(edited for pictures. Pictures came from a 2nd trip to the ruins, but you get the idea)
He handed me a cup containing what looked like some thick aloe smoothie. I was already one ayahuasca ceremony in, so I felt like I had a better grasp of what to expect when it came to these mind-altering medicines. Only this wasn’t ayahuasca, it was a medicine created from the San Pedro cactus.
It actually tasted rather good. After the glass went around, we set off for the ruins situated at the top of a nearby mountain. If you look hard enough you can see them from the street, but that didn’t make them any easier to get to.
The hike was a hard one; especially cause the sun out here, due to the elevation, just cuts through you. Also didn’t help that the medicine kicked in mid climb. Here I am, climbing up the side of a mountain, on steps that are generations old, with a head full of medicine that’s making the landscape sway. The over exertion mixed with the piercing sun and low oxygen left me pausing to throw up on the way up.
Throw up all over a Peruvian Mountain
The difficulty of the hike peaked at times, it’s amazing how unshaken I was when I came to a path about a foot wide with a sheer drop off of the side.
The six of us climbed. The Egyptian marauder, coated in black leather, looking like he was fresh out of some desert adventure, three Israelis, two of them were married. One of the men was responsible for the creation of the medicine, and his ever-smiling wife, following close behind, is an absolute beauty of human form. The other Israeli trailed behind as I walked with my companion for the evening, the dread headed…gypsy…of a London girl. Not sure how to describe her, but she’s fresh from herding horses with caravan down in Mexico.
I resonated better with her than any others within the group, so we made much of the climb together.
Climb. Climb. Climb. We made it to the first tier of ruins, but our destination was at least another thirty minutes away. Still, these were impressive. How on earth did these ancient people terrace the side of a mountain ALL the way up here?
Eventually we reached the top and entered into the heart of the ruins. Quite an amazing sight to see. Ancient bricks and buildings were scattered everywhere, on a mountaintop that was literally leveled off to house them. I climbed to what I thought was the highest peak and surveyed the land below me. The wind was picking up and ominous black clouds clawed their way over the mountains in the distance. “I hope that’s not coming this way,” the Israeli mentioned as he made his way up to where I was standing. “You and me both” I said, as a clap of thunder echoed through the mountains.
In the distance loomed what looked like the tower of a castle, overgrown and decrepit from years of surviving as the tallest point on the mountain. “I wonder if I can get up there somehow,” I thought as I stared at the hulking mass of stone off in the distance. Almost on queue the gypsy girl fluttered up from behind me and said, “I’m going to the top!”
Off we went. Weaving through the remains of buildings and carved stone that led us to the base of the neglected tower. In it’s shadow we stood for a moment before she looked at me and said “Up for a climb?!”
“Of course I am, that’s why I came…hey…wait…what?” By climb I thought she meant “do you want to continue”, ya know, on the path. Nope. She threw her bag on her back and literally started to scale the FRONT of the tower.
“Hmmm. Ok….” I thought as I watched her climb higher and higher.
Inner struggle time: Do I go and take my chances on the ancient steps? Steps that were obviously not part of the designated area due to the steep and dangerousness of the unused path? Or do I stay safely on the ground?
Pfff. Of course I went. Not easily by any means, but I went. We climbed on these broken steps, higher and higher until we reached a tunnel carved through the mountain. I made it to the mouth of the cave just as she disappeared from the top.
What was left of my sanity, implored me not to enter (cwutididthere?)
But I did anyway and was greeted by a steep incline on my right, and a “no chance at survival” drop off to my left. If I lost my footing on the dusty incline, there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to regain my footing and I’d slide right off the side of the mountain. It was about here that the fear got me. Not for too long, but enough to penetrate and freeze me on the spot for a moment.
Up I went to the final hurdle. A step that was, at the least, about six feet tall. I had to belly to belly it and pull myself up by the stones lining the top. I knew my upper body work outs would come in handy one day! Thanks past me!
