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 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.

More Travel Reflections in South America

22 08 2012

Yes, sorry, I know I´ve posted reflections in South America already, but stuff you, I´m on a roll – so here´s more reflections in South America!!

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.

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.