Sun Salutation at the Sun Gate

by Penny Meaux Edwards (a.k.a. pennimo)

Yoga unblocks the seven chakras or the seven energy centers of the human body. A dedicated practice of yoga opens the unblocked chakras to higher planetary frequencies. My yoga practice heightens reception of universal transmissions. Intuitively, my meridians align like a needle in a compass attracted by an unknown energy field. An internal alarm resonates and I am off into the wild blue yonder.

One amazing wake-up call transcended the Andes through haunting Peruvian flutes. Years of global trekking had not fulfilled my desire to see the “lost city of the Inca,” Machu Picchu, Peru. Through clair audience, I heeded the melodious flutes that beckoned my internal alarm.

South American Explorers, a club headquartered in Ithaca, New York that I promptly joined, proved invaluable. After careful consideration, I chose Peru Chasquitur tour operators. In less than two months, I was Miami bound with inoculations in place and family worries subdued. I connected with an American Airlines five and a half hour non-stop flight to Lima, Peru. (Economy round trip cost $379 round trip. All prices are current.) Peru Chasquitur made late night arrival and clearing customs at Jorge Chavez International Airport easy. A 30-minute transfer with a few city highlights gave the tour guide time to review my itinerary before checking me into the cozy two-star Hotel Ariosto. (Double Room costs $90 USD plus 19% tax.) Sleep came quickly that night but not as quickly as a 7 a.m. wake-up call.

It wasn't until the next morning that I appreciated the sunny yellow exterior of the 23-room hotel in the upscale location of Miraflores, a lovely seaside suburb of Peru's modern capital city. A 30-minute drive north to the airport revealed a flat city except for the narrow Pacific coast where the barren Andean piedmont juts spiky hills into the sky. (Economy round trip cost $262 USD.) 

As the Boeing 737 lifted me into the clouds, I experienced an adrenaline rush. All I could think of was that somewhere behind those distant billowing clouds was the magnificent spine of Peru, the Andes. Deep in the Andes lay Machu Picchu, the religious center and royal estate of the Inca Empire that had mysteriously summoned my soul. From my window seat, I became entranced by golden sunbeams breaking through white clouds. I dreamed of the Sun Gate (Intipunku in the Inca tongue of Quechua). A hike to this famous gateway of the Inca Trail to greet the sunrise with a reverent Sun Salutation awaited me.

At 11,444 feet above sea level, Cuzco (Tawantinsuyo) was the southern capital of the highly-developed and ancient Inca civilization. I chose to visit during rainy season when the Andean mountain forest are most verdant.

Never could I have imagined the daunting majesty that unfolded when we began our descent.

Deep emerald valleys blanketed mountains that pierced the heavens with snow-capped peaks. Cuzco’s renowned terra-cotta roofs and cobblestone streets appeared neatly laid out. The nine-hundred year old mestizo (a mix of Inca and Spanish) city that combined sophisticated Inca and colonial Spanish architecture crowned the Andes.

In spite of treacherous terrain, the Lan Peru flight went smoothly. A pretty guia (guide) from Peru Chasquitur welcomed me at the gate. In the land of dark-haired mestizos, my long red hair and fair skin easily identified me. Within 30 minutes, our driver delivered us to the city’s colonial main square, Plaza de Armas. My guide checked me into the three-story Plaza de Armas Hotel. (Double Room costs $73 USD plus 19% tax.) Before leaving she warned that the extreme elevation often caused altitude sickness. Rest and drinking mate de coca (tea of the coca leaf) to acclimate slowly was advised. She explained that cocaine is a derivative of the coca plant whose leaves the locals chew. I was told not to take taxis due to common kidnapping of foreigners. My desire to see the land of the Inca had outweighed these dangers prior to leaving home.

The balcony of my airy room overlooked the plaza's Baroque cathedral whose construction was begun in 1555. It is said to be one of the most splendid Spanish colonial churches in all of the Americas. I have an ironclad golden rule of travel that the first day of arrival is for rest. However, I did venture into the streets to the nearest Internet café to email assurances that I had arrived safely. Neither Cuzco's magnificent architecture or its colorfully-dressed street hawkers could entice me to break the golden rule.

A quick retreat led to a quiet evening. Room service delivered possibly the most delicious chicken soup I have ever tasted. I sipped the uniquely flavored mate de coca. Cocooned in mist of a hot shower, I practiced pranayama (breath control) to increase my somewhat jet-lagged prana (life force). I recalled a favorite quote from the Bhagavad Gita (a Sanskrit text of 700 verses): “The soul that moves in the world of the senses and keeps the senses in harmony...finds rest in the quiet.” I glided into the quiet of a small bed smelling of open-air freshness and drifted into shanti (peace).

