There are some places on this planet that are holy. Not because some religious cleric once said they were, but because by their very nature they just are. This holiness has nothing to do with religion but everything to do with spirituality. These places are holy to anyone with minds open enough to recognize them as such from any religion, or to anyone with no religion. Such secular spiritual places needn’t be constructs of human kind for I have mostly found this energy in the mountains, on the savannah, on the oceans. That is one of the aspects that makes the place in this story so unique, for I have rarely found this holiness anywhere but in the natural realm.
Among Incan Ghosts
He could never have imagined that one day he would be reading from the English translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Las Alturas de Machu Picchu” while standing on the pinnacle of Huchuy Picchu at sunrise looking down upon the fabled Lost City of the Incas spread below him. But that day he was! And, apart from his wonderful Peruvian born companion who had somehow convinced the guards to let them in hours before any tourists arrived, there was not one other person there. Nor would he have imagined one place could posses such celestial strength sufficient to influence so evocatively several aspects of the personal spiritual path upon which he was starting to walk.
Upon entering in the half light of that new day’s birth they had made their way through the city haunted with the great history of that once mighty empire. They were immediately engrossed by the craft with which the buildings were made using the traditional ashlar style of masonry; each polished hand hewn stone fitting seamlessly and solidly with those adjacent without need of mortar or caulking. The on-going reconstruction had been carried out with great care to keep the ruins as authentic as possible and a true sense of what the city must have been like in its prime was easy to access.
Their route took them through the various plazas in the direction of the omnipresent Wayna Picchu which they had decided to climb to visit the Temple of the Moon. Unbeknownst when it happened, he took a wrong turning and followed a side path which turned out to be more beneficial for them given the window of solitude they had been granted by the guards and that the weather was soon to close in on them causing the much longer, more rugged trail and higher peak of Wayna Picchu to become potentially more time consuming and risky.
The erroneous trail took them to the left of the one upon which they had planned to walk, upward to the lesser summit of Huchuy Picchu which proved that day to be the better vantage point from which to observe the ruined city. Upon reaching the peak, where there was room only for one to stand, the Englishman took up the book his companion had gifted him knowing his love of poetry. While looking down upon the incredible architecture and masonry of that pre-Columbian civilization he turned reverently to the twelfth poem in the second series of Neruda’s “Canton General” and imagined, as surely had Neruda, the artisans of that era involved in the city’s construction and daily life. As Neruda, himself a son of that continent, experienced his own rebirth through an ethereal connection with that location, that era, those people, the Englishman too became engulfed in the words and the energies of that most otherworldly place.
While Neruda was calling upon the souls of the ancient Incas to tell him of their sufferings that he may speak for them their unheard stories, the clouds rolled down from the snow-clad peaks surrounding the Urubamba River encircling the plateau upon which Machu Picchu was built. And while the great poet detailed their trades and their roles within the structure of Incan society the clouds completely engulfed the city at the base of Huchuy Picchu, enshrouding the buildings and terraces once more in vapour, myth and legend. And while the laureate entreated the dead from that mystic civilization to inflict upon him their pain that he may know the anguish they endured, the Englishman was alone on the summit, standing on the very tops of the clouds that now completely hid the city, gazing in transcendent awe upon the silence that Neruda had asked the spirits of that bygone civilization to grant him that they may speak their unvoiced woes through his mouth, bleed their unseen agony through his veins.
Soon after the poem was finished the clouds at his feet began retreating from their occupancy of the Lost City. The strengthening sun ushered them back across the serpentine Urubamba to the high Andean ranges from whence they came where the great sacred condors soared above the precipitous depths below.
The two travellers retraced their steps down to the plateau so steeped in the past and continued to marvel at the evident history that oozed from every crevice in the precise stonework; from every structure of the citadel once used for worship or sacrifice.
They were still alone; just the three dogs that had joined them as they entered through the guardhouse and a few llamas being the only other creatures they could see. Yet the Englishman sensed he energies of the ancient ones all about him and wondered if reading Neruda’s words aloud had aroused them from their centuries of slumber invoking lost hopes of having their stories finally told; their suffering spirits released from anguished anonymity.
