The month leading up to Peru I was a mess. A total mess. I had gained back almost half of the 30 lbs I had lost on the raw vegan detox, I was eating fast food, drinking, smoking, my room was in shambles, my heart was aching over lost romance…all in all a low point in this lull of depression. I had been doing so well before then, but somehow after I completed Inner Visions I lost touch with what I’d learned and came crashing down.
I’d learned so much – I needed to integrate it in a new way. When was I ever going to get ahold of all this bullshit and be able to just live my life? I was hoping this journey to Peru would do what my intuition is telling me it would do…
7/13/07 Around 5am – Friday the 13th
My plane leaves from Dulles to El Salvador to Peru. I almost missed it in my haste to pack, trying to prioritize what I can fit in a suitcase that is small enough to be carried on (though of course because I use shampoo it must be checked.) I was going to be gone a month, not sure of the amount of laundry services available in the Amazon jungle.
I arrive in Lima, where I am transported by Amauta Spanish Language school’s people to a hotel. Fairly uneventful. Lima is a city that I can skip. I am excited to practice Spanish again. I’m sure I’ve moved past the un poquito level by now… ojala (hopefully)
Journey to the Festival of the Virgin del Carmen
I take a smaller plane into Cusco, where I am brought to my host family. The house is very nice, the baby girl is super cute, and I’m nervous and excited overall. Cecelia (my host mom who is about three years older than me) asks me if I would like to come to the Festival of the Virgin del Carmen in a small town about two hours over the mountain. This is a very special event as it only happens once a year. Well of course I want to go, are you kidding? Por que no?
In a half hour I have a backpack and we are en route to the town I can never remember its name. Me, Cecelia, her friend Mari and Mari’s hija (daughter) Paola (who is about twenty.) On the two hour drive I understood maybe half of the conversations taking place. I love Spanish.
I watched as the brown dusty mountains climbed higher and higher, only to level off and continue their undulation. I was completely awed by the scene in front of me. The valley was so vast…something I had never felt before. The energy here was something really special.
Eventually I started to notice little kids on the side of the road yelling at our cab as we drove by. Sometimes they would throw water at the car or slap their hands on it as it went by. They were poor…really poor. Poverty that I’ve only seen on the Adopt-a-Child commercials. We drove past mud buildings with no water or electricity. It was getting cold out and these kids didn’t even have shoes or more than a t-shirt. This hit me in a way I can’t put into words. How do you build an economy when there isn’t one to start with?
When we got to the festival, I loved the little pueblo. There were huge parades on the streets with dances that the men have passed down for generations, singing songs in Quechua, regaled with expensive costumes that are only used for this event. There were historic representations of many things, including when the gringos came as well as the slave trade.
The whole thing was fascinating and a bit overwhelming for my first day there, but all and all it was a very special experience. I went to the statue of the Virgen del Carmen to light my candles and ask for her help in a few matters (as the tradition goes.) I was sure she would help me out.
After two nights there we headed back, pulling over in the middle of the night on the mountainside for Cecelia to throw up something she ate.
I looked up to see the most beautiful sparkling stars I had ever encountered. There were no lights around and we were up at 12,000 feet…they just glowed and shone their crystalline twinkle. I finally saw the constellation of Chakana (the Southern Cross – also one of my favorite songs!) I was awed (while still trying to be compassionate and hold Cece’s hair back.)
Monday-Wednesday in Cusco: Amauta Language School
The language school was nice; there were people from all over the world there. I met people from France, Canada, Holland…it was really cool. One night I went out and forgot about the altitude effects alcohol phenomenon and lost the next day in recovery…that phenomenon is no joke. Lesson learned – that was the last time I drank on the entire trip (shy of a couple Pisquo Sours here and there – the staple drink of Cusco.)
Thursday-Friday in Taray (near Sacred Valley): Amauta Language School
Now I was out in the country. In Sacred Valley the energy is just magical. I loved the tranquil tiny town of Taray, and enjoyed the two days of peace after being in the city. I found that I really didn’t like being in class though. I was ready to just practice Spanish out in the world, and not worry so much about the preterit and present progressive tenses. I just wanted to be able to communicate with people, and that I could already do. So no more homework for me for the rest of the trip.
Saturday, July 21, 2007: Meet Paul and the Shamans from the US in Sacred Valley
Chapter Two of the trip is with my friends from the Shamanic Healing Institute in Maryland. I was to jump on with them for a week of traveling, ceremonies, personal growth and hotels with hot water! (Cusco had been winter cold at nights so the freezing morning showers were tough.)
Early in the week we spent awhile looking for this ruin down some road close to some sign and somehow, with perseverance and stubbornness, we actually found it. We did a ceremony there (with two little local girls holding our space atop a rock) and I stood inside this circular structure open at the top, and could feel myself connected to my Incan ancestors (well, they are ancestors in one of my lives – that I’m sure of.)
I looked up and the blue/black sky was littered with stars and a rising moon – man I was in heaven. I could have sat there for hours.
