While traveling through the Sacred Valley of Peru, I had a close encounter with an ancient Inca being. My boyfriend and I left Lima after celebrating his 26th birthday, where I witnessed a side of him I had not seen before. Deciding it was an isolated incident, I let it go and moved confidently forward with our continued plans to wander around South America. We were six weeks into a five month adventure.
From Lima, we boarded a bus to Cusco. It was 21 slow hours of increasing altitude along twisting mountain roads. Food was provided, and the bus would not stop until we arrived in Cusco. I had packed fresh pineapple slices to accompany the en route dinner of rice, some potatoes and corn, and a roll of baloney-type meat with a mayonnaise substance. I knew not to eat the meat. Not only had I been following a primarily plant-based diet for nearly a decade, I saw a questionable film on the food, and it was served to me at room temperature. Hhhmmm. But I was SO hungry. We had been on the bus for hours, and before that, had been camped at the bus station in Lima, waiting. Against all my more strategic decision making principles, I ate the “hamon.”
The next 10 or so hours on the bus were brutal. It has only been within the past year that I’ve been able to stomach pineapple. I was not the only passenger who had acquired a gnarly food-borne illness, and even the most pleasant 21-hour bus ride through the mountains with no fresh air is treacherous. I held myself together, and my boyfriend was surprisingly supportive. He navigated us to the hostel and handled the check-in, while I lingered in the corner like a zombie.
I slept for a bit while he went out to explore, and I woke up when he returned to check on me. He had been at a bar, and let me know he was on his way back out if I was still too sick to go with him. I was. He left, and I went back to sleep where I had a fairly confusing, nearly lucid experience of meeting an ancient Inca being. The world of the dream was exactly like the material world. I was in the same bed, in the same room with the walls painted a bright olive green, the same hardwood floors, the same water dripping from the faucet of the bathroom sink, an identical dusk settling over Cusco. The being wore a mask over his face, and he was very large, nearly seven feet tall. In spite of his silver breastplate, his body moved soundlessly, and he carried dried gourds filled with seeds that rattled inside of them. I don’t know if he spoke “English” when he communicated, or if I understood through some different channel. He introduced himself as something about being around since before “the valley was under water.” He told me something about how the man I was with was “not enough of a man” for me, and he wanted me to stay and be his “bride.” The words in quotations are exact memories I carried from my dream. Then he did a dance, shaking his gourds while his feet shuffled.
After I awoke, I noticed that only about ten minutes had passed since I had fallen asleep. I remembered bits of words, “pacha-something,” and “vira-something.” I remembered what he looked like. When my boyfriend returned from the bar, I told him the dream and he of course took it very personally, that some Inca spirit was trying to steal his woman. The next morning, he claimed that something had kept him awake all night, poking him in the back.
My food poisoning subsided, and later the next day I was able to venture back into the land of the living, breathing, playing humans. It was near Christmas, and Cusco hosts a large holiday market. My boyfriend and I found such a market, and explored the stalls of crafts, textiles, Alpaca sweaters, and toy llamas woven from yarn. At one stall, a jade figure caught my eye. Nestled among the fabric was a four inch statue of whoever I had met in my dream. In fairly poor Spanish, I asked the vendor what it was. My boyfriend, who spoke much better Spanish than myself, let me know that it is a figurine of some ancient Inca god named “Pacha-something.” I recognized the mask and the gourds he carried in his hands. Of course, I bought the jade statue.
In the years since that dream event, I have not fully verified who the being was because, you know, it was a dream and the Western mind likes to cling to quantifiable data. What I have determined, though, is that ancient Inca mythology follows a narrative similar to the Judeo-Christian mythology of the great flood. In Inca mythology, a being named Viracocha Pachayachi, which means, “creator of all things,” formed a race of humans and asked them to live in peace with each other, without fighting or selfishness. Unfortunately, they decided not to follow these simple rules, so Viracocha Pachayachi cursed them and flooded the land in an event called, “unu pachacuti,” translated into “water that overturns the land.” Some versions of the story run exactly parallel to the mythology of Noah, that a few humans were spared from dying to repopulate the land. Other versions claim that everyone died and Viracocha Pachayachi decided to start again.
Maybe I had gathered this story at some point in my earlier life, and the images and symbols, buried deep in my brain, unearthed themselves that night in Cusco. Maybe my subconscious brain had absorbed the narrative, the names, and the images from the Spanish language that my conscious brain did not understand, and turned it into a dream for the sheer fun of it. Or maybe I met an ancient Inca being who wanted to warn me about a dangerous future. I don’t know, but the giant being in the dream with the dancing, the gourd, and the message are an intriguing piece of my personal history now. I held onto the statue until July, 2018, when I buried it in the soft, fertile earth of a San Joaquin County vineyard. “Thanks for visiting, Viracocha, and by the way, you were right about the man.”