The start of my journey.
11th May 2017
There has been this pull to go too Peru for a while now, there is many places l have wanted to go in the world but for some reason l have always had the gut feeling of going to Peru following my intuition seeing what comes of it.
I finally made the commitment of booking a flight a week before travelling without having any intentions of organizing accommodation, places to go, things to do, people to meet, the only intentions l had was climbing some mountains, experiencing the culture & giving myself the freedom of really indulging in everything that Peru could offer for the short time l was here.
Right now as l sit in London Gatwick airport getting myself as ready as l can ever before my adventures ahead. Edinburgh – London, London – Madrid, Madrid – Lima, then Lima to Cusco, over 24hrs travelling.
This was going to be a long journey but l knew it was going to be worth it. I was feeling anxious mixed with excitement, nervous and thinking this is going to be very spontaneous having no plans, but lets see how truly in tune l am with my intuition and where it will guide me.
Acting very random like this for me is a something l am not used to especially travelling to the other side of the world having zero plans. Ever since retiring from professional Ice Hockey after 7 years and playing for 21 years total, l can definitely agree with myself that l have & had committed myself to the sport of Ice Hockey for a long time, somewhat the sports industry can be very regimented in its own way which is one thing l wanted to escape.
After a year of being retired it was getting to a point in my Ice Hockey career that l was all of a sudden feeling a new calling, l had the urge to get outside more, climb mountains, hiking places l have not yet explored, meeting new people from different groups, wanting to inspire, practicing yoga & meditation daily, wanting to change my diet and really just live a different way of life that hockey could no longer serve for me. It was a very different way of living compared to my hockey days. Being away from the hockey world, bringing all these new practices into my daily lifestyle helped me realize new goals, ambitions and desires that l feel l need to achieve. Lets see what going to Peru, following my inner compass does and where it leads me.
12th May 2017
After all the hours of travelling, l finally touch down in Cusco, Peru laughing to myself as l luckily pick up my checked bag which l had been thinking would probably get lost. I’m off to a good start “No lost luggage”.
It's 10am in the morning, lm thinking to myself okay lm in the airport where do l want to go. I want to be in the sacred valley, l ask a cab driver to take me to the bus station in Cusco which is only 10 minute ride from the airport. He drops me off, cars are buzzing about, people are shouting Spanish maybe Quechua (Official Language of people living in the Andes and highlands of South America) I really couldn’t tell, my Spanish is not the best, l can get by but nowhere near as good as it should be, and as far for Quechua l know zero words “This is going to be interesting”. There are colectivo’s (cheap shared public transport) with men shouting all sorts of names of places, l have no idea where most of these places are let alone jump on a colectivo. This man shouts Calca, the name Calca feels right so l look at my map “Yes, its in the sacred valley”, l commit to going being the only westerner onboard and 5 minutes later off we go, trip to Calca takes just over an hour through the sacred valley passing many villages, mountains, farm lands and seeing fewer and fewer touristy places. “This is exactly what l want, away from all the tourists giving me the freedom to really immerse myself in the local culture”
I’m finally in Calca, small town situated in one of the eight districts in Peru sitting at 2,928m above sea level. I’m already loving this just from the scenery alone, everywhere l look there is mountains upon mountains but bare in mind l still have no place to stay, lm carrying my backpack and bag, cant talk a word of Quechua not the best Spanish and l have been travelling for over 24hrs. This is such a funny and interesting situation l have put myself in, lm not feeling worried as l did bring my camping gear incase l really do have no options. I’m walking down the small streets of Calca trying to make a connection with anyone so l can get help with a safe place to stay.
I have found myself in the Calca Local Market, its beautiful, fruits & veggies everywhere, locals shouting at me trying to reel me in so l buy from them. I know exactly what they are thinking “Fresh Westerner meat, he must have money” I manage to dodge my way through the market without being tempted to buy any of the wonderful foods on offer stumbling on this wall filled with hand made signs advertising cars, mopeds for sale along with random messages. One hand made sign stood out indicating rooms for rent which are cheap and the address, l tried to figure out the address on my map but l was having no luck so l flagged down a Mototaxi showed him the address, praying inside my head l was not going to get lead down a dark alley way.
