4 12 2012

The Shamans of Peru have done their best to keep the ancient traditions of the Andean region alive. Sadly, most of the knowledge has been forgotten. In the modern world, the son´s of shamans are not interested in learning ancient knowledge, lured by the western world of money and materialism. One man in Cusco who still knows something of the past is the retired historian Abraham Valencia Espinoza whom I interviewed several weeks ago.

Once the interview was over, Senor Valencia indicated ‘one moment,’ then stood and announced he wanted to show me something. He left the room and returned smiling like a child. With him he carried a box wrapped in a patch blanket with four coloured squares. He told us: “In the past people with powers to predict the future were known as Alto Misayoq. A person struck by lightning was deemed to receive special powers. Out of the lightning come two stones. The stones are the High Priests amulets and have magnetic power. Through these stones the Alto Misayoq speaks with the Gods.”

In the past true shamans would climb the hills in a thunderstorm and attempt to attract the lightning. The shaman´s that were struck were considered to have the greatest powers and were revered as demi-gods. They were known as Alto Misayoq. Dr. Valencia told us the last true Alto Misayoq died when he was a young. All of Cusco lined the streets to watch his funeral procession and pay their respects.

Dr. Valencia proceeded to show us a demonstration using a blanket originally associated with the Alto Misayoq, known as a Tiklla (pronounced Tikia). He laid the blanket on the table and told me each coloured square represented four regions. White represented Chinchay Suyo. In that square you put the oil of a Llama. In the grey square you give corn. This is the region of Anti Suyo. In the brown square, Konti Suyo, you leave the foetus of a Llama. And in the black square, Kalla Suyo, there you put a starfish.

The centre of the cloth represents Cusco and there you place a shell filled with water. Then you leave a set of three coca leaves around the shell. Dr. Valencia pulls out a box filled with obscure paraphernalia. This is when things started to get complicated. He began taking things out of the box and placing them inside a cotton tea towel.

“This is a symbol of fertility,” he said taking a toy snake from the box. Then he pulls out an elongated gold Puma, a male figurine sporting an erection and the kidney stone of a Llama.

Shamanic traditions

Traditionally the Power of Pachamama is performed on the 1st of January and 1st August, but in today’s world it is performed all the time. Though this is an example of how traditional wisdom is being ignored by practicing Shamans for commercial gain, the festival is still respected on the original dates and is a major event in Peru.

I recalled a conversation I had had earlier that day with a little Peruvian man called Angel, the manager of Ethnikas. He told me that the most important part of their service involved leaving a gift for Pachamama (Mother Earth). The ceremony teaches participants the importance of giving to Pachamama in order to receive from the Universe. The ceremony is part of the Ethnika experience when you book a session of ayahuasca. From what Senor Valencia had told me they certainly sounded more genuine than some of the other agencies I had spoken with.

Dr. Valencia proceeded with the demonstration and explained that the gifts to Pachamama are folded in paper and either burnt or buried in the ground. The ceremony is often referred to as a despatcho and is supposed to create the life energy to make your wishes and desires come true.

When it was time to leave, Dr. Valencia took my hand firmly in the two of his and shook it warmly. “Thank you,” he said in English. “Thank you.” His gratitude was sincere and I got the impression it wasn’t for the $100 I’d had charged me for an hour of his time, but for exposing the history and traditions of indigenous Andes peoples to the West. He wasn’t the first to express his thanks and he wouldn’t be the last. Peruvians have an untold story to tell and they want the world to hear.

 





Sunset in Huachoco, Peru

6 09 2012

Huachoco is a quite beach resort near Trujillo in the North of Peru. If you visiting Chan Chan, it´s a scenic alternative to concrete central Trujillo, which, I must say is pretty ugly. There´s not much to do in Huachoco other than surf and eat fish whilst you watch the sunset!





Spitual Healing in Pisac, Peru

4 09 2012

An interview with Spiritual Healer, Diane Dunn

Paz y Luz Spiritual Healing Centre

My journey through the Andean region of Bolivia and Peru had brought me into Contact with Diane Dunn who runs a pleasant healing centre called Paz y Luz in Pisac. The easiest way to get there is to take a collectivo from Calle Paputi in Cusco. There are several operators leaving from the same street and shouldn´t cost you anymore than 4 soles.

As described in an earlier post, the Four Elements Workshop, I found myself at Paz y Luz purely by chance. And now I was with the women I had come to see, Diane Dunn, spiritual healer and author of the book, Cusco: A Gateway to Inner Wisdom.

Diane had founded Paz y Luz several years ago, but her story begins in 1998. She had travelled to the Peruvian Amazon on a jungle excursion. She hadn´t realised it at the time, but the trip involved ayahuasca ceremonies. At first she wasn´t sure she wanted to take the medicine, but after meditating on the question she came to the conclusion that she wasn´t brought here by accident and decided to go through with it. The experience changed her life.

“My experience with ayahuasca turned out to be very profound,” Diane told me. “In my head I heard a voices tell me that if I chose to I would meet a man that would completely change my life.”

As she describes in her book, Diane expected the man would be a love interest that would sweep her off her feet. But it didn´t turn out that way. The man turned out to be a Q´ero ayahuascero  that trained her in the ancient traditions of Andean spiritual healing. After nine years as an apprentice she is now fully qualified though Diane doesn´t consider herself a Shaman.

“The word Shaman is a loaded label that needs to be unpacked a little,” she said. “I certainly consider myself a healer and a teacher in the Andean spiritual tradition.”

Meditations of Andean Cultures

Diane specialises in guided meditations like the one she took us through on the nearby hill during the four elements workshop. She can instruct guests in the Moon iki rites and also conducts Andean energy healing whereby the patient lies on the floor and by using stones centred in key areas of the body, Diane works with the energies of the person.

“The Moon Iki rites are very powerful, but are very easy for people to use in an immediate way.”

There are many types of meditation. Eastern methodology like Buddhism and Tao Chi involve emptying the brain. This is not always easy to do – especially in city´s where there are so many distractions and noise around you. The idea in all types of meditation though is all about the breathing.

“The kind of meditation I do is to bring you in touch with your inner child, your spirit guide or your inner self, “ Diane said. “I think meditation in whatever form is a really important thing for people to tune in to what is going on inside themselves and to tune in to their inner wisdom.”

According to the gurus from every discipline of meditation or spiritual class, it is inner wisdom you need in order to find a more fulfilling and satisfactory life.

