During breakfast we learn that Francesco and the chosen others got off on time to deliver our collective mesa to Apu Ausangate. I linger over pancakes with berry jam.
As I take my leave, an aspect of my personality surfaces — I do not cling physically or emotionally during times of separation. Instead, I redirect my focus to what is ahead. It is a trait that served me well in the past, at least so I thought until I began my apprenticeship in this medicine tradition.
What I did discover leaving the mountain was that I couldn’t just turn and walk away. I needed to stop and honor the emotional upheaval that was welling up within me. A little while later, still in sight of Ausangate, we all congregate for a closing ceremony of gratitude. The mountain, we are told, is not particularly gentle with everyone.
Five of us set the pace. Each in our own thoughts, we hike in silence processing the experiences of the past days. The geology of the landscape captures my attention. It is a land carved by glaciers, sun and wind. Stark. Solitary. Time passes quickly as the distinction between the mountain, the landscape and “me” blurs.
“How different is Apu Salkantay?” I wonder. Is the message within my dreams correct? Am I leaving reborn? Rewired? New? Filled with pure potentiality? Time — linear time — will reveal the answers.
Having taken a different route down the mountain than we hiked up, we nevertheless find ourselves at a familiar landmark — the stone bridge. Dropping again in elevation, we spot the creek that must be crossed to reach the hot springs off to our right. We head in that direction and upstream to cross a land bridge. Then, another stream. This one is wider and more frothy.
The mountain, which seemed so solitary such a relatively short time ago, is now full of activity as another group is camping where we were only three-days ago. From a distance, they appear to be teenagers.
Reaching the hot spring, I do not waste a moment to change into my bathing suit. The water is very, very hot. And, thankfully, I felt it before diving in. Gradually I enter. Hot, restorative water — what a perfect way to relax fatigued muscles!
Slowly, others from our group begin to arrive. Several walk over to a small store to buy lukewarm beers and sodas — quite refreshing in contrast to the hot water — while I and others pull out trail mix and assorted other snacks. Soon our “pool” party is in full swing. All that is missing is music.
Arriving in Pachapampa, we throw our daypacks into the small van before joining the others for tuna macaroni salad with peeled tomatoes. Yum! It has got to be the altitude, Joy and I joke, as we ask for seconds.
During lunch a collection of money is quietly taken, which is presented afterwards in a "thank you" ceremony for the horsemen and cooks who attended us so well. "Muchos gracias" is said over and over as the horsemen and cooks hug each one of us in genuine gratitude.
It is amusing to watch “our” now freed horses running alongside the vans as we head back to the town of Tinkay. Amazingly, each riderless horse veers off from the road, one by one, as it reaches its home, its work complete.
In Tinkay, my “sisters” and I head to the back-alley for a quick pee before transferring to our bus for the long drive back to Pisa’q. Suzi and I entertain each other, literally for hours, with stories about our lives and our families. I am grateful that our paths will keep crossing, at least while we continue to assist teaching one of The Four Winds’ Healing the Light Body classes. As the sun sets, our conversation ebbs. For the next hour, I find myself dozing in and out.
The short-cut that was previously closed when we left for Ausangate is open, according to a police officer at a road barricade. Before passing through, the officer checks our group’s official papers. The road is dirt, narrow, and in places almost nonexistent. We are jostled and bounced. Napping is no longer an option. In typical fashion, when a vehicle approaches from the opposite direction there are only inches of room to spare. There are also boulders and huge mounds of dirt along the road that seem next to impossible to circumvent, but our driver is very skilled and experienced.
Even though Suzi, Jerry, John and I ate a large lunch and have munched on homemade beef jerky, crackers and trail mix while on the bus, we are starving. As we cross the bridge into Pisa’q, the thought of a hot shower, sitting at a table for dinner, and sleeping on a real bed becomes all consuming!
But, first we must contend with the vendors in front of our hotel. As if by telepathy, they are eagerly waiting as we disembark the bus. Groggy, tired, hungry and stiff from sitting for so many hours, we “No gracias” our way across the street and into the hotel lobby to retrieve room keys. Making a quick plan to eat right away, we four beeline to the dining room. The straight-back wooden chairs never felt so comfortable. The menu is overwhelming, as are the electric lights and a choice of utensils. Even a private conversation involving the four of us, rather than the whole allyu, seems strange. We are tired, smelly, dusty and oh, so hungry for hot matte de coca, grilled trout with vegetables, and hot rolls with butter. My stomach gurgles with ecstasy!
Because John is not coming with us to Machu Picchu in the morning, we say our good-byes after settling our hotel bills. Suzi and I head back to our room for hot showers and repacking for the next leg of this adventure. Packing is quite easy — everything taken to Ausangate, except our hiking boots and poncho, stay behind. Task complete, I read another few chapters of my book before turning off the lights.
I wake sometime in the middle of the night wondering if I am lucid dreaming. I am lying on a flat rock. The rock, in fact, is one I had seen on my first trip to Machu Picchu four years earlier, and I often visualize myself lying on it when journeying to the Upper World (Hanaqpacha). Now I see my luminous energy body rising up and away from my physical self as if a magician were lifting it by invisible means. The physical aspect of ‘me’ seems unaware of what is happening as it continues to lie there peacefully. But, in a whoosh my energy body becomes a blur as it speeds away into the night. I have no idea where it is going, though my sense is it is gathering information before it reappears and settles back down and integrates with my physical body. The sensation of coming back in contact with my physical body is what awakened me with a jolt.
For the remainder of the night I lie awake in stillness. Exhilarated by the dream, my body is filled with energy and my mind is restless wondering whether I have the courage to completely “let go.” My ego torments me with reminders of the tenuousness of life. My life. Have I already “pushed” myself too far coming here? Having been diagnosed and treated for acute anemia before leaving on this trip, I have fared better than my expectations at high altitude — thanks to Pringle potato chips — and long hikes. But, if not now, when do I break through the illusion that has silently held me back and kept me in check almost my entire life?