He takes me straight out of Calca about half a mile down the road onto a dirt track, lm thinking “This is it, l have made a stupid decision, why have l done this”, lm border line panicking that l have screwed up big time, eventually he stops after only being in the Mototaxi for no more than 5 minutes. He points at this house, l pay the man 1 sol which is about 20 pence. I take a deep breath, keep composure and tell myself always be optimistic, your all good. I walk through the large fenced gates onto a Maize Farm with a beautiful old farm house sitting along side the Urubamba River overlooking Pitusiray Mountain (4,991m) “Im already saying to myself, lm going to camp here regardless and climb to the top of that Mountain”
I was in luck, a lovely lady with a big smile comes out introduces herself as Mevsim from Turkey asking how can she help me? “I have been travelling for over 24 hrs from Scotland, need a place to stay while in Peru and l have found myself at this Farmhouse which l think is the one that was advertised in Calca” Mevsim chuckles and says “WOW you’re a long long way from home aren’t you, yes you can stay here but this is not my place it is a man called Cesar he is a local farmer who rents out rooms to travellers in his home”
This is perfect, l have travelled all the way from the other side of the world and l have managed to find a place to stay, plus being in luck that there was only one room available. Mevsim shows me to my room and says “Cesar should be round soon and then you can both negotiate a price” I’m thinking to myself this is the most random thing l have ever done, never have l put myself in a situation like this, normally lm always organized with somewhat a set plan. Cesar arrives about 4pm we negotiate a price of 250sol for 2 weeks, which worked out to being around 60 pounds. lm astonished by the price its super cheap, the home lm staying in is a 5-bedroom house with 3 toilets and 2 showers, open plan kitchen/lounge with a big fire place, very basic but it has everything l need. The house is occupied by Tito a Turkish man who has been travelling Peru for 6 months on his own spiritual journey, Mevsim who has been travelling Peru for a year trying to build a yoga retreat in the Sacred valley, Gary another Scottish guy who has been in Peru for 2 years living a simple life playing his drums, learning about shamanism and working within the local communities learning about there culture, and then there is Marias from London with his beautiful 11 month year old dog Moses who has been in Peru for just under a year also living a similar life to Gary. These are two people l have gravitated towards instantly because l am very much interested in learning about the local culture and their ways.
Myself and Gary already both being Scottish already had similarities and clicked right away which turned into a really strong friendship over my time in Peru. We both headed to the market as l was craving getting some exotic fruits that tempted me when l had arrived earlier that day. Gary could talk Spanish understanding Quechua a little which helped big time especially when it came to bartering. I bought myself 2 huge Mangos, 4 big tomatoes, some sort of Peruvian cheese, biggest Avocado l had ever seen, 3 Chirimoyas (Tastes like a bounty chocolate bar) 3 bottles of water, 4 sweet potatoes all for a total of 40 sol which is roughly 9 British Pounds. Once again astonished by the price of food, cheap and all from the local land, mountains or jungle that is a 100% natural no GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) My day was getting better & better, l was buzzing how everything had fit into place so perfectly.
After a lovely experience bartering with the locals at the market getting lots of delicious fruits & veggies with Gary we headed back to the farmhouse, we both decided we would make a big meal for all the houseguests. Everyone in the house when making food would share however little they had, this is something l learned fast that they did even when l initially arrived earlier in the day they asked if l was hungry, if l wanted tea or if there is anything they could help me with. This all felt a little surreal how people were so generous, caring, considering l was a stranger who they didn’t know.
After my first day adventuring, hoping to find someplace to stay and hoping to get shelter somewhere safe, it turned out to be an amazing day ending the night off by cooking a big meal for all the new friends l had made round the table sharing stories, getting to know one another, playing instruments, singing songs, painting and laughing till our bellies hurt.
Todays lesson - there are still good people out there, trust your intuition, it only gets better.