“Different people have different ways of tuning in which is why I invite people to experiment with different ways to see what works best for them. There’s no right way, or wrong way. There’s only practice or experience in that practice. “

Diane works with the four elements because they help us connect with nature and the creative force that governs the Universe.

“We were not created as human beings,” she told me, “We were created as part of a whole interconnected grid, as part of a life force. That´s what we are connected to.”

Sometimes we feel so isolated and lost in a vast world we don´t understand that we get sucked into trying to impress others and following what everybody else is doing. In essence, we forget to be ourselves.

“When you tune into the elements,” Diane said, “you begin to learn the truth, that we are actually a part of something incredibly magnificent. And when you tune into that you feel you can ride the waves instead of getting sucked under and drowning.”

And how do you plug in? “Practice.”





Ancient Travel Photos: Machu Picchu

30 08 2012

 

The ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu needs no introduction…and you nearly didn´t get one – but then I remembered I need to for SEO!





Day Tripping in Pisac: An Experience with San Pedro

28 08 2012

Peeling Pedro in Pisac

The San Pedro Cactus

There are questions about our ancient ancestors and the ability of shamans to transcend to other dimensions that have been gnawing at me for years now. And where did they get the knowledge and ideas to build such monumental structures? How were they able to build pyramids with such a degree of accuracy?  I can only come to one conclusion: The ancient shamans were on drugs!

Of course, I am not the first researcher to reach this conclusion. As a matter fact the idea is almost a foregone conclusion, but was it the experiences they had whilst indulging in hallucogens that allowed them to envisage the knowledge to build such great structures and acquire the knowledge to do so. Shamans say some drugs speak to them and tell them everything. Some have reported being given the answers to complex mathematical equations such as string theory. Could the plants of nature really help humans be so powerful and knowledgeable?

The hallucogens shamans use to day are mostly for healing. Ayahuasca and San Pedro are hallucogenics, not unlike LSD or crystal Meth; though they are not party drugs. They possess healing properties and are considered “medicines” throughout South America. Though they are hallucogens, they are perfectly legal in South America and used by shamans for the purpose of spiritual healing. With the right shamanic guidance, an experience with San Pedro or ayahuasca will teach you many things about yourself.

By definition shamans are medicine men, spiritual doctors if you will. In western terms they’re known as psychologists. For years Shamanic healing has been regarded as primitive techniques by Western scientists, yet the medicine is far more effective than the poisoned drugs dished out by western GP´s and psychologists, have a far quicker response rate and are subsequently far less expensive than western treatments.

Ancient Shamanic Wisdom

The reason for this is that in reality the only person that can cure your demons, depressions and insecurities is you. Your entire being is psychological. Shaman´s know this. The ancients knew this. But knowing and believing are two different things. If you want it to, San Pedro will reaffirm your existence in the universe and cure any wounds opened up in the past.

As we pass through life our experiences instil a programme in our psyche, a way of thinking. Your personal experience will determine the outcome of your beliefs. Science shows that our first seven years of life go a long way into shaping how we behave as adults. But the fact of the matter is we continue to programmed by our experiences every day, good or bad, for the rest of our lives. The key to understanding yourself therefore is to learn your programmes and reverse any negative ones.

Whilst I was in Peru I wanted to experience either Ayahuasca or San Pedro for two reasons; for personal means, but also for research for the book – and subsequently this blog: Journeys to Ancient Worlds. It was purely by chance that I met Julian Jurak on a boat crossing Lake Titicaca, and after a moment of enlightenment one day in Puno, found myself at Paz y Luz in Pisac. It was here that I would have my first experience with San Pedro.

Pisac

Pisac is a sedate little village at the very beginning of the Sacred Valley, an hour´s collectivo drive from Cusco. Surrounded by raking mountains on all sides it’s a pleasure to just kick back and take in the picturesque scenery. Paz y Luz is a five minute ride in a Tuk Tuk, or moto-taxi as they are called in Peru. Peaceful and comfortable there is a good energy about the place. I felt safe and prepared for a spiritual journey in search of a soul.

San Pedro is regarded as a sacred plant among the ancient cultures of the Andean region and can be found in Chavin stone carvings and ceramics, some dating as far back as 15,000 BCE. It is extracted from the cactus plant and contains mescaline together with 30 other alkaloids. It is generally prepared by boiling strips of the cactus until it forms a powder. During the ceremony it is mixed with water and gulped down in one foul swoop. The taste is none too pleasant.

After drinking the medicine I laid on the yoga mat and blankets and waited for the medicine to kick-in. I wasn´t sure what to expect and was a little apprehensive. It rested heavily on my stomach and I felt nauseous, partly because I was forbidden to have breakfast.

It takes between 10 and 20 minutes for the medicine to take effect. At first you may feel lethargic and restless. It’s not unusual to purge. This is the plant clearing out any unwanted waste in your body. Subsequently it’s best practice not to eat meat, fish or anything spicy for two or three days before the ceremony. Likewise you must abstain from alcohol and sex, including masturbation. Self-discipline will reward you with a better experience.

The ceremony with Julian was performed in a circular temple, a bandstand-like structure with a straw roof known as a Moloka. Once the drug began to take effect, the red tiles on the floor morphed and swayed, the temple rocked gently like a giant hammock. Pachamama (Mother Earth) was seducing me with her rhythmic movement and I felt relaxed.

The Majestic Calm of Pisac

In Pisac the mountains are in full view from all directions. They came alive and appeared like a busy city at work from a bird’s eye view, like watching a line of ants from a distance. Majestic faces formed in the clouds. Now I understood why the Inca were so in tune with nature and believed the mountains had spirits that talked to them.

The Moloka

I laid on the yoga mat and wrapped blankets around me in awe of the surreal surroundings. The nausea had dissipated, but when I looked down at my legs my body appeared to me like a midget. My legs were like thin little stumps. I felt myself shrinking. Julian told me, “Sometimes you have to feel small before you can feel big.” It’s an integral part of personal growth.

Before a Shaman conducts a “medicinal ceremony,” he will ask you what you want to achieve from the session. This can be anything, physical and mental. If you have trouble with your joints a Shaman will fix them. I sometimes lack confidence in myself and suffer with anxiety. I wanted to address that. I was also intrigued in meeting with the creator I had heard so much about – especially during my time at Paz y Luz.

“Why do you lack confidence in yourself?” Julian asked.

Even before my experience with San Pedro I knew the answer to this stemmed from my childhood. I´m a right-brain thinker and often had different ideas to other people, but didn´t know how to express my ideas because I didn´t have the facts, yet normal views of people around me didn´t always make sense. I was picked on for this and often dismissed. It was often the case when I was growing up that I felt isolated.

