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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Walking the Path

Trekking in Ausangate, we walked through rolling green hills but were surrounded by sharp peaks covered in snow, violent edges that only occasionaly peaked through the cloudy sky.  Thousands of years ago Incans walked these same hills.  Villages across the Incan empire had traditions that brought them hundreds of miles across an empire that stretched from modern day Ecuador to Bolivia.

One tradition involved the entire population of a village to race around the entire boundries of the community, a path that could go on for twenty miles and cross multiple mountain ridges.  Other ritual activities included the sacrificing of children and animals who had to follow sacred routes known as ceques, which involved them walking in a straight line over mountains and through rivers to pay homage to the perfection of their fates.

On the second day of trek we walked up to the ridge of a grass covered hill.  It took nearly two hours and  I had to stop every few minutes to gather some of the air the altitude had taken from me.  I could barely make it up and yet thousands of years ago Incans were running up not only these hills but also the mountains that stretch more than 20,000 feet into the sky.

On the fourth day, nauseated from the altitude, I could hear thunder and was contemplating laying in an open field with metal poles threaded through my tent.  Incans reveered lightning as light in its purest form and anyone who was struck was buried on sight and became a Tirakuna, a sacred place. If someone survived a lightning strike, they received the gift of divination and the ability to read the furture through coca leaves.  I wasn’t thinking how I would be considered lucky to be struck by lightning if I was in the same place 700 years earlier as I listened to the wind, rain, and thunder blend together outside my tent.

When on the last night on trek our tent caved in due to snow piling up on the top, I wasn’t thinking how Incans considered ice the purest form of water.  They would take sacred pilgrimages to the glaciers that carve into the mountains just to be in the presence of their power.

Our trek overlapped us with the Incans through the elements and natural wonders of the world.

We look at the mountains and see powerful and beautiful landmarks.  We are seeing ancient protective beings, ancestor’s who shadows bring benevolence to the people below.

We cross over rivers with the help of bridges or our guides where bridges haven’t been built.  We are stepping over the open veins of the earth, the rivers that are reflected in the heavens thorugh the milky way.

We take pictures of the alpacas and llamas in the fields, the animals who people of the past have looked towards in the stars and the dark spots behind them to feel the sacred power that they hold.

This trek surrounded us with some of the most beautiful parts of the world but also provided me with a connection to the Incan empire and indigenous people who still carry their beliefs.  We are connected by the mountains and rivers and stars and animals.  We have walked on the same path, looked at the same ridges, drank the same water.  We are from different worlds but through the earth and her creations, we are similar in more ways than one.