Over the course of the week we did ceremonies, hiked, and connected with all sorts of nature and ancestral spirits. We had a tour guide, Ana Maria, who was a blast. She was the only one fluent in Spanish and English. One other lady on the trip and I spoke some, so we had some practice as the half-assed interpreters when Ana Maria wasn’t around. It was fun (and foreshadowing for the latter part of the trip.)
7/26/07-7/27/07 (I think): Journey to Machupicchu
Macchupichu was really super amazing. To see something to intact that is so OLD, it just blew my mind. There were a ton of people there of course, especially since just weeks before we arrived it was named one of the Official Seven Wonders of the World. The mountains surrounding it have no words to describe.
My favorite part (well, I have two…) one was climbing up Waynapicchu, a steep hike/climb in altitude that I thought was going to do me in, since of course I hadn’t exercised in two months and was back up to 170 lbs.
However, some inner energy kicked in and I was up at the front of the line, following only Paul (the shaman) who was a triathlete and can go in a trance state and knock off a mountain like it’s nothing. So I was thrilled at how my body jumped on board and felt like a million bucks by the time we hit the top, sweaty and dirty, looking around and seeing nothing but sky.
My other favorite part was walking up to Priestess Rock. I heard that this was a highly charged feminine energy center, where supposedly women or priestesses had been buried long ago.
There is a huge boulder in the center, that when you look at from the side looks exactly like the face of a lioness. I sat in the middle facing her to meditate. I could feel the feminine energy super strong.
For those of you not familiar with energies, it’s really not something I can explain in words. It was physically palpable energy in my body. It was so strong I thought I was going to actually see with my eyes a faery pop out of the rustling trees (that would have been a sight.) The energy was that intense. In the meditation I received all sorts of beautiful gifts to keep my chakras balanced. I left the Priestess Rock feeling like a new woman.
All and all I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week with the shaman group, getting to know the people I had not yet met, bonding through ceremony and experience. I saw and connected with some places that will stay within me forever. I love the Inca tradition and have much respect for Andean shamanism. I also tried guinea pig and wasn’t a huge fan.
What I didn’t know was that my view on shamanism was about to broaden quite a bit, as I headed north into the world of the jungle, and Amazonian Ayahuasca Shamanism.
July 28, 2007: Journey to Iquitos, Peru
After receiving a mind-blowing coca leaf reading from Don Martin in Huasao, I took a quick flight to Iquitos, Peru – the quirky Amazon city (which happens to be the largest city in the world you can’t drive to – flight or boat only!)
One by one singles and couples loaded into the office in Iquitos. For those of you not geographically familiar with Peru, where I was initially in Cusco and Sacred Valley is way in the south, and much much higher in elevation (which is why it’s so damn cold at night at this time of year – their winter.) All of a sudden I was way up north in the Amazon climate (warm, humid, my kind of weather.)
Regular-looking people, mostly ages 25-40 (apparently our group was especially young…usually there are at least a couple more mature individuals who do the program) milled about meeting each other.
We had several attorneys, an architect, a professor at a university/master martial artist, a sign language interpreter (that was me!) some IT people, a Buddhist, a Wiccan, etc. Not all shamans-in-training (well I thought I might want to be one eventually.) No one quite knew exactly what we had in store, except for a couple people with experience. But even they would be blown away with the week ahead.
We took an open-air bus an hour outside of Iquitos to the property. I talked mostly with one of the shaman apprentices, Eluco (Luco), who was a native Peruano and he somehow understood my still half-assed Spanish. He would end up being my Spanish-speaking-practice guy for the duration of the program (you’d be amazed what a week of actual deep conversation can do!)
The first day we got prepped and scared properly straight. Ayahuasca was no joke. Because it’s a visionary medicinal plant, people have it lumped in the category with hallucinogens, but it’s really not the same thing at all. The term ‘hallucinogen’ infers that you see things that are not really there.
Ayahuasca does the opposite. We would finally get to see what is actually going on within us spiritually, emotionally, etc. All our stuff will come up. It’s not very ‘recreational’ by nature, and is not for the weak of heart. We were prepared that we would most likely be purging out dark energies from our bodies (old addictions, emotional pains, physical pains, etc etc) through both ends of the body.
This was starting to sound like it might not be all peace and love like I was used to. I’ve been studying spirituality for several years, so this is not super hard for me to swallow (though I can imagine what it must sound like to the newcomers to looking at what else may be out there) but even I wasn’t sure Ayahuasca would be able to conquer some of the crap that I’ve carried with me for so many years – addictive behaviors, attachment to people (significant others in particular) martyrdom, etc etc etc.
I guess we would have to wait and see. But I was gonna try it. Because what if it was true? The possibilities could be endless…
~ Meghan Shannon Elder (@beyond_meghan)
Ayahuasca Preparation and Integration Specialist at Beyond the Ceremony
Accelerated Spiritual Development Coach at Beyond the Whirlwind
To join our email list for events, trips to Peru and other opportunities, click HERE