Things didn´t improve when I was an adult and started work in an office. Somebody once told me they thought I was weird because “you write books and shit.” It was saddening to realise how narrow minded some people can be. Yet I need to accept that this is how the world is. If you don´t follow the herd, you become a black sheep on the fringes of society and find it difficult to be accepted. This is how I feel.

“Did you feel rejected as a child?” Julian asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Did anybody tell you that you were destined for failure?”

“Not in so many words.” But that is how I was made to feel.

“I am a failure is a common program,” Julian said. “Let´s replace that with I have complete confidence in my own ability in everything I do.”

He took my hand between his and went into a trance. Looking towards the heavens his eyeballs flickered behind his half-closed lids. I felt a surge of energy pulse through his hands into mine. It surged up my arm with a force I had never experienced from anybody. It was like a bolt of electricity flowing through my veins and with so much power my arm went numb.

“How does that feel?” Julian asked.

“Okay,” I said.

“Meditate on that program for a while. There will be more work to do later.”

San Pedro Visions

I meditated and felt a lightness wash over me. The whirring in my head softened as though the pressure had leaked out through my ears. After meditating I went for a walk in the garden. My legs were so light it felt as though I was walking in blancmange. The flowers glowed with such vivid colours my surroundings appeared like a Beatles video.

I was sharing my San Pedro experience with Doris, an Austrian girl who was working at Paz y Luz. She had worked with San Pedro before, but felt as though she needed another session. She told me she had issues from her childhood, mainly rejection and ill-treatment from her older brothers who used to bully her.

I watched Julian performing the same re-programming with her as he had on me. It was a profound moment. In the temple I could suddenly see lines that crossed like a matrix. Everything seemed to form in geometric patterns. A dome of light emanated from Julian and Doris and Doris´ face morphed rapidly into different characters from old to young, anguished and afraid. Then suddenly, peace. She looked beautiful. Had I just see a moment of creation?

Later Julian came over to work with me again. “Do you trust yourself?” he asked.

“Not always.”

“Why do you think that?”

“I have this fear that I´m not doing things right. Sometimes it stops me from writing.”

“Do you think that´s because you will be rejected by others?”

“Possibly. I don´t really know, rejections are part of my work and that doesn´t worry me. My problem is that I worry I won´t find the right words.”

“You expect too much from yourself.” Julian told me. “Let´s work with that. I´m going to change the program ´I have no confidence in myself,´ to ´I trust myself completely in everything I do.´ He pumped the program through my arm. That was trust and confidence in myself dealt with.  After that it was trust in others and trust in the universe.

Six years ago I gave up my job and sold my house to pursue a writing career. In effect, I lost all my financial security to chase after what might have just been a pipe dream. Initially I even moved to Amsterdam in search of inspiration, to live a little. England was too dull for me. But the massive changes to my life deepened my anxiety. In Amsterdam I went to a counsellor to try and improve my condition and improve my confidence. The results were fleeting.

Spiritual Healing in Pisac

The effects of San Pedro last for around eight hours. Some ceremonies only last four or five hours. Julian likes to make his potion strong so his clients get more from the session. As the light was fading he made a fire. The reason was so he could perform a ´pestacho´ a ceremony whereby you offer gifts to Pachamama and burn away your fears and frustrations.

I wanted my anxiety to burn away. At the time it didn´t feel as though it was working. Doris took my hand in hers and as we watched the sunset over the mountains the soothing feeling returned. Lights flashed in the sky like a disco. “That´s for us ” Doris said. “We´re part of nature.”

That night I went to bed feeling a little weird. I had a lot to think about and didn´t feel as though the experience with San Pedro had helped as much as I had hoped. I felt melancholic and tired. Yet the next day I felt great and have done ever since. No anxiety clouds in the head, no worries about what to write when I face a blank page. When I feel low or anxious, I meditate with the mantra, “I have complete faith in myself, in others, and in the Universe,” and feel the positive effects instantly. There is no doubt in my mind that my experience with San Pedro in Peru has reprogrammed my way of thinking – something western science could not give me.

Whether our ancient ancestors used hallocugens for greater purposes is open for debate. My personal experience certainly wasn´t as profound as some of the reports I read, but then I am still on a journey to discover (I hope) what the human mind can really be capable of – whether in a sober state or with stimulation. What I can categorically say from my experience with San Pedro it helped me see the world in a different light and maybe stripped a way a layer of the veil that conceals the truth. I hope it is possible for humankind to travel to other dimensions and learn more about ourselves and the universe, but until I have that experience I will never know the truth – but after my experience with San Pedro in Peru, I feel I have taken a step closer to becoming one with the source.





Ancient Shaman Healing in Peru

24 08 2012

The Man Who Conquered Cancer: An Interview with Ray H Crist

During the four elements workshop at Paz y Luz in Pisac, I had the fortune to meet Ray H Crist. He is a practicing Shaman, taught by the Qéro Indians of Peru, and the founder of the spiritual healing group, Jaguar Path. Out of interest I ask him what lead him on to the path of Andean Shamanism. Ray has a fascinating story to tell, one of survival against the odds, alternative healing and the power of the mind.

Ray´s story begins in 2002 when he was diagnosed with cancer. Not long before that he had received the wonderful news that his then wife was pregnant. That news should have been the clincher to change his life-style, but the diagnoses of cancer overshadowed it.

His life-threatening news came about purely by chance. He had gone to hospital in terrible pain and was told he was passing stones through his kidneys. But the ultra-sound registered more than just kidney stones. It was infested with a tumour.

“The doctor told me I should go into surgery the next day. I was with a friend at the time and asked the doctor if we could have a moment. When he left I got dressed and left. We just walked out. Nobody even saw us. I didn’t even take the surgeons business card.”

Words of Wisdom from the Oracle of Delphi

The diagnosis ripped his world apart. At the time he was living in Greece so decided to visit the famous Oracle of Delphi.

“The answers she gives always has two meanings so she’s never wrong,” Ray tells me. “What she told me was he that travels gets healed. He who stays puts gets healed and dies.”

Ray´s understanding of the message was if he stayed in Greece in the life that he knew he would die – but he would die with regrets. That was his biggest fear of death.

“We all know that,” he says, “because within us all is an innate sense if wisdom. Wise men are no different than any of us. We are all wise men. Wisdom is innate and it’s just a matter of tapping into it.

It was a classic case of Plato´s theory of innate ideas. We all have the answers within us, we just haven’t realised them yet. My own belief was that we are all capable of being wise providing we choose the path to find wisdom.

