Written last night…and in a half an hour we will leave for Machu Picchu:
We are now at Aguas Calientes at the Hotel Andina. This is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. It is a hot springs town. Our hotel is located right along the Urubamba River. The river is wild, turbulent, churned up, loud and is right outside our window. The river deafens my ears and when I am in the room, I can’t hear Ericka unless I am right next to her! During the day, I have a full view of the river down below.
We leave for Machu Picchu early in the morning. There are two choices, one group will leave at 6 a.m with our guide Gustavo and the second group will leave at 8 a.m. with Ericka. This gives those who are tired a chance to sleep in. I will go with the first group in hopes of catching a brilliant sunrise at Machu Picchu. When we arrived today in Aguas Calientes, it was pouring. Gustavo said the weather pattern is such that it rains in the evening and night and clears up a bit early in the morning. We are not sure if we can do yoga at the sacred site because of the downpours. I sure hope we can since we have been given permission to do so! We will just have to wait and see. I told everyone not to bring their yoga mats. If it is not pouring, then we can do yoga with our hiking boots on and I can focus on standing poses and breathing! We are all super excited about tomorrow!
I just went back to re-read what I wrote in my last blog (the one I sent off in a super-duper-hurry today) and discovered that I sent out a rough draft!! I am ever so embarrassed. So I think I will leave things as they are and try to make up by writing something more coherent!
So I will go back to yesterday. We drove through the Sacred Valley. It was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. We passed lush verdant pastures. Sheepherders and farmers were in the fields as were sheep, llamas, cows, and sometimes pigs. Gustavo spoke to us about the Incan Empire. The Incas only ruled for 80 years. With all they accomplished, I thought that they had been a powerful empire for hundreds of years. But I found out that in just 80 years, they spread their empire into Ecuador, Chile, and Bolivia. They were about to take over the Amazons at the time of the Conquistadors. The Incas were as powerful as they were because they were adapting various elements from pre-Incan cultures, such as architecture, farming, and various other cultural and visual arts.
We had lunch at a gorgeous hacienda, Hacienda Orihuela. The owners’ grandfather-in-law was an art collector and collected artifacts from ancient Peruvian cultures. He built the hacienda so that he could display his beautiful collections. The hacienda now offers private lunches and dinners. It is exquisite in every way. The grounds were perfectly landscaped with flowers and surrounded by eucalyptus trees. It was a true treat and we gathered in the garden and took group photos. The current owner then came out and told us about the history of the hacienda. She took us to the family’s private museum right next door where thousands of pre-Incan artifacts were tastefully displayed. The groundskeeper brought out two guinea pigs and we all got to pet and adore them. Cuy, also known as guinea pig, is a popular meat served in this area, so these cute little guys were most likely going to end us as the family meal at one point or another. They are as cute as the rabbits my dad raised, the same rabbits that made their way into my mom’s Coniglio Cacciatore for our Sunday dinners.
After our fabulous lunch, we drove on to our dreamy hotel nestled in the heart of the Sacred Valley, Hotel Pisonai. Pisonai refers to a native tree that grows in the area. The receptionist pointed the tree out to me. The grounds were filled with flowers and stone covered paths. The only complaint anyone had is that the plan was to stay at Hotel Pisonai for only one night.
Everyone gathered around the plaza on the hotel grounds and waited for one of the night’s surprises. We led everyone into a room, which also served as our yoga studio, and we were sat down on blankets. We had asked everyone earlier to bring a blanket with then from their rooms. So there we were, all cozy with our blankets and a group of three spiritual musicians wooed us for the next hour.
The group, called Sonqo, used natural instruments. This means they used rocks, corn leaves, feathers, beans, gourds, and other such natural materials to make beautiful sounds. Their sounds imitated the elements: wind, fire, air, and earth. There are three worlds: the earth, the sky, and the underworld. The jaguar represents the earth, the condor represents the sky, and the snake represent the underworld. Some things that stood out for me were the following: the jaguar mask made of corn husks that one musician wore when doing the music piece about the earth, the condor feather that was flapped around and made to sound just like a condor flying when the music piece was about the sky and air, the long tubular hollow bamboo instruments that had beans inside of them which sounded like water flowing when moved. Sometimes I sat and watched, sometimes I closed my eyes and I was transported to another world listening to the unique spiritual music of Sonqo. The flapping of one condor wing felt as if a condor was flying around my head!
