The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Victoria shares her journal below about her physical and spiritual journey on the Inca Trail, with highlights from the 5-day trek from the ascent over Dead Woman’s Pass all the way to the grand entrance of the pre-Columbian 15th century Inca ruins at Machu Picchu – a site to behold!

Un Viaje Espiritual

My Physical and Spiritual Journey on the Inca Trail

My first interest in Machu Picchu was in December 1999.  I was attending a book reading with Judith Bluestone Polich, who was introducing her new released book Return of the children of LIGHT.  Several days later I completed the book, and something hidden within me began to awaken.  I wanted to know more about Shamanism, energies, and how the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica became light beings.

With a yearning for a deeper meaning of life and wanting to search for my own spiritual awakening and healing, an appetite to explore the mysteries of the ancient Incas set in.  Two days later, I called my friend Patricia and got her interest in taking a journey to Peru to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.  Planning began a month later.  First to find a tour group that was reliable and did not exploit the porters or the land.  Mission accomplished.  We sent our money to Andean Treks and then began to wait for July 7, 2000, our departure date.

The following is journal about my travels, experiences at sacred sites and my new found understandings of the traditions and rituals of this amazing region of the world.

July 7, 2000 Friday

Here it began, LAX mid-day, check-in counters, travelers going and coming and me with 12 kilos on my back, packed with only necessities for this trek (Lancôme cleanser, moisturizer…ha, ha!).  The mysteries of the adventure began to unfold.  With the help of my father I was on time for my flight to Houston.  Good bye L.A.  Not an uncommon song for me to sing with all my business travels.  I felt a bit, but only bit, pretentious using my well-earned flight miles to fly first class, but as soon as I found out the seat reclined into a bed, I enjoyed even more the comforts of luxury, knowing that the next few weeks, comfortable was a non-existent concept.

Upon my arrival in Houston, my best friend and travel companion, Patricia, greeted me with a big hug, and then we hurried to enjoy the perks of the Continental’s Executive Club Lounge before our flight.  For 3 more hours we relaxed in comfort, reviewed our itineraries, and watched Patricia pull out files of unread materials from the past 3 years about everything from Feng Shui, Provence, Italian cooking schools, Cuba and how to get the man you want, etc.  We finally had a chance to review our itinerary and what we would really be doing in Peru.  Busy work schedules and distance didn’t allow a chance for us to preview it together.  So now we knew where we were hiking how many days, hours, meters.  We packed a few snacks, finished our drinks and used the last modern toilet available to us before heading to our Gate.

Boarding the plane we shuffled into business class, with our stuffed backpacks and dressed like two homeless girls.  The other executive class passengers were taken back at our attire as we squeezed our full backpacks into the overhead bin.  Our seats reclined into a bed and that’s all we cared about as we took off for Peru!

July 8, 2000 Saturday

6:00 am Delirious and tired we disembarked from the plane in Lima, said to be one of the ugliest cities in the world, with 12 kilos on our backs.  We hustled to Aero Contenete to catch our plane to Cusco.  All went smooth until we had to check our backpacks.

2 hours later we arrived into Cusco, there is where I experienced my first robbery when 6 rolls of film were pinched from my backpack, oh well, at least I had my necessities:  underwear, sunscreen, bug repellent, rain gear, hiking boots.  I relied on my poor Spanish to get us through the airport.  Exiting the baggage area, we saw the Senore holding the sign with our names:  Senorita Victoria and Senore Patricia.  Our driver took us to our 5-star 18th century colonial style hotel – the Hotel Monasterio, a minute from the center of Cusco.  We decided to splurge and indulge ourselves the first night to get a good night’s rest before attempting the rigorous Inca trail.  Hindsight probably should have reserved the luxury for after the trek when we’d really appreciate it.  Checking in we were greeted with coca tea, a so-called cure for altitude sickness.  I drank as much as possible.  Oxygen tanks were throughout the hotel just in case any guests had difficulty breathing at Cusco’s altitude of 12,000 ft.

After a 3 hour rest and a warm shower, we fumbled through Cusco looking for the office where our orientation was held.  Again, using my poor Spanish for asking directions we finally got there by foot on a very warm afternoon.  The imperial city of Cusco at 3,397 m/11,095 ft) translates to “navel of the earth”.  The city is laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty.  The belly of the puma was the main plaza, the river Tullumayo formed the spine, and the hill of Sacsayhuaman is the head.  Cusco was the dwelling place of the families of the Inca nobility (commoners were not allowed into the ceremonial nexus).  The most important temple of the Inca Empire was situated in Cusco, the Coricancha.  The history and myths of the Inca civilization sheds much light on the mysteries of God and Self, within this text I will attempt to weave in the history and the spiritual significance of the Inca civilization.  My own intention of this journey was to gain an understanding and some insight into the teachings of this highly evolved ancient civilization, and integrate these teachings into my daily conscious living.

