My bed was in the loft with a skylight above me. The sun rises early and the room slowly fills with blue light for a few hours before the sun finally peaks up and rises over the mountains. But it was not the gentle hue of blue light that woke me, but the barks and crows of the village. It was still black as night. Without waking up I wondered why the sudden wave of sound was gaining my attention, it was roughly 4 am. A gentle tapping on the skylight revealed the gentle rain that had begun to fall only moments after the commotion of animal sounds. This would normally still and silence a morning back home in San Francisco, but here at 9600’ in the Valley of the Incas, the animals sang. I turned and slept till the light turned blue.
The morning was still, the animals content that they had let everyone know what was coming, sleeping comfortably. Grey clouds hugged the mountains but looked non-threatening and on a slow retreat to higher ground for the heat of the day. I set off looking for the dogs, who, along with their bredren, slept comfortably tucked away somewhere warm and satisfied with their ability to alert the village of rain. Normally at 5:30 in the morning the dogs would be looking for me, but they were nowhere to be found which made me a bit sad but also lightened a load. I didn’t really know where I was going, what the path would look like, what I would want to explore off path or how long I would be gone
I head up through the highest part of Arin and entered a path that would take me to Las Sirenas waterfall. It being early and brisk, I moved quickly and managed to arrive at the waterfall within 30 minutes. After emerging from a thick patch of forest that the river ran through you come to a private property and then re-enter the thicket to be at the waterfall. I grabbed a big handful of coca leaves and scrambled over the slippery stones to the pool formed at the base of the fall. I offered my breathing intention into he handful of leaves, thanked the sky, the water and the earth and tossed the leaves into the air.
After the waterfall, I was a bit unsure of how to get to the path that I was sure was bordering the property. But the property was closed in, so I scrambled up a hill zig zagging till I could climb a stone wall. As I pulled myself up, I entered an amazing property with large stones and flat grass, there was a blue eucalyptus patch that I walked through twice trying to find a way to the path. After many failed attempts I was able to climb a wall and entered the path at a location I actually knew. At this spot on the main path there is a small spring coming out of the mountain, the spring formed a cave. One time on a previous solo hike I was running down this same trail and almost ran right into the butt of a cow, she had her head in the cave drinking the fresh water. After exchanging the same surprised look at each other, I slowly passed her. This spot was etched into my memory and I was glad to once again be on familiar ground.
A family with a pretty burro were walking behind me, heading back to their village high up. When the father asked me where I was going and I told him 2-3 hours no more, he smiled and said me too. As his family passed he asked if I was ‘cansado’ tired, “not too tired yet I replied.” At that moment the path became very steep, guiding us up and up along the same river that feeds the las Sirenas waterfall.
I came to a split in the path and knowing that the family went right, I took a small detour down towards the river where I could see more falls. I had abandoned a sweet deal, following the family up would have kept me on the path for sure, but since I really had no directions and no destination, it was only fear of not knowing my way that would have kept me near them. I would have lost them in another 20 minutes anyway. Even the son carrying a baby, moved faster than me.
The terrain changed again and the trees were similar to small twisty oaks, growing close together and covered in green moss, it was another magical piece of land, different than the rest. I climbed up onto a large boulders that had water pouring from both sides. It was covered in soft moss and leeches. I sat for awhile before practicing qigong as I looked down the valley. Finishing a short practice, I head back up to the main trail and continued up the path into the Andes.
The path was steep, it amazes me the burro could make some of the sharp steep turn on such loose earth. The path became engulfed in trees, twisting moss covered branches became the sky. Hidden caves mimicked primitive homes tucked away under large boulders, the boulders covered in colorful hanging plants and more moss.
A few hours had already passed when suddenly the path was blocked and I was forced to look across the small river. I searched around to make sure I didn’t make a wrong turn but there was nowhere else to go. I wasn’t stoked to cross the river, it would be difficult to find the exact spot I crossed if I couldn’t link up with the main path after I crossed. Building some rock stacks, I crossed. I took many photos just in case I needed a reference point later and then head up again, I soon crossed over the river again and luckily found a trail.
I was still feeling a bit nervous about being on the correct path, I guess that reflects a lot of where I am in my life, always trying to question what the best path will be. I had been thinking that once I found lamas then I knew I was almost at my turn around spot. A few minutes after crossing the river I met 6 or 7 llamas on the path. Giving me funny looks and scurrying away in a skirmish they made me laugh, hard and out-loud. I felt so relieved to see them and knew they were a good sign.
I only hiked another 15 minutes before I came to a large rock structure that made a wonderful open cave. You could feel its presence and importance, standing there tall over the path. I later learned this rock has a name Rumi Kaparin the “stone for greeting.”
As I climbed higher the flowers increased in variety and abundance. Hummingbirds of all shapes and colors buzzed around from flower to flower, butterflies fluttered here and there, colorful stones lay relaxed everywhere, the sounds of the river flowing filled my ears, this land was a true paradise.
I finally came to a village, Churu. I didn’t even realize I was there at first. The houses are long and thin, made of stone walls and thatched roofs, they sit low on the ground and blend into the surroundings beautifully. I was guessing the village was made of four of five families by the placement of the houses and paths. I climbed up a stone ridge and saw no one unless you count the herd of sheep that were crossing on a parallel ridge.
I paused and realized this was maybe the most peaceful place I had ever been. The meadow that lead down the valley from the steep peaks had a river snaking through on both sides. Where the river met its sister branch was the exact spot where the terrain changes from highland flowers and stone fruits to dry tundra. The steepest slopped mountains backed up to the village but the weather was calm. The gentle sounds of the mountain winds and the flowing river were calming. The grass was green and the land was easy to walk on. As I left the village I was buzzed by an eagle, black and white, it past so fast it had the swoosh of a loud passing jet.
I hiked up until the valley made a sharp turn. I found a rock with a panoramic view and had lunch, exposed in the cold wind, but I didn’t mind. I was getting so tired from the hike that I was beginning to stumble a bit here and there, losing a bit of my equilibrium in the altitude. After lunch I began my descent back down to Arin.
I left at 5:30 am I arrived and had lunch around 10:00 am and was back in Arin by 1 pm.
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Darin Lehman is a Yoga & Qigong Teacher, Shamanic Guide, Musician, Artist and Writer.