“15 years ago I went on an expedition to study Shamanism in the mountains of Peru with a dear friend, Dr. Alberto Villoldo. I treated the trip as a photographic journey and thought I would bring back a bunch a great pictures. In reality, I brought back so much more…..”
-Eddie Stephens (April 1, 2016)
June 18, 2001 – The Experience Begins….
It has been a strange night/week/month. I am sitting at the Miami International Airport, about to step into another world. I have no idea what to expect, no idea what is waiting for me on the other side.
Up until this moment, I have always had the option to opt out. In fact, I have reasons that would make it very understandable to my friend Dr. Villoldo (Dr. V) if I chose not to go. I have never really travelled alone, especially to a foreign country. Nothing is gained without risk. Deep breath.
The founder of The Four Winds Society, Dr. V. is a psychologist, medical anthropologist, and author of more than ten books on shamanism and mind-body healing, including Shaman, Healer, Sage and Dance of the Four Winds. He has been on the faculty of San Francisco State University, where he founded the Self-Regulation Laboratory. He has studied and practiced shamanism in the Andes and the Amazon for more than twenty years, and has been initiated into the inner sanctum by the last of the Inka shaman masters. Dr. V was my host.
I met Dr. Villoldo several years ago when I first became a lawyer. He was involved in a case I was working on. He had given me a book he had written about his adventures in Peru. The book was interesting, but seemed more fantasy than reality. He made sure we always kept in touch over the years. There was a period of time where I had not heard from him, then out of the blue he sent my son a children’s book he had written. Earlier this year, our paths crossed again. When he invited me to join him for the Winter Solstice celebration in Peru, I accepted. Not really understanding what I might be getting myself into. I saw this as a once in a life time opportunity. How could I pass it up?
I got a lot of flack from my friends and family about going to a third world country. All whom are concerned about my well being (understandably so). After all, just last month the Peruvian government shot down a small plane suspected of smuggling drugs. Turned out to be a private plane transporting a bunch of missionaries.
Fortunately, I am booked on all commercial flights.
The plane is boarding. The adventure begins. I have my journal and my camera ready to document anything that may happen. I am ready to let go. To allow the experience to serve me.
June 19, 2001 – Royal Inka II
I am sitting in the lobby of the Royal Inka II hotel, our base camp for the week. I am sipping on my second cup of cocoa leaf tea. It supposedly helps you adjust to the altitude. Also has a sedative effect I am noticing.
There are many interesting people here. Mainly therapists and psychologists. There are ministers/priests, healers, doctors, and lots of nurses. I am the only lawyer here. Everyone seems to have been brought here for some identifiable reason. I am here because I was invited. I guess I don’t have an elaborate reason like most everyone else, but nevertheless I am here, participating, meeting new friends, serving the experience.
Sitting here I am surrounded by everything that is Peru. Beautiful scenery, cold, thin air… and a sense of serenity.
The Royal Inka II is nestled behind the town of Pisac. It is the most modern (and colorful) facilities in the city. I don’t think there is running water in the residences of the locals. The locals are poor. They sell ponchos, blankets, jewelry and various knick nacks. Some of it has been commercialized (like the plastic crucifix) and can be bought anywhere. Others are more unique and require a little effort to find. Everywhere you look there are “special prices”. I must have come on the right day. The merchants wait outside the hotel gate and are anxious to show you there offerings. They have a skill of remembering your name and closing the deal. I enjoy haggling with them.
June 20, 2001 – Ollantaytambo
This morning we journey to Ollantaytambo which is an Incan ruin located about a mile away from town. We travelled the sacred Incan valley to get there. Passed through some towns. Witnessed how they grow crops on the side of the mountains. Saw a salt mine.
