Ancient Wisdom, Timeless Grief on the Choquequirao Trek
I round a corner on trail; vivid, violet wildflowers grope my sweaty shirt as I pass. Lazy, looping vines wearing a shade of forest green dangle teasingly over the path, encroaching on the trail’s domain. Mud suctions the soles of my beat-up trail runners, producing slurping sounds, like debris-filled water attempting to force itself down the small hole of a clogged drain. The steady showers of precipitation from earlier have abated, leaving behind thick, puffy clouds that sunlight shyly flirts through. A magnetic, but not necessarily unpleasant tension lies heavy in the air. It feels sacred, like entering an ancient grove of trees that I know have witnessed more existence than I will experience in my entire life. The fine, blond hairs on my arms stiffen in anticipation, standing tall. Half-formed goosebumps rise to attention, making their own little mountain paths curving down my limbs, although my body is not cold.
The overhanging foliage falls away and I am granted my first glimpse of Choquequirao, ancient Incan ruins and sister city of Machu Picchu. Massive terraces descend gracefully down the mountain. They appear as a giant, mystical, green staircase from across the canyon, on the peak opposite to where I stand. A hole in the clouds above leaks buttery sunbeams, framing the terraces in majestic glory in such perfection it cannot be coincidental. It’s as if Choquequirao is the one producing the light and offering it as a gift to the heavens. I am overwhelmed with the intense shift of energetic patterns. It feels like my heart has suddenly grown three sizes, abruptly breaking through its prior confines and expanding beneath the sturdy bars of my rib cage. The pure energy emanating from the sacred ruins is unparalleled to anything I have experienced before. I stand hypnotized, until the clouds morph to gray, clustering above. Small, gentle pearls of rain descend, racing to see who reaches the beckoning, brown arms of Mother Earth first. I look up to the sky, leaning back my neck, and open my mouth to the droplets; receiving my communion with an open, vulnerable heart. Offering what little I have to the only religion that has ever left me feeling whole.
Into the Ruins, into the Mist
The ancient remains of the walls surrounding me challenge my own, breaking down my protective barriers stone by crumbling stone. Letting i’s spirit in to explore my soul. Delving into the cobweb cracks and corners long abandoned in the infinite battle to stay comfortably invulnerable. I have quickly come to understand that Choquequirao is a unique island of existence. Here the boundaries to our world are hazy, the lines not quite solid in their definition. Here the energy overflows and the rules are unfamiliar to my societally influenced human comprehension. Here the realms overlap; you can reach through the borders like they are Spanish Moss draped over the stoic, gnarled arm of a tree branch.
A small, vibrating voice buzzes out a greeting to me from a patch of grass, next to the stone remains of a doorframe. I crouch down, my knees cracking in reply, until my face is level to the elegant, green blades. I locate the source of the morning salutation, a colorful winged bug, about the length of my longest finger. His limbs are electric blue and shimmer in the soft sunlight. The colors are more vibrant in this magical place, the ancient energy funneling into every living thing here. Shades and hues that don’t exist anywhere else call this place home. I observe the polite bug’s morning routine, as he preens meticulously while perched precariously upon a long blade of grass. He rubs his antennae anxiously, preparing for another day of survival. After several minutes he tires of my curious scrutiny and gives me a look of disapproval. I bid him farewell and continue up through the ruins, as a light layer of fog begins rolling in from the west.
Mourning and Memorializing
I watch the pale, orange flame of my lighter slowly caress the stick of Palo Santo protruding from the ground in front of me, where I have wedged it between two rocks. The heat gradually travels up the stick, leaving a trail of black soot and emitting a fragrant smoke that dances through the atmosphere in curling streams of gray. When the wood is sufficiently lit I blow out the flame, leaving behind a glowing ember tip, a diamond of fire. The smells of lemon and pine surround me, memories flooding my head in a jumble as synapses fire randomly in my brain. I close my eyes and watch as the movie reel plays on the backs of my eyelids. Zac and I when we were kids, smiling radiantly at each other from atop a red, plastic slide. The first time we smoked a joint together at our favorite childhood hangout, an abandoned factory, the floors filled with holes and windows shattered by well-aimed rocks. His encompassing hugs; never-ending, sweater-wrapped arms connecting above my shoulders as the top of my 5’3” head barely brushed the middle of his 6’5” frame. My best friend, the brother I never had; first cousins born a mere two months apart.
I carefully open a metal Trader Joe’s mint tin and sprinkle a palmful of the contents around me in a semicircle. The slight breeze escorts the ashes gently to the ground, cradling them lovingly. “I realized quickly when I knew I should,” I croon to the ruins surrounding me, “that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man. For whatever that means.” I put all my emotion into the 4 Non Blondes song, one out of many of our favorites. My voice weeps my tears for me, the heavy, gravel weight of grief gripping my throat. Five months have passed and I still haven’t processed this unbearable loss. I still can’t stop thinking that I should have been able to save you. I still can’t help believing that if you could have made it nine more months, you would have been on the PCT with me. In my heart I know it would have healed you, just like it had done for me.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
Very well written. The circle of life takes us many places and gives us a plethora of options, however, the path we choose is always a craps shoot, even when we know the outcome will be favorable. Good luck on your journey. Fair winds and following seas.
Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, AT, ’17/’18
I still don’t understand what all these South American treks have anything to do with the PCT. Maybe TheTrek can reclassify this author and not give her a PCT tag?