Peru

A Traditional Incan Ceremony for Pacha Mama

 

Her Hips Don’t Lie

A beautiful green humming bird hangs off a fuchsia stem, the lights are coming on all over the hills and a fire still smokes in the garden of Healing House - the dying embers of an indigenous Incan ceremony to honour mother earth. 

The feminine shapes of the continent have been inspiring poets from Chilean Love Master Pablo Neruda to El Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) to Shakira. But its not the tiny Colombian hip shaking temptress that is worshipped in these parts. Here there is only one woman to rule them all.  She lives in the Andes and her name is Pacha Mama (the Peruvian cosmic Mother Earth goddess.) 

Its only a short walk from San Blas,the arty ‘hood in Cusco where I’m staying to her domain. Steep steps rise ever upward towards Cristo Blanco; the white statue of  Christ  on the hillside that overlooks the town;  the surrounding Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced appropriately, Sexy Woman)  and the gentle rise and fall of the surrounding fields. 

The mountains of the Andes are extraordinary: soft, undulating waves of palest green that loom high into tall slopes only to drop away again in pleats and folds. 

So far i’ve explored her generous curves via horseback  (on a “trusty steed” ironically named Peregrino - Gunpowder) and even attempted to rock climb one of her many faces. I’ve sat on the grass, with my woollen alpaca socks off, soil under my soles, cradled in bird song and the lazy humming of bees, outstretched and embraced in the comforting folds of Mother Earth’s arms. 

The Q’ero People

Earlier today under a bright blue sky and fierce mountain sun, the residents and staff of Healing House run by Nicky, have been joined by three indigenous Que’ro people from an inidenous tribe in the Andes. They have come down from the hills into Cusco today to share with us a ceremony where we will offer up a “Despacho” or gift, to Pacha Mama.

The Q’ero people live in one of the most remote regions of the Andes up to altitudes of 4500m in small, humble one room dwellings without access to electricity or running water. 

Their mythology states that they are the direct descendants of Inca Priests living before the colonisation by Spain. Their story speaks of a premonition of the invasion and a forthcoming dark age. They sent representatives from their tribes far away into the mountains to preserve the wisdom of the Incan way of life.

The Incan Empire was eventually defeated by Spanish conquistadors who built Catholic churches on sacred Incan sites but somewhere in the cool, dark hills of the Andes the mystical Qe’ro people lived on, passing down from generation to generation the magical rituals and their reverence for their cosmic goddess Pacha Mama (mother earth) and a whole host of other mountain spirits - the Apus. 

Juan and his brother have been invited here to host one of their sacred ceremony to Pacha Mama.  Decked out in brilliantly bright pink, red and black woven garments, they are joined by wife and 4 year old daughter Senticka who are clad in traditional female Quechan dress  of big, bunched skirts and brown felt hats.

A Despacho Gift

We sit in a semi circle and lay out our own sacred objects and ornaments to be blessed as part of the ceremony.  I take off the necklace i’m wearing, a gold plated tantric star representing the divine masculine and feminine.

This concept or yin and yang is present in the Quechan traditions too and the masculine and feminine here will be represented by offerings of red and white carnations whose petals are carefully laid out along with along with llama fat (a sacred animal to the Q’ero communities) coca leaves, incense, money, sweets, some candy in the shape of ears of corn (another valuable commodity) money and even some pink wafer biscuits. 

 “Despacho” is quite simply and literally a gift for Pacha Mama that will contain wishes for abundance and prosperity along with all of our own individual wishes and blessings. Juan places all of the items in an intricately laid out pattern onto sunflower patterned wrapping paper along with two ribbons, one red and one white that represent our path in life. Grain with raisins on top is also placed into the offering, representing negative energy with the sweetness felt when the heavy energy is displaced. The Q’ero believe that we can offer up all of our heavy energy to Pacha Mama. She’s a sturdy broad. She can take it. 

Juan and his brother cleanse their hands with Aqua di Florida, a scent made out of flowers and alcohol and popular in Shamanic ceremonies. The bottle is passed around along with a bag of coca leaves, we take six each and whisper our wishes into them.  One by one we then go up and kneel in front of the Qu’eros whilst they bless us, taking our leaves and blowing blessings through them onto our bowed head, chanting in Quechan. When they have finished our leaves are also carefully placed in the gift wrap along the ribbons.