The Temple of Ollantaytombo is incredible! It’s like a pyramid built into the side of a mountain. Climbing up I felt the first effects of the altitude. It was tough. Probably climbed an equivilant of ten flights of stairs, but it was worth it. The view was spectacular. See for yourself…
I also participated in a water ceremony. Took off most of my clothes, offered three cocoa leafs to the gods/spirits, and an elderly female Shaman, Dona Julia, proceeded to “cleanse” me. Chanting… rubbing ice cold water on me… blessing me… breathing in my chakra. Afterwards I could feel an energy I have never felt before. I don’t know if it was the ceremony, location or just the adrenaline from the cold water, but something was there… an energy that was new.
Tonight is the Ayahuasca/San Pedro ceremony. Ayahuasca is the vine of the dead. San Pedro is the cactus of the Gods. Apparently, people will drink the jungle brew and have visions of some sort. It is supposed to heal you mentally and physically and is a profound/spiritual experience. It should prove interesting.
June 21, 2001 – Pisac
This morning we celebrated the Winter Solistice at the temple of Pisac. The buses parked about 2 kilometers from the temple. We hiked a trail along the side of the mountain to get to the ruins.
The temple was beautiful. There we performed ceremony. First we chewed on cocoa leaves. We were then given three sets of three cocoa leaves to meditate with. Afterwards we combined all of the cocoa leaves and began preparing the despachio. We added many trinkets to the despachio, each symbolic of something in the Incan tradition. At the end of the ceremony we brought the four winds together for another year.
When we were finished we had the option to take the bus back to the camp or hike down the Inca Trail. I chose the latter. It was an incredible experience. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so beautiful. It was inspiring.
The trail ended at the Pisac market where I bought a silver spoon for my newest nephew Jack and a cool little poncho for my son Christopher. I am now sitting in a small Cathedral while writing this. Lunch is one hour away. I am so hungry.
June 22, 2001 – Cusco
Spent the day in Cusco, the main Incan city in Peru. We visited the witch’s market (aka mercado de shaman). We were warned that this was the most dangerous spot on the itinerary and to be on the lookout for professional pick pockets. Luckily, the visit went without incident. Took some interesting pictures…
Then off to San Blase, the artist’s square. I bought a beautiful leather backpack for 45 sols (less than 15 US dollars). I then spent a half an hour at an internet cafe at a cost of 2 sols (approximately 60 cents).
Then for the first time on this trip we tried the local cuisine. It was good. Started with some kind of corn soup. Then we had pasta with ham and a fruit cup for dessert. Now I know I have been told not to eat the local food but so far, I have kept it all down. I will keep you advised. [author’s afterthought: it’s best to avoid the local food]
After lunch we visited a llama farm and did some more shopping.
June 23, 2001 – Machu Picchu
The ruins of Machu Pichu, rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, was the highlight of the trip. While the Inca people utilized the Andean mountain top (9060 feet elevation), erecting massive stone structures from the early 1400’s, legends and myths indicate that Machu Pichu (meaning ‘Old Peak’ in the Quechua language) was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Whatever its origins, the Inca turned the site into a small (5 square miles) but extraordinary city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, Machu Pichu seems to have been utilized by the Inca as a secret ceremonial city.
The journey began at 5am where we took an hour long bus to Ollantaytambo where we boarded a train which followed the Incan Trail. We then took another bus which traveled up the steep mountain road with thirteen hairpin curves.
It is hard to find words to describe this place. The thought process that went into this place. Very simple, but at the same time intricate and complex. Representative of the Incan culture.
I have seen and felt so much in the past week. Still not sure the purpose of this trip. Am I simply enjoying a gift, or is there a deeper meaning?
It was explained earlier in the week that the Shamanic way of thought differs from that of the Western world. It is said that in the Western world we have understanding before healing. Meaning that we must first diagnose the problem before we can heal it. Shamans believe it is the other way around. First their is the healing, then we come to understand it. I do feel something has changed inside me, and that in a way I have been healed. There are still a lot of unknowns. I believe something profound brought me here. It was more than a series of random events. I have not reached that understanding… but I have a feeling it will be coming to me.