Our group consisted of 13 people.  Patricia and I being the only Americanas, were happy to interact with others from all over the world – Aussie, Kiwis, French, British, Scottish and everyone spoke English.  The Kiwis were a family of 5 with three kids (ages 8, 13, 17) whom later became good friends.  Thomas Ramos was to be our fearless leader.  After all the instructions were given, we directed ourselves back to the hotel preparing for the afternoon exploration of Cusco and surrounding areas, so we first had to buy our boleto turistico.  A taxi picked us up and drove us to the ancient power place of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy-human or woman), Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay, minutes outside of Cusco.

Sacsayhuaman, is where I met my first Shaman in Peru.  I was standing outside a huge stone circular space, when this Shaman explained to me that in the middle was the power center.  He asked me to stand in the center facing West.  Shaman masters use a 4-path to knowledge or as I knew it:  the medicine wheel.  The circle marked the directions of the four winds.  The Jaguar Path, which I faced, is in the West direction, embracing the way of enlightened leadership.  The shaman asked me to close my eyes and clear all my thoughts, with my arms flared out to the sides and my palms facing upward, he began a short ceremonial ritual.  I felt a warm surge of energy, race through the right side of my body.  I heard him repeat the same word “Apu”, which later I understood to be sacred mountain.  Patricia and some other travelers partook in the same ceremony and we all had different feelings of the energies, but knew it was strongly present.  Sacsayhuaman is a huge ruin and the most impressive in Cusco area.  We were told that the name in the local and ancient Quechua language means “satisfied falcon”.  Though the site seemed huge to us, we were only seeing 30% of the original structure, the Spaniards tore down many of the walls to use the stones to construct their own houses in the area.

The Shaman offered to continue his expanded knowledge of the sites as we headed next to Tambo Machay, I accepted his offer, knowing that it would cost me a few Sols (Peruvian currency).  Tambo Machay is beautifully carved ceremonial stone baths.  Here is where I felt like I was baptized again.  The Shaman instructed us to put our heads under the cold running water that naturally fell through the carved baths.  The cold water touched our top chakra, drawing a sensation to our bodies.  Leaving this ruin with wet heads and little more enlightened we went to Qenko, meaning zigzag.  Mr. Shaman told of the energies and the significance of this place to the Inca nobility.  What struck me more than ever before was how guided the Incas were by a higher Being.  Their structures were built with such precision and exactness so that the sun would luminate at just the right place on the ceremonial site.  I was having flashbacks of the great pyramids and the structures I saw in Egypt.  I was without a doubt that the guidance came from the same source.

The Shaman helped me understand the mystic side of Andean culture.  Each one of the ruins we had visited had specific energies used by the Inca of the past and the Andean priest of today.  Anyi means in Quechua to walk in balance in all three worlds of Andean reality, based on the idea of divine reciprocity.  Like the Christian belief of existing in a state of grace.  Here, I will attempt to explain a few of the Andean beliefs that put clarity into my journey.  Within Andean mysticism, the fundamental energetic principles understood by the Andean priests were that within the world of living energies no positive or negative energies existed.  Energy was either refined or heavy.  This makes up the basic order of Andean Cosmology.

The Andean cosmos is divided into three planes of existence, each having its own distinct energetic qualities.  In understanding all of this I now knew the first plane is the superior world, in Quechua it is called hanaq pacha.  This plane is extremely spiritual and inhabited by the most refined energies, like Jesus, Mother Mary, and Buddha.  The second plane called kay pacha, is the realm of humanity and the world of material consciousness, a mixture of both refined and heavy energies.  The third plane, ukha pacha, is the interior world.  Andean priests say that the interior world or lower world exists within the earth and within each individual.  It is not a hell but rather referred to as a place where spirits learn sacred art of reciprocity –Anyi.  The Shaman told me that he could connect me with the superior world’s refined energy, but I wasn’t sure of his claim and I did not have time to contemplate a response.

