At the southern end of Sun Island, on Lake Titicaca, is a sacred place, used by the local Andean Indians and their Kallawuaya for rituals and offerings to Pachamama, the Earth Mother. The Kallawuaya is a fortune teller, or native doctor of the Andean Altiplano; and this one is a small man, dressed inconspicuously in a white shirt, dark, well-worn trousers and a crumpled, dusty, old trilby on his head. With thin sandals on his feet, he walks purposefully south along an unseen trail through eucalyptus trees, past the stone monument at the summit of Cerro Keñhuani (4024m), until he reaches his destination, a small, round stone enclosure. On his back a grey sheet encases a medley of strange shaped objects which are clearly heavy, because he’s bent over forwards to balance the weight.
Once inside the stone enclosure, the grey sheet is emptied of its contents. First he takes out a pile of wooden logs half a metre long and proceeds to build a square-shaped stack around a pile of shavings and small twigs. We admire the view. This is a beautiful spot with the snow-capped Cordillera Real and the sacred mountain, Nevada Illampu (6368m) in the east and the shores of Lake Titicaca in the west. It’s mid afternoon. The sky is clear and very blue, the lake surface is placid and the Sun is still very hot. We turn back to the Kallawuaya who is now dressed in a bright red, sleeveless poncho with an intricately patterned woollen hat on his head. He is ready to begin a ceremony, which has been handed down through his family over countless generations.
The offering package was bought from the Witches Market in La Paz and every item has a special significance. The contents can vary depending on the price paid, but this one contains a small llama foetus, coca leaves, sweets, small gold and silver-coloured trinkets, images of the sun and the moon and crushed quartz and other crystals. We take turns to present the offering to the north, south, east and west, saying a few words to Pachamama in each direction. We are asking for peace and prosperity for the Lake and the people who live in and around it, but the words can be anything depending on the occasion. Offerings to Pachamama are made to celebrate marriages and births; to ask for rain and a bountiful harvest; to ask for luck in exams; anything the giver chooses. The package is finally handed to the Kallawuaya, who murmurs his own incantations, before placing it on the wood stack and lighting it. The heat from the fire is fierce and we move away to the edges of the stone enclosure, where we sit and watch as the logs and offering burn down to embers.
The ceremony is complete, the Kallawuaya is thanked for his services and we leave the sacred area to its guardian spirits, beckoned on by the need for a cold drink and a seat in the shade.
This story was first published in ‘Viva List Latin America’ in 2007 (check out http://www.vivatravelguides.com/). ISBN: 978 0 9791264 0 0