Arriving to the former capital of the Inca Empire
Cusco is nestled in the Andes mountain range located at 3500m and is known as Peru’s Inca Imperial city. There is a lot to see, the architecture and its monuments are beautiful, rich in culture, archeology and history. The city has vibrant colorful markets, a large range of diverse restaurants and innovative food scene, and many things to discover. The best way to experience Cusco is by foot.
As we arrived in Cusco, I took the recommended two days to acclimate to the altitude. Coming out of breath quicker is common. Unfortunately, in the middle of the first night I experienced high altitude symptoms like headache, shortness of breath with a sensation of not receiving enough breath and a tension around my chest. It really felt constricting and very uncomfortable, however altitude sickness (or Acute Mountain Sickness) is not uncommon. I decided to sit-up and meditate centering myself focusing on breathing and called for a ‘Té de Coca’ (Coca tea). With the combination of the two measures, I could finally sleep again. Drinking lots of water and Coca tea is the best one can do in high altitude, henceforth this is what I did a lot more.
Following the call into the Mystical Wisdom tradition of the Q’eros
The highlight of our journey in the Andes would be the visit of one of the very remote places in the Peruvian Andes, an indigenous community of the Q’ero nation which is located at an altitude of between 4200m and 4800m. Since I began walking and practicing the path of Andean Mystical tradition and cosmovision, I have profound reverence and appreciation for the Q’ero Nature Wisdom teachings, spiritual and cultural heritage. It was my desire to go and be in this untouched very special place.
The journey into this remote region of one of the areas in the Andes took approximately 6 hours. Just a few years ago this place could only be reached by foot or by horse in an approximately 2 days long journey.
The drive of our group of four including my son Enmanuel, our awesome driver-guide Darwin and joyful host Don Francisco started along the populated valley of Cusco moving southeast, then turning towards a little town called Paucartambo, a hub for either going downwards into the Amazon jungle or further up the Andes mountain range. Here we made a small stop to buy some errands for our time in the high and remote Andes.
From here we had to turn into a non-paved road leading us up into the far away area we were heading to.
The landscape at first was very diversified, beautiful, and quite green with the typical vegetation. The higher we came, the more sparse and spacious the landscape became.
The views were stunning the more we moved into the higher mountains.
A river was gushing on one side in the depth, as the scenic and breathtaking views of peaks and ranges laid in the distance.
And soon we were accompanied by the wonderful alpacas. They were everywhere.
In awe of so much beauty and wide space along several mountain ranges, at some point we arrived at the highest Andean mountain pass on our route at approximate 4600m.
From here it went alternating downwards and upwards again with steep wide and colorful terrain. At times I felt like I am on one of the planets as seen in the Star Wars movies.
We finally arrived to the native village of Don Francisco, a respected Q’ero paqo. Paqos are Andean spiritual priests. At approximately 4200m, we would be at ‘home’ for the next 3 days. The village exists of a few humble houses made of clay and natural stone with roofs of hard grass except some new roof installations, and is home to approximately 30 families. When we arrived, we were surrounded by countless free walking Alpacas!
Though we had beautiful sunny days that day, I could only imagine how inhospitable it must be in the extreme temperatures in this altitude over 4000m with fog, rain, and snow in other seasons. I was happy that we were able to put up our tents inside Don Francisco’s house, the only ‘bigger’ house.
We made a delicious dinner in the most simple way and prepared for an early night. Because of the cold, I wrapped myself up like a Michellin (Wo)man doll. And yes, it was still very cold.
The next day awaited us with beautiful sunshine and a blue sky, which invited me for my morning meditation to be outside taking an inverted bucket as a sitting opportunity.
I sensed a deep connection with Mother Earth, and with the beauty of being embraced by the warm sun rays, it was such an exquisite way to start the day.
Reaching new heights and participation in sacred ceremony
Today’s plan was to hike up to the foot of Apu Huamanlipa, sacred mountain of the Q’eros, guardian and and protector for the Q’ero nation, and to perform a Despacho, a sacred offering of gratitude and giving back to Pachamama and the Apus (Mother Earth and sacred mountain spirits), and coming into Ayni, which is the Quechua word for “Sacred Reciprocity”.
I was out-of-shape, and I had a lot of respect for the difficulty of the hikes in Q’ero. Knowing this, led me to mentally prepare during my planning time with a strong intention to be guided, a strong will for the hike in this altitude, ‘to make it’, and a genuine desire for being ‘up there deep in the mountain’ participating in the Despacho offering.
So we began the ascent, and very soon I noticed, how my heart pumped. The hardest part was the breathing walking steeply upwards. The jaw-dropping sight along the way made up for all these at times painful efforts.
I only had imagined the natural beauty, yet standing in midst of this breathtaking nature and sheer solitude of the landscape was spectacular and hard to grasp.