An early knock at the door with continental breakfast woke me. I did ritual morning stretches in bed in Savasana (Corpse Pose), then savored a warm sweet roll with hot tea. Passport, poncho, bandana and hiking stick were all I needed before I met my guide in the lobby. Machu Picchu often overshadows Cuzco, so I planned an extensive
city tour after returning from the world-famous ruins. My first day, we visited nearby Pre-Columbian sites. A dramatic drive into the Valley of Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Inca along the Urubamba River was dominated by archeological remains of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Natives with colorful handwoven clothing and quiet demeanor seemed as ancient as the ruins and as wise as their ancestors. Smiling children offered a newborn llama for me to hold during a group photo.

This valley of pleasant climate, fertile soil and proximity to Cuzco was understandably a favorite

of Inca nobles. I feasted on a lunch of freshly picked vegetables at an outdoor buffet in Olly (as the locals call Ollantaytambo). Pisac’s lively Sunday market, Ollantaytambo’s amazingly preserved Inca structures still in use today and Chinchero’s immense agricultural terraces are a complete story unto themselves. With senses and intellect saturated, I became very quiet on the long drive back to the hotel. 

I said good night and promised to be in the lobby by 5:30 a.m. Hot chicken soup, followed by an equally hot shower and a phone call to my husband, finished a perfect day. As I lay falling asleep, I was aware of a spiritual shift in my meridians. I was awakened by an internal alarm of haunting flute melodies. I rolled out of bed and gingerly dressed in layered clothing. Boots tied and pant legs tucked, I grabbed a walking stick and backpack then loped out of the door. Destination: Machu Picchu.

A scholar of archeology accompanied me. We took a three-hour train from San Pedro station. A Coche Inka-class seat provided a large window at a small table with fresh flowers and food service. My scholarly guia presented a wealth of knowledge about the ancient mysteries awaiting me in the cloud forest. Lively discourse with a nice Columbian couple established mutual eagerness to enter the Pre-Columbian time warp that laid ahead. The surrounding selva (jungle) was enchanting. My heart jumped when I saw a sign saying Machu Picchu. A few minutes later, we disembarked at Puente Ruinas bus station. A dizzying 30-minute bus ride into the Amazonian highland jungles had me repeating a mantra of “look at the mountain and keep your head on your shoulders.”

We arrived and anxiously walked to the nearby park entrance. My eyes squinted to capture the incredible vista.  Piercing the sky at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu regally sat. It is an incredible stone sanctuary with a magnificent backdrop of the Andes mountains. This ceja de la selva (eyebrow of the jungle) is located in the tropical rainforest canopy of Peru’s Amazon Basin. The symbiotic nature of this pristine jungle had an immediate effect upon my prana. It was the opposite of “breathtaking.” Instead, the oxygenating jungle was “breath giving.” Deja vu flooded my senses with a familiar melancholic melody. I heard a brightly-dressed campesino (country boy) playing his native flute from a grassy terrace. Lulled by his lilting music, I stood transfixed.

“Vengas!” called the tall Peruvian guide. “Hiram Bingham, the American explorer, visited the site and gave it importance in 1911.” He beckoned me to the clef of a huge stone that somewhat protected us from the soft rain and focused my attention on his lecture. I squatted and pulled my poncho around me while I listened intently.

Knowing of my desire to see Intipunku or Puerta del Sol (Spanish for Sun Gate), he pointed to a high emerald-green hill. He handed me binoculars so I could get my first glimpse of the massive stone portal. There were small agricultural terraces with stonewalls and winding steps leading up to this monumental gate. “Manana you shall have all day to walk these ruins alone. Let us take the easy walks so that you can acclimate. The Temple of the Sun and of the Three Windows and the magnificent masonry of the Principle Temple is what I shall show you. We shall stroll to the famous Inthuatana (Hitching Post of the Sun) which is a vertical stone column that every important Inca city had.” I learned of the Inca ruler, Pachacuti, who defeated regional tribes and began construction of this royal estate in 1438. His citadel was abandoned shortly after the Spanish invasion of Cuzco in 1532, being missed by the Conquistadores’ ravages.

We picnicked in the company of mellow llama who grazed on lush grass.  Intermittent rain and sunshine glistened on the steep sugarloaf hills. We took the last bus down the mountain at 6 p.m. I got off at Aquas Calientes and my guide returned to Cuzco.

I walked through the small touristy town to the bright orange Presidente Hotel. (Double Room costs $60 USD plus 19% tax.) The room was sufficient and clean. The hotel clerk suggested dining on a local fish delicacy. Enticing aromas led me to an outdoor restaurant overlooking the Urubamba River. I sat facing the thunderously raging river swollen with seasonal rainfall. It reminded me of flash floods in the rain forest of Irian Jaya, Indonesia during rainy season. Its’ might was mesmerizing. I sifted through thoughts and wrote in my journal. Trucho al harno, trout grilled in a clay oven like pizza, was delicious.

