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.


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!

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.

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.

Things You Don´t Know About Machu Picchu

13 08 2012

There is More to Machu Picchu than Beautiful Scenery

You don’t need me to tell you that Machu Picchu is Peru’s biggest tourist puller. So forget I said that; this blog post is about things you probably don’t know. From its desertion to its discovery, and a contentious theory to dispute orthodox teachings thrown in to boot, it’s not just the scenery at Machu Picchu that holds you spellbound.

Andean cultures had a profound understanding of cosmic concepts and believed Nature and Time is alive. Mainstream historians don´t tell you that, but the clues the Inca left in their architecture do! Subsequently, our ancient ancestors believed they received beneficial gifts through nature and the spirits of the mountains, otherwise known as the Apus. And this is why we see such amazing settlements built in breathtaking mountain surroundings like those you find at Machu Picchu.

In short, the ancient idea is the same message that is repeated by the so-called New Age Movement. You might have heard the expression, the “law of attraction,” whereby if you long for something and believe in it, your dreams will come true. It is also where we get the expression, “Be careful what you wish for!” Except, it´s not quite as simple as many so-called spiritual “gurus,” lead you to believe. But we will discuss that in more detail at a later date! For now, let´s concentrate on Machu Picchu.

Getting to Machu Picchu

If you’re planning to make your way to this esteemed World Wonder, you’ll probably stay over in Cusco; though Pisac is also a good option – it’s quieter than Cusco, less touristy and offers amazing scenery. I would recommend you do both. Either way, unless you are taking one of the alternative Inca trail routes you will have to make your way to Ollantaytambo before heading out to Machu Picchu. I would also recommend you spend a couple of days in Ollantaytambo (see previous posts).

Inca Rail Class

To get to Machu Picchu I travelled with Inca Express, a luxury executive train with plush leather seats, finely crafted folding tables and excellent hospitality. Drinks, snacks and a traditional Peruvian chocolate sweet are included in the $55 fare and they give you a little goody bag with some handkerchiefs and mosquito repellent.

The train leaves from Ollantaytambo at 6.40am, 11.35am or 4.36pm and drops you off in Aguas Calientes from where you catch a bus up to the Machu Picchu ruins. To get the most from your visit to Machu Picchu I would also recommend you stay the night in Aguas Calientes. It’s a quaint little town and if you are prepared to get up early enough you will see the sun rise in Machu Picchu.

Upon arrival in Aguas Calientes you will need to purchase a ticket from Centro Cultural. It’s not difficult to find. From the train station go through the market, veer left at the far end, down a ramp and over the bridge. (Just down the hill from there is where you catch the bus). From the bridge go straight on passed some cafes and shops and turn left. Centro Cultural is on your right hand side about 200 yards further down. If you come to a statue of an Inca warrior you’ve gone passed it.

The entrance ticket to Machu Picchu is 126 soles, about 35GBP and also includes access to Wayna Picchu – the tall mountain peak in the background you will recognise from the postcard shot. If you want to climb Waynu Picchu and see the stunning views from up there, you need to be there early – hence why you will need to stay over in Aguas Calientes.

The snag is, you need a permit to climb Waynu Picchu and only 400 are issued on any one day. The first 200 people go between 7am-8am and the second 200 go between 10am-11am. If you’ve not got your ticket before 8am at the latest they will all be gone. And tha´s another good reason to stay in Agua Calientes.

Busses up to Machu Picchu leave from the main road as you exit the market by the train station. Just follow the sound of the raging Urubamba River and you’ll see a queue of busses. It’s a dead give away! The current in the river is so strong, water explodes violently like spontaneous detonations in a sewer, which is fascinating to watch but you wouldn’t want to go for a swim. The buses leave every 5 to 10 minutes before making the winding journey up the mountainside. The scenery is so stunning I was getting aroused.

Guided Tours at Machu Picchu

To get the most out of your Machu Picchu experience it is recommended you get a guide otherwise you just roam around aimlessly taking pictures of old bricks and mountains. You can easily find a guide outside the entrance wearing a beige jacket with “Guia” written on the back. If you want a private guide for a full 4-hour tour you’re looking at paying 100-150 soles, about 30GBP, though you can go in a group for a superficial chat for about 20 soles £5. Once inside the settlement you can ink your passport with the official Machu Picchu stamp of admission.