My companions, who were all in good shape, with Don Francisco seemingly ‘flying’ up the mountain. Living here and being used to this height, I could see that it was simply normal for him. I decided to go on my own pace with what felt right for my body, as I was much slower than them. Everyone in our small group was supportive, they regularly waited for me no matter how long it took. Always in front of us the majestic Apu Huamanlipa framed by a deep blue sky.
On our way we passed a huge high plain that was soft to walk. After passing this otherworldly terrain I really started struggling to say at least. My breaths and steps got heavier and heavier and I had to look for a way to better handle this situation. At last, I found my own strategy to deal with the effort, and aside meditating my way upwards and asking a higher power for help, I was taking slow 3 to 4 steps, and pause taking 3-4 slow breaths breathing in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth. That worked for a while, until the next exhaustion came over me, which caused me make pauses of 30 – 60 seconds. I didn’t dare to stop to really rest. My mind was really occupied in how do I make it while my body was screaming. I decided to make this hike upwards in this height a long slow meditation and try to keep going in and with the flow.
I kept the same slow hiking pace not matter if the terrain was steep or flat. After arriving on one of the many hills, thinking of everyone hill hopefully being the last one, I only found out there was another one, and another one, it seemed to never end!
I burst 3 times into tears by the time I arrived to the last hill of countless hills before the plateau. This was out of exhaustion and fighting my instincts trying to tell me “I can’t do this anymore”.
When I arrived to the ceremonial place in about 4600m, everyone clapped and welcomed me in joy!
I guess all in all, they waited for me over an hour along the way up. I made it, and I was so incredibly delighted to be there on the foot of the sacred mountain.
This hike was the hardest effort for me, and overcoming the challenge as much psychological as physical, was a rewarding journey of aspiration, perseverance and success.
For me it was a huge achievement, and I felt a immense sense of accomplishment through this huge personal stretch, and a knowing that I was guided all along.
I cannot express how proud I felt of myself for not giving up as I was pushed to my limits. And, I also experienced how a burning genuine desire can be the fuel to bring dreams into being.
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”Joseph Campbell
Don Francisco led a heartfelt Ayni Despacho ceremony. These Despacho offerings are about giving thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Apus and nature spirits. They are a reminder of our sacred bond with Nature and an act of love. Living in Ayni, to be in harmony and sacred reciprocity with Pachamama and Nature, and the natural living energy of the universe, is central to the earth-based Andean mystical path.
This precious offering looked like a beautiful mandala with meticulously placed coca leaves with flower petals and diverse items into a marvelous form that was filled with our intentions, prayers, wishes, gratitude, and blessings, including for our planet and humanity. The Despacho was accompanied by our mesas, our personal altars used for connection, ceremonies and healing.
Temptation and more challenges
After descending much faster, yet arriving later than we thought, we came home quite exhausted and we made a quick light meal.
We mused over if we should do the originally planned second hike up to a sacred mountain lagoon on the foot of a neighbor glacier mountain for another type of offering in the afternoon. At first, we laughed about our thinking, and yet, shortly after we found ourselves on the way to our second adventure! On that same day!
The hike started at a higher place and had a completely different surface covered with millions of stones and boulders. There we stood and looked upwards, oh wow I thought, took a very deep breath, tuned my mind, and up it went.
Again, I was the last one, and my little group always patiently waiting for me until I caught up. However, Don Francisco was way ahead again flying up the mountain.
And here again, I was faced with the same challenge as earlier the day, however I noticed, something had changed. I felt stronger and mentally more at ease even though my body was exhausted. The terrain here required even more concentration because of the tiny, small, medium and big boulders.
I was amazed about myself as many hills later, I finally made it again! The view to the glacier and the lagoon was breathtaking. Here we did another special invocation and blessing ceremony. And I was also so glad to sit on the ground on a little cloth.
Because of the advanced time of the day, it was getting dark fast, we needed to make a decent quickly.
Being the weakest of our group in hiking, Don Francisco took me firmly by his hand, and with his guidance and help, I now almost ‘slid’ downhill in this rocky terrain stepping between the loose stones and the firmer ones.
In a highly concentrated state of awareness, I was always carefully watching the surface and every single step. It was truly a very remarkable experience in the dusk in the Andes.
We quickly lost sight of my son and Darwin, our guide. They simply took the other side downwards.
However, Don Francisco and I arrived first where we took off. We waited for the two, and waited, and nothing. Don Francisco decided to go up again where they were supposed to come down.
I noticed how my mind wanted to go down the route of worry and fear. However, I could remain calm at first, which then alternated between trusting that all will be good, and becoming nervous and fearing that something happened.
First Darwin appeared, then Don Francisco, and finally Enmanuel appeared almost running down from the mountain covered in darkness. He fell into a natural hidden pit and luckily nothing happened aside that his clothes were wet and he was covered in mud up to the waist, and scare.
Finally rejoined, we could return home in the dark.This nervous-racking adventure of loosing each other in the mountain, its potential danger and leaving us a bit scared, was the talk of the night. It was truly a very remarkable adventuresome experience in the dusk in these imposing part of the Andes.
