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I heard Peru call us last year. I asked Myri if there was someone who wanted to organize a Tara Dance introduction there. She actually had someone in mind, Paloma, a young woman who had worked with friends within the circle of sacred dance.
Because neither of us had met Paloma, or had ever been to Peru we decided to just invite a small group of adventurous women to join us. The group that said yes; Maira, Fernanda, Maria Amelia and Zenia from Brasilia, Andrea from Florianopolis, Estela from Natal and Barbara Gach from Maui were wonderful to travel with. They were always willing to rise to any challenge, they were flexible, joyful, kind and supportive.
Myri dedicated a great deal of time and love to organize this journey, crafting a program of 10 days with the intention of us touching the heart of the culture and offering the heart of our dance.
Peru shares a border with Brazil and the flights were fairly direct. We briefly touched down in Lima and then boarded a flight to Cuzco. Cuzco is a picturesque city, the highest point of our journey at 11, 000 feet in altitude. As we passed over the mountains enroute to the city I could hear the mountain protectors welcoming us and promising us a time of great beauty.
We had a brief time to wander Cuzco’s narrow streets while waiting for all of our party to arrive at the airport. Then we were whisked off to our wonderful La Capilla guest house in Urubamba. Chris and his wife Rhomina, the proprietors, welcomed us with so much warmth. The guest house was charming, every corner crafted with comfort and beauty. The meals were magnificent, we could not have been more comfortable or well taken care of.
Paloma dropped by and we discussed the logistics of the few days when we would be in her hands. She is a lovely young woman, clear and calm. She reminded me of an American Indian princess. Her jewelry was made of feathers and natural stones. Her clothing draped her small frame in earth colors.
The next morning we met Iolanda. We had requested Paloma to invite a local healer to work with us so we could taste the heart of Andean mysticism. Paloma had worked with Iolanda for some years and had made arrangements to bring her from her village near Lima. She was introduced to us as “Abuela” (Spanish for grandmother). An elegant woman, her dress was traditional Peruvian. A broad rimmed hat graced her jet black hair, her flounced skirt was impeccably arranged, her traditional scarves were clasped by dramatically jeweled pins.
A van picked us up and whisked us into the Sacred Valley. Iolanda introduced us to “Mama Coca”, one of the sacred herbs of the high Andes. She instructed us to chew a mouthful of leaves as we walked, careful to pay good respect to each leaf, for the power of Mama Coca would help us to adapt to the high altitude. She also gave us four perfect leaves to blow our prayers into……
Paloma started beating her shaman’s drum and we walked in silence along a narrow track to the beat of her drum, the mountains huge on all sides. First we followed a train track, then we started to climb. We entered a hollowed out area with some ruins. Paloma and Iolanda invited us to sit as they laid out their sacred objects and offerings. They explained that it was a simple ceremony they were offering, to ask permission for us to engage in our practices, to ask for protection and blessings for our journey. They invoked Pacha Mama, the great mother spirit of modern Peru, whose wisdom and compassion were embodiments of our blessed Goddess Tara.
I could feel the welcome of the “apos” the spirits of the mountains. Paloma passed her “talking stick” and each one of our party introduced themselves and offered a prayer of aspiration. It was a lovely group of women, and over the time we were together we all drew close.
Iolanda and Paloma completed their offerings and prayers. Then we offered a mandala of blessings, pouring chips of crystals and gems on our mandala plate, watching some of the bits bounce and bless the earth we stood on….a gift, an offering. Then we danced….the Prayer of Motivation, Shantideva, and Tara’s Mantra Dance.
Our rituals complete, Iolanda and Paloma burned their offerings, and we processioned down the hill in a blessing rain. It was a soft kiss of nature and we were grateful. Before leaving we had read that the weather was going to be terrible in the mountains. For us, every day but the last was blue sky exquisite.
The next day was our offering of an Introduction of Tara and Her Dance to the local ladies. We crossed the main street from our guest house and wove through patches of small farming operations to Paloma’s Community. They were nestled in, renting patches of land for their simple home and meditation room. Around a field of harvested corn we found a tipi, a sweat lodge and a geometric dome like structure where the “workshop” was to be held.
It was an amazingly diverse group that gathered. We had expats from the USA, Italy, and England, a couple of ladies from Lima and a few from Cuzco. Iolanda participated fully in the dance as did Paloma and Kayanti, our charming translator. It was amusing going between me speaking English to Kayanti translating into Spanish and one of our girls translating into Portuguese.
Kayanti was shocked when we engaged in the Refuge Dance. She looked at me strangely and later reported…..”…five years ago Paloma and I were in Lima and we decided to start a woman’s empowerment group. A friend brought us some music that really inspired us…..they had it on their computer and transferred it so we didn’t know where it came from. Now we know. It was you….”I invoke the presence of the lineage of teachers”. I thought I recognized your voice!!!.
We danced through the preliminary practices, had a lovely lunch, I fielded a number of questions. Iolanda was especially interested in the word Tara…..she told me that when she first heard about the dance of Tara she got confused. She then showed us some seed pods and leaves from a local bush…..”This is Tara,” she said. A powerful healing herb.
