Tuesday — April 14
Percy was punctual in picking us up from the hotel. Like Vidal, he operated on the la hora Inglesa (English time) premise. (In much of Latin America, punctuality is not nearly as important as it is in the UK or the US; hence, the term has come to mean “punctually” or “on the dot”.) Comfortably ensconced in the van, we headed off on the highway that runs along the southeast coast of Lake Titicaca.
Roadside vendor in the town of Llave.On our way to Aramu Muru, we stopped at a sacred rock at the edge of the highway. There was a column of some sort on top of the rock, which we thought was going to be our focus of attention. Not so; Percy dismissed the column as being a later addition by the Spanish. Identifying the rock as Ahayamarka, he explained that it dates back to the Tiwanaku culture that settled on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca around 400 BC. Helping us climb the rock that was steeper than it looked from the ground, he showed us several indentations — some more identifiable than others — that legends say are footprints of a puma.
Left: The column is a Spanish addition to a sacred rock.
Right: Mui captures the fossilized “puma” prints on tape.
“Puma” prints in the rock known as Ahayamarka.I should digress here and explain that Titicaca means “where the puma comes to drink” — from the Quechua words Titi = puma; caca = drink. If the puma came here for a sip of water, it just might have left those footprints behind.
Our next stop was at Aramu Muru, a door-like formation in “the Valley of the Spirits.” I had come across a picture of the rock portal during the planning stages of the trip. There was little information to be found about this recent (1996) find and all I knew was that it wasn’t far from the town of Juli. When I asked him about it, Vidal was familiar with this off-the-beaten-track site and added it to our itinerary.
At the entrance to the Valley of the Spirits.
The portal of Aramu Muru is known as “Gate of the Gods” or “Gate to Heaven”.The structure pre-dates the Inca civilization by hundreds of years. (It is very similar to a portal in Tiahuanaco, Bolivia, and may date back to the Tiwanaku culture.) The legends say that the God Meru’s “Temple of Illumination” lies behind the 23 feet by 23 feet (7 m x 7 m) portal. The niche in the center is the keyhole and it can only be unlocked by certain people at certain times. (That we’re still here just goes to show that we weren’t there at the right time.)
This “stargate” of sorts gets its name from an Inca priest who was traveling from Tiahuanaco to Cusco. In his possession was the sacred symbol of the Inca empire, the gold sun disc. The story goes that he passed through the gate into a parallel world, taking the disc with him. Neither have been seen since.
Percy related another version of the legend to us, which I like better because it closes the loop on the disappearance of the sun disc from Qoricancha, the sun temple in Cusco. The story goes that Meru gave the disc to the God Viracocha, who took it to Cusco, where he built Qoricancha to house the disc. When the Spanish arrived and started looting the empire of its treasures, Virachocha took the disc from Qoricancha and dropped it into the depths of Lake Titicaca to keep it safe from the conquistadors. The disc has not been seen since.
For those interested, there’s more information about Aramu Muru here.
Percy, whose grandfather was a shaman, had a surprise in store for us here. He’d brought some things to make an offering to Meru and asked us to participate. Placing a sheet of paper on the ground, he handed each of us a carnation and showed us how to shred the petals to form a circle on the paper. That done, he produced a bag of coca leaves and instructed us to pick three leaves each, making sure to select whole, unbruised leaves, and put them inside the circle of petals. I asked him if it would be OK to add a little something ourselves, which seemed to please Percy immensely. The only thing in my pocket was some hard candy — three of them to be exact — a fortuitous number.
With some “sweetness” added, Percy started to wrap everything up in the paper he’d laid down. As he was doing so, a gentle breeze blew one of Mui’s coca leaves off the paper and towards him. When Mui returned the leaf, Percy noted that it had a wrinkle at the tip and asked if Mui had a headache — which he admitted that he did!!!
The offering now intact, Percy approached the "keyhole," whispered some words, and then called me up to take my turn meditating at the portal and asking Meru for his permission to make the offering. After Mui took his turn, he returned the packet to Percy who went up to the portal, opened the packet, and sprinkled its contents at the foot of the keyhole and around the rest of the portal. He then stepped into the keyhole, placed his hands on either side — sort of spread-eagled — and prayed to Meru. There are those who believe that if one touches the frame of the keyhole with both palms that they will have visions. Considering the personal nature of such things, we did not ask Percy if he saw anything.
Left: Mui asks Meru’s permission to make an offering.
Right: Percy scatters our offering to Meru at the foot of the “keyhole.”
Click here for a short clip of the offering ceremony.