Train to Machu Picchu
We arrive just in time to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, a town situated at the base of Machu Picchu. Since 1998, when Rick and I were here with World Wildlife Fund, the Orient Express Company runs two trains a day, and these offer quite an improvement in luxury. Wrap around windows afford views of the mountain tops, and breakfast is served.
The train follows along the right side of the Urubamba River, which is the earthly expression of the Milky Way and flows in the same direction as that Cosmic River of the night sky. Along the train route are several stops where people get off to access the Inca Trail. As the train enters a narrow gorge, the river runs fast and wild. Large boulders constrict water flow, here and there, creating rapids, eddies, and sink holes.
Farther down river, a hydroelectric dam generates electricity from the flow. Suzi points out some Inka ruins on the far hillside that she and her sons visited when they hiked the Inka Trail.
The trip to Aguas Calientes takes about one hour, and as we draw closer, I see the place where a Sikorsky jet helicopter used to land, and which now is strewn with large boulders. Later, I learn that not long after Rick and I flew in the helicopter back to Cuzco, an earthquake released the boulders from the side of the mountain terminating that service. Too bad, it afforded a spectacular view of the Andes, and provided my first glimpse of Ausangate! Presently, the only access to Machu Picchu is by train or foot along the Inka Trail.
Aguas Calientes, itself, has changed considerably, too. There are many more restaurants and shops, and buildings including new hotels, such as the Machu Picchu Inn where we are staying. There are even quite a few internet cafes.
Since the breakfast buffet is still available, Jerry has a fantastic idea of making ham and cheese sandwiches to take with us for later snacking while up at the ruins. We make two sandwiches each to take with us, and eat another while waiting for our rooms to be made up. It is 8: 30 a.m. and I've already had three breakfasts!
Once our room is ready, Suzi and I head there to wash up and repack our daypacks. We have a beautiful view over rooftops of the mountains that flank Machu Picchu.
While Suzi naps, Jerry and I head off to an internet cafe several doors away. Still no message from Rick. I send off another using Jerry’s account and send quick notes to friends back home. Leaving Jerry at the internet cafe, I wander in and out of the small tourist shops designed to lure tourists to spend soles.
Not one to wear a watch, I synchronistically run into Suzi on her way to meet our allyu for lunch. Some of the most memorable pizzas I have had, have been in Peru, and this is no exception. The crust is thin and very crispy. The cheese, sauce and various topping ingredients are fresh and not excessively used. Baked in large wood-fired stone ovens, the pizzas are served bubbly hot. I also love the fresh pressed pineapple juice. Five large pizzas are ordered. Though some of us are not very hungry — after 3 breakfasts, I should hope I'm not — we know dinner will be very late tonight. And, of course, Jerry and I have our two sandwiches for later. Satiated and well prepared, we head off to catch the bus.
The Road to Machu Picchu
The road to Machu Picchu winds up the mountain in a steep series of switchbacks that are bisected by an Inka staircase. This pre-Columbian site is just over 8,000 feet above sea level and approximately 50 miles northwest of Cuzco. At the top, the hotel and restaurant have been attractively renovated. There is also a snack bar, bathrooms and locker rooms where, for two soles, I am given a plastic bag to store all my warm clothes that will be put on later for this evening’s ceremony after the site closes to the general public.
Pointing to structures nearby, he explains that some of the buildings are original. “When Yale University historian Hiram Bingham was led here by some indios he had befriended, on July 24, 1911, they had to take apart some of the buildings to cut back the jungle, and then,” pointing to other nearby structures that have numbers marked on the stone blocks, “reconstruct them.”
Archeologist Maryann Kendall, who lived for more than ten years in the area, believes the area was a nation onto itself and Machu Picchu may have been its capital. She also concluded that this area must have supported a large population due to all the agricultural terracing that was built at Machu Picchu and the thirty or more satellite agricultural production sites constructed along the Inka Trail.
There are several access points into Machu Picchu. One is through the Sun Gate (Intipunku) and the other across an Inkan bridge, which made the site readily defensible. Both access routes required high-altitude traverses across the mountains from Cuzco.
The site was comprised of three primary sectors. The terraced areas made up the Agricultural Sector. Lower in elevation than Cuzco by approximately 3,000 feet, it has a milder climate for raising crops, and an abundant water supply from springs. Sophisticated gravity-fed canals transported the water from elsewhere on the mountain to the site. Today, those very springs provide water for the hotel. A now dry moat divides the Agricultural Sector from the Sacred Temple Sector and the Residential Sector.