13th May 2017
I was very excited about my adventures today after what l had got chatting about with all the other guests at the table the previous night getting all sorts of ideas. l had gotten up early around 6am, morning stretch then straight into meditation by the river. I had always dreamed of being surrounded or experiencing being in an environment that hummingbirds would thrive in, l really lucked out with this farm house l had found, it was thriving in all sorts of plants that attract hummingbirds. I’m sitting there in meditation, all of a sudden its as if mini helicopters are whizzing past my head with all the hummingbirds flying around me, lm in awe as if lm in some sort of secret garden strictly for hummingbirds, it was beautiful and fast became my morning routine on a daily basis.
Plans today were to head to Chinchero, a small town sitting at 3,762m above sea level thought to be ruled by Inca Typac Yupanqui (“Noble Inca Accountant “Head of the Inca army in 1463, ruling until his death in 1493). I was very excited for this, Gary had suggested he may be able to get his friend to join us who he had met in the jungle a few years previous while focusing on learning about plant medicine & the culture in the jungle from his time spent within a certain community being invited into the inner circle by the Shaman in the tribe. A Shaman or shamanka is a man or woman who uses old ways to connect with nature through ancient spiritual practices, some that they have learnt from there ancestors and within there indigenous cultures, to work with the universal energy that connects all living things on this planet/universe working with their skills, ancient methods and sometimes there knowledge of plants within their environment in order to help there community in various ways. A shaman is not just anyone he or she is someone who is sometimes selected within the community/tribe due to certain abilities or traits that they possess or more traditionally coming from a lineage that dictates that they have a natural capacity and understanding to work with nature & the unseen forces that most people do not fully understand. These are people who have also had to overcome certain challenges proving their soul purpose, trusting in their faith and knowledge surviving there souls initiation with whatever challenges are set out, knowing exactly what they have come to do on this planet for the healing of mother earth, so that they can help others and create a universal balance. When it comes to a plant shaman which we see more of in Peru and South American culture, they are much like an equivalent of a medicine man which we all know of from native American culture and other cultures who work with plants helping humans in their process to overcome emotional stress and problems plus physical alignments and diseases. In there community they are a person known as a miracle worker of sorts, some of what they do is what we can see in a more modern sense in the work of counselors and herbalists who practice alternative medicine except with additional ancient elements added in. It all sounds quite surreal & farfetched “I get that” But for the Inca and many indigenous cultures across the world even in my home Scotland there are still practices/ceremonies going on to this day, however, these are more done in secret than what l have witnessed in Peru where they practice their spirituality and old customs very openly and proudly which is known throughout the world.
We hit the local market grabbing a nice fresh blended juice before making our way to Chinchero; Gary had become friendly with a few locals in the market particularly one lady who had the cheese stall who he would call mama, his Peruvian Mum. She would invite him over for nice home cooked meals in exchange for his stories about Scotland & the westerner side of the world. She could not talk one word of English but being in her company at her cheese stall l quickly understood why Gary and her got on, she had such good vibes, very caring woman and she was the contact for Gary’s friend the Shaman. We asked if she could help us send a message out so we could get the Shaman to meet us at Chinchero, so l could have the opportunity the cultures and practices first hand from an authentic reputable individual from the community who undertakes the role of a shaman. The Shaman which l will refer to him as (His identity and people in these communities like to protect their identity unless they choose to invite people in) would visit this area from time to time because of some of his family members. Gary explained to mama where we would be if he was to show up at Chinchero, the seed had been planted so now it was a matter of us getting there which took roughly about 2hrs.
After an already exciting morning we finally made it Chinchero for 9am, the sun was very bright and strong with clear skies. I could definitely feel the change in altitude, l had done a little research that its smart to buy a little bag of cocoa leaves, chew on them which in return would help with the minor side effects of altitude sickness. I was only getting a little bit of a sore head, which quickly went away. “Always be aware of the local herbs and their uses as they can come in very handy and majority of the time can be bought at a local stall, do your research”
Gary had been to Chinchero before having a good idea of the layout of the area, it was empty. We had the whole area to ourselves it was bliss, not one tourist only the company of a few cows roaming about and the sound of water trickling down the farming terraces which would be used for growing potatoes, olluco, oca, quinoa and fava beans. The structure and how the Incas work with the land is remarkable, it’s a sight l have never ever witnessed before and cant quite believe how well they have adapted the land for there lifestyle. Its my first day here and lm already very content with what l have seen/experienced if l was to leave the next day.