There we stood, at the highest point on the mountain. I wish I had my camera the view was absolutely breathtaking. The ruins we just ran through looked tiny compared to where we stood now, and the city below? Almost non-existent. My companion broke out into song (as she does with her beautiful tribal songs) and danced for our victory. I snapped the best picture I’ve ever taken in my life, her on the ledge, mid dance, her dreads flailing in the wind, with the sun cutting through the clouds and illuminating the valley below. I’d love to share, but unfortunately that picture is locked away in the brain box.
(but this is kinda what it looked like)
And then things got weird. She was deep in thought and eventually burst out into tears. The medicine didn’t help, if anything it elongated my thoughts so that I found myself in a position of inactivity. Do I say something? Do I let her cry it out? Do I hug her? What’s the protocol? Do I act in the moment? Or would that ruin HER moment? How on earth do I connect with someone who is so enthralled by the present landscape that she burst out into tears from the sheer majesty of the world around us?
She turned to face me with speed that took me by surprise. “What’s your dream?” She looked at me, her teary eyes mimicking the wild nature of her overall presence. She followed up with a “Do you cry?”
What’s my dream!?!? Do I cry?! She’s sitting beside me having a legitimate, deep, thought provoking experience; while I sit there with the extent of my thoughts reaching “I wish there was a bathroom up here”
I focused through the medicine and the overall pressure of the situation and mustered my best attempt at conceptualizing my “dream” for her. She stared at me when she heard what I muttered, then looked rather perplexed and almost agitated. Fault of my own for not really expressing what I really meant, but I had only just met her, and I wasn’t very keen on the idea of getting exceptionally deep with my inner workings. She repeated what I said aloud a few times as she shook her head. It was probably my paranoia flaring up, but I felt like I had just insulted her with such a shallow “dream”, and each shake of her head left me feeling more and more embarrassed.
It was there, in South America, in Peru, on the highest mountain, on the top of the world, after pushing myself to continue the hike, after braving the sun and the inevitable fear of slipping from the aged steps, on the highest peak, towering over the earth, I felt completely and utterly alone.
The calls from the rest of the group below snapped me out of the moment and I jumped up, realizing how dark it had gotten while I was lost in my thoughts. We were supposed to be back by dark. Oops. Down we went, using the last sliver of sunlight to navigate down the tower and rejoin the group.
After that, we settled into the ruins and sparked a small fire for warmth as we waited for the full moon to rise.
As you can imagine, the temperature plummeted and left me shaking. The fire provided some reprieve, but with the fire came smoke, and a definite and assured way to cause nausea for me, is the constant smell of campfire smoke.
The moon was stunning; I’ve never seen a moon that large before. But by the time it came up, I was ready to be in bed. And bed was still at least an hour hike back.
Stomach was cramping. Smoke left me throwing up over the ruins (sorry ancestors), I was freezing and had a blistering headache. I was over and done with the evening about 2-3 hours before the rest of the group decided to call it a night.
In my miserable state we headed down the mountain much to my delight. Unfortunately, it was a short lived happiness since we got lost going down the mountain and added another hour and a half to the original hour. Down the mountain we went, climbing down terraces (which are much taller than they look), dodging white water (gypsy fell in) and crossing what seemed like unending mountain terrain.
By the time we got back to the guesthouse I was exhausted. They went up to the main room for food and to talk about the experience, but I was having none of that. I went to my room and passed out hard.
So, looking back on it now. The trip was fun, a bit of a test scaling that mountain, which was fine. I’ve been wanting to push myself in this elevation. The medicine was fine, but the come down made me want to die.
Climb a mountain in Peru
Dance on the highest point of a mountain in Peru
Visit Incan ruins in Peru
Defile ancient ruins in three different ways. Sorry!
Participate in a Saint Pedro medicine ceremony
Climb down terraces carved into the side of a mountain by an ancient people
See the full moon rise from mountaintop