From Tiffany Schauer, August 2009
My yoga teacher, Monica Hornung, invited me to attend a yoga retreat in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I can’t imagine a more appropriate place to practice yoga than the magical mountains of the Andes. Indeed, it was a life-altering adventure. We arrived in Lima, Peru and connected via air to the town of Cusco followed by about an hour bus ride to the Willka T’ika Garden Guesthouse (www.willkatika.com) located in the town of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley.
Willka T’ika is the brainchild of Carol Cumes. Born in South Africa, Carol moved to Peru’s sacred valley in 1995 and built the Willka T’ika Guesthouse. Willka T’ika is an ecologically sensitive retreat open to groups interested in yoga, meditation, Andean spirituality, culture and history, archaeology, or a quest for a rare experience of nature. Carol has lived with the Quechua people and studied South American shamanism in the jungles, mountains, and deserts of Peru. She is reverent and fierce in her love and protectiveness of the Peruvian nature and culture. I believe Willka T’ika is a living tribute to Carol’s steadfast commitment to preserve and revere Peru.
The Willka T’ika resort is a metaphysical festival for seekers – spiritual or otherwise. The grounds of the resort are designed to invoke tranquility, peace, spirit and—if you are lucky—profound healing. The seven sacred gardens making up the resort grounds are extensive living cells representing the human chakras each focusing energies to enhance the observer’s awareness of their connection to nature. The gardens are alive with blooms, fruits, vegetables, butterflies, healing herbs, stones, fire, and ancient trees. The garden produces 100% of the resorts menu. We were served a bountiful organic vegetarian buffet breakfast each morning and a beautiful three course dinner every night from all from the vegetables, herbs and indigenous grains grown in the resort gardens. The meals were heaven to me.
The guest cottages are constructed from natural earth materials. The rooms have private baths and stand-alone heaters for cold mountain nights. A highlight was a nightly delivery of a personal hot water bottle pillow to keep you extra cozy. Sleeping is a blessed event given the amount of activity available while visiting Willka T’ika. There are beautiful state-of-the-art yoga facilities and endless opportunities for planned hikes, horse-back riding, sightseeing, and spiritual seeking. Operating as a home base camp, the resort has talented massage therapists, crystal healing beds, outdoor solar heated soaking baths, and a stargazing room for evening therapies to enhance your recuperation after any rigorous day adventure. Media of any kind is nonexistent here. You are meant to be transported to another realm – the magic of the sacred valley.
The Willka T’ika team arranged for us to visit various mountain towns and ruins in the sacred valley. Our first day trip was to the town of Pisaq to visit a major Inca site. The village of Pisaq is at about 10,000 feet and the hike is about a 1,000 feet vertical 2.5 mile climb. The value of chewing the sacred cocoa leaf during a 1,000 vertical stroll became supremely evident mid walk. The Pisaq sites are considered some of the great Inca ruins and they do not disappoint. They are splendid. Highlights include vast terraces, ritual sites, various forts, and epic mountains. Don’t miss this. Back down to the town of Pisaq is fun shopping and cool cafes. There are sightseers, spiritual seekers, hippies, and backpackers….all seemingly delighted to be on their own journey passing through Pisaq. There is an air of mystery permeating the atmosphere of these valley towns full of native art, sacred stones, stories, and music hinting at the hidden magical mountain spirits that reveal themselves to the human realm during all night healing ceremonies at secret locations.
As evening fell, my friend and I followed an ayawaskeros healer into the mountains. We walked back beyond the village into the mountains, up a creek and through a stone opening that lead to a thatched roofed house and giant thatched roof teepee structure. There, we met his wife and delightful 13 year-old son. The healer led us into the thatched teepee or yurt-type structure. The structure is about 40 feet high with two huge taxidermy condors hanging from the ceiling. The only light and heat was a fire in the middle of the cement floor. During the next eight hours of night, he led us through a ritualistic series of chants to the spirits of the Andean world accompanied by high frequency sounds from drums, rattles, bells, and sweeping condor feathers. He burned Incense, Andean wood, and tobacco while blowing a liquid mixture out of his mouth over our heads. The intent of the ritual is to move us beyond our socially conditioned perceptions that disconnect us from the earth and each other. It was intense and it did. And now we understood the mystery. For curious cats, please see www.takiwasi.com.
The next day, we took the bus from Willka T’ika to the town of Ollantaytambo. This town is considered the best-preserved Inca village in Peru. The Inca temple and fortress above the town are significant. Stay up high and hike the mountain to avoid the feeling of a detached tourist. There is spirit and soul here – you just have to be quiet and feel it. Later, back at Willka T’ika, a native pakko (ritual specialist) named Benito came to perform a despacho, an Andean ceremony, practiced by the Quechuan people for thousands of years. Benito and two additional men from his village had walked three days to arrive at Willka T’ika to perform the ritual. The three men wore only simple worn rubber black sandals, light clothes, and ponchos. It was thirty degrees Fahrenheit at night. I was amazed and stared at their feet during the ceremony.
The despacho ceremony is an offering of gratitude to Pachamama, the Mother Earth. Benito, assisted by his two companions, assembled a textile square containing various offerings to the God Pachamama, Mother Earth. The offerings include cocoa leaves, sugar, incense, candy, silver and gold strings and small toy-like pieces. The offerings are wrapped up in the woven textile and reverently secured with a beaded string. Benito individually blessed us as participants in the ceremony. Later that night, Benito led us to an outdoor fire ring to burn the package in offering to Pachamama. As directed by tradition, we wait until the packet and fire were reduced to embers to ensure the blessing is finally dispatched to Pachamama.
Read about Schauer’s continued Peru trip, including her journey to Machu Picchu.
Read about a special lodge in the Peruvian Amazon
Read about the special community school program in Peru founded by the owner of Willka T’ika Guesthouse
Monica's mentorship has been transformational . She has helped take my personal practice well beyond my self perceived limitations and into a place of true honor and apreciation for both my own practice and the desire to guide others.
In 2012, I had the amazing opportunity to join Monica on her retreat to Tulum, Mexico. It was was everything I expected an SO much more. It was well organized, with extremely cool, friendly , laid back people, and a very peaceful atmosphere. There was enough to keep us busy all the time if we wanted, or we could simply relax if that was our choice. There were Yoga classes twice a day for us to choose from which were accessible to all levels of practitioners. The sights were simply magnificent, the food was phenomenal, and Monica was a perfect host . I highly recommend joining Monica on any one of her retreats . Her love of travel and of her guests shines through her heart every step of the way. Jennifer Haas