As of 2002, two hundred dwellings have been uncovered, and archeologists estimate that about 1,000 people could have sustainably inhabited the site.
In constructing Machu Picchu, the Inka devised an outstanding drainage system that has substantially lessened erosion on the mountain in comparison to others sites nearby. Scientific testing has revealed that the terraces were constructed of gravel, sand and dirt, which accounts for the excellent drainage in an area that receives about 90 inches of rain annually from November through April.
Most of the stone and gravel found in the terraces and building structures were carried up the mountain hundreds of feet from the Urubamba River. The sand used in constructing the terraces came from the coast of Peru, while the dirt was imported from Cuzco and the Urubamba area of the Sacred Valley.
Continuing past the Agricultural Sector are the fountains. Really a succession of sixteen baths, they form a series of small waterfalls. There is speculation that these may have been used ceremonially in rituals to Pachamama (Mother Earth).
This technique is referred to as ashlar. Inka stone masons were masters of this particular technique. The mortar-free construction is also more earthquake resistant because the stones can move slightly and resettle without the walls collapsing. Additionally, a number of design details also help protect them from seismic damage.
Buildings of lesser importance were constructed in the Rustica style that used mortar. These were generally storehouses and residential quarters.
How the large stones were moved remains a mystery. The wheel was not used in any practical engineering application, though its use in toys shows that the principle was known at this time. There were no strong draft animals, and the topography and vegetation would have been a challenge. The general belief is that the stone quarries were on site, very skilled masons were employed to cut and hewn the stone, and hundreds of men were used to push them up inclined planes.
Our guide demonstrates how it is believed the Inka masons shaped stones. First, using the natural cracks, the stones were roughly shaped. Then, using stone against stone like a chisel, they were more finely sculpted to fit together with exacting precision. Finally, after the stones were in place, they were further smoothed by rubbing stone against stone. Ingenious!
Pointing in the direction of Intipunku -- the Sun Gate -- our guide tells us about the Temple of the High Priestess. “This is a very powerful huaca — the place talks to you,” he says. “You can hear the echo of the river.” We are encouraged to find places within the site that energetically draw us, and later go back to hold ceremony and journey to either the Upper World (Hanaqpacha) or Lower World (Uhupacha). “The truth about Machu Picchu will reveal itself, if you listen,” Marco continues. I immediately decide to spend time tomorrow morning at the Temple of the High Priestess.
Next, we make our way to the Temple of the Condor. Named after one of the most important animal/birds in Inka mythology, the condor symbolizes mountains, and is known to be the messenger of the mountain dieties (apus), carrying messages from the Upper World to this Middle World (Kaypacha).
Niches above the temple are thought by some to have been used to store mummies so the “condor” could take their souls back to the Upper World. Within this Temple is a cave with very fine examples of Imperial-style stone masonry, also referred to as the Temple of Fertility. Once a year, on the Winter Solstice (June 21), the sun rises in a particular position and illuminates the “head” of the condor.
An animistic culture, a hallmark of the Inka was to organize their worldview and human activity around Pachamama (Mother Earth, cycles of nature/life).
Vision is a very important concept in the Inka cosmology. It is understood to be an expression of consciousness that includes the process of fertility: the act of creation. When shamans ask for a “vision,” they are asking to receive a map of Creation; a knowingness of the momentums that are determining how life enfolds within the bounds of time and space. Key to receiving a “vision” is always our attachment to outcome. The less attachment we have, the more open we are to receive a big vision — a vision that is outside the momentum of probability, but offers the greatest possibility for wholeness and healing. Once a vision is received, it is our responsibility to generate sufficient passion to “grow” or nurture its highest (kollana) expression — the one that creates wholeness: Oneness. Next, we must practice responsibility so our passion is directed into inspiration and ultimately, right-action.
Next, we explore the Residential Sector. Marco tells us that the men who lived at Machu Picchu dwelled above the plaza. Most of the women lived in the lower area next to the grass plaza, and were responsible for the preparation of food and clothing. A select group of “chosen” women, known as the Virgins of the Sun, lived in separate quarters referred to as the House of the Chosen Women.
These women represented Pachamama — Eternal Mother/Mother Earth -- in earthly form, and were responsible for serving the Inka ruler or Sun God. These Virgins also played a vital role within the empire because they could be given to a conquered ruler, sealing the conquest and making that alliance secure. The Virgins were also responsible for keeping the sacred fire continually burning — a symbolic reference to the four-chambered Universe cosmology known as Tiwantinesuyu.
