Peru: Willkawain and Coca Leaf Reading Ceremony

 
Near the entrance of the main rooms at Willkawain.

Near the entrance of the main rooms at Willkawain.

I could feel the people that once walked these rooms - whatever happened here, they are still here. My footprints walked in theirs, and here, I felt their pain.

Willkawain (in Quechua means grandson’s house) is an archeological site dating back to the pre-Incan era of the Wari culture. My landlady, Liliana, said that human remains have been found in one of the smaller buildings within the site itself. There are also tracks nearby which can lead to a lake and a campsite which we didn’t get to walk, but will probably explore another day.

It’s an interesting half-day out and relatively easy to get to - simply take a 1 sole colectivo and you’re dropped off by the entrance (the trip takes about 45 mins each way). Just be aware that on Sundays the colectivos don’t run as regularly later in the day. We ended up walking down the hill for 20 minutes and eventually found a taxi parked up at a soccer game.

Entrance is 5 soles, and when we went, it was relatively quiet. There are various entrances into the main building and I highly recommend taking your time to explore. The coolness brought by the Adobe brick was also a nice relief from the dry heat from the sun. The first rooms facing towards the main entrance to the site had the heaviest energy. Liliana said that she thought maybe it was the sacrifice rooms. Human sacrifice.

As soon as I walked in, an intense feeling came over me. There were just the three of us - myself, Christina and Liliana and yet I felt like I was surrounded by people. I could feel the those that once walked these rooms - whatever happened here, they are still here. My footprints walked in theirs, and here, I felt their pain. After fifteen minutes, we decided it was best to get fresh air and head to a different part.

It was interesting to notice some of the design features of the building - like various small square windows that let in natural light. Or the criss-crossing, large slabs of rock that serve as the roof, which not only have stood the test of time, but the two major earthquakes of Peru in the 40s and 60s.

There’s also a small museum with some of the artefacts they found on-site. Liliana pointed to the clay bowl shaped with the body of an outstretched man chewing coca leaves - she said that “he was flying”, which refers to him having drunk Ayahuasca.

Coca leaf reading ceremony

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Down the road from Willkawain is Christian’s house, a local shaman and good friend of Liliana’s. He lived in what I would describe as a decent-sized lifestyle block, dedicated mostly to growing food, herbs and medicine. As we walked the hill to his house, a familiar looking couple stood at his door talking to him. They turned out to be a Swiss couple who had been at Willkawain with us. The man had been studying plants all over the world for over twenty years, and his partner I later learned is a psychologist.

The couple knew Christian’s sister and had been learning from her in the two weeks they were in Peru. They were heading home in a few days and this was their last stop.

I forgot to ask Liliana how old Christian was. He was definitely younger than me, yet the way he held himself made me feel like he was an old soul with a great knowing achieved through solitude. Knowledge he had, he eagerly shared, especially about the medicinal properties of the various plants in the garden and in the mountains where he liked to live most of the time. It was the ceremonies that kept him at a much lower altitude.

We held the ceremony at the top of the hill that overlooked the main house, and surrounded by the mighty mountain range that is Huascaran National Park. Even though Christian didn’t mind (in fact he encouraged it), it felt intrusive to take photos throughout the ceremony. I chose to take a few and then put my camera away.

Out of the five of us - one had a heavy heart, another was overthinking a situation and another would fall in love.

It began with Christian passing around coca leaves to each of us. Liliana said we could make a wish and add it to the offering to Pachamama, who is Mother Earth to the people of the Andes. The offering, which consisted of flowers, quinoa, corn, peas and various grains was delicately laid onto a hand-woven rug. He would bury this in the earth nearby at the end of the ceremony.

Throughout the ceremony, Christian also read messages from the ashes of his tobacco. This was while he held the coca leaves. He didn’t say who the messages were for specifically. Out of the five of us - one had a heavy heart, another was overthinking a situation and another would fall in love. Whatever the future held for me here, I know there’s a familiarity that I can’t quite put my finger on yet.

We stayed until late afternoon and ended up walking towards Huaraz with the Swiss couple. It was Sunday and colectivos lessen in the afternoon. Rain began to fall and fortunately I had packed my jacket earlier that morning. Luckier still is stumbling onto a local soccer game, where there were several vans, colectivos and taxis. We managed to convince a taxi to take all five of us for 10 soles.

Rain continued to pour as we made our way back to Huaraz - packed like tuna in a can, but at least it allowed us to escape the cold rain.


Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently travelling in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.

Basically, a shorty who knows her life purpose.

 

Ronna Grace Funtelar

A thirtyish storyteller, hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.