We had finally arrived at La Playa, our campsite for the second night of our 5-day trek to Machu Picchu. The campsite was a small clearing upon stone-terraced hillside notched by the Incans on the outskirts of a small village in the Andean highlands. It existed of two outhouses with running water and two indoor showers, one ran cold water and free to use, the other had hot water and cost ten soles, the equivalent of about $3 USD. More importantly there was a snack bar which sold us our first beer on the trail.
Cusquena is Peruvian pale lager which tasted like a delicious nectar from the Gods after our fourteen mile day. When we got to Agues Calientes, the base town of Machu Picchu, two days later we learned that Cusquenas are sold in grande, medio y pequeno (large, medium & small). This campsite was wise to only supply us with the medio, about two pints in a bottle, a perfect size after surviving the past two days in which we traversed a total of 23 miles up and over an arid, rocky 15,000-foot mountain pass and down into the 9,000-foot cloud forest laced with vibrant orchids, wild passionfruit, hummingbirds the size of sparrows and a bevy of mosquitoes nipping at our calves.
Eight of us filed into the campsite, we dropped our packs, trekking poles and anything else that had to do with moving one more inch. We each purchased a Cusquena along with a round for our gallant porters who, while carrying our duffles and campgear, passed our pansy-asses long before and were already cooking our dinner for the night. We gathered around the picnic table reviewing the day, our blisters, mosquito bites, and everything else you chat about when you’ve spent the day trekking through the mountains of the Andes.
Our guide and porters, who were all Quechua, the indigenous tribe existing long before the arrival of the Incas, finally came out, wiping their hands, to receive their beer after we were halfway finished with ours. They each knelt to the earth and poured a splash of beer onto the earth, all saying the same line, “Para ti, Pachamama”, “For you Mother Earth”.
We sat, as the lily-white foreign tourists, feeling like heathens who had just desecrated a sacred site. The sacred site was Mother Earth. The same earth who had been supporting our footsteps every second of the day. The earth who had literally brought us to our knees (and our butts) as we gained over 3,000 feet in elevation the first day. The earth who had cradled us in our sleeping bags through the night. The earth who filled our eyes with magical colors and unbelievable vistas of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and crimson macaw parrots flying through the bluest sky.
While the Quechua people were indeed conquered by the Incas, the Incas brought forth a more advanced civilization teaching them about farming, mathematics, astronomy and engineering. However, the Quechua were the ones who brought the worship of the elements, most importantly, Pachamama to the Incas. They believe, just as many other cultures, there are spirits in the mountains or Apus, spirits in the water, spirits in the rocks, in any natural element exists a spirit.
There is a word in the Quechuan language called “ayni” (pronounced eye-nee). It means reciprocity. This reciprocity was prevalent in the markets and their work ethic before and after the Incas until the Spanish arrived to upset the entire equilibrium. However, there is still at least one way “ayni” exists today and it’s in what we offer up to Pachamama.
When the porters knelt down and splashed their beer to the earth, they were making an offering, a “despacho”. Despacho is an offering to nature, to Pachamama. In the Quechua tradition, shamans utilize many spiritual practices, but one of the most prevalent is not meditation, but loving, respecting and being connected with nature. They feel that our love of nature is the pathway to a more elevated way of being. And when we make a despacho, an offering, we gain the right to receive.
So what is it that you want? Is it wealth, power, health, balance, love? Return to your roots, connect with the source of Pachamama, make an offering, a despacho, then wait.
The natural world, Pachamama is and always will be reality. She is what provided the steel and concrete for dreams to come to fruition. She is what stands long before and long after the steel and concrete crumble. And she continues to be the bridge for us to ground so we may be more intentional. She cleanses us so we may be more open to energies beyond what we immediately sense. She helps us soften so we may finally receive.
One of my last days in Peru, my friend and I ventured out to one of the markets. As we left our hotel a Quechaun woman approached us. She draped a serpentine Chakana, a six-point Inca Cross which represents the word “chakay” or “to bridge”, around our necks. She said it was a gift and then asked us to visit her stall at the market. Once we arrived at the busy market, we never saw her. Later that day, I sat beneath the 1,000 year-old Lucma tree situated on the hotel property. At first I was going to leave the Chakana as an offering to this majestic tree. But the spirit of this tree said no. It told me to take it back with me and bridge the southern hemisphere with the northern hemisphere – this healing tool, of the Chakana, of the bridge, of “ayni” with my own healing tools.
Returning home I hiked in my hills and created a Chakana out of small pebbles and rocks on the ground which overlooks Mt. Tamalpais or “Apu Tamalpais”. I placed the small green serpentine Chakana in the center of this cross then placed small flowers at the base. I sat and connected with Pachamama, thanking her for supporting my journey, asking her to accept this new despacho, so I may continue to feel her love always, so I may have clarity on what it truly important and so I may continue always to gain the right to receive.