The path stretches ahead, following the bends of the Andean ridges. Despite the masculinity that mountains usually breathe out, this trail caresses the slopes with the tenderness that only a woman’s body inflames. I step on flat stones, most of which are still the original ones that were meticulously put together by the Incas, and have been ever since smoothened by thousands of people – pilgrims, explorers, tourists – who have been treading towards The Old Mountain: Machu Picchu. I initially feared this journey would be too busy with other hikers who would turn the popular pilgrimage into a crowded touristic experience; however, I now find myself walking alone – and it is not the first time.
The trail does not shy away from mountain altitude. No peaks and crests have been razed; despite the renowned Inca engineering, no arduous passages have been flattened: the mountain is to be respected, not abused. The human handprint remains humble, further enhancing the dignity of the land. I stand at an elevation well above 3500 m, surrounded by rocks which have faces, archetypal meanings, and a life of their own: the Dead-woman passage, the Guiney pig, the Llama. The jungle is uncommonly dense and invariably hungry to devour everything, including the ancient path itself. Behind impenetrable walls made from roots and branches weaved together with the patience that only Time and Nature can manifest, myths, legends, and treasures have been lulled to oblivion, remaining concealed from us – the unscrupulous conquistadors – who have still not proven worthy enough to gain access to the old secrets.
I do not make any serious physical effort to follow the path; on the contrary, it is as if the paved trail transforms into an enchanted carpet, carrying me away just with the strength of my belief and intention. I remain silent. I inhale the sacred breath of the mountain, as it runs through the center of the terrestrial sphere. I taste the pungent aroma of the ground. And I listen.
The reverberation of my footsteps echoes from inside my chest. In the hush, the earth crackles, and the fallen leaves move aside to allow space for the growing native fungus. A snake – sacred representative of the Incan trinity – swishes among the bushes, connecting the surface with the underworld, and demonstrating, with the seasonal shedding of its skin, the everlasting process of rebirth and transformation. Semi-camouflaged deer – animal totems of intuition and gentility – dare a sneak-peek through brambles, elegantly nodding in agreement to a question that has never been phrased but, it seems, has already been asked. Andean motmots and eared doves occasionally flutter on the upper tree branches, spying and recording all incidents with tilting heads and unblinking eyes. The surrounding remnants of a civilization that managed to flourish despite the absence of essential cornerstones of acculturation, like the art of writing or the wheel, stand as a testament to humanity’s unlimited potential. Gradually, like a troubadour, the land begins to whisper stories that ask to be shared, weaving history into myth, and myth into history, reminding the eager listener that no story should be silenced, for only the devil rejoices over tales that remain untold.
I get proselytized into this transcendent reality, and, once again, I fall in love with life. I am free and protected, while perpetually navigating through beauty, nature, mystery, and sanctity. I start humming a tune.
Memories of fellowships treading on similar mountain ridges flood my mind. Memories? Not really. They rather feel like reminiscences retrieved from the global subconscious, observed from an unrealistic helicopter-view perspective, as if revealed through the lens of an ascending camera. And, as a reaction, a part of me – a third eye – departs from my physical body, and twirls lightly, almost whimsically, upwards, offering a surreal view from above: there are green mountains that turn into cerulean and lavender-shaded waves as they extend towards the horizon; deep valleys that seem to be touching on the navel of the earth; and a universal vastness that is just too massive for my human heart to bear. I observe myself from this height: a temporary – yet, eternal – dot on the map. A dot that appears a bit lost as if arbitrarily positioned somewhere on the highland expanse. A dot without a plan.
Despite the epic soundtrack in my head, I do not feel like a hero in a movie. I realise that something is painfully missing: the definite “why” behind every new step I take; the goal, which seems to be evident at the inception of every adventure, but remains ambiguous to me; the comfort and safety that such knowledge offers.
Once again, I stand at a nebulous and precipitous No-Man’s-Land. I know that a chapter in my life has just been completed: I have transformed my thoughts and perceptions, my career, my everyday modus vivendi, I have even chosen to physically go back home, leaving Dubai and returning to Athens. But, as I venture, with wobbly steps, into a new cycle and adventure, I am surprised to observe that I don’t have any visibility at all. As I move to a new – for me – reality, I feel as if I stand on the verge of an abyss, observing with blind eyes an unchartered territory. I would expect that, by now, new beginnings would not be so obscure, and recently successful recipes would miraculously remain efficacious. I should know better than that. In a cosmos where “everything flows,” trails always need to be crafted through dense jungles; there are no short-cuts, for the pace of the mountain must perennially be respected.
I keep on stepping on the deftly paved path. Similarly, and maybe a bit subconsciously, I have begun to elaborately pave my own way, progressing slowly towards a very personal pilgrimage. Machu Picchu turns into Ithaca: a destination whose only importance lies in the prerequisite journey; a ritual of catharsis; a long prayer; a voyage through a grandiose shrine spreading under a milky way that eternally pours out of Hera’s breast; an astral projection; a conversion point in the nexus of past, present, and future.
And I stand there, a dot almost arbitrarily placed on the trail, feeling a bit lost and, yet, blissful and sheltered. I look at a sky which, embroidered with the unfamiliar constellations of the southern hemisphere, makes me feel as if I have landed on an alien planet, and I hear myself being further sculptured into the rock of my existence.
I still have not deciphered this new “why” in my life, but I decide to start anew with the blind faith of a child. I step in trust through the Sun Gate, waiting for the cosmic energy to beam me towards a currently elusive destination where, maybe, I manage to leave a worthy imprint. I feel vulnerable in front of the Unknown. I long for the comfort and safety of clarity. But, maybe, embracing the presence of nothingness and surrendering to this fragility – the fragility of every new beginning – is what lies at the very heart of the specific pilgrimage.
So, I bow in respect in front of Pachamama, the Mother Earth, and I throw a star out there, waiting patiently to catch it back. I remain quiet. And I listen.