The warm weather was turning quickly to cold as the sun set.  It had been a long day and we needed a good night’s rest before our early morning trek.  We headed back to Cusco with our taxi driver and gave the Shaman a ride who told us he would join us on our Inca trek for only $400 US dollars.  His sales pitch included that he’s share Andean rituals along the way, and give us further insight about the Andean customs, etc.  I wasn’t in a position to hire him financially and I could tell Patricia did not like the idea of him sleeping in our tent.  We waved to our Shaman with gratitude and walked towards the Plaza de Armas, the center square in Cusco where all the restaurants and gringos hand out.  Like in every Latin American country that I have travelled to, where there is a center square there is a Catholic Church.  To me, the church is a great reminder of the Spanish conquest, the heartless massacre of the Indian peoples, exploitation, and devastation of an indigenous culture.  Patricia was kind enough to favor my choice for vegetarian food.  The vegetable soup and side quinoa dish were superb.  Of course Patricia couldn’t get enough of the hot sauce, she was in heaven.  Before walking back to the hotel, we stopped at one of the many Internet cafes that landscape the town to send messages to family and friends that we safely arrived, and one dollar later, everyone on our email list knew we were fine, for the moment.  Entering our rooms, we thought we were headed for a peaceful slumber, but instead we were awaken on the hour to the sound of honking car horns and firecrackers.  We had the noisiest room in the hotel for an abundant rate.  We were so irritated that at 3:00 am, we found ourselves laughing at the cessation of firecracker explosions.

July 9, 2000 Sunday

Needless to say, when the friendly operator called us at 5:00 am for our wakeup call we were in no mood to be cheery.  I enjoyed my hot shower knowing that it would be 5 days before warm water and soap would touch my body.  All packed and ready to board our bus 6:00 am, Thomas our guide, instructed us what would unfold in the next few hours.  Thomas and the 13 of us were on board and heading to Km 88, the starting point of our trek.  During this 3 hours bus ride, I thought about the Inca and Andean peoples.  I knew that in the next few days I would be learning so much more of this great Inca civilization.  I was truly interested in knowing what the Andean peoples today knew and practice.  I was particular interested in learning more about the energy fields and how they affect our lives today.  I continually heard of the words Apu and Pahamama.  It was explained that Apu is masculine energies of nature, or deities that inhabit the highest mountain peaks.  Whereas, Pachamama was the Earth, all of her physical creations, the feminine aspect of deity, the great Cosmic Mother, and a living being that is the source of all life.

I define these meanings because they became an important and intrinsically aspect of my journey in Peru.  Driving towards the Andean mountain range, we experienced the most beautiful landscapes.  Never before did I have an affinity towards symbols or religious objects, but now I was starting to understand more clearly the Inca involvement with so many objects and rituals.  For the Incas, sacred objects were considered gateways to refined energies of the superior world.  Before the Spaniards came with all of their Christian icons, the Incas already understood the worship of the icon of Jesus and Mary.  The Incas believed by worshipping these icons they would be able to absorb refined masculine and feminine energies and doing so, would connect them to the energy bubbles (chakras) of these highly spiritual beings.  There is a stone egg that is believed to serve as a heavy-energy eater.  Andean tradition regards maintenance of the energetic economy not only of oneself, but of the environment as well and to receive refined energy first, then releases our heavy energy.  I was getting so into all this new found knowledge but there wasn’t anyone I could ask my questions to.  I was hoping that on my trek I would miraculously bump into a legitimate Shaman who would explain more.

After crossing the Rio Urubamba at Km88 (2,200m), we knew we were at our starting point.  As we disembarked from the bus, we were identified by the local kids as the tourists who would buy their assortment of goods – rainwear, water, candy, walking sticks.  I stayed on the bus, changing my clothes to waterproof wear, while the locals attacked the trekkers.  Big dark clouds hovered over the mountaintop that we would soon be ascending.  Patricia and I stood there looking up these gigantic mountains thinking for the next 5 days we will be a part of them.

The Inca trail is walked by thousands of adventurous trekkers every year, and we were now an added number.  The bus ride ended at Pisacucho trailhead on the Vilcanota Rio.  We paid the $17.00 USD entrance fee, which will increase to $50.00 USD in August, signed our names to the guest registry and begin our adventure and spiritual journey.  The trek was moderate, and the views were literally breath taking until I started to acclimate after 30 minutes into the hike.  Getting started was challenging because of the altitude.  We hiked along the Vilcanota Rio and under the stunning snow-capped mountaintop of Nevado Veronica (19,598 ft/5976m).  We hiked through cactus gardens, corn fields until we got to the Llactapata ruins.  It seemed like our guide was not in the mood to go into details about the site.  We had a whole crew of porters who carried all of our personal belongings, tents, food, and camping gear throughout our journey.  We were in amazement every time they hurried by us on the trail carrying what seemed like a very heavy load to us.  They were superhuman they way they ran up these mountains like lions, always at the campsite way before we would arrive with a delicious meal prepared, and the tents pitched.  It was before sunset that we arrived to our first campsite.  We camped at the side of the valley in Huayllabamba.

