Walking down did have its easier aspects, and I felt some hope that I would be able to ride a horse for part of it. Going down, I could lean into gravity rather than fight it which meant that I could move faster than climbing upwards – at least at the start. After a short time, I realized that climbing down was a constant effort to not fall down. The terrain was rocky and sometime blocked by cows.
Encountering these beasts up there on the mountain side was humbling and majestic, and I learned – potentially dangerous. Martín had to come back up the path to direct me around them. Going around a bull, or any obstacle, on a switchback at 15,000 ft, meant going off the path and straight down the side of the mountain. I kept returning my faith to the fact that my guides felt fully confident that I could do this. They seemed to be moving faster than ever.
Renewing my trust with every breath, down I headed. I judged my progress by the landscape looking less and less like I was in an airplane. These ragged peaks below became closer and closer. I snapped a picture (below left) when I felt like I had made some progress. You can see the small trail and how far away any sense of town was.
None of this seemed to matter though, and I didn’t have too much time to look around as I navigated the terrain. Because my guides were faster going down, I was more often alone on this stretch. I would be way behind and I would hear a whistle and I would whistle back, and I knew they were keeping an ear on me, at least. A few times I had to pick my way through a path that I hoped was right, or they would be far below indicating directions with a walking stick. Gently and steadily, I made my way. We had oranges in the field together near some cattle before Crisolo took off in earnest for the horse.
The rest of the trek moved swiftly. Although my legs were shaking in between each step, I had the steadiness of the hiking sticks and the strong love and connection of the Apu. I was keeping my eyes open for a stone relative that wanted to come home with me. I found a small rock that had 3 colors on it and looked just like a mountain – I thanked it, offered some tobacco, and stowed it lovingly in my bag.
We walked for a while, passed the waterfalls, I could see where we had hiked up from the other side, which seemed so far away yet so near. The water seemed so docile now.
We came to some wide trails that went through the eucalyptus forest again and I was feeling more relaxed and buoyed by gratitude. I told myself soon, soon there will be a horse. I honestly felt like getting a horse for part of a paqowachu would be cheating. I also felt like I had already undertaken more than I ever dreamed and so having some help to finish with a flourish seemed fair.
When he could, Martín would check in with Crisolo over cell. Connection was spotty, but not gone altogether. About 4 hours into the walk, we got word that there was no horse. Martín asked me if I would ride a donkey to which I promptly replied ¡Si! But one hour later, there was no donkey either.
I was pretty bummed but felt like maybe that’s what was meant to be, as this type of pilgrimage is really meant to be a solo undertaking. Not quite ready to resign myself to such a stoic fate, I made a prayer to my friend Rebecca ‘Firehorse’ Snyder. Rebecca had passed away 1 year to the day of my beginning this Paqowachu. The morning I walked up the side of the mountain, breathless, was the 1-year anniversary of my being able to witness my dear sister’s last breath on this Earth. She was with me, I knew, as I climbed, and prayed, and surrendered. I laid down some tobacco and said “Girl, if you got any pull left down here, can you please help a sister out with a horse?”
Well, about an hour later we got a magnificent call from Crisolo – they had found a horse!! I just needed to walk another 20 minutes and then I would get some relief. WOO HOO!!!!!!
There was no saddle or reins, just a thick blanket secured with tight rope, which I crammed my fingers under to hold on, as we strolled through the remainder of the walk down. It hurt a little, but I did not care. I was in total bliss. It was so fun to be on a horse, and I had to laugh at myself as two women (who owned the horse) escorted us. One with a baby who followed behind and one who led the horse. My mind was mostly erased from the intensity of the last few days and I rode in gratitude for the horse, these women, and the way our ancestors provide for us.
In the end, I was only riding for about 25 minutes. Shortly, I recognized some of the rural alley ways we had ascended through and I realized that my guides were a couple of jesters and we were nearly back to the car! We would not be walking ‘til nightfall after all.
Amy in Pisaq, with Apu Pachatusan in the background
All photos by Amy Mermaid Isakov
Ultimately, I felt blessed and incredibly empty. I began this trek with so many assumptions about myself that I didn’t even recognize as assumptions. I thought it was a fact that I could never climb a mountain like Huascarán, but any idea I had about myself, I left along the trail. In my blossoming understanding of Apu Huascarán, I began to understand and receive the mind blowing reckoning of WHO an Apu is and how each one, each mountain, all over the world, has embodied celestial-earth medicine and when we align with that greater earth wisdom, we awaken to who we are. I am stronger than I think I am, and I have more endurance than I suspected. I am inextricable linked to my community and my community to me.
At this time of the world, we need everyone and anyone who is willing, to be an instrument of this divine grace. Magic is real, and we are some of its most powerful and effective lightning rods, when we can be empty enough.
Hats off to all those who have kept these magical medicine ways alive that we might follow in their footsteps and carry the truth of unity and community into the future!
Amy Mermaid Isakov is an innovative dreamer, passionate about connection, spirituality, music, ritual arts, and how the Divine can manifest in all its forms. Having left the traditional education path, she has studied in-depth with shamans, bodyworkers, evolutionary thought leaders and green builders since 2001. While working at The Shift Network, she hosted and managed all of don Oscar’s courses, while having the privilege to host and learn from many of the world’s leading mystics, dreamers and visionaries. She is a Pachakuti Mesa Sanctioned Teacher, writer, singer and mother — among other things — and looks forward to helping as many people as possible return to the truth of interconnection in this time of dire beauty. She regularly leads gatherings in her region and beyond, subscribing to the truth she recognizes in Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching “The next buddha will be a sangha.” You can reach Amy at TeachHeart@me.com.