I RETURNED FROM TREKKING in Peru last April with a light heart and a sense that my life would require many changes. The encounter with the vast, energetic field of the sacred mountains — the Apus — had profoundly affected me. My perception, however, has been limited only to the withering of existing structures and cherished goals. I do not have a new vision. Each member of our trekking group senses that the status quo is no longer valid. We are suspended between the death of the old as we await the birth of the new.
During our eight-day trek, our guide began to teach me some Quecha words, as well aspects of the Q’ero mystical tradition. I learned what many of you already know: the Q’ero spiritual inheritance survived the Spanish invasion and imposition of the Church; its legacy has remained unbroken for millennia. My emotional encounter with Apu Salkantay and a subsequent, spontaneous commitment to serve left me with a sense of direction, yet I had no idea how to proceed. My only option appeared to be a return to Peru, and if possible, to meet with the Q’ero. I reasoned that if anyone had guidance, they would. My travel agent in Cusco promised me she would research the possibility.
Days before I was to fly to Cusco, my agent called, announcing that she had located Kike Pinto Cárdenas, a talented musician with a history of contact with the Q’ero, forged during his research of indigenous instruments and music. Kike had spoken with his Q’ero contacts. Their response was to welcome me to their village for a meeting.
A strong connection
I met Kike in Cusco and we traveled to the village to spend three days with the Q’ero masters. After we gathered on their temple floor, I related the April encounter with Apu Salkantay and my desire for clarity in serving my commitment. The two Q’ero sat listening with gentle faces, attentive, yet void of any expression that might reveal an opinion. When my torrent of words ceased, they responded simply, “Yes, you do have a strong connection to Apu Salkantay,” and in regards to my work, they confirmed that I must follow my heart.
That was it! They told me that the next step was to ask “Mama Coca” for guidance — a process of divination using the sacred coca leaves. The reading revealed two things: I need to reconnect with my estrella, my place of origin, and secondly, we would climb to the base of Ausangate the following day for a ritual.
The next morning we climbed nearly three hours through wind and snow to camp at the edge of a glacier-fed stream. Apu Ausangate was covered with cloud, periodically revealing portions of its ice-covered majesty. The ritual began at sunset. The Q’ero carefully prepared multiple offerings, as Kike, at my side, explained important elements of what was occurring. He informed me that I was about to receive my first karpay, a ceremonial initiation whereby the Q’ero lineage is transmitted. Honored, I settled into a deep silence.
As a snowstorm rattled the tent, the Q’ero announced that they had finished and would now accompany me up the mountain to burn the offerings and then leave me to open to Apu Ausangate, to cultivate the reality that I am not alone. I was tired and afraid. Would I freeze? Would they remember to come retrieve me? I brought myself back gently to the gift of being escorted by these gentle, wise masters.
We climbed a steep slope into the darkness, until an appropriate place was located. They arranged dry grass on a rock and indicated that I should sit. The ritual packets were burned inside a niche, out of sight, behind me. The Q’ero then left, indicating that they would return. I could not see the flames, but smoke periodically found me, carrying the pungent odor of the burning llama fat and ritual material.
Reclaiming my star
Alone in the icy wind, I was blind except for our tent far below, glowing like a tiny, orange lantern. I expanded into the immensity of the living consciousness of the Apu and began a conversation. The Apu responded, succinctly detailing that two, possibly three treks were to be done next year, and that the journey of reclaiming my estrella — my star — was an ongoing process that required devotion and time.
Abruptly, I was left in silence. Cradled by the mountains, I no longer felt afraid. Although the weather raged, I relaxed in the comfort of the totality around me. I was in my place. The next day, we descended the mountains and constructed a sweat lodge to share a final ritual. As I recounted the conversation with the Apu, the Q’ero confirmed that what I had received was indeed correct: I was to proceed.
Since returning to Minneapolis, I have been working with the Q’ero, Kike and the travel agency to assemble two trips. My heart is clear that I have been sent to Peru to encounter a vast and marvelous consciousness. I have been asked to return and bring those who feel the call. We will climb and open to what the ancient, sacred mountains have to teach us. The Q’ero will be there; Kike will be there, lending wisdom and support.