I am lucky enough to gaze at Apu Pachatusan almost every day. It sits in the distance, just down the valley, looming over the Urubamba River, in view of the place I´ve been living for the last five months, on the outskirts of the town of Pisac.
I´ve been calling Apu Pachatusan ´The Rhombus Mountain´ because a unique rock formation just below the tip of the mountain resembles several rhombuses folding into one another. Sometimes it´s nice just to sit down at the river, listen to the water flowing by and look up into the far-off rhombuses and daydream. It truly is a special mountain.
Since Incan times, the earth-based religion of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador has referred to the spirits of the mountains as apus, or gods. Each mountain, or apu, has it´s own spirit, name and unique qualities. Apu Pachatusan has been revered as a sacred mountain since pre-historic times as a magical place of healing waters. Over the centuries, this mountain´s legend has been Catholicized in an effort to christianize the local indigenous population. As a result, The Sanctuary of Señor De Huanca at Apu Pachatusan, the site of the most popular Andean Catholic miracle, is one of the most visited holy sites by the local population because supposedly Jesus has appeared on this mountain several times and has spoken messages of peace and love.
Almost every car, taxi, bus and store around here displays some mention of Señor De Huanca, usually complete with a glitzy display of a bloody Jesus. I lost count a long time ago of the number of businesses with the name of ¨Señor De Huanca.¨Finally I managed to visit the sanctuary for myself . . .
And I don´t know what took me so long! The place is really beautiful – full of flowers, gardens, groves of eucalyptus trees and flowing fountains reputed to contain magical, healing water. Although there were young, shirtless Peruvian men playing in the water fountains, we collected several bottles of ´magic water´and immediately sterilized our samples when we got home. We shared the magic water last night at dinner. The verdict is out on the water´s healing abilities, but I´ll keep you posted . . . I mean, it´s got the vibes of shirtless men, so it´s got to at least be . . . ahem . . . energetic, if nothing else.
Upon arrival to the church and sanctuary of Señor De Huanca, the first thing we heard was an explosion of firecrackers that someone set off inside the church! I thought that was pretty cool and I wonder if this kind of thing happens regularly . . .
A couple of things I recommend bringing with you on your trek to the monastery at Señor De Huanca is a plastic bag to collect trash and some dog food. For some reason, there is quite a lot of trash in and around the sanctuary grounds and it´s a custom to collect one bag full of trash as a gratuity. Next time I go, I will also bring either a small bag of dog food or some scraps, as I´ve never seen dogs as skinny and starved as the ones at the top of that mountain.
We went inside the massive Catholic church that´s built at the base of the sanctuary. I found the burnt remnants of the packaging of the firecrackers I´d heard earlier in the day. One interesting thing about the church is that confession is offered in both Spanish and Quechua. The church is a typical Latin Catholic church, full of altars and flowers and bleeding Jesuses. That Thursday afternoon when I visited, the pews were full of praying families and squirming kids.
Most of my attention was focused to the window near the ceiling of the church, which shows a spectacular view of the peak of Apu Pachatusan. I´m glad that at least the church respected the Apu enough to include a window so that the indigenous, Catholicized mountain people could at least have a scrap of memory about the original significance of their sacred mountain . . .