Machu Picchu is on the fringes of the Sacred Valley, the divine home of what used to be the Inca Empire. Some commentators say it was built as a fortress, though there is evidence to prove it was much more than a hangout for Inca warriors. In fact, the soldiers spent most of their time in the guard posts way up in the rocks of Wayna Picchu.

Contrary to its popularity and importance today, Machu Picchu was not as important to the builders as many other settlements in the Sacred Valley, though still took them 100 years to build the city. However, much of the later building work was expanding the boundaries of the original foundations.

As with most Inca cities, evidence of agriculture is prominent here and great importance was placed on the cultivation of crops. Built into the mountain side visitors will see stepped terraces, lush green grass packed into small round stones that circle the whole city. The amount of terraces is immense to look at today, but even more were found buried beneath the thick foliage very recently. Also uncovered was a staircase of 1000 steps that leads from near the original entrance of the city and goes right down to the river.

The Discovery of Machu Picchu

The discovery of Machu Picchu is accredited to Hiram Bingham in 1911. Everybody knows this, and it’s true that whilst the privileged professor from Yale University unveiled the ruins to the world, the ancient city had been discovered by locals much earlier.

Bingham Pillaged the Inca site

A local mestizo stumbled across the ruins in 1850 before two local peasants came across the site 44 years later. They moved their families into the lower parts of the ruins and lived there quite happily until the arrival of Bingham and his crew. A hundred years on and their ancestors still live at the foot of the complex.

Bingham, a Yale professor, not trained in archaeology is said to have accidently discovered Machu Picchu, but he was in fact taken there by the sons of the local peasants. He was actually in the mountains on Peru on a treasure hunt in search of gold. Inca legends talk of a hidden  city of gold at Villabamba where it is believed Tupac Amaru, the last king of the Inca retreated to avoid capture from the Spanish. Tupac however, was hiding at Machu Picchu before being lured out of his hiding place by his brother. His brother betrayed him and handed the Inca King over to the Spanish who executed him Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

Bingham didn’t find his treasures of gold, but instead unearthed a wealth of ancient artefacts that belonged to a lost civilisation. He looted the hundreds of valuable items from the site and had them shipped back to the USA where they were displayed at Yale University. It wasn´t until 2011, almost 100 years later that the stolen property was returned to the Peruvian Government – and only then because the administrators of Yale were ordered to by a high court injunction.

The Desertion of Machu Picchu

It is known that Machu Picchu was suddenly abandoned; though nobody knows the reason why. Some historians put this down to the invasion of the Spanish, but realistically that can’t have been the reason as the desertion of the city occurred 100 years before their arrival.

Other historians speculate it was due to in-fighting amongst the indigenous tribes which is a more likely theory. In 1471, Cusco was attacked by the Chanca warriors and Inca Pachacuti fled Cusco in terror. His second son, however, Tupac Yupanqui stayed behind to defend the city and its people. He secured victory and was named Inca king. So, if that is the case why would Machu Picchu, an Inca “fortress” (but with rooms for royalty) have been deserted?

Even the llamas did a runner

There’s no doubt that the disruption weakened the Inca Empire, but in my mind it is doubtful this would have prevented the Inca from abandoning the settlement and leaving it unfinished. The alleged “facts” don’t add up.

Before I went to Machu Picchu this was an interesting point that had fascinated me. Nothing I had read about it had concluded with a satisfactory explanation. But at the site, it was my guide, Adriel, that opened the door to a potential reality.

“During the time of the Inca the area was rife with yellow fever,” he told me. “176 skeletons were found here.”

“Where were they found?” I asked.

“All over. They had not been buried.”

Nor had they been prepared for burial, and mummification was, as I had learnt on several occasions, something the Inca were very focussed on as this was an important ritual to prepare the soul for its passage into the next life.

“Do you think it is possible that Machu Picchu was deserted because of an outbreak of yellow fever,” I asked Ariel. He looked at me for a moment, slightly taken aback by the question.

“Nobody knows why the Inca left here.”