During our trek today I came to know the youngest trekker in our group, Charlotte Stuart from New Zealand.  She is 8 years old but gave the impression she wanted to be a very mature 20 year old.  As we ascended and descended the mountain range, she told me her whole life story in detail.  Along the trail, she told me about her favorite haircuts, we sang some of our favorite songs, and her kiwi accent made her speech even more dramatic.  She never complained about being tired or bored with the hours of hiking.  What a trooper.  She was my entertainment for most of the journey.  In the spaces of silence, my mind wondered to the times of the Inca and what might their 8 year olds be talking about among each other.  The hike today was categorized as moderate, and I can’t imagine what “more strenuous” is going to feel like tomorrow.  The second day is known as the most “difficult”.  8:00 pm Charlotte came to tell us that dinner was about to be served.  We had a communal dining tent where we would share our meals together.  The cook did an excellent job at creating meals that taste better than the one we had at the 5-star hotel in Cusco, or maybe our appetites were ready to devour anything.  We were all delighted to have a filling and delicious meal.  By 9:00 pm we were all ready to fall into our cozy sleeping bags.  Patricia and I started our own evening ritual “washing the face”.  I brought all the required objects – Lancôme cleanser, eye cream, moisturizer and face sponges.  The porter brought us a bowl of hot water – luxury.  No baths but clean faces is all we wanted.  The air was beyond cold.  I wore 4 layers of clothing on top, leggings, pants, 2 pairs of socks, scarf, ski hat and gloves to bed every night.  Our first day was completed and now we slept to dream about it and regenerate our bodies for the next day’s ascent up “DEAD WOMAN’S PASS”.

July 10, 2000 Monday

Today was a more difficult hike; we climbed up to 4,200 meters.  We crossed Warmiwanusca pass, the first and the highest.  The first 30 minutes in the morning was the hardest for me.  After sleeping on a very thin thermarest, my back feeling every bump in the earth as I tossed and turned during the night made it difficult to get up and move at 7:00 am.  I learned after the third night that sleeping like a mummy would best for a good night sleep.  After another delicious breakfast this time a bowl of quinoa (a grain that has lots of protein), we were on our way to getting closer to our destination – Machu Picchu, and experiencing more than expected.  By now, I found the mental concentration of this trek very demanding, equal to that required in advanced meditation techniques such as Vispassana and Dzogchen.  It was a perfect practice of being in the moment.  I had to vigilantly watch each step I would take; otherwise…the consequences for lack of concentration under these circumstances would be far greater than chatter of thoughts entering in my mind during a sitting meditation.  At certain points of the trail, any loss of concentration would send me tumbling down the jungle, hundreds of meters to a violent death.  The physical challenge of this day coupled with my intense concentration transformed me into something I never experienced about myself.  I felt me, but more of me.  I was one with nature – pacamama.  What an awesome, euphoric feeling.  I was in my natural state of being.  How long will this feeling last, was my small minds thought?  It didn’t matter; I was going to crest Dead Woman’s Pass (Warmiwanusca) at 4,200 m/13,776 ft.) – the top of the last pass, before we would then dramatically descend to our lunch spot.

I learned long ago, precept upon precept that teaching ran like tickertape through my mind as I got closer and closer to the top.  I made it!  I made it!  And there waiting at the top of what seemed like the world was Patricia, cheering me on as she snapped a photo of me (gasping for oxygen) barely breathing.  As I stood on the crest looking way down, I felt mother earth hug me with her beauty.  Truly, truly amazing!

I didn’t want to talk, all I desired was to lay on my back and be in some form of meditation.  After shedding my backpack and stripping two layers of clothes, I fell forward to touch my toes, to bring my numb body back to a state of NOW.  For twenty minutes with my body in a state of total euphoria, and a shift in vibration, I practice the traditional Dzogchen meditation of stargazing.  I learned in yoga practice from Bryan Kest that when the body is in an exhausted state, our mind is relaxed and thoughts stay still.  I was experiencing this lesson now.  Wow!  Awakening myself from this state, I inhaled as much of the precious oxygen as I could and prepared myself to descend.