Juan continues to bless the package, chanting in Quechan and ringing two clear bells and splashing more Aqua di Florida over our sacred objects which are also blessed.  Once the final chants and blessings have been made we take back our objects before the gift for Pacha Mama is wrapped up in different coloured cotton string that represents the rainbow, a sacred national emblem of the Cusquenans. 

After the ceremony is complete the Despacho is unwrapped onto a fire and then burnt.  It is considered rude to watch the fire while it burns so instead the Q’ero sell us some of their wares, fine alpaca hats that feel authentically wrought and are decorated with condors, closely woven bags and bracelets. Apparently we only discover after if the Apu have granted our blessings. Here’s hoping.

How precious and sacred our access to mother nature is. How unconscious we are in our treatment of her throughout so much of the world. 

The myth continues that the Q’ero people would receive a sign when the time was right to come back down from the hills and share their wisdom and ceremonies with the people.

That sign came in the 1950s but at a time when the world feels at crisis point and warfare, terrorism, death and disaster seem to be escalating at a terrifying pace perhaps more and more of us need to be sharing the worship, reverence and gratitude that the Qu’ero people feel for mother nature and our dear planet, before it is too late. 

An appropriate thought for International Women's Day! 

 

 

Mrs Madrigal and Gender Bending in Cusco , Peru

Healing House, Cusco

Did you ever think in a million years, you’d end up at a gender bender party in the mountains of Peru? 

Asks Aimee a fresh faced, 22 year old Aussie with blonde hair and mountain tan.

People. I can honestly say… not.

We’re sitting in the sunlit gardens of a placed called Healing House in the arty San Blas ‘hood of old Cusco town in Peru. 

At 10,000 feet high, Cusco is the pretty little village in the mountains where travellers arrive to to acclimatise before doing the Inca trek or similar to Machu Piccu. 

I was last here 4 and a half years ago. 

When the Bug Bit

Peru was the place where the travel bug bit. 

I remember waking up in Lima and wandering the streets enchanted by the bright yellow churches against a cloudless blue sky. I couldn’t believe how relaxed and comfortable I felt in this most foreign of places watching old Peruvian grannies with their long dark plaits boiling quail eggs on street corners

And now finally, after almost 5 years I’m back. 

Less than three months earlier i’d been lying on my couch of my south London apartment feeling flat, hopeless and completely depressed. 

Being back home in London after travelling for the previous 19 months had been painful. I’d developed a skin crawling anxiety about being back in the neighbourhood where I was born and repeated  all the same old destructive patterns I thought i’d managed to kick to the kerb. Another long distance relationship with an emotionally unavailable man and another marketing job that gave me no time to myself had left me questioning how I had managed to so swiftly rebuild all the old bars of the cage that had kept me captive in the corporate world before. 

Escape #2

 I decided to extricate myself with a one way ticket to Peru. 

Realising how lonely it had felt living and working by myself in the big city all I knew was that I wanted to find an intentional community in the mountains, near nature, where I could continue “the journey.” 

I landed at a hostel called Pisco and Soul  Pisco being the local grape fuelled liquor that makes the national cocktail Pisco Sour  - with absolutely no plan or onward itinerary. Down the street I find a building with a bright yellow sign attached called Healing House. An intentional community for people to raise their vibration, a yoga studio and accommodation all in one. I decide to check it out at their donation only yoga class on Sunday followed by brunch cooked by volunteers in the house. 

Healing House. 

The walls of Healing House are a bright sunshine yellow and the yoga studio and accommodation is built around a shared kitchen, herb garden and  communal lawn for sunbathing. 

The girls who’ve volunteered to make breakfast bake fresh banana bread, oatmeal with stewed cinnamon and apples and brew pots of deep, dark Peruvian coffee for the brunch while I soak in the sunshine, listen to the sound of the wind chimes;  watch the rise and fall of the dark green hills of Cusco in the distance and admire the bright orange star bursts of marigolds, tiny purple borage flowers, mint, lemon verbena, and feathery fronds of the fennel tree in the herb garden.  

 

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Nicky, a lean, tanned and toned athletic American has run Healing House for the last four years along with her partner - a gentle Peruvian called Alvaro.  Her intention is to create a space for conscious people to come and raise their vibration. A Vinyassa yoga instructor and Reiki Master,  she practises what she intends with strength and kindness. 

“It can be painful…awakening…”  she says,

“But you’re here now, you don’t need to do it alone.” 

I try and avoid bursting into tears in gratitude. I’d like to keep the cool Brit facade (if i ever had such a thing) intact for at least a few more days!  

