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The Conquest of Peru
6-24-12 - posted 7-2-12
Peru was not on my "bucket-list" until Erik Storlie inspired me with his trip there in January. The idea of going to the Ayahuasca Conference held at the virtual paradise of Willka T'ika, in Peru's Sacred Valley of the Inca, under the direction of Erik's friend, from the U of M, Dennis McKenna, world class enthnobiologist, was too seductive to pass up. The trip also included tours of the Inca monuments, including Machu Picchu. And had I known that exploring these unbelievable structures meant climbing up and down the rock stairs would be the equivalent to climbing up and down the Empire State Building, I would have had second thoughts. But I made it and realized that when so many people hold out their hand to help, old age has arrived.
The Andean people are small, healthy, and full of vitality. They eat a rich diet of fresh vegetables, quinoa, amaranth (kawiwa), corn,potatoes (hundreds of varieties), and raise guinea pig for protein. Everything is sacred, coming from Pachamama, mother earth. The coca leaf is chewed for energy and a sense of well being. It's also used for offerings and divination, a connection to the earth and Pachamama. Gratitude and humility are imbued in this culture.
Ayni is the the philosophy of retribution that is followed: "today for you, tomorrow for me." I'll help you today and you help me tomorrow. During the reign of the Incas, each man was required to give 2 years of service to the state. His food and shelter were provided during this time. They must have been inspired workaholics because what they accomplished and built was wondrous. Their development of agriculture, mastery of astronomy, administration of empire, and their mastery of architecture is beyond amazing.
And more amazing is that the Andean people survived the Spanish genocide, melded with the Catholic Church, and are thriving.
Ayahuasca is usually thought of as a jungle phenomena where the sounds of the jungle-at-night enhance the experience. So our 3 sessions at 10 thousand feet in the mountains of the Sacred Valley may have been more austere, but effective never the less. Dennis McKenna had located an outstanding Ayahuascero (shaman), called Wayra (the wind) to administer our sessions. He displayed the integrity, dedication, and care of a Tibetan Lama. His chanting, drumming, rattling, and whistling, helped the medicine go down ('til it wanted to come back up.) There were 7 of us that participated ranging in age from 27 to 75 (me). Before the session we'd announce our intention as we tied a knot in the sacred cord. The next day we'd do an informal debriefing as we untied the knot. This would be a day of reflection and R&R. The 3 sessions were done every other day, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. During the day of the session that would begin after sun-down, we'd go with a guide to explore an Inca site, such as Pisco. A light lunch would be available, but no dinner, the evening of a session.
So what about ayahuasca? Unlike LSD, mushrooms, or peyote, ayahuasca can't be taken casually or lightly. The substance has to be specially brewed and tastes way bitter, not something you'd be able to casually knock down. And its efficacy is that it's taken with a reputable ayahuascero. My experience during the 3 sessions lacked the fireworks, cosmic colors, and out-of-body experience that I'd experienced during my previous 2 experiences in California, many years ago. It did transport me to a deep sense of well being contrasted with the sense that I'd ingested poison.
My stated intention was to be a liberated vessel for the evolutionary impulse to be able to help raise the consciousness of human beings. Well? Several days after our sessions, (I stayed an extra week), an older couple came for a stay at Willka T'ika. While talking at dinner, the conversation came to the spiritual life. She was a noted musician, played and taught violin, and he was a medical doctor. I related my experience with Buddhism and Evolutionary Enlightenment, and especially meditation as a way of discovering consciousness, "the other half of life." Unlike my past bumbling attempts at this, the words flowed from me with appropriateness and effect: soul strength, spiritual strength. The next day as they were leaving they both expressed gratitude for our conversation the night before and they said that they were now enthusiastic about finding a meditation teacher in their area. I breathed a "thank you" to Mama Ayahuasca.
The jungle adventure at the Corto Maltes Amazonia Lodge, accessed via the Rio Madre de Dios, was a colorful finale to this Peruvian trip: 4 days and 3 nights. This was the first time I'd been in the jungle and I found it both astonishing--massive tropical trees, medicinal plants, exotic birds calling and singing--toucans, macaws, screaming wild parrots, monkeys---and threatening: snakes, caiman (crocodilus), tarantulas---I wouldn't venture deeply without a guide. We took excursions to beautiful Sandoval Lake (another trial for my arthritic legs, 2 mile trek thru muddy terrain wearing rubber boots), also visit down-river to an indigenous Indian chief and then farm, where the fruit is falling from the trees.
It's Peru's winter/ dry season now. Temps in the Andes went between 45 degrees to 60. I always felt chilly. In the Amazon they ranged from a pleasant cool at night of around 68 degrees to 80 degrees, daytime. I returned just in time to enjoy the heatwave here in Beantown of 90+ degrees: hotter here that in the rain forest!
High point of the trip (besides the awesome ayahuasca sessions), Machu Picchu. If you told me that this magnificent structure and terraces was built by ET's, I'd believe you. Massive boulders were schlepped up the mountain, then perfectly shaped, and elegantly fitted together with no mortar.
Most important insight: do it! You can do it. Don''t put time between you and your "bucket list." Because you may not have the health and stamina later on. If I can do Machu Picchu, so can you---and anything is possible: the Conquest of Peru!
Special thanks to Andrew's caveat: "Spiritual experiences, as profound as they may be, usually do not in and of themselves lastingly enlighten." And also his recent article on the need for mysticism [in the Huffington Post]
My thought: did consciousness come to us through the plant world?
Below is a link to my FB page for pics and comments on the trip. Please let me know if this doesn't work for you (like you may have to befriend me) and I'll go to a plan B.
With infinite love and gratitude,