After Sonqo, we had the second surprise for the group. I led everyone to a field behind the hotel grounds where a shaman awaited us! He had prepared a bonfire and we all sat on logs for the Pacha Mama ceremony. In this ceremony, we honor the Mother Earth, or Pacha Mama. The shaman explained in Spanish (translated by Gustavo) that Pacha Mama will give you anything you ask of her. We all had to make a wish and really believe our wish to come true. We were each given three coca leaves. We had to blow on them and then hand them back to the shaman who then arranged the leaves into a design on a woven cloth. He had a bag of offerings and was assembling it all into a package which would then go into the fire. We saw two one-hundred dollar bills go into the woven bundle. Later we watched the bills burn (inside the bundle) in the sacrificial fire! And so a long ceremony began. It was quite fascinating. It was also a hysterically funny (at least for me and a few others) when, in the middle of preparing the offerings, the shaman’s cell phone went off! Not just once, but twice! He struggled to find it under his poncho and the second time managed to turn it off.
Later, the shaman opened one bottle of wine and two bottles of beer and we were all asked to take a flask that he filled up for us and spill the contents of the flask onto Pacha Mama, facing all four directions.
It was a beautiful ceremony! After it ended, he did a spiritual cleansing for a few of us. I was deeply moved by this experience. I went to bed utterly exhausted and happily filled with a day of new experiences. Perhaps this was my best day yet on this trip!
All that was yesterday. And this leads me to today! We all gathered in the beautiful yoga studio. It looks like a chapel and is where the Sonqo group was last night. Everyone had pretty good energy and we focused on the elements presented last night and also very much a part of the yoga practice: earth, water, fire, air, and ether or space (ether is not one from the ceremony). It was a really nice yoga session.
After yoga and breakfast, we got to linger a bit. The hotel is so comfortable and it felt good to not have to leave so soon. We then went to visit the archaeological remains of Moray, a large complex of unusual Inca ruins made up of enormous circular terraces which were used to study the effects of different climactic conditions on the crops. Fava beans, corn, quinoa, and potatoes were grown here among other crops. The depth of the holes, the largest is 30 meters deep, create a variation of temperature of 15 C between the top and the bottom levels. It also had sophisticated irrigation systems for the plants. Some of us walked down to the very bottom! There were built in stone ladders as well! I was huffing and puffing climbing back out of the circular terraces as the air is so very thin here!
We then drove on to Ollantaytambo, a beautiful town with narrow stone streets. There we saw the ruins of a fortress with great surrounding stone walls. I was hit with another hammer pounding headache! The result was that I didn’t go on the fortress tour, but went instead in search of a coffee in the town market. I have been only drinking mate de coca (coca leaf tea which is available at all the hotels and is supposed to help with altitude acclimation). I think the headache came on because I exerted myself climbing down and then back up again to and from the circular terraces! I read that I am supposed to avoid coffee and alcohol, but all the altitude medications are full of caffeine. I just thought to myself, “To hell with this! I am having my coffee!” I found a GREAT coffee shop and ordered my first coffee in days. Can I just say that the coffee tasted ever so good? It was worth forgoing the fortress tour. The guy who owned the coffee shop went by the name Jimmy. He explained that he originally had called his coffee shop IncanBucks and he got in a lot of trouble for doing that. He also borrowed the Starbucks logo, just changing “star” to “Incan”. After getting in trouble, he quickly changed the name of his shop to Incan Coffee and smartly ditched the logo.
Within 20 minutes, my headache went away!
Everyone met up at the bus and off to the train for Machu Picchu. That was one of the most exciting train rides of my life. We watched the gorgeous dramatic landscape pass us by. We went from the pastoral fields of the Sacred Valley to more rain forest type vegetation, dense and rich. Thick dramatic clouds hugged the mountains. The veils of clouds lent to the mysterious atmosphere of Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes. We were greeted by the heavy rains of the rainforest! We walked to our hotel and within a half an hour were in the gorgeous hotel room that we are using for yoga these two days we are here. The room has a huge window facing the mighty and roaring Urubamba River! We had a great yoga session there!
And now for bed! All of these images have accompanying photos (except for yoga, I never think to take photos while I am teaching!). Photos will come later. Good night!