We danced through the Qualities and then retired to the tipi. They had started a fire in the center and for some reason they could not get it to flare…it produced a great deal of smoke. My lungs were already stressed with the altitude challenge…. The smoke irritated my lungs so badly they started really giving me trouble. I exhibited all the signs of high altitude sickness and realized it was going to take some effort to recover from this situation.
Fortunately for me the next day was devoted to Paloma leading a sweat lodge in the Incan Tradition. I sent most of the girls off to this day long ritual and remained in bed recovering. They were impressed with her presentation and reported profound awakenings through the process.
In the meantime, I entered an interesting dream arena which carried me into some of the local mysteries.
In the late afternoon Iolanda gathered our group around and shared a number of folk tales, illustrating her village culture. She was charming, learned, and simple. After her talk several of the women asked for personal interviews with “Mama Coca”.
Iolanda was famous for her ability to talk to and read the coca leaves. A common form of local divination, each one who sat with her felt the blessing of her insight and her careful warnings.
The next day we all headed up into the mountains, this time to make offerings to Pacha Mama. It was a Friday, the best day for such an adventure. It was a spot that Paloma especially loved because of it’s view….on one side of the peak that we climbed we were staring at the snow covered peaks. On the other side we saw a three way sweep into the Sacred Valley.
Most of the pilgrims were there an hour ahead of me, meditating in the pure mountain air. Such an ascent was torturous for me and only strong determination and the support of Barbara and Myri got me up that mountain.
Iolanda and Paloma explained the offerings as they laid them out in ritual fashion, all natural ingredients demonstrating Pacha Mama’s love of the material world…..flowers, incense, sacred water, food, a bit of drink, tobacco, sweets, confetti (she’s a party girl)….. and of course coca leaves imbued with our prayers and aspirations. We offered a mandala of gems and then danced.
We burned the offerings sending the sweet smoke of our devotion into the air.
The next day we were off to Machu Pichu, the world famous Inca heritage site.
Jim, a jolly Peruvian adorned with a flaming yellow baseball cap the colors of the Brazilian flag, was to be our guide for this part of the journey. He hustled us into a van that dropped us at the Inca Train Line. Off we chugged through the sacred valley, and had the most amazing darshan of towering white snow peaks. We arrived in the little mountain village of Agua Caliente and got settled into a comfortable hotel. Our rooms looked down onto a rushing, singing river and we felt truly surrounded by great beauty.
The streets were full of shops selling the colorful designs of the local folks and we had great fun finding treasures to take home with us. Explaining that we had a 24 hour pass Jim hustled us onto a bus. It was a spectacular switchback ride up into the mountains.
The entry to Machu Pichu was crawling with tourists from all over the world. We were whisked through the formalities of tickets and passport stamp (as a World Heritage Site, a stamp in the passport is an option).
Jim was a marvelously understated guide. He spoke when he knew we were curious or if he had something of interest to share. For the most part he let us wander and feel into the heart of the place. He guided us to climb towards the Sun gate. This was an arduous, straight up another mountain journey….so I asked everyone to go on ahead. Stopping every 10 steps or so to breathe was actually a good strategy, as I deepened my connection to this impressive opportunity.
Dead monuments are not usually my thing…..but art and nature dancing together is certainly inspiring. Jim knew that we wanted to dance and he skillfully pointed out a grassy corner. As it was late in the afternoon he felt sure that we would not be disturbed. I rested there as the rest of the group went to the Sun Gate and were treated to a rainbow in the sky welcome.
When they rejoined me we danced through Motivation, Shantideva, the Dance of Tara’s Qualities. It was an ecstatic sharing.
The next day, bright and fresh, we entered the “holy city”. There is much speculation about the purpose of the site. We heard stories about the “Virgins of the Sun”, the astronomical placement of the surrounding mountains, the healing properties of the area, the favorable agricultural conditions, especially for growing coca. No one really knows what the true purpose of this spectacular site, it is all speculation.
What we could experience is its extraordinary placement in the midst of towering mountains and rushing river. The area seems kissed with sacredness, whether formal or unseen, it is palpable. We wandered with thousands of tourists, running our hands over the stones, carefully guided about the pristine structure, and taking numerous photos of every exotic angle.
We remained in celebration mode the entire day, appreciating the exceptional circumstance that brought this hidden jewel to light. Buried for hundreds of years under dense growth, preserved and reconstructed in our time, superbly organized so that each of us could taste the wonder.
Surely Pacha Mama, the great mother, is pleased with the efforts made to preserve this magnificent expression of an ancient time.
Chris and Rhomina organized a good bye party for us. They invited a group of local musicians and dancers, opened up a couple of bottles of wine and celebrated our wonderful new family connection with them. The days flew by so swiftly I can hardly say that I really know much about Peru. But I can say that what I tasted will certainly draw me back again.
Perhaps next time you will join us in exploring the mystic land of the Condor.