Early evenings are standard for me. After a quick shower, I lay in bed feeling completely rejuvenated. The pure oxygen of the jungle cleansed me. I slept like a baby. After the hotel wake- up call, I rolled over to stretch and give thanks for the glorious exhilaration. I leisurely dressed as though preparing for a grand entrance into the royal court of Intipunku.

I grabbed a cup of tea from the lobby and tucked a roll into my backpack. The damp dark of dawn felt cool on my face as I briskly walked to the bus station. A prompt 6 a.m. departure began my journey upward.

After a first day of tedious study, the ease of a quiet morning was relaxing. I headed southeast from the main complex and began hiking up the 400-year-old trail. During its golden era in the mid-fifteenth century, the Inca Trail was a network of 10,000 miles of stone roads. Chasquiturs (trained runners) relayed official messages up to 250 miles per day. All roads led to the sacred city through the Puerta del Sol.

Led by a higher power, I unknowingly took a wrong turn. A mysteriously peaceful trail made me wonder where all the sun seekers were. I found hiking alone inspiring and calming.

I briskly swung around a cave-like boulder and was surprised. A sign indicated that the trail ended. My eyes followed the larkspur-laden path to a fallen bridge whose ladder-weary crossing could no longer support humanity. This part of the mountain had returned to Mother Earth.

I layered down, snapped a few photos and headed back to the correct trail head. Led by good karma, I had been far from the maddening tourists who gathered early at the Sun Gate. Many were hiking down due to thick mist obscuring the sunrise. Incline sharply increased which necessitated hairpin turns along the trail. Stone steps carved by the Inca for tiny bare feet challenged the poise of my yoga toes embedded deeply into my hiking boots. A Beatles tune became the mantra that gave my heavy boots winged-victory’s light step- “Oh, my Lord.

Hallelujah. My sweet Lord. Hallelujah.”

I looked up from a steep turn. There stood La Puerta del Sol with arms arching gracefully to embrace the sun. What a glorious entrance it must have been for travel-weary pilgrims to see this sacred city shimmering with gold leaf. Through the mighty portal, I peered into marsh mellow mist. Dew trembled on leaves of the jungle. Beads of moisture dripped down my back. The sun exploded. It is said that seeing sunrise from the Sun Gate is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring sights.

Standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), I placed my hands in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) and bowed in reverence. I arched my deepest communication of respect in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salute Pose). I swept into Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend Pose) and lunged myself into Kumbhakasana (Plank Pose) as sunbeams penetrated the jungle. I offered a sweeping kiss in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose), then trembled as I held the asana (pose). With sun-kissed warmth, I released myself totally into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose).

The sol, the selva and myself became one. My meridians were perfectly aligned. The true reverence of the Sanskrit word namaste (I honor the light in you) was luminously clear. “There will always be another tomorrow, so do not fret about today.” The sol whispered this intuitive purpose of my journey to me. “Namaste,” I bowed.

I languidly stepped from the stone portal onto a nearby terrace. I seated myself into Baddha Konasana (Cobbler Pose), then took a small pen and paper out of my fanny pack. Perched high above the world, the Muse of Poetry touched my soul. She guided me in my second language of Spanish. For the first time in my life, I conceived a poem in Spanish. Perhaps it was this Muse who had summoned me to the “lost city of the Inca.”

La Puerta del Sol en la Madrugada

Llege a las siete y media
la madrugada de la ceja de la selva
que se sienta encima del mundo.
El Sol espera la majestad de los Andes.
Lo necesita mas tiempo para encontrar las cimas empolvadas.

Primeramente, la joya del Sol se escondo en la niebla
empezando su despertar despacio.
La selva temblo con lagrimas de alegria.
Una explosion brilliante ilumino La Puerta del Sol.

Me senti ahi, encima del mundo con el Sol.
Me maraville, “Que pensaron los peregrinos
quienes pasaron por esta puerta,
mirando abajo a una ciudad dorado?”

La maravilla ya esta.
Esta peregrina se sintio helado como nieve,
en medio de los Andes.
Un lugar helado en tiempo:
las ruinas viejas de Machu Picchu.

The Sun Gate at Dawn [English Translation]

I arrived at seven thirty.
It was early dawn in the eyebrow of the jungle
that sits atop the world.
The Sun awaited the majesty of the Andes.
More time was necessary to find the enveloped peaks.

At first, the jewel of the Sun hid in the mist
beginning to rise slowly.
The jungle trembled with tears of happiness.
A brilliant explosion illuminated the Sun Gate.

There I sat on top of the world with the Sun.
I wondered, “What did the pilgrims
who passed through this gate think
looking down upon a city of gold?”

The wonder is still here.
This pilgrim sits frozen like snow
in the middle of the Andes
in a place frozen in time:
the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.

by pennimo (copyright pending)

South American Explorers at www.saexplorers.org

Peru Chasquitur at www.peruchasquitur.com

PeruRail at www.perurail.com

Penny Meaux Edwards’ yoga studio of Yoga & Beyond by pennimo at www.pennimo.com