Amazing, that when I was ascending the mountain all I could wish for is a descent to come along.  Now, plowing down Dead Women’s pass on thousands of granite steps, my knees buckled into a yoga pose I never experienced, and I wished for an uphill pass.  We are never satisfied where we are.  I needed to live in every moment; the ups and downs were my teachers, bringing me back to NOW.  Our formidable porters had lunch all prepared when we reached the lunch spot.  We indulged in the delight of the tastes of the cuisine.  After eating a big serving of food, I rested on the hillside and fell into a deep sleep for what seemed like eternity, but was only 10 minutes.  It was freezing, still mid-day, and we had a few more hours of hiking before we would find our campsite at the Quechua hamlet of Wayllabamba and Pacaymayu valley.

After settling in, where our tent paralleled a running stream, I took some time to understand more of what I was learning about Andean mysticism.  Shamans here teach their willing students to become aware of the characteristics of energy, to sense lower and higher vibrational qualities.  Using the ancient sites a conscious shaman can help students tune into their higher beings.  One of the most important prerequisites is to first step outside of the little box, which we call reality.  The Incas perceived our world in terms of energy fields.  They saw our world in multiple realities.  An article written for Magical Blends expressed, “the Q’ero peoples have not lost the sensory foundation of knowledge and so they perceive synesthetically – bridging the five senses, so that looking at a mountain they can feel its texture.”  It all lies in the development of perception.  We are all shaped by ourselves.  One day I hope to come to a level where I will be able to discriminate between my reality and perception.  As I trekked it seems so clear, but keeping the clarity and this state of consciousness is what I hope to imprint as my character.

The 2 bottles (mini bottles) of cognac that Patricia and I slurped down after dinner was the prelude to a good night’s sleep.  We were in such deep sleep that snoring porters didn’t even wake us.

July 11, 2000 Tuesday

Morning greeted us at 5:00 am, a bowl of warm water was placed in front of our tent and the voice of the porter asking “Quieres calientes te?” (hot tea?).  The morning was very cold and I needed anything to spark a little warmth even hot tea at 5:00 am.  After breakfast for 1 1/2 hours we ascended up big steep steps until we arrived at the temple ruins.  There, Thomas gave a lesson about the site.  He explained how the Inca Empire lasted barely a century.  Two warring brothers, ruled different regions of the Inca Empire until the conquest of the Spaniards.  I was more impressed by the surrounding beauty then the stories of old.  We reached a spot that had a magnificent view of the Cordillera Vilcabamba ridge, with camera in focus, Patricia snapped away what seemed like 50 shots of this spot.  Leaving this place, we continued our trek encountering the beauty of Mother Nature at every turn.  The trek was rigorous but nothing compared to yesterday.  Today we were seeing beautiful mountaintops covered with blankets of white snow.  When we came to the last highest peak of our trek – Mt. Bilcabamba, I stood in a tree pose, Patricia snap a photo, we laughed, and I felt my spirit empty into the unknown space of consciousness.

The clear trail descended to the ruin of Sayacamarca, an Inca temple facing the east, definitely the most impressive ruin we have seen yet.  A very long steep staircase to the left of the trail led us to the site.  Once reaching this most impressive site, my eyes were experiencing views I’d never seen in my life.  The views were so superb that hours of observation would not leave one bored or eager to leave.  With a few minutes by myself I found a private area of the ruin where I sat in meditation absorbing the energies that one who was conscious could feel with tremendous strength.  Thoughts of how I could transition all of this into my reality slipped passed my moving mind.  I was being taught to explore every aspect of my consciousness and go beyond the limits, physically too.  I was beginning to realize the light within, and raising above the limited self-concept.  My western mind was leaving me and I was entering into a strand of enlightenment, beyond what I have known before.  Is this what consciousness feels like?  I was awaken from this trance by the voice of Thomas, we were now leaving this beautiful site to experience more of the journey.  Following the trail downward using the Inca path that still remained in perfect condition after hundreds of years of use, we crossed the Rio Aobamba (3,600m).  Two hours passed and we had now reached our lunch spot, and the middle of a field of beautiful wild flowers..  The lunch was first rate.  We all piled the fresh homemade guacamole onto our sandwich bread – yuuummm!  Each day and after every meal our group seemed to bond even tighter.  Charlotte was one of the unique energies I encountered so far on my journey.  I love her uninhibited childlike sense of self – she acted like an adult and then morphed back into a child when it was convenient.  I guess we all do this in some sorts of ways.