When Ray was 16 he had read Carlos Castaneda´s teachings of Don Juan. The book had such a profound effect on him he travelled to Mexico to seek out the Shaman. He was fascinated by Don Juan´s ability to transcend to other realms and wanted to experience the power of that world for himself.

“But I didn’t. I was a successful photographer working for Vogue, but that life wasn’t really full. It was merely surface. It had no depth. I had cars, motorcycles, models. I was cruising different countries of the world on yachts. But I was living in the mundane, an illusion.”

Ray doesn´t exactly see the entire world as fake and phoney, but from his readings all those years ago he knew there was a lot more to life. He knew there was a real side.

“Were you looking for something more internal?” I asked. “A belief system that was more fulfilling.”

Ray pauses for a long time to think.

“That’s a good question. Belief systems don’t fulfil you. I had a belief systems but I wasn’t connected to life itself. And there was this other thing that I remembered from these books. It said that when Death knocks on your door, change your address.”

After Ray had reflected on his fate and the words of the Oracle, he came to the conclusion this was definitely not his time. There was no reason for him to die. That´s when he realised he had to disappear.

“I knew what was going to happen,” he says, “was that that ego, the self with all those energy lines, habits, addictions, ways of being, belief systems; everything in that person was  convicted to die. I had a few months to live. It was on the horizon and I thought, this is it. So I left. I decided that if there are men and women out there who are healers and if there is anything like magic or if there is something like enlightened people that could help me understand the spirit and find a connection then I would just go and find it. So I sold everything and disappeared.”

Most of his possessions he gave away. He put his house up for sale and closed down his business. Inside a few days everything was gone. He told just two people what was happening. He didn’t want to make this thing a reality.

Spiritual Healing in Thailand

His decision to leave Greece took him to monasteries in the north of Thailand where he stayed for over a year taking herbs from the mountains, he learned how to do self acupuncture. In that time he faced his demons.

“It was so difficult to accept my shortcomings. I just kept on finding them. In the moment of living waiting to die I could not find the space to heal myself. Even though I was a very normal person. I wasn’t a bad person, just an average guy. I hadn’t done anything that was out of any moral standing. I just had this guilt. We all collect them from since we were kids. The only reason this happens is because we’re afraid that we’re already guilty so we can never fully express ourselves because we feel we are going to be exposed. So we all skip along playing the game.”

After another year of taking herbal remedies, Ray went for check-up at the hospital. Nothing had changed. The cancer had not got any worse; it had stayed dormant which meant he was doing something right. Essentially it was a struggle for purification, an exercise to understand how to forgive himself.

“I needed to know there was more to life,” Ray tells me. “If I could find a higher place and evolve I would have no reason to feel that I wasn´t enough. I had to come to terms with myself otherwise I would lose everybody I knew, including by that time my born son. He would have grown up without ever knowing me.”

“Is that what compelled you to turn to alternative healing instead of western medicine?”

“Yeah, because one way or another I was going to die.”

But even the healers in Thailand could only do so much for his condition. He was advised to have the tumour taken out. ´

“You can change small things, but big things make matters harder. It likes maths. It’s not just magic, there is a mechanism involved in trying to make something smaller. When you get the idea you can heal, it makes things much easier, but if you let it grow it becomes harder and will eventually pull you down.”

Ray was blessed; at least that what he believes. The people he met were key to his recovery. From the outset, every person he met had answers that helped him out. His conviction that this was not the end was affirmed.

“It proved I was right not to take the results from the hospital. That would have been accepting reality. Then I met this wonderful person, whose father was a doctor in Washington. He referred me to a study in the National Health. They found it interesting that after two years I was still alive. They put me on a six month program continuing what I had been doing. Then I went into surgery.”

Before the tumour had been removed Ray had taken up Yoga where he met a wonderful community of people. He learned about mantras and eventually became certified as a yoga teacher.

“By this time I was already in a better place. I had been and met a wonderful community of people in the yoga world that supported me. When I left that centre there were 20 people who prayed for me and during the surgery I could sense they were all there.”

Each day he emerged himself in learning instead of worrying. It was important to keep busy and not worry – that is a disease in itself. It was a tremendous time of growth.

The path of the Shaman

In Carlos Castaneda’s book, Don Juan Matus said the difference between a Shaman and a normal person is the Shaman knows he will die. Normal people who don’t think they will die think they have hundreds of years ahead of themselves so don’t do anything, they just sit in front of the television and do nothing. But we can´t just be. If there was another moment that could pass by without learning something there would never be a mystery. It’s not enough about finding impressions, it’s about finding the mystery behind the mystery. When you get comfortable you stop thinking and you think you’ve answered the question; but you never find the answer because there´s always another question – the mystery behind the mystery. It’s an impossibility. For Ray the mystery was about awakening. If you are present in everything you do, if you do something with all your heart, then life is fulfilling.





The Four Elements Workshop, Pisac, Peru

20 08 2012

A Date with Destiny in Peru at Paz y Luz

Paz y Luz, Pisac

The first time I believed in fate was when I was travelling around Peru. When I was younger I used to think it was clichéd nonsense. These days I keep an open mind about most things especially spirituality and how we connect with the energy of the Universe. During my journeys through the ancient worlds of South America I´m learning about the mysterious and powerful universal force that has a profound effect on us far greater than many people understand or appreciate. It comes in many forms and can be backed both philosophically and scientifically. On this occasion for me, I found myself at Paz y Luz spiritual healing centre in Pisac, Peru, and the experience changed my life!

I call it fate because Pisac was not on my original to go list. The first link in the chain of events that led me to Pisac began in my first week on the road. Literally in fact! I was on a bus from Santa Cruz to Sampaiata and met Eve, an English women living in Bolivia. Eve told me I should go to Isla Del Sol. I had contemplated visiting the Lake Titicaca Island when I was planning my trip back in London, but after researching it did not feel compelled to go. Eve convinced me otherwise.

On the boat from Copacabana to Isla del Sol I met Julian, a practicing Shaman from England. He told me about his journey learning the ways of Andean Shamanism and that if I was interested in taking ayahuasca or San Pedro I could find him at Paz y Luz in Pisac. I didn´t think any more of it until about three days later. That´s when fate dealt me another hand.