I move in for a month and have fallen in love with my new bedroom. walls and a large skylight that the sun streams through.   There are gold sun shaped mirrors on the wall, a little writing desk and a table laid out with candles and Pablo Santo, a scented wood  native to the Andes that the locals burn to cleanse the air.

How I Live Now

The days roll by effortlessly by. I pick fresh flowers from the garden (asking permission first) and make teas with the herbs. 

The  yoga studio weekly schedule includes daily hatha and vinyassa classes,  kundalini and workshops in sacred dance, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Vipassana meditation. All of which are discounted to 10 soles (£2) for residents. 

Sunny days are spent lolling on the grass sunbathing watching the girls soak chia seeds and shell cacao beans. 

Outside on the steps of Healing House Placida and Juliana, old Peruvian ladies in traditional dress with long dark plaits and sun weathered skin, weave belts for passing tourists. 


 

One day a week the “yoghurt” lady comes to ladle out thick, white chunky freshly home made yoghurt from a big bucket; other days the “peanut butter man” swings by offering a highly addictive paste that i’ve taken to eating straight out of the container. Food freshly made with no use or sell by dates.

Meals in are simple affairs, often I just scoop out the soft flesh of an avocado (a different beast to the impenetrable hard, green ones of my British supermarket)  and smear it on freshly baked bread with olive oil and salt and lime with produce bought fresh from markets in San Blas and San Pedro. 

Meals out often gravitate towards La Boheme, a French cafe with hostel attached that does devilish crepes such as salted caramel and dark chocolate and mango and a great glass of red wine. Greenpoint,  a Vegan cafe whose set menu of freshly made, organic salad bar, homemade bread, soup, main course and dessert for 12 soles (£2.50) is the best value in town is always  a popular lunch option. 

On Tuesdays at the house there is a meeting for residents and staff to discuss, share or offer their news and a “pot luck” lunch where everyone brings a dish. Normally the table heaves with pasta, salads, quinoa (the magic grain local to the Andes ) and fresh mango and chocolate brownies. Although someday pot luck means 7 different types of bread. 

Afterwards the house offers a  free health clinic for Local Peruvians where I get to practise my reiki on unsuspecting Cusquenans. 

Peru’s answer to 28 Barbary Lane

Gradually I get  to know the cast of characters in this little intentional community.

There’s Maria the dark haired wise cracking west coaster. She’s the House Manager who plans to retreat beachside in Belize to avoid the Cusquenan cold with her Peruvian husband Alejandro, who she married after 2 month whirlwind courtship. Ricky, an ebullient Aussie who bursts into Healing House in a  blur of coloured wraps and shawls, manages the website and schedules. Stephanie, a rosy cheeked German brings a gentle sensitivity to my favourite yoga classes in the morning and Larissa a salty, west coaster has me intrigued with talk of her Shamanic soul integration journeys. 

Often seen soaking up the sunshine in the wind chimes and marigolds of Peru’s answer to 28 Barbary Lane, is Healing House’s very own Mrs Madrigal.  Michael Michelle, a transvestite Kundalini teacher with a penchant for purple.

And finally there’s Aimee of course.  Part time tell it like it is , laugh out loud Aussie part time Barbie girl whose past life of Champagne quaffing in body con party dresses complete with bleach blonde blow-dry and luminous pink lipstick seems a million miles away from the make up free, fresh faced traveller i’m used to chatting to now. 

Despite the 17 odd years in age difference we seem to share the same silly sense of humour, inept awkwardness around men and a past punctuated by the dark clouds of depression and anxiety. 

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Gender Bending in Cusco

Today’s Sunday Brunch is in honour of Michael Michelle’s 51st Birthday. He is  residing over today’s proceedings resplendent in a tight leather purple pencil skirt  matching lipstick and manicure. To celebrate we’re having a costume party with the theme of “experimentation in gender.”

Aimee and I sit watching,  sweltering in heavy suit jackets and ties with painted on glittery moustaches as Maria strikes a pose in red sequinned hot pants and Marilyn wig,  Michael Michelle totters around in patent stilettos to top people’s drinks and Chris wafts past in full make up and a girls silky negligee. 

“ I mean honestly, did you ever think you’d be  here, at a gender party in the mountains of Cusco??”  asks Aimee again.

No i can honestly say I’d never dream it in a million years. But right now I can also honestly say, there’s also nowhere else i’d rather be.