Medicine people assemble reality using this four-fold map by engaging, through conscious awareness, their everyday activities by the position of the sun. For instance, morning brings the possibility of a new vision in accordance to what the day may hold; it is time to work when the sun is at its highest point and there are no shadows to obscure what needs to be done; the end of the day offers the opportunity to recapitulate and take responsibility for all actions and engagements that have occurred throughout the day, and nighttime is about resetting.
Within the “House of the Chosen Women” are two circular stone basins, that it is speculated may have been used as mortars to tell time. Interestingly, they are oriented to the equinoxes and solstices, and at these times of the year the sun casts light across the basins and illuminates a corresponding doorway.
- Cheka reveals that while we may each hold and be guided by many relative truths, there is only one absolute Truth. This luminous marker denotes the level of consciousness where the illusion of the ego or “little self” is abandoned for the Absolute Truth held by our “higher Self” — that we are not separate from Oneness. To embody this state of consciousness requires distinguishing out the different levels of truth, especially those enculturated beliefs and judgments that act as filters and narrow our awareness of the infinite possibilities that are always available to us.
- Kausay states that everything in the Universe — visible and invisible — is animated; infused with life-force. This luminous marker describes the fundamental energy of Creation that brings galaxies, suns, mountains, flowers, humans, as well as everything else, into being. It also reveals the universal law of attraction that governs all existence. To embody this organizing principle it's necessary to map and refine our affinities so we attract high-powered (kollana) frequencies of energy into our lives. Why is this important? Because in order to realize our destiny, we must come into the fullness of our power, which requires managing optimum life-force.
- Kollary teaches that the Universe is dynamic and in constant motion. Nothing is in perfect stillness. In the time/space intersection, everything has a cyclic beginning and end. This luminous marker confirms that life is a continual process of embodiment. Our ability to distinguish and map these transitions is important in gaining power, which makes the journey through life meaningful and fulfilling. Vision, trust and intent are key to reaching our destiny: coming into the fullness of our being.
- Munay affirms that unconditional love — the unhampered bi-directional flow of energy as a state of being — is the underlying affinity that bridges all levels of consciousness and frees us from woundings by others and from our ego. This luminous marker establishes this expression of energy as the connective tissue for everything in the Universe — atoms, particles, galaxies, the cycle of seasons, and the ebb and flow of rivers and tides. Unlike the expression of love known to us through the dualistic belief of cause and effect, to embody this organizing principle we must be impersonal, unconditional and timeless. Shamans know that the past, present and future is accessed and healed through munay.
- Nüna informs us that everything in the Universe — collectively and individually — is animated by Spirit. This quality of energy enters our luminous energy bodies through the three primary energy centers — yachay (third-eye: thoughts, dreams, beliefs and intent), munay (heart center: emotions and feelings), and llankay (belly: actions). To embody this organizing principle necessitates our recognizing Spirit in everything so we create the most refined (kollana) affinities to our essential Self (soul). In this way everything is experienced as sacred.
- Yüya encourages us to know and accept, at all levels of consciousness, the wisdom and perfection of the Universe.This organizing principle describes our innate ability to learn directly from Spirit so we can create rainbows without knowing the science of molecules and refraction. Embodying this saiwa allows us to transform information into wisdom so we know how to “grow corn.” To gain wisdom, we need clear filters so Absolute Truth (not relative truth) organizes our reality and our life-force flows unimpeded. This level of clarity requires us to develop the skills of observation, detachment, and stillness so we remember the unconditional wisdom we hold within.
- The seventh luminous marker is Chullya, which describes the law of unity as well as a state of being — everything is connected and nothing is separate. This luminous marker establishes the route our journey must takes to reach our destiny — to co-create with Creation. This requires us to step beyond the illusion of duality. To embody this organizing principle we must develop congruence between our three energy centers by sourcing from: (a) Absolute Truth (yachay); (b) the unconditionality of our emotions (munay), and (c) right-action (llankay) so our energy is no longer invested in or compromised by the seductions of ego.
Due to the lateness of the hour, I realize we will not be heading in the direction of a large stone that I saw on my first trip to Machu Picchu and continue to see in my dreams, and use as the launching site for journeys to the Upper World (Hanaqpacha). Pointing in the stone’s direction, I inquire if the stone has a name.
Smiling, Marco tells me it is the Death Stone. Perfect. My body vibrates with energy when I hear it is where we will be holding ceremony tonight.
Ascending a series of steps from the Principle Temple, we stop at a rectangular-shaped room that is acoustically fascinating. As a demonstration some of us lean our heads into the stone niches that have been built-in around the room, while the others stand closely in the center. Those at the niches begin to sing very softly, “Row, row, row your boat.”