I was reading a book called Cusco: The gateway to Inner Wisdom by Diane Dunn that I had found in ´100 books of solitude´, a library swap shop in Oliver Travels pub in La Paz. In the book Diane talks about her experience with ayahuasca and how it had helped her find her calling to become a spiritual healer. I was reading the epilogue in a restaurant in Puno and learned she had set up a spiritual healing centre in Pisac. She had called the B&B Paz y Luz, the same place Julian had told me about on the boat. As I was finishing the book the lights went out in the restaurant and the page was illuminated by candlelight. In fact, there was a power shortage right throughout the city. Outside, in the pitch darkness a torrential downpour bounced violently on the pavement. Was this a sign? I wasn´t sure, but took the decision to email Diane. She replied and invited me to attend a workshop she was holding at Paz y Luz at the end of the month. I had no hesitation in accepting her offer.

Spiritual Healing Theta Meditation

Paz y Luz is located on the fringes of Pisac village, a bumpy but exhilarating moto-taxi ride along the side of the raging Urubamba River. It´s peaceful, quiet and, as it turned out inspirational. That night I met an Australian girl, Debbie. She was also a guest and was scheduled for the Four Elements workshop the next day. As we sipped red wine, she introduced me to Theta Meditation. The process involves describing a journey through space and instantly helps you develop a mental picture.

“Sit with you feet flat to the floor and close your eyes,” Debbie told me. “Breathe deeply and relax. Imagine you are connected to the planet and feel the energy of Pachamama rising from the earth into your feet, through your legs, up into your body and straight to your heart. Feel the love and the warmth of Pachamama as she comforts you.”

As she spoke, I felt a light tingling sensation seeping through my legs. It was like the vibrations I had got from the rock at Amaru Muru.

“Now imagine you are in a bubble that rockets into space, schoom, and as you fly into the darkness stars appear. You fly past them and see a planet ahead. You go zooming past. Then another planet flies past and another. Ahead of you is a rainbow. Aim for the pink strand and fly through it.”

I could see the rainbow more vividly than a spectrum arc in the sky, and headed for the pink.

“When you get to the other side, you come to a long corridor with a door at the far end. Walk along the corridor. When you get to the door open it…and you will meet with your creator.”

I opened the door and saw a vivid image of a cross with equilateral sides. Each spoke looked like the head of a sword with the blades melted into each other in the middle. I have tried to think where I have seen this image before, but can´t pinpoint this exact image. However, to give you an idea it looks similar to the Christian cross on your right, but with each spoke measuring equal lengths like the cross below. Both photographs have been taken at Christian churches. I later learned that what I saw was the Rosicrucian cross – one of the most powerful Freemasonic groups in existence. Fascinating that a group practicing esoteric wisdom has the same symbols as the Christian Church isn´t it!

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn´t meet an actual person, man, woman or hermaphrodite – as I had heard other people talk about. Debbie told me she can only see a shadow, but is at a point where she is able to communicate with her creator. But what did all this mean?

Debbie is not a typical spiritual person who sometimes appear a little odd and aloof when they are talking about fairies and pixies. She is a normal young lady like the average person you come into contact every day. In fact, she told me that until her experience at Paz y Luz she has always been sceptical about the new age movement. She was still coming to terms with how much the techniques she had learnt at Paz y Luz had empowered her mind so profoundly. And now she isn´t an average person, she has a special ability – one she had developed in just 6 days!

Andean Healing and the Jaguar Path

The next morning I joined a group of Americans who were taking the workshop. They were known as the Jaguar Path and practice the fundamentals of Andean Shamanism and Eastern yoga. They were a wonderful group of people; open, friendly and very welcoming. I found it remarkable that they had come together as a group yet lived in different parts of the United States – a small Shamanic group assembled together in a huge continent. Many of them were meeting for the first time on this trip to Peru, but despite that, it was clear they had a kindred spirit. After all they were all in search of the same thing. To find peace with themselves.

After the usual introductions, Diane began the workshop with a dedication to the seven corners of the planet. The four winds of north, south, east and west. Facing the mountains that surrounded us in each direction I could already sense the presence of an immense energy coursing through the bare skin of my hands. Then we paid tribute to Pachamama (mother earth), Hanak Pacha (the heavens) and the innerself.

Diane explained the three worlds I had already heard so often whilst researching Andean traditions:

Uku Pacha – the underworld, our unconscious represented by the serpent, the symbol of wisdom.
Kay Pacha – the material world, our conscious represented by the Puma and the Llama.
Hanak Pacha – the super conscious, the dimension of spirits, represented by the Condor and the hummingbird.
She then went on to explain the three important principles that connected us with the three worlds:
Yatsui – work or service
Yankai – wisdom
Munchi – love

Then she introduced us to the teachings of the first of the four elements.

The Earth Element

The earth element is the most dense, the most forgiving of the elements. It represents Pachamama who, like any mother, listens to your troubles and takes the burden for you. Pachamama takes your troubles as a gift and receives it with gratitude. Think of it has giving your shit to the earth so that she can fertilise it and make something grow.

“The earth cleanses and transforms,” Diane told us. “Working with the elements is to clean out your trash. Speak to Pachamama and tell her your troubles. Sometimes when you clear out your wardrobe, spare room, or attic you find something you’d forgotten you had. This can also happen when airing your grievances to the earth.”

The sacred for the element of earth is “to want.” We were asked to find a place on our own, put our ears to the ground and release our “shit” into the ground. Then we were to listen to what Pachamama had to tell us.

It was raining outside so I stayed in the conservatory where the workshop was being held. In the middle of the floor was the sacred Andean symbol of the Chakana. Even before everybody had scattered I knew that was where I wanted to lie. I put down a blanket to cushion my chest on the hard floor and poured my heart out to Pachamama. In truth I didn’t have much to say, but asked for help in finding peace with the system that is dumbing society down and turning us into mindless cattle. This is what Angelo Herrera Delgado had told me I needed to do back at Etnika´s in Cusco.

When I put my ear to the ground to listen to what Pachamama had to tell me, I heard dogs barking frantically in the distance. There were about five of them going crazy. Then all of sudden things went silent and I heard birds singing. Was this a sign to demonstrate I could learn to manage my anger and frustration until I found peace? Given that Mama Yupanqui told me the birds only sing sad songs these days I’m not convinced a message was sent to me at all. Though if the birds do know the world is going to end, then maybe the people can create a better world other than the materialistic one that has been designed by the white supremacists of Europe and America. If only I knew what the birds were saying.
When we regrouped Diane told us about the next element, water.

The Element of Water

Water is the most subtle element. Its purpose is to wash away the dirt and leave us with a balanced mind. “Because water is adaptable it can teach us also to ride with the waves of life. When water is confronted with something blocking its path, it always finds a way around it.” As Diane spoke she demonstrated how water changes its flow by tilting a bottle.

