It had been blessedly cloudy for most of the day which meant protection from the great and powerful Inti, and that the likelihood of rain was great. I suppose this is why Martín decided we should eat first, and rest, and then climb up, just 1 hour, he promised.
I had only my bundled mesa, my despacho kit, water, and the paqowachu instructions in my bag and was waiting for Martín under the increasingly cloudier sky. I was feeling extremely content and satisfied in the height I had climbed. It was in view of the glacier. As far as I was concerned, this was really as high as a I oughtta climb. And so it was that it started to rain. I was hoping it would sprinkle and then pass, but it wanted to stay.
Since it would be rather difficult to make a despacho in the rain, I napped. I woke up an hour or so later and peeked outside even though the rain was pounding my tent. No point in trying to climb, I was content to wait for a break in the weather and walk to a private spot on the mountain and perform the ritual there. Martin and Crisolo were in their tent, everything was put away, and the only sound on the mountain was my breath and the rain.
I went back into the tent, grateful that it hadn’t rained while we were hiking earlier, and that the tent was cozy and dry. My water bottle was full of still-warm coca tea made from boiled mountain water, my breath labored just from turning over from one side to the other, but I was content. I slept a little, wrote some, and came to realize I might really not be climbing up any higher and would be doing the ritual right here in this little tent. I laid in my tent in the rain contemplating life. How in the live long world did I, out of 8 bazillion humans, get to be here now?
I had a few moments today – 2 actually – that I was so slow that Martin and Crisolo were nowhere in sight and I got scared. The terrain is intense but I had to trust that they trusted me, also Spirit. Thankfully they passed without incident – did I mention I made it? 😉 ok – it’s 5:15 pm, I’m going to do ceremony right here in my tent.
You’d think that because my pen died just as I was trying to second guess that last sentence, that I would have stayed in my tent. But no – it wasn’t raining right then! So, I decided I would ‘man up’ and go outside. I got my poncho to lay on the wet ground so I could open my mesa and make the despacho, and headed out to the spot I’d scouted.
When I got out there, it was beautiful and otherworldly. There was a mountain stream that I anointed myself with as a cleansing, and then climbed (a few feet) to a perfect patch of earth for ceremony. I laid out my Poncho, and it started hailing. Hailing!! What was I thinking? I packed up quickly and chided myself for not paying attention when the pen died and I was pushing for that ‘maximum effort’ our culture glorifies.
Back in my tiny tent, in the last light of day, I began my ritual. I can’t tell you all about my ceremony, but I can tell you one thing: When I opened my mouth to speak my prayers, I wept. I was so overcome with emotion to have the opportunity to be where I was, with this magnanimous, generous, and wise Apu. To be in these lands where such wise and strong people sowed generations of beauty, and vision, and to have the love and support of my community in such tangible ways, to have the privilege and the bequest, truly has no verbal equal.
When I was done, it was after dark and raining hard. Feeling very content and rather sleepy, I went to bed a little after 7pm.
Sometime later, I woke up with a shock. It was as if someone had bolted me in my sleeping bag and I was wide awake. Not only was I wide awake, but after laying there for a moment, unbidden from the secret dance parties in my brain, came Beyoncé’s Homecoming album playing full blast.
It was still raining, the walls of the tent were quite wet, but the ground was still dry. However, the tent narrowed towards the feet and my feet were up against the walls. The outside of the sleeping bag was damp, and I knew if I didn’t fix it, I was going to end up wet and quite cold. I put my poncho over my feet and legs and tried to fall back asleep. I was floating on my little sleeping pad, in a wet tent, at the top of the world, with Beyoncé in my head, heavily breathing, and all I wanted was to be asleep again. Just then, I felt something reach into my tent. I struck out my hand only to catch the arm of my husband, Lance. Relieved but still concerned, I said to him, “No! I can’t!… I’m on my paqowachu!…” He didn’t say anything, he just pulled me into his arms, in our bed at home, and held me there — so warm, so soft, so dry.
I dreamt a few other dreams that night, all restorative in their own way, but nothing could touch the warmth and relief of being home for a moment, in the middle of, well— death.
By the time dawn came, I wondered if Martín would come and wake me to hike up to the top, but by 6 am, when I was up, he was already long gone, into the clouds. By the time he returned, I had buried my despacho and made a few other special offerings.
While we gathered the last of our things, I asked them about what time we’d get down. They looked at each other, evaluating the circumstances, and said about 8 pm, maybe 10 if we don’t go very fast at all. They asked me if I could ride a horse to which I stoutly replied ¡Si! The prospect of riding a horse greatly lifted my spirits. It was 8 am and they pointed down through the clouds to a patch of green and said “There. There is the chance for a horse. We will walk, maybe 5-6 hours.” My spirits deflated slightly, but I knew that even if we didn’t get the horse, I would still make it to the taxi by the cemetery, one step at a time.
Stay tuned… next time on Pilgrimage to Huascaran: Part 5 – the thrilling conclusion where we find out whether Amy ever got that horse!!
All photos by Amy Isakov