4. Initiations at Salkantay

It's about 4 hours driving from Cusco to Salkantay, so we started early. Sunday morning at 6 a.m. the air was fresh and clean, with almost no one else on the road as we drove through the narrow streets of the center of the old Inca capital, and up the hill out of the basin that cradled their civilization.  As we came out into the country, we were treated to remarkable views of the surrounding mountains, as only the early morning reveals them. Following the west fork of the highway, which leads all the way to Lima, Salkantay appeared on the horizon, some 70 miles distant. At 6270m, it is only a soccer field shorter than Ausangate, and from afar it's clear that this (the pyramid-shaped peak at left) is one of

the great Apus of the region.  Just the drive going this way is pretty awesome.  The scale of the country is similar to that of Switzerland. The only place in North America I've seen that would compare is the Absaroka region north of Yellowstone.  We wound deeply down into the valley, and steeply back up the other side, to yet another tenuous dirt road that would take us to the moraine-filled valley just below Salkantay's glaciated peak.
Along the way we stopped for firewood. We'd have a despacho to burn, and the country higher up would be pretty barren. Francisco had brought his machete with him, and he leaped down the steep bank to hack limbs off a dead tree, while Juana and I picked up or broke what was accessible along the track. We got enough that they brought a bundle back to Cusco for the cooking fire at the house.

At the end of the road there were 2-3 small houses, with families who had a few head of cattle.  Lots of old stone fences still in use to organize that enterprise. We hiked in for 30 minutes or so, along a charging stream yellow with
glacial runoff. Coming into a small valley, where the stream split into two parts, a long stride across one branch took us into the space between them.  Here we prepared the fire and put on our ponchos and ch'ullas. Before beginning the despacho, we all went to a little gravel bar at the convergence of the streams. We stood barefoot in the streams and don Francisco washed us up to the knees.
Then water over the head, up to elbows, even the mesas got a dip. And dona Juana rinsed him off likewise. Small stones were taken up, three for each of us, and these too were used to ritually cleanse each of us, then blown across and tossed down the stream. (Always breath, breath.)  Back at the ceremonial site...it was actually time for the snack first. Perhaps the point is that we nourish and strengthen our bodies in order to do the work we're called to. In addition to the cleansing ritual, this despacho was more elaborate in other ways. More offerings made, including a complete llama fetus, symbolizing new life. I felt that both Salkantay's high position in the apu pantheon, and these advanced rites merit a fuller expression.  Again our offerings included kin'tus for America's ayllus, and her new president, and also those who are organizing and facilitating the transmission of the Andean and specifically Q'ero teachings to the needy on the outside.

It was raining hard by the time we finished. We all had to hustle to get the fire going (with a little help from Agua Florida - which is not agua!) The dry wood was augmented by dry dung gathered from nearby, and by the time we left Pacahamama had fully consumed the despacho.

Then, with the fire blazing, and the rain beating down, under the shelter of a giant overhanging rock, and thus almost in the mountain, I was gifted the Kurak Akulloq
rite by both Francisco and Juana. This was very emotional for me; I think in part because they had told me, as we began the despacho, that they wanted to give me their mesa cloth, to take back to America to do ceremony. In the context of the karpay, which Albrto Villoldo calls the "Earthkeeper" rite in the Munay-Ki, and of the earthkeeper calling, this brought an overwhelming feeling from my heart chakra up into my throat, one of gratitude for the love and intent the people of this high country have for the world, and wonder at being among the fortunate who are being given the chance to participate in this gift-giving work.

The rain stopped and we went back to the fire. Don Francisco there gave me the Taitanjis Ranti Karpay, and handed me the mesa cloth and a kuya, and suggested that I might want to go and meditate for a little while. I was glad for the chance to sit and reflect and feel the emotions and impulses that were swirling within me. I was feeling the power of place, of the lineage, of these specific transmissions. And along with those feelings were the open wonderings. I had just received the Creator rite, which has only been given from person to person in the last couple years, and then handed what amounted to a personal assignment. How is this going to play out? What does this mean for me personally? What is required next? In due time, my practical side arose with a little to-do list, a sort of bridge that makes it easier to return to the more finite present. Then I remembered seeing some nice stones on that sandbar, so I walked down there and picked up a few. Looking about I saw that don Francisco and  dona Juanita were also wandering playfully in this lovely valley, collecting stones as well.

We were all feeling how great was this place and this day. Don Francisco spoke of his sense that Salkantay has "hatun corazon", another Quechua/Spanish conjoint: "great heart". Dona Juanita had already murmured to me "Salkantay tres fuertes" - strength. For me too this Apu brought a  sense of tangible qualities. It seemed sort of kingly. On the long ride back to Cusco we were all pretty silent.