Inclement weather prevailed. Mist drifting into the small valley out of nowhere lending invisibility to what was just a few feet beyond, then dissipating equally unannounced. Splashes of rain turning steady through the night, chill creeping into the bones. Snow in the high mountains. Rays of sunshine breaking through. We soaked up the warmth when we could.
This was the backdrop for four days in the Hatun Q’ero village of Ccochamocco in the Cusco Region of Peru. People in my group kept asking, “Is it always like this?” No. The last time it was mostly sunny with a brief snow shower. We played outside in light jackets with the children and freely roamed the land.
This time we were clothed in as many layers as we could stuff under our heavy coats. Mufflers. Hats. Gloves. Meanwhile, nothing altered much for Q’ero waikis (term for brother, sister or friend). The children still wore sandals with bare feet as did the adults. Layers of sweaters, yes. Heavy coats, no. Bare legs on the girls and women. Their homes: tiny one-roomed huts of local stone with thatched roofs, dirt floors, most having no hearth inside with appropriate ventilation. These things have changed little over the centuries in this high Andean village at nearly 15,000’.
More fortunate, we were housed and fed in the large room of the new community hall that sported a wooden floor. No heat but solid walls and roof. The waikis brought plastic, alpaca hides and blankets from their own homes for us to place under our sleeping bags, barriers from the cold seeping in through the ground.
That was the background. The foreground was this…
The men busily cooking in the entrance room designated as the kitchen producing three remarkably tasty meals a day from simple ingredients. Their constant laughter punctuated the air.
A communal despacho ceremony where we all placed prayers for family, friends, global consciousness…our own path… the bundle later taken and burned outside—somehow in the pouring rain—by my compadre Modesto, the father of my godson. But not before, by their request, we visitors formed a tight circle which the waikis entered singing, touching our hearts and hands, wiping down our bodies to release any last vestiges of heavy energy that may have remained. I can think of no words to describe the love in which these actions were given. The transmission remains imprinted in my soul.
The children…of all ages. Bright. Curious. Well-behaved. Raised to be happy and free. It shows. There were always at least a handful among us. Sidling up to one or another of us. Reaching out a hand to be held. Lots of laughter during face-painting or hair-braiding time.
What to say about the land? It’s not in the background. The very terrain, dotted with alpaca and sheep, dramatic, sweeping: Its vibration permeates everything. I know I’ve brought it home, reinforced once again.
Every moment there was filled with magic against the backdrop of hard living—at the level of survival—unlike anything any of us visitors have experienced in our own lives. This was the true initiation presented on this pilgrimage that began in Bolivia…preparing us for its culmination in Ccochamocco, where the highest concentration of paq’os—Andean mystics—reside. Where, in their tradition, an alto mesayoq is chosen by the lightning itself to work with cosmic energies. Where a pampa mesayoq undertakes many years of sacrifice and apprenticeship to learn the ways to honor the Pachamama (Mother Earth). Where the community lives in ayni, sacred reciprocity.
The morning after we returned from Ccochamocco to Cusco I awoke with intense feelings and recognition that I shared with the group as we closed our circle:
I’m feeling much gratitude this morning. After a hot shower and having slept in a warm bed with a good mattress…instead of the hard floor on top of an alpaca hide and a blanket to keep the cold at bay. Q’ero waikis have such fortitude to live in extremely difficult, unpredictable conditions—subsistence—and yet theirs is also a life interlaced with laughter and sheer joy. It’s also evident to me that their connection to the Pachamama, Apus (sacred mountains) and community is their source. Our culture has much to learn. After yet another reminder of their ongoing gratitude, I can’t help but be humbled again.
And I can’t help but think our initiation, the opportunity always orchestrated by the Universe to be accepted or put aside by each individual, is in what we choose to focus on and how we integrate what we’ve been presented.
Tomorrow I will have been home a week. I’ve only ventured outside my home once to get a few groceries. I placed all other life on hold as I can do little but stare at the distant mountains and landscape outside my own home. Integration has its own way with everyone. This is mine. Tomorrow I begin re-entering my daily life, lunch with a friend and a meeting in town…and see what else the Universe has in store.
With many thanks to the gracious, courageous people who joined me in this pilgrimage, making it possible. I continue to be honored by your trust.