I had become familiar with this type of standard answer. Guides have a script and tend to falter if you step outside their realm of knowledge and understanding. I didn’t question anymore, but it seemed to me that a debilitating disease the Inca had no cure for could have been the reason for them to leave the city. It would be interesting to know if there was an outbreak anywhere else.

But of course, this is just a theory, and like so many other theories about our ancient past cannot and will not be proven. However, it is not the only theory that has some shred of plausibility, and more than a slither than the morsels offered by orthodox scholars. And there´s a lot more that scholars don´t know about these ancient Inca ruins. Find out what else in Machu Picchu Part II tomorrow.

The Importance of the Andean Cross to the Inca

9 08 2012

The Andean Cross is found in many structures of ancient Peru

The Andean Cross was Everything to Ancient Cultures of Peru

To the Inca and other ancient Andean cultures before them, the Andean Cross, otherwise known as the Southern Cross or the Chakana was not just a sacred symbol that reflected the constellation of the stars, but represented the entire conception of life on Earth. It is also sometimes referred to as the Inca cross, though this is wrong, given that it was used much earlier by other Andean cultures.

According to mainstream historians, it´s earliest known use was found in a temple at the settlement of Ventarrón in the Lambayeque Valley which dates back some 4000 years, though the symbol of the Andean Cross was built on top of the Akapana Temple at Tiwanaku, a little known ancient ruin that probably dates back to around 15,000 BCE.

The Chakana, or Southern Crux, is a four-star constellation which gives the Andean cross its roots in astrology and the principle of how the symbol came to be used in the spiritual traditions of ancient Andean cultures. Each star in the constellation represents the four points of the compass and thus lends itself to the four sides of the cross, each representing the four directions together with the four elements; earth, water, air and fire. The South represents fire, the West is earth, the North is air meaning to know, and the east is water – like keeping the brain still during meditation.

An interpretation of the Chakana inside the Southern Crux constellation

Each corner has a three step platform which is often found in Andean architecture. Corresponding to Andean mythology they represent the three worlds of the Universe, Uqhu Pacha – the Underworld and the land of the dead; Kay Pacha – the material world and land of the living;  and Hanan Pacha – the celestial world of the Gods. In turn these are identified with the three archetypes; the snake representing the Lower world and wisdom; the Puma representing the material world and strength; and the Upper World representing the Condor and spiritual consciousness. The circle in the centre is the metaphorical bridge from which you transcend into the cosmic vault of the other realms (like the bridge in the film, Thor). In the time of the Inca it also represented Cusco which the Inca believed was the centre of the Universe and was originally named, Qusqo, Quechua for naval of the world.

The three peripheral points in each of the four corners mark the twelve months of the year. Geometric lines that run vertically through each point of the cross represent the inter-connectivity between the three worlds while the horizontal lines are the bonds that unite the people inhabiting the three worlds; therefore we have the dead, the living and the gods. Through meditation people on the physical realm can traverse worlds into the Upper realms or land of the dead in the Underworld.

The Chakana in Andean Architecture

Visit Peru and you will find the Chakana, or parts of the Andean Cross in much of the architecture. The best example is perhaps the stone of the Banos de Nusta in the ruins of Ollantaytambo, the example you see featured in the photograph at the top of the article. Other famous carvings you will most likely see and should look out for if you ever visit the Andean region are Machu Picchu, Chavin de Huantar, Chan Chan and Q’enko.

Semi-Andean Cross at Machu Picchu

You will note the stone at Machu Picchu in the photograph to you right is only half the Chakana, but on the solstices the sun cast a shadow on the ground that makes it complete. We find the same impressions at Chan Chan, and in the temples of Chavin de Huantar. The doorways in the labyrinth of Chavin de Huantar and the staircase leading up to the altar in Q’enko are both places where Inca High Priests used to conduct ritualistic ceremonies and sacrifice animals dedicated to the Gods.

You can still find the Andean Cross all over Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and in the northern climes of Argentina where the Inca Empire conquered at the height of its power. Even the angles of the symbol work out to a scale of 23.5 degrees which is the same inclination as the tilt of the planet. How did the Andean cultures know this more than two thousand years ago? They had a deep understanding of astronomy and celestial events which are reflected in the ancient structures we find standing today – and the in Peru and Bolivia especially, the Andean Cross is at the very heart of architectural designs and modern day culture.