We get to the most perfect spot, well one of the most perfect spots there was to many too count. We post up, chill out for a good 45 minutes in the sun embracing all the sites & the unique architecture created by the Incas and before we realize it, there is a man walking towards us. Gary speaks up, says something in Quechua “Rimaykullayki, Allillanchu” Hello How are you? It was the shaman, god knows how he managed to get the message so fast. But he told us Mama had called his brother who had luckily been with him and he was only 30 minutes from Chinchero. As we got chatting and as l got more familiar with Shaman we then discussed with him some of the local practices that he had discussed with Gary previously and that l was aware but wanted to know about and enquired if it was possible to at some point observe one of these ceremonies. I was surprised and fortunate to find that the Shaman was welcoming and understood our respect for his culture, inviting us to actually partake in a sacred ceremony with him right here at Chinchero which was a massive honor.
Shaman had brought with him a Chakapa (Would make a rattle noise made with leaves) and a Quena (Flute used by the Incas). We were going to be partaking in the Sacred San Pedro Cactus Ceremony, l had an idea of what San Pedro was and l knew it is not an illegal drug, it is a natural medicine often used in sacred ceremonies, but to my knowledge and intention l had zero plans to partake in any ceremonies but it felt right at the time to participate and learn about this ceremony first hand from a wise individual who had experience in this area, l got really positive vibes from the Shaman and the environment, “It felt safe to participate”. This wasn’t some retreat experience ran by westerners exploiting the culture of South America by pretending to be shamans or luring individuals into a money maker scheme encouraging travellers to partake in an experience where they give them plant medicines that they know nothing about in comparison to an authentic shaman who is engaging in an authentic ceremony learned through their heritage. I was dealing with a legit individual who was widely respected in their community having extensive knowledge in their chosen field.
I thought to myself, l have gotten this far, everything feels right, good vibes have constantly been flowing it would be rude not to partake in the ceremony after the effort and chance of the shaman getting here and allowing us to participate. We had situated ourselves on a particular large rock looking right down the valley sitting on hand carved carvings in the rocks that were made to be seats.
“It was all perfect, everything felt right”
Shaman started to chant while playing his instruments smoking his large hand rolled mapacho (Mapacho also known as Nicotiana Rustica is a pure form of tobacco which would help & enhance a medicine journey) As the chanting continued while at the same time getting smoke blown all around us cleansing the area of all bad spirits, l could feel the sensations of Mapacho that the shaman insisted l take some puffs of “Of course l coughed, it was strong, l could instantly feel the effects of the pure tobacco” then as l stopped coughing the shaman came to me again chanting offering me a cup of the San Pedro.
Every single thought came rushing into my head that you could imagine, what will happen, l'm scared, what will l see?, how will l feel?, will l die?, but ultimately l had really zero idea and l knew from researching it was safe especially with a legit Shaman beside minimising any concerns. Gary had told me via translating from the shaman “When you participate in a plant medicine journey always have a few intentions of what you want, maybe ask for guidance, ask for answers but nothing too in-depth as its only your first time, simple questions “No Problem”
I took the leap of faith drinking the medicine in one go, it was almost like sour thick water, not unpleasant but not amazing just bearable. After drinking the medicine probably not the best thing to ask “How long does this last?” five to ten hours Gary responded - “Okay well l'm in it now.” Bearing this in mind, l am high in the mountains with the gods doing something most likely that the Incas did in exactly the same spot while being in a high energy area. This is part of the Inca culture, there is a reason why the Incas were one of the cultures deemed to bevery highly intelligent and intune with there understanding and connection to nature. This was it, l wanted to come to Peru, follow my intuition immersing myself in the culture, learning not only about the Incas and the South American Cultures and practice but also more about myself and write about this experience.