After lunch, we got back on the trail which took us through some of the most beautiful cloud forests.  Patricia and I were walking at the same pace, exploring and awing at the moss and plant life.  The eco-system was married into this calm jungle.  This extraordinary flora brings cures for so many illnesses and the peoples of this land know the secrets and use it to bring vitality to their lives.  Mother Earth provides and so generously she gives.

The climb to the third pass was gentle, we crossed a dried out lake and went through a tunnel that the Inca constructed.  How did they blow this mountain apart to make this tunnel?  From here we had some great views of the Urubamba Valley.  The tall granite mountains that covered themselves with green foliage beamed into the bluest sky I had ever seen.  A few hours later and thousands of footsteps we reached our campsite.  This spot truly was heaven on earth.  Our camp spot overlooked the Vilconota River far below.  I knew that in the next few hours I could be experiencing one of the most beautiful and deep meditations.

Patricia and I found our tent placed on a ridge that had a vast view of the highest Mt. Veronica.  I went off by myself to find a quiet spot for meditation and sitting in a lotus pose, I listened to Mystic Journey on my portable CD player.  I was in a trance-like state.  My spiritual yearning found its solace in this sacred place.  I grew into a deep meditation, my mind was becoming still and there were few external distractions.  I could feel my breath, attempting to make long inhalations and exhalations.  The simplicity of meditation brings such wonderful gifts like, mental clarity, relaxation, spaciousness and coming back to NOW, an extraordinary place.

In this precious moment I stopped living in fantasies, fears, perceptions and the anticipation of the future.  I could not determine whether the energy I was feeling was from letting GO or the site I was on, it really didn’t matter I was feeling free, my natural state of being.  The cold air was turning een colder so I took shelter in my tent until the call for dinner.  Prior to dinner our group would gather inside the communal tent to exchange feelings about the day and/or get to know each other better.  By now we had become a family, we felt like Bedouins moving from one camp to the next, and each move brought on new experiences for all of us.  Dinner was served and the Chef even prepared flan for dessert.  It tastes better than and we had tasted before.  There was something ritualistic feeling about all of eating together and creating this bond.  Charlotte had prepared a show for us with her sticks that glow in the dark.  It was fun and her creativity was illuminating.  By 8:30 pm we were all ready for a good night’s sleep.  Tonight was one of the coldest evenings, but then again we were even with the snow-capped mountaintop.  At the end of our “washing the face” ritual, and bundling up with all the clothes we had in our backpacks, bodies in horizontal positions we were fast asleep.

July 12, 2000 Wednesday

Patricia and I both looked like we had been in a boxing ring, our eyes were so puffy and we couldn’t figure out why.  It was 5:00 am and we wanted to see the sunrise on this incredible mountain range.  We hurried to the top ridge to experience what seemed like a birth, the sun merging through the crests and above the mountaintop.  We were in such amazement we hardly noticed the freezing cold air as we watched the sunrise.

Today was the day we would see our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.  We were excited for the climax.  Before departing from this spot we had a small ceremony of gratitude for our porters.  Most of the porters were going back to Cusco while we continued to Machu Picchu.  We gave our porters and Chef generous tips and then with the beautiful Veronica mountain range in the background, we had a photo session.  Our porters dressed in their traditional color costumes and stood smiling as we snapped away.  We learned a few Quechua words to say thank you – Yusulpayki, and good bye – Huq p’unchaukama.

