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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Sol y Luna


Last night I hiked through the paths of our eco-lodge, Sol y Luna, with my group members trailing ahead and behind, only with headlamps to glow the way. The homes were dark and curtains closed with empty silence. The path was just a path. On the way to our fire I tried to smell for smoke, but my stuffy nose prevented scent from being a successful guide. The ritual sense of silence and hiking brought me back to Sikkim where walking meditation and horse philosophy were essential to the daily regimen.

Seeing a far glow provided a sense of security, and sitting across from and next to the illuminated faces of my future family made me feel grounded. Polka told us about the importance of La Pachamama y las ofrendas, highlighting Andean culture’s deep reliance on natural forces.

La ofrenda shows gratitude towards La Pachamama and asks for her guidance and protection with herbs, llama fur & fat, silver confetti, and blocks of sugar printed with images specific to the values of our trip (work, livelihood, travel, nature, education). But most importantly is the coca leaf. The precision of choosing three coca leaves for La Pachamama alludes to the deep admiration and dependency that Andeans feel for nature. Even the personification of “La Pachamama” or “Mother Earth” in the Spanish language is proof of a gratitude less familiar in America.

Contrary to my leaders’ suggestions I choose three very different leaves. The first is long and skinny representing the person who I have been: lacking self acceptance but highly motivated and in need of accomplishment. The second is wide, round, and ripped at the top representing the person who I am now: well-rounded and comfortable with my flaws but afraid of growth. The third is wide, long, and pointed representing the person who I want to become: full and content with myself but goal oriented and excited to learn. As I place these into la ofrenda and the flame, I asked La Pachamama for her guidance in helping the qualities of my third leaf come to fruition.


The next morning we meet in the same location; this time the beating sun is balanced with a cool breeze. The path that was just a path in the moonlight the night before is now heavily decorated with garden flowers, shrubs, and a fragrant tangerine tree. Approaching the fire pit that last night brought me so much security now shows the clear mountain landscape and everything that lies ahead of me. At no place so far have the trees been cleared and the view so uninterrupted.

It feels so special to have reflected under the less polluted, starry sky and to return in the morning feeling unclouded in the goals and desires I have for the mountains to come.