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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Apu Ausangate

Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

As I write, I am surrounded by Alpacas, sheep, and horses as they graze. The herders sit on nearby boulders and watch over, dressed in traditional clothes of colorful hand-woven wool ponchos and skirts. We were at camp after hiking for six hours and reaching an altitude of over 1600 ft on the high pass. As I think back to the day, I am amazed and proud of myself and what I accomplished. This was the longest, highest, wettest (rain, snow, and hail), coldest (I am from GA), and most fun trek that I have ever done.

Ausangate is a sacred mountain to the people here and it was an honor to walk around it accompanied by Fabian, his wife Patricia, and their son Rubendario. The mountains are alive and each one has an Apu, or lord/spirit, that is the energy and life giving spirit to the people here. Before we began trek we did a ceremony so that the Apu would know us and let us pass on the trek. And it happened, despite the snow and hail, we were able to cross the high pass and circumnavigate Ausangate.

About 20 minutes before the top of the pass, Fabian stopped the ground and reached for a rock. He held it in his left hand and told us that this rock symbolizes the weight that each of us carries. I picked up my rock, a black heart shaped rock with white stripes, and thought about the weight that I carry. Is it the worry over registering for classes and rooming next semester? The distress of my friend group at school growing further apart? The uncertainty and sadness of my parents moving away from the community I grew up in? These thoughts and more moved up with me as I walked to the top of the pass.

We circled up around a large rock pile on top of the pass and Fabian took off his hat and lifted his rock into the air. We all followed suit. Quecha words to thank the Pacha-Mama and Inti-Tayta (Mother and Father of the world) for all their gifts were repeated by us all. One by one we tossed the rocks onto the pile, Apu would now take these worries for us and give us strength to continue on.

For the next part of the ceremony, Patricia gave us all three coca leaves. Speaking again in Quecha, Fabian lifted his leaves high to thank the Condor, out in front to thank the Puma, and down low to thank the Serpent for the gifts of life and protection. At this point we all scattered to do some silent meditation. I sat looking at the snow-capped mountains and feeling the wind on my face. The worries that I walked up with came to me and I knew that I would not be here without those worries. They are a part of me and my journey to this spot, how could I want anything else than this? Despite these fears and worries, I knew that everything would be alright. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but my heart was at peace. At that same moment the wind stopped blowing and a calmness filled the air as I breathed anew, free of the burdens and worries that I had carried with me.

This is why Dragons treks. To find that inner peace that cannot be found without understanding the mountains, the Apus, and people who live here.  In every single way, these mountains give life to the people here and ultimately to me. Each morning has begun with Fabian playing the flute to wake us from our slumber. Before we begin each hike we breathe in Florida water and chew coca leaves to honor the Apu. As I share my water bottle with Patricia, she thanks the Apu for this life giving stream. Without this trek I would not have known or been a part of these ancient traditions and I would not have the peace that is in my heart right now.

Apu Ausangate, urpillay sonqillay, thank you from my heart.