As we were descending the stone trail, I twisted my ankle.  I was hobbling along for most of the day, but there was little pain just some discomfort.  The hiking boots that I invested a small fortune in were a big disappointment.  They were uncomfortable and hot.  The weather was warming up, probably because we were at a much lower altitude.  I peeled off some layers of clothing until all I was wearing were shorts and a singlet.  I was learning not only Spanish and Quechua languages on this trip but some Kiwi words like “singlet” and “toggle”, which meant t-shirt and swim suit.  Sweet little Charlotte was my kiwi teacher.  We stopped for lunch in a place that meant forever young – “Huinay uayna” (Winay Wayna).  Here is where we consciously awakened to civilization by the sound of a train.  Orchids bloom here year round.  From Huinay Huayna, the trail contoured around a cliff-hanging cloud forest that was very narrow in certain spots.  Two hours later, we reached Intipunku – the SUN GATE (2,380 m/7,806 ft).  After climbing what seemed like a million stairs to heaven, we reached the first view of Machu Picchu.  Standing up after being on my hands and knees, I walked through the SUN GATE and there it was the most spectacular outlook of Machu Picchu.  I felt my soul jump out of my being.  I heard Charlotte say in the background, “I don’t see what the big deal is”.  I was laughing and at the same time filled with new type of joy.  We did it!  We did it!  We made it to Machu Picchu.  Today was just a teaser; tomorrow we would explore the ruins and all its treasures.  We could see the layered terraces form the eastern wall of the citadel.  They were made of finely hewn blocks of stone without mortar, each granite block fit perfectly with the next, and this was Inca custom.  A stone canal captured the free-flowing spring that cascaded down the terraced hillside into the rushing Urubamba River 2,000 feet below.  What we were seeing could not be seen anywhere else in the vast world.  We walked further towards the site, where we saw beautiful lamas grazing on the naked grass.  Their eyes are so enchanting similar to the camels I saw in Jordan.  The descent from the Sun Gate takes almost an hour, when we heard that we opted for the bus ride down the switchback mountain.  Tired, but so enthralled by the beauty around us, we sat in the bus still with gazes of wonder on our faces.  We were greeted by a 6 year old boy who waved goodbye with a big yell of ADIOOOOOS.   He was dressed in his colorful local costume.  Thinking that was the last we would see of him, to our surprise he greeted us at each turn down the next switch back.  I was thinking doesn’t this kid get tired?  He ran down the mountain faster than the bus could accelerate.  At the end of the bus ride, I understood that his greeting of ADIOOOOS was for money.  He boarded the bus before we departed and with his cap in his hand went to each of us for a few soles.  His father was the bus driver, a family business.  What an exhausting job to have for such a young kid.  The entertainment was over and we had arrived to the small village below Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes.

This is a small village that caters to the tourists, inexpensive hotels, restaurants, and lot and lots of souvenir shops and locals trying to pawn off their goods.  Walking through the village our group became distracted by all the trinkets for sale, we bought water and a few snacks and headed towards the hot springs.  Our bodies were crying out for relief and we knew the Hot Springs would be the cure.  We soaked our aching bodies in the natural thermal springs.  There were real toilets even though they were quite disgusting.  After dipping my body into the hot water, I felt this sense of “ahhhhh”.  We chatted about our spiritual experiences on the journey, and how much more we learned since meeting the shaman back in Cusco.  Sitting next to me in the pool was a Slovenian girl, I told her what a great experience I had in her country and how I enjoyed the beautiful Lake Bled.  She shared with me some of her spiritual experiences and her participation in a sweat lodge in Slovenia.  I was so excited to know that people from all over the world are waking up, becoming conscious and becoming one with Pacamama – Mother Nature.  We exchanged emails as she departed for the next part of her journey.  My favorite part of travelling is meeting the other travelers and exchanging travel stories, all my passions for travel light up.  How can I be in one place for the rest of my life?  There is so much to discover!

I was dared to go into the freezing cold pool of water by my dear friend Patricia, so I did and it was like a shock wave.  Exiting the pool I slipped right on to my back end, which left two huge bruises on each cheek.  Ouch!  It was time to pack up and head to our next destination, our campsite.  Making the long journey on foot down a very dark road for an hour, we came upon our campsite.  It would be our last night in our tents and with our group.  Our campsite paralleled the raging Urubamba Rio.  It was much warmer compared to our freezing nights on the mountain range.  After our last communal dinner, I went to my tent to do a lot of thinking and to contemplate what I have been feeling for the past several days.  Through the flap door of the tent, I could witness the sky darkening and my life beginning to take on a change, I realized sleeping in a tent with little belongings gave me a great sense of freedom and space.  Tomorrow was to be the highlight of our journey – the exploration of Machu Picchu.  Our exhausted bodies covered by our sleeping bags we drifted off into dreamland by 9:00 pm.