Continuing to the top of the stairway, we arrive at Intihuaytana, more commonly known as the “Hitching Post of the Sun.” Because its four corners are exactly in alignment with the cardinal directions, it is speculated that it was used for astronomical observation.
Referencing the work of astronomer Raymond Wright, Marco tells us Inka temples were situated for astronomical observations of the sun, moon, and the four constellations Omega, Vega, Sirius, and Pleiades. The number four was very significant to the Inka. It represented the four directions the sun travels (east, up, west and down) and the journey to transcendence — awakening, revelation, articulation and resetting.
The Pachamama Stone is a massive rock that was excavated elsewhere and somehow moved to this site. Flattening my body to the stone I feel its extraordinary high-voltage power, which is energetically connected to the mountain directly behind it, radiating through my body. I drink the energy in, front and back.
For the past several years, through my apprenticeship in Inka shamanism, I have been learning how to separate Absolute Truth from relative truth — the wheat from the chaff. Like veils before our eyes, we create or consensually absorb beliefs and stories that keep us feeling disempowered and separate. Medicine people here refer to these as the "hungry ghosts that stalk us." The journey to wholeness is found through the stepping beyond these relative believes by embracing, rather than resisting, their complimentary opposite.
My personal journey is revealing to me what organizing principles and beliefs guide my life choices unconditionally — no matter the context? What are the fears that hold me in their grip and keep me from expressing the light that burns deep within? These are not easy questions. I find myself discovering answers, only to find myself later plunged even deeper into the "lower world" of my consciousness to mine even more understanding as relative truths after relative truths are seen for what they are.
What I do know, first-hand, is the medicine teaching of complimentary opposites holds power, and for wholeness to be present in my life I must dance with strength in weakness, life in death, accomplishment in failure, and evolution in stagnation. It is only when complimentary opposite expressions are brought into ayni — balance through right-relationship — a power, greater than each can achieve separately, is created. This is wholeness.
In alchemy, fire is the essential ingredient. In this tradition, too, fire is the primary transformational tool used to transmute old, limiting beliefs and patterns into power: more conscious awareness. Fire ceremonies serve this purpose. Our breath is used to imprint relative trusts that hold us back from being fully unconditional in our relationships and engagements onto sticks or other sacrificial natural and combustible element of nature so they can be released to the fire and alchemically turned to “gold,” ayni.
Finally, the time has come. The sky is completely black. Little by little a few stars become visible as our eyes adjust. Walking quietly, solemnly back to the entrance gate, our evening passes are stamped. Retracing our steps back to the agricultural section, we head up a steep, narrow set of stairs. This, I remember, was the way Marco led Rick and me to the Death Stone nearly four years ago! The stairs are unevenly spaced and follow the contour of the hillside. Headlamps on, we climb up and up as the trail winds to the right and left. It certainly feels I am exerting more energy moving around in the dark, perhaps due to not being sure of my footing. Or, perhaps, not being able to see my destination. Is that a key metaphor, I wonder?
After a while we arrive at the Watchman’s Hut. Several candles are lit and we are told, “Tonight, you will die.”
We are told medicine people believe it is essential to transcend the mythology of death as finality. To do this requires dying to all of our attachments — the good, the not so good, and the bad ones.
Tonight, at Machu Picchu, we are to die symbolically to our “ego” self so we can be reborn to the fullness of NOW without obstacles or frictions in life. This symbolic death allows for the possibility of moving past our impending engagements, promises, and fears — all of which feed upon our life-force. In dying, the most remote possibilities that can afford us the greatest wholeness become more probable. As a result, our consciousness expands and becomes less conditioned by everyday life. In the Inka worldview, by becoming twice-born, death becomes an ally. In other words, when our time comes to physically die, we will be prepared to do so gently and elegantly.
Having recently witnessed my mother-in-law's dying process, I yearn to do whatever it takes that mine can happen gently upon others and elegantly in having no resistance to passing beyond the veil of this reality and embracing whatever comes after.
Then, it is time to die.
In contrast, Amazonian shamans use ayahuasca — the vine of death — to break the bonds of ordinary reality and navigate through the various stages of death to see their impending engagements and fears within an animistic context. This is the process of dis-memberment.
Then lies the challenge of moving beyond their personal maps so they become available to explore the infinite and merge with Spirit. This is the process of re-memberment. At this stage of consciousness evolution, a shaman is fully available to embrace life unconditionally.
