Pilgrimage of the Heart and Soul

by Katacha Díaz

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” — John Muir

On a stormy night high in the Peruvian Andes, zipped up in a cozy mummy sleeping bag inside a tent, I feel the Earth shake with roaring claps of boom and sizzling, sounds of lightning zipping by across the night sky. So, I was understandably gobsmacked when my hiking partner leaned over and asked,

“What are you doing for the rest of your life?”

“Isn’t this an odd question to ask when Catequil, a god of thunder and lightning is putting on quite the display for Pachamama, Mother Earth?”

“Call me curious,” he said. “And just so you know, I’ve got you under my skin.”

“Oh, I love that tune,” I said, smiling, “something to hum mañana, trekking along the Inca Trail, while I consider your proposal. Let’s catch a few winks now.”

The next morning, with the danger gone, we forged ahead along the 15th century Inca-built pilgrimage path and were treated to the beautiful verdant scenery and wildflowers of the Sacred Valley. The llamas and alpacas grazing Andean grasses dotted the horizon. The nearby Quechua families and their animals had suffered no damage from the storm, so the entire extended family gathered outside. Just as their Inca ancestors had done for centuries, a shaman in the village performed a ceremony of sacrificed animal offerings, coca leaves, maize, and chicha beer to the Pachamama, in honor of the thunder god and the majestic sacred mountains.

Trekking into ancient and mysterious Machu Picchu, we were greeted at Inti Punku, the sun gate, with a stunning double rainbow arched over the once hidden city of stone. It was surreal and magical to watch a pair of condors gliding effortlessly in the Andean mountain sky while the haunting quena music of El Cóndor Pasa from a llama herder’s flute filled the air.

We walked down and up narrow flights of uneven stone steps leading to the highest point, the Intihuatana, the Hitching Post of the Sun. A shaman offered heartfelt prayers and blessed us. Leaving an offering to Pachamama, Mother

Earth, the ultimate goddess of love, we embraced.

Savour the sweet memories of this beautiful moment in a once-in-a- lifetime pilgrimage, I tell myself. Time and distance may get in the way, but we always pick up right where we left off. I wiped a tear in gratitude for our friendship, and took a photo with my dear friend and hiking partner.

Huayna Picchu beckons. I forge ahead, joining other hikers to climb up to the top for the ultimate view of ever ancient, ever mysterious Machu Picchu, a fitting end of a spiritual journey that touched my heart and soul.