At the hitching post of the sun, the Intiwatana stone, he imagined the priests fooling the peasants on the winter solstice into believing they had the ability to arrest the departure of the sun and convince it to begin its return journey to bless them with it’s presence for another year. At the Temple of Pachamama he studied what Hiram Bingham, who exposed the ruins in 1911, referred to as “the most beautiful wall in all America” and pictured the artisans, arguably the finest masons the world has known, polishing the intricate stone work to perfection. At the temple dedicated to Inti, the paramount Incan god of the sun, he envisaged the worshipers entreating the deity to bless the fertility of their crops and livestock and themselves.
But all too soon the morning neared that time when the gates officially opened and the tourists would start flocking in to overwhelm the site with their curiosity, cameras, noise, litter, causing all hope of further connectivity with the essence of such a mystical and spiritual place to evaporate along with the spectres of those who once walked those same paths and alleys centuries before. At that time the two travellers were content to leave with the memory of their ethereal experience that so few who go there would ever have the opportunity to enjoy with such uninterrupted focus. Yes, they also had their photographs, but what they took from Machu Picchu could never be reproduced through the lens of a camera for it is the lens of the soul that creates the most endearing memories and captures the true essence of any experience.
Such can never be displayed or recounted to another for they are unique to the spirit of the individual who experiences them and so cannot be appreciated in the same way by someone other. A quarter of a century later that brief uninterrupted period among the spirits and ancient energies that yet existed with such incredible magnitude among the masterful stonework of the Lost City persists as one of the most enthralling experiences that Englishman has yet known. The spirituality of Machu Picchu is for him, so often a spiritual sceptic, assuredly real and for the most part understated. But then not many have had the opportunity of standing in isolation upon a peak above that numinous place during a dawn when Inti sent down the clouds to enshroud his temples in mists and mysticism, allowing the observer to absorb in solitary silence the quintessence of that most sacred place. Not many have wandered afterwards those same temples with the enchanted words of Neruda still resonating through a mind filled with the supernatural images they conjured. Not many have travelled with a wonderful companion who, unasked, can arrange for locked gates to be opened before dawn and relocked once entry is gained. Not many have spent a quarter century of reflection with a strong unsatisfied desire to experience again that connection with the spiritual that has been, by comparison, all too scarce in the other lands in which that quarter century has been spent.
It is impossible to put into words such deep ethereal experiences as that which occurred upon that mystical dawn at Machu Picchu. As one wanders through life there are events that seem very significant when they transpire but don’t stand the test of time, eventually fading into the darker recesses of memory from where great effort is required to extricate even an outline of what happened. There are others that may not seem too earth shattering at the time but manage to endure at the same level within the memory long after others have faded. Then there are those that immediately strike you as being so rare and profound that you know they cannot help but be with you as long as your faculties allow. Machu Picchu was one of those; awesome then in the fullest sense of that word; awesome still. Perhaps more so now when put into perspective within a bigger picture created by decades of added experience and the maturing of understanding.
I have to wonder though whether, had we been there with the throng of tourists arriving as we departed, the experience would have borne anything like the seemingly extrasensory qualities it did. That answer I can only speculate upon, but the fact remains that the circumstances, thanks to my wonderful companion on that trip, were as they were, and the experience opened my previously blinkered eyes to areas of the spiritual and the intuitive to which I had never until then allowed their rightful share of credence. That realization set me on exciting new journeys of understanding and acceptance upon which I yet walk without caring for their destinations, for where a journey ends, I realize, cannot exist until the final step is taken, and there is no final step upon the spiritual path; not even in death. How we take each step determines where the next step will be trodden, and how we take that one will determine the next. And there is no pre-determined end to any journey on the spiritual plane, for how each step is trodden bears the potential to change its direction, just as that step trodden so long ago amid the ghosts of that lost Incan civilization irrevocably changed mine.