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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

From the Andes to the Green Mountains

Extending from Sunch’u Pata, the ceremonial hill top, runs a path. Marked by a Peligrosa! sign, the trail balances on a ridge, splitting cliffs that plunge thousands feet down on both sides. The path feels like it divides two worlds, epitomizing a dichotomy that I feel throughout my entire time at Choquequirao. In the ruins, I am both here in the moment, but also transported back 500 years ago to the time of the Incas. I can hear insects buzzing and ants crawling among wildflowers, but I can also see mountains fading and folding into blue, the path I walked for two days disappearing into them. As I sit, with the wind and sun pounding my face, near merges with far, in terms of time and place.

My day at Choquequirao is powerful and clarifying. And for me, the location of the Incan ruins is what elevates the experience above others. A literal empire in the clouds, ruins stretching along mountains that rise 10,000 feet tall. Three rivers merging below, an expanse of blue sky above, white wisps redefining the view every minute. It is awe-inspiring.

In such a sacred place, the connection to nature is tangible. The relationship between the outside world and the Incas is evident, with ritual places dedicated to Inti (the Sun God) and many others. The presence of Pachamama and Apu can be felt, the ruins merging with care into the natural curve of the earth and mountains.

In Incan culture, in Andean worldview, the appreciation of nature is conscious. The day before we visited the ruins, we created an ofrenda for Pachamama (Mother Earth). With wildflowers in our hands, a waterfall above our heads, in a tongue used by the Incas, we thanked her for our time here, we asked her for a wish. The relationship between nature and the Andean people is mutual, each providing for and respecting the other. A connection I have never experienced anywhere else.

Growing up in Vermont, surrounded by nature every day of my life, it can almost be easy to take it for granted. The woods that overwhelm my town, the stream that flows behind my house, the red leaves that emerge in the fall. Without purposeful recognition, they can fade into the backdrop of my life. But this trip has brought my appreciation of the outside to the forefront. Everywhere we go, I am struck by how the views catch my breath and clear my mind. I come back happier, calmer and more ready for whatever comes next. From Toro Toro to Choquequirao, from Apu and Pachamama, from the places and cultures of our trip, I have realized clearly how important nature is to me. A defining part of my life, I want to come back with a conscious appreciation and recognition of my relationship to it. I want to bring back a bit of Andean culture to the Green Mountains of Vermont.