Urubamba River

We live on a water planet and water is governed by the moon. As we know it determines the tides of the shore. Our bodies are made of more than 70% of water and it has been scientifically proven that a full moon can affect behaviour patterns. This was another example how we are directly connected to the cosmos.

“Sometimes we get filthy with the grime of life and the water washes it away,” Diane told us. “When you are working with water, feel it power, it´s energy. Put your hands or your feet in the river, listen to the sounds. Does the water have a message? Meditate and take a journey through the water.” If you are knew to meditation, water is a very powerful element to help you visualise images in your mind´s eyes and go on a journey.

The scared word for water is to be silent and down by the river is as peaceful a setting as you an imagine. The sun was bearing down on my face as I meditated and I went on a journey through different bodies of water, starting with the river I flowed into a lake, then an ocean until I found myself flying through the cosmos. It was the most profound meditation exercise I had ever experienced. I didn´t want it to end. Eventually I came to a room plated with gold, but couldn´t get any further. When I opened my eyes everyone had disappeared. I rejoined the group and learned about air.

The Element of Air

“Every second of every day we are intimately connected to air,” Diane said. “Air purifies and enlightens. Breathing is the best purifier for the body and helps us to expand our consciousness” The sacred word is to know.

Air is the element of interconnection, just like a radio and the internet, TV, mobiles and satellites are only possible through airwaves. Diane told us we are on the cusp of a cosmic shift which will give us increased conscious awareness. This will also be possible through the airwaves.

For the exercise we had to climb a small hill onto a tiny plateau which offered stunning views of Pisac. On the way up I put my hand on the spike of a cactus and almost lost my footing down the rocky hill path. I´d already had a scare with heights on my adventure up Pinkuylluna in Ollantaytambo at this near miss did nothing for my ambivalence to heights.

At the top of the hill we found a comfortable place to lie and were asked to close our eyes. Diane talked us through the meditation in a similar way Debbie had during the Theta healing exercise the previous evening. Diane told us to imagine we were flying, soaring high over the mountains. The aim was to imagine we had taken the shape of a bird, an eagle or the condor, both of which are Andean archetypes.

After a few moments I felt as though I was flying, but the image of a goose appeared in my mind´s eye. I don´t want to be a goose, I thought and tried to change the image. I could myself as a chicken flapping frantically in the air and not getting anywhere. I´m not a chicken, I thought to myself. Then I took on a shape that appeared to me as a shadow. The mountains, rivers and forests were below and swept over and beyond them with ease. I couldn´t see what bird I was, but I felt immense. It was the best meditation experience I have ever had.

The Element of Fire

Safely back at Paz y Luz, we learnt about Fire, the most powerful of the four elements. It transmutes and amplifies. Without fire, the sun would not heat the planet and there would be no life. The sun and the earth´s core is the space of life.

The Jaguar Path around the Fire

“Fire that burns wide can turn rage into peace and harmony, Diane told us. “The sacred word is to dare.”

With fire you can move beyond your comfort zone, release anger, fear and frustration so that the negative energy transform into love. “Fear and anger are toxic and can cause illness,” Diane said. “Whatever grudge you hold in life, fire will burn it away.”

We lit candles punctured through paper plates and stared into the fire in open eye meditation. The fire flickered and shimmered, but I didn´t take much from it. Perhaps I was too fatigues to concentrate, or maybe it was because people were around me and I wasn´t used to meditation, yet alone open-eye meditation.

Later that night we lit a fire and burned sticks. The sticks were a representation of our fears, angers and woes. As we stood in a group it began to rain. In the moment, at the end of the day, all four elements were present.





Ancient Peru: An Interview with an Inca

16 08 2012

Mama Yupanqui is the last direct descendant of the Inca in Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo Ruins

On my way to Machu Picchu I stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo. Whilst I was there I met Paul, a local guide who suggested I might like to visit a Quechua settlement high in the mountains.  He said I would be able to meet a Shaman there.

Patacancha is a 6 hour hike so we took a taxi. Marco our driver was a master in Quechua and seemed to know everybody en route. Sometimes he would stop the car and shake hands, other times he would holler out the windows. On one occasion he stopped to pick up an old man who was hobbling slowly up a steep incline. The man was in his eighties.

“He has to walk to work,” Paul told me. “Three hours there, three hours back.” Today he got a lift most of the way.

It was rainy season and parts of the road was sodden with water and slush. Inevitably we got stuck. Paul and I climbed out from the back seat and pushed the car free. Before long we were stuck in another slush pit. This time there was no shifting the car. Marco revved the engine, but the wheels just spun and dug deeper into the mud.

On our hands and knees we set about scraping mud out from under the wheels and placing stones under the tyres for grip. That didn’t help so we dug deeper and threw gravel into the mud to dry it out. This time the car lurched forward before slopping straight back into another mud patch. I suggested we lay leaves down in the mud to soak up the wet ground then anchor them with gravel. This would give the tyres some leverage. Marco didn’t like the idea, but after another twenty minutes of shovelling gravel and getting know where I started breaking branches from the bushes and laying them on the ground. Paul followed suit. It was at least worth a try. The plan worked and we were on our way again.

Quechua Children of Peru in Willocq

By the time we arrived in Willocq, the first village on the way to Patacancha we had a flat tyre. One of the men in the village told Marco the conditions were even worse further up the mountain. It seemed I was not going to meet my Shaman today after all. Marco though knew a woman who was over a hundred years old; and she was a direct descendant from the Inca. I decided she would be good to speak to.

The Quechua kids and my guide Paul

On the way to Mama Yupanqui’s house we passed an infant school. Paul suggested we take a look inside. There was a classroom with the door open. We peered inside to find little children about seven years old dressed in colourful traditional clothes of Peru. They were learning how to speak Spanish. When they saw us a few of the boys rushed to the door and shook our hands. Their smiling faces literally shined with rosy red cheeks. I suggested we go to the shop and buy sweets.

When we returned with two large bags of fruit chews the children leapt from their seats and clapping their hands excitedly gathered round us. It was a special moment and the teacher had a difficult time to persuade them to return to their seats. Paul explained to the children in Quechua that I was from England and was interested in Inca culture – their ancestry. The children clapped. I’m not sure why.

I crouched down and offered the girl in the front desk the bag. She reached inside and took a solitary sweet.

“No,” I said, “take a handful.” She didn’t understand so I said, “Like this” and reached inside with my hand to grab a fistful of sweets. She smiled timidly and grabbed a handful. “Buenos,” I said ruffling her hair. All the other children followed suit. Some were not so shy and dived in two hands.

