Friday, July 10, 2009

solstice story

There are lots of really strong stories about the spirits (Apus) of this valley. I think I have written before about when Mauricio and I go to the ruins his grandmother gives me a lecture about making sure I hold his hand because if you fall in the ruins, especially if you get a scrape, it gives the Apus a chance to get into your body. They will cause deformities or sometimes create an illness where you will get skinnier and skinnier and all your joints will cease up and you will become unable to walk. The only cure for this is a curandero who knows what to do for it and has tremendous ceremonies and such. There are stories you have heard from Mel about spirits that die and are unaccepted by heaven so they are sent back to earth to re-enter their bodies and then go up to the glaciers to live out their time and do their penance. If you are ever up in the ice flows you have to be extra careful not to run into them. Lots of stories about this valley. Even though the residents are primarily Catholic, it does not seem to conflict with the absolute certainty of these traditions of the Inca and of the Gods before them. Part of the way you avoid the curses is to make sure that you give offerings when you go to any sacred place including ruins. This includes taking three whole coca leaves and burying them in the ground or under a rock pointing in the direction of the rising sun. Also if you are going to have something to drink, you offer the first drink to the Pacha Mama, who is like the Mother Earth of Peru but not exactly. Not as benign, more needy and demanding and more giving. Whenever somebody takes me out to a ruin or other place, they always do this ritual or they offer the earth the first drink of water or beer or chicha and sometimes they say the special words to the cardinal points or say the names of the mountains surrounding Ollantay, thanking them and offering this small gift. Each time I have been taken somewhere with a guide they perform this small ceremony and certainly if you are outside and have a drink it is customary to pour out the first bit to the Pacha Mama.

Guillermo offered to take Mel and I and another friend Mariko camping for the summer solstice to a place called the Mirador or lookout. On the sunrise of the 21st and 22nd the sun comes up between two mountains and creates just a beam of light that illuminates only the first door of the pyramid and was considered the Incan New Year. Obviously the pyramids were built in just such a way to accent this phenomena. Also the pyramid is flat – like someone took an Egyptian pyramid and cut one side so that it would lay flat – you will be able to see this in pictures when I get them posted. So we walked up in the afternoon of the 20th and collected the cow dung – stinks less than carrying wood – for our fire for the night. Guillermo did the coca leaf burying ceremony on behalf of us all. Thanking the Apus for letting us be there and asking for a good new year for us all – the Incas considered the solstice their new year. I didn't do it with him but I loaned him a spoon to dig a hole and sat next to him. Then we started our fire and drank pre-mixed rum and cokes so we didn't have to carry the glass bottles up with us. Cause it was a heck of a hike carrying all camping gear as it was. Thank goodness we've been in such good hiking training. As it was, Guillermo carried a pack that was incredibly heavy so we didn't have to carry to much ourselves, cause he's good like that. I teased him it was to keep him from flying while we were merely walking. He was raised over one of the mountains – what he calls a three hour hike but what would take me all day. They are amazing these Andean people, they can walk such amazing distances carrying so much weight straight up mountains for days and days.

We had a great time camping. The fire was warm and in fact didn't stink at all and we drank rum and made music and visited til the wee hours. Of course late at night I had to go to the bathroom and tripped over a bush and fell, scraping up both knees and my right hand but didn't think much of it. We slept for a bit and got up at around 5am. Had some tea and sat at the edge of the cliff, waiting for the sun to come up. Before it came up over the mountain, it illuminated one of the glaciers to the North called Veronica which was spectacular. It finally came up at about 7am, illuminating only the first door of the pyramid at first. We all had a little bit of prayer and special time as the sun came up. Guillermo was sad that he was on that mountain with a bunch of tourists and not very many local folks there to see what the Incas considered their new year. He talked a little about how native culture is being lost and instead of celebrating the fact that they speak two languages, parents are now not teaching their children Quechua and kids are making fun of kids in school that speak Quechua. It really is a shame to watch tourism and TV take its toll on this culture and these customs. After the sun came up we all packed up our stuff and headed down the mountain and went to breakfast.

After breakfast, we all went to sleep a little for the afternoon. I had one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had in this nap. In it, Guillermo and Mel and I had been out adventuring and then gone to eat, like we did. Upon leaving the door of where we were eating, there was a man on my left that asked me for five dollars. I asked him what he wanted five dollars for and he told me for protection of his house. I laughed and he cast off crutches that I hadn't noticed he had and we walked and he looked at me a little mischievously like he had been fooling people with these crutches and then we walked and then he was ahead of me and I even was swiping at his healthy legs with my walking stick and laughing and then he stopped in front of a church-y thing and I looked back at him and he looked deep into my eyes and I noticed that he legs were wooden – tree trunks as opposed to carved wood. He looked deep into my eyes with reproach as if to say “I actually needed help and you didn't help” or something of this nature. I woke up then with it so strong on me and finally told Mel the dream though it made me a little embarrassed to say that thought I had been visited by a spirit in my dream. I didn't think he was precisely mad at me, more disappointed and I was confused by it.

Andres came by and I asked him if he knew of any Apus – the Quechua word for spirit – that have wooden legs and he said no but asked me to explain to him why I was asking so I told him about my dream and he said it sounded like the Pacha Mama had come to visit me and asked me if I had made an offering while we were camping and I told him that Guillermo had on behalf of all of us but I had not. He said that he thought the Pacha Mama was asking me to make my own offering and that I needed to do that in the same place I had been which meant another climb up to the lookout which was really far up into the hills but I decided that he was right and I realized that I hadn't even taken a moment to say thank you as I left this experience. Later on that day I showed Andres the scrapes on my knees and he just looked at me like he couldn't believe how dumb I was. I KNOW this. I know that if you fall in the ruins that special care needs to be taken. Also when I told him that I had loaned Guillermo the spoon to dig the hole for the coco leaves he asked me if I ate off of it later and sure enough I had. I don't know specifically what the significance of that is, but it seemed important to him. I have never felt so, I don't know, naive I guess. There was a lot of head shaking and the feeling that I had been very dumb.

