A lot of people dream of traveling to Peru to experience the Andes and soak in the mystical wonders of Machu Picchu. Honestly, I was never one of those people. I always thought Chile seemed more interesting and Argentina more refined. I couldn’t see the big deal about visiting all those Incan ruins. They weren’t even that old in the grand scheme of things!
I thought this way until the months after I graduated from college, when my eagerly awaited Peace Corps assignment was postponed for six months and I was crushed because suddenly I didn’t know what to do with myself.
When a good friend invited me to spend that open time photographing her Fulbright-funded documentary and accompanying her for the last part of her year in Peru, of course I said yes. But I wasn’t incredibly excited. I said yes because I had nothing better to do and I loved my friend. What I really wanted to do was receive my Peace Corps assignment and get on with my life.
On the plane ride from Washington, DC to Lima I wrote in my journal. The traveling had made me feel nervous, like butterflies invading my system, and writing always calms me down. I wrote on off-white paper in black ink that this trip felt like a big risk and that perhaps I would be richly rewarded for taking it. Then I felt something catch in my heart and I started to cry.
At the time, I thought I was just stressed and emotional, but looking back now I understand that something big was already opening up inside of me. My mind just needed time to catch up. I put my journal away and began talking to my seatmate, who was a current Peace Corps volunteer in Peru returning from visiting the States. This was the first synchronicity of the trip.
Right away, I went to a beach town on the northern coast to meet my friend during her weeks of R&R. We walked the long coast, fell off surfboards into the Pacific and I began learning Spanish perched on stools in beach-y bars.
A week into our trip, I met a couple on the beach—a striking Peruvian man with deep eyes and a lovely American blond that matched his intensity with kindness. They were relaxing for a few days before heading back to their land in the Sacred Valley. I told him my friends and I were headed that way as well and we agreed to hang out.
At the end of our conversation they mentioned something about shamanism, but I didn’t quite understand. Again, sometimes it takes the mind a while to catch up.
The weeks that unfolded from there were the most incredible of my life. In the sacred valley land of the Incan empire, I experienced my first taste of mysticism through Andean ceremonies and the shamanic guidance of the couple I met on the beach.
I honored my ancestors during a sweat lodge ceremony, learned to listen to the messages of the ancient healing plants, and felt a true connection to the land around me. My spirit woke up, my physical form transformed, and I understood how much I didn’t know about life. Being from the suburbs, this all felt strange, foreign and quite delicious as experience, but also like a secret I always knew.
I finally saw Machu Picchu during my last weeks in Peru. The ruins are incredibly preserved, nestled in a lush, jungle-ly spot between sharp mountains. I understood immediately why it was sacred to the Incans, who are rumored to have used it as a vacation stay, because it felt that way to me. The afternoon sun was strong so I stripped away my sweater and wandered to the overlook ledges. It occurred to me that I could have been a Virgin of the Sun in my past life and spoke little messages of remembrance into the grain of the stone.
The rest is history. I learned during that trip that my Peace Corps assignment was in Peru and I spent the next two years living in the Andes. The volunteer I met on the plane hosted me for my first site visit. The circle of friends from this time—including the mysterious shaman—has radiated out to become my spiritual family.
I connect with them often to remember my connection when modern culture makes me doubt myself. Further, my view of the world was forever transformed. I can’t see myself as separate anymore. No matter how much I choose to suffer in any moment, the connection I’ve gained from Peru always brings me back to myself.
Now I understand why I was crying on that first plane ride. So much would change from those moments on and I needed a moment to grieve my former self. My eyes were opened wide to the deeper magic of life, the truest realities I’ve experienced, and there was no going back. It’s taken me time to understand it all and honestly, I still don’t; not really. I’m just grateful and say, “Yes” every time I can go back. Peru is the place where I feel most fully alive, more of a soul mate than anything I’ve experienced in human form.
I tell you all this because I’m finally in a position where I can share a similar experience with you. The land where I first tasted ceremony has been transformed into a beautiful yoga retreat center and the family of shaman continue to run it with integrity and connection. I am leading a yoga retreat there this August 5-13, 2016.
Last year led a retreat very similar to this one and it was deeply transformational to everyone who came. We bonded deeply as a group and traveled like a family through the sacred sites.
The first time we saw the Andes many of us cried. When I asked the participants to describe it, they couldn't quite articulate their emotion. I completely understood the way that this land can work beneath our words.
So come to Peru this year! It'll be magical. I pinkie promise you that you will not be the same after this retreat.
We’ll engage in daily yoga practice and Ayurvedic discussion, sweat out our prayers during a traditional sweat lodge and take a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu and other sacred ruins. For the very last time, we'll climb a sacred mountain that is closing to the public this year.
We’ll learn from the land, from the history, and from ourselves. Together, we’ll be healed and deeply transformed.
If reading this sparks a voice within you that says, “Yes, please. I need this for my own growth,” then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Space is very limited and this retreat will fill up soon. I trust that the perfect group will form that can experience and integrate these sacred traditions and carry them forward to see all of life in a deeper, more integrated way.