July 13, 2000 Thursday

Early this morning, we entered the sanctuary through a mazelike entrance.  The feeling evoked a fairy-tale image, filled with mystery.  What an amazing structure to see.  Entering, the first view is a big grassy plaza and on either side lays areas of ruins.  We gathered as a group on the grass as our guide, started to explain the history and purpose.  About 15 minutes into his historical lecture, I lost interest and left to explore the ruins with Patricia and two others from our group.  This is when I hoped an authentic Shaman would appear into the picture and shed some light on the mystery of the peoples who populated this location.  Neither historians nor the indigenous peoples know much about this site.  It was non-existent until 1911 when an explorer by the name of Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it during his search for the lost city of Vilcabamba.  We headed straight up the stairs to a well-known vantage point that gave us a complete view of the site.  My intention was to use this space to invoke myself into a great meditation, and capture the essence of the so-called energies.  A short hike up we came to the most intriguing place of Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun.  The stonework that landscaped this place is said to be the finest in the world.  From the platform I stood upon I could see a beautiful view of the snowcapped cordillera Vilcabamba and the raging Rio Urubamba from below.  Behind me was the Temple of the Three Windows, which viewed the impressive plaza below.  I felt something special at the highest point of the ruin, and knew this is where I wanted to spend the next few hours meditating and contemplating.  I found the spot.  Patricia went with a few others to climb up to the highest point at Machu Pichhu – Huayna Picchu.  From a distance it looked like it would take too much energy to climb and I wanted to use my time and energy to be quiet and still.  We planned to meet at the main entrance in 2 hours.  Within those two hours, both of us had difference experiences, bringing us both closer to enlightenment.  The place I took refuge overlooked the central plaza facing Huayna Picchu.  The mountains around me were awake stretching upward to touch the blue, blue sky.  I could hear nature’s inner rhythms.  My body soaked in the ray of sunshine as I began to fall into a deeper meditation.  I was conscious of not falling asleep on the small ledge that looked hundreds of feet below.  I was no longer feeling like a prisoner to my lower centers (inner conflicts, attachments, attitudes, perceptions), the energies assisted in a vibrational shift in my physical body resulting in an evolutionary change of tuning into my higher self.  This was one of the most spiritual experiences I had ever encountered.  How would I transcend all this to my reality, or was this becoming my new reality?  Before my journey, I heard often that it was not uncommon for visitors to experience transcendent feelings, visions, insights and paranormal occurrences – good reason for so many of us to seek out these places.  It all sounds so “out there”, but really all of these feelings, experiences came very subtly, it seemed normal.  For a person who lives inside a box and is trapped by their compartmentalized ideas would say these occurrences are “out there”.

Through my pre-trip reading, I learned that the sacred citadel Machu Picchu was a special school and residence for the most sacred Virgins of the Sun, the mamacona, who were in training to serve Pacamama.  Machu Picchu was the most elite of the mamacona schools.  They were trained in the proper use of receptive vehicles, inner senses that lead to their development of intuition, deeper knowing and sacred arts.  All were taught how to weave, incorporated into the weavings were sacred symbols.  Prayers for the preparation of food-corn cakes, cholla, the ceremonial drink made of fermented corn, were stayed and learned.  Further, they learned the sacred number systems and could read the sky maps.  The most selected were trained in the art of speaking without words, the art of listening to the cosmic mother.  Being in certain spots of the citadel I could feel strong feminine energies as I tuned in.  Patricia felt these energies too.  When Machu Picchu was uncovered researchers found many female skeletons entombed at the site, evidence that women mostly inhabited this sacred place.

Time alone on one of the most sacred spots in the world, I began to unveil my life and break it down so I could better understand myself.  I knew this exercise, this process would not be completed in a few hours but I choose to take the first step on the Inca Trail.  What I was discovering was exactly what Judith Bluestone brought to light for me, that “the reality we routinely perceive and interact in is only a dream, a culturally formed and communicated worldview that we all agree upon.”  I now had to figure out how I would live not only in this dimension of linear time, but tap into other realities.  I now knew I was capable of being multi-dimensional, we all are, it is just discovering how and by what process we connect.

My time was ending here and I graciously thanked what was around me and then began to descend to the entrance gate.

I met with some from the group; we took some drinks and waited for the others to return from the climb up Hunay Picchu.  When the group was all together, we piled into the bus taking us back to Aguas Calientes to catch the train back to Cusco.  The landscape through the sacred valley invaded the soul’s delight.  What beauty, what diversity surrounded us.

Finally after several hours, we arrived back to Cusco.  It was hard to believe it was only 5 days ago that we set off on our trek from here.  What has transpired in these last 5 days, most never experience in a lifetime.   I am truly grateful for my experience.

During our journey back to Cusco, the group decided to meet for dinner at one of the local restaurants.  All we could think about was a hot shower and clean clothes, and headed to our hotel room to rest.  After a 5 minute nap, we began to pack and repack our things for tomorrow’s journey to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.

VICTORIA CHARLES is a freelance writer, world explorer, and is a Global Adventuress.