Sacred space is opened. For me, there is always an added intensity of magic and mystical power when ceremony is held outdoors under the stars. Perhaps the light of day lessens the energetic connection. It may be, too, that the Death Stone is across from the main cemetery at Machu Picchu, which contained embalmed bodies that were buried along with animals to help the deceased cross over the “bridge” to the Upper World (Hanaqpacha). Whatever, tonight it is especially palpable!
Those of us not assisting stand in a semicircle around the west side of the stone. Our "job" is to call in, through our singing, the winged-beings who will protect all of us within our sacred circle. I remind myself that it is absolutely essential to remain present in the moment. As our voices rise and fall softly together, more stars appear in the heavens, and the winged-beings begin their visible fire light display all around us.
After five or six people “die,” I walk up the three steps readying myself. This is not the first time I have “died.” In the past I have been unconsciously reluctant to completely “let go.”
Facing south, I hold onto my mesa and silently call upon the animistic forces of nature --Wiracocha, Pachamama,
Deep within I hear a voice telling me that my work on earth is not complete. Tonight, I will become one with all creation for a short while only. The experience the sensation of return like falling from a great height. A sudden, soundless “thump” anchors my consciousness back into my body. I am aware again of my breath. I am told to breathe energy down through my body and ground it into Pachamama.
To disengage from the physical body is an experience beyond words, beyond my five senses. Emotion wells up within me. Sadness? No, gratefulness for having given myself the gift to “die” — especially to my relationship with Rick. As simplistic as that may sound, my co-dependent attachment kept me, in the past, from being wholly dis-membered. My attachment, too, kept me from being unconditional in our relationship, taking full responsibility for my part. And only my part. Alberto closes and re-informs my energy centers, and helps me stand up.
Legs shaking, I am helped down from the Death Stone and held very closely in a gentle yet firm embrace. The words “Welcome home” are whispered in my ear. Feeling a bit nauseous and wobbly, I need to be in contact with Pachamama, grounded to our sweet Mother Earth. Eventually I walk unsteadily back around the Stone to hold space for my allyu sisters and brothers. All I can think about is needing to reconnect more deeply to Pachamama. Tears streaming from my eyes, I look up at the night sky and know that I am part of the stars, the planets and the inky blackness. I look at the mountains silhouetted in darkness and know I am part of them, too. I need to move. One of my sisters comes over and embraces me. Looking in each other’s eyes, we nod our heads, smiling knowingly. Another joins us and we three become one — watching the moon rise over the Intipunku, the Sun Gate. Has there even been such a magnificent night!
I am in awe of Alberto as he performs this ceremony with impeccable intent and sacredness over and over. After completing the ritual for the last time, he, too, seems wobbly. The next ritual is to take place at the Principal Temple. Perfect. I feel grounded by the time we are ready to leave making our hike down the ancient, uneven stone steps much more safe.
Indulge me as I try to describe Machu Picchu at night. To say it is magical or other worldly, is not sufficient. Machu Picchu comes alive at night. Energies are awakened and dance all around us. We are not alone. The winged beings — wamani, kilkies and halkey malkeys — are all present. You can feel them lightly touching your skin, unimaginably whispering in your ears. Pinpoints of light flickering here and there. The sense of a presence behind you, but “nothing” is there. Here. Now. The veils between worlds are very, very thin. I feel like Alice stepping through the looking glass.
I climb up onto an altar-like ledge along the longest wall. Sitting beneath the second niche from the left, I quiet my mind and pray to Pachamama to help me stay fully in my body and present to this experience. I ask Wiracocha, too, to help me wrap threads of luminous energy (cekes) from each of my energy centers around this Temple so my “reborn” energy body may be informed anew.
Sometime later I sense the ball of energy gliding downwards. Slowly. Awareness of my breath returns. My body twitches and I feel something poking into one thigh. Opening my eyes, I notice others getting up and moving away from the Temple. Once fully back in ordinary consciousness, I ease myself down from this perch and rejoin the others.
The last ritual of the night takes place at the Temple of the Condor. We are here to heal the complementary opposite aspects of ourselves — feminine and masculine. Forming a circle around the stone “body,” someone walks around with incense to clear our energy fields. Having set our intention, one by one we walk to the “head” of the condor and pour a small amount of water on its forehead so that it divides with some going to the condor’s right (masculine) eye and some to its left (feminine) eye.
After sacred space is closed, we walk silently back towards the entrance gate. I am aware of a sweet contentment and peace that envelopes me. It is after 9 p.m. when we board the bus to take us down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. During dinner there is talk about going next door for more dancing — walking by, the music sounded really good. Tempted, my need for quiet and sleep to process all that has taken place, uncharacteristically, wins out. Tomorrow, I tell myself, there will be opportunity to dance in Cuzco.