When the bags were empty we said our goodbyes. Paul asked if there was anything I wanted to say to the children. “Tell them when they are older, not to forget the ways of the Inca,” I said. Somehow I doubted they would even learn the ways of the Inca.

We found Mama Yupanqui sitting on some flattened hay outside her house. She was wrapped in woven alpaca blankets chewing coca leaves. Her head was bowed as if in prayer. When she heard us approach she lifted her head. Marco told us she was going blind. He spoke to the old woman in Quechua and told her who he was. She smiled and raised her hands to his face. She remembered him.

“Mama Yupanqui is a descendant of the Tupac Yupanqui,” Paul told me. “The Inca King who saved Cusco.” This old woman had history.

Tupac Yupanqui should never have actually taken the throne of the Inca. That right had been reserved for his brother once their father died. However, when Chanca warriors threatened the Inca realm, Tupac’s father and brother fled the city and abandoned the throne. They would have left their subjects to die or be enslaved by the Chanca, but Tupac couldn’t stand back and let that happen. He stayed to defend the city.

Tupac’s father Pachacuti Yapanqui was the first Inca King to have the vision of expanding the Inca Empire from a small rural settlement that would eventually reach as far as Ecuador in the north and Argentina in the south. Before the retaliation of the Chanca his armies had already conquered much of the surrounding areas including Ollantaytambo where Mama Yupanqui would grow up four centuries later.

The Road to Willoq

Mama Yupanqui wears her hair tied into platts behind her ears and her dark eyes had sunk so far into her skull you couldn’t see them. “Ask her how things have changed in the village since she was a child,” I said to Paul.

Through Paul speaking Spanish to Marco and Marco speaking Quechua with Mama Yupanqui we were able to communicate. At first she answered my questions timidly, but after a little while it was difficult to keep her from talking. She told us she remembers how people used to pull together when she was younger. If anybody in the village needed anything doing they would seek help. The next day they would return the favour and help the other person. There was a real sense if community where everybody in the village worked towards the same purpose.

This system was known as Ayni and dates back to the Aymara people. It literally translates to “Today for you, tomorrow for me.” There was also another system called Minca which involved everybody in the community working together to build a bridge or a barn. I’d seen this system in an Aymara community in Puno where men and women were building a new road because the old one was flooded.

“When did the system change?” I asked

“People still help each other from time to time but the new generation are more interesting in looking for money,” Mama Yupanqui told us, “working as porters on the Inca trail or in restaurants and hotels in Ollantaytambo.”

Mama Yupanqui hits Marco on the arm and declares: “Like you.” Marco looked to the ground ashamed. Times change and people move forward, but a small community like Willocq, with its poverty and isolation can’t afford to lose its community. But the younger generation are not interested in farming the land to produce food. That’s why an 80-year-old man has to climb a hill for three hours to go to work. Mama Yupanqui told us the ground was much more fertile in the past and the quality of produce was much higher. “Because the quality of produce is not as good as it used to be, people use it as an excuse to look for a better way of living.

Quechua traditions are dying out

I asked her how she feels about Quechua traditions dying out. She said: “Time is coming to an end. The earth is not producing. We have made the God’s angry.”

I wondered whether the question and answer had got lost in translation but took her point. People today do not take care of the Earth. We are killing Pachamama and eventually she will need to cleanse herself. Mama Yupanqui doesn’t have TV, radio or internet. I doubted she knew of the 2012 prophecies or the increasing numbers of natural disasters the world is experiencing; yet she senses the world is coming to an end and that worried me. I asked her how she knows.

“The birds used to sing happy songs; now they sing only sad songs. They do this because they know it is the end of the world. There is too much hate in the world.”

I asked Mama Yupanqui if she remembers any legends or myths. She said her grandmother told her that small people live underground. I thought back to a tiny skeleton I had seen in the Natural History Museum. It was a fossil that was thought to be the form of early man. It is laid down in a glass cabinet in the vestibule of the museum and mostly goes unnoticed.

Mama Yupanqui told us: “In the underground world are beautiful towns where the dead live. This place is known as Uku Pacha.”

What does the future hold for Quechua traditions?

Uku Pacha is regarded as the world of the dead as expressed on the walls of the Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo.  Mama Yupanqui also said: “The upper world where the spirits live is also full of wonderful places. Because of the evil in this world, the spirits have returned to their homes and have left us alone to die.”

I wanted to know whether Mama Yupanqui thought the younger generations could learn anything from ancient cultures. She replied by saying, “Respect Pachamama.” In Inca times only the best animals were sacrificed, because it was believed more animals were born. Of course, this superstition could easily have been a coincidence that had no means of measurement, but it also fits the philosophy of you get what you wish for, which is becoming more popular today.

“People today are blind to the needs of the earth,” Mama Yupanqui says. “They do not look beyond their own reality. Because we have not shown mother earth any respect she is failing to produce the food we need to survive.”

When Mama Yupanqui was younger she didn’t have an education. These days all the kids go to school and are taught Spanish rather than Quechua and European traditions rather than those of their own ancestors. Quechua traditions are dying out completely. This is why the earth in Peru is not as healthy as it once was. I discovered the same thing in Bolivia. It could be the case for the whole world. And all because we have not looked after it properly.

When Mama Yupanqui was younger Quechua traditions had survived the onslaught by the Spanish. The land was owned by one person and easier to organise. “Life was happier back then,” she told us. “There was more unity.”

In modern times the influence of money is causing people to forget about their neighbours and think only for themselves. “Men and women have become lazy,” Mama Yupanqui says with a look of anger on her face. “The only tradition to survive from the times of the ancient Quechua is weaving.”

I left Mama Yupanqui and Willocq completely humbled. I was saddened by how much things had changed in the last one hundred years during Mama Yupanqui´s lifetime. Humanity is not developing, it is going backwards, and the small village of Willocq in the mountains of Peru is a prime example of how people are subjugated by a corrupt elite and the empty promises they make.





Travel Reflections in South America

15 08 2012

I´ve taken the travel reflections photography theme on to another level using car bonnets, shop windows, marble pillows, TV screens, framed pictures and shadows. I like it – and hope you do to!





More Things You Don´t Know About Machu Picchu

14 08 2012

Are the Most Famous Ruins in Peru Older Than we are Told?

“Machu Picchu was built between the 13th and 14th century,” Ariel, my guide tells me.