I was just going to climb up by myself in the morning and take some coco leaves and some Pisco (Peruvian alcohol) and ask for forgiveness for having overlooked this and give thanks for the time spent there. Andres said that the Pacha Mama doesn't accept hard alcohol and that will just be more insulting but really likes champagne (or beer or chicha) so we went and bought champagne and fresh coco leaves. He said it also likes sweets so I put some candy in the pile to take. He also offered to go with me and guide me through the ceremony and make the offerings in Quechua so that it was done properly. Not much later, Guillermo came by and I told him my dream (without saying anything of what Andres thought) and he immediately said it was Pacha Mama in the dream and that I have been here long enough now to be doing my own offering ceremonies and he should have thought of that when he was doing ours. The difference between a guest and someone who lives in your house kind of. That a number of times lately I have taken other people to ruins and sacred sites that I used to have guides take me to and I should have been doing the offerings that they have been doing.

The offerings are just that the earth is always hungry and thirsty. If you are going to eat or drink, it is polite to offer some. Tip some water or beer or soda or chicha and take three whole coco leaves and put them into the ground or under a rock pointed toward where the sun rises and say thanks. There are proper words in Quechua and to the four cardinal points but if you don't know them, the offer and the thanks are enough.

Andres and I went up to the lookout this morning and I dug a hole with a stick and rock while he prepared the coco leaves by looking through them for the most beautiful and whole leaves. While I dug I told the earth and Apus that I was sorry that I had neglected this most basic of things, of being grateful. That while I recognize that I need to learn this simple ceremony and use it when I go on outings, that I hadn't given even a simple thank you and that was not okay. I vocalized the things I was grateful for. The opportunity to spend time here, to have friends like Guillermo and Andres, grateful that I had been visited in a dream so that I could have the chance to make it right. Grateful that I had recognized the dream for what it was and followed through on it. Grateful to have Andres with me and to please accept his words on my behalf. As Andres started the ceremony with the coco leaves I found myself in meditation position and crying and empty minded. He called to each of the mountains and asked them to receive this offering on my behalf. He also said Maryjane which he never does – he always calls me Mary – and that felt important. After he got done calling to each of the mountains around Ollantaytambo speaking to them in both Spanish and Quechua, he made a general prayer to them all while they were listening asking them to forgive this transgression and to understand that this traveler is learning and thanking them for sending the spirit guide in the dream to show me that I had made a mistake and give me the opportunity to correct it. And as he talked, I cried for every time I have forgotten to be grateful, for every time I have not been humble. It had to do with much more than not burying some coco leaves one time I went camping. It was a really strong ceremony.
As we poured the champagne into the hole and sat and watched it disappear into the earth, clouds started to roll down all the valleys to the middle where we were, bringing rain with each of them. This is the dry season and it hasn't rained in months and also usually rain comes from one direction. I have never seen anything quite like it and Andres said the same. I will mention here that Andres doesn't do these types of ceremonies as a rule. He feels like it gets cheapened by people making stuff up to pretend at spirituality. When people are telling the traditional stories of crazy spirits and different things, he never takes part in them. When I asked him why he said that he feels like to tell people about these things invites them – especially if they are bad spirits. If you have never heard of them, you will not recognize them and they can't hurt you. So even when we go trekking, I hardly ever see him do the rituals that other people are very open about. That he was willing to come with me and do this ceremony with me was not normal and made it that much more strong. He said that even though he doesn't like to mess with that stuff, that to have the Pacha Mama come in a dream that clearly and ask me to give offering was really important and it needed to be done properly and he would help me. After the clouds started rolling all towards us, we just sat and watched them come in from all sides even though it meant it was raining on us and on the long walk home. It felt like a good thing.

I'm not sure what any of it means, but I know that it was strong and important. Like many religious practices, there is some confusion in me about whether to believe things or whether the belief itself is strong enough to make things real. Who am I to say that these spirits aren't real and don't roam the country side? Who am I to say that some crazy illness wouldn't have infected me if we hadn't gone and done the ceremony? It is such an interesting thing to be in the middle of energy this strong and belief systems surrounding it that are this strong.

On a side note, the next day I was cleaning out the bags of stuff and found a rock that is significant. I found a really beautiful rock that had all the different types of rock and minerals that they find magical in one fist shaped rock. I brought it back with me to the fireplace and put it near just as a little talisman thing. In the morning I thought to take it with me as it wasn't a piece of ruin or anything but had a strong feeling not to so I just impulsively kissed it and put it back onto the ground. Guillermo picked it up and said he was taking it as a memento of our trip and carried it with him in his hand most of the way down the mountain. He must have put it in my bag at some point and I laughed and thought this must be what the Uncle wanted $5 for. His birthday was a couple of days later and I gave it to him and told him it was well paid for and he laughed and said surely that had a lot to do with being visited. Again, I don't know all the rules of this valley, but it felt like a strong piece of belonging to have had this experience, with these people as well as the spirits of the valley, whatever the “reality” of it.

1 comment:

  1. I know you were worried about how this would sound once written... it's difficult to communicate something that powerful with mere words. I know how deeply moved you were by the experience, and I know how important the valley and the stories and the people have become to you...

    you did it exactly right. This is beautiful.