Okay back to the San Pedro, I was definitely feeling something; it’s a strange strange thing these medicines, often people tend to purge. I purged within about an hr, which was very natural, nothing forced just something bad that needed to come out. After purging l could feel as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, l felt light & very happy, l was getting the feeling l was buzzing like a bee but at the same time l was very much in myself processing and understanding things in a way l had never ever understood them before, l was connected with the shaman and Gary on a subconscious level while at the same time feeling very much as if l was connected to this earth on a whole new level. I went in with intentions & questions that l had been advised before the ceremony, actually getting an answer to why certain things are the way they are. “Mind Blown” I mean for me to put down in text what l experienced is something l just cant find the words to express, its an experience that very much healed me in the ways l needed healing, understanding certain scenarios from a different perspective and really allowing myself to be more open to the universe and our soul purpose of being a human being. It was all a magical journey, not intense well maybe sometimes but on that note it was special to me, something l will never ever abuse nor want to take recreationally. These medicines are serious and must be worked within the right circumstance especially being in the right environment and with the right people, always respect any medicine or drug as the westerners like to call it. Its not a game or drug to do fun, it is a medicine, it’s a way of lifestyle here in Peru and very much a deep connection of who Peruvian people are.
It's around 6pm we have been up here since 9am, started the ceremony around 11am and l am still feeling very much that l am on this Medicine Journey, its coming in waves, nice waves nothing aggressive or negative in anyway. We all feel the urge to make a move throughout the ruins making our way up the terraces then onto another position where there is more rocks. The medicine has not affected me physically in a huge way, a little but still able to safely navigate and work with my body to get to my chosen destination. I just cant seem to get over how magnificent the architecture is that has been done by the Incas let alone how they managed to carve such perfect carvings. It truly is work of the Gods.
The day is coming to an end, its getting dark by this time its approaching 10pm on a Saturday and we are going to be making our way back, hitching a ride however we can to the main road that will take us back to Calca. Gary’s friend and now my friend the Shaman he had to leave a little earlier as he had some family business to attend.
We slowly make our way onto the one road that leads in & out of Chinchero trying to flag down any sort of person with a form of transport so we don’t have to face the long walk back to Calca which would probably take us close to 12hrs.
As we are trying to flag down anything, 3 lovely Quechua ladies come racing out, offering us Tea in a lovely handmade Qiru (Incan cup, made from the likes of wood, ceramics, silver or gold) Unfortunately this wasn’t gold it was Ceramic but l was not complaining, we had just been offered tea from 3 beautiful bright colored clothed Quechua ladies. But wait a minute lm now thinking “Im still feeling the San Pedro, its still coming in waves, is this another sort of medicine that lm about to be blasted with again into another realm”
They invite us in to there living space, l would say roughly the same size as a tennis court, dirt floors, 4 benches covered in Alpaca Fur and a few small stalls which was filled with all sorts of handmade clothing items, straps, hats etc… Since l cant talk a word of Quechua Gary takes the lead, they ask us to sit down so they can get to know us, its all very kind hearted chat. After warming upto them, l decide to drink the tea after them telling us its Coca Tea “I was so happy with this as l had a splitting headache and had drank all the remaining bottles of my water”. These woman were my savior for not getting a sore head, they showed us how they make all their clothes, how they use the natural elements to dye there clothes from plants, insects to animals it was an amazing experience.
In this small confined space eleven generations of families lived, l was amazed. They had next to nothing except tea, some food, alpacas and the skills they had learned of growing up to be a Quechua family woman. I thought they were in there twenties or at least early thirties but no the youngest was late 40s and oldest early 70s. Just proves what healthy eating and good environments does! I got on instantly with Janette she was the 2nd oldest of the three, she gifted me 2 handmade bracelets that l was honored to receive taking into consideration that these woman have very little, l made sure to buy majority of my gifts for family and friends back home from these ladies helping them that much more with there families needs.
We spent roughly 2 hours with these three lovely ladies, learning all we could embracing the local culture, laughing and lots of hugs before they helped us get on a bus back towards home.
Lesson today “Always expect the unexpected but don’t be scared to fully commit yourself into the situation you are presented with if it feels right, its outcome may give you the power, strength & drive for success”