Peru – At the Head of the Inca Trail

This is an excerpt from my journal of my trip in 2008. I will be leading a spiritual tour of Peru’s sacred sites in July 2013. See Calendar listingfor details.


Leaving Cusco by private bus, we entered the Sacred Valley. Stopping in Pisaq to experience their delightful and well-known market for shopping and lunch, we continued to Ollantaytambo.

You can only pronounce that word by carefully sounding out the syllables, and you can only appreciate this town by settling in for a few days and walking the rustic, cobbled streets.

Nestled into the mountains that arise from the floor of the Sacred Valley, it is the gateway to Machu Picchu and the head of the Inca Trail that takes hikers approximately four days to traverse on their way to the ancient monument.

The village of Ollantaytambo is primed for the adventurer, and feels similar to a college town in the 1960’s (at least to me!). The shops sell adventure gear and sunglasses, and restaurants sell hearty and affordable hot meals and refreshing cold beer. The sun is strong and the air is crisp.

There are ruins to explore here and is a perfect setting to take a moment – or a couple of days – to prepare your energy and thoughts for the journey on to Machu Picchu.

Our group met up with a skilled shaman named Don Victor. In Spanish “Don” is a title of respect rather than a first name, a fact that is helpful when you begin to wonder why there are so many people with the same name! Don Victor gathered our group and took us to a private sanctuary named “The Garden of Illumination” to participate in a healing and soulful ceremony.

Entering the property through a gate along the road, with only headlamps and flashlights to guide us, we found ourselves in a courtyard. We had been told our ceremony would begin in a sweat lodge and move to a garden, however, because it was Summer Solstice, the sweat lodge was being used by its regular group. We proceeded along paths, winding past giant cactus and foliage, and multiple paths leading to smaller gardens, to an open area atop a hill. There we made ourselves comfortable on the blankets we had brought with us, forming a semi-circle around an area designated for fires.

Don Victor’s assistants began bringing fire wood and rushes of herbs, flowers, and plants for the fire. Soon the warmth of the fire took the chill off being outdoors in the winter season in the mountains of South America.

For the next five hours – until 3:00 in the morning – we would watch that fire blaze and recede, meditate, witness the moon rising over the Andes with Venus in tow, gaze on the southern hemisphere night sky (disorientingly different from the northern sky) and be party to the intense activities of deep shamanic healing work. It was a life-changing and memorable experience. And all I can say is that you would have to experience it for yourself, as it cannot be adequately described.