Pre-Psychedelia; Days 4–7 in Peru
Day 6 of the 23 day Peru Odyssey and the sixteen of us have packed so much in to this first week we feel like we’ve known each other for ever. We played with the energy of a ‘dimensional portal’ on our first full tour day. We’ve had adventures not on the high seas but on the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. It is awe-inspiringly huge, surrounded by Andean peaks attracting big bellied cumulus clouds to float lower than you usually expect but then again we were at 4000m altitude. Breath-taking in every sense.
With Amaru, a very special individual who, as a shaman, is the perfect guide for our ‘Outer Travel Inner Journey’ we’ve been exploring sacred sites and experiencing unusual ways of perceiving them. For a couple of days he brought in Rene, another guide who would take us to where his family live — on one of the floating islands of Uros.
The floating islands greeted us in a way none of us expected. They have to be seen to be believed and no photograph can ever capture the essence of these extraordinary places. With every single thing made out of reeds, from the island itself, the huts, the beds inside, their boats, these tiny islands are home to extended families. The little children go to the nearby kindergarten also housed on a floating island and made of reeds. The warmth of the welcome brought many of us to tears. Not long after our tears were from laughter as the womenfolk took us by the hand, led us into their tiny reed homes and dressed us in their traditional clothing. The beautiful Mariella dressed me in a bright orange tiered skirt, a blue jacket and one of their unusual bowler hats which perched precariously on my head at a very jaunty angle. Our dancing and laughter rocked the island. Most of us never wanted to leave.
A few sun kissed hours later we jumped on to the stunningly beautiful and sacred Amantani island. While most road makers zig zag their roads and paths up very steep inclines, the Peruvians simply go straight up. No messing about. If you want to get to B from A, take a straight line, no matter if you’re almost crawling on your belly. Of course the locals trot happily up these forbidding slopes even with great loads on their shoulders, but I was not nearly as light on my feet. Without the camaraderie and helping hands of this new ‘sacred tour’ family I’m not sure I would ever have made it to our hostel. I knew the gentle roll of the Hertfordshire landscape was never ever going to prepare my muscles or my lungs to handle such Andean steepness. But this was not all. Amaru, our wise and sometimes mischievous guide, took us on an afternoon hike which almost finished me off and let me know in no uncertain terms I’d never make the mountain peak the following morning to see the sun rise. ‘Can’t you rig up a cable car, or find me a donkey?’ I joked with Rene, another guide from the region. ‘You can take a horse,’ he suggested and looked ahead where a horse was indeed being led down the mountain. We did a deal on the spot and arranged for him to collect me at our hostel the following morning at 4.45am. If that sounds early remember the rest of the group were walking on their own two feet and leaving at 4am.
This entire experience I always knew was going to challenge me and push a number of my buttons. Funnily enough I had thought how great it would be to get on a horse again and so there I was in the dark clambering ungainly on the back of a pretty horse at just after 5am as my caballero was late. I had to keep checking the horse was okay as he panted like a bellows on the steepest paths, but my guide just laughed and said ‘si, ok!’. After a while I relaxed and enjoyed the view of the stars in the deep night sky, and the sliver of light begin to appear over the top of the mountain peak. The temple to Pachatata was my destination. A place to watch the sun rise over Lake Titicaca, the birth place of the Andean God Viracocha.
What a setting and what a ceremony we experienced with our guide and shaman Amaru, assisted by Rene. As the sun rose a single cloud spread out above it like an eagle in flight coming straight towards me. To the right of the sun a rack of clouds sculpted a dragon breathing its flames to meld with the sun itself. It was wonderful, uplifting and exhilarating.
Walking back down to the hostel was still a challenge. It takes an effort not to fall on your face with the powerful pull of gravity trying to topple me over — I’d sent the caballero and his horse, Chocolate, home. It was amazing to see the beautiful deep blue ocean-like lake laid out below us, with the Andean mountains all around as far as we could see. Bolivia to the extreme right and the rest all Peru. And hard to imagine that behind the mountains directly in front of us lay the Amazon jungle — our destination 9 days from then.
After a much needed breakfast we headed down the slope of Amantani to catch our boat back to the mainland. We were all tired, unshowered, but thrilled at what had unfolded with us as eager and happy initiates in this extraordinary shamanic world.
By the time we stepped ashore in Puno I was at the very end of my energy. A week of extreme sleeplessness and walking way beyond my fitness level had depleted me to a point where I felt desperate to rest and recharge. I made it through a late lunch and headed to bed at 4pm! Between then and our early departure for Cusco I managed to get some sleep under my belt.
Our lengthy bus journey to Cusco was punctuated with walks around more beautiful lakes with attitude at altitude, the extraordinary Sillustani which I declined, happy to forgo yet another steep walk in favour of the peace and quiet by the two lakes side by side. Fascinating to experience one lake as a place of grandeur with only one fisherman in his tiny fishing boat to blemish the pristine water, while the other lake, just metres away, was a noisy haven for wildlife with red-beaked moorhens running Christ-like across the water. I was sitting peaceful as a monk when I was suddenly wrapped in arms from behind and subjected to a ‘cinnamon roll’, a very special kind of hug where I became the middle point of a spiral of sacred journeyers. Aw bless them!
Lunch gave us the long awaited lama and alpaca photo opportunity. A beautiful spot by a waterfall, and two enchanting children looking after a number of aforementioned creatures. The little brown alpaca was one of the cutest people I’ve met, but luckily we’d been warned not to try and kiss them as they have a habit of spitting in your face!
One more stop to see the remains of the tallest temple to Viracocha and a couple more hours on the winding road through spectacular mountains. The Andes are extraordinary as they have different styles — some are grass covered, fat bosomed and bellied while others are craggy and expose their rugged rocks, while a third kind look like the huge body-less cloven feet of unimaginably big monsters. By the time we make Cusco the light has fled and the stars are out in force. We are dropped off at the end of a very tiny cobbled street and have to drag our own suitcases (quelle horreur!) to our enchanting little hotel down a cul-de-sac unapproachable by anything with more than two legs or wheels (unless you’re a dog or a cat).
Cusco — a magical city within a steep bowl of mountains and at 3600m gave us enough extra oxygen to return some of the energy lost at altitude. It is a place to wander and explore — sacred sites in the city, amazing architecture with much Spanish influence, tiny streets, a phenomenal array of places to eat and above all shop! The shopping here is exquisite whether from a shop or street vendor. Most of the quality is fantastic and somehow I have managed to buy more!
Our family is bonding in a beautiful way. On many tours you often find little cliques emerge and it’s rare to make friends with the whole group — that usually needs a common theme like our passion for this sacred journey and the wish to experience the powerful psychedelic plant teacher and healer Ayahuasca.
Tomorrow we’re off to the Sacred Valley, a few days in Pisac and our first encounter with San Pedro — the sacred plant medicine made from the San Pedro cactus! See you on the other side of psychedelia
Originally published at francescacassini.com on May 15, 2015.