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Shamanic Verses On the Lake Titicaca

July 25th, 2006

I didn't expect to be sitting on a starlit ledge with an Andean Shaman for a midnight meditation, but there are stranger places than Lake Titicaca for this to occur. In truth, I was on a short excursion from La Paz to meet other travelers on this world's highest lake (3,802m --12,507ft) straddling Bolivia and Peru.

I'd arrived at Copacabana (like Brazil with a beach, but FAR fewer bikinis), the lake's Bolivian tourist center. I immediately puttered across the deep blue waters to Isla del Sol, an island with no roads and a bit of trekking. After waking to sunlight rays over 21,000 foot mountains on the other side of the lake, I hit the trail from Yumani, the island's southern village. Expecting a solitary day across a Greek island landscape, I was surprised to meet Drew and Marta, two Peru Peace Corps volunteers on a holiday weekend. We hiked on the island's scenic crest route, and then snuck off the path for a lunch on a secluded white rock beach. We parted as they set up camp with their tent on a small beachside cove.

My plan was to check into a hostel on the north side of the island, and then return to Yumani for transport back to Copacabana. But, as I was hiking into the small town of Challa, a festivity was a-brewin'. The village men donned ceremonial shoulders of jaguar skins, and the women were twirling in multiple red, blue, green dresses and Bolivia's signature bowler hat. Everyone -- as typical in Bolivian festivals-- had been drinking. I had to stay.

While watching, I struck up a conversation with Roger, a local who, as I would find out, was very involved in what he called, "the rise of the ancient traditions" As we both left the village square and its profuse, sweaty drinking, he offered to have me join a "concentration" at one of the island's holy places. What the hell, right? Sure, I wondered about an invitation to a robbery or worse, but my instinct said I'd come out okay.

This is my account of the evening, taken from journal the next morning:

Roger's mood, as I knocked at his family's front door, was different than our meeting. More serious -- as serious as one can look in an Andean beanie hat. For an hour and a half, we sat in his one-room house, wife and daughter first watching and then snoring on the room's single bed. I felt uneasy, some paranoid, as he showed me sketches like a series of Rorschach ink plots. I eventually learned these were steps to be a warrior of the true light, in tune with the earth and the traditions of the Incas and their predecessors. He showed me a small spiral flipbook and showed other disciples who'd sat with him. I wanted to give this experience every chance, but I did doubt the veracity of their devotion. Roger is 24, and though he's devoted much energy to his spiritual upbringing, does not have the presence of a guru yet.

More notebooks, writings, lucid but not always accurate (eg Columbus conquering Peru - it was Pizarro), sketches of a temple of meditation cabins for his like-minded followers. I like the temple idea -- and wondered if the French disciple who'd promised to find the $2000 to build it would come through. Eventually, after the lesson on warriors and Andean ways, Roger brought out a ceremonial bag of coca leaves. He blessed them with sharp exhalations and brought them to his forehead and chest. Four leaves for each of us in this manner. We inserted them into a crack in the floor, for Pachamama (the ever-present earth goddess). I thought we were off to meditate, but the lesson resumed anew. He explained the essential duality in Andean traditions of Intki (sun) and Pachamama. And then about Lake Titicaca's holiness, being the link between the two at such high elevation. I felt he was stalling, which turned out to be the case.

He wanted to wait until midnight (it was now 10pm), as it was more auspicious to leave. I was less than eager for another 2 hours of wandering lecture, so I pushed the issue by declaring my roadweariness. Some minutes later, we left. I followed him outside the village -- the headdress he'd donned resembled a bunny in silhouette. Over rocks and down a narrow path on the island's coastline we hopped.

As we passed a rock marking the entrance to an ancient city (now submerged), he checked the coca leaves. Good fortune, so we continued. Just a few turns further, we arrived at a nearly level slope of grass and a sitting rock perched on a ledge. He sat down, in front, putting on a classic Bolivian poncho, careful not to disturb his feather headdress. I sat down in front, posture of a pupil. The stars stood out behind his dark form, with small lights peeking through the headdress from Challapampa, another lakeside village. Small waves from the lake broke 30 feet below.

We took more coca, chewing the leaves slowly, and he led me through movements that cupped the night in our palms. We stood up at this point -- I copied him as he began to kick and punch the air violently. Then, he had me close my eyes with arms outstretched and head inclined towards the bright milky way (I looked once or twice.) Behind me and in front, he was in motion. I heard the sounds of the water, boars grunting, and the flapping of feathers. Amidst the auditory chaos, I could barely concentrate. Suddenly, as I found calm, he pounced, arms around me. I startled, but not badly, and tried to follow as he inclined me backwards towards the sky, supporting my back from below.

After this, I was to stand up, arms at my side, as he crouched and flapped his arms under the poncho (later, I found out this was channeling a condor -- bird of the sun). All I saw of it was the silhouette -- dark against the bi-tonal seam of the lake and the stars. He seemed a spirit, and with his approach, I felt a blackness more primeval than sinister (but still freaky.) He moved close, and suddenly went into spasm, shaking everywhere and collapsing in a crumpled heap.

Then, my turn to move kinetic. I'm more than a little skeptical that Pachamama liked my improvisation combo of Tai Chi and our samba warm-up. But I kept moving, partly for warmth. The night air, at altitude, is "not warm" despite our beachside perch. Roger began to play an Andean flute, melancholy but sweet. Though I didn't feel the energy he had hoped for, I couldn't help but feel it was a privilege to trace out the stars between my fingers to this music.

The haunting, peaceful melody gave way to a chanting in Aymara (Incan language) as I sat down in front of him. The shadow of the seated man in front of me was sharp and severe -- striking against the night sky. On a lark, I wished for a shooting star and a long bright streak sliced down across the sky to his left within seconds. A holy moment, for me at least.

We sat for a long time in silence. Meditation more typical for me than animalistic channeling. This pause lasted for 10 minutes or more; I lost track of time. When it broke, we talked is hushed tones. He told me of the tests (fear, clarity, power and death) that we all face. I spoke of the guarded core of the traveler, as the world swirls around in flux. Here, I finally felt the trust that had evaded me since I knocked on his door. He said we were brothers.

We were to take coca slowly and then go. We walked silently back to the village, and he told me about his troubles (tests) with his Bolivian ID, preventing him from traveling to Peru and Mexico to meet with other spiritual personalities. I gave him 30 Bolivianos ($3.75) as a tip and we embraced farewell. It was oddly intimate. The next day, he was to take a community fishing boat from the island to Copacabana, and I would slowly walk back to the southern town, mulling the experience.

(All Bolivia)
Sunrise, Sunrise..
More Trekkin the Shore
Afternoon Fishing
Me on the Beach!
Drunken Jaguar Shoulders
Island Life
Water & Sky
Pointy Foliage
Lookie! Tourists!
The Coastline
Sunset on Illampu
. .