We climbed two mountain ranges on this day, two times between 4600 and almost 4800m. I do not know how I did the second hike, yet I did it!
These conscious walks and explorations in majestic nature were arduous and at the same time beautiful and awesome, and they were such a bonding experience like no other to connect deeply with nature, Pachamama and the living energy world.
This special day certainly is one of my top two of most memorable and intense adventures I am fortunate to have had experienced. At the same time was filled with so much connection, joy, beauty, challenge, adrenaline, and deep gratitude.
Part of the Q’ero community still lives in in extreme poverty under harsh, simplest and poorest conditions, mostly in one-room houses made of natural stone and clay with roofs made of hard grass. Some of the improvements they received last years are toilets and solar panels for shower water, among other.
There is a lot to do to improve the living conditions, in particular of those of the children and mothers in the region. The adoption of health care measures is only one the improvements for them. On our first trip we brought coloring books, pencils and felt-tip pens, and gummy bear for the children in this village.
After having been in Q’ero, I witnessed the importance of improving the quality of life and preserving this unique indigenous and cultural heritage. This visit touched my heart, and a seed has been sown that I will explore how I could support here.
On the way back to Cusco we passed by schools of some of the little villages. Our friend Darwin helped to find out the situation of children in the various communities so that our friend Rocio and friends could organise a charitable initiative for the end of the year.
Exploring Incan Mythology and visiting social projects
Aside our 3 days up in the far away Andes, we spent time exploring several archaeological and sacred powerful places. We also visited social and environmental initiatives.
We went to the Sacred Valley of the Incas with its striking landscapes and very peaceful places along the valley. At several spots we passed by, I took the opportunity for meditation and connection with the land.
In one of the archaeological sites, we did another Despacho offering for Pachamama.
In most of the places, we had to hike, and in one of them we had to climb up past a series of terraces, like the ones found at many other important Inca archaeological sites.
In the realm in Inca cosmology these sacred and spiritual sites are endowed with significance and energy. I can witness to this because I was receptive to receiving the strong living energy experience in one of these locations at a carved entryway into the rock after hiking uphill through stone terraces.
One of the social projects we visited was Casa Munay that my friend Rocio helps to manage. Here underage girls are cared for, many of whom were themselves victims of sexual violence when they were still children.
I have been supporting this initiative with donations, which are used for programs to strengthen their skills, so that they fully can exercise their rights, empower them, value themselves, dare to dream.
We also passed by went to see the Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary, a privately owned rescue of animals that have been injured, have been used for cruel entertainment purposes or come from the illicit traffic of Wildlife. Rehabilitation centers such as this sanctuary are important to fighting species endangerment. The most impressive moments for me were the ones close to the Andean Condor.
Here in the sanctuary, they are held in a huge spacious cage where they have space to spread their tremendous wings and fly.
In an earlier trip to Peru four years ago, I was fortunate to see them soaring in one of their natural habitats in the Colca Canyon leaving me in awe. Condors are powerful spirit animals.
Now in the sanctuary, as they flew so closley over me, that I could hear the flap of their wings, which gave me an even deeper connection with them.
Finally, we visited Tiaparo ACP, a private conservation area close to Ollantaytambo that Rocio also supports and drives. Tiaparo is dedicated to conservation, protection and restoration, especially those that are in danger of extinction. Other pillars of work are improvement of the the quality of life of the inhabitants of the area, research and ecotourism.
“In Andean communities of Peru, one of the principles that define the way of life is Ayni (reciprocity). Ayni in its broader definition is be the exchange of energy between humans, nature and the universe. We work for the whole, for the community. We work being aware that all humans are brothers and sisters. Our Pachamama (Mother Earth) grows in love and doesn’t get tired of loving, of illuminating, and she doesn’t get tired of giving.”, my fiend Rocío states.
After such impactful, rich, profound and revealing ten days full of magic and mysticism, I left with a knowing that I will come back, support, and do work here.
Back to Lima
What followed this unforgetabbe time in the Andes is a stay in Lima for a week, digesting the trip, spending time with family members and friends, and preparing for the next journey into the Amazon.
Come and join me in the continuing exploration adventure in the jungle.
Continue reading the Series: Embarking on a Journey of Inner and Outer Exploration
Next post blog #3: ‘Return to the past and entering into other realities’ (3 of 5)
Review the last post blog #1: ‘Setting the sails for the path of discovery‘ (1 of 5)
Written by Claudia van’t Hullenaar, Founder Sustained Impact
Photo Credit: All photos by Claudia van’t Hullenaar if not separately mentioned. Hero image by Shutterstock.
Acknowledgement and Gratitude
Sincere thanks and appreciation for Karen Aud and Scott Wurtzbacher for your support and valuable feedback on this article. And thank you dear reader for taking the time to read this blog.