Official views state the plans for the settlement began in the 11th century. Other mainstream archaeologists believe the city was built in the mid 15th century by Pachacuti Yupanqui, the ninth Inca King who was focused on expanding the empire all the way to what is now modern day Argentina at the tip of South America. Supporting evidence shows that building work was never finished which has lead some scholars to speculate the Inca was interrupted by the Spanish invasion in 1532.

Mainstream scholars also speculate that Machu Picchu was used as the retreat the Inca used to rebuild and plan a rebellion against the Francisco Pizarro’s conquistadores. The likelihood id the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which is why it is the only ancient ruins in Peru that remains in a reasonable condition. The last Inca King, Tupac Amaru Yupanqui was not defeated until 1572.  If Machu Picchu had been the Inca hiding place they would have had time to finish building it.

That’s not to say that would have been the case. Contrary to popular belief the Inca were not great builders. They adopted techniques learned from other cultures and perfected them, but the only time the Inca tried to build something of their own, a boulder was dropped down the mountain and wiped out over 2000 workmen. The project was subsequently abandoned.

To build Machu Picchu, there is evidence to show the stones were taken from the site. Huge boulders within the grounds of the complex have clearly been stripped and researchers believe the fragments could only have been used to build the city. It is known the Inca had the techniques to carry out this type of work, but so did other cultures.

Rolf Muller, professor of Astrology at the University of Potsdam, found convincing evidence to suggest that the most important features of Machu Picchu possessed significant astronomical alignments that were attuned to the precession of the equinoxes. Given the positioning of these features Muller concluded the original layout of the site was therefore built between 4000BC to 2000BC.

Maria Schulten de D’Ebneth concurred with Muller’s finding and by also using mathematical methods established Machu Picchu was built before the time of the Inca. Based on her measurements she determined the city had been built in 3172 BCE.

Andean legends also talks about a place in the mountains known as Tampu-Tocco, the Haven of the Three Windows. It is here that Viracocha is said to have sent the four Ayar brothers and three of the brothers emerged through the windows to civilize the Andean region. One of the brothers, Ayar Manco, otherwise known as Manco Capac founded the Ancient Empire thousands of years before the Inca. According to Inca legends, Manco Capac was is the first Inca King.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

I´m lost…

Those of you already familiar with Inca religion will know the Llama was sacred to the Andean cultures and were often used as a sacrifice to Pachamama (Mother Earth). The Inca also used to bind their wooden store houses and thatched roofs with the skin of the Llama which is surprisingly coarse and strong, but firmer than a bit of old rope.

In honour of the Llama, the animal is represented at Machu Picchu today. In fact there are 16 Llamas living here and draw the attention of tourist’s cameras. They start the day on a patch of lawn at the far end of the settlement which would have originally have been used as a market place where the inhabitants of the city traded goods.

The Llamas though are unpenned and untied, left to roam freely as they wish. They are perfectly harmless and docile, but as the day wears on can be found just about anywhere; and in the most unusual places. Imagine my surprise to find one on the narrow path ¾ of the way up to the Sun Gate. It looked at me as if to say, “Hey, are you lost as well?”

Later that afternoon two of them forced me from my resting place in the shade of a overhanging rock. I was sheltering from the glaring heat of the sun jotting down notes and having both relieved themselves in front of a small group of American girls (which caused typical reactions of (disgust that I found amusing) they came over to where I was laid and started chewing the grass either side of me (the llamas, not the American girls). This was not so amusing, especially as they were so close I could still smell remains of deposits they had dropped off with the girls. It was a surreal moment and almost made me vomit. I thought I’d better move before they started chewing my jacket.

The Archetypes Designed in Machu Picchu

High in the Andes Mountains Machu Picchu would become known as the most famous Inca sanctuary. Designed by a team of architects made up of priests and astronomers the already impressive architecture is even more stunning when you learn of the archetypes you find in the building

Do you see the Lizard in the main settlement..?

work. From the panoramic angle, which is also known as the postcard shot, the settlement takes the shape of a lizard, representing Amaru Tupac, who was given the nickname “Flying Lizard.”

In the rock face of Wayna Picchu you can see the face of an angry Puma. In fact the whole mountain rock take the form of a gigantic Puma with its back curved and in a pose of attack. On top of the mountain the narrow terraces used as watch towers by guards and store houses for agricultural produce represent raised heckles.

Looking down on Machu Picchu from this standpoint you can see the city takes the shape of a condor which has lead some authorities of the Quechua language to speculate the original name of the complex was Machu Pichiu, which means “Old Bird.”

Just below Wayna Picchu is another rock formation which takes the form of a Condor. Whether this is natural or done by design is open for speculation, but, unlike many shapes cut into the rocks by the Inca archaeologists try to pass off as natural rock formations simply because they don’t have an answer for how the shape was carved, this one really does appear to be a natural formation. Perhaps even the reason why the Inca chose this site to build a city.

The mountain Condor at Machu Picchu

In the area known as the Hanan sector which was dedicated to government administration we also find the layout of a Puma, this time laid down in a state of relaxation. The entire city complex makes up the body of the animal whilst its head is seen in the green grass of high terraces at the far end. The terraces that cascade down the sides of the abyss to the form of its legs. Is this more evidence of space-age technology mainstream scholars deny was capable? It certainly shows an advanced ability for building – even for 15,000AD!

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Visitors arriving at Machu Picchu from along the Inca trail will enter the site from the Sun Gate and be greeted by stunning views overlooking the city and surrounding areas. If you enter through the tourist’s reception by bus at the bottom, you can still make the climb along the narrow path up to the Sun Gate in about 45 minutes. It’s worth the effort for the view, but the Sun Gate is also the original entrance the Inca used to enter the site.

Since 2011, travellers hoping to tackle the Inca Trail may have trouble securing a permit due to new regulations imposed by the Peruvian government. Permits used to be issued on a first-come first-served basis, but tour operators are now being asked to stagger orders throughout

View from the Sun Gate

February and March. This could pose a problem to anybody thinking of a late booking at the back end of the year.

The regulations limit up to 500 people a day to walk the trail and with such fierce competition for permits, holidaymakers are advised not to leave it too late to confirm their booking or they are likely to miss out. Tour operators have bemoaned the new system as unfair and say it offers priority to individual tour operators at random.

I missed out on a permit, but only wanted to walk the last day anyway. I’m glad I did. At the sun gate I met an experienced climber from Australia and he said, even for him, it was a difficult hike, particularly the second day. The path is also very narrow in places and steep drops can put people off. If you don’t have a head for heights it’s not an ideal route to get you to Machu Picchu.