I'd followed the narrow path up the mountain, meandering at first between the small, angled plots on which the local people were growing corn, passing through grassy slopes admiring the lush greens and bright flowers that surrounded me. Then the path steepened and began to zig-zag, picking out an invisible route between the towering buttresses protecting the mountain's top. My pace slowed, until I finally reached the top after 4 hours of hard work and sat to lunch on boiled eggs and potatoes.
That was when the hail started. Intermittent at first, but pretty soon drumming out its beat on the exposed rock, the open puddles, and me. Shelter was at hand in a small cave. A vase of flowers in a small niche in the rock wall told me this was also a shrine, another reminder that I was on the pilgrimage route over Apu Pachatusan, to the sanctuary of Señor de Huanca at its foot, revered site of miracles since 1676.
In the local understanding of the sacred mountains, or apus, Pachatusan is a guardian, "the one that sustains the earth" by propping up time and space, linking heaven and earth. I knew enough to approach the mountain with reverence.
Suddenly, loudly, thunder burst overhead, combining with the now-fierce hail to announce that this was no simple hike; larger forces command this pacha, this time-and-space. For fully 30 minutes lightening seemed to circle the spot, as thunder continued to shake the air. Humbled and warned by this greeting I left the safety of the cave and walked up the now gentle slopes to the heart of the mountain top, a space of rolling hills, in places just dusted with snow.
I made camp amidst this beauty, beside one of the many pools of clear water, sitting gazing at the ever-changing sky-scape, whittling wood and greeting the apu. This was the experience I had been craving since arriving to live in Pisaq 10 days earlier. Now I was being held, in the heart of the Sacred Valley, in the embrace of its power and majesty, welcomed, it seemed, to be fully present here. Could I hear the wind whispering "welcome home"?