second gear, but we had expected this and took it in our stride.
We climbed to about 14,000 ft before we reached the high mountain plateau area. The scenery looking back towards Arequipa and El Misty was spectacular. Both Helen and I (and the car too) felt the shortness of breath because of the extremely high elevation. This pass and a few others like it in the Andes are the highest mountain passes in the world. The sun shone intensely bright and penetrating, which completely offset the cold mountain air. It was warm shirtsleeve weather, yet there was ice in the ditches along the road.
After we broke over the top and started travelling through the inter-mountain plateau area, the road got better. Every once in a while we ran across herds of Llamas and sheep. All of the local Peruvian Indians that we saw wore traditional, bright coloured wool clothes just like out of a tourist brochure. I stopped to take a few quick pictures along the way, but we had to push on because we needed to reach Puno before nightfall.
We continued south through the port city of Puno, to the quiet village of Chucuito, arriving late in the evening at our hotel overlooking the shores of Lake Titicaca. A roaring fire in the fireplace greeted us, and we were treated to a lovely dinner of trout and kingfish.
The next morning, we took a boat ride onto the tranquil waters of the Mama Cocha to the Uros Floating Islands, made of the native totora reed and named after the Uros people who inhabit them. These floating islands were traditionally used as fishing communities, but tourism now plays a large role in their meagre economy. We bought some lovely handicrafts and richly coloured hand embroidered tapestries and rugs before boarding a large traditional reed boat and paddling out on the lake for quiet meditation and connection with the lake.
In the afternoon we had the most memorable and rewarding experience when about two dozen children, aged five to seven, came to the hotel for the Magic Dream Pillow Project. These were children from a very poor area, almost forgotten by the government. The project was organized by the Softly International Center for Women and Children, a non-profit organization serving children living in severe poverty. The art project was an opportunity to teach children the importance of dreams, to wish for things, to have goals in life, and how visualizing and keeping your dreams near you while you sleep helps them to come true. The children had a wonderful time creating their very own dream pillowcase using materials that we had brought from home. As well as art supplies, we had also brought second hand clothes and toys for the children, and after they finished their dream pillows, they selected clothes and trinkets from the tables. I had tears in my eyes as I watched these children who had so little, walk away with clothes that my children, who are so wealthy in comparison, had worn previously.
That evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner of steamed trout beside a roaring fire, while some of the hotel staff played guitar and harmonica, and we all tried to remember the words to Hey Jude and Hotel California. Jorge told us that about 25 years ago he started having dreams about saying goodbye to friends and going off in search of some kind of important sacred place. In his dreams he was walking through a wonderland of strange, reddish pink natural rock formations. He had this dream many times, and he asked his teachers and local shamans about it. They encouraged him to try to find this place, believing it must indeed exist in the physical reality. While doing his research and travelling around Lake Titicaca, Jorge noticed an outcropping of reddish pink rocks with the same formations as in his dreams. After exploring the area, Jorge found what is now known as the mysterious Aramu Muru’s Doorway or portal, a doorway-shaped niche in a huge stone outcropping, located in a region known as the Valley of the Spirits. According to legend, Aramu Muru, known in Peruvian history as Manco Kapac, the first Inca, hid from the Spanish invaders in the Valley of the Spirits to preserve the sacred Golden Disk of the Sun. Lord Muru knew about this mysterious door, and thanks to his great knowledge, used the Golden Disk of the Sun to open the inter-dimensional portal at the doorway and crossed into another realm, never to be seen or heard from again on the third dimension. Jorge surmised that the doorway he had found amongst the reddish pink rock formations, just as he had seen in his dreams, could be the very doorway that the legends talk about. Since that time it is now referred to as Aramu Muru’s Doorway.
Continuing on our journey, we next visited the mysterious site of Cutimbo, with its circular burial towers or chullpas, where we saw some of the most ancient architecture in all of the Andes. There were carvings on the chullpas of serpents and pumas, guardians of the lower and middle worlds, worshipped by the Inca and pre-Inca inhabitants. Inside one of the towers, Jorge led us in chants and meditation to connect with these ancient spirits. Very few people visit here, as compared to other sacred sites, and the ancient energies here felt very strong, almost untouched.
Before the first rays of sun appeared on the horizon on the most sacred day in the Andean world, the Winter Solstice of June 21st, we set off at 5:30 am to the shores of Lake Titicaca. We arrived to welcome the sun and shared in a special solstice ceremony and meditation. Winter Solstice is the time when the ancient Incas believed the sun returned to bless the earth and her people with another year of life. Maureen and I took a quiet moment to scatter some of my Dad’s ashes into the quiet and serene Mother Lake. I knew he would be happy there...
July 25, 1980
When we eventually reached Puno, long after dark, we were so tired, aching and dirty that any kind of bed at all would be a luxury. Everything in the car was covered with a thick layer of white dust. Helen said I was going gray before my time. It had taken us eight hours to cover 180 miles... We just started wandering through the streets until Helen spotted a hotel sign... We went down for dinner later and to my great delight they had a Peruvian folk group playing... It was so beautiful and such a contrast to the long strenuous journey that I felt overwhelmed.
On our last afternoon at Lake Titicaca we visited the Softly International Center for Women & Children. After helping serve the children lunch, we bought small souvenirs from the mothers. The center helps about 60 local children with a daily hot breakfast and pre-school, while the mothers learn to make handicrafts to sell in the markets. This was the one-year anniversary of the center, and the mayor and council of the village, as well as the owner of the building, were all on hand to celebrate. One of the men had tears in his eyes as he made a speech about how happy they were that the children had a safe place to learn and grow. The children and mothers performed dances for us and even got some of us up dancing!
During our last evening at Lake Titicaca we enjoyed a delicious meal of kingfish beside a warm fire, while Peruvian musicians and traditional dancers performed for us, a lovely way to end a most memorable and transformational tour.
Early in the trip our small group began forming close bonds. We supported each other as we experienced the challenges of our individual journeys. The knowledge and wisdom that Jorge shared during our days together really allowed us to open up, helping us to realize our true nature and authentic selves. He taught us that fear is not real but only an illusion. When we realize that it is only the ego that creates fear, we can be free to let it go. Perhaps the most valuable lesson we learned from him is this: “Anything that does not come from love is a lie.”
Author Bio :
Helen Tomei, President
Sacred Earth Journeys
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